Wales

Aberystwyth plaque marks town's 'shameful' episode

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Media captionAberystwyth plaque marks town's 'shameful' episode

It is seen as one of the most shameful, but little known, episodes in a Ceredigion town's history.

At the outbreak of World War One, a distinguished German professor working at Aberystwyth University was forced out of his home by an angry mob of more than 2,000 people.

Dr Hermann Ethe moved to Aberystwyth in 1875 and was a professor of German and Oriental languages and was widely respected among scholars and students.

But with a growing anti-German sentiment in the town fuelled by propaganda, he fled in October 1914.

Marion Loffler, a German academic who lives and works in Aberystwyth, said he was a "colourful character and enjoyed a cigar and a beer".

She believed this did not fit in well with the Methodist atmosphere and the many teetotal townspeople.

"The only word he knew in Welsh was for beer, cwrw. Dr Ethe would often be seen drinking his cwrw from his stein through his front room window or in the garden, and on a Sunday too.

"Teetotalism was rife in non conformist west Wales, where people didn't touch alcohol at all and Dr Ethe did ruffle a few feathers with his ways. He was a larger-than-life character in every way."

Image caption Marion Loffler said Dr Ethe might have angered religious people in town due to his love of a drink

By October 1914, refugees from Belgium had arrived in Aberystwyth and described how they had to escape from the Kaiser's army - leading to an uprising of strong anti-German sentiment in the town.

On 14 October, Dr Ethe and his English-born wife returned from their annual holiday to Germany with the consent of authorities.

The next day, however, slips were passed from hand to hand reading: "As a protest against the return of Dr Ethe from Germany to teach in our Welsh national institution we intend to form a procession of workmen and others at one o'clock near Shiloh Chapel."

A large crowd gathered and were addressed by two respected town councillors - a solicitor and a GP. They urged the mob to march on Dr Ethe's house and give him 24 hours to leave, or else force him out.

Ms Loffler said: "These weren't natural trouble makers, they were well respected townspeople. They would have even have dined with Dr Ethe in the past.

"There were women present dressed smartly in long dresses and hats. But the anti-German sentiment was so strong they turned up at the house, but he was at work so instead they threatened his wife saying they would tear down the house stone by stone unless they left the next day."

Image copyright H H Davies
Image caption Dr Ethe died in poverty after working as a university professor

Dr Ethe left that very night, never to return.

Councillor Mark Strong campaigned for a plaque in the town to mark this "shameful" episode in the town's history.

"We now have a tri-lingual plaque in Welsh, English and German saying exactly what happened in this spot a century ago.

"It's important to remember these events and not sweep them under the rug, we should face this, discuss it and be aware of our history and what humans are capable of.

"If we make people and our children aware, it means the likelihood of these things happening again is less."

Dr Ethe died in poverty in Bristol three years after leaving Aberystwyth on 7 June 1917 and was said to be a "broken man".

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