William Guy may not be a household name in Llanelli. Neither would the large number of mariners who lost their lives in the waters off Llanelli.
The local graveyards are home to hundreds of mariners, many of whose lives were lost at sea. The maritime links are strong on both sides of the Burry Estuary and none more so than at Penclawdd where in 1874 William Guy was one of two men who lost their lives. John Bowen of Llanelli was the other. Both men were pilots and would have been responsible for guiding vessels like the SV ‘Paul’ of Hamburg into the safe waters of port.
On this occasion they were doing just so for the vessel ‘Collector’ They had left their pilot chip ‘Ceres’ to look for more vessels in the rough seas. Having failed to make their way back to the ‘Ceres’ they were heading for shore when their boat overturned in the surf. A third man Hector Rees managed to make it to shore.
The report of the day, Thursday (Sep 15) 1864 in the Llanelly Guardian stated that Hector, a younger man watched as the older men became engulfed by the sea. Ships in the docks lowered their flags to half-mast in tribute to the two well-known long serving pilots.
Carmarthen Bay is littered with ship wrecks. Many lay buried in the sands and appear from time to time as the sands shift. There are reputed to be almost 200 vessels having been wrecked on the sands. A more sinister tale tells of local ‘Gwyr-y-bwelli-bach’ (literally hatchet men), who would light fires on the hills luring in vessels in the hope of shelter only to become stricken on the sands and victim of the looters.
Cefn Sidan can boast links to Napoleon Buonparte. In 1828 Lt Col Coquelin and his 12-year-old daughter Adeline drowned when their ship ‘La Jeune Emma’ went down as they were returning home from Matinique. Adeline was the niece of Josephine, Buonaparte’s consort.
In 1878 Captain Armstrong described the scene on the sands as: “The melancholy mementoes of wrecked ships, their bleached, rotten timbers just appearing above the sands, marking the spot where perished the unfortunate mariners.”
One of the largest vessels to meet its doom was the Sv ‘Paul’ of Hamburg.
In 1925 the ‘Paul’ crossed the Atlantic from Cadiz to St. John, Newfoundland and loaded 2,000 tons of timber at Halifax for Dublin. On 30 October she ran into severe gales, losing many sails and her anchors; eventually grounding on the Cefn Sidan sands as without any auxiliary motive power she was unable to make an escape. On this occasion she had a crew of twelve, with a cook, the master and a teenage stewardess. Another reference cites her grounding as being on November 5, 1925.
According to historians the Ferryside lifeboat, under sail, reached the ‘Paul’ in difficult conditions, only to be told that eleven of the crew had taken to a small boat. They were found a mile away drifting out to sea in thick fog. After taking them on board, they returned to the ‘Paul’ and took off the remaining five crew members. Most of the crew were put up at the White Lion. Part of the wreck is still there to this day.
A permanent plaque, which records the activities of the local lifeboat is now located at the Ferryside boat club. Included on the plaque are the details of the rescue of the crew of the ‘Paul’ of Hamburg.
In a final twist in the tale, a relative of William Guy, Selwyn Jones (Selwyn’s Cockles) was in Kidwelly when he spotted a photograph of a ship. Struck by the beauty he purchased it and took it home. That ship was the SV ‘Paul’ of Hamburg. His wife and daughter still run the cockle store at Llanelli market and it was here that we first heard the tale of William Guy through serendipity and a love of cockles.