While there are various themes and elements to the whole Herefordshire Life Through a Lens project, it also seems to be having the positive effect of bringing to the surface other stories that have been largely forgotten with the passage of time. And there are some crackers. Take Oliver Treherne. He appears in one of Derek Evans’ cuttings files, tucked neatly away among dozens of other items that have made it to press. But Mr Treherne stands out.
In an item that appeared in the South Wales News of Ocotber 29th 1955, Evans photographed the centenarian, still smoking a pipe at a 100, to mark his momentous birthday. From the few details we are given, it is clear we are unlikely to meet a character like him anymore: he never learned to read or write; was a former member of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry KSLI; a veteran of the Boer War; and he was rejected to fight in WWI because of ‘his age!’
And that was it, a few tantalising details of a man, whose experiences could be a hundred lifetimes away from ours. But today we have the power of social media, a power for good very often. We posted Oliver Treherne’s press cutting onto our Facebook page. But with the original newspaper report dating from 1955, it seemed so far away that the chances of anyone connected to the Boer War fighter getting in touch seem feint at best. Well, how wrong we were. To our delight, family members did indeed get in touch and they gave us more background to this rather extraordinary character.
We learned that Oliver Treherne was in fact Reuben Oliver Treherne, born at Hill Cottage, Wellington Heath near Ledbury, to Barnabas Treherne, a retired naval officer, and his wife Eliza. Oliver, their only son was was born in October 1855. Mother Eliza died within a month of his birth and Barnaby remarried in 1857. Little Oliver was then brought up by his stepmother Ann. In the above photo, taken in 1905 showing the officers of the Hereford Militia, we are pretty sure Oliver is sat next to Col. Symonds-Taylor, this would of been just a few years before Oliver retired from serving with the K.S.L.I.
Aged just nine, Oliver worked on a farm tending cows from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. daily for a wage of 2s 6d per week. In 1876 he gave up agriculture to serve as a ‘bob-a-day’ private with the 2nd Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment in India, South Africa and China. After 12 years of service, he eventually returned to England leaving the army. But this was short-lived. After three short weeks he rejoined again, deciding that the army life was the one for him. But this time he joined the Militia as part of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry KSLI, and during another 18 years service went to the Boer War as batman to Col. R.H. Symonds-Taylor of Hereford, serving on throughout the campaign between October 11th 1899 and May 31st 1902.
Time in India and then in South Africa on various campaigns one would think that was quite enough for any soldier. Not Oliver however. He even tried to sign up for the Great War of 1914 -1918, but was turned away because he was ‘too old’. Instead, he worked as a builder’s labourer until 1926 with the Hereford firm of Beavan & Hodges Ltd, and helped them to build munitions sheds and the new market that rose in Hereford after the old one had been burnt down. Sadly, while Oliver came through several campaigns unscathed, his only son, Oliver Thomas Treherne, who joined the Royal Welsh Fusiliers before the start of the first world war, was killed in action in France in October 1917.
Oliver’s great grandsons, Keith and Steve Taylor, remember a kindly man: ‘He was a lovely man, very loving and humble. He was was still digging his garden when he was in is nineties’.
In a project that is bursting with stories, Oliver Treheren’s is some story. Thank you to his family for filling in the fascinating gaps. It feels good that someone like him has been rescued from obscurity.
By Marsha O'Mahony