Branding with longevity - the South Wales Borderers, WWI and beer
Hanging on the wall of the workshop at Red Dragon Flagmakers is a highly unusual framed and rare silk based hand embroidered fabric piece of the twin standards of the 2nd Battalion the South Wales Borderers dated 1914 depicting amongst other detail, a Chinese dragon.
What makes this piece so interesting is that it stands as a reminder to all that 1914 was the time of a World War and incredibly the branding lives on without recognition of its origins in the form of beer.
While much of the British army was desperately fighting the early European battles of WWI, other units of the army were fighting in East Africa against the Germans colony of Tanganyika and also in South Africa against the German colony that is now Namibia.
What is mostly forgotten from that time is that in September 1914 the South Wales Borderers were engaged in fighting against the German colony of Tsing Tao, then commanded by Admiral Graf Spe.
Previous to WWI
There were four European occupied enclaves along the Chinese coast. To the South was Macao (Portugal) then close by was Hong Kong (British); moving further up the coast was the second British colony of Weihaiwei which later handed back to the Chinese in 1934. Going on up the coast was the head-quarters of the German Pacific Empire (Tsing Tao) also consisting of Islands that today are independent nations.
The plan with our Japanese Allies was for the South Wales Borderers to march north from Hong Kong and attack Tsing Tao and the joint Welsh and Japanese land siege of Tsing Tao was a siege which took some two months to end. The main point of historical interest of this siege was that the German defenders under the Command of Admiral Graf Spe had one aircraft under their command which in that time before air combat was expected did enable the defenders to keep an eye on what the attacking forces were planning. This is thought to have been the first use of air power for military use in battle.
By Christmas that year
The Germans had been pushed out Graf Spe who had sailed off to the German controlled Pacific Islands in retreat, but that name appeared again in 1940 when the German battle ship of the same name fought and was scuttled at the battle of the River Plate.
After the victory of Tsing Tao the South Wales Borderers left the Japanese in control which turned out to be the start of the Japanese China war. By 1942 Japan had occupied most of China, going on to defeat the British in both Malaya and Burma.
The only survivor of the battle of Tsing Tao was the German built brewery – today if you go into any of the larger super markets in Wales you will find Chinese beer on display. What is this beer called? Tsing Tao, the only sign left of this long forgotten outpost of a long forgotten empire.
How many even remember that WWI was fought in that far away land, that the Kaisers long forgotten ambition of Empire was destroyed into dust by a Welsh regiment, now only visibly remembered by a brewery?