Thursday, September 05, 2013

From Ramallah to Radnorshire

It's well-known that the Catholics include Hereford within their Cardiff archdiocese, although that may be because of  the West-British outlook prevalent at the time of its formation. Another institution with an ambiguous attitude towards Hereford's identity was the British Army.  Why else would the Herefordshire Regiment - whose ranks included many young Radnorians -  have campaigned as part of the 53rd Welsh Division in both World Wars?

So it was that in December 1917 two Llandrindod brothers - Frank and Tom Edwards, sons of a local watchmaker -  found themselves engaged in the Battle for Jerusalem.  During a break in the fighting, the brothers took the opportunity to visit the newly 'liberated' town of Ramallah.  They wanted to meet the town's mayor, one Elias Audi.  The Sheikh was of interest to them because they knew his brother Joseph Audi Debeni, a popular Llandrindod figure and owner of the Spa's Oriental Bazaar.

By his own account Joseph Audi was born around 1860.  He was almost certainly educated at Ramallah's Quaker school and had originally come to Europe in order to study medicine in Edinburgh.  When Audi's daughter Zarifeh visited England in the early 1890s, she and her companion were described in the press as being the first Arab women to have entered the country - can that be true?

Audi subsequently earned a living as a lecturer on Middle Eastern topics and as a guide accompanying travellers to the Holy Land on behalf of the once well-known travel agency of Henry Gage and Son.  By the mid-1890s he'd opened his Oriental Bazaar (see poster) in Station Crescent's Britannia House; spending the winter months in Palestine conducting tour parties.

Audi was described as a quiet, dignified man, with many friends in the town, and in August 1913 he was granted British nationality.  The Great War put paid to anymore visits home - this photo includes members of Joseph's family, including his mother - and early in 1919 Joseph Audi died.

I wonder if any readers know where Joseph Audi Debeni is buried?  He was a Christian Arab, as were the overwhelming majority of Ramallah's population at that time.  Ramallah is often in the news and it's estimated that nowadays 25% of its 27000 inhabitants are Christians; many of its former citizens having migrated to the United States and South America.


Old Ithonian said...

According to the book "llandrindod Wells In Old Postcards"(Olivia Harries)Sheik Audi was taken ill and died in Llandrindod in February 1919. He is buried in Llandrindod cemetery.

radnorian said...

Thanks for that