Sydney Vivian Johnson died on 7 May 2014, at the age of 95. Syd never married but had many friends. He worked for BP Oil, at their former-refinery in Llandarcy, but film cameras were his love.
I got to know Syd through the Merthyr and District Natural History Society, where he was a friend and contemporary of Mary Gillham OBE. Mary at that time worked for the Extramural Department of Cardiff University and, as part of her job, organised expeditions to study natural history. Mary and Syd thus were together on many occasions passing on their own considerable expertise. Syd was a film camera enthusiast and recorded what he saw on varying media as they became available, and showed his films at many local meetings. As well as being an excellent naturalist, Syd was interested in industrial archaeology and recorded many scenes of locally-important industries – especially around the Neath Valley where he lived.
I have two memories to share. Firstly sitting down on Gower with Syd, both trying to take a picture of a fulmar, and Syd warning me just in time of their nasty habit of regurgitation. The other occasion, on the Isles of Arran in Galway Bay, where Syd joined in every walk – but always delicately balancing his very heavy camera up and over the numerous stone walls.
His close friend Mike Jones shared many of his archaeological expeditions, such as a particular visit to an old lightship at Britton Ferry that had served at the D-Day landings. These outings continued almost to his death and usually ended with a fish and chip supper, and in Syd bemoaning that “all his pals were going”.
Members may wonder why the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society is commemorating this man. It is because we were gifted his entire film archive. It is a very mixed bag, with some on very old film stock. Many of the films are of industrial archaeology and mention the Neath Antiquarian Society, of which he was a life-long member. Mary Salter,
Mike Dean and I have listed
all the material, and we have had two films of good quality digitalised: ‘An
Island of Birds’, which we will show at the Monday 18 April 2016 meeting, and
one about the Glamorgan Canal. He was certainly the best amateur filmmaker I
have known and I hope we can preserve his legacy in some small way. If any
members have knowledge of Syd, or expertise in his field, we would really value