Mametz Wood Memorial
The Mametz Wood Memorial commemorates the sacrifice made by soldiers of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the attacks and capture of Mametz Wood in the first Somme offensive of July 1916. The 38th (Welsh) Division suffered more than 4,000 casualties, of whom over 1,000 were killed. More than 750 of those killed remain buried in the wood with no known graves. Their names are recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing.
The Mametz Wood Memorial is situated on a chalk bank overlooking Mametz Wood and in front of a ridge that once concealed the trenches from which the 38th (Welsh) Division attacked. A red Welsh Dragon, which is depicted snarling and tearing at barbed wire, looks towards the site of engagement with ferocity and a sense of tenacity to remind us not only of the slaughter of soldiers cut down by machine gun fire during their advance, but of the bitter hand-to-hand combat that ensued once the perimeter of the wood had been breached.
It was full of dead Prussian Guards, big men, and dead Welch Fusiliers and South Wales Borderers, little men. Not a single tree in the wood remained unbroken.
-Robert Graves, poet ~ who fought in the battle,
describes the aftermath immediately
after the capture of Mametz Wood.
The memorial was commissioned by the South Wales Branch of the Western Front Association following stimulus from a surviving veteran of the Battle of Mametz Wood. Sergeant Tom Price had visited the Somme Battlefields in the early nineteen eighties and was surprised to find that there was no memorial to the 38th (Welsh) Division at the scene of their great sacrifice. A public fund raising event began in Wales by telling the story of the Battle for Mametz Wood and the proposal for a Welsh war memorial at this site. News of the fundraising spread to other regions quickly, and the target of £20,000 was exceeded in a short time as personal stories of sacrifice and courage spurred many people in to pledging their money for the cause.
The Welsh Dragon, hand forged from steel and sculptured by the blacksmith David Petersen sits on top of a four-sided tapered plinth, 3 metres in height. Stone for the plinth was quarried from the Forest of Dean and carved into an obelisk by the monumental masons Messrs. Mossfords, Cardiff. The Dragon was taken to France in April 1987 by the 157 (TA) Royal Corps of Transport, Cardiff, who had also taken the stone blocks the month before. A local firm of builders then fixed the Dragon to the plinth.
In July 1987, on the 71st anniversary of the Capture of Mametz Wood, the memorial was unveiled and dedicated. The wreath laying ceremony was led by veterans of the battle as two buglers of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and with support from the French Army Garde D’Honneur, sounded the Last Post. The 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Wales provided the music as the Kilgetty Male Voice Choir led the singing.
PARCHWN EU HYMDRECHION
PARHAED EIN HATGOFION
A Welsh inscription on the front face of the Mametz Wood Memorial translates to English as:
We revere their endeavours.
May we continue to remember.
Regimental crests of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Welsh Regiment and South Wales Borderers that comprised the 38th (Welsh) Division are carved on the sides of the stonework. The rear of the monument bears no crest, only the words:
A bronze plaque, affixed to a separate plinth on the memorial’s left reads:
THE BATTLE FOR MAMETZ WOOD
AS PART OF THE BATTLE OF THE
SOMME, WHICH BEGAN ON 1st JULY
1916, THE 38th (WELSH) DIVISION
ADVANCED FROM OVER THIS BANK
TO ATTACK AND CAPTURE THE
STRONGLY HELD MAMETZ WOOD.
THE FIRST ATTACK WAS MADE ON 7th
JULY BY 115th BRIGADE BUT THIS WAS
UNSUCCESSFUL WITH THE BRIGADE
SUFFERING HEAVY CASUALTIES.
A DIVISIONAL ATTACK ON THE 10th
JULY WAS ABLE TO CLEAR THE WOOD
UP TO ITS NORTHERN EDGE BY 11th
JULY AND BY THE TIME THE DIVISION
WAS RELIEVED ON 12th JULY THE
ENEMY HAD COMPLETELY WITHDRAWN
FROM THE WOOD.
DURING THE ACTION THE DIVISION
SUFFERED OVER 4000 CASUALTIES AND
THIS MEMORIAL WAS RAISED IN 1987 TO
REMEMBER THIS SACRIFICE.
The plaque also displays a map showing the memorial’s position in relation to the attacks made on Mametz wood and the brigades that comprised the 38th (Welsh) Division.
113 BRIGADE comprised 13th Royal Welsh Fusiliers (1st North Wales), 14th Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Caernarvon & Anglesey), 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers (1st London Welsh), 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers (2nd North Wales).
114 BRIGADE comprised 10th Welsh Regiment (1st Rhondda), 13th Welsh Regiment (2nd Rhondda), 14th Welsh Regiment (Swansea), 15th Welsh Regiment (Carmarthen).
115 BRIGADE comprised 10th South Wales Borderers (1st Gwent), 11th South Wales Borderers (2nd Gwent), 16th Welsh Regiment (Cardiff City), 17th Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
At the entry to Mametz wood and inside it are personal shrines and memorials left behind by relatives of soldiers who fought and died in this battle.
The ground inside the wood still bears the scars of fierce combat with huge craters and signs warning of live munitions.
More than 80 soldiers of the 38th (Welsh) Division are buried in the nearby Flatiron Copse Cemetery, some 650 metres north-east of this memorial, on the Bois Santin.
References & Notes:-
- Welsh on the Somme: Mametz Wood (Battleground Somme), Michael Renshaw (Paperback). | [Kindle version]
- Cymru’n Cofio, Wales Remembers 1914-198 – First World War Centenary Programme 2016.
- Photographs taken 15th August 2016 © 2016 Wolverson Photography.