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Stories from the Museum

Cymraeg - English

The Museum has thousands of stories to tell - from the experiences of an individual soldier to the history of an entire battalion.  Many of the objects on display have a hidden history linking them to a soldier, places and events.  It is not possible to explore all these stories within the Museum where space is limited.

Instead items of particular interest will appear here, presented by experts and enthusiasts alike.  New stories are regularly added so there should always be something new to read.  If you would like to contribute a short article about an object on display or an aspect of Royal Welch history, please contact the Curator.


olympic rings
The Royal Welch Fusiliers has associations with many successful and elite sportsmen. Some reached the pinnacle of their success when serving with the Regiment; others laid the foundations of later success during their service. For a selection of their stories - click here

 

WITH THE 38th DIVISION IN FRANCE
The following account of Mametz Wood, remarkable for its cool appraisal of events, was written by 18531 Sgt Thomas Phillips, a Signalling Sergeant with C Company, 16th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers. The account is transcribed with minor changes to punctuation and the inclusion, in brackets, of a few extra words to aid clarity.
The original document has been kindly donated to the RWF Museum by Thomas Phillips’ grandsons, Norman and Martin.

“WITH THE 38th DIVISION IN FRANCE
Previous to the second week in June 1916, the Division had been holding the British Line in sectors from LAVENTIE to LA BASSEE. About that time, it was transferred to a Mobile Division. There was a leakage of information all along the line, and even in the ranks, and the approaching push was discussed, but where (it would take place), no-one knew. A great assembly of troops at ALBERT was the only tangible bit of information I could gather. At the time movement orders were received we were in the line, and the curtailment of the battalion tour in the trenches added considerably to our inquisitiveness. We packed up hurriedly and commenced our march from LA GORGUE to RIBEMONT. Going southwards from ST POL we could see the huge blaze of our guns along the battle front. We halted at OSTREVILLE, a small country village. The marches were accomplished under cover of darkness. Along the line the guns were exceptionally busy, and the sky along the battle front was ablaze. At OSTREVILLE the Battalion went through a hard course of training “in the attack”, and there was no need for further surmise. The training was strenuous and completed in six days. From the latter place we marched to RIBEMONT. Accommodation was poor but here, as at all the other places, I found another cart which, with a good layer of straw, made a good billet. At RIBEMONT the Battalion was under orders to move at 15 minutes notice.

Tom Phillips as a 2/Lieutenant in the Welsh Regiment

At this place we saw our first batch of Boche prisoners placed in the cage. We only stayed at RIBEMONT one night. At noon the following day we were hurriedly dispatched to reinforce, leaving all surplus kit behind. After a few hours’ march we were met by guides from a (the?) Staffordshire Regiment, and ultimately found ourselves consolidating the newly occupied line of German trenches in front of FRICOURT, a village which, on the previous day, had been completely demolished by our Gunners. For the following five days we occupied these trenches, and by this time the Division had completely relieved the troops who had taken this ground.
The Battalion suffered slight casualties in this area and, at the end of the tour, marched back some distance where we bivouacked. Improvised shelters out of ground sheets were made, and it rained very heavily. The following day we had orders to move forward again, and (we) relieved the 15th RWF in the front line, which system of trenches was half a mile in advance of FRICOURT. We remained in these trenches for four or five days and, although our relief had been expected, in fact arranged but afterwards cancelled, we had orders on the night of the 9th/10th July to take Mametz Wood. Towards the evening of Sunday 10th July a message was received from the GOC Commanding, on the vast importance of taking this wood, and that it was up to the Welsh Division to maintain the traditions of the British Army and win for itself immortal glory, which it did. It was 10.00 PM when all officers were hurriedly summoned to a conference where the method of attack was fully discussed. The disposition of the Companies was as follows:
“B” and “D” Coys supported by “C” and “A”, the extension covering a front of 200 yards and going forward in successive waves. Colonel Carden, to whom this great task was entrusted, addressed the men before going into action saying, “Boys, make your peace with God; we are going to take that position and some of us will not come back.”
For the next few hours there was little time for rest of any sort, and finally arrangements had to be accelerated. At 2.30 AM on the 10th July the Battalion was assembled in extended order out of the trenches, and lay in prone position until 5.00 AM. During these 2½ hours the roar of our guns was deafening and the concerted action of the machine gunners added to the din. The suspense was very keen till we had the order to move forward at 5.00 AM.
The dawn had broken and daylight was fast approaching, enabling us to see the ground we had to cover. We slowly ascended the ridge in front of White Trench (properly called such, as it had been dug out of chalk), and within 10 minutes or so a verbal order was passed down from our right to retire. No-one seemed to know from where this order emanated, but obviously it came from the 14th RWF as they were on our right. “B” and “D” Companies had gone too far forward for this order to be communicated to them. Presumably, if it had, the dauntless and courageous Colonel Carden would not have acted on it as he had set his teeth on getting to the wood. “A” and “C” Company officers were compelled to re-enter the assembly trench in compliance with this order. Orders were rapidly passed down to open fire (as) soon as the Boche appeared in view. Seconds seemed like minutes, and minutes like hours. In due time we saw the Boche but alas, unarmed with hands up, and escorted by one or two Tommies. These prisoners had been taken by “B” and “D” Companies. One of the escort waved his arm as a signal to go forward again and out of the trench everyone leapt without waiting for definite orders from superior officers. It displayed the instinctive valour of a British Tommy and individual determination to gain the objective. On we went in single file through a heavy Boche barrage and, on the other side of the crest was a steep embankment which offered the enemy machine gunners a good field of fire. I do not remember going down this embankment at all as I was so wrapped up in the task allotted to me. I was entrusted with the communications of the 113th Brigade.
Our first objective was to get to the wood and, for the purpose of re-organisation, seek natural cover in the folds of the ground. At this juncture the enemy put up a heavy barrage of incendiary shells that burst 100 yards or so short. The sudden burst of flame which extended from the point of bursting, 200 feet high, to the ground had a demoralizing effect, as no-one in the Battalion had previously heard of them. Colonel Carden was mortally wounded within 20 yards of the wood. After a brief stay the troops went forward into the wood, entering it at the nearest point which, for the purpose of clarity, can be described as the apex of a triangle. At this point the Boche had three machine gun posts which momentarily checked our entrance. These machine gunners were dealt with.
We pressed on until the second objective was reached. I skirted the edge of the wood and ascended the slope till I could be seen by the Brigade forward telephone station, and in doing so had to dodge the bullets which were fired by snipers up in the trees. I succeeded, with the help of my signallers, to maintain communication during the whole time of this inferno, and the chief messages required to be sent were for more and more stretcher bearers. The Battalion suffered a loss of about 400 casualties in this struggle, out of 600 who went into action.

During the same evening we were relieved by an incoming battalion, and we retired to a sunken road called Queens Nullah, immediately behind the Chalk Trench. We had to be on the “qui Vive” all night as all sorts of reports were flying about. Early next morning I witnessed one of the best artillery movements I have ever seen; that of a Battery riding into action under heavy fire. We rested during the day on their left, and our time was chiefly taken up by devouring the Brigade rations which had been dumped nearby. Ample justice was made to the selection of ham, cheese, bread, rum etc which we had, as we had been on biscuits and water only during the 4/5 days we had occupied the trenches in front of FRICOURT. Our transport could not get anywhere near us. We were in very poor physical condition on the day of the 12th and, as we had been under such heavy fire for several days and nights, (we) did not regard the shelling we were subjected to on this day as of much consequence. Late in the afternoon the Boche guns got our range and pummeled Queens Nullah, causing several casualties to the few of us that remained. It was here that I narrowly escaped death myself and instead, received a wound in the chest and leg, as well as being crushed by a fall.”
18531 Tom Phillips “C” Company, 16th RWF

Thomas Phillips
Born 11th November 1881 at Llanelli.
Married Elizabeth Miller in 1909. One son ( William Growtage) born in Wrexham in 1925
Thomas enlisted in the first week of December 1914 and was given the Regimental number 18531. He was probably a pre-war Territorial and consequently may have begun the war as a Lance Corporal (Acting Sergeant) as this appears on his 1914-15 Star. He was posted to 16th (Service) Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers.
In 1915 Thomas attended the Signalling School at Wyke Regis Camp, Weymouth. He qualified as an Assistant Instructor of Signalling. He landed in France with the 16th Battalion RWF, attached to 38th (Welsh) Division on 2nd December 1915.
Thomas Phillips’ name was included in the Times wounded casualty list dated August 30th 1916. As he states in his account he was wounded after the withdrawal from Mametz Wood. He was returned to the UK. It would appear that he was recognised as “officer material” because he was commissioned as a 2/Lieutenant with effect from 2nd October 1916. He was posted to 18th Battalion Welsh Regiment on 10th October.
On 9th April 1917 Lieutenant Phillips was Mentioned in Dispatches from Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig for gallant and distinguished services in the field.
He survived the war and was demobilised, with the rank of Lieutenant, on 23rd July 1919.
Thomas Phillips established an Ironmongers business in Aberystwyth. His hobby was fishing and he was a Welsh National Fly-fishing Champion. He was a prominent member of the community, serving as a Rotarian and with the National Fire Service. On his death, on 10th October 1956, tributes were paid by the Town Clerk of Aberystwyth on behalf of the Town Council, and by the Chief Constable, among others.

 

The Amazing Story of Private William Ashley

On 19 October 1914 the 7th Division moved on Menin in an attempt to recapture the town from the Germans, but had to pull back later in the day because of the menace of the new German 4th Army behind the left flank. The 1st Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers had been in the forefront of the fighting, having reached Klythoek, about two miles from Menin, and had some way to go before again reaching its starting position at Broodseinde. Eleven NCOs and men were reported missing the next day, one of them Pte 4553 William Ashley of 'A' Coy, a printer's assistant from Bollington in Cheshire, who had joined the RWF Special Reserve on 22 January 1912, three months after his 17th birthday.

In the days that followed, many more men would be reported missing. Most of them would be accounted for as their names appeared on lists of prisoners supplied by the German Army or as comrades reported their deaths. But William Ashley remained missing.

Then, in late April 1915, the usual War Office letter, asking Ashley's father if he had by any chance heard anything from his son, drew an unexpected reply originating from Ashley's old employers, the Adelphi and Clarence Mills in Bollington, and addressed to the Army Pay Office in Shrewsbury:

With reference to your enquiry of a few days ago as to whether I had heard anything from my son, I now beg to hand you the following copies of two letters received from him.
Thomas Ashley his mark X


Typewritten copies of these two letters are still in Ashley's personal file. One was from a Belgian gentleman, Monsieur N. Demars, who had escaped the German occupation and had been interned in Sas van Gent in the Netherlands. The Paymaster thoughtfully provided a translation:

22nd April, 1915
Sir, Your son is very well; he is in the house of some friends near to Menin, Belgium. He is not wanting anything. He retired there toward the end of October. He was not able to rejoin his comrades having been surrounded. He has not been wounded, he is well guarded, he sees many things near the front and is waiting impatiently the moment when he can return to the army.
                                           Cordialement, Demars


The other letter was in fact a postcard:

Dear father,
I am in the best of health,
from your son Will,
13th April 1915


The Adelphi and Clarence managing director, Mr John Wanklyn, had assisted Thomas Ashley with the letter and was wise enough to think ahead and add a cautious footnote:

Do you advice it as being safe for the parents to correspond to the address given with their son or is it likely to lead to complications?
John A. Wanklyn, Managing Director

The Infantry Record Office in Shrewsbury informed the War Office and also the Officer i/c Infantry Records of the BEF. The War Office in turn answered that the information had been noted and left it at that.

And then, apart from some rather irritated correspondence between Shrewsbury and Whitehall, continuing into 1916, sorting out the confusion caused by Ashley's name being on the lists of prisoners, more confusion about his number (thought to be 8192 by the War Office) and another letter from the War Office saying that to all intents and purposes Ashley should receive the same pay and allowances as a Prisoner of War, nothing new happened. There is no evidence of letters from Belgium or the Netherlands having been received in 1916 or 1917.

The story took a dramatic turn in 1918, when the Adjutant of the RWF Depot in Wrexham received another report on Pte Ashley's peregrinations:

13th Febry 1918. Zeerust Hotel
Schcueningen, [sic] Holland
When I was in Holzminden Camp, in Germany, a man, apparently a Belgian Civilian, working outside the wire- told me- on about 25th November 1917- in English that he was in 1st Battn Royal Welsh Fusiliers and that he had been in my Company; I am afraid that I could not recognise him but he knew me and had enquired for me from other officers walking round, so I have no reason to doubt him. It was difficult for me to talk to him, being not allowed, and I got into touch with the man later, through the orderlies, when they were working outside the Camp; among these orderlies was a man of my Company who recognised the "Belgian" he found out that the man was No 4553 Pte William Ashley, who joined the 1st Battn, from the Depot, at LYNDHURST, after their arival [sic] from Malta at the end of September 1914.
On 19th October while retiring from N of MENIN, Pte Ashley, so he said, became separated from the Battn, and to avoid falling into the hands of the Germans he hid in a Belgian cottage, disguising himself as a Belgian peasant; he hoped to escape from here later but was unable to do so. He lived there as a Belgian until he was removed in, I think June 1918 to Germany with a large part of the Belgian civilian population. He was most anxious that his true identity should not be disclosed, as it would get him, and his friends who had sheltered him, into serious trouble. I did what little I could for him while there, and told him that I would endeavour to send him things when I got to Holland; I am now aranging, [sic] through a Belgian relief committee to send him parcels. He gave me as the name of his Next of Kin Mrs Chester 7 Lord Street Burrington [sic] New Macclesfield. I have written to Mrs Chester, but I did not tell her the name under which he was now living, being afraid she might write to him and "give away" who he was. His assumed name and present address is.
Segers Joseph
Civil Prisoner
Belgian

[bottom of page damaged]


[..…] but I should not say he was in the best of Health, owing to a shortage of food.
J. Smyth Osbourne Captain
1 Royal Welsh Fusiliers


There must have been another communication, now lost, concerning William Ashley as the Infantry Records Office informed Thomas Ashley on 22 October 1918 that his son was still alive:

With reference to your son, the above named soldier, I am instructed to inform you that information has been received in War Office that the above was alive in September 1918. I am also to impress upon you that under no circumstances whatever should you attempt to communicate with him, as any attempt will endanger his life, and the lives of others who are assisting him. I would also advise you to warn any of your friends who might write to your son, that they should not do so for the reason stated above.

No records survive to tell us how William Ashley returned to the Army. We can assume that he was one of the many returning Belgian deportees, as there is a short and barely legible note on his Medical History sheet that he was admitted to 229 Field Ambulance (then stationed between Tournai and Brussels) with bronchitis on 11 December 1918. He was transferred to 51 Casualty Clearing Station the same day and a few days later evacuated to the UK on the Belgian steamer 'Pieter Coninck', then was admitted to Hammersmith Hospital on 17 December and discharged to the Depot on 17 December. He was granted a furlough from 20 December to 20 February 1919, and during his leave he was transferred to Class Z, returning to civilian life but with the obligation to return if called upon to do so.

There appears to have been little official recognition for his amazing adventure. He did not receive any medals apart from the 1914 Star and the British War and Victory Medals. On 2 April 1919 the War Office decided that he did not qualify for the bounty of 15 pounds given to serving soldiers.

Contributed by Dr H J Krijnen

9th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, at the Battle of Loos, 1915

An account taken verbatim from the War Diary entries compiled by Major Charles Burrard, 2nd-in-Command of the Battalion. Footnotes by Christopher Fyles, great-grandson of Sergeant John Thomas Nicholls, DCM, who served in the 9th Battalion from its formation in 1914 until his discharge in March 1919.

24th September 1915: Brigade H.Q. moved to Advanced Report Centre. Very wet + muddy. Our artillery continued to bombard.

We had been in the trenches since Aug 30th + our total casualties up to the evening of the 24th had been 2 men killed and 11 wounded. On the evening of the 24th Lt Col MADOCKS (sic) [1] and his battalion Hd Quarters moved up to A company mess in the firing-line. He asked me (Major C. BURRARD) to meet him there at 4.15 a.m. [2] the next morning. I retired for the night to a disused dug-out I found in one of the old support trenches. It was then drizzling.

25th September 1915: I met the C.O. in A company mess at 4.15 a.m. + had some coffee. I then went back to my dug-out. It was drizzling + what breeze there was seemed to be unfavourable for the use of gas; I began to think the attack would be postponed.

5.50 a.m. Our artillery started a furious bombardment.

I hurried down to the firing line and found the smoke candles at work. On my way there, I observed a mile to the south, a thin cloud floating slowly toward the German lines; this I took as asphyxiating gas. The breeze was still very slight but seemed to have turned temporarily in our favour. It was not to be depended on however + too weak + I am of the opinion that the pall of smoke in front of our lines did more harm than good as it brought on inactivity on the part of our Artillery. The smoke was intended to supplement the gas + mislead the Hun into believing that there was an immense amount of that commodity coming towards them. None of our men were injured by our own gas, though I believe a few of the 6th Wilts [3] suffered.

6.30 a.m. About this time I was informed that a sheaf of rockets had been sent up by the Brigade, intimating the commencement of the attack. I personally did not see it. From subsequent inquiry I learnt the following which bore out to some extent the message sent by the Artillery Observation Officer at 6.25 that the Royal Welch were already attacking. Col. Madocks remained at A company mess till the sheaf of rockets went up, he then told Captain HOYLE, commanding A company to commence the attack (A company was to be directing). Captain HOYLE proceeded to No 10 sap but he had already at 6.15 a.m. had men out in the sap & I think it is probable that his leading platoon was already extended, lying down, in line with the head of the sap, ready to advance.

The order had been issued to be ready to commence the attack at 6.30 a.m. This order might be differently interpreted. It should have been made clear whether troops were to enter the sap or remain behind the parapet till 6.30 a.m. The leading platoon of A company being extended in front of the sap it is possible an advance was made before Capt HOYLE returned from HdQrs. At any rate an officer of B company on the left whose company was keeping in touch with A looked at his watch when the advance commenced and it was 6.20 a.m.

The pall of smoke was very thick; Capt HOYLE had orders for his directing flank to march on a certain willow tree but this was now hidden from view + it is believed he diverged to the right in front of the 9th Welsh [sic, 4].

The Artillery observation officer who had wired down that the attack had commenced, about this time surpassed himself by ‘phoning that the 9th R.W. Fus. Had taken the first line of trenches. This must have been an effort of the imagination on his part as owing to the smoke, nothing could be seen.

Messages like this led to wild rumours after the action of spies having tapped the wires.

At about 6.50 I met Lt Col. Madocks & his Adjutant in one of the centre bays. He seemed very optimistic and asked me if D company was out yet; if so, we would follow.

The arrangements for attack were as under:-

B Coy{---------------- ---------------}A Coy         50 yards
             ---------------- --------------                     distance
              ---------------- --------------                    between
              ---------------- --------------                    platoons
D Coy {---------------- -------------}D Coy
              ---------------- --------------

I reported that D company was not yet out.

A quarter of an hour later Captain HOGG the Adjutant again went to inquire + in the meantime Col. MADOCKS who was observing over the parapet was struck by a shot in the temple + fell dead at my feet. It was evident by this time that things were not going well; not much could be seen on account of the smoke but there were rumours of the saps being encumbered with wounded which accounted for the delay with D company. – I had seen Capt ACTON, comdg D company a few minutes before just outside our wire entanglement + I suggested to Capt HOGG to get into communication with him + obtain his opinion; Capt HOGG had been gone about 10 minutes when I received information that both he and Capt ACTON had been shot.

The 6th Wilts were now beginning to arrive; to avoid a useless sacrifice of life I gave orders for a retirement. Col. JEFFRIES, comdg 6th Wilts. who arrived shortly afterwards concurred with me.

Our action north of the LA BASSEE canal was intended as a demonstration, the principle attack being carried out south of the canal; our energetic action was the means of withdrawing several battalions of reserve to our front, which the Germans could have utilised further south. But could not this advantage have been gained without such loss of life? Undoubtedly both the G.O.C. 58th Brigade + Col. MADOCKS had been misled as to the damage our Artillery had effected on the enemy’s wire after several day’s bombardment also the effect it had had on the enemy’s morale; the effect on the wire was, as a matter of fact, negligible + the onus of not reporting this, of not making a more thorough reconnaissance rests on the companies who were in the front line; it was unduly optimistic to suppose that the enemy’s morale had gone, as during a bombardment the Germans are adept at burrowing themselves into specially deep dug-outs or keeping out of the way.

It was confidently believed that we should have no difficulty in rushing across the intervening space + capturing the German front + support trenches.- When the time came to carry this out we found ourselves up against a row of impenetrable wire and the intervening ground swept by half-a-dozen a machine guns.

C company under Capt K.NICHOLL had been detailed to act as a flanking party + moved up FIFE ROAD. They suffered severely from the enemy’s artillery which was most accurate.

The remainder of the morning was taken up in moving the remnants of the battalion to the Reserve Line. During the hours of darkness many of the wounded were brought in.

The following is a list of the casualties on Sept 25th :-

Killed (Officers) – LT.COL. H.J. MADOCKS, CAPT. C.A. ACTON, CAPT. E.C. PAYNE, CAPT. L.S. HOGG, CAPT. B.W.E. HOYLE, LIEUT. C.F.J. SYMONS, 2nd LT. R.J. WILLIAMS.

Officers wounded – LIEUT. H.J. WILLIAMS, LT. G.H. CHARLTON, 2nd LT. R.H. HIGHAM, 2nd LT. C. FAWCETT
 

Rank + file Killed Wounded Missing
HdQrs   2 3
A Coy 10 45 28
B “ 2 23 44
C “ 5 28 3 (believed buried)
D “ 7 31 7
Total 24 129 85

(Total casualties officers and men 249)

It is believed a few of the missing are prisoners of war.

The numbers that went into action were :-
25 officers, 781 rank & file

Footnotes
[1] Lieutenant-Colonel Henry John Maddocks, C.O. of 9th Battalion, R.W.F., killed-in-action 25/09/15 and buried in plot I.F.20 in Brown’s Road Military Cemetery, Festubert.
[2] The 24-hour clock system was not in general use until later in the War.
[3] 6th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, part of 58th Brigade along with 9th R.W.F. They were in Support on 25th September, behind the R.W.F.
[4] 9th Battalion, Welch Regiment, also part of 58th Brigade and on the right flank of the R.W.F.

Contributed by Christopher Fyles

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13621 Sgt John Thomas Nichols DCM

Sgt Nichols was the contributor’s great-grandfather.

He was born in St Helen’s Lancashire and died in 1945.

He served with 9th Battalion throughout the Great War and was awarded the DCM for his gallantry in action at Messines in the summer of 1917. The citation read: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He reached the enemy’s lines some distance ahead of his assaulting platoon, whereupon he attacked twenty of the enemy single-handed, bayoneted three of them and kept the rest prisoners until the arrival of his platoon. He later showed marked ability and coolness in assisting his company commander under heavy shell fire.”

~
Enlarge Image

Lt Col H J Maddocks, Commanding Officer of 9th Battalion, killed in action at Loos on 25th September 1915.


Enlarge Image

Major C Burrard, who wrote the 9th Battalion War Diary at Loos.

He commanded the Battalion prior to the appointment of Lt Col Maddocks in August 1915.

3637 Sergeant John Gamble, 23rd Regiment (Royal Welch Fusiliers).

The man in this photograph is John Gamble. He sits looking at the camera and wears the Crimean War Medal with clasps for Alma, Inkerman and Sevastopol and the Turkish Crimean Medal. The image was probably taken at the end of his military career in November 1856, when he was discharged at Chatham.  Gamble's spell in the 23rdRegiment was short and almost fatal.

He was born in the parish of Walcot, Bath, around February 1830. At some unknown date he was apprenticed a shoemaker and was living in Chester. He was attested into the 23rd Regiment at Chester aged 21 years and 9 months on 14th October 1851. Within a year he was promoted to corporal. His promotion was dated 1st June 1852 and in later life Gamble attributed his rapid success to his being 'a bit of a scholar', which probably meant he was literate. He was promoted to sergeant on 12th July 1854.

By that time he was with his regiment as part of the 'Army of the East'. The 23rd Regiment were part of the 1st Brigade of the Light Division. The other regiments were the 7th Fusiliers and the 33rd Regiment. The 23rdwere under the command of Lt. Col. Harry Chester and arrived in the east on 25th April 1854.

If Gamble was with the main body of the regiment at the Battle of the Alma, on 20th September 1854, he would have advanced with Codrington, as part of the right brigade , up the long and gentle slope towards the Great Redoubt. This strong position was on the Russian right and even today it is possible to walk from the river bank to the site of the battery over some 250 yards of open ground. With the 19thRegiment on their left and the 33rd Regiment on their right the 23rdRegiment advanced into a withering fire of round shot and musket fire from the Great Redoubt. The British forces became disorganised in their advance and suffered greatly from the determined Russian fire. The Redoubt was eventually taken and it was the Queen's colour of the 23rdthat was raised to show it. The Russians recovered and eventually drove out the British infantry from the Redoubt, inflicting heavy losses on the 23rd who were further damaged by Russian sharp shooters who picked off the officers in their sights. Gamble survived the Battle of the Alma and was with the regiment when it faced the Russians at the Battle of Inkerman on 5th November 1854. Here he was wounded.

As dawn broke after  a misty, damp night the Russians, in force, tried to roll up the right flank of the British position at Inkerman. With artillery on Shell Hill they attacked across a valley and up towards Home Ridge occupied by British forces. The battle has been called 'The Soldiers Battle' due to the hours of frenzied attack and counter-attack in the valley between the two armies. Both sides displayed desperate bravery and resolution and losses were heavy. Elements of the 23rd Regiment were on picket when the battle started and lost 8 killed, 22 wounded and 12 taken prisoner. Gamble's  discharge papers state that 'He received a bullet through the left lung passing out between the shoulder blades. The wound received at the Battle of Inkerman. [He] has never since been able to take much exercise in consequence of Dyspepsia.'

In a newspaper article written many years after his discharge there are further details of Gamble's experiences : [At Inkerman]' he received a sabre cut over the eye, but continued fighting until he was severely wounded by a bullet which almost proved fatal and which penetrated the upper lobe of the left lung, making its exit under the shoulder blade. Whilst in hospital a terrible snow storm [The Great Hurricane of 14thNovember] swept away the tent in which he was lying in a critical condition, and on being picked up it was thought that he was dead, but fortunately he recovered. He was invalided home and found to be unfit for further military service. His discharge papers described him as being 27 years old, 5'10” tall and having the scars of smallpox on his face as well as the mark of a wound on his left chest. His intended place of residence was Coleford, Gloucestershire.

The year after the end of his career as a soldier, Gamble married his cousin Mary and they had two sons before her death in 1876. He married again in 1879 at St Mary's Church, Weston Super Mare, to Hannah Singer and more children followed. By this time he was working as a railway clerk at Coleford in the Forest of Dean. He was also a drill instructor to 'G' (Coleford) Company, Rifle Volunteers.

When the Bristol Crimean and Indian Mutiny Veterans Association was formed in 1892, Gamble became an honorary member. He attended many of their functions and parades and was twice in the line when King Edward VII inspected the veterans at Avonmouth and Gloucester. He regularly raised funds to contribute to the annual veterans Christmas dinners at their headquarters in Orchard Street, Bristol.

He died in June 1914 and was buried on 27th of that month in Lydney parish churchyard. Six Crimean and Indian Mutiny veterans were pall bearers at his funeral : Sergeant John Fisher (Rifle Brigade), Sergeant James George (Royal Navy and 3rd Regiment), Sergeant J.Milton (3rdRegiment), Private Isaac Brooks (6th Dragoons)  and Private George Singleton (6th Regiment)

Glenn Fisher

Sources : The papers of the Bristol Crimean and Indian Mutiny Veterans Association; The National Archives Kew, Soldiers Discharge Documents in WO97/1469; The Lydney Observer 3rd July 1914; Patrick Mercer 'Inkerman 1854' Osprey Military Campaign series no.51, 1998; Ron McGuigan 'Into Battle!' British Orders of Battle for the Crimean War 1854-56, Withycut House 2001.      

---------------------------------------------

3855 Private William Stone, 23rd Regiment, Royal Welch Fusiliers.

The photograph that accompanies this article shows a bearded man in his fifties, wearing civilian clothes. On his jacket can be seen four medals. Below the image is written 'W Stone 23rd & 12th Regts.' Above this title in faded ink is the further detail 'Died 7 May 1900.' The photograph was taken after 1892 and the formation of the Bristol Crimean and Indian Mutiny Veterans Association.
This organisation was the creation of the Reverend Joseph Kettlestring Wain, James Fuller Eberle and Walter S. Paul. It was founded in order to assist old soldiers and sailors who fought in the two campaigns and some of whom had fallen on hard times. Part of the work of the association was to have photographic portraits taken of some of the members wearing their campaign medals. 
William Stone was born in the parish of St Phillips and St Jacobs on 17th August 1836.

The 1851 census for St Phillips and St Jacobs reveals a family named Stone with a widow, Harriet , as head and a daughter and two sons, William aged 13 and Joshua aged 11. It is possible that this is the William Stone who was to join the army and so release his widowed mother from responsibility for him. The census records his occupation as 'a servant boy.' 

On 17th February 1853, aged 16 years and 6 months Stone was attested into the 23rd regiment in Bristol. Like many before him he found the transition from civilian to soldier difficult and on 1st April 1853, Stone was imprisoned for a fortnight. His military records show he was 18 years old on 17th August 1853, and from that date his reckonable military service commenced. 

When war broke out with Russia at the end of March 1854, Stone sailed from Southampton on 4th April, in the steamer 'Trent' with his regiment and arrived in the east on 25th April 1854. The regiment embarked with 31 officers and 909 other ranks. Two depot companies, numbering 168 all ranks were left at Winchester. 

The voyage had taken them to Constantinople via Gibraltar and Malta. A painting of their arrival at Malta was used as a frontispiece in the volume entitled 'Troopships and Their History' by Colonel 
H C B Rogers published the Imperial Services Library in 1963. The painting was entitled 'RMSP Trent, At Malta 1854, with The Royal Welch Fusiliers on board.' and was by courtesy of the Hon. Company of Master Mariners. An engraving of the troopship with the 23rd regiment on board as it steamed up the Dardanelles at Gallipoli was published in the Illustrated London News Supplement on 27th May 1854.
After spending an unpleasant time at Varna throughout June, the 23rd and some other regiments shifted camp to Devna 7 miles away to the east. This camp however proved as wretched as the previous one with poor rations, intense heat and no hay for the horses. In the two months from the end of June the British Army wilted and declined due to cholera, boredom and lack of adequate supply. When they embarked for the Crimea on 5th September, there was a general feeling of relief that at last they were going to do something.
The 23rd regiment as part of the Light Division under the Peninsular War veteran, Sir George Brown, landed at the ominously name Kalamita Bay on 14th September. Six days later they faced the Russian Army as it occupied the slopes overlooking the river Alma.
Today the long and gentle slope leading from the Alma to the position of the Russian redoubt is largely as it was in 1854. The position of the redoubt is now enclosed with a wall. Within its boundary are monuments and marked mass graves of the soldiers who fell in the battle. One of these memorials is to the officers and men of the 23rd regiment who fell in the battle. On 20th September 1854 the Russian gunners and riflemen would have had an uninterrupted field of fire as the Light Division advanced up the slope towards them. Casualties among the regiments that made up the 1st Brigade of the Light Division were heavy. It was in the assault on the Russian redoubt that Sergeant Luke O'Connor of the 23rd regiment was to win the Victoria Cross and William Stone received two wounds. His discharge papers reveal that he was wounded in the left shoulder (a flesh wound over the left scapula) and the leg. These injuries were sufficiently serious to require his removal to Scutari hospital in Constantinople. The muster roll for the regiment records that he was taken from the Crimea on 25th September to Scutari. 

Today the barracks at Scutari in modern Istanbul is an impressive building. Its appearance is essentially the same as it was in 1854 though now it is clean and pristine within and without. It is the headquarters of the Turkish 1st Army. In 1854 however it was in a very different state. The conditions at Scutari hospital following the Battle of the Alma were reported in the Times newspaper and became a national scandal. William Stone, with his two wounds, was certainly in mortal danger as he, like others, was left in the filth and chaos of the hospital. Miraculously he survived. Florence Nightingale arrived at Scutari in November 1855 and the conditions at the hospital gradually improved. This was partly due to her hard work and also to the work of the Army Medical service. 
William Stone returned to the regiment in the Crimea on 25th February 1855. 

Sevastopol had been under siege by the allies since the end of September the previous year. The Redan was a formidable earthworks fortification in the defences of Sevastopol. It was well defended by the Russians, who offered stubborn , resolute resistance. The 23rd Regiment were part of the assaulting force in the attack on the Redan on 18th June 1855, but in reserve and there were no casualties among the ranks. The attack however was a failure. Likewise on the 8th September 1855 the 23rd were part of the supporting force but this time they suffered heavy casualties in the failed assault on the Redan. It was during this assault that Corporal Robert Shields of the 23rd regiment rescued the wounded Adjutant Lieutenant Douglas Dyneley and was later awarded the Victoria Cross.

An earthworks adjacent to the Redan, called the Malakoff, however was taken by the French. The Russians realised that this made their position untenable and withdrew to the north side of Sevastopol the same evening. This effectively ended the siege of Sevastopol.
William Stone served a total of 2 years 88 days in the Army of the East and returned with the regiment in July 1856.
He was with the regiment in India during the suppression of the Indian Mutiny in 1857. The regiment had embarked for service in China but were diverted to India. The 23rd regiment was involved in operations around Lucknow. William Stone's discharge papers state that he was in possession of the Indian Mutiny Medal with a clasp for the relief and capture of Lucknow. The 23rd regiment remained in India until 1869. During that period Stone was re-engaged for a further 10 years and 320 days in October 1864. When the 23rd regiment's tour of India came to an end Stone did not return with them. He volunteered to the 2/12th regiment and remained with them until June 1875 when he was discharged after serving a total of 17 years and 8 months in India.
His discharge papers reveal that his service in India had told on his health. It states that he was suffering from 'debility and a tendency to Locomotor Ataxy.' The medical report declared that his condition was entirely due to his 18 years service in India and not from any vice or intemperance. It also added that Stone's condition, with his weakness of his limbs and rickety gait, would not improve and that he 'cannot contribute to his support.' He was discharged at the hospital at Netley near Southampton on 7th June 1875. Stone had served 20 years and 190 days and his conduct and character were described as 'very good.' and apart from his campaign medals he also a medal for long service and good conduct with a gratuity of £5. His Chelsea out-pensioner number was 32601 and his intended place of residence was Bristol. The national census for 1881for 19 Kenilworth Terrace, St Philip and St Jacob, gives further details regarding his life. When he returned from India he was a married man with a family. His wife, Margaret, was from Derby but his four children were all born in India. The two oldest sons, George and Joseph were recorded as 'blacksmiths.' The younger children, a daughter Margaret and a son Francis were recorded as 'scholars.' William Stone is described a s a labourer in a sugar refinery, thus disproving the statement on his discharge papers regarding his ability to work.

He was one of the original members of the Bristol Crimean and Indian Mutiny Veterans Association and may have been with the scores of veterans when they were invited to Windsor. The party left by special train on the morning of 16th May 1898. They were presented to Queen Victoria in the grounds of Windsor Castle. The Queen noted in her diary that she had inspected the veterans. Before departing for Bristol the veterans were entertained to lunch. When Queen Victoria visited Bristol the following year, the Bristol veterans provided a guard of honour as the Queen alighted from her carriage at Bristol Art Gallery.

Glenn Fisher
Crimean War Research Society


Source references:
1 The National Archives WO97/ 1471, Soldiers Discharge Documents 1855-1873.
2 ibid.
3 Michael Glover 'That Astonishing Infantry' Leo Cooper . London 1989. pp64. 
4 TNA WO12/4012 and 4013 Muster Roll 23rd regiment 1854-56.
5 ibid 
6 Glover, op. cit. pp 79. 
7 Papers of the Bristol Crimean and Indian Mutiny Veterans Association.

1st Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers at Saint-Venant, May 1940

The 1st Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers first made contact with the Germans on 14 May 1940 on the River Dyle at Ottenburg, north of Wavre and some 20 km south-east of Brussels. The forward company was subjected to intense mortar fire and a series of unsuccessful attacks throughout the following day. Meanwhile the Germans had broken through near Sedan, threatening the southern flank of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.), and orders for the Battalion to withdraw came on the night of 15-16 May.


Men of 1RWF, Spring 1940

Trucks which had been promised to carry them back to the River Escaut failed to arrive and for three days the move had to be made on foot, while every night defensive positions had to be dug and manned. Meals were hurried and irregular, rations frequently supplemented by slaughtered livestock, but nothing interfered with the Battalion's ability to march. In one period of thirty hours they covered forty miles without leaving a single straggler behind. Late on 18 May the trucks eventually arrived and took the Battalion to Tournai on the Escaut where they held the river line for forty-eight hours, being heavily shelled and bombed. Everyone was now extremely tired and few in the Battalion had had more than two hours sleep in each twenty-four hour period. 

Late on 20 May, with the German forces again threatening to outflank the BEF, they were told to withdraw to the area north of Béthune, where they arrived on 24 May, and were given an assurance that the brigade was going into rest as a reserve formation. This rest lasted only two hours, because they were then ordered to advance westward to capture four bridges over the La Bassée Canal, south of Saint-Venant, which was part of the so-called Canal Line. This was an important obstacle if the B.E.F. was to form a new front facing south and west, while simultaneously holding off the German attacks from the east. 

The fact that one weary battalion had to be ordered to capture four bridges over a distance of three miles is indicative of the straits to which the B.E.F. was now reduced. Their task was made no easier when the only fire support available, one remaining 3-inch mortar, came to grief. When eventually four field guns arrived to support the Battalion, their forward observation officer had no map, and since the whole Battalion had only four inadequate maps, the indication of targets was all but impossible. All maps of France had been withdrawn from the Battalion when it moved into Belgium. 

A first attempt to capture the bridges was made on the evening of 24 May with most of the Battalion advancing westward, parallel to the Canal de la Lys on their right. They took the hamlet of Saint-Floris, but could not force their way into Saint-Venant. Meanwhile D Company ran into an ambush and suffered heavy casualties. Next morning B Company took the village of Robecq, south of Saint-Venant, with the company advancing in open order using fire and movement by platoons -a copy-book exercise culminating in a bayonet charge. Unfortunately, although they reached one of the bridges just beyond the village, they found themselves surrounded and besieged, with three of their four officers wounded. They held the village until darkness on 26 May when the survivors broke out in small parties. Very few of them reached safety. 

Meanwhile the Battalion had captured Saint-Venant on the morning of 25 May with prisoners taken and casualties inflicted on the enemy. These attacks were the only occasion in the campaign when a British battalion retook ground captured by the Germans. A and C Companies pushed on, aiming for the more westerly bridge. A quarter of a mile from their objective they were pinned down in open ground by enemy fire and had great difficulty in regaining their start line in Saint-Venant. 

Apart from heavy shelling and the sight of numbers of German tanks and infantry moving across the front, 26 May was uneventful. The Durham Light Infantry took over Saint-Floris, allowing the Battalion to concentrate around Saint-Venant. Having sent the transport over the canal, Lieutenant Colonel Harrison sought permission to withdraw to the north bank, but this was refused, so the Battalion settled down to await the inevitable attack. This started at 8 a.m. on 27 May, and it was soon clear that no weapons were available that could stop the medium tanks of the 3rd Panzer Division. At 9 a.m. the Brigadier ordered the D.L.I. to fall back through the Royal Welch, but they were too closely engaged to extricate themselves. Colonel Harrison therefore ordered all his men who could get clear to double back over the canal bridge which was now under machine-gun fire from both sides. He followed them but was killed shortly after reaching the north bank. At this stage it was found that the engineers waiting to demolish the bridge were no longer there, so that the German tanks were able to cross on the heels of the survivors, killing some and taking others prisoner. 

Altogether since 10 May, the Battalion had suffered some 750 casualties killed, wounded, missing and taken prisoner. The memorial to those who died is sited near the bridge, now removed, where so many of these casualties occurred, and near the cemetery where at least thirty-one of them are buried. The precise number will never be known because the cemetery contains the graves of forty British soldiers who have not been identified. It is likely that they include some of the twenty-five men of the Battalion who have no known grave. 

It would be inappropriate to mention by name those who won honours and awards during May 1940, as, because of the circumstances, many acts of gallantry must have gone unreported. It should, however, be known that members of the Battalion won the following awards:

Military Cross 2 

Distinguished Conduct Medal 3 

Military Medal 5 

Mentioned in Despatches 15


The RWF Saint-Venant Memorial. Photograph courtesy of David Pickering

 

Territorial battalions of the RWF 1908-2008

Volunteer Ancestors
Because of the deep-seated distrust of France and the comparative weakness of the British Regular Army many Rifle Volunteer Corps were formed between 1859 and 1863 as “home defence” units.  Such units were raised in the counties of North Wales - in Carnarvonshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Merionethshire and Montgomeryshire.  In 1881, as part of the Army Reforms, the first three of these units were affiliated to the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the remaining two to the South Wales Borderers.  In 1884 the Denbighshires became the 1st (Volunteer) Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Carnarvonshires and Flintshires the 2nd.  In 1897 a 3rd Battalion was formed.   

Territorial Force (TF) battalions
Under the reorganisation of the Army in 1908 the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (Volunteer) Battalions became the 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in the newly created Territorial Force.  The 5th (Volunteer) Battalion of the South Wales Borderers became the 7th Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers.  In the following year these battalions were given a territorial designation in their titles and became the 4th (Denbighshire), 5th (Flintshire), 6th (Carnarvonshire and Anglesey) and 7th (Merioneth and Montgomery) Battalions The Royal Welch Fusiliers (TF). 

World War One 1914-1918
During the Great War the Regiment experienced an incredible expansion.  Having started the war in 1914 with seven battalions—two Regular, one Special Reserve and four Territorial Force—another thirty-three bore the Royal Welch Fusiliers’ title before it ended.  Each of the Territorial battalions raised Second and Third Line units known as the 2/4th, 3/4th, 2/5th etc. 

Although they had no obligation to do so, such was the enthusiasm of the “Terriers” for the war in its early days that the majority signed up for overseas service.  The 4th (Denbighshire) Battalion (TF) was one of the few Territorial units ready for immediate service overseas at the outbreak of war.  It arrived in France on 5th November 1914 and, assigned to 1st Division it spent the winter in trenches at Festubert.  In May 1915 the 4th took part in the unsuccessful assault on Aubers Ridge and suffered heavily.  In September 1915 the Battalion was transferred to 47th (London) Division and a new role as Pioneers, due no doubt to the large number of miners in its ranks.  It spent the remainder of the war digging and repairing trenches, roads and tramway lines, often in the Front Line and in hazardous situations. 

The 5th (Flintshire), 6th (Carnarvonshire & Anglesey) and 7th (Merioneth & Montgomery) Battalions (TF) were in the Welsh Division, which in May 1915 became  53rd (Welsh) Division and they all took part in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign of summer 1915.  All suffered heavily, as much from disease as from enemy action, and by October the 5th and 6th were so depleted in strength that they were linked together as a temporary entity.  In November the three battalions were in the front line when flash floods caused by a thunderstorm washed the trenches away.  This was followed immediately by blizzards and intense cold causing many casualties from frostbite and trench foot. 

After the withdrawal from Gallipoli 53rd Division went to Egypt and Palestine and 5th, 6th and 7th Battalions were brought back up to strength.  They continued to serve alongside each other taking part in the Battle of Rumani (in Egypt) in August 1916, in the three Battles of Gaza in 1917 and Tel ‘Asur in March 1918 (all in Palestine).  The 5th and 6th then amalgamated once more and spent the rest of the year in the area of Jerusalem.  The 7th Battalion saw more action in the Jordan Valley. 

Towards the end of the war the Territorial Force gained three more battalions.  Yeomanry regiments, already serving dismounted in Egypt, were converted to infantry in early 1917 and joined existing infantry regiments.  Two of them became Royal Welch Fusiliers - the 24th (Denbighshire Yeomanry) and the 25th (Montgomeryshire and Welsh Horse Yeomanry) Battalions.   Finally, a Provisional battalion was re-designated the 23rd Battalion and served at home. 

5th (Flintshire) Battalion (TF) Machine Gun section 1915


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Territorial Army (TA) battalions
The four Territorial Force battalions were disbanded in 1919 but were re-formed in 1921 as part of the new Territorial Army, with the same designations as before, but with ‘TA’ in brackets after their title.  The four battalions made up 158th (Royal Welch) Infantry Brigade. [The title was changed from (North Wales) to (Royal Welch) in 1924].  It was a difficult beginning for all Territorial battalions as post-war cutbacks in defence spending led to a dearth of up-to-date equipment.  Units were kept going almost by enthusiasm alone.   

In the 1930s the situation eased and change took place.  In 1938 the 5th (Flintshire) Battalion was converted to artillery and became the 60th (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Anti-tank Regiment Royal Artillery (TA).  It survived, with various changes in title but always with ‘RWF’ included, until 1956.  In 1939, with war with Germany inevitable, the size of the Territorial Army was doubled and the 4th, 6th and 7th RWF formed duplicate battalions, the 8th, 9th and 10th respectively. 

4th, 5th 6th and 7th Battalions parading at Porthcawl 1930 


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Second World War 1939-45
The 4th, 6th and 7th Battalions were in 158th Brigade of 53rd (Welsh) Division, a Territorial Division.  They served in Northern Ireland from 1939 to 1941.   

The 8th and 9th Battalions remained in the United Kingdom throughout the war, but the 10th was converted to an airborne role in 1942 and became the 6th Battalion (Royal Welch) The Parachute Regiment.  It served with distinction in North Africa, Italy, southern France and Greece.  After the war it was sent to Palestine where it remained until 1947 when its links with the Royal Welch Fusiliers ended. 

From November 1941 the 4th, 6th and 7th Battalions remained in England until the invasion of Europe in 1944.  53rd Division was one of the follow-up divisions of “Operation Overlord” and the Battalions landed at La Rivière on Gold Beach on 25th June.  The Battalions’ first test was in mid-July when they suffered extremely heavy casualties fighting around Evrecy, south-west of Caen. 

Because of the heavy casualties sustained, the three battalions of 158th (Royal Welch) Brigade were split up.  7th remained with 158th Brigade; 4th moved to 71st Brigade and 6th to 160th Brigade.  53rd Division followed the retreating enemy across France and into Holland.  The port of Antwerp, needed by the Allies to land supplies, was heavily defended by the German Fifteenth Army.  It was supplied through ’s-Hertogenbosch , where roads, railways and canals met.  In October 1944 53rd Division was tasked with its capture and all three RWF battalions were involved in the five days of hard fighting before the town was taken. 

In December 1944 the enemy launched its last great offensive in the Ardennes.  53rd Division moved to reinforce the front and eliminate the “bulge”.  The 7th Battalion received heavy casualties in the Forest of Hampteau before the offensive was stemmed.  In February 1945 53rd Division began to advance into the Rhineland through the Reichswald.  Here, in a morass of mud, some of the most bitter fighting of the war took place.  In March the final German position west of the Rhine was cleared, but not before the 7th Battalion suffered at Höst and the 4th at Goch.  After a brief rest the Division moved into the bridgehead on the east bank of the Rhine and continued its advance into Germany against stiff resistance from a retreating enemy.  The unconditional surrender of all German forces on 7th May 1945 saw the 4th and 6th Battalions in Hamburg and the 7th in Holland, having just been transferred to 49th Division.  In May 1946 the 6th Battalion represented the British Army at the Victory Parade in Paris. 

6th Battalion in the Ardennes, January 1945 


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The Territorial Army since 1945

In 1946 Territorial Army battalions were placed in suspended animation until 1st January 1947 when the TA was reconstituted.  The Royal Welch Fusiliers was permitted only one battalion, the 4th.  The 6th and 7th Battalions were converted to 635 and 636 (Royal Welch) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiments.  These were amalgamated in 1955 to become 446 (Royal Welch) Airborne Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery (TA).  This new unit was short-lived for in 1956 it reverted to an infantry role, re-designated the 6th/7th Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers (TA).   

In 1966 the Territorial Army was re-organized into two sections.  The smaller, known as Volunteers would reinforce Regular units in time of war.  Only one of its thirteen battalions was allocated to Wales.  The RWF contribution was a single company of the Welsh Volunteers, based at Wrexham. 

The remainder of the TA had a Home Defence role and a reduced training commitment.  Both the 4th and 6th/7th Battalions survived until in 1969 they were reduced to cadres and a second company of the Welsh Volunteers was formed at Caernarfon.  The experiment was short-lived for in 1971 the TA expanded.  The Welsh Volunteers was replaced in North Wales by the newly-formed 3rd (Volunteer) Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers.  The two existing companies were joined by a third based at Colwyn Bay.  Home Defence was the role.  A fourth company, at Connah’s Quay, was added in 1986. 

From 1990 to 2000 the emphasis in training and commitments changed as the TA became the first to respond to calls for military support from civil authorities.  In February 1990 when gales breached sea defences at Towyn leading to flooding, 3 RWF set up emergency centres and cared for 400 people as well as co-ordinating the work of local authorities and voluntary organisations.  Similarly in 2000-2001 the Battalion again co-ordinated the response to the Foot and Mouth epidemic. 

At the same time TA companies, platoons, or even individuals undertook mobilised service in support of the Regular Army.  Members of 3 RWF deployed on operations to Bosnia, Kosovo and the Falklands.  By 2000 it was normal for 10% of the deployed forces in the Balkans to be Territorials or reservists. 

All this took place along with financial squeeze, culminating with the Strategic Defence Review of 1998.  With ever more use being made of Territorials and reservists, the decision was made to reduce their numbers.  Wales would have only one battalion, or four companies.  The result was a return to the Welsh Volunteers deployment with two RWF companies in North Wales and two Royal Regiment of Wales companies in South Wales.  The new battalion was given a regimental title - The Royal Welsh Regiment (RWR).  3 RWF ceased to exist on March 1st 1999.  In March 2006 with the formation of The Royal Welsh, the RWR continued but re-titled 3rd Battalion The Royal Welsh. 

3RWF training in firefighting, summer 1976 

3RWF in action during Exercise Celtic Sword, 1985


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The Christmas Truce at Frélinghien 

Contributed by Dr H J Krijnen

On Christmas Eve 1914 the Germans in the trenches opposite "A" Company, 2nd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, had been shouting across, but on the morning of Christmas Day everything was quiet. One of the Fusiliers, Pioneer Sergeant J.J. "Nobby" Hall, stuck up a board with "A Merry Christmas" on it and the enemy stuck up a similar one. Then, around noon, a German was seen coming out of the fog along the tow-path, his hands in the air. Private Ike Sawyer went out to meet him. The two shook hands, and Sawyer was offered a box of cigars.

More Germans were beginning to leave their trenches. The Welsh had been strictly forbidden to do the same, but they began throwing tins of bully beef and plum and apple jam across. By then several unarmed Germans were standing on their parapet, waving their arms and shouting "Don't shoot! We don't want to fight today. We will send you some beer." Three of them hoisted a cask on to the parapet and began rolling it across No Man's Land.

The commander of "A" Company, Captain Clifton Inglis Stockwell, later wrote that he was warned by a worried duty sergeant. Stockwell climbed over the parapet and shouted in his best German for the opposing company commander to appear.  A German officer emerged and walked into No Man's Land where he was met by Stockwell. Both formally saluted. The German introduced himself, in Stockwell's words, as "Count Something-or-other." We now know that he was Hauptmann Maximilian Freiherr (Baron) von Sinner, the commanding officer of the Machine-gun Company of the Prussian 6th Jäger Battalion from Oels in Silesia which had been attached to the Saxon 40th Division and held the German positions in the Frélinghien brewery.

Von Sinner then called out his subaltern officers, and all were formally introduced to Stockwell "with much clicking of heels and saluting." Stockwell pointed out that he had orders not to allow an armistice and that it was dangerous for the German troops to be out in the open. Von Sinner agreed, having received similar orders, and sent his men back into their trenches. Both officers then agreed to a truce until the following morning.

Stockwell continues, “I did not know what to of­fer them for their courtesy but suddenly I thought of a plum pudding and hoped the officers would accept. I then went off to get it and the Saxon got his men back to the trenches. When I returned I gave him the pudding. He then produced two bot­tles of beer and a glass. I drank his health first (cheers from both sides) then they drank my health (more cheers). Then I talked a little and asked after the German of­ficers I knew in China. Then we had a ceremonial farewell, many salutes and bows, and re­turned to the trenches. "

Private Frank Richards tells a somewhat different story in his classic "Old Soldiers Never Die" which was published in 1933. According to him, so many Fusiliers had already left their trenches that Captain Stockwell had no choice but to accept the situation and with his fellow officers also walked into No Man's Land. Instead of staying in the trenches as described by Stockwell, Richards says that "We mucked in all day with one another" and goes on to report conversations between the Welsh and German troops. Only at dusk did the men return to their respective trenches. This story has the ring of truth. Richards could not care less about military propriety and described things as he saw them, while a serious loss of control as evidenced by the men "mucking in with one another" would not be something that a strict disciplinarian like Captain Stockwell would want to admit to even in his own diary. A recently discovered article in a contemporary Welsh newspaper, containing an interview with 2nd Lieutenant Michael Murphy, confirms the version given by Richards.

Richards spoke to several German soldiers. He found that they were as fed up with the war as the Welsh were, "fed up to the neck" as he puts it, and that their trenches were in a similarly bad condition. The men only returned to their respective trenches at dusk, in time for their Christmas dinner of Maconochie’s (tinned meat and vegetables) and plum pudding.

During the evening and night not a shot was fired by either side. On the morning of Boxing Day Captain Stockwell climbed up on the parapet, fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with "Merry Christmas" on it. Hauptmann von Sinner then appeared on the German parapet and both officers bowed and saluted. Von Sinner then also fired two shots in the air and went back into his trench. The war was on again.

But it remained quiet. According to Richards, all during Boxing Day there was much shouting across No Man’s Land, often about the quality of the French beer. Peace reigned all day, and songs were sung in Welsh and German. In the evening, when the 2nd Battalion was unexpectedly relieved by the 2nd Durham Light Infantry, the men heard that similar things had been happening all along the lines.

It had indeed been a memorable Christmas.

 HJK

Clifton Inglis Stockwell

Maximilian Freiherr von Sinner

Frank Richards

 

Medals awarded to Siegfried Sassoon

In 2007 The Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum was fortunate to acquire, with the assistance of members of his family, the Military Cross awarded to Siegfried Sassoon.

Siegfried Sassoon is probably the best known of the war poets of 1914-18. His public objection to the war in 1917 was a brave stand against the might of the military and political authorities of the period and paved the way for future generations to think as individuals about the realities of war rather than to accept, without questioning, the views of others. Sassoon sowed the seeds of a peace movement that flourishes today ninety years after his solitary protest.

Siegfried Lorraine Sassoon (1886-1967), author, war poet and anti-war objector, served as an officer with the Royal Welch Fusiliers from 1915 until 1919 and won the Military Cross in May 1916 whilst attached to the 1st Battalion serving in France.

Nothing in his background had prepared Sassoon for the reality of war, or indeed for life outside his privileged and introverted world. The war, with its brutality, the suffering it caused and its physical and emotional deprivations, brought Sassoon to a crisis that he could not comprehend and which, as he learned later from W H Rivers at Craiglockhart, he had lacked the objectivity to deal with. 

The Military Cross physically represents Sassoon’s crisis point. 

Despite his shy, sensitive nature, and struggling with his sexuality, Sassoon displayed extraordinary courage, heroism and leadership on the Western Front. Nick-named “Mad Jack” by his fellow officers, his exploits, fuelled by grief and often suicidal, had a manic quality. He set out deliberately to win a Military Cross with the same determination he had showed in winning pre-war steeplechases. When it came, his Military Cross was won for his part in a failed trench raid near Fricourt on the Somme battlefront. With the raiders pinned down by enemy fire and grenades he organized the collecting and bringing back of the wounded and dead under heavy fire.

Sassoon believed that the only escape from the agonies of war was to be at its centre where there was no time to rationalize. His poetry written at the Front, sharpened and toughened by his experience, was truer as a result. Returned to England with respiratory problems in July 1916 Sassoon made contact with pacifists, notably the Morrells, Bertrand Russell and leading members of the Bloomsbury Group, who eagerly fed his uncertainties. With his conviction about the rightness of the war shaken, and wracked with guilt for not being at the Front, Sassoon wrote about his Military Cross - “My absurd decoration is the only thing that gives me any sense of responsibility at all.” 

Back at the Front Sassoon longed to go home or to be shot dead - the ultimate release. His loathing of those who desired and conspired for the war to continue fuelled his satire. A selection of his poems, which he knew might cross the line of acceptable comment, was published in October 1916. 

A wound returned Sassoon home again in April 1917. By this time he had rejected poetry as his sole means of protest. He set about writing a statement for publication in which he would declare “on behalf of soldiers” that the continuance of the war was no longer justified. His pacifist supporters immediately saw in it a powerful publicity coup - an anti-war statement made by a known writer who was a war hero with the Military Cross. Sassoon’s “Statement” was completed on 15th June 1917. Copies were sent to supporters and the Statement was made public.

Fellow writer and RWF officer Robert Graves, along with other friends scared for Sassoon, worked hard to persuade the military authorities that his actions were the result of war weariness and that his case should be treated as a medical condition rather than as a rebellion. But Sassoon was determined to avoid any suggestion of mental breakdown or exhaustion. A Medical Tribunal was to be avoided at all cost. Sassoon wanted to be court-martialed as the publicity aroused by a British officer protesting against the war might encourage others to speak out.

Higher authorities wished to prevent the Statement from becoming a public cause and Sassoon was given time to reconsider. By playing it along the Army took the sting out of the protest. Sassoon’s patience was thin. By now back with 3rd Bn RWF at Litherland near Liverpool, he took the train to Formby, and in a fit of frustration and anger, he tore off the Military Cross ribbon from his tunic and threw it into the Mersey. “The poor little thing fell weakly onto the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility”. It was the most extreme act of rebellion against the Army that Sassoon could conceive.

Eventually, convinced by Graves that he would never get a court-martial and that if he continued to refuse a Medical Board he would be silenced by being sent to a lunatic asylum, Sassoon submitted. His Medical Board declared that Sassoon was suffering from Neurasthenia and referred him to Craiglockhart War Hospital and Dr W H R Rivers. 

Most reports of the Formby incident state that Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the River Mersey. That his protest involved only the ribbon, and not the medal itself, is itself an interesting reflection on his tortured ambiguity. The Military Cross itself remained among Sassoon’s possessions until forty years after his death.

Later in the year, to accompany the Military Cross the Museum was loaned The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry awarded to Siegfried Sassoon in 1957. Both medals are displayed in the Regimental Museum in the Castle, Caernarfon.

Siegfried Sassoon’s Military Cross and ID tag

The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, awarded to Sassoon in 1957. The Gold Medal For Poetry was instituted by King George V in 1933 at the suggestion of the then Poet Laureate, Dr John Masefield.

The reverse of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. The design by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953), shows “Truth emerging from her well and holding in her right hand the divine flame of inspiration – Beauty is Truth and Truth is Beauty”.

 

Private Samuel E. Hall (11th Battalion RWF) 
&  The Forgotten Front (Salonika 1916-18) 
by Dr. C. M. Hall

After the out break of World War One on 4th August 1914, young patriotic men all over the country rallied to Kitchener’s call to enlist for ‘King and Country’. Initially filled with nostalgic ideas of warfare, the combination of old tactics and new weapons soon led to the horrors of trench warfare, something that no soldier had ever envisaged. The well known battles of Verdun, Jutland, the Somme and Passchendaele claimed many young British lives, wiping out an entire generation during four long years. However, the “Forgotten Front” of Macedonia and Salonika 1916-1918 has not received as much attention as Gallipoli and Mesopotamia as it was regarded at the time as a sideshow. The 11th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers endured nearly all but two months of the War in Salonika. It was in the final few months before the end of the War that many who had survived the appalling conditions and enemy fire, fell at the Battle of Doiran in Salonika. One of those soldiers was Private Samuel E. Hall.

Private Samuel E. Hall (born 1895) was the oldest of four children. His father, Joseph Hall (b. 14th April 1861), a stone mason and a lay preacher, and his mother Jane Hall (b. 16th January 1873) resided at 2 Mount Pleasant, Penrhynside, Llandudno. Two of his brothers, Ephraim (Navy) and William (Army) fought during World War One, with Ephraim and the youngest of the four, Joseph, fighting during the Second World War. 

As the eldest child of age, Private Samuel Hall was the first to enlist. He enlisted at the Town Hall on Lloyd Street in Llandudno (see recruitment poster below). Like so many of the so called ‘pals’ he enlisted with childhood friends who also resided on Mount Pleasant. He was joined by Edward Evans (3 Mount Pleasant) who, having enlisted in Wrexham went on to be a driver in “B” Battery of the 298th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was killed in action on the 30th November 1917. Then there was Robert Harris, son of Robert and Annie Harris of 10 Mount Pleasant. After enlisting in Colwyn Bay, Harris went on to be a private in “B” company of the 14th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Robert fell on the 2nd September 1917 aged 27. Lastly there was George Frederick Sanford (13 Mount Pleasant) who was a private in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He saw very little of the war as he was killed in action on the 30th October 1914 aged 24.

After enlistment Private Samuel E. Hall was assigned to Wales’s oldest infantry regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The 11th Battalion was formed at Wrexham on 18th September 1914. Shortly after forming it joined the 22nd Division. The whole division then moved on to various camps for training before making the journey to France in early September 1915. After a brief stint in France it received orders on 20th October 1915 to move to an unknown destination. Ten days later, on the 30th October, Private Samuel E. Hall’s battalion, along with the 8th South Wales Borderers and a fragment of the Shropshire Light Infantry, sailed for Salonika at 4.30pm.

After a relatively calm passage, they anchored in Salonika harbour on the 5th November. They joined British troops who had already been there one month before. Private Hall, along with the rest of British troops in Salonika, was there to deter Bulgaria from joining Germany and Austria-Hungary, in attacking Serbia. The war in Salonika was regarded by the British as a ‘side show’ as Britain had no political, commercial or strategic interests in the region apart from seeing the First World War to a favourable conclusion. Conditions in Salonika were appalling. Many men had arrived in light summer khaki, but in November 1915 they faced blizzards and dense fog. There was a lack of roads so the state of the ground meant terrain was impassable in parts with army vehicles sinking into the mud. When summer arrived in 1916, they were faced with soaring temperatures. Consequently disease set in and spread like wildfire. In Salonika, for every casualty in battle, three died of malaria, influenza or other diseases.

Private Samuel E. Hall endured enemy fire, disease, exhaustion and lack of supplies for nearly four years in Salonika. Sadly he did not make it home as he fell at the Battle of Doiran on the 18th September 1918, just weeks before the end of World War One. The Battle of Doiran took place on the 18th and 19th September 1918 in the area of Dora Tepe-Doiran-Karasuli Railway and the river Vardar. The 22nd Division (which included the 11th Battalion RWF) was ordered to take Doiran Hill, Teton Hill and the Petite Couronne. This would be no easy task. The enemy was tactically at an advantage with a good network of well dug in trenches, the terrain was difficult to cross and the wire entanglements were exceptionally good. Also, due to an extremely hot summer the Battalion was struck by an epidemic of influenza, malaria and dysentery. Facing the gloomy prospect of no reinforcements, the troops were exhausted.

The Battle of Doiran was a disaster for the British. In attack after attack the British lost many lives due to an enemy which had a far superior vantage point and prior knowledge of the terrain. The British attempted to take various enemy lines but were met with heavy counter-attacks and gas. During the 18th September 1918 the 11th Battalion RWF was ordered to leave Senelle and move to take enemy trenches near Dagger and Sabre Ravines. After meeting heavy counter attacks it then moved on with remaining troops to the Hilt where it faced even heavier opposition. A few men managed to secure the Hilt but were later pushed back. It was impossible to re-take the Hilt due to a lack of sufficient manpower. Instead they chose to consolidate the line crossing Jumeaux Ravine and Root Ravine. They beat off a weak counter attack by the enemy and dug in for a quiet night. Sadly, they had experienced huge losses throughout the day. Out of 20 officers, only 3 survived and out of 480 soldiers, only 100 survived. Aged just 23, Private Samuel E. Hall was one of those 380 who did not survive the Battle of Doiran.

The eminent historian A.J.P Taylor commented that ‘the battle of Doiran is a now forgotten episode of World War One.’(1981) With the commemoration of the 90th Anniversary of the end of the First World War this year, accounts such as those who fell on the ‘forgotten front’ should be remembered. Soldiers like Private Samuel E. Hall fought on a ‘forgotten front’ in what became a forgotten army, but today in the 21st Century he is not forgotten. 

We will remember them.

Pte Hall’s grave in Doiran Cemetery (photograph by courtesy of Dean Freeman)

Private Samuel E. Hall
(Source: Hall Family Collection)

(Source: Caernarfon Record Office, Gwynedd Archives Ref: XM/6601)

PENRHYNSIDE WAR MEMORIAL
Unveiled on Wednesday 25th May 1921 at 3 p.m. by Captain A. Taylor
Private Samuel E. Hall is commemorated on this memorial.

 

Private John Kneller Wood, the only Crimean War veteran at Florence Nightingale’s burial.

In August 1910 Florence Nightingale pioneering nurse of the Crimean War, celebrated as “the lady with the lamp”, died in London. After a funeral service in St Paul’s Cathedral, her coffin was returned to her home in East Wellow, near Romsey, Hampshire for burial in the churchyard of St Margaret’s Church.

Although the entire village turned out for the burial, only one Crimean War veteran was present. That man was John Kneller from the nearby village of King’s Somborne who had served as a Private with the 23rd Regiment (Royal Welch Fusiliers). “Aged 84 , feeble and one-eyed” as he was described by The Times, John Kneller stood under the porch of the church as the interment took place. He was photographed for The Daily Mirror and his picture accompanied the report of the funeral.

According to records, 4614 Private John Kneller was born at King’s Somborne, Hampshire in 1832 and, aged 22, he joined the 23rd Regiment on 9th December 1854 at Winchester. He served with the Regiment in the Crimea and he lost an eye during the siege of Sebastopol. He lay for three months in the hospital at Scutari where he often saw Florence Nightingale carrying her lantern on her nightly visits to the wards. Kneller was eventually invalided out of the Army in 1856.

In 1914, this remarkable proud old soldier was still able to be present at Southampton to welcome the 2nd Battalion RWF home after 18 years of foreign service. Wearing his Crimea Medal “his bent figure and white hair presented a contrast to the sunburnt soldiers with whom he chatted”. Kneller, although almost completely blind asked if he might see the Regimental Colours. By order of the Colonel they were unfurled for him and Kneller stood to attention beneath them. It was noted that as well as his Crimea Medal, Kneller wore a smaller medal “presented to him by admirers” to mark his presence as the only Crimean veteran at the funeral of Florence Nightingale.

Photographs by courtesy of Jean Clarke and Heather Hurley.

 

To view this story in Welsh please see below.

Ellis Humphrey Evans “Hedd Wyn”

Ellis Evans was born on 13th January 1887 in Pen Lan, a house in the middle of Trawsfynnydd in Meirionydd, North Wales. He was the eldest of 11 children born to Evan and Mary Evans. In the spring of 1887 the family moved to a farm Yr Ysgwm, a few miles from Trawsfynnydd.

Ellis Evans received a basic education at elementary and Sunday school. He was not a brilliant pupil but he had a natural gift for poetry. He wrote his first poems at the age of eleven. He left school at fourteen and began work as a shepherd on his father’s farm. 

He took part in eisteddfods from the age of 19 and won his first bard’s chair at Bala in 1907. In 1910 he took his bardic name “Hedd Wyn” which in English means “Shining Peace”, a reference to the sun’s rays penetrating the mists in the valleys of Meirionydd. Hedd Wynn’s main influence was Shelley and themes of nature and religion dominated his work. In 1913 he won the chairs at Pwllheli and Llanuwchllyn and in 1915 he was successful at Pontardawe and Llanuwchllyn. The same year he wrote his first poem for the National Eisteddfod, “Eryri” an ode to Snowdonia. In 1916 he took second place at the Aberystwyth National Eisteddfod with an ode to the medieval abbey Strata Florida. He determined to win the chair the following year.

By this time the Great War was at its height. There was great support for the War in Wales and David Lloyd George, Prime Minister from 1916, urged his countrymen to make sacrifices for the war effort. Welshmen had volunteered in large numbers from 1914 and the introduction of conscription in late 1916 did not undermine support. 

Naturally the War affected Hedd Wyn’s work and produced some of his best poetry including “Plant Trawsfynnydd” (“Children of Trawsfynnydd”), “Y Blotyn Du” (“The Black Mark”), “Nid â’n Ango” (“Do Not Forget”) and “Rhyfel” (“War”). 

The Evans family in 1916 was faced with a difficult choice – one of the sons must join the forces despite farming being work of national importance. Ellis enlisted rather than his younger brother Bob, who was married. In February 1917 he received his training at Litherland Camp, Liverpool where his stoical but cheerful disposition made him well-liked. In March 1917 the Government called for farm workers to help with ploughing and many soldiers were temporarily released. Hedd Wyn was given seven weeks’ leave. He spent much of this time working on “Yr Arwr”, his entry for the National Eisteddfod. He returned to training in May, well satisfied with his progress. 

In June 1917 Hedd Wyn joined the 15th Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers at Fléchin in France. His arrival depressed him. “Heavy weather, heavy soul, heavy heart. That is an uncomfortable trinity, isn’t it?” Nevertheless at Fléchin he finished his National Eisteddfod entry and signed it “Fleur de Lis”. It left with the post on 15th July 1917. The same day his Battalion moved towards the Front Line in readiness for the major assault which would be known as the Third Battle of Ypres or simply as Passchendaele.

The attack began on 31st July 1917 at 0350. Heavy rain turned the battlefield into a swamp. The 15th Battalion took Pilckem and then advanced towards Iron Cross, coming under heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Hedd Wyn was hit in the chest by shrapnel and carried to a First-Aid Post. Still conscious he asked the doctor “Do you think I will live?” It was clear that he had little chance of surviving. Hedd Wyn died at about 1100, one of many thousands of casualties that day.

On 6th September 1917 the ceremony of Chairing the Bard took place at the National Eisteddfod, held that year at Birkenhead. David Lloyd George was present. The adjudicators announced that the entry of “Fleur de Lis” was the winner and the trumpets were sounded for him to identify himself. No one stood up and eventually it was discovered that the winner had died six weeks before. The empty chair was draped in black. “The Festival in tears and the Poet in his grave” said the Archdruid Dyfed.

Ellis Humphrey Evans, “Hedd Wyn” is buried in Artillery Wood Cemetery at Boezinge. His collected work “ The Shepherd’s Poems”, was published in 1918.

Ellis Humphrey Evans – “Hedd Wyn”

The Black Chair, won posthumously by Hedd Wyn at the 1917 National Eisteddfod at Birkenhead.

Jenny Jones of Tal y Llyn, Meirionnydd was at Waterloo with her first husband, Pte Lewis Griffiths of the 23rd Regiment (Royal Welch Fusiliers). In 1876 an account of her life, as told by Jenny herself, was published in the “Cambrian News”. Although some of the things she related are difficult to reconcile with known facts, the account gives a vivid and honest picture of the life of a soldier’s wife in the early nineteenth century. The following is an attempt at reconstructing Jenny’s early life.

Jenny (or Jane) Jones was born in Ireland, probably in 1797, her maiden name being Drumble. Her home town was most likely Granard in County Longford.

Jenny met her first husband, Lewis Griffiths, in Ireland, where he was stationed with the Royal Merionethshire Militia. She was aged 14, the daughter of a farmer, and he was 19 (born in 1793). The couple were married, apparently against the wishes of Jenny’s family, and she never communicated with them again. No record of Jenny and Lewis’ marriage has so far been found (see Note 1).

Pte Lewis Griffiths
Lewis Griffiths was from Tal y Llyn, the son of Humphrey and Jane Griffiths of Pentre Dol y March, a group of small houses on the northern shore of the lake. Lewis was his mother’s maiden name. 

The Militia Acts required each County to raise a certain quota of men to serve in its Militia Regiment for defence of that County. In time of war the Militia regiments could be embodied to serve outside their County boundary. An Amendment Act of 1799 increased the Militia Quota for Merionethshire to 226 men.

Following the Declaration of War by Britain on Revolutionary France in May1803 the Merionethshire Militia (A Royal Regiment from April 1804) was embodied for garrison duty. It served in Southern England until June 1811 when it was transported from Devon to Ireland. It was stationed in Granard, County Longford. In August strength of the Regiment was 135 men, organised into two Companies. Lewis Griffiths appears on the 1811 Muster Roll of the Royal Merionethshire Militia preserved in the National Archives at Kew.

Many Militia men volunteered to serve with the “regular” Line Regiments. Among them was Lewis Griffiths who joined the 23rd Regiment (Royal Welch Fusiliers) in 1814. Griffiths entry on the Waterloo Medal Roll states that he was “with the Corps” from 5th April 1814. His attestation describes him as a labourer, aged 19. He was also a married man. Lewis Griffiths served with No. 7 Company of the 23rd, under Captain Thomas Farmer.

Lewis Griffiths was typical of the soldiers in the 23rd of 1815 in that he had come from an agricultural background. Only 30% of the men were Welsh however. Most of the English counties were represented in the ranks and 10% were Irish (as was usual in all the British Line Regiments). Lewis Griffiths was one of 76 
private soldiers who had joined the 23rd since the Peace in 1814. The majority of the private soldiers were aged 20 or less. However, compared to other regiments at Waterloo the 23rd was an experienced unit as many had seen service in Spain or Southern France.

The 23rd Regiment was pulled in to Wellington’s army in Europe, marching against the reinstated Emperor Napoleon. It belatedly joined an extra Brigade, the 4th British Brigade under Lt Col H H Mitchell. It formed part of the 4th Division, commanded by Lieutenant General Sir Charles Colville.

The 23rd Regiment at Waterloo 18th June 1815
The 23rd Regiment left Gosport on the 23rd March 1815 and landed at Ostend on the 30th March. Jenny accompanied her husband on the Waterloo campaign, presumably on the strength of the Regiment, acting as nurse/cook/laundrymaid. She may by then have had a child - some accounts give her a daughter. 
(see Note 2). The Regiment was moved by canal boat to Ghent, via Bruges. It was reviewed by Wellington, with the rest of the Brigade, at Oudenarde, on 20th April. From there it marched to cantonments at Grammont on 24th April. It stayed there until 16th June. It then marched to Braine-le-Leud, arriving on the 17th and passed the night in torrential rain. 

Wellington placed the bulk of his strength, including Mitchell’s Brigade, to the right of his line. This was fortunate for the 23rd Regiment as it suffered less casualties than those in the centre and on the left. Even so it lost four officers and eleven men killed, and eight officers and seventy-eight men wounded.

Early on the morning of 18th June 1815 the 23rd took up its position, in the second line, to the left of the Nivelles Road. In front of it was a battalion of the Guards. It deployed into line and the men were told to lay down as they were quickly under fire from French artillery on the road. The cannon fire killed the Commanding Officer of Lewis Griffith’s Company, Captain Thomas Farmer, and may have given Lewis his wounds, which were in the shoulder and, according to the story, were from cannon shot.

The 23rd moved into the front line to replace the Guards battalion, withdrawn to give support at Hougoumont. It formed a square and remained in that formation all day, facing many attacks by French cavalry. The Commanding Officer of the 23rd, Colonel Sir Henry Ellis commanded that no man should break rank, even to help a wounded comrade. The Regiment did not falter, even though the artillery fire continued, and every attack upon it failed with heavy casualties. The square retired to its former position, then advanced again and the 23rd finished the day by advancing in line and finding nothing to oppose it.

During the afternoon, however, Colonel Ellis was struck in the chest by a musket ball. He remained in command until, faint from loss of blood, he was forced to ride to the rear. Weakened, he fell from his horse. He was found and taken to a farmhouse where his wound was dressed. He died the following day, aged 32. 

After Waterloo
After the battle Jenny searched for Lewis and eventually found him in a Brussels hospital – the Elizabeth. Presumably she was still with him when the 23rd marched to Paris and, on the 4th July, encamped in the Bois de Boulogne.

Lewis Griffiths was discharged from the Regiment on 6th April 1821. He received no pension and his Waterloo Medal was stolen. Lewis and Jenny returned to Tal y Llyn to live in a house named Cildydd. They had several children - possibly six. Lewis Griffiths worked in the slate quarries at Corris, to which he would walk over the hills from home. Lewis was killed in 1837 in Aberllefeni Quarry, aged 45 (his year of birth must have been 1792 or 1793). He was buried in an unmarked grave in Tal y Llyn churchyard.

Jenny began working in the laundry of one of the hotels on Tal y Llyn. For a time she may have been a school teacher at Maes y Pandy.

After a few years of widowhood, Jenny married John Jones of Y Powis, Tal y Llyn on June 1st 1853. Jones too was widowed. Both gave their address as Cildydd, and both signed the register with an X (strange if Jenny was a school teacher!). Jenny gave her maiden name as Drumble. It was not a happy union as Jones was a lazy man, and instead of easing it, the marriage increased Jenny’s poverty. After John Jones’ death Jenny went to live at Pant-y-dwr and later at Tyn yr Ywen, Tal y Llyn, where she died on April 11th 1884, aged 94. She was more likely 87 (see Note 3).

Jenny was buried in Tal y Llyn parish churchyard on April 15th 1884. Her final resting place is marked by a rather fine gravestone, far beyond what she could ever have aspired too. Its inscription forms the final mystery regarding Jenny Jones. It reads: 

“I will never leave you nor forsake thee
This cross was placed here by a friend.

Sacred to the memory of Jenny Jones
Born in Scotland 1784
She was with her husband of the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers at the battle of Waterloo and was on the field three days.”

Brian R Owen

RWF Museum
2010


Note 1:
The Army distrusted the presence of women and always tried to discourage soldiers from marrying. From 1685 marriage was allowed only with the CO’s permission. The number of married soldiers was restricted to 6% of strength – usually six wives per company. This was the “official” number but the system was abused and there were many more unofficial wives and women in barracks. The situation of a wife on the strength was highly insecure particularly when the unit was sent abroad. 

Note 2:
Only 4 or 6 wives per Company were allowed on campaign, and were selected by ballot. Great distress was caused among the wives who were left and they often ended up in Parish poorhouses or on the street.

Note 3: 
In both the 1841 and 1851 Census Jenny gave her birthplace as Ireland. In the 1851 Census she gave her age as 54 and this is most likely correct. 

This pencil sketch is from a series of drawings by David Jones which record his experiences as a private soldier during the First World War. It was drawn in November 1916 while he was serving as an observer with the 2nd Field Survey Company at Ploegsteert Wood. The subject matter is characteristically mundane, reflecting Jones's interest in the more everyday aspects of soldiering. Other illustrations, which filled his army note books, depict equipment, buildings and friends he served with.

David Jones enlisted with the 15th (1st London Welsh) Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, in January 1915, aged 19. The battalion was initially raised from Welshmen living in London, where Jones was studying at the Camberwell School of Art. After training in north Wales and Winchester, Jones accompanied the battalion to France as part of the 38th (Welsh) Division. He saw action during the battle of Mametz Wood (July 1916), where he was wounded, and later at Bosinghe, Pilkem, Langemark and Passchendaele (1917). In February 1918, Jones was invalided home with Trench Fever and spent the rest of the war in Ireland.

After the war, his reputation as an artist and writer grew enormously. He became a leading member of the Eric Gill group of artists and a watercolourist of international fame. In 1937 he published In Parenthesis - an acknowledged literary masterpiece which charts his war-time journey from raw-recruit to seasoned soldier. He was also an accomplished engraver and left a legacy of highly individual lettering. He died in October 1974, and is buried in Ladywell Cemetery in south-east London.

Painted at Wrexham Barracks in 1948, this superb portrait in oils depicts a Royal Welch fusilier wearing battledress and wartime equipment. The artist had been invited to stay at the barracks by Brigadier Skaife, the then Colonel of the Regiment, in order to paint some of the men. Despite having a number of fine solider models paraded for him to choose from, Kyffin later claimed that he invariably selected the most slovenly individuals in the Regiment, adding that Fusilier Dean "was immensely bored but obviously relished the fact the he had escaped from some horribly energetic duty".


Kyffin Williams himself served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers from 1936 to 1941. He subsequently studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and went on to become an internationally renowned artist and member of the Royal Academy. Several of his little known sketches of army life, together with three oil paintings of members of the Regiment, are on permanent display in the Museum.

This sword is the 1803 infantry officers' pattern etched for the Royal Welch Fusiliers (late 23rd Regiment of Foot) with a grenade, the Prince of Wales's feathers, and 'XXIII'. It was presented to the Regiment in1956 by Mrs Rosalie Cockburn in whose family it had been since 1809.

In January of that year the British attacked Martinique, a base for French activity in the West Indies. The naval blockade having failed, the naval and military commanders on the spot decided on an expedition to capture the island. 

The 1st Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers landed with the Fusilier Brigade on 30th January. At about the same time Captain George Cockburn RN put ashore a strong naval detachment which, with army help, established a battery of guns to bombard Fort Bourbon, the last French stronghold on the island.

On 1st February the French were driven from Morne Bruno to the heights of Sourier. The Royal Welch led, by the 'Grenadier' Company ascended the heights where the contest was "most obstinate, with the French repeatedly returning to the attack with drums beating. The Grenadiers, however, maintained their ground. The remainder of the battalion now came up and a sharp action took place which terminated in the retreat of the French " who were eventually forced back into Fort Bourbon.

The fort was subjected to a devastating bombardment by the artillery on the 2nd, including Cockburn's naval guns, and the garrison soon surrendered. 

£850 was voted to the wounded in Martinique by Lloyds of London, no less than £250 of which was allocated to the Grenadier Company of the Royal Welch.

Captain Cockburn, who signed the articles of capitulation, was awarded the rank of Major General of Marines, with no duties but £2,000 a year. Because of the close contact between Cockburn and the Royal Welch during the action he acquired a Royal Welch sword as a souvenir of a great occasion. By the time of his death in 1853 he was an Admiral of the Fleet and had inherited the family baronetcy.

The Royal Welch were awarded 'MARTINIQUE, 1809' as a Battle Honour which to this day is borne on the Regimental Colour. Furthermore, the Napoleonic Eagle standard-the French equivalent of British 'Colours'-of the 82nd Regiment of Infantry, which was captured at Martinique, was presented to the Regiment.

Both the Admiral's sword and the 'Eagle' standard may be seen displayed in the Museum. I am indebted to Major EL Kirby for his notes on the history of the sword.

Lord Howard de Walden was second-in-command and commander of the 9th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers between November 1916 and December 1917. He was a wealthy and philanthropic man, with interests in Welsh history, and had given substantial quantities of equipment to his previous regiment, the Westminster Dragoons. He was also a collector of arms and armour, and this had brought him into contact with Felix Joubert, a fellow collector and also a pre-eminent artist/craftsman/restorer. In 1916, Joubert patented a knife for trench fighting which had an 18" leaf shaped blade, nearly 3" wide at its maximum. The pommel was pointed so that it could, in theory, be used as a weapon. The guard was circular and could be folded flat against the blade when the knife was not in use, a feature that would have allowed the knife to be patented. As always, Lord Howard wished to equip his troops as well as possible, and so he had knives made for the 9th Battalion. Some of the surviving examples have Joubert's mark (an intertwined Jo) on them, and also Dros Urddas Cymru ('for the honour of Wales'). The Regimental Museum has one knife on display and a further 6 in the reserve collections.


It has often been claimed that the design of Joubert's knife is based on a specifically Welsh design used by Welsh archers at Crecy. This is, however, romantic nonsense, and there is no evidence to suggest that any specifically Welsh form of sword or dagger existed.

The Regimental Museum's collections include a manuscript account of WWI experiences by H Lloyd Williams of the 9th Battalion which mention the use of the knife in action. At the start of the battle of Messines, 1917, one company raided German trenches on the 5th June. The account includes the following:

"..and the Lewis gunners, furnished with the strange knives furnished by Lord Howard de Walden, the whole Company, in conjunction with the King's Liverpools on the left, climbed over the top, and dashed under the barrage into the enemy trenches."

Wilkinson Sword made one of these weapons in 1981 for the centenary of the Welsh Rugby Union. It was specially embossed with the names of each captain over the previous 100 years.

The service issue revolvers of the First World War were large and clumsy, intended for use in the confines of trench or bunker - or as a last resort. Not surprisingly, wealthy officers sometimes purchased smaller, handier, examples for themselves, with semi-automatic pistols being especially popular.

One such officer was renowned poet and author Siegfried Sassoon. As he confides in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930):

"..I was weary of my Colt revolver, with which I knew I couldn't hit anything, although I had blazed it off a few times in the dark when I was pretending to be important in No-Man's Land. The only object I could be sure of hitting was myself."

But it wasn't simply the inaccuracy of the revolver as an offensive weapon which troubled Sassoon. Like many others, he was appalled by the prospect of a slow death "lying out in a shell-hole with something more serious than a Blighty wound". In such circumstances, he reasoned, it would be necessary to end it all quickly, while "to blow one's brains out with that clumsy Colt was unthinkable". With this grim prospect in mind, Sassoon purchased a 7.62mm Browning semi-automatic from the London branch of the Army and Navy Stores in March 1916, on his way back from leave to France.

Rumours of a massive summer offensive also prompted Sassoon's purchase, and as he left the idyllic Kent of his childhood he wondered whether he would ever return again.

Over the next two and half years Sassoon served variously with the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Royal Welch Fusiliers, in France and Flanders and with the 25th Battalion in Palestine and France.
When out on patrol in No Man's Land, Sassoon wrote that he would clutch the Browning pistol in his breeches pocket for reassurance, no doubt helping to give an outward appearance of calm.

Although twice wounded (once in the head) Sassoon never needed to use the pistol for the desperate purpose he had intended. After the war he gave it to a fellow officer, who later emigrated to Australia. After many years, the pistol returned to Wales and can be seen today on display in the Regimental Museum, clearly engraved 'S. Sassoon 1 RWF'.

In 1808 the war with Napoleonic France was reaching its peak. The 2nd Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers sailed from Falmouth in Cornwall with 671 officers and men, forty-eight wives and twenty children for Corunna in Spain, which they reached on 13th October. They were to reinforce the army of Sir John Moore and to assist in driving the French out of Spain.

Just before Christmas, Moore learnt that he was about to be trapped by Napoleon, with an army twice as strong, Moore decided to retreat over the mountains to Corunna. It was a desperate march through thick snow with a shortage of food and boots. The men, still accompanied by the wives and children, were generally bare-footed. Their sufferings were made worse by a violent storm during the night of 8th January. Discipline in the army broke down and there was much pillage and drunkenness. It is a great credit to the 2nd Battalion that by the time they reached Corunna on the 11th only seventy-eight men had been lost.

The battle of Corunna began at 2 p.m. on the 16th. Just as the French advance had been checked Moore was fatally wounded. At 10 p.m. the troops began to embark and by the following morning only the two brigades which had covered the embarkation remained on shore. They embarked on the night of the 17th/18th and the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers was the last to leave this portion of Spanish soil.

The following account was written some years later by Miss Fletcher, a descendent of one of the officers present on that day:

"The rear-guard was commanded by Captain Thomas Lloyd Fletcher, of  the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He, with his corporal, were the last to leave the town. On their way to embark, and as they passed through the gates, Captain Fletcher turned and locked them. The key not turning easily, they thrust in a bayonet, and between them managed it. Captain Fletcher brought away the keys, and they are now in the possession of his son ....
The keys are held together by a ring, from which is suspended a steel plate, with the inscription 'Postigo de Puerta de Abajo' ('Postern of lower gate'). One key still shows the wrench of the bayonet."

Thomas Fletcher transferred to the 4th Ceylon Rifles in 1810. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1846 and lived at Maesgwaelog, Overton, and Gwern Haulod, Ellesmer, where he brought up his five sons and seven daughters. He died in 1850.

The keys were presented to the Museum by H Lloyd Fletcher in 1955.