I have recently had the privilege to accompany 42 students and four staff from Castell Alun High School on a three-day Battlefields Tour to Ypres and the Somme. I am indebted to Mr David Goodchild, Humanities Learning Manager, who made excellent arrangements for the tour and to Mrs Meryl Jones, Miss Carys Parry and Mr Jonathan Roberts for an experience that will remain with me forever.
The tour also highlighted the value of the work done by http://www.flintshirewarmemorials.com/ and those from the Parish of Hope, who have researched our fallen servicemen.
We laid wreaths for those, who fell at Ypres, but whose bodies have not been identified. The School took part in the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate. Connie Jones (9M), Nia Shone (8R) and Alex Moutrie (9M) laid a wreath in memory of all who fell. I was accompanied by Lucy Randles (8N) and Jamie Jones (9T) from Caergwrle Ward and laid a wreath in memory of Private John Edward Speed and Acting Sergeant Robert Owen Rowlands, both of whom were from the Parish of Hope and are remembered on panel 22 of the Menin Gate. Thanks to the work of Gill Roberts we were able to learn more about the lives of these soldiers and identify more fully with the loss borne by our community at the time.
The Menin Gate records the names of 54,896 Commonwealth soldiers who went missing at Ypres. At Tyne Cot Cemetery we found Private Geoffrey Trevor-Roper was named on one of the many panels there that remember another 35,000 officers and men who fell at Ypres and whose bodies were never identified. The Menin Gate was not big enough for all those who went missing and there are separate memorials for soldiers from New Zealand and Newfoundland. Viv and Eifion Williams have researched the Trevor-Roper brothers as they are named on the Mold Urban Memorial as well as those within the Parish of Hope. They were the family associated with Plas Teg and their case shows that losses were also felt by well-to-do members of the local community. In this case two brothers died at Ypres within a fortnight of each other. The son of Captain Charles Cadwaladr Trevor-Roper was the famous Dam Buster, Richard Trevor-Roper, who is named on our Second World War memorials.
At Mametz Wood we were moved by the sight of the Welsh Dragon clutching barbed wire, the symbolism of the bravery of Welsh soldiers leaving us with lumps in our throats. We remembered Corporal William Frederick Maddock who worked at the Red Lion as a brewer’s clerk. His battalion fought here in one of the most iconic battles involving Welsh soldiers and he died on 9th July 1916. Andrew Moss has enabled us to establish a local ink with this memorial:
At the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme we found the memorial itself to be undergoing renovation and we could not look for the names of those who are remembered there. Corporal William Frederick Maddock, is listed here. We also remembered Lance Corporal Edward Thomas Roberts, the butcher’s errand boy who served as a messenger between trenches on the Somme. His family lived in the Gwalia in Caergwrle and the loss was so great that his mother was reluctant to accept it. The word ‘missing’ is engraved beneath his name on the memorial in Hope Church. We are indebted to Andrew Moss for his research:http://www.flintshirewarmemorials.com/memorials/22549-2/hope-soldiers/roberts-edward-thomas/
Our tour also took in several other sites of great interest. At Musee Somme 1916 in Albert we explored a 230 metre long tunnel gallery which was filled with cases of World War One memorabilia and reconstructions of aspects of trench life.
We also visited Lochnagar Crater Memorial, where we saw what has been described as ‘the largest crater ever made by man in anger.’ It was created as a result of mines being planted at the end of a tunnels constructed by Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers in order to blow up German positions. Many parts of this area are strictly out-of-bounds because of the amount of live ammunition which is found. Farmers still uncover the remains of soldiers who died here.
We found poppies, the flower associated with those who fell in World War One, to be particularly prolific in the fields in this area.
At Sanctuary Wood Museum we were able to experience something of the conditions of the trenches ourselves although we had to wear wellingtons or boots which we had brought for the occasion.
We found British and Commonwealth cemeteries to be well maintained and set out in ways which showed real respect for those who lost their lives. There was a sharp contrast between the Canadian Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland memorial site and the German cemeteries of Fricourt and Langemark, which had mass and multiple graves for soldiers.
Our last day concluded with visit to a further two iconic Welsh memorials. We visited Artillery Wood and saw the grave of Private E. H. Evans, also known as Hedd Wyn. He was the Welsh language poet who was killed at Passchendaele in 1917 and posthumously awarded the bard’s chair at the National Eisteddfod, held that year.
The other iconic Welsh memorial was that of the Welsh dragon which stands on a cromlech near Ypres where soldiers from Wales fought on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele. It remembers all those of Welsh descent who took part in the Great War.The whole visit was an incredibly moving experience, enhanced by the good company of friends on the staff and the excellent students who took part. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.