Machine Gun Platoon, the Prince of Wales’s Company

France and Belgium – Battle Honours of the First World War

West Cappel cemetery – retreat from Dunkirk

The Machine Gun Platoon, The Prince of Wales’s Company, having received the baton from 2 Platoon, conducted their first visit to a cemetery this afternoon. Despite the Platoon’s remit covering the final battle honours of the First World War, we visited a cemetery in West-Cappel for those servicemen killed in the retreat from Dunkirk in 1940. This is where Guardsman Rice’s Great Grandfather is buried and his family have been unable to visit the cemetery until this point.

Canadian National Vimy Memorial

Today the Machine Gun Platoon, The Prince of Wales’s Company, undertook a tour of the trench and tunnel systems at the excellently preserved Canadian National Vimy Memorial. The tour provided a clear insight in to the difficult conditions experienced by our forbears one hundred years ago and of particular interest, educated us on the employment of Welsh miners at the site.

After a short drive to Loos, the Platoon learned of the Welsh Guards’ role in the Battle and with the use of maps, and documents obtained from archives, were able to place exactly where LCpl Lodwick’s Great Grandfather had fought during the Battle. A very special moment for the Platoon.

The final visit of the day was to the German Cemetery at Neuville-St.-Vaast where we discussed the burial of the German war dead, the differences in the cemeteries and the actions of Jewish soldiers who were later to be dismissed as cowards by the German government in 1936. The visit proved eye opening and put the scale of casualties sustained on both sides in to perspective.

Lochnagar Crater, Thiepval, Mametz Wood

The Lochnagar Crater provided the day’s first opportunity to further the understanding of the First World War for the Machine Gun Platoon, The Prince of Wales’s Company. LCpl Moriarty told the Platoon of the crater’s significance as the immediate precursor to the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Even more impressive than its size is the fact that it was reported as being heard in London.

Following this, the Platoon moved to the Thiepval memorial. The memorial, unveiled in 1932, commemorates the 72,000 servicemen of British and South African descent who have no known grave. Due to the inclusion of many Welsh Guardsmen on the memorial, Guardsman Evans 35 gave a superb account of the actions of The Prince of Wales’s Company during the battle. Particularly noteworthy is the story of Sergeant Ashford who, upon receipt of news that all Officers and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers had been killed, assumed command of the Company.

Mametz Wood was the next memorial visited and resonated with the Guardsmen specifically, owing to the large dragon, dedicated to the fallen of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the battle for Mametz Wood, a fiercely held German strong point.

Just before a visit to the Somme Museum in Albert was a stop at Serre Road No 2 Cemetery. One of the largest cemeteries on the Western Front, it is the amalgamation of many smaller cemeteries that existed until 1919. A lone, unknown Welsh Guardsman lies there and caused all to consider the impact on families and loved ones who would never have known the true whereabouts of their son, brother, cousin or friend.

The underground Somme Museum in Albert proved an invaluable educational tool in attempting to answer the practical questions of trench life that so many of us had been asking throughout our journey thus far. Yet another day of inspiration and education for the men of the Machine Gun Platoon. Tomorrow brings us to our cycling marathon….wish us luck!

Guardsman Davidge, Sanctuary Wood, Bike marathon

In a quiet corner of a small, French, civilian cemetery lies the headstone of Guardsman E H Davidge, Welsh Guards. The son of Mr. H C Davidge of Blandford, Dorset and one of the first Guardsman to join the Battalion on its formation on 26th February 1915 – a pure Welsh Guardsman. He is also one of the 59,247 British servicemen to have fallen during the Battle of Loos. So why is his story different? Why tell his over those of the many other Welsh Guardsman who fell on the Western Front?

The reason is that Guardsman Davidge was sixteen years of age when he died and is the youngest Welsh Guardsman buried on the Western Front. One of many young men who made their way, by falsely claiming to be of age, to the dark, wet, muddy trenches of Northern France and Belgium to fight and ultimately lay down their lives for King and Country.

Our morning began with LSgt Rutledge placing a beret at his headstone and the Platoon moved on to Sanctuary Wood, Ypres, Belgium in silence, contemplating the loss of someone so young in such dire circumstances.

Sanctuary Wood offered the Platoon the chance to see one of only several trench systems in existence that have remained as they were one hundred years ago. ‘Muddy’, ‘shocking’, ‘cramped’ and ‘miserable’ were some of the many adjectives used to describe the thought of enduring the trenches for even the shortest duration. A real eye opener for the Platoon and one that offered them motivation, if needed, for their cycling sportive this afternoon.

With the entire Platoon admitting to having never ridden a racing bicycle before, the challenge was set. Bypassing the location of the Battle of the Canal Du Nord (one of our Battle honours) the Platoon worked hard, tackling a number of steep climbs all the way to Albert where we finished. An exceptional effort by all.

Tomorrow is our final day and will also mark the end of Welsh Guards 100 for the Prince of Wales’s Company. The end of the Company’s legs will be marked by a small service in Bavay by the Padre tomorrow afternoon.

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial was the location of the Machine Gun Platoon’s penultimate visit, as today marked the final day of the Prince of Wales’s Company Welsh Guards 100 journey. With the added knowledge, guidance and moral steer offered by the Padre, who had joined us for this final day, we were once again given an exceptional tour by the guides from Canada. To hear the story of a former Colony, Newfoundland, populated by a mere 250,000 people at the outbreak of war, suffering eighty eight percent casualties during the Battle Of The Somme was emotive and yet again raised the question of ‘why?’. Not least when benefitting from the hindsight of ninety-nine years in knowing that just two years later, the Germans regained all the territory that so much blood was shed for.

The sleepy village of Bavay, more specifically Prehert Farm, hosted our final venture of the week and begun with a superb brief by Guardsman Petrakis on the actions of the Welsh Guards in the days preceding the Armistice. Prehert Farm being the final enemy position that the Welsh Guards fought for, and won, prior to the guns falling silent at 11.00 am, on the 11th day of November, 1918.

A short drive placed us on the outskirts of Bavay in the communal cemetery. Amongst the graves of French civilians stands those of nine servicemen, killed between the 8th and 10th November, 1918. Whilst not immaculately presented, as is commonly associated with the site of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, it was felt that we wished to end our journey remembering ALL who fell. Those who are buried in the beautifully presented cemeteries and memorials, those buried amidst French civilians in local cemeteries and indeed those to whom the fortune of war denied them a known burial. The Padre led a thought provoking and insightful ceremony that included the reading of the Welsh Guards Collect in Welsh and the placing of pebbles on the headstones of the servicemen buried in the cemetery, an ancient tradition spanning many religions.

The journey that the Company has taken has brought the history of the birth of our Regiment to the fore, from the signing of the Royal Warrant at White City to the final action of the Great War in Bavay. Lessons have been learned, comparisons drawn and memories made.

An unknown Commanding Officer, relaying a revised Naval speech on the eve of Battle said: ‘To be overcome is the fortune of war, but to fly is the fashion of cowards. Let us teach the world that Welshmen would rather be acquainted with death than fear.’ With those words still fresh in their minds many young Welsh Guardsmen fell, never to stand again.

Lest we forget.

Cymru Am Byth.

On the final evening, the baton was passed from The Prince of Wales’s Company to Number 2 Company, thus marking the end of the Welsh Guards 100 journey for the Jamboys.

Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn.

All the best Number 2 Company.

(With thanks to Ed Clarke, seen here with James Martin, for his account of the tour).