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  1. ITV Report

Police force remembers its World War One heroes

40,000 Welshmen died during the First World War, with no section of society untouched by the carnage. The country's policemen shared in the sacrifice.

Dick Thomas was part of the Grand Slam winning Wales team of 1908 Credit: ITV Wales News

The constabularies of Glamorgan, Cardiff, Swansea, Neath and Merthyr - which later merged to form South Wales Police - provided hundreds of soldiers for the war effort.

Gareth Madge, an historian at South Wales Police, says officers were a perfect fit for the front line:

"[policemen] provided a ready body of men who were used to disciplined organisation, who brought skills from previous military experience. And so they were ideal in terms of being recruited into the armed forces"

– Gareth Madge, South Wales police historian

One of those who joined up was Dick Thomas. A sergeant in the Glamorgan force, he also played rugby for Wales, winning 4 caps between 1906 and 1909 and featuring in the Grand Slam winning team of 1908.

After joining the Welsh Regiment, he served as a Sergeant Major at the infamous battle of Mametz Wood in in 1915. The encounter - part of the Somme offensive of that Summer - cost 4000 casualties in just five days.

On July 17th, Thomas, a company Sergeant Major, led an attack on German positions when he was shot and killed. But, as his grandson explained, even in death he was able to help his fellow troops.

"They were half way across between the start line and the wood and took cover. And he knelt up to see if they could move forward and that's when he got shot. And then other people made use of the fact that he was a fairly big guy to hide behind."

– Richard Thomas, grandson of Dick Thomas
Dick Thomas won four caps for Wales between 1906 and 1909 Credit: ITV Wales News

Watch: Richard Morgan reports

Albert Appleton, a police constable in Swansea, became the first South Wales officer to fall in action, in August 1914.

Appleton - who'd previously served with the army in India - became a local hero in Swansea after he and colleague saved a boy overwhelmed by fumes on a slag tip.

Upon the outbreak of war, he joined the British Expeditionary Force and became caught up in the retreat from Mons, where he was killed in action on August 24th. Like all the early casualties of the conflict, his body was buried at a local cemetery.

"His is the only Commonwealth War Grave in that particular cemetery. It is quite moving to go there and just see the one headstone of this Swansea policeman lying in France."

– Gareth Madge, South Wales Police historian

Many South Wales police officers returned to the service after the war, despite suffering injuries in the trenches.

But it's the 92 who never came home who the force especially want to remember as the First World War centenary commemorations continue.