Forty thousand Welshmen were killed in the Great War in Flanders’ fields and across the world - but one place has come to symbolise the nation’s sacrifice like no other. Mametz Wood in the valley of the Somme has become a place of pilgrimage for the Welsh.
Standing in the shadow of the iron dragon visitors can look out across the fields of wheat and along the Valley of Death where 4,000 Welsh soldiers were killed and injured in a few brief days in July 1916.
The wood itself was of little tactical importance but it was the 38th Welsh Division that was given the task of taking it. What the British didn’t know is that the wood was held by crack German troops. When the Welsh attacked, they were cut down in the open by enemy machine gun fire. Two former Welsh rugby internationals Dick Thomas and Johnny L Williams were among the 600 dead.
To walk in the wood is a very moving experience, faded pictures of the fallen are pinned to the trees and Welsh flags peep out between the foliage. Shell cases litter the woodland floor and the silence is broken only by birdsong.
Just beyond the wood is Flat Iron Copse Cemetery where many of the fallen are buried. It has a dignity and serenity befitting of the brave and yet your eyes are drawn to the names and ages on the cold white headstones. It is unique for have the remains of three sets of brothers two of which are from Wales, the Hardwidges from the Rhondda and the Tregaskis brothers who died in each other’s arms and are buried side by side. The mighty Welsh dragon now guards their memory and all those who gave their lives at Mametz.
A visit to this battlefield is very special and to be here for the centenary of the War is something I will never forget.