The 38th Welsh Division attack Mametz Wood on 7th July as part of the Somme Offensive.
Mametz Wood was an important position during the Somme Offensive. Mametz village had been captured by the Allies on 1st July but nearby Mametz Wood was still in German hands and this made it a threat.
The job of clearing the wood was given to the 38th Welsh Division. The wood was defended by elite German soldiers who had lots of experience and training. The Welsh soldiers were volunteers who had joined up in late 1914 and early 1915. Much of their training had been inadequate, and the troops didn't have any experience of battle.
On 7th July the Welsh attack started. The German machine guns caused many casualties and the thick wood was difficult to fight in. Against the odds, the Welshmen cleared most of the German positions in the wood and by the time the 38th Division was replaced by reinforcements Mametz Wood was almost secure. About 600 officers and soldiers had been killed.
Amongst the 38th Welsh Division were the Welsh Regiment, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and South Wales Borderers. Many Swansea men fought with the 14th Battalion, Welsh Regiment and their contribution was vital in capturing the wood when they managed to break into the central part of the woods on July 10th, 1916. We’re given a glimpse of the immensity of their sacrifice in a reference to Mametz Wood’s anniversary in the Cambrian Daily Leader, July 1917, which was a local Swansea newspaper.
Welsh politicians and opinion-formers used the story of the ‘Welsh’ victory to try to boost morale. Visiting Welsh troops in the training camp at Kinmel Park (near Rhyl), Lloyd George (then Minister for War) gave a speech to inspire them. He said of the men of the 38th Welsh Division:
‘They accomplished much with honour to themselves and the land to which they belonged (cheers). The attack on Mametz Wood was one of the most difficult enterprises which ever fell to any division. It was left to the Welsh Division, and they swept the enemy out of it (cheers). From end to end there is not a living German in the wood now. He has been driven far beyond it, and it will be your task to drive him still further, and I think in time you will accomplish it (cheers)’.
This article in the Cambrian Daily Leader, a Swansea papers, from July 1917 gives some insight into the experience of the Swansea men at Mametz Wood.
There are also examples in the newspapers of soldiers who’d fought at Mametz and sent in poems describing the horror of the battle. This example is written by Sergeant J. Jarman, from Garth, near Brecon, who fought with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in France.
Lieutenant W.R.M Gwynne’s experience fighting in Mametz Wood.
A portrait of two soldiers. The soldier sitting down has a shoulder patch on his jacket that shows he is serving with the 38th (Welsh) Division.