Somme100: Mametz Wood – A Royal Welsh Fusilier Remembers

RWF Edited

Back in the 1980s I was fortunate to interview more than 300 Great War veterans, among them several who fought with the 38th (Welsh) Division at Mametz Wood. One of these was Albert Chesters from Wrexham. Albert was a miner who had lost a father and brother in a mining accident before the war, and when war broke out in 1914 he took it as a chance to escape the world underground and spend some time in the sunshine, and get paid for it. Albert had never fired a rifle before he enlisted but proved he was a natural crack shot and was employed as a sniper when they went to France in late 1915, serving on the Laventie front.

In the summer of 1916 they marched south to the Somme, and Albert has his sniper’s rifle taken from him and he became a bayonet man for the attack on Mametz Wood. Not employed in the first attack, he recalled what happened on 7th July 1916:

On the 7th of July in the morning we were ordered to move up to the front line to attack Mametz Wood. I can only speak for our Brigade… we were about 500 yards off the wood. The 15th Welsh and 11th SWB were extended in the front. Our battalion and 10th SWB were in reserve. They had the order to advance across to the wood and the battle started. We didn’t move, we watched the attack. It was terrible to see those lads being mowed down by German machine-gunners on platforms in the trees. They never got near the wood. They were wiped out.

On 10th July 1916 he was in the attack on the wood, and while advancing through the smashed up undergrowth was shot through the kneecap, ending his war. He returned to the pit in Wrexham after discharge and worked there until retirement in the early 1960s. Like all the veterans I interviewed, he was typical of those ordinary men, in extraordinary circumstances.

Somme100: South Wales Borderers at Mametz Wood

SWB 38 Div-1

This image shows men of the South Wales Borderers who served in one of the battalions of this regiment which fought with the 38th (Welsh) Division at Mametz Wood in July 1916.

On this day, 7th July, one hundred years ago in 1916, the men in this photograph took part in the assault on part of Mametz Wood called ‘The Hammerhead’. It was a costly disaster, with few ever reaching the wood itself. Today we remember that sacrifice a century on and wonder how this day affected those we see in this image, which includes some very young soldiers.