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Brian Pohanka
The Western Front:
- Belloy-en-Santerre
- Flaucourt, Bray, Albert
- Y-Sap, Lochnager

- Memorials, Thiepval
- Ulster Tower,

- The Somme
- The Fallen Soldier
- Mametz Wood
- Delville Wood, High

- Newfoundland Park
- Hawthorne Crater
- Arras
- Proyart, Chevauchee
- Mort Homme, Fort

- Verdun



Visit to the Western Front
Part 8: Mametz Wood

By Brian Pohanka - October 28, 1999

This brief sketch was originally posted at a Civil War discussion group site and is reprinted here with the author's permission.

Driving north from Lt. Thomas' gravesite and the Maple Redoubt, we passed through Fricourt, a town that saw heavy fighting and like most of those little villages was destroyed, and rebuilt in the 1920s. Here was the largest German Cemetery on the Somme -- 5,056 marked burials and another 11,970 in mass graves. This was the resting place of Baron von Richthofen after his initial internment in the village cemetery of Bertangles. When Hitler came to power, the Red Baron was again exhumed and given a hero's funeral in Berlin, at the Invalidenfriedhof. Only a few years ago he was moved yet again, to what will presumably be his last resting place, in Wiesbaden.

Northeast of Fricourt we came to Mametz Wood. In France, virtually every wood -- be it a large forest or a copse -- has a name. In earlier times these woods were "harvested," so to speak, for firewood -- much as the woods at [the Civil War battlefield of] Antietam were. During the First World War the woodlots of the Somme were totally obliterated. Just dirt and stumps and splinters amidst the annihilated terrain. But now, 80 and more years later, they have grown back, and much like the villages and fields, resemble their pre-1914 appearance.

I wanted very much to find the Welsh Memorial, having seen photos of it in the various guidebooks. A relatively recent addition, it was erected in 1987. A column topped by a fantastic red dragon -- the symbol of Wales -- the
dragon clutching a strand of barbed-wire with his claw and staring defiantly at Mametz Wood. Appropriately enough, for on July 7-11, 1916 the newly-formed 38th Welsh Division made repeated and costly efforts to wrest Mametz Wood from elite troops of the Prussian Guard. Watching the little Welshmen (most were "Bantams" or small men) go into the torn and burning woods, Siegfried Sassoon recalled "I had a sense of their vistimisation." At a cost of 4,000 men, the Welsh Division finally captured Mametz Wood, but the supporting artillery did not realize this and subjected the exhausted victors to a terrible bombardment that cost still more lives before the error was realized.

We found the Welsh Memorial after driving down a farm road that became a muddy track that our rented Citroen managed, though with difficulty. We were the only people there in a very peaceful setting -- though yet another large unexploded shell nearby was a stark reminder of the fighting that had transpired there. The wood is now a rather pretty place, nestled in a valley here at its southern edge where the Welshmen attacked. In 1916 it was a
sinister place indeed. Robert Graves found it "full of dead Prussian Guards Reserve, big men, and dead Royal Welch and South Wales Borderers of the New Army battalions, little men. Not a single tree in the wood remained unbroken."

Graves' Goodbye to All That has a particularly disturbing description of a dead German soldier he found in Mametz Wood -- reminiscent of Stephen Crane's account of the dead soldier Henry Fleming sees at Chancellorsville in The Red Badge of Courage. As noted in an earlier installment of this saga, Graves' memoir is a must-read for anyone interested in the British ordeal on the Somme.

red poppy by DLO

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