David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, hoped that Wales would raise its own corps, as Canada and the ANZACs did. Recruiting in Wales did not go well enough to warrant such expectations, although it has been calculated that about 100,000 Welsh people had joined the army before May 1915. By the end of the War 272,000 Welshman had fought and nearly 35,000 of them were killed. In South Wales, many men were employed as coal miners, undertaking work of vital national importance. Coal was used for the manufacture of steel for armaments and for the propulsion of both warships and merchantmen.
The Battle of Mametz Wood
The 38th or Welsh Division (also known as Lloyd George’s Division) aimed to capture Mametz Wood as part of the Battle of the Somme. Mametz Wood was the largest wood on the whole of the Somme battlefront. The 38th Division was made up of soldiers from many different Welsh regiments, such as the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Welsh Regiment.
The Battle of Mametz Wood began 7th July 1916. The battle was expected to last for a matter of hours but in fact went on for five days and the division suffered around 4,000 casualties. The Welsh Division achieved their aim of driving back the Germans to their second line of defence by the end of the five days.
Home Front – Working Women
The British Women’s Institute (WI) was an organisation set up in response to the First World War, teaching women new skills in order to play an important part in their community. The very first British branch was established in Wales, Llanfairpwll in 1915. Although Welsh women played a vital part in cities and rural areas during the war by the end they were expected to return to their traditional role as housewives. As a result, the numbers of working women in Wales fell. It was not until the Second World War when these women could re-assert themselves again.
Hedd Wyn (1887-1917)
Ellis Evans enrolled at Trawsfyndd School in 1892 and is thought to have left around 1899 to work a shepherd on the family farm. Ellis received a rich cultural education through the local Ebenezer Chapel and Sunday school. His father was a ‘bardd gwlad’ (literally ‘a country poet’, this Welsh term refers to a poet who celebrates his community) and taught him to compose poetry. Ellis won his first prize for poetry at the age of 11.
In 1910, Ellis received the bardic name Hedd Wyn (‘Blessed Peace’) at a ceremony in Blanenau Ffestiniog. He competed in many local Eisteddfodau (which are competitive festivals of music and poetry held throughout Wales). The tone of Ellis’s work, which had originally been influenced by nature and religion, changed after 1914 as he began to write about the horror of the war and his friends who had died on the battlefields.
When the government introduced conscription in 1916 Ellis enlisted with the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and trained at Litherland. He set sail for France in June 1917 and was killed on the first day of the 3rd battle of Ypres, 31 July 1917. In September of the same year Ellis was posthumously awarded the bard’s chair at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. The chair was draped in black cloth and has been known ever since as ‘Y Gadair Ddu’ (The Black Chair’).
War – Hedd Wyn
Why must I live in this grim age,
When, to a far horizon, God
Has ebbed away, and man, with rage,
Now wields the sceptre and the rod?
Man raised his sword, once God had gone,
To slay his brother, and the roar
Of battlefields now casts upon
Our homes the shadow of the war.
The harps to which we sang are hung
On willow boughs, and their refrain
Drowned by the anguish of the young
Whose blood is mingled with the rain.
Translated by Alan Llywd
Rhyfel – Hedd Wyn
Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng,
A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell ;
O’i ôl mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,
Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.
Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw
Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd ;
Mae sŵn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,
A’i gysgod ar fythynod tlawd.
Mae ‘r hen delynau genid gynt
Yng nghrog ar gangau ‘r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A’u gwaed yn gymysg efo’r glaw.