Remembering The Great War

St Fagans, Glamorgan

Museum of Welsh Life

Probably the main reason that people come to St. Fagans these days is not the village itself, but to visit the Museum of Welsh Life. This being off the A4232 west of Cardiff and in the grounds of St. Fagans Castle. A late sixteenth century manor house donated to the people of Wales in 1946 by the Earl of Plymouth. The house, its beautiful gardens and a fine indoor museum, are all complimented by a superb collection of original buildings and other structures taken from all over Wales and meticulously re-erected within the grounds. One being the Newbridge war memorial that came from its original site at Caetwmpyn Park overlooking the town to St. Fagans in 1996. Unveiled in 1936, the memorial has the names of seventy-nine men killed during the First World War, and thirty-seven belonging to those that fell 1939-45.

Original Newbridge memorial, Museum of Welsh Life.

St. Mary's Church

After visiting the castle, pass through the gate facing its entrance door and into St. Fagans village. A party of Welsh Royalists was defeated here (just north-west of the village) by Parliamentary forces in May, 1648. Directly across the road you find St. Mary's, fourteenth century, restored by G.E. Street in 1859-60, and within its churchyard the parish war memorial. High up and overlooking the road way, this tall Celtic Cross has inscribed upon its front face -

St. Fagans memorial, St. Mary's Church.

To The  
Honoured Memory
Of The Men
From This Parish
Who Gave Their
Lives For
Their Country
In The Great War


Below this dedication are the names of eighteen men that were killed. All without rank or regiment and listed in a single column -

Hon. Archer Windsor-Clive - Edgar Eagling - Reginald H. Edmunds

Freeman Farley - Clive Forrest - Robert Thomas Hopkin

David John - Allan Jones - Robert Jones - Robert Keay

Spencer W. Littleton - Robert Harold Mason

Robert Radcliffe - Thomas Radcliffe - William Radcliffe

Aneurin C. Thomas - George Turner - Metford Whitting

The third son of the Earl of Plymouth, Archer Windsor-Clive was born 6 November, 1890. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, then commissioned as Second-Lieutenant, Coldstream Guards with effect from 8 September, 1911. It was with No. 2 Company, 3rd Battalion that Archer left Chelsea Barracks, London for France on 12 August, 1914. Now a Lieutenant, he moved with his battalion, first to Southampton, where the Guardsmen crossed on the SS Cawdor Castle, then forward to Harveng. Here defensive positions were dug on the 23rd.

The Retreat from Mons having began next day, 3rd Coldstream at once fell back via Malgarni to Landrecies where, records Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Ross-of-Blandensburg, No. 2 Company from the Le Quesnoy road fired on advancing enemy patrols, driving them back. Around dusk, a column was seen moving up the road. The men were singing French songs and when challenged an officer replied that they were friends. However, although the troops at the front were wearing French and Belgian uniforms, it was noticed that those at the back were German. The order to open fire was given, but quickly the enemy rushed the Coldstream killing one man.

Again the attackers were beaten off, as were further attempts to enter Landrecies throughout the night. Relieved during the morning of 26 August, 3rd Coldstream withdrew to Etreux. Their casualties amounting to twelve killed, one hundred and eight wounded, seven missing. Archer Windsor-Clive being one of two officer that fell was buried in Landrecies Communal Cemetery.

Both Private Reginald H. Edmunds and Lance-Corporal Freeman Farley served with the 7th King's Shropshire Light Infantry and were killed on the same day - 14 July, 1916. The Battalion had been in France since 28 September, 1915. Spending time in trenches around Ypres before travelling south to the Somme on 1 July, 1916. It would be two weeks, however, before the men entered the line. Marching forward by night in easy stages and via Nizernes, Fienvillers, Flesselles, Cardonette and Corbie. The ruins of Carnoy, six miles east of Albert, were reached on 7 July, and here the Battalion bivouacked while the ground over which it was to attack was carefully reconnoitred.

The Battle of Bazentine Ridge commenced on 14 July and all through the previous night the 7th KSLI crouched in No Man's Land awaiting the dawn. At 3.20 am the British guns opened up. Pounding the German line running through Bazentin-le-Grand. But with many shells falling short, several casualties would occur among the assaulting battalions as they lay patiently awaiting zero hour.  At zero, 3.30 am, the men rushed forward. The enemy's trenches could not be seen, and before long strong uncut wire would be encountered about six hundred yards from the German front line. "Not a man of the first wave", notes the Battalion's records, "succeeded in getting through this wire, of which there were two rows, each ten to twenty yards deep. The succeeding waves of the attack closed on the first and the enemy had an easy target."

What remained of the attacking force reluctantly fell back. But only to regroup. At 11 am another and more successful attempt was made. The Shropshires this time managing to cut their way through the wire and into the German line. Here the enemy were cleared and until relieved, the survivors of the Battalion, just six officers and one hundred and thirty-five other ranks, held their gains against no less than five counter attacks. Casualties among the 7th KSLI had amounted to four hundred and seventy-three killed, wounded or missing. Among the latter, Reginald Edmunds and Freeman Farley have no known graves. Their names being among those recorded on the Thiepval Memorial.

Also to fall on the Somme, this time during the opening hours of the battle, was the first of the three members of the Radcliffe family listed on the memorial. Twenty-five year old Private Robert Radcliffe, son of William and Catherine Radcliffe of Chapel House, St. Fagans, being lost with the 8th Somerset Light Infantry as it attacked the strongly held and fortified village of Fricourt. As the Battalion moved forward into No Man's Land on 1 July, 1916, heavy machine gun and rifle fire tore through the advancing ranks. Soon almost all officers had been hit. But with over half its strength having become casualties, the Somersets pressed on and by midnight held their objective at the west end of Lozenge Wood.

Just one hundred of the Battalion had survived. Robert Radcliffe's body was never found. His name joining those of his friends, Reginald H. Edmunds and Freeman Farley, on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme.

Private Thomas Radcliffe, killed 25 September, 1915, also served with the 8th Somerset Light Infantry and like his younger brother, has no known grave. The Battalion had landed in France on 10 September, 1915. It then proceeded from Havre by train to Watten, from where it marched to Bayenghem. It would now be just a matter of days before this battalion of Kitchener's New Army, it had had no war training, was put into line at one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

From the war diary:- "We left Bayenghem about 8 pm, 19th September, arriving at Wardrecques on 20th September; Bourecq on the 21st September; Ferfay (we stayed there two days) on the 22nd September and bivouacked near Noeux les Mines on the 24th September. On the morning of the 25th September we marched to Vermelles and deployed to go into action about 7 pm."

The Battalion war diary tells little more about the first day of the Battle of Loos. A detailed account, however, was recorded by Major L.C. Howard who tells how at 7 pm on 25 September, he was ordered to take "B" and "C" Companies forward to make good the Hulluch-Lens road. The remainder of the Battalion, "A" and "D" Companies, were following on in support. During the advance, notes Major Howard, "....we were under machine-gun fire....but had only two casualties." He also recalls that "A" and "D" Companies had gone astray and never found their way forward. Turning now to the Brigade Commader's report (63rd), we learn that the missing companies had in fact taken part in the attack on Hill 70. Part of "A" Company was seen searching cellars and dug-outs in Loos itself - "one section of No.4 Platoon entirely disappearing whilst so engaged." "D" Company had faired little better as they were engaged mainly around the slag heaps. Total casualties recorded for the Battalion amounted to two hundred and eighty-five killed, wounded or missing.
[Image] The last of the three Radcliffes, Second-Lieutenant William Thomas Radcliffe, was from St. Brides-super-Ely. A small village little over a mile west of St. Fagans. Serving with the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, he was killed on 20 July, 1918 and buried at Marfaux British Cemetery on the Marne. It was under the leadership of French guides that on 20 July, the 7th Argylls assembled near Nanteuil to take part in an attack towards the German line in front of Sarcy. Advancing in artillery formation little progress was made as the Battalion, with just a few Seaforths, took over the whole, recently captured, Brigade front. The troops going forward under heavy and costly machine gun fire. During the afternoon there would be even more casualties as the enemy made vigorous attempts to gain back what they had lost.

From Tregurnog, St. Fagans was Second-Lieutenant Robert Thomas Hopkin of the 16th Rifle Brigade. Killed 20 September, 1917 during a successful attack made on a line north of Bulgar Wood, south-east of Ypres. Going forward at 5.40 am, the Battalion was immediately met by strong opposition from both flanks. Machine gun fire cut through the ranks, and a number of men suffered burns from phosphorous bombs. Robert Hopkin was one of two officers killed during the assault. Other casualties amounting to two hundred and six killed, wounded or missing. His body never found, this twenty-three year old officer has no know grave. His name appearing on the Tyne Cot Memorial at Passendaele.

Both Gunners Edgar Eagling and Robert Harold Mason served with the Royal Field Artillery. Edgar, who died in hospital on 5 November, 1918, being attached to the 2nd Army School of Artillery; Robert, with "B" Battery, 48th Brigade. He died from wounds received on 7 September, 1916 and lived at The Laurels, St. Fagans.

Returning now to the early months of the war, we find the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards on 20 October, 1914, holding a line running north from Kruiseecke to the crossroads on the Ypres-Menin road. Here during the afternoon the enemy attacked to within two hundred yards of the Grenadiers' line before being driven back. One of those killed being Company Sergeant Major Spencer W. Littleton.

Forrest family gravestone commemorating Robert Clive Forrest.

Two of the men recorded on the St. Fagans memorial are also commemorated in the churchyard. Walk now around the corner and to the north side of the church. Enter the churchyard via the gate in Greenwood Lane, and directly ahead are a number of graves marked with red marble crosses. Belonging to the Forrest family, one tells of how on 1 November, 1914, eighteen year old Robert Clive Forrest of the London Scottish, only son of Robert (of Calderhead, Lanarkshire and Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for Glamorgan) and Lucy Forrest, was reported as missing, presumed killed, at Messines. The London Scottish were the first Territorial Force infantry battalion to go to France. Leaving Southampton on 15 September, 1914, Lieutenant-Colonel J.H. Lindsay, DSO noted in his history of the regiment how having passed into Southampton Water, the signal "Good Luck" came from the station on the hill above the Eastern Headland of the Isle of Wight.

For the next five weeks the London Scottish worked around Northern France, parties being used for escorting German prisoners and unloading ships and trains. The first Battle of Ypres began on 20 October, and by the end of the month a dangerous crisis had occurred. The line south of Ypres, towards the River Lys, being held only by a small and weak force of dismounted cavalry. Subsequently, on 25 October, the London Scottish were ordered up to the front line.  Concentrating at St. Omer with little or no war training the Battalion went forward four days later to Ypres. The journey being made in thirty-four buses.

London Scottish debussing at Ypres, 30 October, 1914.

Buses that, noted one observer, the men would have used just three months earlier back in London as civilians travelling to their jobs.

October 30th was spent - first via Hooge to reserve positions at Sanctuary Wood, back to Hooge, then returning to Ypres at 5 pm. Next move, again by buses, was to St. Eloi, then on foot to support positions south-east of the village.

It was now October 31st. A day, notes Colonel Lindsay, that began quietly. It was also Hallowe'en Day, a Red-letter day within the Battalion, and one that back home young recruits still in training would be keeping.

At 8 am the London Scottish were ordered forward. First to Wytschaete, then via the Wulverghem road up to positions at L`'Enfer Wood. Heavy casualties would now occur as the men advanced up the slopes of Messines Ridge and to the firing line just east of the Messines-Wytschaete road.

The enemy attacked about 9 pm. but were driven back by rifle fire and a series of charges. What followed was one of the bloodiest engagements of the war. Colonel Lindsay records - "....a prolonged and confused struggle....there was hard fighting, bayonets were crossed, fire was exchanged at close quarters....officers, sergeants and men had to act on their own initiative."

Another aspect of the fight concerned the mens' rifles. Issued back in England just days before embarkation, these were of the Mark I pattern converted to take Mark VII ammunition. Battalion records show that not a man had had the opportunity to fire the new weapons and it would soon be discovered that the magazines had springs too weak and that the front stop clips were the wrong shape for the Mark VII rounds. Subsequently, the rifles could only be used as single-loaders.

London Scottish after Messines. Possibly as seen by Paul Maze.

Having been withdrawn towards Wulverghem on 1 November, Paul Maze, a liaison officer with the 2nd Cavalry Division, saw the London Scottish and noted in his book A Frenchman in Khaki - "His kilt in rags, looking utterly exhausted, a sergeant was forming up his men who stood like sailors being photographed on a shore within sight of their wreck." Casualties among the London Scottish had amounted to three hundred and ninety-four.

See also close by, the grave of Lieutenant-Colonel William Forrest. Awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1901 for service during the Boer War. Having resigned his commission in 1913, the Colonel took command of a Territorial Force Reserve Battalion in January, 1916. He was agent to the Earl of Plymouth's estate at St. Fagans.

Just further on from the Forrest graves, close to the path and the east wall of the church, is the war grave of Captain Aneurin Clement Thomas of the Royal Horse Artillery. The Monthly Army List at time of his death, 13 November, 1918, recording him as being employed by the Ministry of Munitions.

Copyright © Ray Westlake, May, 2002

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