Between 17-21 June 2019, members of the 1st Battalion (Bn) The Royal Welsh deployed to France and Belgium to lay to rest three soldiers of our antecedent regiments, the Royal Welch Fusiliers (RWF) and the South Wales Borderers (SWB) who died during the Great War and were initially buried as unknown soldiers.
The Joint Compassionate Care Centre (JCCC) not only deals with the modern medical and welfare needs of the army, including repatriation, but also conducts investigations for historical cases involving British service personnel. It is from this role that the task of rededicating three Welsh soldiers came about. The first stop on the visit was the Mametz Wood memorial, a striking red dragon on white stone plinth, dedicated to the soldiers of the 38th Welsh Division. These Welsh soldiers faced a bitter struggle for control of the woods sustaining thousands of casualties – a stark awakening for those who deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, or more recently to Estonia, where this scale of combat could be re-lived if deterrence ever failed.
The first re-dedication was for Cpl Robert Davies who had served with the RWF in a number of large engagements, including Mametz Wood. He was most likely killed during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. Due to the chaos of the time, Cpl Davies was hastily buried where he fell with three of his comrades, initially as an unknown soldier. The identification of Cpl Davies was achieved through the work of amateur researchers, and due to their dedication, we were able to support a service of remembrance and re-dedication with representatives from the local villages.
The next re-dedication was of an unknown SWB soldier who was discovered in 2016 by a French farmer. The 1st Bn team were invited to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Committee (CWGC) centre and see how they prepared the body for burial. This provided a detailed image of the reality of war, reminding all concerned that this soldier had a family who never knew what had happened to him. To add to this, there were an additional 60 unknown soldiers from various nations held within the mortuary, a reminder of the sterling work carried out by both the CWGC and JCCC. The 1st Bn soldiers dressed the coffin with the Union flag and conducted the burial party with the respect these soldiers deserve despite the heat. With members of his antecedent regiment, representatives of Béthune town and the CWGC, another Welsh soldier was laid to rest after 104 years.
The final re-dedication was for Capt William Kington DSO and this would be the most widely attended service as JCCC had manged to contact his family who would be attending the service. A career soldier who had earned the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) during the Boer War, Capt Kington was killed 4 days after arriving in the trenches on 20 October 1914. Much like Cpl Davies, Capt Kington, initially buried as an unknown RWF Captain, was identified by an amateur researcher using his uniform, DSO ribbon and location to identify the body. The arrival of the family made the ceremony more poignant and Capt Hughes presented the family with a folded Union flag. This tradition remains in place for those soldiers who have fallen on modern day operations.
This task was significant and extremely important as it laid to rest our predecessors who made the ultimate sacrifice. It also educated soldiers on the realities of war and the sense of regimental loyalty and comradery, allowing them to draw similarities to the operations conducted by the regiment in our more recent history.