More than 14,000 men from Monmouthshire went to war in 1914. Many did not return. Helen Morgan from Abergavenny Local History Society reports
After war broke out against Germany on August 4th, events moved rapidly. Within hours, the order was sent to mobilise the 3rd Battalion, Monmouthshire. Throughout the night, men from towns and villages from across the county mustered and caught trains to Abergavenny. The battalion gathered outside the Market Hall at dawn, and later marched to Bailey Park. That night, they travelled by train to Pembroke Dock to join the rest of the Welsh Border Brigade — the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Monmouthshire Regiment and the 1st Herefords — before moving to Oswestry to complete their training.
Across the Channel, on August 25 the civilised world was stunned when the Germans burnt the 15th-century University town of Louvain to the ground as they killed, looted and destroyed their way across Belgium towards France.
The championing of the weak against the strong, of small nations against arrogant neighbours, following the Kaiser’s invasion of “little” Belgium, had struck a particular chord in Wales. By October 22,000 men from Glamorgan and more than 14,000 from Monmouthshire alone had joined one regiment or another.
After Christmas at home in 1914, the “3rd Mons” battalion sailed for Flanders on February 14th. Throughout March, 1915, they saw action in the trenches about five miles south of Ypres. Then, after a brief break, they moved closer to Ypres where, by April 17, they found themselves on the front line. Here they were shelled, gassed and bombed for more than two weeks without respite.
“The hottest work started on May 5 when (we) went into new trenches. The Germans started to shell us at 4am and did not stop until 8 o’clock that night, “ wrote Private W.B Barry to his family in Abergavenny. “Talk about all hell let loose. It was worse than that. For the whole day we were lying on our faces, not daring to move.”
Of the 1,020 soldiers of the 3rd Mons who landed in Le Havre en route to Flanders in February, by May 10th just 134 were still alive. Things then went quiet on the Western Front as the focus shifted to Gallipoli and, with the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine, the Americans prepared to join the war.
Frank Olding’s talk on the 3rd Mons in the Borough Theatre on May 22 follows the AGM. Non-members are welcome to join on the night.