On July 31 st 2017 two large-scale ceremonies will take place to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War – the Battle of Passchendaele. Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium will be the venue for the international ceremony and a few hours later the Welsh National Memorial at Langemark will be the site of the Welsh national event.
The very word ‘Passchendaele’ has become a byword for the suffering of the Great War. A remorseless slog by Allied soldiers through mud and rain, by the time the battle ended on 10 November 1917 hundreds of thousands of men on both sides lay dead or had been wounded.
The Welsh at Passchendaele 1917 by Dr Jonathan Hicks is a significant new interpretation of the Great War battle for the Passchendaele Ridge, telling the story of the battle through the words of the soldiers and airmen who were actually there.
The author has trawled through regimental histories, war diaries, family histories and archives to compile this detailed account of the part played by Welsh men and women, and those who served in the Welsh regiments, in this enormous and historic conflict.
Beginning at 5.30 am on the morning of 31 July 1917, the British Army launched an enormous assault on the strongly-held German positions. Simultaneously, the Welsh battalions began their attack at Pilkem Ridge. Second Lieutenant Stephen Glynne Hughes described what he saw that morning;
‘At daylight we could see Pilkem Ridge literally heaving up and down – the whole ridge was boiling – we saw the Guards leave the trenches – walking slowly and laboriously over ‘no man’s land’ – one moment you would see a number of men – then a blanket of an exploding shell would hide them – clear away – and the stragglers marching on. The German prisoners could be seen struggling and splashing through the shell holes – some being hit by their own Batteries.’
The author’s own grandfather fought at Passchendaele, and using first-hand accounts and photographs gathered over a period of several years, he allows the men and women who were there to tell their stories.
Dr Jonathan Hicks is an award-winning military historian and novelist, and his meticulous research provides new insight into this famous battle. He has previously won the Victorian Military Society’s top award for his book on the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 ‘A Solemn Mockery’, and was awarded the Western Front Association Shield for his book ‘Barry and the Great War’.
Dr Hicks is also a member of the Welsh Government’s First World War Centenary Programme Board and sits on a variety of other committees advising the government on the centenary of the Great War. He also writes crime fiction featuring the military policeman Thomas Oscendale, and both his novels ‘The Dead of Mametz’ and ‘Demons Walk Among Us’ have drawn widespread praise.
His 2016 number one bestselling work ‘ The Welsh at Mametz’ recieved critical acclaim including from the Western Front Association who described it as ‘excellent’.
Dr Hicks has dedicated The Welsh at Passchendaele 1917 to his grandfather Ernest Hicks, whom he never knew, and all the other men who fought ‘in that terrible battle’.
The Welsh at Passchendaele 1917 by Dr Jonathan Hicks (£14.99, Y Lolfa) is out now.