Exercise Somme Dragon IX, generously supported by the Ulysses Trust and the Berlin Infantry Brigade Military Trust Fund, deployed for France on the 28th of June. Led by Capt Mervyn Jones, Platoon Commander Rossett Platoon, Clwyd and Gwynedd ACF, 32 Cadets from Albuhera Coy aimed to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice as well as explore the battleground of the 1916 Somme Offensive.
The 29th and 30th were spent preparing for the forthcoming commemorations. Work parties were despatched to the Mametz Memorial and the Lochnagar Crater for a general tidy after the excellent work of the Cadet`s clearing these areas on Ex Lochnagar Dragon, again generously sponsored by the Ulysses Trust.
At 07.30 on 1st Jul the Cadets paraded at the Lochnagar Crater, 98 years to the hour after the Somme offensive started. The Crater is the site of one of sixteen detonations within tunnels dug beneath the German lines. The huge detonations were designed to disorientate and demoralise the German troops but had limited success. The commemoration remembers the combatants of both sides who gave their lives in the first day of fighting. It concludes with all those present linking arms around the Crater`s 1/6th of a mile circumference before poppies are cast into the Crater itself.
At 11.00 that morning the Cadets paraded at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. The Memorial, which has 72,000 names inscribed on its pillars, remembers those killed in the Somme Offensive with no known grave. It is the predominant memorial on the Somme and this is the foremost act of commemoration in the Somme calendar, attended by many dignitaries. With the regular Army having so many commitments the Cadets supplied the main uniformed body representing the UK.
In the afternoon at 15.00 the Cadets paraded at the Ulster Tower, the most famous Divisional Memorial on the Somme. The Cadets were congratulated on their appearance and bearing by Mr John Crisford, National Chairman of the RBL.
With barely time to draw breath the Cadets entered the expedition phase designed to follow the Somme Offensive from the perspective of soldiers from Wrexham. The Cadets devised an itinerary of their own. Prior to the Somme offensive the area, like the rest of the Western Front, had stagnated into trench warfare. A largely forgotten tunnelling war developed in an attempt to break the deadlock. Wrexham has a coal mining heritage and coal miners were much valued in this aspect of the war. They identified a Spr William Arthur Lloyd, Royal Engineers, a local coal miner and family man, killed in a tunnel collapse in Dec 1915, close to the Albert to Baupamme road. This is the exact area where the Somme offensive started beside the road which provided the axis of advance. The Cadets researched his background, where he lived, worked and did his military training together with the unique challenges of the underground war. On the 2nd Jul they found the site and laid a wreath above the point where he is believed to be interred.
On the 3rd Jul the Cadets moved into the village of La Boiselle where stands the 19th (Western) Division Memorial. The Division included the 9th Bn RWF raised in Hightown Barracks, Wrexham in 1914. The Cadets had decided to focus on Welsh Battalions serving outside of the Welsh Division. The 19th Division liberated the village on the afternoon of 1st July. The Cadets had identified two brothers, Henry and Joseph Huxley from the small village of Holt. Cpl Henry Huxley, of the 9th Bn survived the assault on La Boiselle only to be killed in Belgium a year later. From there they moved on past Mametz further through the Offensive to Delville Wood outside the village of Longueval, where on 20th Jul the 10th Bn of the RWF were awarded two Victoria Crossses. The 10th Bn were also raised in Hightown barracks in the autumn of 1914. 2Lt Joseph Huxley served with the 10th Bn before being sent home for Officer training. He was killed in 1918, outside Albert, during the last German counter offensive of the war. Small, but hugely moving, acts of remembrance were held for each soldier
For the 4th July the Cadets moved through Longueval taking in the South African and New Zealand Division memorials to the fullest extent of the battle. They identified a Royal Welch Fusilier, from Wrexham, killed on 6 Oct 16 at the Battle of Transloy Ridge, the final British push of the Somme offensive. Fus S.P Ellis of the 1/4th Bn was a “Denbighshire Territorial” called up at the start of the war. He was killed serving in a Pioneer Battalion attached to the 47th ( London ) Division and has no known grave.
On the 5th Jul the Cadets boarded the bus for Belgium with the primary aim of parading at Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium. The Menin Gate is the Memorial to the Missing of the Battles of Ypres. Sticking to the principle of getting as much out of the trip as possible the day incorporated a visit to Tyne Cot cemetery, Passchendaele, Hill 60, Langemark German cemetery and the grave of Fus Ellis Humphreys Evans, 15th Bn R.W.F, better known as Hedd Wyn, the most eminent of the Welsh language war poets. Again the Cadets attracted much positive comment at the evening Menin Gate service.
After such a hectic itinerary a rest day was well in order. Those that wanted to go visited Euro Disney, however a number stayed behind with a higher purpose in mind. During the week a bergan / rucksack was raffled raising enough money for a light aeroplane flight. Consequently, Rowan Burt and Samantha Bewley were able to take to the skies to take the photographs necessary to demonstrate the extent of the Cadets’ ground clearance work at the Lochnagar Crater and Mametz Wood
The 7th Jul was the 98th anniversary of the 38th (Welsh Division) entering into the Battle of the Somme. During 4 days of fighting the Division sustained over 4,000 casualties. All of these soldiers were from Regiments who have been amalgamated to form today’s Royal Welsh. Our Cadets wear the Royal Welsh cap badge so the day had particular poignancy. The Cadets travelled to the Divisional Memorial at Mametz Wood for a brief parade and an act of commemoration. As an additional act of respect the Cadets have refurbished the bench next to the Memorial.
For many of the thousands of visitors to the Somme the experience is sadly brief. Thanks to the Ulysses Trust the Cadets of Albuhera have gained a more in depth perspective and gained bottom up insight of the individual experience of the soldiers from the towns and villages the Cadets themselves call home. Furthermore, in the finest military tradition, through their ground clearance labours, they have left behind a much enhanced experience, for the visitor of tomorrow. Respect for those who went before. Consideration for those who follow. We can ask nothing more of the Army Cadet Force.
I wish to again personally thank the Ulysses and the Berlin Infantry Brigade Military Trust Fund for their help and support as if it was not for them the trip would not have been as successful as it was.
Capt Mervyn Jones
Clwyd & Gwynedd ACF