In July of this year a parade with 4,000 handmade poppies took place in Ruthin, as part of World War One Centenary commemorations. Schoolchildren from across Ruthin helped to make the poppies to mark the centenary of the battle of Mametz Wood. Its events organiser, Ron Bell of Ruthin Community Group said the commemorations had been “designed to bring all generations together”.
The 38th (Welsh) Division attacked Mametz Wood between 7 and 14 July 1916, with more than 4,000 of them killed or injured. We hold a series of letters written by a soldier who was killed at the Battle of Mamets Wood in the Somme in July 1916. The letters start in December 1914 and are a valuable record of a private’s experiences in the Royal Welch Fusiliers in the First World War.
William Jones, ‘Bila’ to his family, was a young man from Derwen, who in November 1914 aged 21, joined the Welsh Fusiliers, leaving his work in a nearby farm. He began his training in Llandudno, and then went on to a camp in Winchester, before leaving for France at the beginning of 1916. His story is very characteristic of the time, however this makes it no less poignant.
What is different about Willliam’s story, is that his letters, all 64 of them sent to his home in Banciau, Derwen were all kept by his family until their deposit at our office. And considering William, a miner’s son, left school at the age of 13, his Welsh is articulate and precise.
The letters are forthright, sincere and interesting. He talks about daily life, and accounts of the war, he’s eager to hear about everyone and what sort of harvest they’ve had. Although it is clear he suffered greatly whilst battling on the front for long periods of time, he does not complain, but is grateful for respite from the bitter experience and for everything the family have sent to him.
The letters end suddenly- two being from a friend asking the family if they have heard any mention of him since he was reported missing. According to his sister, after the family were officially informed of his death, his Mother kept the front door unlocked for some time, in case he had lost his mind, but were to eventually find his way home. One of the last letters is an official one from the salaries department in Shrewsbury, telling his mother that she has been paid too much pension following her son’s death, and she must pay a portion of it back.
The letters are available to view at the office – ref DD/DM/884/1-17