In the nineteen-eighties on a visit to the Somme Battlefields Sergeant Tom Price, a veteran of the Battle of Mametz Wood, was surprised to find that there was no memorial to the 38th Division at the scene of their great sacrifice and returned to Wales determined to do something about it.
The Western Front Association is pledged to keep alive the memory and sacrifices made in the Great War and has many branches nationwide. In 1985 a sub-committee of the South Wales Branch was appointed under the chairmanship of Mr H W Evans. The target was to raise £20,000 and fund raising commenced in earnest. A radio broadcast early in 1986 made by BBC Wales but also heard in many other regions provided a vital breakthrough. Telling the story of the Battle for Mametz Wood and of the proposals to create a memorial it was the stimulus for many to send in their donations.
The notable sculptor David Petersen of St Clears, Carmarthenshire, was commissioned to create the memorial, a Welsh Dragon. David Petersen proposed that the sculpture should not glorify war but speak of courage and gallantry and hopefully comment on the futility of war. There were, though, many problems in the history of its construction.
The first choice of material for the plinth was to be of Welsh slate, but this proved to be too expensive and Forest of Dean stone was finally chosen. The chalk ground on which the memorial was to stand was not stable enough to support the weight of nine tonnes and so a concrete inverted pyramid was sunk under the base stones to support the structure. Cost factors also limited the choice of material to steel rather than bronze and the Dragon was hand forged in David Petersen’s studios. When completed the Dragon was taken over to France in April 1987 by the 157 (TA) Royal Corps of Transport, based in Cardiff, who had also taken the stone blocks for the plinth the previous month. David Petersen travelled to France to supervise the fixing of the sculpture to the plinth by a local firm of builders.
The Dragon is shown head slightly to one side, looking out at the Hammerhead, tearing up a single strand of barbed wire. The barbed wire represents the war and its breaking the end of war and repression. The cap badges of the three Welsh Regiments are cut into the stone plinth.
On the 71 st Anniversary of the Capture of the Wood the Memorial Dragon was dedicated. It bears the inscription Parchwn eu hymdrechion parhaed ein hatgofion (We revere their endeavours. May we continue to remember). Welsh voices were again raised and echoed across Death Valley as they had done all those years ago. The surviving veterans who made the journey with their relatives and friends led the wreath laying and the Last Post was sounded by two buglers of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers supported by a French Army Garde D’Honneur. Music was provided by the band of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Wales who marched impressively led by Taffy the goat mascot. The Kilgetty Male Voice Choir led the singing.
Sculptor David Petersen about to instal the Dragon.
Brigadier Anthony Vivian with Private Gwynoro Morris at the dedication of the Red Dragon Memorial in July 1987.
Tom Price (left) with fellow veteran Bill Parry Morris MM at Flat Iron Copse Cemetery in 1985.
One absent friend was Tom Price, from whom the whole idea originated, sadly he did not live to take part in an emotional day. No doubt he was there, somewhere, among all the rest of the Welsh boys and their brothers from further afield, who, many are convinced still haunt the depths of Mametz Wood.
George Richards was the first veteran to lay a wreath at the dedication of the Red Dragon Memorial. He was accompanied by Mr R Price, son of Tom Price.
Later the Brigadicr commanding the current 160th Infantry brigade went to speak to the veterans. George was not impressed.
‘What lot are you with then son?’ he asked. George had known some officers in the Great War and he had told them a thing or two from time to time.
‘I’m sure they were glad of your advice’ replied the General. That day at Mametz Wood was not for brigadiers it was for ‘the boys’, the privates and the lance-corporals and George knew it.
Mametz veteran George Richards.
Inauguration of the 38th (Welsh) Division Memorial with buglers of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in July 1987.