By Mr Neil Rice, Assistant Secretary General Welsh Guards Association
We have just returned from the 2018 Welsh Guards Association Battlefield tour which was superbly organised and run by Captain Lyndon Davies ably assisted by Andrew Morgan, between them the event ran like clockwork, and even the occasional mishap like one of the party losing their passport and needing a trip to Paris for emergency travel documents was handled with consummate professional excellence.
After a ridiculously early start from Maindy Barracks in Cardiff on Saturday 8th September we first headed to the Belgian town of Hechtel-Eksel, to take part in the annual service and commemoration parade remembering the liberation of the town by the Welsh Guards in September 1944.
The battle of Hechtel was a serious attempt by the Germans to stop the allied attack in Belgium after the breakthrough in Normandy and the rapid withdrawal of many Wehrmacht-troops at the beginning of September 1944. German parachute troops were sent from Cologne to Roermond and marched from there about 50 km to Hechtel. In fact, the objective was the broad Albert Canal 20 km further on, but this had already been passed by British troops at a placed called Beringen. The order to stop the allied forces in Beringen was given by general Keitel on September the 7th, code name Herbststurm (autumn storm). The town was liberated by the Welsh Guards after some very intense fighting but unfortunately not before the defending German troops had executed 31 townspeople and burned 80 houses.
Since the end of the war, the regiment has formed a very close bond with the town with representative from the regiment, and up until very recently veterans of the fighting there, taking part in their annual remembrance activities. This year was no exception a very moving Mass was followed by a march to the town cemetery where wreathes were laid by the Mayor of the town, Colonel Bonas and representatives of the Belgian veterans and serving armed forces, children also laid flowers on the graves of the civilians who were murdered by the retreating Wehmacht troops. From there the parade moved off to the Liberation Memorial. There were 4 standards carried on the day, Cardiff, North Wales, Welsh Guards Reunited and the Pilgrims each carried excellently by 4 novice standard bearers, Mike Hermanis, Paul Conlon, Steve Gelly and Maldwyn Jones 92 all of whom had been whipped into shape and admirably instructed by Kip Hall. There was a civic reception after the parade.
The following day we headed towards France to look at the actions of the Welsh Guards in and around Cambrai in both 1917 and 1918. We took the opportunity to stop off at the battlefield of Waterloo en route and had a great overview of the battle from our Battlefield Guide, Allan Wood we also stopped for lunch in the historic town of Mons.
Over the next two days we visited many of the key points in the fighting of 1917/18 where the Welsh Guards played a key role. Allan Wood, our guide was truly excellent, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the period and this coupled with his intimate research into the minutiae of the Welsh Guards involvement really brought the trip to life and we felt fully immersed in the actions at Fontaine Notre Dame, Bapaume, Écoust-St-Mein, St Quentin Canal Marcoing and Noyelles-sur-Escaut. Alan was an exceptional guide and we were very lucky to have him with us. In the course of our travels we stopped and paid or respects at the graves of our fallen comrades until at the end of the tour we held a short ceremony of remembrance at the Cambrai Memorial which commemorates more than 7,000 servicemen from Britain and South Africa who died in the Battle of Cambrai whose graves are not known.
The trip was a great success, we all learned a great deal about the history of the Regiment, we honoured the fallen members of or regiment and we had a wonderful time re-cementing the bonds between old friends and making many new ones. Will I go on next years tour? You just try and stop me!