Injured but smiling again, Italy
What is a holiday?
Some people describe their ideal summer holiday as going on a cruise or sitting by a Greek swimming pool drinking ouzo and reading novels. I am sure that is a holiday in the modern sense. But for me, the word ‘holiday’ has more of its original connotation of ‘commemoration’ or ‘holy day’. A holiday for me is a couple of weeks freed from paid work to remember things, to learn more about God’s inimitable creation and to consider beauty and culture. I also yearn for stories, people in foreign cultures, lovely and quirky buildings, superb scenery, self-sufficiency and mountain animals, new tastes and slightly irrational things. If possible, I must reach Italy. Of course, all this costs more and more money. There are now steep petrol prices in Italy. One wonders if one will ever go again.
The best holidays, for me, offer brand new perspectives and new insights. The perfect holiday creates new spaces in one’s imagination, new stories, new links, rich meanings, new directions which open up one’s whole way of thinking. Our recent holiday met all these requirements, due to the sheer hospitality of all our hosts. We saw things from a similar but different perspective. After all, apart from those in Switzerland, we Europeans are all struggling with the same recession. In spite of this, how we admired the warm hospitality of all our counterparts on the Continent. I was also charmed by a couple of very special Italian valleys with a long connection with England and I discovered a dream cafe there called “Caffe Londra”.
My favourite cafe, ‘Caffe Londra’, Torre Pellice, Waldensian Valleys
Getting there affordably
To get to Italy, one tries to avoid French road tolls. The toll from Calais to Strasbourg is nearly £100 (according to Michelin’s road toll website). So we drove through Belgium. I always aim for Dinant in the Ardennes where I spent a happy week in 1968, on a school trip. This time we chose a lovely B&B at nearby Falmagne.
Our B&B farmhouse, in beautiful in rural Falmagne, Dinant, Ardennes, Belgium
Next came my first real challenge. I sprained my ankle at Arlon AutoGrill tripping over a lethal H&S hazard, concealed between tables. In spite of this, we carried on to Freiburg in Germany, crossing the mighty Rhine on free car ferry, which the satellite navigator miraculously found for us as our Rhine bridge was closed with no alternative route suggested.
Crossing the Rhine - by ferry
The weather heated up to 40 degrees so we escaped the city to the delightful hills of the Black Forest overlooking Freiburg. We saw from above the toxic smog which was zapping our energy in the city.
View from Black Forest towards Freiburg on plain, in heat ‘smog’
Freiburg market beside the Cathedral
That night, I stepped out from a hired caravan to take my third cooling shower and fell again due to my weak ankle. This time it was bad enough to be taken to Freiburg University Hospital. Within two hours without queues, they had x-rayed my bleeding legs, treated them with red paint and given me hi-tech calipers. Happily, my EHIC card had arrived the day before I left home, delivering this treatment free. The caravan was then invaded by two huge hornets. This was definitely the low point of the trip! We could not simply go home, as we had a number of fixed dates in Italy.
Photo for my lawyer? With two sprained ankles, no ice and painted ‘red’ by Freiburg University Hospital
Somewhat handicapped, unable to co-drive, we carried onto Switzerland, to Paolo’s son’s flat, who though a student, lives in a splendid flat, beautifully organised and decorated. This was real respite for three days.
Paolo and Gabriele in Rapperswil
Here we all watched delightful The Life of Pi on a wide screen TV. I loved the face of the wet tiger hanging onto the side of the boat. We saw Rapperswil Monastery and its lovely views over the east end of the lake on which Zurich is located.
Rapperswil, Switzerland, centre of town towards monastery
I managed to make a wheat-free and tomato-free lasagne on the last night, which tasted quite good, though I was still hardly able to walk at all with the help of Swiss walking poles which Paolo bought me.
The Waldensian Valleys of Piedmont
After three days, we headed towards Val Pellice (The Valley of the River Pellice) via the little used Great St Bernard Tunnel above Martigny. This is definitely my favourite way of crossing the Alps. I hate Alpine tunnels, often up to 25 kms long, due to air quality caused by dense traffic. Imagine the delight at being the only car going through the Great St Bernard! I felt elated starting the long descent into Italy, as usual. Is this due to the quality of the Italian sun or air, or something about the buildings? Perhaps I feel Italy has an ‘African sun’. I simply feel more alive there.
My favourite tunnel across the Alps, the Great Saint Bernard
The drive down through the long Aosta Valley takes over an hour to reach Piedmont, the Po Valley and Turin. On the bypass round Turin, we spotted the Juventus Stadium, royal La Mandria park (the largest enclosed in Europe) and above us, the mountain and mausoleum of the House of Savoy at Superga, into which a champion Turin football team crashed tragically, in 1949, sadly killing all. Turin and Piedmont are almost cradled by the Alps, with their dangers never completely forgotten.
The awesome symbol of Piedmont - Monviso - looking like the Paramount logo
The Stone King
About 30 miles west of Turin, Val Pelice is just one in a line of Alpine valleys rising up from the Po plain in the direction of France. Nearing it, I saw the extraordinarily surreal symbol of Savoy and Piedmont, mountain Monviso, meaning “Mount Face”, also called Il Re di Pietra, The Stone King. The River Po rises on it. It is a prominent, pyramidal mountain, which could have inspired the famous Paramount logo. Monviso is far higher than the peaks around it (12,600 ft) and the highest mountain in Piedmont. Once seen, one becomes strangely awed and fascinated by it. One relates to it in some way. Often shrouded in cloud, it looks perpendicular but we met Turinese in their 50s who are climbing it, for fun. The Piedmontese even put on full orchestral concerts at its base camp. I would love to attend one day!
Finally, we climbed into Val Pellice, which has three main towns Torre Pellice, Villar Pellice and Bobbio Pellice. Val Pellice is a kind of alternative spiritual home for Italy and Europe, hidden away in the folds at the top of the ‘boot’ of Italy. Torre Pellice is the home of the historic Protestant Church of the Waldensians.
‘The English Quarter’ - Waldensian Church HQ, Torre Pellice funded by Victorian Anglicans
Val Pelllice is a veritable hot-bed of church meetings of all denominations with talks, services, discussion groups going on. The American Missionary organisation, Operation Mobilisation, is based in this valley. Torre, a small town, even now has a mosque. British Anglicans built the appealing Waldensian HQ, museum and church. Thus, one of its most appealing buildings is called Caffe Londra, which is now my absolutely favourite cafe in the world, particularly as it has borrowed the coat of arms of the City of London. I was immediately smitten by this valley and we decided to cancel our final trip to San Remo in view of my injuries, and our serious doubts about only one driver being able to drive us back to Calais in just two days. It is a long way!
We stayed near Villar Pellice in Hotel Palavas, founded in the late 19th century, catering now for very elderly disabled clients seeking a few days away from the heat and pollution of Turin. It is a ripe setting for a short story.
Suitably, I read Somerset Maugham’s short stories, for their structure and narrative qualities, not for their morals, in its overgrown garden. It is difficult to explain the alluring charm of Val Pellice itself, apart from its beautiful scenery. Being guests of Amish-type organic goat farmers producing delicious goat cheese, sharing their traditional meals, hearing about a rural way of life, added to the whole alluring ambience. We were very privileged to learn some of their deep knowledge of the mountain way of life.
Daniela with Bepe who catered for us in working farmhouse with home grown organic food
Observing life in Val Pellice, on the southern slopes of the Cottian Alps highlighted to me how far most of us are alienated from nature, today. A few break free of the city. The Cottian Alps completely separate the valley of the Po River from France. You cannot drive east beyond the last village in Val Pellice but those with a wild, free spirit - and a horse - can ride across the peaks to France. Alpine walkers can make it in a day to habitation along ancient paths.
Organic cheese-producing goats in an EU funded shed with solar PV roof
The Val Pellice farmers who hosted us are almost complete self- sufficient and their life is sustainable. It resembles that of the self-reliant Amish in the USA. How enviable such a state is for urban dwellers, unskilled in growing food. Farming under the boiling Italian sun is never-ending in Val Pellice. The men must cut all their meadow grass to feed their animals, turning it into huge round bales. They milk, herd animals, grow their own organic food in kitchen gardens, go to market to sell produce, mend roads, log in preparation for winter. Each house already has huge, neat stores of drying logs ready for winter. Farming jobs start at dawn and continue until sundown. Our idea of a three week summer holiday is simply not on a small farmers’ agenda: they cannot leave their precious flocks. Berrying, jam making, bread making, cheese-making and catering for many workers, fully consumes the equally hard-working women.
Farmhouse where some of our delicious, homegrown organic meals were served (a workplace not a home)
I have such impoverished perceptions of nature! On the surface, I see steep slopes of sweet chestnut trees, beginning to bear their spiked fruit, and diverse butterflies dancing in the sun. The local farmers know and see much more. These wild peaks are home to the Alpine wolf, fox, vulture, wild boar and the perennial Alpine marmot. Domesticated goats must graze on good Alpine grass, higher up to give high quality milk. The herders skilfully lead them up kilometres of steep paths to hidden stone houses, above the first ridges. Often they must return the same way, in one exhausting day, to a welcome supper of thick minestrone, homemade bread and their own delicious cheeses. This is not denatured food: it tastes of hard work, love and skill. The productiveness of our earth does not come easily, even with the help of a fierce Italian sun. It requires a level of knowledge costly to gain and physical toil that few city dwellers would be able to muster. For those pay the price, the reward is freedom from the growing urban fear of rising food prices - and meals fit for heaven.
On the Friday evening, we had a meeting in Torre to found a community group called “The Ancient Waldensian Paths” see Sentieri Antichi Valdesi. It is a movement seeking to restore authentic Reformation spirituality, suppressed by the theological liberalism of the current Waldensian Church leadership. About 40 people attended and Paolo preached. Piedmontese Waldensian Senator, Lucio Malan a driving force in setting it up could not leave Rome to attend, due to a huge political crisis dominating Italian TV screens. In fact, he was appearing on national TV, defending Berlusconi from being condemned to four years in prison.
Meeting of Sentieri Antici Valdesi (SAV), Torre Pellice, Paolo and Daniela
On the Saturday, we had lunch in Turin with Paolo’s family. We all toured the fantastic Venaria Reale, the huge hunting lodge of the Kings of Piedmont and the House of Savoy. It has a stupendous garden with a view of the Alps, like a painting. The Great Gallery is mesmerising, made of marble, but as light as a meringue.
Posing in mesmerising Great Gallery of Veneria Reale, Turin
The Story of the Waldensians
On Sunday, we attended the Waldensian Church in Torre Pellice, funded by the British. It was like a Victorian Chapel. I loved its superb acoustic and choice of traditional hymns. Then we enjoyed a BBQ under sweet chestnut trees on a hillside, with our hosts, which was truly pastoral.
Inside the Waldensian Church, funded by Anglicans, Torre Pellice
We toured the Museum of the Waldensians which told their story from the start as 12th century as followers of Peter Waldo of Lyon. They fled to this valley to escape persecution for three hundred years, living in remote places and caves in the local mountains, training Bible preachers in secret until 1520. I consider them European role-models for freedom of thought, belief and expression. Then they signed up to The Reformation and came out into the open, effectively joining the Swiss Reformation movements. Then, came the harrowing story of the persecutions of the Catholics from the mid 17th century, the support from Oliver Cromwell, the famous poem by John Milton about cruel massacres in Val Pellice and the saving help of William of Orange. Charles Beckwith, a British general who lost a leg at Waterloo, loved these people and founded schools, the Torre HQ and the Torre church.
Benefactor of the Waldensians, General Charles Beckwith
Charles Beckwith is buried here, in the valley. He funded the fine Waldensian Hospital which has served the valley and its people for 150 years and which the current church authorities have just decided to sell to pay debts. They have only narrowly still kept their HQ buildings, also funded by Anglicans. An Italian friend told us he goes to Charles Beckwith’s grave to weep about the modern Waldensian Church, whose leaders drape their pulpits with flags.
On Monday, some of us decamped up a mountain for an open air service and meeting at Joshua Gianavello’s secret hiding house in the woods. He was a Waldensian military leader and resistance fighter in the 17th century. Rather amazingly, we were joined there by Lucio Malan MP, who had spent nine hours on a train overnight from Rome, to join us.
With the founders of SAV group, (from left) Sergio, Senator Lucio Malan, Paolo, Daniela and Mario
Paolo again preached and some went further up the mountain on the ancient hidden tracks of the Waldensians. I could not go, due to my leg injuries, so I went into Torre. In a shop window spotted a mini house for sale for just £3,000 with 3000m of garden! I was simply fascinated and sensed another interesting “lead” - to other interesting things. Here is a video of this amusing little house. I went to a trattoria for lunch and mused on doing irrational things.
SAV’s open-air service at Ginavello’s refuge, near Rora
On Tuesday, we visited lovely Cavour on the plain, once a Roman town, to inspect its Rocca, a strange hill, a monadnock in the middle of the plain. The Rocca seems to be a hill, but it is actually the top of the Dora-Maira geological massif, a submerged mountain range, almost completely buried by alluvial material. We found Santa Maria monastery, Cavour, with the oldest altar in Piedmont and its Roman museum ,which has some fine things, but both are only open on Sunday afternoons (their websites need updating). So we proceeded to the nearby medieval Piedmontese monastery of Staffarda with its lovely cloister garden. Its buildings are rather mouldy, too mouldy for my ‘sensitivities’.
Under the arms of the Cavour family, Cavour. Cavour was the first PM of united Italy
In the old cloister garden at Staffarda monastery, Piedmont
In the afternoon we ventured into Angrogna Valley, a beautiful side valley from Torre Pellice. An agent showed us this amusing mini-house, which is literally on the edge of a precipice. One could terrace the garden and produce food as there is water. But there are rare landslides in Alpine valleys so it would not be a place to perch in any comfort. No one can deny it was cheap! Paolo was smitten with this valley and vowed to return.
On Wednesday, we drove to Val Chisone, famous for its winter sports, to see an awesome and, in places, ancient Piedmontese military fortification, Fenestrelle, like Hadrian’s Wall. The fortification was designed to protect Savoy from invading French. In use during both World Wars, it sent a chill deep into my bones, thinking about the Fascist era and the suppression of the Waldensian resistance fighters, some of whom were hanged. That night I chose our return route, calculating French road tolls and ensuring we booked a hotel ahead, as the unpredictable French grandes vacances had begun. Les Grandes Vacances is a time when the whole of France shuts up shop and vanishes from view. It is as if the population had been abducted by aliens. In the countryside, you can drive through village after village without seeing anyone at all.
Awesome Fenestrelle fortifications, Val Chisone, designed to keep the French out of Savoy
On Thursday, we drove to the end of Angrogna Valley to find the secret mission centre of the medieval Waldensians, Pra del Torno, where there is a lovely Waldesian church on a pinnacle and a medieval Bible college. The church at Pra del Torno sent out missionaries, long before the Reformation. In the evening, we were taken out for a meal, by our ever-hospitable hosts.
On Friday we left for the Grand St Bernard Tunnel, Lausanne and the non-toll route to Besancon which crosses some utterly beautiful, green pastoral French countryside north of Lausanne. We reached our hotel in good time, near Langres.
On Saturday, we finally reached Cambrai, in good time to visit the WW1 battlefields and this is the story of that visit.
Most families have a good World War One story hidden away, but our family’s First World War story has suddenly emerged from a dim recess of semi-myth into stark and, for me, rather shocking reality. It serves to reminds one of the convulsions of Europe history a hundred years ago, about which one should continue to meditate.
I remember my tall, strong grandfather, Charles (1898-1970) as a retired civil servant full of life, jokes, stories. He was always singing First World War songs such as “Mademoiselle from Armen-tears, parlez-vous?” (meaning ‘Armentieres’). This may have been because communal singing was the mark of the Welsh Guards, which was his regiment, in spite of his being a Londoner. All his life, he retold a hair-raising war story, not as a tragedy or bitter tale, but as an apparently thrilling ‘yarn’. It was about walking across a field in France, one in a line of hundreds of guardsmen and being shot. It was a story which he clearly wanted to impress on all of us. We have now, after 97 years, reevaluated its exact nature and I have now visited its location, in Picardy, France.
My grandfather, husband and father in 1920, three years after the action in which he was wounded at Gouzeaucourt, France, in December 1917 with the 1st Welsh Guards
On 1 December 1917, the 1st Welsh Guards were ordered to advance at a steady walking pace, in daylight, over an exposed and difficult ridge to win back a few hundred metres of lost ground, which it was not politically acceptable to the British to have lost to the Germans and Austrians. The Welsh guardsmen, new recruits armed only with Lee Enfield rifles and bayonets, appear to have had no idea what to do if they actually lived to reach their target. Most suspected they would not reach it, but they obediently walked forward, becoming participants at a mass massacre or execution. In the chaos of war, four British tanks had been ordered to support their advance, but not one turned up. This unsupported advance took place over a ridge between Gouzeaucourt and Gonnelieu known as “St Quintin Spur”. German machinegun fire brought down two thirds of the advancing men, after they appeared over the top.
As far as we know, my grandfather never afterwards returned to Gouzeaucourt. He may not have been able to find such a village on any map. Its only fame was its close proximity to the Hindenberg Line. But I feel my grandfather would have been overwhelmed to see the beautiful resting place of his comrades.
This was the ‘Western front’ in 1917 and 1918. Gonnelieu a village east of Gouzeaucourt is in the far distance. The ridge between Gouzeaucourt and Gonnelieu over which the 1st Welsh Guard advanced in December 1917 is the St Quintin spur, level with second line of trees.
The background to converting our family ‘myth’ into reality was the discovery by my father of the village that my grandfather talked about, marked on a map in a book “Marjorie’s War: Four Families in the Great War 1914/1918” published by family military historians, Reginald and Charles Fair. Then, I found the story of the 1st Welsh guardsmen and began to wonder whether, in fact, my grandfather’s tale was not such a jaunty event. Maybe it was his managed version of a tragic event which, by a stroke of luck, which some would call ‘providence’, he had survived. He related it with pre-1914 gallantry but as I uncovered the facts, his lifelong joyful personality began to astound me. 369 comrades ascended the spur with him and within three minutes, 247 had fallen as casualties, including him, with 57 men killed outright. Did my grandfather receive some kind of highly successful therapy, which enabled him to cope? My guess is that, as contemporary Times reports show, a rank and file soldier’s life, given in the loyal service of King and country was lightly held. Military negligence was completely covered up by the war establishment, so it was pointless making a fuss. Also death was viewed then, in the light of faith, by many people.
Gouzeaucourt was on the Western front line from around April 1917 to late 1918. Its roll of honour, in front of the town hall, includes a number of French civilians killed, as the village swapped hands several times during 1917 and 1918. The military losses of Gouzeaucourt were startling, considering it is hardly more than a few streets.
Gouzeaucourt: the French Roll of Honour for The Great War. It includes 23 names from this one small village
A few hundred metres would be won as huge cost in 1917, only to be won back later, with graves of the recently dead destroyed in the transfer. The last battle of Gouzeaucourt was in September 1918 just two months before the Armistice.
Gouzeaucourt town hall, with French war memorial and roll of honour, civilian and military
Approaching Gouzeaucourt from Rheims, we turned off the Rheims-Calais motorway about 15 kms south of Cambrai. Within minutes, we found ourselves in a rather ordinary French village, not far from an American WW1 cemetery. Opposite an over-full local graveyard, we soon found the perfectly ordered British and Commonwealth “New” War Cemetery, which I recognised by it being identical to that where my uncle, my grandfather’s son, lies in Italy. The inimitable design for all the British war cemeteries was created by inspired architect, Sir Herbert Baker, born at Owletts, Cobham, Kent.
Entrance to Gouzeaucourt Commonwealth War Cemetery (Great War)
Tears suddenly streaming down my face, I jumped out of our car, deeply moved by the beauty of this perfect garden in a foreign field that is ‘forever England’. It has a ‘flavour of eternity’ with its Cross of Sacrifice, the words “Their name liveth for evermore” and its wide, majestic view over St Quintin Spur. Over a thousand men lie buried here. I came to honour my grandfather’s comrades lying here.
Gouzeaucourt War Cemetery looking east towards the German front line 1917
There were so many graves dating from the action in September 1918 that I had difficulty finding Welsh guardsmen killed outright by the action which wounded my grandfather on 1 December 1917. In the time available, I found one of the officers, Lieutenant Webb, aged nineteen, son of a baronet and model for the “The Boy Scout” statue exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1910. My grandfather said the officers walked head backwards over the ridge shouting encouragement to the rank and file. As the guards’ line appeared over the ridge, Austrian machine gunners in the outskirts of Gonnelieu brought two thirds of the down, including all but one of the Guards’ officers
Gravestone of Guards officer, Basil Webb, one of the 1st Welsh Guards Officers who was killed leading the advance on 1 Dec 1917 aged 19. See further details below.
My grandfather continued to advance into automatic gunfire. He used to tell us, with some astonishment, how he saw the next man either side along the line, getting further and further away, as the advancing line rapidly thinned. Then a single bullet hit him, through the left hand holding the rifles and entering his right hip which felled him. Luckily, he crawled into a shell hole just as a single British tank arrived to knock out the machine gun positions. He lay there all night. In the middle of the night, he moved the blanket on which he was lying, to find he was on top of some enemy corpses “with staring eyes”. Thankfully, due to the tank action which routed the machine gunners, he was rescued at dawn and taken to the military hospital at Etaples, near Le Touquet. Nearly sixty of his comrades died outright in this sloping field (shown below). More died of their wounds and others were maimed for life.
My grandfather spent months of convalescence at the military hospital at Boscombe, recovering from his wounds and neurasthenia or ‘post traumatic shock syndrome’. He was invalided out of the army aged twenty, due to permanently stiff fingers. Otherwise, his wounds did not seem to trouble his career, or functioning: he was lucky. He loved Boscombe so much he retired at died there in 1970. After the madness of Picardy, Boscombe must have felt like sanity in 1917 - simply ‘heaven’.
View of the rising ground at St Quentin Spur from outskirts of Gouzeaucourt separating Gouzeaucourt and Gonnelieu over which the 1st Welsh Guards advanced, many to their deaths, without tank support (1 December 1917). My grandfather walked up this hill, rifle and bayonet, in hand.
Standing in Picardy war cemeteries, one is still overawed by the apparent lunacy of it all. If the single bullet had been mortal, my grandfather would also be in Gouceaucourt military cemetery. Did his strong, practical streak enable him to staunch his bleeding, throughout a chilly December night? It seems that the wounded Welsh softly sang to one another this hymn about meeting again in Heaven. Did he hum along to keep his own spirits and hopes up?
The road between Gouzeaucourt and Gonnelieu bisects this field on the Gonnelieu side of the St Quintion spur (two halves are seen above). My grandfather lay all night in a shell hole somewhere in this field, surrounded by wounded Welsh, on top of German corpses.
British and visitors from the Commonwealth continue to visit Gouzeaucourt Cemetery. They sign the Book of Remembrance with comments such as “Never forgotten” about lost grandfathers and great uncles. Twenty groups signed the book between early June and late July.
Red roses of Picardy bloom on many graves. There is no grave without some flowers, even those never visited. The lawns are lush and green, with superlatively trimmed edges. You could happily picnic there, here on the once hellish ‘Western Front’.
Holding the Book of Remembrance for British and Commonwealth visitors to Gouzeaucourt signed over recent months
When the ‘last post’ sounds each night at the Menin Gate at Ypres, it sounds for these men, lying in Picardy. It reminds one that the Welsh Guards’ field of blood is a monument to the pride and ambition of nations, to godless irrationality, to the disaster of trench warfare and to the barbarism of technological weapons aimed at flesh and blood.
See another account of Welsh Guards attack here
“Their opening attack succeeded but at such cost in casualties that the surviving men were not enough to hold it. The 3rd Guards Brigade was ordered to recapture and hold a key ridge of high ground east of Gouzeaucourt known as the Quintin Ridge. Gouzeaucourt was retaken and on 1st December the 3rd Guards Brigade was ordered to attack again with the 4th Battalion Grenadiers on the left and the Welsh Guards on the right; nine tanks were to take part. No tanks arrived when the attack was ordered to begin. The Welsh Guards advanced on a two-company front (3) and (4) and with a third (2) in support and the other (Prince of Wales) in reserve. The two assaulting lines climbed the hill steadily until, as the attackers showed above the skyline, a perfect hurricane of machine-gun fire broke out and officers and men fell in a line. Only one officer, a junior ensign, was left in the two leading companies; of 370 men who started to storm the hill, 248 were down in the first three minutes. 57 died where they fell. The reserve company was told to take up positions below the crest and had done so when, at last, one tank arrived and moved along the ridge. The reserve company quickly joined it, and collected over 200 prisoners and 26 enemy machine-guns. The rest of the enemy fled taking their remaining machine-guns with them. If the tank had arrived in time for the start of the attack a very different tale might have been told. On 2nd December, the Welsh Guards were relieved by the 1st Battalion Grenadiers and on the 4th December the Guards Division was withdrawn and moved to the Arras front. After the Welsh Guards’ attack on the Gouzeaucourt Ridge in December 1917, a bloody action which cost them 278 casualties, an officer listened to the survivors singing softly in unison (Gospel hymn) "In the sweet bye and bye we shall meet on that beautiful shore". To those listening silently, he remembered, the song was a triumphal tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Welshmen. Many were missing from the voices of the previous weeks gathering, voices which were in some cases stilled for ever; but the gaps had already been closed. And so in song, these men were showing yet again in their traditional manner that Welshmen are a people whom no terrible power can still for long. An English brigadier asked why the Welshmen sang so sadly. The Welsh officer replied. They are back home, with their families, in the valleys. Singing has always been one way for the Welsh to express their love for their country, that extended family which is their home."
Marjorie’s War: Four Families in the Great War 1914-1918 edited by Charles & Reginald Fair
Menin House, Brighton, 2012. 460 pages. £32.95 (hardback), £22.95 (paperback)
Relevant website setting out story of 1st Welsh Guards attack on Gonnelieu towards the end
Trench map for Gouzeaucourt 1914-1918
Information on Second Lieutenant, Welsh Guards, Basil Webb
Basil Webb was educated at Winchester School and had been the boy model for the Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John RA when he produced the bronze sculpture, "The Boy Scout" in 1910. At the age of 12, Basil also composed the Refectory Prayer for Chester Cathedral, which remains in use today. In 1919, his father, baronet Sir Henry Webb bore the costs of renovating the crypt and altar of Chester Cathedral, where an inscription can still be found identifying the restoration work ‘in memory of his gallant son and his companions’.
The Times Report on action on Welsh Guards - 2 December 1917 notably omits to mention the Welsh Guards’ heavy casualties and focuses on PoWs taken, when the tank arrived.
The Boy Scout, Second Lieutenant Basil Webb, aged 12