Passchendaele: Memorial plan for Welsh soldiers

Battle of Passchendaele
Image caption Hundreds of thousands died in the Battle of Passchendaele from July to November 1917

A memorial is being planned to Welsh soldiers who died in one of the most infamous and bloody of World War I battles.

Hundreds of soldiers from Wales are believed to have been among 70,000 British casualties in the Battle of Passchendaele in Ypres in 1917.

Now the Passchendaele Society in Belgium wants to raise around 60,000 euros for a Welsh memorial.

It is hoped some money will be raised in Wales.

Society chairman Freddy Declerck said the idea came from restaurant owner, Marc Decaestecker, at Langemark, near Ypres, whose premises is on the site of where Welsh language poet Hedd Wyn was killed in the battle.

"He started with a memorial plaque [to Hedd Wyn] and he said to me it was his dream to have a [full] memorial to him," he said.

"I said we will see if we can get a group together to do fundraising, and let's look to have a statue on a good spot for all the Welshmen who came here."

It is not yet known exactly how much the project will cost but it is estimated at about £44,000.

A bronze dragon would be supported on "symbolic" concrete stones from German bunkers.

"We should never forget such things - never forget what's happened here," said Mr Declerck.

Many of the Welsh soldiers who died were from 38th (Welsh) Division.

Historian Dr Gethin Matthews, of Cardiff University, said the only other Welsh memorial was to the same division, at Mametz Wood, and that Passchendaele was an obvious place for a second.

Image caption Poet Hedd Wyn (real name Ellis Evans) was among 70,000 British casualties

"The broader context was that Welsh soldiers were in all sorts of divisions and all sorts of regiments," he said. "[But] there was a specific Welsh division at Passchendaele - 38th (Welsh) Division."

He said much of the interest in Welsh involvement has focused on the death of Hedd Wyn, who was posthumously awarded the chair at the National Eisteddfod in 1917.

"The problem is that when the Welsh look at the First World War, they can over focus on Hedd Wyn because his story is so representative," said Dr Matthews.

"He was part of the 38th division and he died at the battle of Pilckem Ridge.

"It's such an archetypal story of the idiocy of war and the loss and slaughter of talented young men.

"It's important also to focus on that it wasn't just him."

The Passchendaele Society also hopes to involve people in Wales in fundraising for the memorial.

Retired police officer Peter Jones, from Abercrave in Powys, heard of the idea after getting to know Mr Decaestecker while visiting Ypres.

"He raises a Welsh flag on the first Monday of every month and holds a service there," said Mr Jones, now a harbourmaster.

"Directly across the road there's a plaque on a wall marking the spot where Hedd Wyn died."

There were already memorials to soldiers from other countries and it was important to commemorate the Welsh, he added.

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