Derek Brockway visits WWI battlefields. Here, he tours Ypres, visiting places with a connection to Welsh soldiers, including the grave of the poet Hedd Wyn.
Weatherman Walking: Flanders Fields, part of World War One from BBC Wales.
Weatherman Derek Brockway visits the First World War battlefield around the Belgian town of Ypres. He visits places with a connection to Welsh soldiers, including the grave of the poet Hedd Wyn who died in the battle of Passchendaele in 1917. His guides are Tonie and Valmai Holt, who produce acclaimed guide books to the battlefields.
The town of Ypres bore the brunt of the German attack in 1914 and was heavily defended by the British for almost four years. Welsh soldiers were involved in the defence of the town from the onset of the war. In October 1914, a group of south Wales Borderers helped hold up the German advance at the village of Gheluvelt. If they'd lost, the war might have been over by Christmas with the Germans victorious.
Other actions involving Welsh troops include the fighting at Frezenberg by the 1st Monmouths, but the most sustained, brutal warfare took place around the village of Passchendaele in 1917. Here, on July 31st 1917 the most famous Welsh casualty of the war lost his life. He was Elis Evans from Trawsfynydd, who won the main poetry prize at that year's National Eisteddfod under the pen name Hedd Wyn. Tragically, he was killed a few weeks before his name was read out and a black cloth was draped over the chair he was to receive.
Elis Evans was one of 250,000 British soldiers to die at Passchendaele and Derek visits the cemetery at Tyne Cot where nearly 50,000 are commemorated. It's the largest Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in the world. Nearby is the German cemetery of Langemark, where a further 40,000 soldiers are interred. Finally, Derek visits the town of Ypres, almost totally destroyed in the war but painstakingly rebuilt brick by brick in the years afterwards. He takes part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate, which happens at 8pm every evening. The Menin Gate commemorates the names of the soldiers who were never found. Inscribed on the walls are the names of over 54,000 men.
Valmai Holt comes from Anglesey. With her husband Tonie, Valmai helped to pioneer the idea of the battlefield tour back in the 1970s. Now they produce hugely popular guidebooks to the battlefields, not only for the First World War but also the Second World War and other historic sites around the world.
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