It is possible that the total of 85 men from Newport killed on 8 May 1915 is the greatest loss suffered by any Welsh town in a single day in the First World War. They were part of the Battle of the Frezenberg Ridge, which was part of what has become known as the Second Battle of Ypres.
This photograph shows men marching down Stow Hill from the Drill Hall in the summer of 1914: the caption says ‘Newport boys off to the front’. The man highlighted at the front is Job William White, who was one of those killed on 8 May 1915. Further behind him is John Albert Pope, who was killed three years after the photograph was taken – on 17 June 1917. It was at the Drill Hall in Stow Hill, Newport that the First Battalion of the Monmouthshire Regiment recruited soldiers, and these men (along with the other two battalions in the regiment) became heavily involved in the second Battle of Ypres, which began on 22 April 1915.
On 8 May the Monmouthshire Regiment were trying to defend the Frezenberg Ridge from a ferocious German attack. By the end of the day, the Regiment had lost 211 men and officers – 150 from the First Battalion, 19 from the Second and 42 from the Third. By the end of May the three battalions had lost a total of 515 men, with the Third Battalion suffering the greatest losses.
It was during this battle that Captain Harold Thorne Edwards replied to the German’s offer of surrender with the words, “Surrender be damned” and he and his men made the ultimate sacrifice. The scene of Captain Edwards and his men’s last stand is depicted in Fred Roe’s painting entitled “Surrender be damned” which was painted in 1935 after being commissioned by the South Wales Argus. It shows Captain Edwards firing his revolver at the advancing Germans. I believe the painting is now being displayed at the Newport Museum and Art Gallery after being hung in the foyer of Newport City council’s civic centre for many years.
During research for the Newport’s War Dead website I came across a photograph in the South Wales Argus, 9th May 1947, of Alderman Mrs. Sarah J Haywood dedicating a plaque in front of members of the Old Comrades Association of the Monmouthshire Regiment in Bellevue Park, Newport. This may have been a plaque to replace an original one which would have been attached to a grove of eight may trees (hawthorns) that were planted in the 1920s as a memorial to those of the Monmouthshire Regiment that died on the 8th May 1915.
My inquiries about this memorial established that the trees had now either died off or were cut down. Unfortunately this meant that an event that caused great sorrow and sadness to the family and friends of these Newport men was now no longer commemorated.
I then started a campaign to get a new memorial to commemorate the battle of Frezenberg Ridge and the men who died on the 8th May 1915. My campaign was taken up by councillor Charles Ferris and numerous other friends including my daughter, Shelley. Finances were raised and on the 8th May 2015 a new memorial was dedicated on the banks of the river Usk opposite the Blaina Wharf pub in Newport. The event was attended by many dignitaries and military personnel.
Inscription on the Memorial on Usk bank
8th May 1915
THIS GROVE OF TREES HAS BEEN PLANTED/ IN REMEMBERANCE OF THE MEN OF THE/ MONMOUTHSHIRE REGIMENT (TERRITORIAL FORCE) WHO/ TOOK PART IN THE DEFENCE OF THE FREZENBERG RIDGE/ DURING THE SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES./
AT THIS BATTLE (DURING WHICH THE GERMAN ARMY USED/ POISON GAS FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THE WESTERN FRONT)/ THE THREE BATTALIONS OF THE MONMOUTHSHIRE REGIMENT HELD THE FRONT LINE./ THE MONMOUTHSHIRES’ HEROIC STAND ON 8TH MAY 1915/ AGAINST GREAT ODDS HELPED PREVENT THE BELGIAN/ CITY OF YPRES FROM FALLING INTO ENEMY HANDS AND/ THE GERMANY ARMY ADVANCING TO CAPTURE THE VITAL CHANNEL PORTS./
THE SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES LASTED FROM 22ND APRIL/ TO 25TH MAY 1915 AND AS A RESULT OF THE CONFLICT/ 526 MEN OF THE MONMOUTHSHIRE REGIMENT WERE KILLED/ OR DIED OF WOUNDS AND 799 WERE WOUNDED./ MORE THAN 80 NEWPORT MEN WERE LOST ON THE FIRST DAY/ OF THE FREZENBERG RIDGE ENGAGEMENT ALONE./
Look Up, And Swear By The Green Of The Spring/ That You’ll Never Forget” – SIGFRIED SASSOON, 1919
Earlier on the same day, a new wooden sculpture was unveiled at the old drill hall on Stow Hill, where these men had been recruited. It depicts the scene from Fred Roe’s painting of Captain Harold Thorne Edwards and his men’s stance against the oncoming German attack.
Meg Ryder April 4th, 2016
Posted In: memorials
© Swansea University
Hosted by Information Services and Systems, Swansea University