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WW1 Centenary
Private Charles Williams 36982 Royal Welch Fusiliers 16th (Service) Battalion Charlie Williams, one of six children of William and Sarah Ellen Williams of
Sawmill Cottage Loggerheads was born in Llanferres in 1899, having an older and a younger sister, two older and one younger brother. His father was a gardener and domestic worker, his mother originally from Llangollen. Charlie attended Llanferres school and his later occupation is listed as “footman” He enlisted in Wrexham, the home of the RWF, on the 17th of November 1916 (his 19th birthday) and joined the 16th Service Battalion, part of the New Armies, which embarked for France in early December 1915, along with the 13th ,14th and 15th Battalions as part of 113th Brigade, 38th Division. Charlie first undertook his basic training at Kinmel Park until the end of February 1916 and was posted to his unit on the 17th March, leaving from Folkestone on the SS Queen (later sunk 28th June 1918) on the 18th and arriving at Etaples on the 19th. More instruction at the infamous “bullring” renowned for its rigorous training and iron discipline would have taken place, finally joining his unit in the field on April 1st. The service battalion would have been primarily engaged in excavation and entrenching work, often under very difficult and dangerous conditions. The 38th Division had moved from the Givenchy - Laventie area on June 10th, and then marched south to the neighbourhood of St.Pol where they underwent a short training course, arriving in the battle area on July 4th. The service battalions, including the 16th, arrived 2 days later "tired and footsore" after a week's march, their arrival observed by no less than the war poet Siegfried Sassoon who described them as "mostly undersized men" (Charlie was 5'3") and "half trained civilians" - but soon to become spearhead troops. The battle of the Somme had started 4 days earlier and the village of Mametz taken on the first day, the wood itself being the next key objective. The 113th Brigade took over the line between Marlborough Wood and Cliff Trench to the south of the wood, and information of what was in front of them circulated, Mametz Wood being "very dense, with thick undergrowth" and "movement for infantry not easy" - not helped by heavy shelling having uprooted trees. Operational orders were issued late on the 6th of July, the first attack to be undertaken by 17th Division at 2.00am next morning, which failed. At 8.30am the attack was renewed and the 16th battalion alongside the 11th South West Borderers "were met by machine-gun fire, which stopped them before they reached the edge of the wood" A second attempt was made at 11.00am with a similar result, a 3rd attempt ordered for 4.30pm cancelled due to the sodden ground (heavy rain all day) and the difficult downhill approach to the wood. Communication was bad; all the telephone wires had been cut and repairs slow under the conditions, and the artillery inaccurate. Over the next 4 days the wood was pounded with artillery, trench mortars and machine gun fire, but all efforts to dislodge the defenders, including the crack Lehr Regiment, failed with attacks barely penetrating the edge of the wood. Yet another attack was planned for the 11th to be led by the 16th battalion in 8 waves from behind White trench, immediately behind them the 14th in four lines, the 15th and 13th behind them, in the entertainingly named Bunny Trench and Fritz Trench. The attack was fixed for 4.15am and before going into action, and after Welsh hymns, the 16th battalion commander Lieutenant - Colonel Carden addressed his troops thus; "Boys, make your peace with God. You are going to take that position and some of you won't come back - but we are going to take it" Charlie Williams was to become one who wouldn't come back - one of the 64 missing, presumed killed, out of 300 casualties, which also included Carden himself who advanced with a brightly coloured handkerchief on his swagger stick to show where he was to his troops. He was shot down, rose again, and led his men to the very edge of the wood where he was shot again and killed. The specifics of Charlie's death are unknown, his body was either never recovered or not identified. Very rarely were the details of individual deaths, even when known, recorded below the rank of 2nd lieutenant. Statistically, it is likely he was killed by shell-fire (70% of all WW1 casualties were thus) and quite possibly from a British battery; his body never latterly identified, or even found, and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme - the largest memorial on the Western Front, bearing 72,191 names. He was in France less than 4 months. The wood was not cleared until the following day after fierce hand to hand fighting, and further deaths were suffered during the week-long mopping-up operations. The devastation wrought on the 38th Division was such that they effectively did not fight again in action for over a year. Charlie was posthumously awarded the Victory medal and the British War medal. He is also commemorated on his parents' grave in Llanferres churchyard, although the date of his death unfortunately incorrectly recorded. Article by Noel Headley of Llanferres. You can contact Noel via the  contact page
Thiepval memorial
Humorous post card of the bullring Etaples
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