Monday, 23 June 2014

UP TO MAMETZ by Llewelyn Wyn Griffith

Mametz Wood Memorial
My father, who landed in a glider in Normandy on D-Day repeated to me this oft-expressed truth of war, that it is 99% boredom and 1% mortal terror.  For many in the First World War, it was 99% mud. Huge amounts of energy and time was spent trying to fill sandbags to shore up trenches, often with liquid mud. This little book, written with clarity and insight, humanity and intelligence, is the record of one junior officer, a sane man in an insane situation.  It begins in the unbloodied mud of the South Downs and ends in the hideous mud of the Battle of the Somme, at Mametz Wood, where 4,000 Welshmen died, most killed by machine gun fire.  Not unlike Journey's End, with which it shares not only tone but also instance, it emphasises the odd claustrophobia that I imagine attaches to most first hand experiences of war.  As Alexander Dumas pointed out to a veteran of the battle who was critical of his account of Waterloo: "How can you tell what happened?  You were there".  The immediate was all that mattered.
"We did not ask whether the reward were equal to the sacrifice; it may be that there is no equality in such matters, that war is the very negation of all value... There was no discussion about the relative merits of rival methods of attack or f alternative fronts.  Although our lives were the letters that went to its spelling, the word Strategy was never of our lips."

I believe my grandfather was present at Mametz as Captain in the 14th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, part of the 38th (Welsh) Division, and is likely to have known the author of this book.  The copy I have just read belonged to him. Others present were David Jones (who describes the battle in In Parenthesis), Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Hedd Wyn.

by Llewelyn Wyn Griffith
Faber & Faber, 1931

Owen Sheers' poem 'Mametz Wood' is here:

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