Rugby player and war hero recalled on WWI march
STEPPING out on to a rugby field for your country takes a certain type of character, but stepping out into an onslaught of bullets on the battlefield takes something else entirely.
Not a lot of people do both.
By now, most people in Wales will have probably heard about the battle that took place at Mametz Wood during World War I.
It was a brutal and bloody fight in France that claimed the lives of thousands of Welsh soldiers.
But it was on the first day of the battle that a Wales rugby international – along with around 5,000 other soldiers – heroically gave his life for his country.
Sergeant-Major Edward John Richard Thomas – better known as Dick Thomas – died on July 7, 1916. He was just 32 years old. “He was killed leading his men over the top into a hail of bullets,” said 83-year-old Sid Robling, who is Dick’s great-nephew.
Eight days of fighting saw the 38th Welsh Division suffer heavy losses in a bid to capture the French wood, which was one of the largest on the Somme – the location of a battle that would last months.
The Welsh division was tasked with driving German troops out of the wood.
And after days of losses and bloody struggle, they did.
Mr Robling, who was born in Porth and now lives in Llanharan, explained that he believes Africa. He went on to win four caps for his country.
From what he’d heard about his great-uncle, Mr Robling said: “He was a fine rugby player, a hard man, he could take a bump and give one – a typical strong Welsh forward.”
Mr Robling was also involved with the military and remembers his National Service fondly.
He said: “I was with the Welsh – great regiment – I enjoyed my time in the national service immensely.”
And he’ll be joining more than 2,200 armed forces veterans and supporters from across the world in travelling to France and Belgium.
The event will echo the way the Legion commemorated the 10th anniversary of the conflict in 1928 – with a pilgrimage to honour the First World War soldiers.
A series of tours to First World War trenches, battlefields and cemeteries, which started on Sunday, August 5, will culminate today in a two-mile march to Ypres’ Menin Gate, featuring 1,100 standardbearers and 1,100 wreathlayers.
A service of commemoration will take place under the gate and will include readings from the UK’s Ambassador to Belgium and the Archbishop of York, with hundreds of wreaths being laid containing messages written by schoolchildren from across the UK.
Mr Robling added: “We’re going to the ceremony, I just wanted to be there. I’m going to wear my beret with great pride.”
Edward John Richard – Dick – Thomas who played for Mountain Ash RFC and Wales and who fell in Mametz Wood in 1916