Rugby player and war hero re­called on WWI march

Glamorgan Gazette - - Your Views -

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

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