Gazette – September 2013

Many of you will know that I was in Flanders and France last week as part of the run up to the centenary of the start of the First World War next year. I have to say that it was an experience that reminded me again of the huge cost of war.

I began by visiting the community of Langemark in eastern Flanders which is part of Belgium. The first visit was to Artillery Wood cemetery to visit the grave of the poet Hedd Wyn, from Trawsfynydd in Gwynedd. He entered for the Chair of the National Eisteddfod, which is awarded to the best poetry of a particular style. He won the Chair, but was killed before it could be given to him. There is a memorial to him in the nearest village and every month there is a service to his memory. Soon we will have a Welsh national memorial close by.

Nearby is the scene of the battle for Pilckem Ridge. Today, it’s a quiet field, and the ridge is a bank of earth. Nearly a hundred years ago though, it was a muddy field strewn with barbed wire. Young men had to climb out of trenches and try to capture the ridge. It was a 200 metre distance which they had to cover at walking pace while being shelled and shot at. Little wonder that few of them survived.

In the evening I went to the Menin Gate in Ypres. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it is an enormous arch with the names of more than 50 000 men who were lost in the battle locally. Every single night there is a service there that is attended by hundreds of people and it was an honour to be asked to deliver the Exhortation at an emotional event.

The following day we crossed in to France and on to Mametz Wood, scene of one of the most famous battles. There is a Welsh Dragon memorial there which we’re helping to refurbish and yet again the local community turned out to join us in a moment of silence there.

The people who live close to the battlefields have never forgotten what happened there and nor should we. Fortunately, we live in an age when the idea of war in Europe is inconceivable, but for the lads in the First War and those who served in the Second, that wasn’t their good fortune.

With the centenary of the beginning of the conflict they called the “War to end Wars” it is right then that we think of those affected and the Welsh Government is organising a series of events across Wales to do just that.

Sadly, the world still has its wars, but we can never forget the sacrifice of those who perished in wars gone by. The people of Flanders haven’t!