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Reflections on Mametz Wood

November 7, 2020 4:29 PM
By Mark Wooding


"But how intolerable bright the morning is where we who are alive and remain, walk lifted up, carried forward by an effective word."

― David Jones, 'In Parenthesis'

As Remembrance Sunday approaches my thoughts turn as ever to my Great Grandfather William Pitt. He was a Serjeant in the Machine Gun Corps, and was killed at the third battle of Ypres, perhaps better known as Passchendaele. He has no known grave, but is commemorated at the War Cemetery of Tyne Cot. I didn't know him although I did his youngest daughter Lille, who was born two weeks before he was killed. He never saw his daughter. Lille was my link to that most dreadful struggle, the Great War. I'm very proud of William.


In 2016 I visited the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres. It moved me intensely, and does so still. A visit is not to be embarked on lightly, but I'd recommend people to go; to remember; and to think.

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Surprisingly the thing that moved me most was a simple memorial at Mametz Wood. I say surprisingly as it is hard not to be brought to tears by myriad small and large cemeteries with their ordered ranks of memorials to the dead. At Mametz Wood a red dragon stares towards the ill-fated wood, breaking free from barbed wire.


Mametz Wood was one of but many engagements during the first battle of the Somme. Over a period of 5 days in July 1916 the 38th Welsh Division fought through the wood against heavy machine gun fire; 4,000 men were killed or wounded.

For the literary Mametz Wood is particularly known for the involvement of some of Britain's greatest war poets. Robert Graves, David Jones and Siegfried Sassoon all fought there. Jones composed what many consider the greatest of the war poems 'In Parenthesis' after his experiences there.

'In Parenthesis' poses big questions such as 'Why… what's the meaning of this?' and perhaps hints at the only framework that can help us understand that meaning is derived from the human values of courage, patience and kindness.


But these were not the things I dwelt on on that beautiful autumn morning as I stared from the dragon to the wood. Rather whether I would have had the courage of those young Welshmen? I (perhaps luckily) have never had to find out. It did leave me with one other thought. Before any Prime Minister, Minister or politician votes to send young men and women to war they should be given a 40lb back-pack and told to walk through Mametz Wood on a beautiful, dry, quiet, autumn morning. And think; and remember. Only then should they take that decision.