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BRAVE WELSHMEN OF WWI TRENCHES; New book marks 100th annive ersary of the Battle of Aisne.

It was a turning point at the beginning of World War I which brought about the beginning of gruelling trench warfare.

And at the heart of it were brave soldiers from South Wales.

The Battle of Aisne took place in France between September 12 and 15, 1914.

A total of 13,541 British soldiers lost their lives in futile attempts to break through German lines entrenched along the Chemin des Dames ridge, north of the River Aisne.

At this point, the war movement became a test of endurance as both sides were unable to breach each other's lines due to heavy artillery and machine guns.

The conflict brought about the dawn of trench warfare and a stalemate which would last for the next four years.

It was during this battle that the first trenches of the Western Front were formed, creating the start of a line that would stretch across Europe from the Swiss frontier to the North Sea.

The 1st South Wales Borderers and the 2nd Welsh Regiment fought side by side during the Battle of the Aisne on September 14.

They helped oppose an assault by three battalions and two machine gun companies from the German side, and prevented a collapse in the line.

Now, as we approach the 100th anniversary of the battle, what is thought to be the first ever book about this key moment in the war is set to be published.

Author Paul Kendall said the Welsh regiments would have spent weeks marching through Belgium to take part in the battle.

He said: "They would have been tired and hungry before they got to the River Aisne. There was no opportunity for eating or washing - goodness knows what their mental state would be."

Lance Corporal William Fuller became the first Welshman to be awarded the Victoria Cross medal during the war - the highest military award - after he risked his life in an attempt to save his commanding officer.

Mr Kendall said: "The reason why Fuller won the Victoria Cross was his act of courage and compassion. He stuck his neck on the line to save his commanding officer.

"He sees his wounded captain and he puts the needs of his wounded captain over his own safety, and I think that's astonishing. War is an indecent act, but decent acts are there - war brings out the worst in He then carried the man three quarters of a mile to a farmhouse which was being used as a dressing station, where the commanding officer died the following day.

Fuller's bravery was rewarded in September 1914, when he became the first Welshman to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Other Welshmen were involved in the battle, but Mr Kendall, an accountant from Folkestone, said little is known about them.

Lance Corporal Bert Clements, part of the 2nd Grenadier Guards who took part in the Battle of the Aisne, was born in Barry.

He worked at Barry Dock as a telegraph boy for two years, and served for three years as a police officer in Cardiff prior to the war.

Private John Morse, from Swansea, also belonged to the 2nd Welsh Regiment.

Aisne 1914: The Dawn of Trench Warfare, which is being published by The History Press this month, contains more than 300 photographs, including unpublished images of the battlefield.

It also includes previously unpublished diaries and letters of the British and Frenchmen who fought, and short biographies of many combatants, bringing their stories of suffering and sacrifice to life.

Author Paul Kendall said he found it surprising that no book has been written about this turning point in World War I. He said: "What's significant about it is that this is where the Western Front was born - a line of trenches across Europe."

* Aisne 1914: The Dawn of Trench Warfare, is published by The History Press Lance Corporal William Fulle* Lance Corporal Bert Clements

CAPTION(S):

people, but also the best." Lance Corporal William Fuller, part of the 2nd Welsh Regiment, was born in 1884 in Newbridge, Carmarthen, before his family moved to Swansea. He worked as a caretaker at the city's Elysium Cinema before enlisting to serve in the Welsh Regiment on New Year's Eve 1902. Upon the outbreak of World War I, Fuller was recalled from the reserve list to serve and went to France with the 2nd Welsh Regiment in August 1914. The soldier risked his life in an attempt to save Captain Mark Haggard, who was mortally wounded, carrying him back to cover under an onslaught of heavy rifle and machine gun fire. Fuller carried Haggard to shelter 100 yards away, removed his kit and dressed his wounds while waiting for the gunfire to subside.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 4, 2012
Words:781
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