The 16th (Service) Battalion, Welsh Regiment

On September the 14th, 1914 David Lloyd George performed a “rousing” speech calling for the formation of a separate Welsh Army. A few weeks later the War Office agreed that the NEC (National Executive Committee) should take responsibility for the organisation of the Welsh Army. Three battalions were already in formation (13th Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 10th and 14th Welsh Regiment) but permission was refused to incorporate the other former units for example 11th Welsh (Cardiff Pals Commercial). This called for a new battalion to be formed.

On the 19th of November, 1914 the War Office had given it’s sanction to the new battalion, then on the 23rd the recruiting began. The recruiting campaign for this new battalion involved military demonstrations, public meetings, open air concerts, appeals in the work place, at the picture houses and at football matches throughout Cardiff and it’s surrounding areas. Overall the open air concerts proved to be the best way of recruiting men.

Placed in Command of the 16th Battalion was Captain Frank Gaskell and by the time this all came together The Great War had already being going on for 16 weeks.

The battalion was known and still is known as the ‘Cardiff Battalion’ or ‘The Cardiff Boys’ but in actual fact many of it’s recruits came from other areas of South Wales.

The battalion was known to have strong links with Cardiff Rugby Club as a few of it’s internationals joined, including Major Fred Smith who took command after the death of Captain Frank Gaskell on May 17th, 1916.

During the November of 1914 the 16th (Service) Battalion became attached to the 130th Brigade in the 43rd Division. Later in April, 1915 the formation became the 115th Brigade in the 38th (Welsh) Division.

The 115th Brigade included;
2nd Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers: 1918 -1918
17th Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers: 1915 - 1918
10th South Wales Borderers: 1914 - 1918
11th Bn South Wales Borderers: 1915 - 1918 (Disbanded)
16th Bn Welch Regiment: 1914 - 1918 (Disbanded)

Towards the end of December, 1914 the battalion was moved from Porthcawl to Colwyn Bay, North Wales. The next eight months were spent there training before they were moved to Winchester in August 1915 with other units of the 38th (Welsh) Divison. They had their finally visit to Cardiff in the November of that year before embarking to France on the 4th of December, 1915.

The 16th (Service) Battalion War Diary shows that they were in the following places on the following dates:

·         Southampton:4/12/1915
·         Harve:5/12/1915
·         St. Quentin:6/12/1915
·         Robecq:21/12/1915
·         St. Vasst:30/12/1915
·         Robecq:7/1/1916
·         Riez Bailleul:16/1/1916
·         Croix Marmuse:25/1/1916
·         La Pannerie:16/2/16
·         Locon:17/2/1916
·         Festubert:24/2/1916
·         Les Choqeaux:17/3/16
·         Gorre:25/3/1916
·         Givenchy Lez La Bassee:28/3/1916
·         Leschoqvaux:10/4/1916
·         Nevuf Berquin Estaires:14/4/1916
·         Laventie:16/4/16
·         La Gorque:1/5/1916
·         Riez ?: 9/5/1916
·         Moated Grange Sector:13/5/1916
·         Riez Bailleul:18/5/1916
·         Moated Grange Sector:22/5/1916
·         La Gorque:26/5/1916
·         Laventie:5/6/1916
·         La Gorque:10/6/1916
·         Robecq:11/6/1916
·         Auchel:14/6/1916
·         Monchy Breton:15/6/1916
·         Fortel:27/6/1916
·         Autheux:28/6/1916
·         Toutencourt:30/6/1916
·         Auheux:3/7/1916
·         Buires/L’Ancre:4/7/1916
·         Carnoy:5/7/1916

The battalion experienced major loses in the Battle for Mametz Wood. Most of these casualties occurred on the 7th of July, 1916 when the battalion came under heavy machine gun fire from Flatrion Copse and Sabot Copse.

Below is an entry taken from the 16th (Service) Battalion War Diary dated 7th July, 1916.

“8.30am Bn. under orders drawn up on their own side of slope facing MAMETZ WOOD in lines of platoons with a 2 platoon frontage. 11/SWB in support 10/SWB in reserve. Our artillery ceased firing at wood at 8.30am + first lines of Bn. proceeded over the crest of the slope but came instantly under heavy machine gun frontal fire from MAMETZ WOOD, enfilade fire from FLATIRON COPSE + SABOT COPSE + the German Second System, which now between MAMETZ WOOD + BAZENTIN LE PETIT WOOD, Bn. suffered heavily + has to withdraw to their own side of crest. Bn. made two more attacks but position was much too exposed for any hope or success + orders were received to cease operation. 11/SWB attempted to approach the wood through a gulley running between CATERPILLAR WOOD, slope mentioned above but machine gun fire drove them back. Our losses:- 6offs, killed, 6 wounded, 268 OR’s killed, missing or wounded. Weather very wet, this adding greatly to exhaustion of troops Bn. received orders to return to their Bivouac. Moved off 10.30pm Arrived 8/7/16”

The men who survived Mametz went to fight in the following places:

·         Warloy:13/7/1916
·         Couin:14/7/1916
·         Hebuterne Sect:15/7/1916
·         Courcelles:19/7/1916
·         Hebuterne Sect:22/7/1916
·         Courcelles:27/7/1916
·         Vauchelles:28/7/1916
·         Siomer?:31/7/1916
·         Millam:1/8/1916
·         Merckeghem:4/8/1916
·         Ypres:19/8/1916

The battalion also sustained heavy loses in the Third Battle for Ypres.

(After those dates I am unable to read the writing on the War Diary).

The battalion later disbanded on the 27th of February, 1918.

As the following extract from that day shows.
“From today the 16th/Welch ceases to exist as a battalion” 27th February 1918.

Further Reading:

An Interview with Albert Evans, British private 16th Battalion Welch Regiment

The group photograph is an image of a few of the men including Frederick Rowlands who served with the 16th (Service) Battalion.

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