FREZENBERG RIDGE – 526 LIVES LOST
Eighty five men from the 1st Batallion of the Monmouthshire Regiment lost their lives on May 8 1915 on Frezenberg Ridge as they held off German advances at Ypres to prevent them reaching the Channel ports. The Germans used poison gas for the first time on the Western Front during the battle. A cedar wood sculpture at the Territorial Army Centre on Stow Hill now depicts the defiance of Captain Harold Thorne Edwards ultimately surrounded by enemy soldiers exhorting the phrase “Surrender be Damned!”.
A project inspired by Shaun McGuire, Newport military researcher, with Councillor Charles Ferris a prominent supporter led to a new memorial at Blaina Wharf and the planting of eight May trees. In the 1920s a painting was commissioned of the battle by the South Wales Argus. The picture by Fred Roe (below) has hung in the Civic Centre foyer for many years but has been on display in the City’s museum as part of the World War One exhibition.
The battle itself followed the arrival of territorial regiments at the Front. The three Monmouthshire battalions were brought up to the trenches in Ypres in the spring of 2015. The 1st Monmouthshire’s faced overwhelming odds at Frezenburg Ridge when reinforcements failed to arrive. They fought tenaciously to hold the Germans back. Rifleman Dai Jones, a foreman from Newport Docks, said the bombardment was so severe that ‘they blew in every parapet along the trench.’ They were outnumbered by four to one. The Second Battle of Ypres from April 22 to May 25 1915 eventually accounted for 526 men from the Monmouthshire Regiment, a further 800 were wounded. The casualties across all three reduced the battalions severely and as a result at the end of May 2015 they were merged into one. It took a while for the full horror of the losses to be reported by the South Wales Argus. The mayor of Newport told of the “terrible gloom cast on the town by the news that so many of our brave and gallant soldiers from Newport have now performed their greatest duty for their country.” The Argus later stated that before Frezenburg the 1st Mons had 23 officers and 565 other ranks, after it they had only 3 officers and 126 of other ranks.
A report below from the South Wales Weekly Post (27 May 1915) glorifies the terrible Monmouthshire losses at Ypres