2 May 1915 Lieut. Charles Herbert Martin

The Son and Heir of The Hill, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, South Wales died in May 1915

3rd Monouthshires, 83rd Brigade, 28th Division

 

Charles Herbert George Martin - The Son and Heir of The Hill, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, South Wale

 

This research was undertaken into the life and military career of Lieutenant C H G Martin because of the strong links I once had with The Hill, in Abergavenny, Gwent, South Wales.

 

I lived and worked in the magnificent house, once Lieutenant Martin's home, which lies at the foot of the Deri Mountain and now on the edge of the National Park. At present it is a short-term residential college belonging to Gwent Tertiary College.

 

Having the position of Staff Tutor I was on duty in the College, June 1989, when the 'Western Front Association' had its Annual International Seminar there. After participating in the weekend lectures and meeting the members attending, I was so fascinated and inspired by what I heard regarding the Great War, I joined the Association the following day.

 

Nothing was known in College about any member of the past families having had connections with the Great War until I began my research. There is no evidence of Charles Martin in documents or photographs in the College's achieves. During the course of my duties I was requested to write to Canon Barnard of Rustingtou, West Sussex, a member of the Martin family who had visited The Hill early in 1993. During a conversation with the Principal about the Martin family he had mentioned Lieutenant Martin of the 3rd Monmouths. He was told about my interest in the Western Front Association and because of our correspondence he fired my interest in his cousin.

 

I requested from him any snippet of information, or photographs, about his family but unfortunately he told me in a letter, 'was born just after the first World War and my mother, I think, was devastated by his death and never spoke of him - at any rate not to me'

 

Encouraged by other WFA members to continue my research, the story of Lieutenant Martin began to unfold and what follows in the text is an account of his life and his military involvement with the 3rd Monmouths in the Great War.

 

What has emerged is a story of an ordinary, gentle academic, short in stature, slight of build, with dark hair and small moustache. A citizen of Abergavenny, brave and well respected, described when he died as 'an officer beloved by his own men ..... ' my people' as he always called them', a keen Machine Gunner and a valiant Officer of the 3rd Mons.

 

It is because of the WFA Seminar having being presented in The Hill College for so many years that I felt members who knew the house and its location, would be interested in learning about the life of Lieutenant. Martin and his Great War military career.

 

Those who have visited this stylish house, still with its original features of carved oak, plaster and stone, will have lingered in what once was his library, sat in his lounge and admired the magnificent views of his gardens and specimen trees and even slept in his private rooms.

 

The following research shows Lieutenant Martin's story to be a simple one, nothing spectacular, no heroics and daring deeds, no medal winning manoeuvres, for he was on The Western Front, like thousands of other Welsh soldiers, doing a job that he believed had to be done.

 

Ted King
















An account of his life and military career with the 3rd Monmouths.

 

The ancient kingdom of Gwent was for centuries the Borderland in which Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Norman invaders battled with the Celt for superiority of the area. It was the base from which the conquest of Wales was attempted with only partial success. The Norman Lords and their feudal retainers tried to control the Welsh Celts until they themselves were gradually assimilated into the Welsh nation. The kingdom of Gwent became known as Monmouthshire and in recent times the County reverted to its former name again.

 

It was into a Welsh mining area that Charles Henry George Martin was born, on 5 October 1882, his family lived in the small community of Dowlais, Glamorgan. He was the only son of Mr and Mrs Edward Pritchard Martin, a Mining Engineer and Colliery owner.

 

Mr E P Martin bought The Hill, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire in 1902, a beautiful country house, overlooking the surrounding mountains and Town, the estate and the gardens so vast that they swept down to the Hereford Road. Charles came to live there with his parents and two of his Five sisters, the other sisters already married and with homes of their own.

 

Charles was educated at Eton and then went on to Magdalen College, Oxford and gained degrees in Biology. He was very intelligent and academically minded and his career took him to Glasgow University where he was the Demonstrator in Zoology, as well as being a lecturer at Oxford. While living and working in Glasgow he joined the University's O T C and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant (T F ), 12 October 1909.

 

He was equally well know as an eminent lecturer at Cambridge and in the Colleges of Naples too and as a renowned European scientist and published several books on Protozoology. When the Great War was declared he had been preparing papers for Rothampsted Experimental Station at Harpenden.

 

Charles's father died in 1911 leaving Mrs Martin at The Hill and on 5 June 1912 Lieutenant Martin was posted to the local area and joined the 3rd Monmouths. On 11 June he and Miss Beatrice Elsie Hanbury were married in St Mary's Church, Abergavenny. She was one of the most eligible ladies of the Borough, the only child of F P J Hanbury JP DL of Nantoer and living with her family on a picturesque estate just outside of the Town. The wedding was a most splendid affair, which was only to be expected when two of the most notable families of the County were united. Charles and his bride joined his family home and the following year on 12 April they were blessed with their only son, Charles Edward Capel Martin. When at home Charles he was family orientated, a home loving man and always a very competent all round sportsman. He was a keen follower of the Monmouthshire Hounds and Master of the Crickhowell Harriers, very much a popular citizen.

 

As a Lieutenant in the 3rd Mons Regiment he applied himself, with characteristic thoroughness, to his military career; proud to be a soldier in the Monmouthshire Voluntary and Territorial Forces; proud to give of his knowledge after thoroughly studying his favourite weapon, the machine gun; proud to be a Welshman. So it was only to be expected, that as a fighting man of Wales, he would give of his best and prove to be honourable far from his homeland, in the tune of Britain's greatest trial, the 1914 -18 War.

The men of Monmouthshire while retaining their Celtic speech, which differs from that of Northern Cymru, had martial characteristics because of their mixed extraction. They are 'bordermen' and have always been a warring race. History confirms that in all countries it is the borderlands that produce the best fighting men.

Men of Monmouth stand you firm

Though all around you may break

When Welsh forget their mother tongue

And England knows not Drake

Monmouth men will stand on guard ?..

Vigilant ?.. Awake'

 

(Anon)

Men of Monmouthshire fought at Crecy and Shakespeare recorded they did 'goot service wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps'. At Agincourt and in the Civil Wars of the Roses they were in the most concentrated areas of the fighting.

 

This little country provided the 43rd Monmouthshire Regiment, one of the three Regiments that formed the 'Light Infantry Brigade' in the Peninsular War. Official records show they gave good service too in the Crimean and the South African War.

 

When paying homage to Lieutenant Martin and the men of Monmouthshire for their part played in the Great War, we must look not only to the fields of Flanders and the trenches of France, but to the deserts of Palestine, the plains of Mesopotamia and to the Gallipoli heights. The men of Monmouthshire gave of their best in every part of that far-flung theatre of war and added a worthy page to history of their loyalty to King and Country.

 

The early beginnings of the 3rd Mons was the raising of a Company at Blaenavon, in the mountains just above Abergavenny, in October 1859 and in the following year Companies were also formed in Abergavenny, Pontypool, Monmouth and Usk.

 

In 1861 there were three Volunteer Battalions in the County of Monmouthshire and all independent of each other. They administered their own finances and each man provided his own uniform and belt, but they did meet once a year for Battalion Drill, and the Government supplied rifles and ammunition. Initially essential expenses were met by the Officers and local public subscriptions but these precarious contributions were insufficient and the Volunteer movement soon became in danger of collapsing through lack of funds.

 

A Royal Commission report was strongly in favour for retaining this valuable force and recommended a grant by the Government of ?1 to each proficient Volunteer and later this was increased to 35 shillings and then to 50 shillings.

 

The whole Battalion were dressed in Rifle Green, each Company provided its own cloth so the shades varied and there were also other discrepancies. The Abergavenny Company wore a small, bronze, bull-dog's head badge, so were know as the 'Bulldogs', a nickname given to them because of a special breed of that particular dog, bred in the town. The Companies were consolidated in 1880 and the Battalion's headquarters was established in Newport.

 

Shortly afterwards, when the regular regimental numbers were dropped and territorial names were used, the Breconshire Volunteers joined with the Monmouthshire Battalions under the title of the South Wales Border Brigade, the Headquarters now transferred to Brecon. The first training camp was formed in 1881 and from that date the Battalion went to camp annually and by 1888 the Battalion wore a scarlet uniform. In 1889 the South Wales Border Brigade was broken up and the Monmouthshire Battalions attached to the Severn Brigade. In the following year a lot of changes took place in the composition of the Brigade and the training camps were held alternately on either side of the Bristol Channel. In 1891 the Brigade was reformed under the title of the Welsh Brigade.

 

In 1908 the change from Volunteers to Territorials was made and re-distribution of the Companies took place. Four Companies were withdrawn from the Battalion but the Abergavenny Company was retained, the vacant places were taken by two other Companies. One from Abertillery and the other one from the Blaina, Cwm, Tredegar area. This was the birth of the 3rd Battalion of the Monmouthshire Regiment.

 

It can be seen that the Battalion was raised from the northern area of the Monmouthshire coalfields and it had been selected for attachment to the Regular Army during the Autumn manoeuvres 1914 so it was not in camp as usual in August, The first camp of the new Battalion was at Abergavenny. A motley collection of Companies assembled, some in uniforms of red, some in green and some in blue but the Blaina, Cwm Company were dressed in khaki.

 

Within a week the whole Battalion were dressed in khaki and very soon all were working together and doing their very best for the credit of the new Battalion. By the end of the training camp the Monmouths were able to take their place with credit in the South Wales Border Brigade.

 

Soon after an Army Order was issued that Territorial Regiments would be permitted to carry Colours, the cost of which was not to come from public funds. The Honourable Mrs Herbert of Llanover, mother of the Honorary Colonel Major-General Sir Ivor Herbert, (later Lord Treowen) was approached to subscribe to one, or both of the Colours and without hesitation she funded both. She also took a keen interest in the design of the new Regimental Colours and when shown a drawing, which had been submitted to the Herald's College, she strongly disapproved of it. She went personally to London and obtained permission from influential sources for the Regiment to carry a more interesting Colour design.

At a later date the Regimental Colour parties were handed their Colours by his Majesty, King Edward VII at Windsor and the Colour Subalterns for 3rd Mons were Lieutenant Owen Steel (later Lieutenant Colonel Commanding the Battalion) and Lieutenant Oswald Gardener (KIA 8 May 1915, Second Battle of Ypres). Both can be seen in the photograph of the Battalion's Officers, Ypres, February 1915.

While researching Lieutenant Martin's military career and following the 3rd Mons Battalion, from 4 August 1914 until May 1915, so much was just routine army life.

 

BUT the interest of the research lay in the knowledge that Lieutenant Charles Martin was there ..... EVERY STEP OF THE WAY ..... with the 3rd Monmouths, from Abergavenny to Frezenberg in Flanders.

 

On 4 August 1914, the Battalion was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel P B Ford TD. and late in the evening, following the King's Proclamation mobilising the Territorial forces, orders came to mobilise the units and concentrate at Abergavenny Headquarters. Throughout the night there was feverish activity alerting all ranks for duty and preparations began for the dawn concentration.

 

Men from the Welsh borders, who had once served with the Battalion, rejoined the Army and on 5 August the Abergavenny Company, including Lieutenant Martin, had a tumultuous ovation from well-wishers crowding the narrow streets and allies. During the day a touching ceremony took place, that of handing over the Battalion Colours to the custody of the Mayor and Corporation of Abergavenny and the Mayor accepted them, for safe keeping, in the name of the town.

 

No one who witnessed the ceremony could have had any idea the time that would elapse, the lives that would be lost and the change in the Me of the British nation, before the Colours were once more restored to the Battalion.

 

Lieutenant Martin marched with the troops, they left the market square of the ancient Borough of Abergavenny to a rousing send off by flag waving citizens. Down the road, out of the Town, over the bridge of the Given River and up the rise to The Great Western railway station, still there today. Two troop trams were ready and waiting, the soldiers boarded bound for Pembroke Dock and what was to be for these Welshmen, a lifetime's adventure. But for Lieutenant Martin and many more Monmouthshire men the surrounding mountains, the Blaring, the Skirred and the Dei, were the to be their last sight of home.

 

The following day they joined the Welsh Border Brigade.

 

It rained continuously for days as the Battalion settled under canvas, advanced parties had been sent to Oswestry where the Division was to assemble. The Brigade, including the 3rd Mons, were moved en masse to Oswestry, a prosperous, country town which welcomed the huge body of troops arriving at such short notice. The Battalion had simple fare, rested in local establishments and were in fine spirits.

 

The Battalion's animals and vehicles were moved by road and arrived a few days later, the organisation being made by Lieutenant Martin the Purchasing Officer who had bought the horses in Monmouthshire County.

 

During September training was much like annual camps but discipline became more and more rigorous and work intensified, the men were well exercised and the care and instruction of arms were the main aspect of training. The last days of their stay was under canvas. The troops had settled down and looked fit and healthy and both Officers and men had a serious approach to their training.

 

The Battalion were next moved to Northampton and because of the goodwill of the citizens and the behaviour of the soldiers made it for a comfortable stay. Lieutenant Martin was promoted and became the Battalion's Machine-Gun Officer. The aim of the training was military efficiency in the shortest possible time, so long route marches, intensified physical training and field work became routine. After an inspection, General Sir Bruce Hamilton was so impressed with the Welshmen that he complimented them on the physique and bearing of the Brigade.

 

A nucleus Battalion was being formed in Abergavenny and Lieutenant Col. P B Ford now left to return and take command of it and Lieutenant Colonel Worsley Gough (late of the Connaught Rangers) arrived and took over the command of the Battalion.

 

The Battalion stayed in Northampton until the end of October and in November moved to work on the East Coast Defensive System where trenches dug and when finished they were equipped with shelters, barbed wire and machine -guns. At this tune the threat of an invasion was considered to be real enough and the tedium of routine work was relieved by rumours of bombardments and attempted landings.

 

At this time the British Army in France was fighting against heavy odds, the advance of the German Army appeared to be only temporarily checked. This situation gave rise to great anxiety for all. So when orders were received that the Battalion were to return to Northampton to refit for service in India, the prospect of serving in India was not very well received. The Indian equipment soon arrived for the Battalion but to everyone's relief the orders for India were countermanded. As the arrangements were not completed for sending the Battalion anywhere overseas they were to return to the East Coast and continue working on the defence line in Suffolk. The Battalion stayed here until January 1915.

 

A vast amount of work was achieved while on the East Coast, miles of trenches dug, wire entanglements and shelters put in place and all in unfavourable weather conditions. A special order was issued by the G.O.C.-in C. Central Force giving much praise to the Battalion for the accomplishment it had achieved. Leaving the East Coast by train for Cambridge the soldiers had very happy memories for the grateful, local residents bestowed many kindnesses on the Officers and men helping to ease the discomfort of their duties and during the atrocious weather.

 

While the Battalion was in Cambridge it was reorganised into four double Companies, consisting of tried and tested soldiers and all who had volunteered for service. Drafts from the reserve Battalion were arriving to make up the force of the original Battalion, these were fit men who were able to replace those found unsuitable for overseas service, during the final selection.

 

They were issued with new service equipment, rifles and bayonets and their old equipment was passed on. For the rest of their stay in Cambridge they were subjected to rigorous courses of exercises in movements in this formation, and instructions and practice in bayonet fighting, all carried out on the famous area, Parker's Piece. Early in January the Battalion now assembled was in its final form.

 

Along with others, the Battalion was selected for overseas service and the final orders arrived for proceeding overseas to France, this news raised Welsh spirits.

On the 11 February His Majesty, King George V, inspected his First Welsh Division on Parker's Piece, before it left for the Flanders' battlefields, it was noted to be 'a fitting and historic conclusion to the period of preparation of gallant volunteers' Khaki-clad soldiers were assembled and as the Division presented arms, after a royal salute, it was a memorable sight of 'of shimmering steel'. 'Three cheers for the King' was called for and caps were raised aloft on bayonet tips, the roar was continually repeated as the Welsh warriors paid tribute to His Majesty. On a specially built low platform, covered in red cloth, the King and high - ranking Officers stood and received the salutes of the Division. Infantry wearing greatcoats, in double columns of four and accompanied by horses and guns, marched passed the saluting base to military music. An impressive spectacle.

 

A general order was issued expressing His Majesty's pleasure when observing the presence and the discipline of the Welsh Division, he sent his compliments on the polished manner in which the march past and movements had been accomplished.

 

In the cold, grey dawn of 13 February the Battalion was paraded for the last time in Britain and before the residents of Cambridge had awakened the troop trains had pulled out and left for Southampton, detailed to reinforce Regular Brigades in the field. Having arrived at the port the soldiers, horses, transport and baggage boarded the S S 'Chyabassa' and were ready to leave port for Le Havre.

 

It was evening before S S 'Chyabassa' sailed, throughout the voyage no lights were permitted while crossing the Channel, because of the fear of submarine activity. The waterway was full of ships similarly wending their way across to France, under the cover of darkness and the protection of the Royal Navy. It was a slow stealthy crossing, uneventful except for sudden changes of course which distressed the horses.

When the troopship docked in Le Havre thronging crowds lined the quayside waving flags, cheering, singing, welcoming the Welshmen, for these were early days of War, spirits and enthusiasm was high. The Battalion marched along the cliff tops to base camp at St Adresse and spent a very cold night under canvas. Taking a leisurely journey next day, in a train with spacious carriages, they arrived at Bavinchove, marched to Cassel (then the G H Q of the French Northern Army) and there the soldiers were accommodated in public buildings.

 

The town of Steenvoorde, 14 miles west of Ypres, was the Battalion's next resting place. To get there they marched along roads of uneven stone sets, tiring and treacherous in very wet weather for heavily burdened Infantrymen, but these conditions were to become all too familiar.

 

The battle zone was very close now, the flicker of flares were to be seen and the thunder of heavy guns was incessant. The smell of cordite and freshly turned, wet earth hung heavily in the cold air, so different from the peaceful Monmouthshire countryside they left some weeks ago. The residents of the town provided billets for the troops and this was a time of acclimatising them to their new environment. There were instruction courses for making and using bombs and grenades, and detailed advice for trench digging. All ranks were kept fit by field exercises and arduous route marches and always under the critical eye of the Higher Command of the Expeditionary Forces.

 

By the end of February the ultimate destination of the Battalion had been decided.

 

The Welsh troops were taken by a fleet of old London buses to Bailleul, where they joined the 28th Division, commanded by Major General Bulfin and spent the night on the out-skirts the town, St Jans Capelle.

 

On St David's Day, so special to the Welsh, when memories of home were uppermost in their minds and 'hiraeth' in their hearts, they sang in their native tongue, what was regarded by some as 'mournful tunes', as they inarched to new billets in Ravelsberg.

 

'Hiraeth' ..... a very special word in Welsh, it means more than the longing to be home, more than homesickness, it is a deep yearning in one's soul to be back in your birth place. It is the only language in the world to have such a word.

 

The Welsh soldiers always paid grateful tributes to the Officers of the Regular Army with whom the Battalion were now in close contact. The Territorials found themselves side by side with professional soldiers, the most highly trained army in the world. They were given help, encouragement and support and it was never forgotten that they were raw troops. They found it refreshing that they were accepted as comrades by hardened warriors in the line and this made the Welsh resolute to prove themselves deserving of the welcome proffered to them on their arrival.

 

The first experience of field work actually in the line was when the 3rd Mons C O, 8 Officers and 16 N C O's were sent for 24 hours instruction into the trenches. The lines were made up of disconnected sections of works, some trench, some sandbagged and the ground was very soft and difficult to drain. Rest could only be taken in roughly erected shelters and communication with other sections was attempted at night, for any exposed target was immediately fired upon.

 

Companies of the Battalion were sent in turn to the trenches for 24 hours instruction and on 12 March the Welshmen took up duty at night for the fist time. The trenches were on the West slope of Messines-Wytschsete Ridge. The line ran south-east to Pleogsteert and north-west to Kemmel and Wulverghem village lay in a depression behind. The village buildings gave some protection from rifle fire as the Welsh troops marched forward but the air was filled with stray bullets, whistling perilously close, as they approached the trenches.

 

The Battalion's Headquarters were in the village of St Quentin Cabaret, and Companies were posted either side of the Wulverghem - Messines Road, the transport maintaining supplies was under the supervision of Lieutenant Merton Jones (see the Photograph of Officers) and Lieutenant Martin commanded the machine gun section occupying the special positions allotted to the gunners.

 

This was the first experience of trench warfare for the 3rd Mons, Officers and men, the sector they were in reputedly was a quiet one but the enemy were continuously active. The lighter calibre guns directed fire against them throughout the day and the occasional trench mortar that was thrown caused effective damage.

 

To undertake the repairs was a dangerous task, for enemy marksmen closely watched the breach and repeated rifle fire was non-stop. This persistent firing, disturbed the stability of the trenches, the unrelenting weather conditions and the continual flooding of the trenches made it necessary for constant maintenance in the most dangerous positions. The enemy had better equipment and continually fired from fixed rifles and machine guns at miscellaneous tactical positions and their trenches too were better defended too, with wire entanglement. So the Battalion's guns fell silent because of shortage of ammunition, particularly high explosive shells. The conditions for the Battalion were miserable, great caution was taken when lighting fires for curling smoke received enemy attention very quickly. Although food was satisfying and in good supply it was monotonous, rum and lime juice was dispensed in medicinal doses and cigarettes became the comfort but all this was supplemented by parcels from kind friends and families back home in Wales.

Unfortunately in the early days of being in the trenches the Battalion suffered many casualties, including an Officer and it was only by bitter experience that they learned, it was care and alertness in trench warfare that kept them safe.

 

Soon enemy action became much more intense and the number of heavy German guns increased and by the end of March the village and the church of Wulverghem was completely destroyed.

 

After nearly a month of continuous fighting in the trenches the 3rd Mons Battalion's tour of duty was over in this area and on Good Friday, tired and weary Welshmen were relieved by the 5th South Staffords. Later that night they were withdrawn from the Wulvergham sector and moved out to Bailleul. The soldiers now had considerable knowledge of the conditions of war but they left behind many of their 'butties', in the little Wulvergham cemeteries. A lot of credit had been gamed for the manner in which they had conducted themselves in the trenches and with spirits still undaunted they were ready for rest in new billets.

 

An early Easter came and went and after a few days rest and renovation of their equipment the Battalion were on the move again, marching to Boeschepe, two and half miles north-west of Westoutre. Once settled the Adjutant, Company Commanders and Lieutenant Martin, Machine Gun Officer reconnoitred the trenches east of Ypres, held by the French troops.

 

Some days later General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrian inspected the assembled 83rd Brigade very early on a cold April morning and later in a courtyard of a farm he addressed Officers, Warrant Officers and NCO's, summing-up the lessons to be learned from the Brigade's past experiences in the field. It was an unforgettable speech for all who heard it and we can only wonder what Lieutenant Martin's thoughts were as he huddled and shivered in the cold damp morning air, listerning intently.

 

Vigorous enemy action was anticipated and the Division had the responsibility of an important area, the immortal Ypres Salient. This area had a well deserved heinous reputation for it was most vulnerable to attack being a salient. It could be likened roughly to a saucer with the German Army in the secure position on the rim. The territory lying behind the line could be clearly observed from Passchendaele and Messines Ridge both of which lay at the rear of the enemy lines.

 

The stage was now set and the next task for the Welsh Brigade lay ahead. The men of Monmouthshire had to steel their hearts for they knew that the tune of the forthcoming battles was approaching them very quickly.

 

Very early on the morning of 8 April the Battalion left their billets, by bus, for the Grande Place in Ypres, here they found the area filled with jostling troops, horses, carts and military trappings of an army about to move out. The ruined Cloth Hall and St Martin's Cathedral were hazily visible in the dark and misty gloom when orders were given to draw rations, proceed to the trenches and relieve the French.

The Welshmen marched off, through the Menin Gate, up Zonnebecke Road to Frezenberg, then they turned half right, across country, to Polygon Wood in the south-eastern area of the Salient.

 

Before the War high pine trees grew in Polygon Wood, in a light soil with sandy patches, but when the Battalion arrived every big tree was down and underfoot was thick undergrowth and shrub.

 

The Battalion's Headquarters were dug-outs in a mound - the Butte de Polygon, the Australian War Memorial now stands on this site.

 

The dug-outs were of French construction and not very deep, giving very little protection from rifle fire or the inclement weather, so what protection there was from the smaller pine trees was welcomed. At least they gave cover to the dug-outs from the air when enemy aircraft were active. Polygon Wood was exposed to fire from the south and the east, and at the quarter to of every hour, throughout twenty four hours, a German field-gun fired a shell in the general direction of the Headquarters, fortuitously they all crashed amongst the trees. The trenches were of irregular line and lay east and south-east of the Wood. The parapets were of poor construction and certainly not bullet-proof, the dug-outs and traverses were few and in front were a few coils of light wire.

 

The enemy was 200 yards away to the right and within bombing distance to the left. The right trench was called Pall Mall and the left Whitehall, the 3rd Mons Battalion took over these trenches and began to settle in..

 

After four days the 5th King's Own relieved the Battalion, they then marched back to billets in Ypres and now began a much more pleasant intermission for the Welshmen and a day-time chance to explore this illustrious old city and examine closely the seriously damaged Cloth Hall. Not all the population had left so from shops and cafes they sampled wine and cigars and stocked up on useful items to add to their comfort in the trenches.

 

On the 17 April the news came to the resting soldiers that Hill 60 had been blown up and there had been parties from the 3rd Mons. involved in the preparation. As expert mineworkers, from the Valleys above Abergavenny, they had distinguished themselves and the Battalion were justly proud. But amongst the rejoicing they had to leave Ypres and return to the trenches. British guns were in action on both sides of the Zonnebeke Road and it was a relief for them all to turn off the cobbled road, go across country and reach Frezenberg before the Germans retaliated.

 

Returning to the trenches the Battalion relieved the 5th King's Own and finding things much as before they carried on with their every day routine. But there they stayed without relief, for 17 days, the 5th Kings Own never came again and the Welshmen waited patiently for relief, amid rumour after rumour as to the war activities. They knew that heavy bombardment had started a few miles north of the 3rd Mons position and during the following days rumour after rumour began to circulated about what had happened on the fateful day of 22 April. They heard that 18,000 Canadians withstood the first Western Front poison gas attack and could scarcely believe the news.

 

But on the 24 April authentic news was brought to the Battalion's trenches about what had being happening elsewhere in the battle zone; the first gas attack had taken indeed taken place; the French had retreated on the north point of the Salient; the enemy had broken the Allied Line along Pilckem Ridge; the 1st Division Canadians had won honour and fame by filling the vital gap in the Line and helped to save the town of Ypres; and the British had repeated counter attacks and stemmed the advance of the enemy towards Ypres. History would record that day as the start of the bloody Battle of St Julien and it would continue until 24 May.

 

With the last days of April 1915 were slipping away the Battalion had only to stand by in the Polygon Line and it is recorded in the 3rd Mons War Diaries that '29 April, was, a very quiet day'. But even 'very quiet days' brought casualties, 2nd Lieutenant Onions, the son of the Welsh Miner's Leader, was killed as he marched his men back to the dug-outs behind the Wood. He was the first fatal casualty of the 3rd Mons Officers.

 

On 1 May Lieutenant Charles Herbert George Martin was killed in fierce hand to hand fighting. He was one of the many casualties at Frezenberg that day and one of the few to have the honour of a marked grave. Throughout the day the number of Welsh casualties rose and by night, with great difficulty, the wounded had to be brought in. The dead were buried where they fell.

 

What was written about Lieutenant Martin on that day is as follows: ' On May 1st Lt Martin the M G Officer was killed. He was a great toss, an Officer greatly loved by his own men ? 'My people' as he always called them ? and a keen machine gunner.'

 

The general situation was worse than anyone knew. The gas attack had broken the line in the north of the Salient and the German guns were brought up to Pilckem Ridge. Polygon Wood was the most easterly position of the area and now it was developing into a bottle shaped zone, untenable for the 3rd Mons. To avoid the danger of being cut off at the neck of the zone and shorten the Line, the order was given to withdraw. The Line now ran just east of Hooge Chateau and Frezenberg, south of St Jutien and converged onto the Yser Canal near Boesinghe and the trenches of the G H Q line crossed the main road just east of the Potijze Chateau. The front Line was now shortened by 5,000 yards and the Wood evacuated.

 

The movement was started on the night of 1 May evacuating dumps and bring back the guns. All ammunition and trench stores were removed as well. The whole operation was under the control of Welsh Officers, posted at the north west corner of the Wood and in telephone communication with the Brigade Headquarters.

 

The evacuation of Polygon Wood and the occupation of the new front line was completed during the night of 3 May and the success of the movement was proved when at 5 am the following morning the enemy still fired onto the empty trenches. Then the Officers controlling the operation left and declared that in spite of a very laborious task the evacuation had been a complete success. Once here the troops had very little to do, the weather was foul, there was very little to eat and heavy shells were flying overhead into the city of Ypres.

 

On 4 May the Bombardment now was particularly intense and it is recorded that the Welsh soldiers were in an 'exhausted condition'. Because of the heavy shelling, so bad were the conditions of the trenches at the end of the day, a new line had to be dug that night behind the original one.

 

This period saw the most arduous test for the Battalion, the bombardment was continuous and intense. For the 3rd Moiis here was to be one of its greatest battle achievements, for though outnumbered by the Germans and with inadequate artillery support they held up the enemy's attack at a most vital position in the line. A high price was paid for the success, especially on 8 May, for only two Officers and one hundred and twenty men of the 3rd Monmouths survived.

 

On 24 May 1914 the Second Battle of Ypres ended and there were over 105,000 casualties including many, many Welshmen.

In the Town Hall of Abergavenny the marble 1914-18 War Memorial is mounted on the staircase wall leading to the Borough Theatre, it is in the shape of a huge scroll. On it are commemorated the names of the fallen, including that of C H G Martin, 229 men of Abergavenny town died, 116 men of the Rural Area of Abergavenny died.

Lt Charles Martin *

 

Conclusion

After many, many months of research the picture built up of Lieutenant Martin is now a very special one for me. I followed in his footsteps from Abergavenny on 4 August 1914 to Frezenberg, 1 May 1915. The first time I stood at his graveside in 1993, Plot 5, Sanctuary Wood, Ypres, I did wondered if anyone, his family or friends from Wales, had ever visited his grave before.

 

The official written reports give his death as 'May 1st' and on the 3rd Mons. Roll of Honour the date is '1.5.15'

 

On the headstone of his grave the date is '2nd May' 1915 but amidst the noise and confusion of war I am sure many such mistakes must have been made.

 

In the local newspapers there was only a very small account of his death, giving the briefest details and when checking in subsequent newspapers nothing else appeared, it was disappointing not to see his photograph.

 

The Martin family burial plot is in the Old Cemetery, Hereford Road, Abergavenny. It is a very large burial plot, surmounted by a Welsh stone Celtic Cross and in the area of the Cemetery where the notable citizens of the Town were buried. Was it to be have been for all the members of the Martin family? For only Lieutenant Martin's father, mother and two unmarried sisters are buried there and on the base of the Cross he is commemorated, as being killed and buried at Ypres on 2 May 1915.

 

Twice Charles Martin must have stood, as the son and heir, at this graveside plot for the burial of his parents, his mother being buried 1912. How sad to think that only three years later he too died, at Ypres.

 

At one time the Martin burial plot must have been most beautiful and surmounted by iron railings. The octogenarian sextant, Mr Hicks, an Abergavenny man of 89, proudly showing me the location of the plot, he said that the family had left money with the Council to have the plot kept in good order. The railings have now been cut off, the moss is obliterating the inlaid metallic words and it grave looks very forgotten. The finances must have finally expired and perhaps there are now no longer any members of the family left in the area to attend the grave.

 

The Hill was sold again in 1917. There is no evidence in the archives of The Hill at all, of what happened to his wife, his son and his family when the Lewis family took over.

 

Of course Mrs Charles Martin was young when her husband was killed. Did she perhaps marry again?

 

Canon Barnard tells me Mrs Martin did indeed marry again becoming Mrs Solly-Flood.

 

Research shows that she married General Arthur Solly-Flood, son of Major General Sir F R Solly-Flood of Crickowell, Monmouthshire, South Wales, in 1916. He was a highly decorated soldier and served in the War from 1914-18 and in 1915 served in France on the General Staff of Sir Douglas Haig, as Director of Training.

 

It is know that in 1937 they were living in the Manor House, Butters Marston, in Warwickshire and in 1940 the General died.

 

By strange co-incidence Butters Marston is a small village close (4 miles) to Westham College where I lived in 1994 but not knowing then of the Solly-Floods I feel that I missed a great opportunity of researching the life of Lieutenant Martin's wife and especially his son.

 

What happened to Charles Edward Capel Martin I often wonder? But then this is another story be researched in the future perhaps.

 

Ted King

Places and establishments visited while researching information on Lieutenant Martin

 

* Dowlais, Glamorgan, South Wales His birthplace, 1882.

* The Hill, Abergavenny, Gwent His home 1901 - 1915.

* The Town of Abergavenny - The War Memorial - commemorates the 3rd Mon's Battles, no names.

* The Museum - photographs of 1914 - 18 (Photocopies included).

* The Town Hall - 1914 - 18 Commemorative Plaque.

* The Market Square - where the troops assembled.

* The Railway Station - in use today, from where the troop trains left, originally 'The Great Western Railway' line.

* Trevetbin Church, Gwent ....... recognised as the church of the 3rd Monmouthshires.

* The Roll of Honour.

* South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Powys.

* 3rd Mons. War Diaries and Reference Books

* Public Records Office, Kew

* Hereford Road Cemetery ..... the family burial plot

* Lieut. Martin's name is on the base of a Celtic Cross, died 2 May 1915

* St Mary's Church, Abergavenny, Gwent Commemorated on the Great War plaque Marriage certificate

* Sanctuary Wood Cemetery Register Ypres Grave - Plot 5

* Ypres, Menin Gate, Zonnebeke Road, Frezenberg, Polygon Wood

* Newport Reference Library

* Newspapers and reference books

* Cardiff Reference Library

* Commonwealth War Graves Register

* Cwmbran, Gwent

* Gwent County Records Office

* Abergavenny Library, reference books.

* Where it says (from an original photograph) Photographs were taken by the author Ted King

 

Reference Books

 

* Officers Died

* The History of the 3rd Monmouthshires. Published by 'Sergeant of Abergavenny'.

* Kelly's Monmouthshire.

* Commonwealth War Graves Register.

 

Acknowledgements

 

* Dave Ashwin (WFA Newport South Wales)

* Tony Spagnoly (WFA Thames Valley)

* Mr Hicks (Octganarian Sextant of Hereford Road Cemetery)

* Canon Barnard Rustington, West Sussex (Lieutenant Martin's cousin)

 

monmouthmay1915_th

 

Lieutenant Charles Henry George Martin

 

3rd Monmouthshires 83rd Brigade 28th Division

 

Born 5 October 1882 in Dowlais, Glamorgan, South Wales

 

The only son of Mr and Mrs Edward Pritchard Martin, Colliery Owner, who bought The Hill, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire in 1902. Charles and two of his five sisters lived there, the other sisters were already married

 

He was educated at Eton and then went on to Magdalen College, Oxford and gained degrees in Biology

 

At the University of Glasgow he was a demonstrator in Zoology as well as being a Lecturer at Oxford. He was also equally well know as an eminent Lecturer at Cambridge and in Naples too. He was a renowned European scientist and published several books on Protozoology and when the War was declared he was preparing papers for the Rothampsted Experimental Station, Harpenden. He also applied himself with characteristic thoroughness to the study of his favourite weapon, the machine gun. Subsequently becoming the 3 Monmouths Battalion Machine Gun Officer

 

When at home he was a keen follower of the Monmouthshire Hounds, Master of the Crickhowell Harriers and a keen all round sportsman

 

12 October 1909 while living in Glasgow he joined the University's O.T.C. and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant unattached (TF)

 

1911 Charles's father died leaving Mrs Martin at The Hill

 

5 June 1912 2nd Lieutenant Martin was posted to the 3rd Monmouths

 

11 June 1912 he married Miss Beatrice Elsie Hanbury, the only child of F P J Hanbury JP DL of Nantoer, in St Mary's Church , Abergavenny

 

21 April 1913 his only son Charles Edward Capel Martin was born

 

August 5 1914 he left the marketplace of the ancient Borough of Abergavenny with his Battalion, to join the Welsh Division. They marched out of the town to a rousing send off by well wishers, on what was to be for them all a lifetime's adventure. But for him and many more Welshmen it was their last sight of home

 

1915

 

14 February the Battalion sailed for France on S S Chyabassa and until April they spent the time being instructed in trench warfare

 

8 April the Battalion went by bus to Ypres and then marched to take over the trenches of the French at Polygon Wood

 

12 April the Battalion were relieved and spent time recuperating in Ypres

 

17 April returned to the front line trenches and stayed for 17 days without relief

 

1/2 May Lieutenant CHG Martin Was Killed

 

He was one of the many casualties of the day lolled in fierce hand to hand fighting at Frezenberg. He was buried where he fell

 

He is now buried in Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, Zillibeke Plot 5