I appreciate that this post is going to be very different to anything I have done before, but I hope you find it interesting. At my Welsh grandparents house when we were little, my sister and I used to play with a big tin of old pennies and other coins. The tin also contained a couple of old military medals.
I never knew anything about them, until a while ago my father in law did a bit of sleuthing for me. This is what he found out, and why I think it is important to remember on 11 November, even if you dislike the idea of war and conflict (like me).
Pte G.J. Rees (who the medal belongs to) was actually George James Rees, born 1892, the son of Evan and Hannah Rees of 18 Silver Row, Burry Port, Carmarthenshire. He enlisted in Llanelli right at the start of the War, aged 22, becoming; Private 40010 Rees GJ, of the 2nd Battalion, the Welsh Regiment. His unit landed at Le Havre on the 13th August 1914. After that date, my father in law couldn’t find anything further, until the 24th August 1916, when at the age of 24 he was killed in action on the Somme. It is likely his body was never recovered or might have not been identifiable as he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. His parents would have received a bronze plaque bearing his name, an illuminated scroll and his medals.
The Thiepval Memorial is in the Somme area in France, the original village was completely destroyed during the fighting on the Somme. The massive memorial has the names of the 73,367 names of the British and Commonwealth Soldiers, who fell during the First Battle of the Somme, between July and November 1916 – and who have no known graves. I visited a few years ago with my family, and the sheer size of the monuments and area they cover is staggering. We also visited the Newfoundland Memorial Park, which has been maintained since 1921 by Newfoundland and then Canada. The land has not been ploughed over, so there are trenches and bomb craters all over the place – the Newfoundland regiment suffered massive losses at the start of the Battle of the Somme. It kind of all left me a bit speechless.
I had always assumed that the soldier the medals belonged to survived the war and the medals had ended up in the garden shed when he died at a grand old age of 90 or something. Just think how many other individual men like him have been pretty much forgotten, and that is why I always wear a poppy and hold a minute silence to think.