‘One of the greatest disasters of the war’ Lloyd George, Memoirs 1938
This year, 2018, marks 100 years since the end of World War 1. Whilst the big screen is showing the Churchill epic ‘Darkest Hour’ here in Wales a small independent film maker has released a short intimate story of the Welsh soldier, 2nd Lieutenant Glyn Rhys Morgan from Pontypridd, who died in ‘the Great War’ in 1917 aged 21.
Glyn Rhys Morgan was one of 6,000 welsh soldiers who died in Belgium in the battle of Passchendaele. Lloyd George later referred to it as ‘one of the greatest disasters of the war’. The death toll in total was 260,000 allied forces and 220,000 ‘enemy’ soldiers. They died in the rain, which is one of the main reasons their strategy failed so miserably- the ground was so sodden the soldiers couldn’t move forward at the rate they were supposed to. It was a ‘senseless campaign.’
The film is interesting on many levels. Visually it uses real black and white film footage and photographs from the period. We see is horse and carts, soldiers with ‘pudding basin’ helmets, cross body bags and rifles over their shoulders. A far cry from what we see on our screens today. There is one lovely piece of footage of the soldiers smiling to camera as they wash themselves in the puddles of rain water.
The language of war is also interesting. They use phrases like ‘supress and neutralise resistance,’ ‘strike a blow against the enemy’ and ‘barrage’ which actually means heavy gun fire. It detaches us from the horrors of what actually happens.
The film makes it all very personal when we see Glyn writing a letter to his family, that will only be posted in the event of his death. At one point he speaks directly to us reciting a poem including the line ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’ Within the context of the poem this is a lie- which adds a new dimension to the film. Did he really think ‘he lived and died magnificently’ as his Colonel later said in the letter to his father?
By the end of the film I am moved but actually more angry. How was this ‘senseless campaign’ that resulted in so many deaths allowed to happen? I dislike war anyway. As humans with such intellect I fail to see how we ever get to these situations. Surely there are ways to avoid such conflicts? But I know that money, oil (other natural resources), politics, egos and arrogance play a huge part.
What was also annoying was that the Welsh soldiers weren’t even recognised for their part in the battle until 2014 when there was finally a Welsh memorial unveiled at Flanders.
The film ends with a beautiful vocal of ‘Myfanwy’ a welsh song of unrequited love- a lover spurned. I think of the love that the soldier had for his country and war effort and how that was repaid by the system.
The final question the film poses, How will we remember him? A great end to provoke discussion after the film. Follow the link to check out the trailer: https://www.justdruid.org/films/
Written by – Prith Biant