IT is one of the most impressive of all Gwent’s hundreds of war memorials. The figure of a soldier, the iconic ‘Tommy’ leans on his rifle and gazes over Frogmore Street in Abergavenny. Thousands came to see its unveiling in 1921 when the losses were still being felt across the county.

A high price was paid by soldiers from across Monmouthshire at the Second Battle of Ypres and this monument marks the sacrifice made by the men of the 3rd Battalion the Monmouthshire Regiment.

The Monmouthshire Regiment had been formed in 1908 unit and was made up of three Battalions drawn from different areas of the county. Abergavenny was the headquarters of the 3rd Battalion which included two companies from Abertillery, one each from Blaina, Sirhowy, Tredegar, Ebbw Vale and Cwm and one company from Abergavenny. People from these towns all paid for this striking memorial to be erected.

The Second Battle of Ypres was opened with the first use of the most terrible weapon used in the most terrible of wars: gas.

It was first deployed on 22nd April against French troops and then Canadians. The soldiers had no defence against yellow clouds of chlorine. The men of the 3rd Mons later marched through the Menin Gate to relieve the Canadians blighted by mustard gas.

The battle quickly brought horror and heartbreak to the county. William Pritchard, 42, and his son Reginald, 19, were both serving with the 3rd Mons and Reg wrote home to his sister after arriving at Polygon Wood near the front line.

"It is much worse fighting where we are now to what it was in the last place. One of the chaps out of the same section as I am got wounded in the leg yesterday morning as we were leaving the trenches. One man got killed in our company by a trench mortar shell, he was in the same platoon as dad." Father and son were both killed on May 2, 1915.

Just as with Newport’s 1st Battalion, the 3rd Mons were almost wiped out on May 8.

The day began with intensive German shelling which virtually destroyed the 3rd Mons’ front line and the few survivors from A and D Companies were wiped out by machine gun fire as they tried to evacuate the front line trenches. Of the 500 men in A and D Companies only 29 were left.

Now, the remnants of the Battalion launched counter-attacks. The survivors of C Company were forced back to the battalion headquarters where they regrouped. The battalion commander, Col Gough, led them in a counter attack on Frezenberg, east of Ypres, where they held on until 11am but then were forced to withdraw.

There were many tales of heroism that day as the 3rd Mons tried to push the Germans back. B Company, under Captain Robert Oswald Gardner, too joined the front line at Frezenberg just as the Germans launched a ferocious assault.

After German attacks on the front trenches, where the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry stood, B Company charged across open ground to reinforce them and Capt Gardner was shot dead. The company stayed in the front trench all day and eventually became cut off. He left a widow and two children.

It was then, a day of bravery, as the regimental history records, saying the battalion was: “Virtually annihilated... but they had put up a splendid fight and B Company of the 3rd Battalion earned special distinction by holding on in the front line...although quite isolated, the troops on both flanks having been driven back. Its stand has been picked out by the Official History of the War as 'among the historic episodes of the War”.

The heroics shown by the 3rd Mons could not hide the true horror of the day. Private Badham, of Abergavenny, wrote: "The 8th was the day I shall never forget. They started bombarding the same time in the morning, and about half an hour afterwards we could hear a long blast of a whistle, and the attack started. We were only a handful of men, and they came on in thousands, but we kept them at bay; but I knew we would have to give way before long. The fellows on our left and right were retiring and we had orders to do the same, but we did not go until we put some more shots into them.

“It was in the retirement that we lost a lot of men. They were bayonetting our wounded that we had to leave behind. Well, we got back to our second line of trenches, and reinforcements came up. After that I don't know what happened. I went to the hospital with shrapnel in my back and a big bruise on my shoulders and the gas in my eyes."

As the battle came to a close, the three battalions of the Monmouthshires merged, so badly had they been mauled. Their sacrifice is honoured at memorials across northern Gwent. All are poignant, but Abergavenny’s, with its weary Tommy gazing down on the shoppers and cars, remains a most moving memorial to that day of horror.