FRIDAY, May 7, marked the centenary of the unveiling of the memorial to the 1st Battalion, the Monmouthshire Regiment at St Woolos Cathedral in Newport.

A territiorial battalion drawn mainly from Newport and southern Gwent, the ‘1st Mons’ went to France in February 1915. It was decimated on May 8, 1915 at the battle of Frezenberg, near Ypres, and continued to suffer fatalities throughout the war, particularly at Loos in October 1915 and the Somme in July 1916, with more than 600 members of the battalion losing their lives by the end of the war.

The work for the memorial was carried out by the battalion‘s Memorial Committee.

This began life in March 1919 when a group of five officers met at the Drill Hall on Stow Hill at the instigation of Lt Col C H Smith and Lt Col C A Evill.

It was initially assumed that the natural place for a battalion war memorial would be the battalion church, St John’s, Maindee, and in May 1919 the committee met with the vicar to discuss his proposal to this effect.

The minutes of the meeting recorded that: "it was decided that it did not appear desirable that the war memorial of the battalion should be placed in any church of a particular denomination, but as Maindee Church was the Regimental Church, it was certainly desirable that some record should be placed there, preferably brass plates containing the names of all those who had been killed".


At this stage the committee did not seem to see any contradiction between the need for a non-denominational site and the use of St John’s, an Anglican church.

Their main concern was the likely cost, which, if all the names were to be engraved on brass, would be ‘considerable’.

As an alternative, Lt Col Evill suggested a smaller brass plate inside the church with the words ‘To the memory of officers and men of the 1st Monmouthshire regiment who fell etc.’ plus, underneath the plate, a vellum book containing a detailed list of names and places where each was killed and ‘a statue to be erected in some public place on the base of which names of all ranks who fell would be engraved’. This proposal met with general agreement and a sub-committee was appointed to deal with the matter.

Later in the month the full committee met at St John’s vicarage. The vicar outlined a scheme for a parish war memorial comprising a stained glass window and a brass table with the names of ‘the fallen’ of the parish. It was pointed out that there was no question of a joint memorial; the battalion memorial would have to be distinct and it was agreed by the vicar and churchwardens that the original scheme for a brass plaque, vellum book and statue should go forward.

Meeting in October, the sub-committee continued to favour a site at St John’s since it had ‘always been the one attended by the battalion’ and the present vicar was chaplain to the battalion, even though this might not appeal to Non-Conformists and Roman Catholics.

Estimates had been received from five firms putting the cost at approximately £400 and it was formally agreed to proceed once Lord Tredegar, Honorary Colonel of the battalion, had sanctioned the scheme. It was also agreed that the money should be raised entirely from within the battalion rather than from the general public. Appeal letters were to be sent to past and present officers and to the next-of-kin of officers who had died, while other ranks were to be contacted through newspaper advertisements.

But within a week the sub-committee had a change of heart over the location of the memorial.

St John’s was no longer considered suitable and an ‘absolutely unsectarian’ alternative was needed.

The town hall was also rejected on the practical grounds that the council would be unlikely to agree to remove the notice boards in the porch, the only suitable site. So, after some discussion it was agreed that the best location would be at St. Woolos Church, ‘the parish church of Newport’.

There is no indication as to why St Woolos was considered to be any less ‘sectarian’ than St John’s. The move meant dropping plans for a brass plaque and outside statue in favour of a stone memorial designed to fit the west end of the church. Again, the scheme was to be referred to Lord Tredegar.

It was also agreed that, since the committee was ‘not a representative one’, it should be greatly enlarged to include other ranks or the proposals should be put to a general meeting of the battalion.

Lord Tredegar gave his support to the St Woolos scheme, offering £100 towards it, and a general meeting of the battalion was called.

South Wales Argus:

St Woolos Cathedral in Newport Picture: South Wales Argus Camera Club member Emma Stinton

Although local papers described the general meeting, held in January 1920, as ‘well attended’, only 21 men were present. It was dominated by officers, with only five from ‘other ranks’.

There was some discussion on the nature of the memorial. Lieutenant Wynn Jones favoured a practical memorial such as the financing of a bed in a local hospital. Captain Martyn asked if funds might stretch to including an ‘outside statue’ but was told that the cheapest, a copy of the cenotaph, would cost £2,000, well beyond the funds likely to be available. So, it was agreed that the St Woolos scheme should go ahead.

Members of the committee met the vicar of St Woolos, Rev H D Griffiths to view the potential location. It was agreed that, if sufficient funds were available, the memorial would be in two parts - one on either side of the west door, with an option for a more modest scheme on the north wall if funds were not sufficient.

Colonel Evill agreed to ask his brother, the architect Norman Evill, to submit plans for approval. By the end of June 1920, the appeal had raised £610, including £100 from Lord Tredegar and £44 from Lt Col Birrell-Anthony, whose son had been killed serving with the battalion, Major Rees and Lt Ingram, being the royalties from Notes on Company Training, a book they had jointly written.

South Wales Argus: Colonel Evill, who commanded the 1st Mons after May 8. One of the men behind the memoruial

Colonel Evill, who commanded the 1st Mons after May 8. One of the men behind the memoruial

South Wales Argus: Architect’s sketch ofone of htep anels for the St Woolos memorial

Architect’s sketch of one of the panels for the St Woolos memorial

South Wales Argus: One of the memorial panels

One of the memorial panels

South Wales Argus: One of the memorial panels

One of the memorial panels

Work proceeded on gathering the names for the memorial which would be listed in alphabetical order by rank and that, in the five cases in which there were men with the same name, their army numbers would be added to distinguish them. It was also decided that the names of 2nd Lt A P Duncan, who it is understood died from excess of alcohol, and Rifleman H Frost who committed suicide in England, should not be included.

Lieutenant Duncan was finally included, although Rifleman Frost wasn’t. These decisions give the impression that the committee was somewhat reactionary and harsh in its attitudes, perhaps a reflection of its domination by officers. Many local war memorials list names without distinction of rank.

South Wales Argus: Feature from the memorial

Feature from the memorial

In November 1920 an advert in the local press said a full list of names would be published in the Argus the next day and would be available for inspection at the Drill Halls in Newport, Chepstow, Rhymney, Aberbargoed and Blackwood. Relatives and friends were asked to check the lists and submit alternatives.

Norman Evill had submitted his designs for stone tablets, with an estimated cost of £430 plus £100 if certain radiators needed to be removed. After ‘considerable discussion’ over which battles or districts should be listed at the top of the plaques, it was decided to list ‘South Africa 1900-1902, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres, Loos, Somme, Arras, Lens and the Canal du Nord’. A meeting of subscribers endorsed the decisions of the committee.

A total of 597 names were inscribed on the memorial. Official records, compiled later, list 616 deaths from the battalion. The difference is partly explained by the absence of several who died of wounds in the UK after the war ended. On the other hand, Rifleman Alban Williams, of Sudbrook, is listed twice, once as A Williams and once as William Alban.

South Wales Argus: Ist Mons march at St Woolos May 8th 1925

Ist Mons march at St Woolos May 8th 1925

Preparations for the unveiling ceremony took place against a background of strife.

In March 1921 the coal mines had been returned from state control to private ownership and miners were faced with a ‘lock-out’ if they refused to accept pay cuts, precipitating a three month coal strike, which caused severe hardship in South Wales.

The Miners Federation of Great Britain had called upon its partners in the ‘Triple Alliance’, the transport workers and railwaymen, to support them with strike action.

The Memorial Committee feared that a rail strike would prevent the memorial from being transported from London, leading it to bring forward the date at which it was to be brought to Newport.

In the event, on ‘Black Friday’ (April 15, 1921) the transport workers and railwaymen decided not to support the miners through strike action and the memorial was brought to Newport unhindered.

Nevertheless, although the ‘Triple Alliance’ of trade unions had fallen apart, South Wales was in the grip of the coal strike and the government had already made preparations to resist serious civil unrest, calling up reservists and volunteers from the Territorials as part of a ‘Defence Force’.

The strike led to the date of the unveiling ceremony being changed. The obvious date, May 8, was a Sunday but due to shortages of coal there were no valleys trains on Sundays. The ceremony was therefore re-arranged for Saturday, May 7.

The memorial, comprising two tablets of Nailsea stone with bronze crests and containing 597 names, was unveiled by Major-General Stuart-Wortley, who had been commander of the 46th (North Midland) Division, in which the 1st Monmouthshires had served from September 1915 until November 1918.

He recited the words printed in the order of service: "To the glory of God, and in memory of the 597 Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Riflemen of the 1st Battalion, the Monmouthshire Regiment, who laid down their lives in the Great War, for their King and Country, according to their Duty, I unveil these Tablets, to be solemnly dedicated in this ancient Church."

This was followed by the dedication by Rev D H Griffiths, Vicar of Newport: "In the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. I dedicate this Memorial to the Glory of God and in memory of those whose names are recorded thereon, who died for their Country in the Great War. They left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom."

Rev J P Hales, of Nottingham, who had served in France and for a time had been chaplain to the battalion, paid tribute to the men and said that it had been a privilege to serve with them.

South Wales Argus: The 1st Mons at Frezenberg on May 8th 1915. Painting by Fred Roe. (Newport City Council

The 1st Mons at Frezenberg on May 8th 1915. Painting by Fred Roe. Picture: Newport City Council

The memorial became the focus for commemoration of May 8, with annual parades and services being held, distinct from the more general commemoration on November 11, which, in Newport, from 1923 onwards, took place at the town’s cenotaph.

As the decades passed, however, May 8 began to lose its significance. By 1964, with the number of survivors dwindling and many of those becoming too infirm to march, only a ‘representative party’ of the Old Comrades Association attended the service at St Woolos, although the annual reunion dinner continued.

Nevertheless, the memorial remains in place, ‘a silent sentinel’ paying fitting tribute to those men whose lives were taken by that most dreadful conflict.

  • Peter Strong is Secretary of Gwent County History Association. Membership of the Association is open to anybody with an interest in local history within the county of Gwent. Members receive a copy of the GCHA journal, Gwent Local History, twice a year. For more details see