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Renovation work completed on Welsh war memorial in Flanders

16 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Welsh war memorial in Flanders. Photo Eric Compernolle

Luke James, Brussels

The memorial in Belgium to Welsh troops who fell in the First World War has been fully renovated – but the Flemish government says it is too soon to give it protected status.

An eight foot long red dragon sculpture, which was made of bronze by a foundry in Powys and raised on a cromlech of stone from Pontypridd, was unveiled in 2014 at the Welsh National Memorial Park in Flanders to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.

A group of local volunteers has taken care of the memorial ever since and perform the last post every month at the site to remember the 40,000 Welsh soldiers who lost their lives in the war. Despite the group’s best efforts, the condition of the statue has deteriorated over the last decade.

Welsh Government office

“It looked very good for the unveiling in 2014 but the colour rapidly faded,” said Erwin Ureel, the local resident who first had the idea for the memorial and began raising funds for it.

“Initially we were not too worried because we weren’t concerned about having a shiny dragon. But it should remain red at least.”

After trying different DIY measures to maintain the sculpture, the group asked the Welsh Government office in Brussels for support.

That led to the Welsh Government to put forward the 4,000 Euros needed for the sculpture, and its commemorative bronze plaque, to be professionally restored by local expert Febe Demeester, who works with the War Graves Commission.

Renovation work taking place on the memorial. Photo Eric Compernolle

The local council also provided free labour and materials for the renovation of the park in which the memorial stands.

“This memorial is hugely important in recognising the sacrifices of all Welsh men and women who served their country during the First World War,” Lesley Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and Social Justice, told Nation.Cymru.

“I am pleased the Welsh Government is able to provide funding to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the maintenance and renovation of the war memorials and surrounding gardens at the Welsh Memorial Park in Langemark, near Pilkem Ridge, as well as at Gheluvelt and St. Jean-les-Ypres in Belgium and Mametz Wood in France.

“We appreciate the dedication of the War Graves Commission, local authorities and other partners assisting in the monuments’ upkeep and historical standing.”

Battle of Passchendaele

The site of the memorial in the village of Langemark was selected due to its proximity to the area in which the 38th Welsh Division launched the battle of Passchendaele on 31 July 1917.

Poet Hedd Wyn was killed on the first day of the battle close to where the memorial now stands.

Former First Minister Carwyn Jones, who unveiled the memorial in 2014, spoke this week of his visits to Langemark in the wake of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to leave D-Day commemorations early.

“It was a profoundly emotional and moving series of events to go to places like Langemark and see the numbers of graves there of young men who had lost their lives,” Jones told BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement programme. ”

“Flanders is flat, there’s nowhere to hide, there’s nowhere to take cover. You can’t imagine how these young men climbed out of deep trenches to flat land, clambered over barbed wire, were being shot at the whole time, and yet still they did it. It’s extraordinary.”

Welsh National Memorial Park in Flanders. Photo Eric Compernolle

Local volunteers now aim to secure the future of the memorial by having it designated as a site of cultural heritage by the Flemish government.

“What happened after the unveiling ceremony is that officially the memorial has been handed over to the town council but this is quite a poor town,” explained Ureel.

“[Having the memorial listed] would probably help in the long term. At the moment we still have our volunteer group but the average age is somewhere around 60 so that won’t last forever.

“That’s the reason I would be keen to give it monument protection so that there is some guarantee in the long term as well.”

Ureel said he raised the idea with former Mark Drakeford during the former First Minister’s visit to Brussels in March and received a positive response.

The Welsh Government said it would be happy to discuss the idea as part of its cooperation with the Flemish government, with which it renewed its memorandum of understanding last year.

Cultural heritage

The Flemish government has in the past designated similar memorials as cultural heritage, such as The Brooding Soldier statue built in remembrance of Canadian troops.

But a spokesperson for the Flanders’ culture ministry said: “For the Welsh National Memorial we need to look at the regulations on immovable heritage. The monument is much too young to be protected as immovable heritage.

“For now, we see no reason to do so, because the monument and the park are cherished and well maintained, even without regulated protection.”

Read more: Hedd Wyn: how the life of one of Wales’ most promising poets was cut short by the first world war

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
28 days ago

Then and Now…Flanders and Ukraine…there’s real for you…proof of a Maxim is a Maxim says Hiram Maxim

The Masters of War…curse them to hell…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
27 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Global defence companies are recruiting at their fastest rate since the end of the Cold War…

There are a handful of individuals endangering the lives of billions…

How does that work…

28 days ago

Did I miss something? How can a long article like this be written about that wonderful work of art, without ONE word of mention be given to the great patriot & artistic giant that created Dave Petersen ?

Richard Edwards
Richard Edwards
28 days ago

Like many from “ Cymru Fach “ i visited this monument to honour my own families links to the Ipres area connrction.

Very moving and a lesson to all generations of the futility of War and the price we pay for defending our freedom.

My taid was with the “ Welch Regiment “ and based close to this site for 18 months –

cofion hogiau cymru 1914 – 1918 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿
cofion hanes cymru / Y Rhyfel Fawr 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Ymlaen at Heddwch dros ein wlad annwyl 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿


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