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Entries in Cambrai Memorial (1)


Remembering John Pritchard


I don’t remember grandmother Maggie mentioning her brother John Pritchard.

But it seems fitting to remember him now since it is pretty much exactly 100 years ago that he was killed in the Battle of Bourlon Wood, near Cambrai in France.

Private J. O. Pritchard, DCM, No. 2361, served in the 1st Battalion The Welsh Guards. On the day he was killed, November 28, 1917, his unit was expecting an enemy counter attack near the village of Fontaine-Notre-Dame along the Hindenberg Line.

The previous day, November 27th, it snowed. And on the 28th the enemy rained down 16,000 rounds of high explosive shells and gas on British positions. “The Guards suffered enormous losses as they advanced against enfilading fire from La Folie wood and became embroiled in house to house fighting,” said one witness account. “The situation was intolerable and by 1300 hours it was over. Despite great courage and tenacity the Guardsmen had been overwhelmed by an entrenched enemy in superior numbers.”

John was born in Rhosgadfan Wales on September 19, 1896. He enlisted at Liverpool on 10th November 1915 and gave his occupation as a Carter. The Welsh Guards were newly formed that year, the fifth foot guard regiment following the Grenadiers, Coldstream, Scottish and Irish Guards.

Almost 4,000 Welsh Guards saw action in France and Flanders during the Great War and more than 850 died. Twenty two of them, including our Great-Uncle John, were awarded the DCM or Distinguished Conduct Medal. This award was established in 1854 by Queen Victoria as a decoration for gallantry in the field by other ranks of the British Army. It is the oldest British award for gallantry and was a second level military decoration after the Victoria Cross, until it was discontinued in 1993.

There must be a market for war memorabilia, which is why a bronze memorial plaque dedicated to John by our great-grandparents Lewis and Mary-Ann Pritchard, recently was auctioned in the UK by Laidlaw Auctioneers. The insert card was later again auctioned on eBay, but our family managed to repatriate it from the seller and the card is now held by my cousin Jill in Caernarfon. In Welsh, it says “In Loving Memory of Our Beloved Son …” And it goes on to say that John was wounded at The Somme but returned to action before being wounded again at Ypres where he was awarded the DCM. Following this second recovery from battle wounds he was once more returned to action when he was Killed in Action November 28, 1917 at Bourlon Wood.

'A nasty adventure'

The military hospital records show he was wounded the first time just prior to his 20th birthday on 10th September 1916 during the Battle of Ginchy (The Somme) with gunshot wounds to his left arm and buttocks. After recovering, John rejoined his unit to fight in Flanders at the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres). John was given the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions on the 19th July 1917 during this battle. In the History of the Welsh Guards by C. H. Dudley Ward there is a paragraph summarizing his actions that day in Flanders: “The battalion took over the front line by Boesinghe Chateau, the line they would attack from. The Prince of Wales and Gen. Gaythorne Hardy visited the battalion in this line. The shelling all the time was heavy.  Pte. 2,361 J. 0. Pritchard had a nasty adventure during the relief on the 19th. The enemy shelling had been continuous and severe, with frequent short, crashing barrages on all approaches to the line. Pritchard was to act as guide to one of the relieving platoons, and had to meet it at a point some two miles away. On his way to the rendezvous he was wounded in fifteen places, but he completed his task and fainted as he led the platoon into the front line. He had walked three miles from the time he was hit, and had to lead the platoon through one of the enemy crashing barrages while passing Boesinghe Chateau. A fine example of endurance. “

The citation for his DCM posted in the London Gazette on 17th September 1917 said: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in guiding a platoon of a relieving battalion to the front line, through a very heavy barrage, although wounded in 15 different places early during the operation.  He covered in all a distance of over three miles, and it was entirely due to his pluck and determination that a large section of the front line was relieved.  He refused to have his wounds attended until he had carried out his duty, after which he was carried back to the dressing station on a stretcher.”

Less than two months later John was back in action at Bourlon Wood in the Battle of Cambrai. This was a very costly battle. There were nearly 100,000 men on both sides who shed blood on this patch of northern France between November 20th and December 9th, 1917.

John Owen Pritchard’s sacrifice is commemorated, along with 7,000 others at the Cambrai Memorial, panel 3. He was just 21. And we remember him.

(Photo Credit: British troops near Ginchy, September 1916 - Imperial War Museum)