Royal Welch Fusiliers, as did the Welsh-language poet Hedd Wyn. We also glimpse Welsh soldiers through Ivor Gurney's writings when he describes his first experience of a front-line trench in early June 1916. Having landed in France, the Gloucesters were immediately marched to the battlezone and, Gurney reports, 'put in trenches with another battalion for instruction'. There, he enjoyed what he described as one of the most notable evenings of his life. 'I have been told that I may say that we are with the Welsh', Gurney informed Marion Scott. 'They sang David of the White Rock, and the Slumber Song... And O their voices! I thank God for the experience.' To Herbert Howells, Gurney wrote that the Welsh were 'absolutely first rate chaps' who 'didn't try to frighten us with noribble [sic] details.' After the War, Gurney commemorated their kindness in one of his most brilliant poems:
First Time In
After the dread tales and red yarns of the Line
Anything might have come to us; but the divine
Afterglow brought us up to a Welsh colony
Hiding in sandbag ditches. Then we were taken in
To low huts candle-lit, shaded close by slitten
Oilsheets, and there but boys gave us kind welcome,
So that we looked out as from the edge of home.
Sang us Welsh things, and changed all former notions
To human hopeful things. And the next day's guns
Nor any Line-pangs ever quite could blot out
That strangely beautiful entry to War's rout;
Candles they gave us, precious and shared over-rations—
Ulysses found little more in his wanderings without doubt.
'David of the White Rock', the 'Slumber Song' so soft, and that
Beautiful tune to which roguish words by Welsh pit boys
Are sung—but never more beautiful than here under the guns' noise.
If anyone knows to which 'Beautiful tune' Gurney refers in the penultimate line, please comment below.