53rd Welsh

A World War II Living History Group

History of 4th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers

The men of the 4th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (4 RWF) would fight with 53rd Welsh Division across the blasted and broken landscape of North-West Europe, after 6 years of training.

Like the rest of 158 (Royal Welch) Brigade, they were Territorial Army soldiers, with the initial Battalion formed (like the rest of 158 Brigade) primarily from North Wales. Of course conscription and men volunteering for service saw their numbers shift and bolstered by non-Welsh soldiers. The formation of 38th Welsh Division saw more men drawn out. However the Battalion retained its Royal Welch identity and embraced those who came into it from all parts of the UK, as seen in the other converted RWF Battalions.

Through intensive training, Battle School, exercises at Company to Divisional level the 4th Battalion was moulded into a fine fighting formation, well lead by Lieutenant-Colonel 'Jimmy' Rice-Evans. As part of 158 (Royal Welch) Brigade they yearned for their first chance to engage the Germans and put their years of training behind them.

Eventually they recieved their wish as 53rd Welsh Division became part of XII Corps they prepared for their deployment to France, they began learning how to waterproof their vehicles, use captured German equipment, and practiced an increasingly number of Tactical Exercises Without Troops (TEWTs) to ensure they were as ready as possible for the fighting that was to come.

 

Colonel J A Rice-Evans (centre), CO of 4 RWF,, briefs his officers from his slit trench at battalion HQ before an attack towards Evrecy, 16 July 1944. [IWM]

 

Men of the 4 RWF construct a dug-out by the side of a knocked-out German StuG III assault gun near Weeze, 3 March 1945. [IWM]

Men of the 4th RWF in Weeze, 3 March 1945.

Men of the 4 RWF fire a Bren gun from a window in Weeze, 3 March 1945. [IWM]

 

Unit Pride and Sportsmanship

The Flash

The 'Flash' on the back of the Fusiliers battledress was a symbol of immense pride and its heritage goes back to the founding of the RWF itself. When the white pigtail worn by the soldiers in the RWF for many years in the 1700s was discontinued in 1808, This occured whilst the RWF were stationed in America, when they returned they retained the ribbons which tied the pigtail together and were granted a special concession from the King to do this.

During the First World War the Army Board recommended that the flash should be removed as enemy intelligence officers would be able to rapidly assess which unit they were fighting against. The King steadfastly rejected this saying, "The enemy will never see the backs of the Royal Welch Fusiliers." 

During the Second World War, however, it soon became clear that such easy identification of a unit could be disasterous. After heated debate it was decided that only Officers could wear their flash if they so wished in combat - in order to allievate the other ranks concerns, the Flashes were taken wherever the Fusiliers travelled in wooden boxes, pressed and immediately ready for use at the ceasing of hostilities! Consequently you can usually easily identify RWF infantry in photographs in the 1940s by officers proudly wearing the Flash.

Members of the Royal Welch Fusiliers wore the leek behind their cap badge on St. Davids Day to mark it. This was common throughout the regiment along with the eating of the leek by all new members on St Davids Day.

The Leek

Members of the Royal Welch Fusiliers wore the leek behind their cap badge on St. Davids Day to mark it. This was common throughout the regiment along with the eating of the leek by all new members on St Davids Day. It is notable that the Army was able to supply leeks to all RWF units for St Davids Day in the NWE and Italian campaigns!

Sports

Photographs of 4 RWF

Below are photographs of 4 RWF, this is the most complete picture of the Battalion. If you have any more please contact us.

'As a New Recruit' (Fusilier?) Francis 'Pip' Lewis Shipley. [Monk]

(Fusilier) Francis 'Pip' Lewis Shipley in SD dress with FS cap and brass 'RWF' tabs. With the Flash clearly visible. Somewhat intiguing is why this photograph is uncaptioned and not captioned the aforementioned 'New Recruit' [Monk]

Corporal Francis 'Pip' Shipley on 16th August 1943. An intriguing shot with lanyard and FS cap still in use (at a suitably impossibly jaunty angle!) What is noticable on this pic is 158 Brigade being the senior Brigade (one lateral AoS stripe), the lanyard, and also the RWF insigia printed on the epaulette, instead of being worn on the arm (as per Shoulder Titles) [Monk]

Lieutenant-Colonel 'Jimmy' Rice-Evans, the heart and soul of 4 RWF and was terribly shell shocked during the Battle of Evrecy. It is a testament to his leadership and emphasis on good training that 4 RWF performed as well as they did during the engagement, against obscene odds. [Bement]

Lieutenant JHP Bement, Canterbury 1943. He would lead his platoon well until he was injured at Evrecy [Bement]

 

A Company, 4 RWF on Parade with pioneers and band. Unknown date/location [Bement]

Second photograph of 4 RWF parade, close up of A Company in Battledress, carrying SMLEs with sword bayonets (post-39, pre-1942) and wearing FS caps. At the rear behind the officers to the right you can make out the band with drums. [Bement]

4th Battalion Officers, taken in Canterbury in 1943. Lt-Col 'Jimmy' Rice Evans is in the middle, flanked by two senior officers. Lt JHP Bement is at the right hand end of the middle row. Tragically most of the men in this picture, including Rice-Evans and Bement would become casualties during Operation Greenline.[Bement]

'At Maidstone prior to embarkation' In this picture is B Company, 4 RWF. This Company would tragically suffer terribly during their first offensive action of the war during Operation Greenline. [Monk]

'With Army Pals' Francis 'Pip' Lewis Shipley with friends (presumably 4 RWF) and children. Location/place unknown. [Monk]

'Home on leave, Jan 6 1945' Sergeant Francis 'Pip' Lewis Shipley. The shoulder titles are evient, the GS beret has been tamed to a surprising extent and he sports the new-issue army shirt and tie. [Monk]

'At D Person Camp 1945' [Monk]