Two WWI poets killed on the same day and buried feet apart

Artillery Wood

Two military graves lying only feet apart in a Belgian cemetery commemorate the lives of two iconic literary figures: the greatest Welsh and the greatest Irish poets of the Great War.

They died on the same day in the same battle, but the paths that led them into British Army uniform could not have been more different.

 

Elis Humphrey Evans – “Hedd Wyn” – was born into a farming family in Trawsfynydd. The war had torn open a split in Welsh non-conformism, causing a major clash between those who opposed and those who supported the conflict.  

His poetry, which was inspired by the Romantic work of Shelley, quickly began to tackle the subject of the war. He wrote his war poetry before he enlisted.

Hedd Wyn was a Christian pacifist, but he joined the British Army so that his younger brother would not have to fight.

Ledwidge memorial

Francis Ledwidge is known in Ireland as the “poet of the blackbirds”. Born into a poverty-stricken family, he became a political activist and union leader while still a teenager. His poetry earned him the patronage of Lord Dunsany, who introduced him to WB Yeats.

A keen patriot and nationalist, he joined the Irish Volunteers, a pro-Home Rule force. On the outbreak of war the Irish Volunteers became split between those who supported the British cause and those who did not.

Ledwidge initially opposed the war but changed his mind, believing that if Britain won the war Ireland would get its Home Rule. He said he could not stand by while others fought for Irish freedom.

 The stories of these two men’s “paths to glory” and violent death are set against the backdrop of the history of the Edwardian and First World War Wales and Ireland: the 1904-05 religious revival, the power of the Chapel to oppose and support war, Irish Catholicism and Nationalism, the Easter Rising and the promotion of the war as a Christian fight against paganism.

In Wales, whilst poet T Gwynn Jones and Socialist preacher TE Nicholas were campaigning against the war, the chapels with the help of ministers like John Williams, Brynsiecyn, ensured the youth of Wales enlisted in their thousands.

In Ireland, Nationalism developed into a failed revolution. But Ledwidge now considered himself a soldier and wondered in his poetry if he would have a soldier’s death.

On July 31, 1917, on the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres, a shell landed in the trench where Ledwidge was drinking tea. His chaplain recorded: “Ledwidge killed, blown to bits”.

Nearby, as Hedd Wyn – who had only recently arrived at the front – advanced with his comrades on Pilckem Ridge, the Welshman was struck down. He died soon after at a first-aid post.

The Birkenhead National Eisteddfod of 1917 became known as “Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu” in recognition of Hedd Wyn’s being awarded the Chair for his long poem, Yr Arwr. He is regarded as the iconic Welsh poet of the First World War.

In Ireland, the thousands who had died for the British Army – people like Francis Ledwidge – were forgotten. It was said by leaders of the new Republic of Ireland that although their sacrifice was great but they “did not die for this State”. 

 

 

 

 

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From Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the surrender

 

US Marines on Okinawa
US Marines on Okinawa

When the Allies declared Victory in Europe the war in the Far East was still raging.

On June 22, 1945, American forces took the Japanese island of Okinawa after three months of bloody fighting. Fifty thousand Americans had been killed, wounded or become missing in action. Around 110,000 Japanese soldiers had died.

On August 6, 1945, the atom bomb was used on the city of Hiroshima.

Hiroshima
Hiroshima

It was followed by a second bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. It was a plutonium bomb and it exploded at 11.02am local time.

That same day the Japanese Supreme War Direction Council met to discuss the proposal for unconditional surrender which had been made by the Allies in the Potsdam agreement. The council could not agree on a decision.

Emperor Hirohito then met in private with Prime Minister Suzuki and his Foreign Minister Togo, before gathering together his generals. It was now the early hours of August 10. The Emperor tried to persuade his generals to accept the terms of the surrender.

Eventually during the day the Japanese informed the Allies that they would give in.

On August 14 it was announced that the Emperor would made a proclamation to his people. This angered some Japanese soldiers who marched on the Imperial Palace to prevent transmission of the speech.

They failed. The following day Hirohito spoke to the people of Japan. In light of the two atomic bombs he used remarkable understatement when he said: “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”

Emperor Hirohito
Emperor Hirohito

He added that if they continued to fight it would cause the “obliteration of the Japanese nation”.

On September 2, 1945, the Japanese Foreign Minister and Chief of Staff signed the nation’s capitulation. They were standing on board the United States battleship Missouri, which was anchored in Tokyo Bay.

The Japanese delegation arrives to sign the surrender on board the USS Missouri
The Japanese delegation arrives to sign the surrender on board the USS Missouri

The document was then signed by General Douglas MacArthur and representatives of all the Allied states.

The war was over. The task of rebuilding a peace had begun.

Female spies book “ripe for film adaptation”

Shadow Warriors of World War II: The Daring Woman of the OSS and SOE by Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis

A Foreword Review by Michelle Anne Schingler

This is an invaluable historical account, shedding light on the heroism and bravery of the women spies who helped usher the Allied forces toward a victory.

Move over, James Bond—these real life stories of secret agents belong to the ladies. Shadow Warriors of World War II, from Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis, is a thrilling, revelatory history of the women who contributed to the war efforts behind enemy lines as spies on behalf of Britain and America.

William Donovan, inspired by the burgeoning espionage efforts of the United Kingdom, persuaded President Roosevelt to initiate an agency on American soil, dedicated to gathering information and fighting the Nazis covertly. That organization would eventually feed into the CIA—but first, it would employ women for its actions, and to ends that defied expectations.

The stories here are ripe for film adaptation, but first require honor, as America and Britain’s first women spies are shown to have been both invaluable and at risk. Many ended up in concentration camps or at the receiving end of Nazi bullets.

Nancy Wake, who led an attack on a Gestapo HQ in France.

Their ranks included Nancy Wake—brazen, fiery, and skilled with weapons, she was the sort to dodge bullets and retrieve packages from vehicles before they exploded. Betty Pack used her considerable appeal to extract information from men during liaisons, and Virginia Hall posed as a journalist and became one of the agents the Nazis most resented. She escaped, on one leg, over the Pyrenees. These women jumped from planes, blew their covers to help others, and accepted the dangers they faced without blinking.

Thomas and Lewis unfold their stories carefully, preserving their efforts—their successes, their near escapes, and occasionally their betrayals—with detail, resulting in a history that is both thorough and exciting. Distressing conclusions are given their space, and fallen spies are honored, with their extraordinary efforts always taking center stage. While better known personalities also make appearances—even Ian Fleming is here—they are dwarfed by these “shadow warriors” and their daring exploits.

Virginia Hall, the one-legged spy who became the Gestapo’s “Most Wanted”.

This is an invaluable historical account, shedding light on the heroism and bravery of the women spies who helped usher the Allied forces toward a victory.

The Death of Werner Voss

Werner Voss
                   Werner Voss

September 23 marks the anniversary of one of the most celebrated episodes of aerial combat.

It resulted in the death of German ace, Werner Voss, but not before he damaged all seven of the Royal Flying Corps aircraft trying to bring him down.

The rounds that finally sent his aircraft into the ground were fired by Arthur Rhys-Davids.

Voss’ skill earned him the complete respect of his foes that day in 1917.

Back at base, Rhys-Davids turned to his fellow ace, James McCudden, who also fought in the dogfight, and said: “Oh, if only I could have brought him down alive.”

Rhys-Davids was himself killed a month later. He, like Voss, was just 20 years old.

McCudden died the following year, aged 23.

Even the greatest airmen were unlikely to survive that first great air war of 1914-1918.

 

Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions by Women of the OSS & SOE

shadow-warriors-uk-editionWorld War Two was the war in which old gender rules changed, as intelligence agencies created specific training and roles for women.

SHADOW WARRIORS is the story of women as undercover combatants: armed with Sten guns and grenades; cutting telecommunication wires, laying mines in roadways; organizing bombing raids; preparing the way for the D-Day invasion and harassing enemy forces as the Allies moved inland.

It begins by telling the story of how US and British intelligence agencies decided to use women as spies in a way they never had before; and of how they then recruited and trained them, as couriers, wireless operators, saboteurs and even resistance leaders.

These agents ranged from girls barely out of high school to mature mothers, from working class women to the daughters of aristocrats, from the prim and proper to wild high-livers.

They were taught how to send coded messages; how to lay explosive charges; and how to kill with knives, guns and their bare hands.

Sometimes they faced sexism and even derision from their trainers. Yolande Beekman, an efficient and courageous agent who was executed by the Germans, had been dismissed by one SOE instructor as, “A nice girl, darned the men’s socks, would make an excellent wife for an unimaginative man, but not much more than that.”

Their actions behind enemy lines were to change for ever the views of the US and UK intelligence communities on using women as agents.

Some, such as New Zealander Nancy Wake and Polish-born Christine Granville led men in battle. Granville masterminded the escape of a fellow SOE agent. Nancy led a gun and grenade attack on a Gestapo headquarters in France. American Virginia Hall became the Gestapo’s most wanted agent.

Others, such as the American Betty Pack, used their beauty and sexual allure to capture enemy secrets which would change the course of the war.

All these agents knew that torture and death were the price of failure. Some had to leave babies and children at home. Many paid the ultimate price for their bravery.

As Nancy Wake said: “I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”

The clandestine war, and therefore the war itself, would not have been won without the courage and contribution of these Shadow Warriors.

UK edition now available; US edition to be published by Chicago Review Press in January 2017.

 

 

“The best WW2 book I’ve read to date”

Farewell-Leicester-Square1 - Copy

Lovely new message from reader, Phil Dumbelton:

“Hi Jon, I’ve just finished reading Farewell Leicester Square and what a great book it was – the best WW2 book I’ve read to date. Actually it is one of the best books I’ve read to date. I’m so pleased that I found it.

“I really enjoyed the plots around the resistance fighters and found the ending very moving indeed. Please can we have some more? Best wishes, Phil Dumbelton”

Reader feedback means so much to authors. Thanks, Phil!