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”. 

 

 

 

 

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! 

New Kindle edition of WW2 thriller!

Farewell Leicester Square
Farewell Leicester Square

A new edition of ‘Farewell Leicester Square’ is out now – with a brand new cover.

One for lovers of Jack Higgins and Alastair Maclean.

In the dying months of the Third Reich a fanatical alliance of SS officers and industrialists plans one final incredible mission to win the war.

They mastermind an ingenious plot to destroy London and force Britain to its knees.

But there is a spy among them.

And while the clock ticks down, a deadly race for survival takes place which could decide the fate of thousands of lives.

The action in this fast-paced novel switches from occupied Jersey to the lives of SOE and Resistance fighters in Belgium.

Intriguingly, it opens in London in 2005, as a terror attack on the city makes sickening headlines around the world.

Buy it now for just £1.29!

WW1 German graves at “Hyde Park Corner”

German soldier Georg Fuchs lies with two comrades in the corner of the British cemetery opposite the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium.

Georg Fuchs
Georg Fuchs

The Hyde Park Corner cemetery is at the scene of a road junction to the north of Ploegsteert Wood (‘Plug Street’ to the British soldiers).

The cemetery was begun in April 1915 by the 1st/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment and was used at intervals until November 1917. It contains 83 Commonwealth burials of the First World War.

The German war graves are at the rear.

Three German graves.
Three German graves.

Two of the German soldiers are unidentified.

Unidentified graves.
Unidentified graves.

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Nearby there is a Jewish soldier of the Loyal North Lancs Regt.

Private D Gordon
Private D Gordon

“A story I didn’t want to end”

Lovely new five star review for ‘Farewell Leicester Square’ on Amazon:

“Good Story, Well Written, Recommend, Well Edited…

“This book starts with an intrigue and in the present time but quickly moves back to WWII and a different perspective, that of the Channel Islands, the only part of the UK to be occupied by the Nazis during WWII.

“It quickly pulled me in and was full of pathos, well told and a story that flowed well with some twists and turns that took me off track but I pulled myself back quickly.

“It was a story I didn’t want to end and I enjoyed the book and would like a sequel!”

Farewell Leicester Square
Farewell Leicester Square