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”. 

 

 

 

 

For St David’s Day: the Welsh National War Memorial

Welsh National War Memorial
Welsh National War Memorial

The sun shines on the Welsh National War Memorial in Cardiff.

It commemorates the servicemen who died during the First World War. A plaque to those who died during the Second World War was added in 1949.

The memorial takes the form of a circular colonnade surrounding a sunken court and was unveiled in June 1928 by the then Prince of Wales.

It features inscriptions in Welsh and in English, and was designed by Sir Ninian Comper, the Scottish architect who mostly worked on designs for churches.

At the centre of the court is a group of bronze sculptures by Alfred Bertram Pegram, arranged around a stone pylon.

Around the base stand three figures, a soldier, sailor and airman, holding wreaths aloft.

CATHAYS PARK 2

It is situated in Alexandra Gardens, Cathays Park, and is made from the same stone as the civic buildings which surround the gardens.

A hero of the Royal Charter

'A hero of the Royal Charter'
‘A hero of the Royal Charter’

This wonderful bronze statue honours a seaman of great courage who saved many lives during one of the major sea-faring tragedies of the Victorian age.

His name was Ġużeppi Ruggier but he was more often known as Joe Rodgers, and he sailed on a clipper called the Royal Charter.

The Royal Charter
The Royal Charter

On the night of the October 25/26 1859 the ship was on the last leg of a trip from Melbourne to Liverpool when it was caught in a terrible storm.

In winds in excess of 100 mph the Royal Charter was blown towards Anglesey’s rocky coast.

Storm
Storm

The ship sent out distress signals but the conditions were so atrocious that the Moelfre lifeboat could not be launched.

Ruggier volunteered to swim ashore with a rope.

'Joe Rodgers'
‘Joe Rodgers’

Amazingly, the Malta-born sailor reached the rocks to be hauled out of the sea by men from Moelfre.

His rope was used to rig a bosun’s chair and slowly the rescuers began to bring passengers and crew to safety.

They had saved thirty-nine people when the storm broke the ship apart. It is believed that more than four hundred perished.

The Royal Charter was carrying large quantities of gold bullion from the Australian gold rush and its loss became a huge news story at the time.

Ruggier was honoured by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (the RNLI). He went back to sailing and died in Liverpool in 1897, aged 68.

Bronze memorial
Bronze memorial

The bronze memorial was unveiled at Moelfre in 2009 on the 150th anniversary of the tragedy. It was created by Sam Holland.

The inscription on it reads, ‘Joe Rodgers, A hero of the Royal Charter.’

Underneath is a Maltese Cross.

Moelfre today
Moelfre today

When I visited Moelfre, the weather was very different. A great place; a coastline of beauty where nature can be most cruel.

 

 

The Cross of Lorraine smashes a Swastika

November 11 1943 is, I understand, a well-remembered day for historians of the Resistance in Nazi-Occupied France.

It was on that day that the Maquis paraded through the town of Oyonnax in what Matthew Cobb in his excellent book The Resistance describes as a “stunt”.

The event was designed as a show of strength, a morale boost for the local population. The town was chosen because there was no German garrison nearby.

More than 200 Maquisards took part. They marched, sang the Marseillaise and then disappeared back into the mountains.

Sometime ago I came into possession of this small medallion. It features the date ‘XI Novembre, 1943’.

One side is the Cross of Lorraine smashing a Swastika.

medallion. French, dated 'XI Novembre 1943'

On the other side is an Astrix-like warrior.

One side Cross of Lorraine smashing Swastika - previous tweet. Other side this pic of a Astrix-like warrior.I would love to know the story behind it. I assume it relates to Oyonnax, but does it?

When was it created? How many issued?

Please help and share this post if you can.

Thanks.

(I posted this first in 2013. Had some responses. But still trying to get to the bottom of it!)

Cathedral blitz: “I thought this is what hell must be like”

'Cardiff Blitz' memorial stone
‘Cardiff Blitz’ memorial stone

This memorial stone in the grounds of Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, commemorates the damage done to the building during the Cardiff Blitz.

In January 1941 the cathedral was gravely damaged when a landmine blew the roof off the nave, south aisle and chapter house. The top of the spire also had to be partially reconstructed.

In 2011, a church historian told me that many lives were saved by a stroke of luck as the parachute mine snagged on the spire before landing in a dip beside the cathedral.

He said: “This actually absorbed much of the blast although had the bomb fallen directly on the green [where there are homes] or in fact directly on the cathedral then many buildings would have been destroyed and the cathedral obviously obliterated.”

He added: The cathedral organist when he went in the next day said he saw a section of the roof fall, which had fallen like a great arrow, running through the pews and destroying much of the interior.”

One eyewitness, who was seven at the time, was sheltering under the stairs of her family home.

She remembered: “It was such a wonderful night. It was a full moon and it was what they call a hunters moon. That night the hunters were the Luftwaffe.”

Her family was forced from their shelter by a fireman banging on the front door.

“And he shouted get out, he said, the house is on fire, you’ve been hit by a bomb, get out. And I ran out past him into the street screaming. I didn’t go back to my mother and my brother. It was self-preservation!

“They were dropping flares lighting everything up. And also incendiary bombs and we were trying to avoid being hit by any of these things.

“As I was running with all this I was screaming my head off – I thought this is what hell must be like, you know, with all these flames. It was terrifying.”

This photograph shows the cathedral today.

Llandaff Cathedral
Llandaff Cathedral

 

 

 

 

Bayeux: D-Day & the Battle of Normandy

Bayeux Cemetery
Bayeux Cemetery

As we approach the 70th anniversary of D-Day, here’s a little feature on a place of great focus to veterans on June 6.

Every year a special service of remembrance is held at Bayeux War Cemetery. It is a very moving event.

These photographs were taken two years ago, on June 6, 2012.

STA74787

The event was attended by many veterans and their families.

STA74786

 

The cemetery contains 4,144 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 338 of them unidentified. There are also over 500 war graves of other nationalities, the majority German.

STA73114

Australian WW1 graves at Pozieres

Pozieres British Cemetery
Pozieres British Cemetery

A selection of photographs taken during a recent visit to Pozieres British Cemetery.

Pozieres is a village about six kilometres north-east of Albert, and the cemetery is a south-west of the village on the north side of the main road (D929) from Albert to Pozieres.

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, the village of Pozieres was attacked on July 23, 1916 by the 1st Australian and 48th (South Midland) Divisions, and was taken on the following day.

It was lost on March 24-25, 1918, during the great German advance, and recaptured by the 17th Division on the following 24 August.

Here are three Australian graves from the cemetery: Privates DB Harford, FB Dowling and L Robinson.

Three Australian graves at Pozieres.
Three Australian graves at Pozieres.

There are 2,760 Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated in this cemetery -1,382 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 23 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. There is also one German soldier buried here.

Lines of graves at Pozieres.
Lines of graves at Pozieres.

This grave contains the remains of Military Medal winner, Private D Cottingham.

D Cottingham MM
D Cottingham MM