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”. 





A most special moment at Menin Gate (WW1)

Harry Patch never spoke publicly about his experiences on the frontline of the First World War until he had turned 100.

From then on he was to become an eloquent ambassador for those who had lost their lives on both sides.

He returned to Passchendaele in 2007 for the 90th anniversary of the battle, laying a wreath, not only on a memorial for the British dead, but also at a cemetery for the German victims of the offensive.

He also went to the Menin Gate where he made this speech.

He died in July 2009, aged 111. He was the last of the British veterans of the Western Front.

Photos of First World War Trench Network

Hooge Trench
Hooge Trench

This is what remains of the Hooge Chateau trench network a few kilometres outside Ypres/Ieper.

The trench is in the grounds of the Hotel Kasteelhof’t Hooghe.

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the chateau and its stables were the scene of fierce fighting throughout the First World War.

Hotel Kasteelhof’t Hooghe (Hotel's photo)
Hotel Kasteelhof’t Hooghe (Hotel’s photo)

The staff of the 1st and 2nd Divisions were wiped out when the chateau was shelled on October 31, 1914.

From May 24 to June 3, 1915, the chateau was defended against German attacks and in July 1915, the crater was made by a mine sprung by the 3rd Division.

Shells uncovered near the trench network.
Shells uncovered near the trench network.

On July 30, the Germans took the chateau, and on August 9, it and the crater were regained by the 6th Division.

Trench at Hooge
Trench at Hooge

The Germans retook Hooge on June 6, 1916 and on July 31, 1917, the 8th Division advanced 1.6km beyond it. It was lost for the last time in April 1918, but regained by the 9th (Scottish) and 29th Divisions on September 28.

Pictures from the Hooge Cemetery, Ypres (WW1)

Hooge Crater Cemetery
Hooge Crater Cemetery

I recently visited the Hooge Crater Cemetery just east of Ypres/Ieper.

Almost 6,000 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated in this cemetery – with more than 3,500 of the burials unidentified.

Graves marked as mass burials.
Graves marked as mass burials.

Special memorials record the names of a number of casualties either known or believed to be buried among them, or whose graves in other cemeteries were destroyed by shell fire.

The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and is situated near the site of the Hooge Chateau.

Hooge, near Ypres.
Hooge, near Ypres.

The chateau and its stables were the scene of fierce fighting throughout the First World War.

I will post more about the trench network still visible in the chateau grounds tomorrow.

Two graves.
Two graves.