31 July 2017

Casualties of Passchendaele: Ellis Evans and Francis Ledwidge

A commemorative ceremony will be held at the CWGC's Artillery Wood Cemetery in Belgium this morning to mark the centenary of the deaths of two poets killed in action on the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres.

 The ceremony in honour of welsh poet Hedd Wynn and Irish poet Francis Ledwidge is being hosted by the Welsh National Memorial and Hedd Wynn Society in conjunction with the North Wales Rugby Choir.

Ahead of today’s ceremony, here is more about the lives of the two men.

Private Ellis Humphrey Evans

15th Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Death: 31 July 1917

Aged: 30

Son of Evan and Mary Evans, of Trawsfynydd, Merioneth. One of the war poets, who wrote poetry under the name 'Hedd Wyn'.

Ellis was born on 13 January 1887, and was the first of 14 children. He began writing poems at the age of 11. He mastered the hardest form of Welsh poetry (the cynghanedd) at the age of 12, and continued to write after leaving school to work on the farm at the age of 14. By 19, he was a regular competitor. He took the first of the six poetry chairs he would win in competition in 1907 and was awarded his bardic name Hedd Wyn ('white peace') in 1910.

Ellis had no intention of fighting, but was conscripted into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in February 1917. He was allowed home for a few weeks that spring to help with the farm, but was in France by June 1917. On 31 July 1917, the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, he was hit by a piece of trench mortar shell near Langemark and died at a nearby aid post.

Soon after his departure on active service, he completed the poem Yr Arwr (The Hero), his entry for the 1917 National Elsteddfod, for which he was posthumously awarded the poetry chair.

His style, which was influenced by romantic poetry, was dominated by themes of nature and religion. He also wrote several war poems following the outbreak of war on the Western Front.

Lance Corporal Francis Edward Ledwidge

1st Bn. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Death: 31 July 1917

Aged: 29

Son of Patrick and Anne Ledwidge, of Slane, Co. Meath. A prolific poet noted for his pastoral pieces about Ireland; his last poems made subtle reference to war.

Francis was born in August 1887, and was the eighth of nine children. He was forced to leave school when he was 13-years-old to work in a variety of jobs to support his family financially after the death of his father.

Described as an "erratic genius" by his schoolmaster Mr. Thomas Madden, the literary talents of Francis flourished from an early age. During his various jobs, he continued to write poetry and had many published in the local newspaper and Drogheda Independent. Many of these poems were taken to the newspaper office by Ellie Vaughey, the younger sister of his friend Paddy. Their relationship soon developed into love and Francis wrote numerous poems about her.

Francis acquired a patron in the form of a local aristocrat, Lord Dunsany, who ensured his poetry reached a wider audience and also facilitated his introduction to the Irish literary circle.

An Irish Nationalist, Francis nevertheless enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in October 1914, and fought in the Gallipoli campaign in April 1915. After the evacuation of British troops from the peninsular he went to Serbia where he was taken ill with rheumatism and an inflamed back from the cold weather. He returned to England for treatment and was fit enough to re-join his battalion in time for the Battle of Arras in April 1917.

In July 1917, he moved to Belgium in preparation for the Third Battle of Ypres. On 31 July, he and five of his comrades were repairing a road at Pilkem near the village of Boezinge northwest of Ypres, when a shell exploded among them, killing them all. They were buried by their comrades at the Carrefour de Rose crossroads.

The Ledwidge Memorial was erected at the Carrefour de Rose crossroads, marking the location where Francis died.