Great War Centenary

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright July 2016, John M; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
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War Poetry and Authors

Hedd Wyn

Shepherd poet and conscript Hedd Wyn was killed with many of his countrymen of the 38th (Welsh) Division on 31st July 1917 on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele. He is laid to rest with Irish poet Francis Ledwidge in the Artillery Wood cemetery.

SH7234 : Llun Hedd Wyn - Photograph of Hedd Wyn by Alan Fryer SH7035 : Cartref cyntaf Hedd Wyn - Hedd Wyn's first home by Alan Fryer SH7135 : Hedd Wyn by R lee SH7234 : Yr Ysgwrn, cartref y bardd Hedd Wyn - Yr Ysgwrn, home of the poet Hedd Wyn by Alan Fryer SH7234 : Y Gadair Ddu by Alan Fryer

Rhyfel (War)

Gwae fi fy myw mewn oes mor ddreng,
A Duw ar drai ar orwel pell;
O'i ôl mae dyn, yn deyrn a gwreng,
Yn codi ei awdurdod hell.

Pan deimlodd fyned ymaith Dduw
Cyfododd gledd i ladd ei frawd;
Mae sŵn yr ymladd ar ein clyw,
A'i gysgod ar fythynnod tlawd.

Mae'r hen delynau genid gynt
Ynghrog ar gangau'r helyg draw,
A gwaedd y bechgyn lond y gwynt,
A'u gwaed yn gymysg efo'r glaw.

Why must I live in this grim age,
When, to a far horizon, God
Has ebbed away, and man, with rage,
Now wields the sceptre and the rod?

Man raised his sword, once God had gone,
To slay his brother, and the roar
Of battlefields now casts upon
Our homes the shadow of the war.

The harps to which we sang are hung,
On willow boughs, and their refrain
Drowned by the anguish of the young
Whose blood is mingled with the rain

Francis Ledwidge

Irish poet Francis Ledwidge died on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele. Francis served with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers from October 1914 seeing service in Gallipoli and Salonika. He is laid to rest with poet Hedd Wyn in the Artillery Wood cemetery.

N9774 : Francis Ledwidge Museum, Slane, Co. Meath by JP

To my best friend

I love the wet-lipped wind that stirs the hedge
And kisses the bent flowers that drooped for rain,
That stirs the poppy on the sun-burned ledge
And like a swan dies singing, without pain.
The golden bees go buzzing down to stain
The lilies' frills, and the blue harebell rings,
And the sweet blackbird in the rainbow sings.

Deep in the meadows I would sing a song,
The shallow brook my tuning-fork, the birds
My masters; and the boughs they hop along
Shall mark my time: but there shall be no words
For lurking Echo's mock; an angel herds
Words that I may not know, within, for you,
Words for the faithful meet, the good and true

Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen was killed in the final week of the Great War, some of his best known works were written in 1917 whilst recovering from shell shock at Craiglochart War Hospital. He is buried in the Ors Communal Cemetery.

NT2270 : Edinburgh Napier University, Craiglockhart by M J Richardson NT2270 : The War Poets Collection by M J Richardson NT2270 : War Poets' Corner, Craiglockhart by kim traynor TA0389 : Clifton Hotel by Christopher Hall SJ4912 : Symmetry by John M SJ2829 : Wilfred Owen Memorial by Stephen McKay

Anthem for doomed youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.

Rupert Brooke

Rupert Brooke died in 1915 and his poems from 1914 are more optimistic than the later poets that saw the horror of the Western Front.

SP5075 : Rupert Brooke statue (2), Rugby by Andy F

Nineteen-fourteen: The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg enlisted as a Private in the Bantam battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in 1915 and was transferred to the South Lancashire and King's Own Royal Lancashire Regiment serving in France from 1916. He was killed near Arras on 1st April 1918 during the German Spring Offensive and is buried at the Bailleul Road Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais.

TQ3481 : Isaac Rosenberg plaque by ceridwen

Break of Day in the Trenches

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old Druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet's poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems, odd thing, you grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurl'd through still heavens?
What quaver---what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping,
But mine in my ear is safe---
Just a little white with the dust.

'This item is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (LinkExternal link © [Copyright notice]'.

Charles Sorley

Charles Hamilton Sorley had a place at Oxford University but enlisted in the Suffolk Regiment in 1914 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant rising to Captain in France in August 1915. He was killed at the Battle of Loos on 13th October 1915 and has no known grave.

SU2071 : Signpost and Charles Sorley memorial stone, Poulton Downs by Vieve Forward

When You See Millions Of The Mouthless Dead

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, "They are dead." Then add thereto,
"yet many a better one has died before."
Then, scanning all the overcrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all this for evermore.

Edward Thomas

Philip Edward Thomas enlisted in the London Artists Rifles in 1915 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 244th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed soon after arriving in France at the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917 and is buried in Agny Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais. At 37 Edward was a mature recruit.

TQ3076 : Lansdowne Gardens, SW8 by Derek Harper SU1780 : The Gamekeepers Cottage, Hodson by Dr Duncan Pepper SU7326 : The Poet Stone on Shoulder of Mutton Hill by Shazz

In Memoriam

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.

Laurence Binyon

Reflecting on the heavy losses suffered by the British Expeditionary Force in the early weeks of the war and Battle of the Marne, the poem 'For the Fallen' with the 'Ode to Remembrance' was published in the Times in September 1914. Laurence would later volunteer to help in hospitals for French servicemen near Verdun.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

JRR Tolkien

As a 2nd Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, Tolkien was stationed in Brocton and Rugeley Camps (The Camps of Mordor) from November 1915 to June 1916. He developed trench fever during the Battle of the Somme and stayed nearby whilst convalescing in Great Haywood. Many of the places on and around the Chase are thought to be linked to 'The Hobbit', 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'Middle Earth'.



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