One of the first to die at Passchendaele

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ledwidge2Among the first to die at Passchendaele, a hundred years ago today, was the Irish poet, Francis LEDWIDGE, born in Slane, County Meath, on 19 August 1887.   He was educated at Slane Board School, and was befriended by Lord Dunsany, who introduced him to other Irish literati. Ledwidge was a laborer, working on roads and in a copper mine.  He was, accordingly, a unionist, and one of the founding members of the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union.

During the war, Ledwidge served with 5th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the Dardanelles in August 1915, during which time his battalion lost half its men in nine days fighting.  He served in Salonika in late 1915.

In December of that year, while in a six-day forced retreat under severe attacks from the Bulgarians, Ledwidge lost all his manuscripts save a few rain-soaked remnants.  If that were not enough, he suffered a severe inflamation in his back which caused his collapse and four months hospitalization in Cairo.  He was then sent to hospital in Manchester in April 1916, where news of the Easter Rising, and the death of his friend and fellow poet Thomas MacDonagh reached him, and upset him deeply.

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Ledgwidge was court-martialled and stripped of his rank in May for overstaying his leave and insubordination.  He spent next seven months in Ebrington Barracks, Derry.

In December 1916, he rejoined his Battalion in the village of Picquigny, north of Amiens. In early 1917, Ledwidge was drafted to “B” Company, 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 29th Division, and sent first to Carnoy, then to a camp in Le Neuville, near Corbie. While there he began a correspondence with the Irish poetess, Katherine Tynan. The Battalion was in billets at Le Neuville in early March, 1917. In early April the 1st Battalion arrived in Arras; it moved to Proven in the Ypres area on 27 June, and served intermittantly in trenches for the next seven months. Ledwidge was killed on 31 July on the opening day of the third Battle of Ypres by an exploding shell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A keen-edged sword, a soldier’s heart
Is greater than a poet’s art.
And greater than a poet’s fame
A little grave that has no name.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~ THE COMPLETE POEMS OF FRANCIS LEDWIDGE. With Introductions by Lord Dunsany.  (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1919) .  (First American Edition by Brentano’s of NY, 1919). 
~~~ Alice Curtayne, FRANCIS LEDWIDGE: A LIFE OF THE POET (1887-1917).  (London: Martin Brian & O’Keeffe, 1972).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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Published in: on July 31, 2017 at 10:43 am  Leave a Comment  

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