They Shall Grow Not Old
On this day in 1918 the Armistice of Compiègne came into effect at 11am Paris time. The armistice brought a ceasefire in the conflict between the Allies and Germany, it however did not end the war. However it put in place an agreement to stop fighting on the Western Front, allowing discussions for permanent peace. It took more than six months of negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles to be agreed, which was signed on 28th June 1919, and finally bringing the war to its end.
In 1918 the western front had moved back and forth, first, the Germans Spring Offensive had gained them territory though with exhausted supplies and reinforcements the Allies had great success in the '100 Days' campaign.
For four years the Germans had experienced hardship at home and with the Allies success, social unrest and revolutions caused the Kaiser to abdicate. In their weak position, the Germans had to sign the Armistice. The terms were mainly written by the Allied Supreme Commander Marshal Ferdinared Foch, on who's railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne the signing took place, included the withdrawal of German forces to behind the Rhine and occupation of the Rhineland by the Allies.
The Armistice of Compiègne The Armistice was signed on a railway cartridge at Compiegne. Behind the table, from right: The French General Maxime Weygand and Marshal Ferdinand Foch (standing), British naval officers Rosslyn Wemyss, George Hope and Jack Marriott. In front of it stands the German State Secretary Matthias Erzberger, Major General Detlof von Winterfeldt, Alfred von Oberndorff of the Foreign Office and Captain Ernst Vanselow. Based on this image: Unterzeichnung des Waffenstillstandsabkommens
A year after the Armistice of Compiegne the people of Britain observed a minutes silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. This was followed the next year by the wearing of poppies. In London, the Cenotaph in Whitehall was erected, initially as a temporary structure which was then replaced as a permanent replica made from Portland stone. It quickly became a popular place for people to gather and lay wreaths at. It is now the central venue for Remembrance Day in the UK.
The cost of the war had been huge. It is estimated that the total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was about 40 million: estimates range from 15 to 19 million deaths and about 23 million wounded military personnel, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.
Last year we remembered the battle of Passchendaele, where it is possible that our builder James Pegrum's ancestor, Wilfred Pegrum, suffered fatal injuries. We took Wilfred's story and used it to explore the chain of evacuation, which took wounded soldiers from the front line to be treated in relative safety. During research, James came across the death of another relative, Thomas Pegrum, who died at the Battle of Jutland 31 May – 1 June 1916. James was struck by the youth of Thomas, who when he died was around the same age as his nephew, also named Thomas, both younger than 20 years. While neither James or his family ever knew Wilfred or Thomas, they remembered them today at their local memorial in Newton Abbot.
Wilfred and Thomas are unknown beyond there names and place on a family tree, they will be remembered this Sunday.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning
We will remember them.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
"Heavy weather, heavy soul, heavy heart. That is an uncomfortable trinity, isn't it?"
Hedd Wyn, 2017
On this day 100 years ago, the Welsh poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known by his bardic name Hedd Wyn, was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele in World War I. He is known by few outside of Wales, but within the country and in particular among Welsh speakers, he is widely recognised. While Hedd Wyn’s death is no more tragic than any of the other 31,000 Allied soldiers who fell that day, or indeed the deaths of the thousands in the German lines, Hedd Wyn’s story and his work have become an important part of Wales’ wider cultural heritage.
It’s a cliché to describe Wales as a land of bards and the importance of poetry may be overemphasised in conversations on Welsh national identity. However, it is almost certainly given greater prestige as an art form than in other parts of the UK; central to this is the eisteddfod, a cultural tradition that is said to have begun in the 12th century court of The Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, but in the modern tradition goes back to the late 18th century. Hedd Wyn’s story is tied to the National Eisteddfod of 1917; an eisteddfod is a festival of literature, music and performance in which the top prize goes to the best poet, or bardd in Welsh. The prize is a chair, which at the many smaller town and community eisteddfodau is usually symbolic and given in the form of a trophy, but at the National Eisteddfod it is an ornately carved fully sized wooden chair.
After a brief training period at a camp near Liverpool, he was sent to Flanders as a private in the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers; he arrived at the front in early June. During that month he finished work on his entry to that year’s National Eisteddfod Chair, the subject for which was Yr Arwr (The Hero) and it was sent along with a collection of other poems back to Wales.
On July 31st Allied forces launched an offensive that would become known as the Battle of Passchendaele. Hedd Wyn was among the among the first to attack and the first to fall; he was killed at Pilckem Ridge, aged 30 years old. His death was witnessed by Private Simon Jones, a member of his company, who recalled it in 1975:
“We started over Canal Bank at Ypres, and he was killed half way across Pilckem. I've heard many say that they were with Hedd Wyn and this and that, well I was with him... I saw him fall and I can say that it was a nosecap shell in his stomach that killed him. You could tell that... He was going in front of me, and I saw him fall on his knees and grab two fistfuls of dirt... He was dying, of course... There were stretcher bearers coming up behind us, you see. There was nothing – well, you'd be breaking the rules if you went to help someone who was injured when you were in an attack.”
In September the National Eisteddfod was held at Birkenhead. In the main pavilion the adjudicator announced that the winning poet with the nom-de-plume of ‘Fleur-de-lis’ fully deserved to win, but nobody came forward to claim the prize. The audience were informed that the winner was Private E. H. Evans - Hedd Wyn - and that he had been killed in action just six weeks earlier. Solemnly, the empty chair was covered with a black cloth. Hedd Wyn’s body is buried at the Artillery Wood Cemetery near Boezinge and the words Y Prifardd Hedd Wyn (The Chief Bard) were later added to his gravestone.
Following his death, Hedd Wyn's works were anthologised in a book compiled in his home town of Trawsfynydd, Cerddi'r Bugail. He has inspired a mountain of poetry and prose eulogising him and a 1992 Oscar nominated film about his life.
While it was Hedd Wyn's poem Yr Arwr that won him the chair, his best known work is perhaps the much shorter but no less powerful Rhyfel, which simply means War.
Writing on her excellent War Poetry blog, Behind their Lines, Connie Ruzich eloquently describes the poem’s key themes: “Hauntingly, the poem weaves together nature, faith, and war in a lament not only for the dead, but for all who live in a time of war”. The poem is also deeply political; in its second line the word teyrn, which is usually translated as ‘King’ or 'Lord', is actually more closely related to the word for tyrant, and as Ruzich puts it “...in a world gone wrong, the burdens of death and suffering fall disproportionately upon the poor, and song itself has been silenced”.
While translated poetry almost always loses some of its meaning and can also end up gaining meaning that doesn't exist in the original language, a good translation has been made by former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke. Clarke's work delicately balances literal translation with poetic style and the result, which admittedly loses some of the original's power, is the best this Welsh speaker has read.
The blog was created by Dan Harris, who grew up in a small town in west Wales. The first LEGO scene is by Dan and the second by James Pegrum. We will be posting more blogs on the First World War over the coming year.
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On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past