Monday 31st July 2017

1917-2017 Passchedaele

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The fields of Passchendaele in Belgium claimed the lives of 250,000 troops of the British Commonwealth between July and November 1917.

The battle was the heaviest bombardment of the war and few of its survivors are still alive. All Commonwealth troops sent to the trenches at Passchendaele – also known as the Third Battle of Ypres – marched through the Menin Gate.

Traffic is stopped there at 2000 BST (1900 GMT) every day for the local fire department to sound the Last Post. Once fighting began in earnest, it took the Allied troops 99 days to capture what was left of the village of Passchendaele in south-west Flanders.

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When the assault was planned in 1916, the British command expected to reach Passchendaele in two days, before advancing to drive the Germans behind the Rhine as part of the Big Push to end the war. Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig never went to the Western Front and ignored reports of the appalling conditions there.

When his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant-General Sir Lancelot Kiggell, visited near the end of the campaign he reportedly broke down and said: “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?”

There were nearly half a million losses on both sides. The British gained just five miles (8km) at a cost of around 35 lives per metre.

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War

Hedd Wynn

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 swn 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

Bitter to live in times like these.
While God declines beyond the seas;
Instead, man, king or peasantry,
Raises his gross authority.
When he thinks God has gone away
Man takes up his sword to slay
His brother; we can hear death’s roar.
It shadows the hovels of the poor.
Like the old songs they left behind,
We hung our harps in the willows again.
Ballads of boys blow on the wind,
Their blood is mingled with the rain.

heddwyn
Ellis Humphrey Evans (13 January 1887 – 31 July 1917) was a Welsh language poet, better known under his bardic name Hedd Wyn, who was killed during the battle of Passchendaele in World War I. One of eleven children, he enlisted so that a younger brother would not be conscripted. He was only one month in the trenches of Flanders before he was killed. Six weeks after his death, he was awarded the prestigious chair for poetry at the Welsh National Eisteddfod. Hedd Wyne is regarded as one of the foremost of 20th century Welsh language poets.

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