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Great War poets - Hedd Wyn
The Armageddon Poet
The Welsh poet, Ellis Humphrey Evans was born to Evan and Mary Evans on 13th January 1887 at Penlan near Trawsfynydd, Merionyddshire. Ellis was the eldest of eleven children in the family and better know by his Welsh Bardic name - Hedd Wyn, meaning tranquil peace.
The perfect nom de plomb for a lonely shepherd as he wandered around the foothills of the Snowdonian mountains composing his verses. The old land of North Wales, rough, craggy and ancient, a beautiful, wild outback that couldn't help but stir the young poets muse.
Not long after his birth the family moved to Yr Ysgwrm farm not far from Penlan. At school Ellis showed little aptitude but did demonstrate a liking for poetry.and from a very early age was entering the annual Welsh arts festivals, the Eisteddfodau.
At the age of 19 in Bala he was awarded his first chair; the traditional prize for the best poet of the competition. Then again in 1915 at Pontardawe and in 1916 he came second at Aberystwyth, things were looking good for the National Eisteddfod the following year.
But these were dark times and Hedd Wyn's poems echoed them as the Great War dragged on. Much of his work reflected his loss of friends and the terrible nature of war, his poem "Rhyfel" War, demonstrated this most aptly. Despite being against joining up he was force to chose when conscription was introduced. Evan Evans had to release one of his sons for military training and although his younger brother Bob was desperate to sign up, Ellis enlisted.
In February 1917 he was transported from his peaceful, mountain retreat to the Royal Welch Fusiliers training camp in Liverpool to undergo basic training. In the early spring all enlised farm workers were given time off to help in the fields. It was during this seven week break from the war that he started his entry to the National Eisteddfod, "Yr Aywr", the Hero.
Work on the piece continued as Hedd Wyn was shipped to a wet muddy France, as he described it "Heavy weather, heavy soul, heavy heart. That is an uncomfortable Trinity." On 15th July 1917 with "Yr Aywr" finished he signed it "Fleur de Lys" and posted it to the competition in Birkenhead. The same day the Batallion headed north for the front line. They were preparing to take a feature called Pilckem Ridge in the battle that became known as "Passchendale,"
At 3.50am on the 31st July 1917, Ellis Evans and the 15th Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers went over the top. During the conflict, advancing through thick mud, a shell burst overhead of the advancing soldiers and Ellis was mortally wounded by a piece of sharpnel. At 11.00 am he died in a First Aid Station, one of 570,000 men lost on both sides in the battle.
Ellis was buried in the Artillery Wood Cemetery near Boelzinge.
Six weeks later at Birkenhead, the winner "Fleur des Lys" was announced. It was only after the victor did not show that the Arch Druid realised that he never would. The Bardic chair, cloaked in black cloth was bought forward to a hushed and solomn audience. Ellis "Hedd Wyn" Evans won four chairs in total and they can still be seen in the family home in ar Yr Ysgwrm farm, Merionyddshire.
in 1992 Paul Turner directed the much acclaimed film of Ellis Thomas's life "Hedd Wyn", a Welsh language film that won a BAFTA and was nominated in the Oscar's Foreign language category. Finally the Armageddon poet had received just recognition and been bought to the attention of a wider audience outside of his native Wales.