Passchendaele dead remembered 100 years after start of horror battle

Francis Ledwidge commemorated in day to mark battle that cost 500,000 casualties

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge joined Prime Minister Theresa May in Belgium to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele which was the last great battle of attrition on the Western Front in 1917. Video: REUTERS

 

The dead of the Battle of Passchendaele were remembered on Monday in the place that exemplifies its horrors more than anywhere else.

Tyne Cot Cemetery outside Ypres was the setting for the ceremony, which corresponded with the centenary of the start of the battle, which claimed 500,000 casualties on all sides.

The largest British military cemetery in the world encompasses nearly 44,000 men from across what was the British empire. The number includes the thousands of Irish men who died during the battle, which lasted from July 31st to November 10th, 1917. Just 3,596 of the men buried in Tyne Cot have a marked grave.

Prince Charles referenced the words of his great-grandfather King George V, who, on visiting Tyne Cot cemetery in 1922, remarked: “I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war”.

The Duchess of Cambridge joined Belgium’s Queen Mathilde and German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel in laying wreaths at the graves of four German soldiers buried in the cemetery.

During the ceremony the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge, who died on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele, was remembered. The actor Peter Campion read Ledwidge’s poem A Soldier’s Grave.

Later in the evening, Ledwidge and the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn, who died the same day, were commemorated in Artillery Road Cemetery, where both men are buried.

Almost 50 people from Ledwidge’s home village of Slane, Co Meath, were present for the ceremony. The Last Post was sounded by the Last Post Association from Ypres, who play it every night at the New Menin Gate.

Wreaths were laid at Ledwidge’s and Wyn’s grave by the Irish ambassador to Belgium, Eamon Mac Aodha.

Bolger’s oration

Giving his oration, the writer Dermot Bolger described Ledwidge as an “Irish lyric poet of genius who lived by his labouring hands, cycling home from work as a farm labourer to write at a kitchen table late at night.

Referencing his nationalism, Mr Bolger said Ledwidge had never lived to see the independent Irish state he longed for – and felt he was fighting for – come into existence.

“He never lived to achieve his full potential, although with every poem his originality grew richer.”

Frank Ledwidge, the poet’s great-grandnephew and a veteran of the British army, read one of the last poems Ledwidge wrote before he died, To One Who Comes Now and Then.

The poem was inspired by a dream Ledwidge had about his friend, Matty MacGoona, who came to visit him to play the fiddle.

The party then moved to the Ledwidge monument, which is on the site where he was killed, just 200m away from the cemetery.

His poem Soliloquy and its Dutch translation Alleen were read, following which Slane-based musician Mark Clarke played The Blackbird, a song intimately associated with Ledwidge.