‘For us it was the greatest history lesson ever’ The children who have become best friends with a 95-year-old veteran

Two children, a remarkable D-Day veteran, and a unique look at history – that’s the story behind our series of films, Lest We Forget.

Across three films, Ted Owens – now 95 –travels through France and the Netherlands, and visits Germany for the first time, while telling the children his story and chatting about war, peace, the past and the future.

Here, one of the children, Evan Lewis, aged 10, describes what it was like to make this once-in-a-lifetime journey with Ted.

three at pont l'eveque

D-Day veteran Ted Owens may be 85 years older than me but I am very lucky to call him my friend.

He is the only person I know who has been blown up, shot, and injured by an exploding mine.

He is like the main character in many of the adventure stories I have read. He is as brave as Alex Rider but Ted is even better because he is a real-life hero.

My sister Caoimhe and I have known Ted for ages. When ITV Wales learned we would be visiting the battlefields with him, they wanted to make it into a television series.

It is called Lest We Forget. For us it was the greatest history lesson ever.

Because he was on D-Day, Ted is a French knight, having been awarded the Legion D’Honneur. He only has to walk down a French street to be greeted with applause and cheers. Some people even cry when they see him. On our trip I counted over 1000 photos taken of Ted.

evan and ted.jpg

Being able to talk to a witness of WW2 is like turning the pages of a thrilling history book. His stories can be shocking and sometimes they can even make you feel a little sick – like the time he did not even notice that rats had eaten his toenails while he slept.

As we travelled we asked Ted loads of questions. Sometimes I think we asked him questions which grown-ups might not ask. We asked him about losing friends in the war and what it was like to kill somebody. Sometimes his answers were surprising.

On our travels we met other Normandy veterans, schoolchildren in the Netherlands, and local historians in Germany.

three together

Ted had never been to Germany and we added the visit as a surprise. He loved it. He said he wanted to make new friends and he succeeded.

Travelling with Ted was a pleasure and I learned so much not just about the war but also about the world, about people and about nature.

One of the big things he says is that nobody really wins war. War is a terrible thing. When Ted says things like that we all have to listen.

It’ll be the next century before I’m Ted’s age. But I won’t forget the lessons he taught me.

You can watch ‘Lest We Forget’ for free online here:

One:
Two:
Three:
LEST WE FORGET

This Is Not A Poem – upcoming dates

Seeing one’s mother cry

Is never a good sight;

You begin to wonder

How bad things really are.

This Is Not A Poem still 8

Thursday, October 10: Wales-African Film Festival, Pierhead Building, Cardiff. 7pm

Friday, October 11: Aberystwyth Arts Centre. Time 6pm

Friday, October 18: Tenby Museum and Art Gallery. 7pm

December 4: Cameroon High Commission, Holland Park, London TBC

December 5: Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea. 7.30pm

The Black Chair and the Blackbird (Two deaths in WWI)

Artillery Wood

Two military graves lying only feet apart in a Belgian cemetery commemorate the lives of two iconic literary figures: the greatest Welsh and the greatest Irish poets of the Great War.

They died on the same day (102 years ago today) in the same battle, but the paths that led them into British Army uniform could not have been more different.

Elis Humphrey Evans – “Hedd Wyn” – was born into a farming family in Trawsfynydd. The war had torn open a split in Welsh non-conformism, causing a major clash between those who opposed and those who supported the conflict.

His poetry, which was inspired by the Romantic work of Shelley, quickly began to tackle the subject of the war. He wrote his war poetry before he enlisted.

Hedd Wyn was a Christian pacifist, but he joined the British Army so that his younger brother would not have to fight.

Ledwidge memorial

Francis Ledwidge is known in Ireland as the “poet of the blackbirds”. Born into a poverty-stricken family, he became a political activist and union leader while still a teenager. His poetry earned him the patronage of Lord Dunsany, who introduced him to WB Yeats.

A keen patriot and nationalist, he joined the Irish Volunteers, a pro-Home Rule force. On the outbreak of war the Irish Volunteers became split between those who supported the British cause and those who did not.

Ledwidge initially opposed the war but changed his mind, believing that if Britain won the war Ireland would get its Home Rule. He said he could not stand by while others fought for Irish freedom.

The stories of these two men’s “paths to glory” and violent death are set against the backdrop of the history of the Edwardian and First World War Wales and Ireland: the 1904-05 religious revival, the power of the Chapel to oppose and support war, Irish Catholicism and Nationalism, the Easter Rising and the promotion of the war as a Christian fight against paganism.

In Wales, whilst poet T Gwynn Jones and Socialist preacher TE Nicholas were campaigning against the war, the chapels with the help of ministers like John Williams, Brynsiecyn, ensured the youth of Wales enlisted in their thousands.

In Ireland, Nationalism developed into a failed revolution. But Ledwidge now considered himself a soldier and wondered in his poetry if he would have a soldier’s death.

On July 31, 1917, on the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres, a shell landed in the trench where Ledwidge was drinking tea. His chaplain recorded: “Ledwidge killed, blown to bits”.

Nearby, as Hedd Wyn – who had only recently arrived at the front – advanced with his comrades on Pilckem Ridge, the Welshman was struck down. He died soon after at a first-aid post.

The Birkenhead National Eisteddfod of 1917 became known as “Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu” (Eisteddfod of the Black Chair) in recognition of Hedd Wyn’s being posthumously awarded the Chair for his long poem, Yr Arwr. He is regarded as the iconic Welsh poet of the First World War.

In Ireland, the thousands who had died for the British Army – people like Francis Ledwidge – were forgotten. It was said by leaders of the new Republic of Ireland that although their sacrifice was great but they “did not die for this State”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*First published at https://jonkilkade.com/

“Detailed new history” of anti-fascist heroes

Sophie Scholl - photo taken by her brother Werner.
Sophie Scholl: one of the incredible people who stood up to the Nazis.

Major new review of Defying Hitler in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, describing it as a “detailed new history of the people dedicated to stopping a fascist madman” which “sums it all up with an inventive weaving of key players and the steps they took to resist a monster.”

Perry Munyon writes: “Drawing from the vast Nazi and German archives, but also from documented testimonies of major and minor players, execution records, diaries, journals and long forgotten books, newspaper and magazine accounts from around the world, Defying Hitler brings a vast number of stories and heroes together in a concise new history. It reminds us all that good people can dare to stand and fight evil and powerful regimes regardless of the odds.”

Thanks, Perry.

 

“That’s the only time I wanted my mum”: the toughness of commando training(video clip)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust back from an amazing adventure with my friend, Ted Owens – a veteran of 41 Royal Marine Commando who landed on Sword Beach early on the morning of June 6, 1944.

Together with my children, Evan and Caoimhe, I’ve been following Ted’s wartime footsteps for a new television series. The kids have been learning not only about Ted’s service, but also about war and peace, tolerance and understanding, and about the need to respect WW2 veterans.

It has been an incredible experience, filmed by my friend and colleague Paul Roberts and supported by ITV Wales.

I’ll try to post more from the trip soon – using the tag ‘Lest We Forget’ – but here is a short clip. Along the way – as we travelled from Normandy to the Netherlands, where Ted fought at Walcheren and the Battle of the Bulge – the kids asked Ted’s questions sent by people on Twitter and email.

Here Evan asks Ted about his commando training…