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/

Defying Hitler in USA Today & New York Post book lists

Defying Hitler cover USFinally getting a chance to round up some of the reviews and responses to Defying Hitler.

USA Today made it one of their Five Books Not To Miss, noting that Publishers Weekly says the book is “an informative counterpoint to accounts of widespread German complicity with the Holocaust.”

And the New York Post marked it as one of their Books of the Week. A fascinating look at the everyday Germans who resisted Hitler’s rule in ways big and small (all dangerous), from helping to forge passports that helped Jews escape to those who passed secrets to Allied spies.”

Newsday described it as an “important book” and Forward magazine says it is a “powerful book” which features the “adept interweaving of diverse and complicated narrative threads” to make “a gripping read”.

Cross of Lorraine crushes the Swastika

November 11 1943 is, I understand, a well-remembered day for historians of the Resistance in Nazi-Occupied France.

It was on that day that the Maquis paraded through the town of Oyonnax in an event designed as a show of strength, a morale boost for the local population. The town was chosen because there was no German garrison nearby.

More than 200 Maquisards took part. They marched, sang the Marseillaise, and then disappeared back into the mountains. The event is described in Matthew Cobb’s excellent book The Resistance.

Sometime ago I came into possession of this small medallion. It features the date ‘XI Novembre, 1943’.

One side is the Cross of Lorraine smashing a Swastika.

medallion. French, dated 'XI Novembre 1943'

On the other side is an Astrix-like warrior.

One side Cross of Lorraine smashing Swastika - previous tweet. Other side this pic of a Astrix-like warrior.I would love to know the story behind it. I assume it relates to Oyonnax, but does it?

When was it created? How many issued?

Please help and share this post if you can.

Thanks.

*First published on jonkilkade.com

The Story of the “Real McCoy”

 

Writing Tom Sharkey’s biography meant we got to “meet” many of the great characters of old-time boxing.

Sharkey wasn’t the only wild character among them.

One of our favourites was “Kid” McCoy – real name Norman Selby – who faced Sharkey in January 1899 as a boyish-looking 26-year-old and had fast become one of the most notorious figures ever to step in the ring; a talented fighter, yes, but a trickster too.

KidMcCoy

According to Patrick Myler: “The numerous stories told about his trickery, mostly apocryphal, are a treasured part of boxing folklore.”

He was said to have once filled his mouth with loose teeth and spat them out during a bout, horrifying his opponent and delivering a knockout punch on his unguarded chin.

He also scattered thumb-tacks on the canvas when he took on a fighter who fought in bare feet.

One particularly dirty trick involved Peter Maher. McCoy sent him a fake telegram, shortly before they were due to fight, saying there been a sudden death in the Irishman’s family.

As another writer, Graeme Kent, has noted: “McCoy was a brilliant boxer and an extremely shrewd operator who had sailed close to the wind on a number of occasions.”

His name lives on with us to today as a way of describing the genuine article. Myler reckons this relates to confusion with a lesser-known fighter named Peter McCoy, who was also known as “Kid”. He says a newspaper once ran the headline, ‘Choynski is Beaten by the Real McCoy’ and the phrase stuck. Kent prefers a story more in keeping with ‘Kid’ McCoy’s trickster image. He says that McCoy, trading on the drawing power of his name, sometimes booked himself to appear in different places at the same time and sent along ringers.

“Promoters had grown wise to this ploy and had insisted on the Kid being less generous with his doppelgangers,” notes Kent. “To reinforce this point they had taken to billing the boxer as ‘the real McCoy’, a phrase which later entered the lexicon.”

I FOUGHT THEM ALL IS AVAILABLE IN HARDBACK HERE

‘Freiheit’. Tribute: the White Rose

Sophie Scholl

For those fascinated by this week’s tributes to Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and Christoph Probst (all executed 76 years ago) this is the spot at which their fate was sealed.

DSC_0427

Sophie threw anti-Nazi leaflets from the balcony under the clock and into the hall below at Munich university.

All these years later it is still an emotional place to be.

A university is a place for free thinking, for questioning, for youthful exuberance. The Scholls went to the guillotine for displaying these qualities, as would many more connected to their White Rose movement.

DSC_0428

When a prison guard came to clear her cell after her execution he found that she had written a single word on the back of her indictment sheet: “Freiheit.” Freedom.

Sophie Scholl - photo taken by her brother Werner.

Defying Hitler: The Germans Who Resisted Nazi Rule

Coming soon from Dutton Caliber in the US (published April 2019):Defying Hitler cover USAn enthralling work of popular history that vividly resurrects the web of everyday Germans who resisted Nazi rule

Nazi Germany is remembered as a nation of willing fanatics. But beneath the surface, countless ordinary, everyday Germans actively resisted Hitler. Some passed industrial secrets to Allied spies. Some forged passports to help Jews escape the Reich. For others, resistance was as simple as writing a letter denouncing the rigidity of Nazi law. No matter how small the act, the danger was the same–any display of defiance was met with arrest, interrogation, torture, and even death.

Defying Hitler follows the underground network of Germans who believed standing against the Fuhrer to be more important than their own survival. Their bravery is astonishing–a schoolgirl beheaded by the Gestapo for distributing anti-Nazi fliers; a German American teacher who smuggled military intel to Soviet agents, becoming the only American woman executed by the Nazis; a pacifist philosopher murdered for his role in a plot against Hitler; a young idealist who joined the SS to document their crimes, only to end up, to his horror, an accomplice to the Holocaust. This remarkable account illuminates their struggles, yielding an accessible narrative history with the pace and excitement of a thriller.

Praise for Defying Hitler:

“The question was often asked amid the ruins of the Third Reich: why did the Germans fight on for so long when all was lost? Those liberated from concentration camps knew the answer. Terror, mass murder, ruthless and barbaric persecution—all opposition had been mercilessly quashed. In Defying Hitler, Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis show in chilling and vivid detail just how courageous were those who dared to defy Hitler. A terrifying and timely account of resistance in the face of the greatest of evils.”—Alex Kershaw, New York Times bestselling author of Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris

“This carefully researched book challenges the myth that the German people were virtually unanimous in support of Hitler… Defying Hitler is filled with almost unbearable suspense and drama.”Booklist (starred review) 

“A deeply researched work that passionately challenges the popular myth that ‘the German people followed Hitler as if as one mass, mesmerized like the children of Hamelin by the Pied Piper.'”Kirkus