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L/Cpl Francis Edward Ledwidge


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‘B’ Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 29th Division. 31 July 1917, age 29. Grave II.B.5.

 

Francis Ledwidge was the eighth child of Patrick and Anne Ledwidge of Slane in County Meath. His father died when Francis was five years old and they lived in poverty for many years.  He left school at the age of fourteen working first as a farm labourer then on the roads and in 1908 he was working in a local copper mine and was a founder member of the Meath Labour Union.

 

His first poem was published in 1910 and from 1911 he contributed a weekly article, partly written in Irish, to the Independent as well as having poems published in various local publications. In 1912, he sent his copybook of poems to Lord Dunsany who arranged for one of them to be published in the Saturday Review and he also introduced Ledwidge to Ireland’s literary inner circle. He returned to working on the roads, following his dismissal from the copper mine for organising a strike for better pay, until the November 1913 when he took up the post of Secretary to the County Labour Union. In the Spring of 1914 he joined the newly formed Irish Volunteers and was elected Secretary of the Slane branch. The aims of the Volunteers was to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland.  

 

In October 1914 he enlisted in the 5th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Regiment that Dunsany was serving as a Captain. He saw service at Gallipoli and Salonika, were, following inflammation in his back he was sent hospital in Cairo and was in hospital for four months before being sent to hospital in Manchester in April 1916. The Easter Rising and the execution of his friend and fellow poet Thomas MacDonagh, deeply affected him. He was court-martialled in May 1916 for insubordination and overstaying his leave.

 

He remained in Ireland for the next seven months at Ebrington Barracks before he rejoined the Battalion and was posted to ‘B’ Company, 1st Battalion in France. He fought at Arras before the Battalion moved to the Ypres Salient for the attack on 31 July 1917. The Battalion arrived in Proven on 26 June and spent time in and out of the trenches and at the Canal Bank under heavy shell fire. When in a rest camp near Proven he wrote to a friend on 20 July:

 

We have just returned from the line after an unusually long time. It was very exciting this time, as we had to contend with gas, lachrymatory shells, and other devices new and horrible. It will be worse soon. The camp we are in at present might be in Tir-na-n’Og, it is pitched amid such splendours. There is barley and rye just entering harvest days of gold, and meadow-sweet rippling, and where a little inn named ‘In Den Neerloop’ holds its gable up to the swallows, bluebells and goldilocks swing their splendid censers.

 

On the 31 July, the opening day of Third Ypres, ‘B’ Company was on working party duties behind the front line laying a plank road on Pilkem Ridge. It had been raining and the men were wet through and had paused for a welcome mug of tea when almost immediately a shell exploded nearby killing him instantly.

 

 

A Soldiers Grave

Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms

Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death,

Lest he should hear again the mad alarms

Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath

And where the earth was soft for flowers we made

A grave for him that he might better rest,

So, Spring shall come and leave it sweet arrayed,

And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest.

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