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  • Christina Drummond

Lance Corporal Francis Edward Ledwidge, 1st Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1917, Lance Corporal Francis Edward Ledwidge, 1st Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was killed near the village of Boezinge, northwest of Ypres, during the Battle of Passchendaele.

One of nine children of a farm labourer, due to poverty he left school at the age of thirteen to work as a farmer’s boy then as a road mender. He continued to educate himself, and by the time he was nineteen he was a supervisor of roads for County Meath, went on to found the Slane branch of the Meath Labour Union and became a trade union activist. By the outbreak of the Great War he had established himself as a poet and writer.

In October of 1914, he joined Lord Dunsany’s regiment - 5th Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 10th (Irish) Division - despite his lordship’s insistence that he remain at home and continue to write. He said: “I joined the British army because England stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation, and I would not have had it said that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions.” (Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote 'In Memorium Francis Ledwidge', a poem that acknowledged the complex personal choices that were made by Irishmen during the Great War.)

Lance Corporal Ledwidge landed at Gallipoli in July of 1915, and took part in the major August offensive, the joint allied attack on Suvla Bay. The 10th Division were sent to Serbia in October of 1915, and in December came under heavy attack from the much larger Bulgarian force, suffering 1,500 casualties. He sustained a back injury and was hospitalized for some time, not returning to the fighting until the second half of 1916; he later saw action at the Battle of Arras in the spring of 1917. He was then sent to Belgium in preparation for the Third Battle of Ypres, put to work laying roads. While he and five of his fellow soldiers were taking a break, drinking tea in a mud hole, a long-range German shell exploded beside them and they were killed instantly. They were buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Military Cemetery, Boezinge. Lance Corporal Ledwidge is commemorated on a stone tablet in the Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium. He had continued to write poetry throughout the war, but sadly some of his work was lost along the way.

Francis, from Slane in County Meath, Ireland, was 29 years old.

The Lost Ones

Somewhere is music from the linnets’ bills,

And through the sunny flowers the bee wings drone,

And white bells of convolvulus on hills

Of quiet May make silent ringing blown

Hither and thither by the wind of showers,

And somewhere all the wandering birds have flown;

And the brown breath of Autumn chills the flowers.

But where are all the loves of long ago?

O little twilight ship blown up the tide,

Where are the faces laughing in the glow

Of morning years, the lost ones scattered wide?

Give me your hand, O brother; let us go

Crying about the dark for those who died.

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