FRANCIS LEDWIDGE

Francis Ledwidge (museum picture)

Visited the grave of Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge, the poet from Slane, Co. Meath.

Visiting the grave of Lance Cpl Francis Ledwidge

The cottage outside Slane where Ledwidge lived is now a museum

Francis Ledwidge was fatally wounded in 1917 at Boezinge near Ieper in Flanders. We also saw his grave nearby. Ledwidge was also known as a poet and came from Slane, Co. Meath.

Grave of Lance Corporal Francis Ledwidge

Ledwidge seems to have fitted into Army life well, and rapidly achieved promotion to Lance Corporal. In 1915, he saw action at Suvla Bay in the Dardanelles, where he suffered severe rheumatism. Having survived huge losses sustained by his company in the Battle of Gallilopoli, he became ill after a back injury on a tough mountain journey in Serbia (December 1915), a locale which inspired a number of poems.

Ledwidge was dismayed by the news of the Easter Rising, and was court-martialled and demoted for overstaying his home leave and being drunk in uniform (May 1916). He gained and lost stripes over a period in Derry (he was a corporal when the introduction to his first book was written), and then, returned to the front, received back his lance corporal’s stripe one last time in January 1917 when posted to the Western Front joining the 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, part of the 29th Division.

A memorial with an Irish flag marks the spot where Ledwidge died

On 31 July 1917, a group from Ledwidge’s battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were road-laying in preparation for an assault during the Third Battle of Ypres, near the village of Boezinge, northwest of Ieper. While Ledwidge was drinking tea in a mud hole with his comrades, a shell exploded alongside, killing the poet and five others. A chaplain who knew him, Father Devas, arrived soon after, and recorded “Ledwidge killed, blown to bits.”

The poems Ledwidge wrote on active service revealed his pride at being a soldier, as he believed, in the service of Ireland. He wondered whether he would find a soldier’s death. The dead were buried at Carrefour de Rose, and later re-interred in the nearby Artillery Wood Cemetery (CWGC), Boezinge, (where the Welsh poet, Hedd Wyn, killed on the same day, is also buried). A stone tablet commemorates him in the Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines (Mesen) in Belgium.

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