Welsh Poet, Hedd Wyn

In July 1917, Welsh poet Hedd Wyn posted a poem titled Yr Arwr (The Hero) back to Wales from a village in France.

He was on his way to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and by the end of the month, the regiment would be fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele.

The poem was his entry to the Eisteddfodthe annual festival of Welsh culture and language.

Wyn had been a promising poet before the outbreak of the First World War but had not yet been awarded the highest prize a Welsh poet could be given, the chair at the National Eisteddfod.

Born Ellis Humphrey Evans in Trawsfynydd, Meirionydd, Wyn was from a farming family. Although providing food for the nation was of huge importance during wartime, the family had to send one son to fight.

In 1916, Wyn volunteered to go to war in order to spare his younger brother Robert. 

Wyn had started work on Yr Arwr when he was allowed home on leave to help on the farm but left his manuscript behind when he left in a hurry and had to rewrite it. It was this second version that he posted from France.  

When the Eisteddfod was held in Birkenhead that September, it was announced that a poet writing under the pseudonym Fleur di Lis was the winner. Trumpets sounded in anticipation of the poet identifying themselves.

Nobody came forward.

Then the presiding official announced to the crowd that Fleur di Lis - in fact, Hedd Wyn – had been killed in action weeks earlier.

Wyn had died while taking part in the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele on 31 July.

Simon Jones, who was in the same regiment, was with him at Picklem Ridge and recalled the moment he saw him fall.  

"We started over Canal Bank at Ypres, and he was killed half way across Pilckem...I can say that it was a nosecap shell in his stomach that killed him. You could tell that. You couldn't stay with him - you had to keep going, you see,” he said.    

After the announcement of his death at the Eisteddfod, the prestigious bardic chair was draped in black cloth and that year’s event became known as “The Eisteddfod of the Black Chair”. The chair was taken to his family home Yr Ysgwrn, where it remains.

Wyn is buried at Artillery Wood Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Belgium.

Find out more about Hedd Wyn's story below at Lives of the First World War.

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IWM’s Lives of the First World War tells the stories of individuals from across Britain and the Commonwealth who served in uniform and worked on the home front.