A unique video project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of Wales’s most famous Great War poet, Ellis Humphrey Evans, is set to be beamed onto the National Library of Wales building in the week of Armistice Day after receiving backing from the ScottishPower Foundation.
Snowdonia shepherd Evans – better known by his bardic name of Hedd Wyn (Welsh for ‘Blessed Peace’) – was killed on the opening day of the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, days after being sent to the front line as a conscript.
Yr Arwr (The Hero), an epic poem the reluctant soldier had finished just before his death, posthumously won him the Bardic Chair at the National Eisteddfod in 1917.
When the judges of the Chair competition, Welsh literature’s highest honour, proclaimed the winner’s name at the Eisteddfod ceremony, no one stood. Having asked three times for him to identify himself and come forward to take up his seat of honour, they were met with no reply.
The unsuspecting crowd – including Welsh-born Prime Minister and architect of conscription, David Lloyd George – initially had to be told that Hedd Wyn had in fact died in battle on the fields of Flanders weeks beforehand, before being able to fulfil his life’s ambition.
The Bardic Chair was instead veiled under a black sheet and from that moment onwards the 1917 Eisteddfod would become known as the “Eisteddfod y Gadair Ddu” (“The Eisteddfod of the Black Chair”). During the week following the Eisteddfod the chair was sent to Hedd Wyn’s grieving family at their farm, Yr Ysgwrn, in Trawsfynydd, Snowdonia where it is still on display today,
The National Library of Wales and the Snowdonia National Park Authority, which maintains Hedd Wyn’s family farm as a museum, both hold extensive collections and have collaborated in an ambitious and far-reaching year-long education outreach programme throughout 2017 bringing the poet’s story and his work to life for a new generation.
Their work, supported by the ScottishPower Foundation, has included delivering 26 workshops to over 800 schoolchildren and adults, and the distribution of 3000 copies of a specially-created booklet on Hedd Wyn’s legacy to primary and secondary schools across Wales.
The initiative will culminate on November 9 – two days before Remembrance Day – when a video installation involving children from Hedd Wyn’s native village will be beamed on to the imposing facade of The National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth.
Pupils from Ysgol Bro Hedd Wyn, the school which bears the poet’s name, will read his most famous work, Rhyfel (War), for the piece which has been specially commissioned by the ScottishPower Foundation.
Lines from the poem talking of the futility of war have been delicately interwoven with new footage from Hedd Wyn’s home, Yr Ysgwrn, and images relating to the poet and the wider Welsh experience in the Great War provided by both the National Library of Wales and the Snowdonia National Park Authority.
Linda Tomos, Chief Executive and Librarian, The National Library of Wales, said: “The event will be a thrilling conclusion to a wonderful programme of outreach work. We are very grateful to the ScottishPower Foundation for generously funding the programme and to Mr Gerald Williams, Hedd Wyn’s nephew, and Yr Ysgwrn for their continuing support.”
A spokesman for the Snowdonia National Park Authority said: “In September 1917, Hedd Wyn became a symbol of a generation of Welshmen killed during the First World War. Since then, his family home at Yr Ysgwrn, Trawsfynydd, has been a quiet memorial to this lost generation, perpetuating timeless messages on peace, war, culture and society.
“During the centenary year of Hedd Wyn’s death, it has been our privilege to work with the National Library of Wales and the ScottishPower Foundation, using our collections to bring the story and legacy of Hedd Wyn to life for a new generation of young people, who will be the future custodians of our heritage and of peace”.
The ScottishPower Foundation was established in May 2013 and this year has given a record £1.8m to good causes throughout the UK.
ScottishPower Foundation trustee Ann McKechin said: “The story of Hedd Wyn, his poetry, and his tragic death before he was able to claim his rightful honour as winner of the Bardic Chair at the 1917 Eisteddfod are an important cultural legacy not only for the people of Wales, but for us all.
“Two of the key aims of the ScottishPower Foundation are to support education in the community and also the advancement of heritage and culture. The Hedd Wyn Outreach project fits both these ambitions perfectly and the ScottishPower Foundation is proud to have supported this initiative in this the 100th anniversary of Hedd Wyn’s death, and to support this video installation which we hope will be a worthy addition to the celebration of his work.”