Many local people are well-aware of Birkenhead’s connections with the renowned war poet Wilfred Owen, but are perhaps less familiar with the story of Ellis Humphrey Evans – or Hedd Wyn, to give him bardic name.
A hundred years since he was killed in one of the bloodiest battles of the first world war, Hedd Wyn is once again the focus of a very special Welsh festival hosted over the border in Birkenhead Park.
In September 1917, the National Eisteddfod was held at the park and it was there that the Hedd Wyn poem ‘Yr Arwr’ (‘My Hero’) was selected as the winner of the prestigious Black Chair.
It was only at the ceremony that organisers were made aware that Evans – who had submitted his poem under the pseudonym ‘Fleur De Lis’ – had been killed six weeks earlier on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium.
It was at that point that they decided to cover the chair in a black shroud – an iconic gesture, which has come to symbolise the loss of all young Welsh soldiers killed on the battlefields of Flanders during World War 1.
This weekend, September 9th and 10th, the poet, and others killed in battle, will be remembered at the Hedd Wyn festival around Birkenhead Park.
The main events on Saturday 9th will take place at the Wirral Hospital Schools Joseph Paxton campus in Birkenhead Park and will include the awarding of a new Black Chair designed by Flemish students, a gift from the Flemish Hedd Wyn Society. The chair, plus a cash prize of £100 will be awarded to a Welsh poet for a poem or poems about Hedd Wynn.
Also on the Saturday, the refurbished ceremonial stone in Birkenhead Park, which marks the spot where the National Eisteddfod was held 100 years ago, will be unveiled at around 4pm.
Other notable events during the Saturday include Professor Peredur Lynch of Bangor University giving a lecture on Hedd Wyn, and the BBC journalist Dr Huw Edwards talking about David Lloyd George.
Professor D. Ben Rees will lecture in Welsh on the Birkenhead Welsh, while Emeritus Professor Robert Lee will give a lecture in English on Belgian refugees and the creator of the Black Chair, Eugeen Vanfleteren.
On Saturday evening two concerts will be held; the Anglesey Youth Choir with conductor Mari Lloyd Pritchard and the North Wales Rugby Choir under their director Geraint Roberts. The soloists will be Dylan Cernyw (Harp) and Huw Ynyr (Tenor).
On Sunday September 10th, a service will be held at 10.45am in Capel Seion, Laird Street Chapel, Birkenhead at which the North Wales Rugby Choir will sing. At 2pm the weekend will conclude with a Singing Festival (Gymanfa Ganu) with the Rhosllanerchrugog Orpheus Choir, all under the baton of Alwyn Humphreys.