The mystery of the Cymro poet

The National Library of Wales has digitised its collection of “Cymro” POW camp newspapers.
These were created by Welsh POWs in Stalag IVB during 1944 and 1945. Please view them here

The mystery relates to the name Ellis Wynne Evans who is listed as a contributor. There is a real POW named Ellis Wynne Evans and he did indeed contribute to Cymro. However, it is also clear that David uses this name as his poetic alter ego in his warlog. The question is why and how did this come about?

Hedd Wyn and my theory

A list of great war poets from WWI would include Ellis Humphrey Evans “Hedd Wyn”. We can assume that David was aware of him given his nod to (Percy Bysshe) Shelley on page 26 (see letter below) while writing as Ellis. Shelley was Hedd Wyn’s greatest influence. It is therefore not unbelievable to suggest that David may have seen the name Ellis Evans in the earlier Cymros and had the idea of using it as his pseudonym, (which he clearly did!). My contention is that David wrote the poem Christmas Visions that appeared in Cymro Christmas edition 1944. This poem is pure David as much as it is a complete contrast to a poem written in an earlier Cymro called “The Holyhead Road” and signed “Ellis Evans”. It is a small thing, but the Christmas poem is signed “Ellis Wynne Evans”. You’ll note below that I was reluctant to ascribe the earlier Cymro stuff to David because of its style and content. All that is left is to guess that David approached Ellis with his Christmas poem, and asked him to submit it to Cymro under the name “Ellis Wynne Evans”.

See below the two poems. At the risk of being unkind, my nine year old nephew could have whipped up “The Holyhead Road” in an afternoon, whereas Christmas Visions is complex and uses striking and unusual vocabulary. Regardless of the theory I’m trying to push, these two poems could not have come from the same person! We can go further than this and say that Christmas Visions is so abstract that it would have left the majority of its readers completely baffled and could only have been produced by someone with a proven and deep artistic streak. That person is surely David Cleary.

The Holyhead Road
by Ellis Evans

Sweeping and veering
snarling and sneering
the west wind is clearing
the mist from “Eryri”

Blue sky is lending
radiance, that’s blending
with joy that is rending
the soul of a shepherd

Chimneys are smoking
peat blocks are soaking
fulfillment is choking
my longing to sing


Gweledigion Nadolig / Christmas Visions
by Ellis Wynne Evans

Are they fled? Those bardic gales
And hearthed names
The soul-lost nightingales
who sang a million tears from you.
Urging sleeping flames
That warmed the breath of history?
Are they time vanished
Or as the dew, will they fall again?

As I dream now in fashion deep,
I hear the voices, the old voices,
Distantly as from a hill,
Singing memories’ troubled sleep
To retrospection still

Varnished white wood pews and prayer
From the people, the old people,
Whose wrinkled trembling throats
With muttered cadence bear
Apparent silver notes

Grey clouds wash across the window panes
Sung by the hymns, the old hymns
That lance through the sombre slates
To the cloud-bound rains
Flaunting the grey fates

Sian and Margiad will stand to-night
Under the mistletoe
I would I could take their hand to-night
and kiss them under the mistletoe;
Then out in the frozen snow I’d go.

With the last cow to milk
And a lantern on the beam
My forehead on those flanks of silk
With two score years to dream

With butter-gold light that streams
From the open kitchen door
A rich brown stew that steams
God! I want no more!

When I was young on Christmas eve
And snow danced on the gauzy sleeve
Of the mountain wind;

The flaccid corpse of the turkey plucked
With full bodied puddings in linen tucked
Along with the crispen loaves;

Sat I by the fire making cyflath alone
The treacle and butter a malten cone
In the brass saucepan

The cat would observe, and the sugar burn
The fire would glance on the bolts of the churn
And the eyes of the cat

When I was young on Christmas eve!
What silk with reminiscence weave
From the roughest yarn.

Rock, sweating rock
In sleet,
Rising to meet
The pallid clouds.

And here, the haunting
Banners of shy
Ragged wheals
Taunting the eye
Mind driven
The shriven

Oh clouds of to-day
So pleasant
How far do you roll?
With your spray
And curling tendons
Drag you to the West?
Is there a nest
An aerial couch
In untroubled space
Where I may bathe
An ageing face
In a first breath
Of all winds,
And smell sweetness

Christmas in Wales
Where peace is sung
Among the hills
And tears are wrung
By wild beauty
Yn Oes Beddwch?

Ellis Evans Letter 1Ellis Evans Letter 2

Ellis Evans Letter 3Ellis Evans Letter 3

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