The North East miner who wrote anniversary poem to his wife from the 'hell' of Passchendaele

A graphic illustration of the terrible the conditions as soldiers struggle to extract a gun from the mud during the battle at Passchendaele
A graphic illustration of the terrible the conditions as soldiers struggle to extract a gun from the mud during the battle at Passchendaele
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The bloody Battle of Passchendaele was marked in verse by the well-known war poet Siegfried Sassoon, who described it as "hell".

But it was not just the educated officers who wrote poignant poetry during their time in the mud-filled trenches in Belgium.

One regular soldier killed in the fighting that left tens of thousands of Allied troops dead penned a touching tribute to his wife on their wedding anniversary.

George Gallirhir was a 35-year-old former coal miner from Durham who was serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers in Flanders in the summer of 1917.

The poem was enclosed with a letter written to his wife Mary on August 21, their fifth anniversary.

It was the last communication she received from him before his death less than two months later on October 26.

In the poem he wrote: "Yet all the while I must in France remain, tho' dear are many comrades here to me, the hours which most my weary heart sustain, are those I spent with you, in memory.

"Some day, who knows how soon, I will return; once more we'll wander 'neath the evening sky. Or by the fireside sit, perchance we'll turn, our minds to separations, you and I."

In his accompanying letter he added: "I wish for your sake that I could see the end of this but we will keep on hoping that it will not be long.

"I will have two years' lost time to make up even if it was finished now, but I am confident that the world has learned more in these last three years than in any previous 30, so the work will be easier in future."

They were passed down through the family until they came to George's great-granddaughter, Nicola Hudson, 20 years ago.

Ms Hudson, from Farnham in Surrey, is now the same age as her ancestor when he was killed.

She and her mother Valerie will be among 4,000 descendants of the war dead who will attend events in Ypres in Belgium to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle, through a ballot organised by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Nicola said: "He was a very ordinary man, before he enlisted in the Northumberland Fusiliers he was a coal miner.

"He was devoted to his wife and adored his children. He went over to fight not only in defence of the country but to protect his family.

"He wanted to create very much a better future for his children.

"To think that he was on the frontline of the war to end all wars and surrounded by utter destruction and yet writes such a philosophical, really beautiful letter and a poem that just makes you realise his wife is never far from his thoughts, he longs to come home, it's so moving."

The horrors of Passchendaele were outlined by Sassoon in his poem Memorial Tablet, which includes the lines: "I died in hell (they called it Passchendaele).

"My wound was slight, and I was hobbling back; and then a shell burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell into the bottomless mud, and lost the light."

The attack on the German line in Flanders launched at the end of July 1917 was preceded by a two-week artillery barrage.

As well as warning the Germans of the coming assault, it also ruined the drainage system in the area.

When the area then received the worst rainfall in 30 years, it became a quagmire, with mud deep enough for people to drown in.

Ms Hudson said the family had been "shaped by the death" of her great-grandfather..

Mary was widowed with a young daughter and son, but went on to remarry and have another son.

Miss Hudson said that her grandmother, also Mary, who was four when her father died, had been motivated "to really fulfil her life".

She said: "She really wanted to grab life with both hands and I think that really influenced her - as a young woman she moved to London from Durham and trained to be a nurse and her work ethic, her determination to make her life rewarding, I think that inspired her children and in turn my generation.

"For me, my great grandfather's death is still felt by the family today, the consequences of it."