Volunteers run successful Human Library Festival

By project volunteer Anna Ratkai

On 25 November over 250 people attended the Human Library Festival at the Temple of Peace, Cardiff organised by young volunteers from the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and refugee volunteers from Oasis Cardiff.

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Volunteer Osman’s Eritrean coffee draws a crowd

Attendees had the chance to explore all the interesting activities provided by organisations such as Stand up to Racism and The Welsh Refugee Council; listen to all the great musicians performing throughout the event; and try traditional dishes and sweets from around the world. So what is a Human Library Festival?

A Human Library is just like an ordinary library, however, in this case the books are replaced with people, who are happy to share their life stories with anyone interested. Our Human Library Festival featured books who had stories to tell about immigration and asylum-seeking in Wales, human rights issues and integration. For instance Amanda Morris talked about being a feminist who wears an Islamic headscarf; Paul Battenbbough chatted about what it is like to teach music in Oasis Refugee Center and Gareth Bonello explained how he has been campaigning for Human Rights through music.

The vibrant Library featured 12 Human Books who couldn’t have been any busier talking to the curious and engaged audiences

Engaging stories from human books

who left very positive feedback. A politics student from Cardiff University said he has learnt a lot about Human Rights and immigration related issues though these conversations, another attendee wrote this on the Library’s white board: “It was great to hear some inspirational stories. I must do more to support migrants and learn from them!”. It wasn’t only the audience that benefited from the event. The event was organised by young volunteers and asylum-seekers themselves, who enjoyed working together, building skills and becoming friends in the process.

The Human Library Festival also set up a Market Place in the stunning Marble Hall of the Temple of Peace. This Market Place hosted organizations who came along to represent their work as well as to engage the attendees in activities

Fantastic music at the event

related to integration and Human Rights. For instance, one such organization, People & Planet called the attention to the unjust distribution of economic benefits and their environmental costs in the world.

 

Food played a central role during the event – people had the chance to try different nations’ traditional dishes and sweets, while the Eritrean stall also gave the chance to explore coffee-making traditions and have a nice hot and refreshing traditionally prepared Eritrean cup of coffee! Sudanese curry, Turkish sweets, Omani dessert, Lebanese finger food and much more was served some of which was kindly donated by local City Road restaurants Deli Fuego, Al Wali, Saray and Mezze Luna.

BBC Radio Wales interviewed two volunteers of the project, listen to the interview here:

Celebrating Sudan at with Sudanese volunteers from Oasis

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09g655c (time code: 2:13:13 – 2:18:15).

Also, Journalism student Sagnik came along to the event and and was inspired to make this video.

Check out our Flickr account as well to see pictures of the event.

Many of the Human Books said they’d be more than happy to share their stories in the future, and many attendees inquired about the next Human Library event.

Thank you to People’s Postcode Trust, entirely funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery for funding the event.

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Having difficult conversations about/with migrants

by Mailys Andre

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At a Refugee Conference held last month, attention was drawn to having conversations with migrants or those who think differently to ourselves.  Below are the recommendations provided by HOPE not hate Cymru.

When having a difficult conversation with a migrant or asylum seeker, try to use the ‘listening wheel’:

  1. Open questions : How? What? Where? Who? Why?
  2. Summarising : A summary helps to show the individual that you have listened and understood their circumstances and their feelings.
  3. Reflecting : Repeating back a word or phrase encourage the individual to carry on and expand
  4. Clarifying : Sometimes an individual may gloss over an important point. By exploring these areas further we can help them clarify these points for themselves.
  5. Short Words of Encouragement: The person may need help to go on their story — use words like ‘yes’ or ‘go on’.
  6. Reacting : We need to show that we have understood the situation by reacting to it — “That sounds like it is very difficult”.

Don’t forget :

  1. Story/narrative is powerful (inspire people)
  2. Try to change the dynamic of your conversation (listen, question…)

What if you are facing the opposition?

Ask agitating questions such as :

  1. Has this happened to you before?
  2. What make you believe that?
  3. What makes you angry? (This involves a conscious question with conscious pause)

Try “Empathetic listening”:

  1. This should be your instinct.
  2. Be genuine.
  3. Engage with the person behind the opinion.

You can find out more about HOPE not hate and its current research here.

Gareth Owens’ Advice for Humanitarian Aid Work

On Tuesday 21st March, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and Hub Cymru Africa hosted an evening with Gareth Owens, Humanitarian Director at Save the Children. We have created a short summary of Gareth’s advice for pursuing a career in humanitarian aid that we hope you will find useful.

With Gareth’s educational background in civil engineering, he made clear that you don’t need to physically train in humanitarian work, rather you can get involved from any career angle.

Working in humanitarian aid is not glamorous and it involves dealing with a lot of raw emotions and different people. It is not for everyone but is best viewed as a selfish job. You will be away from home for months at a time, often in very dangerous places so must understand the worries your family back home will have.

Passion and persistence are key! The more passionate about something you are the greater chance you have of seeing it through and making change happen.

Gareth Owens 21st March

Continually possessing a good character where you don’t let things get personal is important.
If you’re a difficult person this is not the job for you, you must be humble and energetic as well as being able to embrace different cultures and share compassion for the people whom you are helping.

Gender does play different roles when working in humanitarian aid, sometimes you will work in countries that are uncomfortable for women and at other times being a woman can be an advantage.

Speaking additional languages is always a bonus, especially French and Arabic as these are most widely spoken in developing countries.

Try to volunteer in your home country if you are starting out; there are many refugees now here in Britain and charities are always looking for help.

Also, volunteer projects abroad are good. The more you can get on your CV from little projects like these, the better chance you have at making contacts and stumbling onto your big break.
You may find it takes several years working on little projects here and there before you manage to go abroad and help on the big disasters.

If you are interesting in volunteering with the WCIA, see our website for further details about how you can get involved   http://www.wcia.org.uk/volunteer.html

Making a stand: William Trevor Jones of Pontyberem (1901-75)

By Jeffrey Mansfield

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Trevor with his wife and daughter, Rhinedd

“If the right to life is the first of all human rights, being the one on which all other rights depend, the right to refuse to kill must be the second.”

– Memorial stone to Conscientious Objectors

Temple of Peace, Cardiff

If you were asked to name the people and places associated with the search for peace during the 1930s, you probably wouldn’t mention William Trevor Jones of Pontyberem.

Yet some of the most important players in the peace movement were all guests at the Pontyberem home of William Trevor Jones – coal-miner, Christian, Labour Party activist and conscientious objector (CO) in the Second World War.

George Lansbury, Clement Attlee, Scott Nearing, and Canadian journalist Douglas Carr, all visited Trevor, as he was known.

With kind help from Rhinedd Rees, Trevor’s daughter, and her husband Alban we are able to reveal the hidden history of Trevor’s life and his experiences as a C/O. It is a cameo of industrial south Wales at the time.

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Trevor then (left), daughter Rhinedd now, with husband Alban (right)

Early life

A coal-miner at age 14, he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1918 after hearing an election speech by local Labour candidate, Dr. Williams. Asked to set up a branch of the ILP, he recruited four other colliers, and was elected Secretary.

He resumed his education by taking adult education classes and almost gained a scholarship to Oxford, failing by only one mark. During 1926 he supported the General Strike and acted as Secretary to the Children’s Distress Committee. When his ILP branch decided to join the (new) Labour Party in 1928, he was elected to Pontyberem Parish Council, on which he served until 1969.

In 1930 he attended Coleg Harlech to continue his education but had to leave after one year and return to Pontyberem after his father was killed in the colliery. He later said that his time at Coleg Harlech had been a great influence on him and made him more capable of service to society.

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Trevor at Coleg Harlech, highlighted in the bottom row

Between 1934 and 1935, Trevor’s Labour group were active in promoting the Peace Ballot in their region, and he began serving as Trades and Labour Council Secretary.

Though he came from an Anglican family he did not approve of what he felt was a militarist stance by the Church, and on marriage he became a Welsh Independent.

War breaks out

At the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939 Trevor was employed as an Insurance Inspector with the Co-op Insurance Group.

The National Service (Armed Forces) Act was passed into law, requiring all males aged between 18 and 41 to register for military service. Registration was by age group and took a long time, so it wasn’t until June 1941 that 40-year-olds were registering. Trevor’s 40th birthday was on 17th May 1941 – his time to register was imminent.

However, as a committed Christian, he decided to apply to register as a Conscientious Objector (CO) on religious grounds.

The application

His application was received at the Ministry of Labour and National Service in Cardiff on 13th June 1941, just one day before the deadline. The original papers pertaining to his application, kindly provided by Rhinedd, give a fascinating insight into the process.

He begins with a statement of his Christian values:

“As a professed Christian and a humanitarian, I profoundly and conscientiously believe that War, in all its aspects, is in direct contradiction to the Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ.”

He states his conviction that only by following Jesus can Man be liberated:

“The salvation of mankind does not lie in the way of force.”

Finally, he claims his moral right to the dictates of his own conscience and stands:

“On the firm conviction that to me each man is a potential Christ.”

The hearing

His application was heard by the Local Tribunal in Carmarthen on 18th July 1941. We have no record of what was said, but it is known that these hearings could be hostile and often tried to persuade, guide or command the applicants into some form of service.

Interviewed in 1972, Trevor said he was expected to leave his job with the insurance company and go back to the mine. Mining was a ‘reserved occupation’ and miners of his age were exempt from conscription, but he refused to do so because he didn’t believe it was right for him to take another collier’s job, which would have subsequently meant that collier having to join the army instead.

The application was granted and he was registered unconditionally in the Register of Conscientious Objectors, effective 23 July 1941. He said in 1972 that he felt he had ‘got off lightly’ in front of Judge Frank Davies at Caerfyrddin.

Aftermath

Like other COs he encountered rejection. Rhinedd recounts that some people spat on him, and threw stones on the roof when he was addressing meetings. But despite undercurrents of hostility, he had support in his chapel, where there were other COs, and he was elected Deacon. He continued working with the Insurance, which he could not have done had he been shunned. He was even asked to provide references, evidence that he was recognised as a man of conscience.

But the whole experience took its toll: after the war he became less confident and suffered a nervous breakdown, giving up his job as Inspector to become an ordinary Agent.

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Trevor in his later years

Final thoughts

The coalfields, the Independent Labour Party, and the religious faith which nurtured Trevor have now either disappeared or are less visible in society. But the courage which he and other COs showed is everlasting and serves as an example to us all.

“Mae Alban, Catrin, Anwen a finnau yn ymfalchio yn fawr ar ei safiad a’i ddewrder ar gyfnod anodd iawn. Roedd yn berson egwyddorol ac roedd yn barod i wrthwynebu anghyfiawnder a chasineb yn erbyn cyd-ddyn.Bu’n driw i’w ddaliadau trwy gydol ei oes.”

-Rhinedd Rees, Hydref 2017

“Alban, Catrin, Anwen and I are very proud of the stand he made and his bravery during a very difficult period. He was a very principled person and was ready to oppose injustice and hatred against his fellow man. He was true to his beliefs throughout his life.”

-Rhinedd Rees, October 2017

Thank you to  Rhinedd for your involvement with this piece and the family photographs.

Temple Tales #4: Back to the Future at the Garden of Peace

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How the Valleys Inspired a World of Free Healthcare

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‘Aneurin Bevan visiting a patient in hospital’

Lasting peace is not just about preventing war but also about creating a fair and just world. WCIA volunteer Sophie Champion tells us how one community worked together to improve access to healthcare for all…

We all know the National Health Service very well, and most of us have received free healthcare under the service. But how many of us know where the idea came from, or the community that was the test-run for the idea? It was in fact a mining town in Wales that spurred Aneurin Bevan on to form a health service that the whole of the United Kingdom could use.

The NHS takes its roots from the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, which was formed following a merging of a number of societies in Tredegar, a mining town in the South Wales valleys. Many of these societies offered services such as funeralcare and medical benefits, and brought the community together through a sense of collective responsibility.

The success of the society led to Aneurin Bevan’s case for a National Health Service, which would go on to help the lives of millions of people living in the United Kingdom.

Beginnings

Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid and Sick Relief Fund

The end of the 19th century in Tredegar saw a system of organised labour which provided basic health care through a network of societies, trade unions, and insurance companies.

In 1890, a variety of local societies merged together, forming the Tredegar Workmen’s Medical Aid and Sick Relief Fund. Some of the services included medical and funeral expenses offered to its 3,000 members. This allowed the society to continue to grow, eventually into a hospital in 1904, which was known as Cottage Hospital, in Tredegar town.

The land was donated by Lord Tredegar and the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company and various other philanthropists, while the running costs were financed by the workers themselves, through half-penny a week contributions, which increased to a penny a week by 1909.

Tredegar Medical Aid Society

The success of the society continued to grow, and the hospital began offering healthcare to non-members, such as the wives and children of members, the elderly, and workers in other trades in the town such as railwaymen, teachers, shopkeepers and more. Miners and steelworkers paid a weekly fee of 2d in each £ of their wages while ‘town subscribers’ paid 18s a year. The society’s offices were based at 10 The Circle in Tredegar town, a building that still stands today.

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‘The original sign of the Tredegar Medical Society. Photo by Sophie Champion’

Notable People

Aneurin Bevan

· Whilst Bevan did not found the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, he joined the Cottage Hospital Management Committee around 1928 and became chairman in 1929–30.

· Bevan holds great importance in the Tredegar Medical Aid Society and the history of the National Health Service in general, as he brought the ideas he saw practiced within the Tredegar Medical Aid Society to the British Government, confident that a healthcare system on a national scale was possible.

When the National Health System was launched, Bevan declared:

‘All I am doing is extending to the entire population the benefits we had in Tredegar for a generation or more. We are going to Tredegar-ise you’.

Walter Conway

· Conway was born into poverty and orphaned at a young age.

· He began working in a workhouse and became friends with Aneurin Bevan, both of whom later joined the Query Club in 1920.

· He was appointed secretary of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society in 1915.

· Conway was more than just a friend to Bevan, he was a mentor and teacher to him and assisted Bevan in ridding himself of a disabling stammer.

· This allowed Bevan the confidence to go on to deliver inspiring, passionate speeches, that would persuade members of the British government to implement a free health care system.

Conway’s memory lives on in both Tredegar and on a wider scale. A street in Cefn Golau is named after him: Walter Conway Avenue, and the character Owen in the novel The Citadel, written by a former doctor at the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, A.J. Cronin, is named after him.

Lord Tredegar

· Lord Tredegar was a keen philanthropist in the area, and donated land that would be used to build the Cottage Hospital, ran by the Tredegar Medical Aid Society.

Without the generosity of individuals such as Lord Tredegar, or the commitment of members such as Walter Conway, who demonstrated community values, the Tredegar Medical Aid Society might never have been as successful, or efficient, as it was.

The community as a whole

· Although individuals such as Bevan and Conway are commonly associated with the success of the society, it is also important to note the contributions made by members of the community.

· The local people would meet at the society’s offices at 10 The Circle, developing ideas and strategies to improve the society.

The involvement of the local people in the society’s development and running helps demonstrate the community values that the Tredegar Medical Aid Society demonstrated, and the important role the community were given in the management of their society.

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‘The original safe which stored the membership payments paid by those who used the Tredegar Medical Aid Society’. Photo by Sophie Champion.

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‘The money would be used to maintain the society, such as for paying doctors’ and nurses’ salaries, and buying equipment’. Photo by Sophie Champion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notable buildings

The Tredegar Medical Aid Society was based at two buildings: the Cottage Hospital and 10 The Circle:

· The Cottage Hospital was situated in the heart of Tredegar town, and the land to build it was donated by local businessman Lord Tredegar. The hospital provided healthcare to the town’s population, and employed a number of healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses.

· 10 The Circle was home to the society’s executive offices, wherein the secretary, Walter Conway, would work, and much of the decisions about how the society was

ran were taken here. Members of the executive would gather in the meeting rooms, discussing the running of the society, and local people would attend meetings, sharing opinions and advice on how to run the service efficiently.

How Did the War influence the Formation of the NHS?

During the aftermath of the Second World War British people sought a better future, for both them and their children, and aimed to achieve this by working collectively. There was also an aim of securing better lives for the working class, and a free health care service that discriminated against no one was instrumental in achieving this.

The Benefits of Working Together

The Dalai Lama once stated that, “when we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities,” and this quote can be held true to the success of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society.

Before its creation, residents of Tredegar were forced to fund their own health care, to look after only themselves. Whenever an individual was unable to pay for their healthcare, they would find themselves on their own, perhaps they did not have enough money, or enough friends, to pay for their medical costs.

This could leave the individual marginalised, disadvantaged, and alone. Their physical health could worsen, and this could impact their mental health too.

Moreover, those able to cover their healthcare costs might adopt a mindset where they could separate themselves from their community, caring only for themselves. This sense of individualism could diminish the whole idea of ‘community’ and the values that come with it.

But an organisation like the Tredegar Medical Aid Society instilled the town of Tredegar with community values and the responsibility for people to look out for one another.

With a system that requires members to pay in each week and year to cover the whole of their medical costs and support the upkeep of the society, this encouraged the people of Tredegar to unite and work together to support each other’s health and wellbeing.

This unity was then introduced on a wider scale, as in accordance with the Dalai Lama’s quote, wherein the present day millions of British citizens pay into a health system that the whole population can use for free.

In his books, including In Place of Fear, Bevan made a number of allusions to the peace and harmony a universal healthcare service would bring to communities and society as a whole.

“Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows that its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide. Society will be peaceful and happier if we support each other.”

Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear, Chapter 5

References

● Aneurin Bevan, In Place of Fear

● Information and access to items pictured provided by Geoff Thomas, from Time Banking Wales, based at 10 The Circle, Tredegar ● Wales Online: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health/going-tredegar-ise-you-bevan-told-2187499

● Tredegar.co.uk: https://www.tredegar.co.uk/history/#Tredegar Cottage Hospital

● Do One Thing.org: http://www.doonething.org/quotes/community-quotes.htm

 

 

 

Cynhadledd Ysgolion Cymru dros Heddwch | Wales for Peace Schools Conference

By  Mushfik Khan

The 4th Wales for Peace annual school conference was held this year on the 20th of September at the Pierhead in Cardiff Bay.

Wales for Peace itself is a 4-year heritage lottery funded project located in the Temple of Peace at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs in Cardiff. The main aim of this project is to learn about Wales’ peace heritage over the last century and to inspire the youth of Wales to research and discover the ‘hidden histories’ on how Wales as a nation over the decades has worked towards securing peace. This year’s event named ‘Young People Voicing Peace’, was primarily focused on young people from a total of nine schools located in Cardiff and surrounding areas who shared digital stories they had produced with Ffotgallery on different themes relating to peace. The conference therefore began by asking the question,

“In the 100 years since World War 1, how has Wales contributed to the search for peace?”

 Elin Jones, Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales opened the conference with a welcoming speech.

David Hughes the European Commissioner for Wales then gave a short speech in which peacehe spoke of Wales’ voice in Europe. Mr Hughes emphasised how not only are we living in uncertain and “dangerous times” globally due to ongoing conflicts but in the United Kingdom, young people face an uncertain future due to Brexit. He explained how important cooperation and openness were in maintaining peace not only now but in the future as he stated, “those who forget history, are condemned to repeat it”.

The next stage of the conference involved the students sharing their digital stories in front of the audience of volunteers, teachers and fellow students. The stories touched upon a number of topics such as refugees and asylum seekers, women, war and peace and the voice of young people. One of the digital stories involved the students asking younger students what the word peace meant to them and one student responded with, “when everyone is happy and gets along” whereas another took a completely different approach to interpreting the word peace and stated, “I think when you be quiet, like in a library”, which received some chuckles around the room.

Before the break for lunch, the students had a chance to aytend various workshops and to explore themes such as, Wales as a nation of sanctuary, Wales and international cooperation, women’s role in peace making and the voice of young people in creating a peaceful Wales. The workshop which I attended was the voice of young people in creating a peaceful Wales and this workshop contained a series of activities which were designed to educate the students on the governmental process within Wales and it also encouraged them to be vocal and share their opinions. The students were asked questions like, “are politicians doing enough for peace” to which the majority responded no, stating that there are “still wars going on” and that the politicians could “always do better”. After the workshops, the groups regathered and shared what they did in their workshops and what they have learnt from them.

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The lunch break took place in the Senedd where there was an opportunity for the students to view the Poppies Weeping Willow exhibition and the Wales for Peace exhibition on Women, War and Peace which featured photos taken by photojournalist Lee Karen Stow.

The exhibition featured stories from women who had been affected by war or from those who had campaigned for peace.

To finish off the conference, there was a panel event which also included a member for the National Assembly for Wales, Ann Jones. The students were able to ask any questions displayregarding what they had learnt or heard throughout the day. This was a great way to end a great conference which allowed the students to  learn about Wales’ peace heritage and got them to think about what they as the future generation can do to ensure that Wales continues to strive for peace.

Eisteddfod | Ynys Mon | 2017

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Gan Mared Jones

Mi roeddwn yn gwirfoddoli yn yr Eisteddfod ym Môn 2017 am dri diwrnod o fewn y Babell Heddwch. Yn fy amser yno, roeddwn yn ffocysu yn bennaf ar hanes cudd/hanes pobl arferol, a chysylltu hynny gyda’r rhyfel byd cyntaf oherwydd bod yr Eisteddfod yma yn dathlu 100 mlynedd ers cadeirio Hedd Wyn. Er hynny, gwnaethom ni gymryd ongl wahanol ohono, sef ffocysu ar hanes merched yn ystod y rhyfel, a gofyn y cwestiwn os oedd y rhyfel wedi cyfrannu at gydraddoldeb rhwng marched a dynion. I wneud hyn, gefais y dasg i grwydro o gwmpas y maes i chwilota am bobl a bysa yn fodlon rhoi ei barn bersonol nhw am y mater. Gwnes I ymweld rhai o’r pabelli a bysa efalle yn cynnwys pobl gyda barn ddiddorol am y mater, e.e.. pabell ffeministiaeth, LGBT, pabelli brifysgolion a.y.b.. Cefais ymateb llwyddiannus iawn, a gwnes i lwyddo i gael cyfweliad gyda thua saith person, pob un ohonyn nhw gydag atebion a barn ddiddorol i’w rhoi ymlaen.

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Gwnes i ddysgu llawer am yr hanes wrth wneud y dasg yma, ond yn bennaf gwnes i ddysgu llawer o sgiliau cymdeithasol, ac roedd hynny yn rhywbeth roeddwn angen yn rheolaidd yn ystod fy amser yn yr Eisteddfod.Roedd llawer o adegau ble roedd oedolion neu blant yn dod i mewn i’r babell, ac yn gofyn cwestiynau am y sefydliad, yn ogystal â chwestiynau’r am yr hanes roeddwn yn ffocysu arno, yn ogystal a holi am y wahanol gyfleoedd oedd ar gael gyda Chymry Dros Heddwch, e.e.. trawsgrifio enwau o’r cofnodion o’r milwyr o’r gorffennol. Gwnes I hefyd wneud ambell i dasg fwy syml, e.e.. helpu gyda gweithgareddau plant, helpu gwneud y stondin edrych yn daclus ac apelgar, gwasgaru pamffledi a.y.b.. Gwnes I ffeindio amser i wneud ychydig o drawsgrifio fy hun hefyd. Roedd hyn yn dasg ddiddorol, a hefyd yn helpu fi i ddod i arfer gyda’r wefan, felly os bysa unrhyw un o’r ymwelwyr yn cymryd diddordeb ynddo, baswn i yn medru dangos iddynt sut i wneud y trawsgrifio, a bysa hynny wedyn yn hwb iddyn nhw barhau gyda’r dasg yn amser ei hunain.

At the National Eisteddfod, Mared discovered some interesting peace stories involving the role of women in the war. As a Wales for Peace volunteer, Mared also introduced people to the project and the website as well as helping to run the stall in the Peace tent.   

 

 

 

 

The Refugee Miner with ‘Nine Lives’: in honour of Joe Lisak (1926-1999)

Volunteer Jacquie Lisak tells the story of how her father-in-law came from Poland to Wales and cheated death more than once along the way…

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Joe and Lorna’s Wedding Day in Lllanbradach on 7th August 1950

 

In 1939, Poland faced the twin horrors of invasion from the west by Nazi Germany, and invasion from the east by the Soviet Union, culminating in one of the darkest, bloodiest and most devastating periods of the 2nd World War. Hitler ordered his commanders to kill, ‘without pity or mercy, all men, women and children of Polish descent or language’ [1] while Heinrich Himmler expressed this, perhaps, more chillingly, in 1940, when he stated ‘all poles will disappear from this world,’ describing the ‘elimination’ of the Polish people as Germany’s ‘chief task’ [2]. Subsequently, the Poles witnessed the horrors of the concentration camp and forced labour camps. Overall, almost 18 per cent of the Polish population or 6 million, half of whom were non-Jewish, were killed in a reign of terror that saw forced evictions, enslavement and mass executions. The Soviet terror unleashed in the east brought yet more horror and cruelty, for both the Nazis and the Soviets were equally intent on destroying Poland’s culture and subjugating its people. A ‘Reign of Terror’ was unleashed under Soviet Union rule in which mass executions, imprisonments and deportations thrived. Anyone, deemed guilty, of ‘crimes against the revolution’ or ‘counter revolutionary activity’, defined as, any pre-war service to the Polish State, could face arrest. Indeed, for the Poles, the end of the war brought no return to justice or prosperity. Instead, new forms of oppression, trauma and injustice flourished under continued Soviet rule [3].

It was against this background that Ignacy ‘Joe’ Lisak from Krzeczow, East Poland fled his homeland and found refuge in the UK. His links with the Polish resistance and his close alliance with activist, Wladyslaw Galka, led to a warning by the local Chief of Police that he faced joining Galka in prison with the inevitable threats of execution, which that might entail. Galka was imprisoned twice, facing execution on two occasions and spent many years in solitary confinement. It seems fairly certain that a similar fate would have awaited Joe, had he not fled. Yet, this was not the first occasion where Joe escaped possible death.

As a young boy Joe was among a group of children playing by the river. They found a box containing a number of small objects, which to their delight, when thrown in to the water, erupted, creating spectacular watery displays. They played happily with these objects, seemingly unaware of the dangers posed by the lethal explosives they had found. Joe left his companions early that day, as by some stroke of good fortune, he had promised to run an errand for his mother. Sadly, his playmates were never to return home and were reported deceased the following day.

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 Joe pictured as a teenager, back right, with family

 

Joe’s escape from Poland was a dangerous and difficult one. Like many refugees, much of his journey was made on foot and under cover of great forests. Joe mentioned one detail about his journey, which was quite funny, saying, that after crossing the border in to Czechoslovakia, by foot, he took a wrong turn and ended up back in Poland! On another occasion, he and a companion were confronted by soldiers who questioned their whereabouts. It was important to think quickly and to stifle any outer expressions of fear, to avoid suspicion, so they explained that they had lost their way after attending a house party and asked for directions. Luckily, they were left to continue their journey, without raising further doubt. Joe was never one to discuss this period of his past, often, with his family, whether this was because there were many memories that he would prefer to avoid, or whether he did not wish to burden his family with such memories is unclear. One particular story from his past emerged a number of times when relaxing on weekends, with a glass of beer or his favourite, vodka, he, sometimes, alluded to an incident in the forest where he and his companion faced capture by two Soviet Soldiers. He would mime, with his hand, the pulling of a trigger and speak of burying one of the soldiers, saying that the other soldier escaped. Joe and his companion continued to travel onward, but remained ever fearful of discovery.

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Joe’s Certificate of Registration issued to refugees under the Aliens Order 1920

Joe’s Certificate of Registration issued under the Aliens Order 1920 confirms that he arrived in the U.K on the 5th of March 1948 and gained employment on the 7th of May with the National Coal Board in South Wales, where after the second world War, demand for coal was high and there was an urgent need for coal miners. The vast influx of refugees from Europe provided an ideal source of recruitment. However, refugees were not always welcomed, facing opposition from locals, ‘partly from ignorance and partly from fear of unemployment’ [4]. Indeed, the National Union of Miners (NUM) stated that they opposed, ‘the employment of Poles and displaced persons in British mines’ [5]. However, Joe and his Polish friends encountered little hostility in their local communities and settled in well. In fact, the only person who was ever heard to tell Joe to, ‘get back to Poland, you bloody foreigner’, was his wife Lorna, during the occasional argument, something which his children would laugh about, as it was clear that she loved him very much and didn’t really mean it. On arriving in Wales, Joe obtained lodgings at various addresses locally, including at the Miners Hostel in Ystrad Mynach which housed a large number of European Refugees, many of whom would forge strong bonds, becoming life-long friends. Later when they had settled or married, they would often gather at each others’ homes to eat, drink – vodka being a popular choice, play cards, talk and laugh. It was while lodged at Ystrad Mynach Hostel that Joe met Lorna, from the nearby village of Llanbradach where they would eventually set up home. They were married on the 7th August 1950 and later had six children and 12 grandchildren, including one step grandchild.

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Joe, pictured with other refugee miners at Ystrad Mynach Miners Hostel, – lying down at the front, posing with a pipe borrowed from a friend.

In October 1952, four years after his arrival in the U.K, Joe faced another brush with death while working at Bedwas Colliery when there was an explosion. Ambulance man, Evan Williams, described how he found Joe as follows:

‘One man lay back in the manhole. He was a big Pole named Lisak. He must have been working stripped to the waist. The skin was stripped off his body in sheets. His arms, hands and face had been burned. What could I do for him? I didn’t have half enough stuff. I covered him over with coats as he was, and encouraged him to keep still, as I would send him out first’ [6].

One person was killed, and 20 others were injured that day. Joe had severe burns from the waist upwards, including his face and his ears. Although, he retained his hearing after the accident, little remained of his actual ears. Joe spent many months in hospital, enduring operations and skin grafts. Yet, I never noticed his injuries, until I forced myself years later to take a closer look; I believe my failure to notice these things was because his personality and sheer character eclipsed them. After a long period in hospital, Joe returned to work in the mines but did not settle. He became a painter and decorator, his family continued to grow and he eventually travelled to Poland with them for many happy holidays. His children, have many fond memories of him, among them, his, sometimes, very poetic turn of phrase. He once likened his blonde blue-eyed grandson, Daniel, to an ‘angel’ who had come to visit him. On another occasion, his daughter Cheryl was standing by the half open back door that led to the garden. She was smoking a cigarette under the fading evening sunshine. The combination of smoke, reflected light and shadow, falling on her long blonde hair, led him to comment, ‘You look like an angel in a golden cage.’

In his later years, Joe became a school Caretaker at the local primary school. Indeed, he is still remembered by ex-students as ‘kind’ and ‘funny’. Joe survived a stroke but eventually died after contracting a hospital bug at the age of 72. My overriding memory of Joe, is of a man of great character and charm, of smiles and laughter, of a mop of curly white hair and a deep Polish accent, of someone who is remembered with great affection by his family, and all those who knew him.

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Joe as I remember him, pictured outside his home in Llanbradach

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Many thanks to the Lisak family for sharing their memories of Joe.

NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] Holocaust Forgotten website http://www.holocaustforgotten.com/poland.htm

[2] ibid.,

[3] Anne Applebaum in New Republic, December 20, 2012 http://www.newrepublic.com/article/111235/evil-after-evil

[4] Ceri Thompson in Glo/Coal, https://museum.wales/media/4619/glo-allpoles.pdf

[5] ibid.,

[6] Durham Mining Museum website http://www.dmm.org.uk/ukreport/9019-03.htm