Belief and Action: Wales’ Heritage of Opposing Conflict, from WW1 to today

By Craig Owen

In Wales’ National Garden of Peace, between Cardiff’s Temple of Peace and the leafy grounds of Bute Park, stands an imposing stone unveiled in 2005 by peace campaigning group Cynefin y Werin, and dedicated to Wales’ Conscientious Objectors of all wars. Inscribed upon it is a challenge to all generations:

“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.” 

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Conscientious Objectors Stone, Welsh National Garden of Peace. Craig Owen / WCIA

15 May every year has been recognised since 1985 as International Conscientious Objectors Day – remembering generations of individuals who have opposed conflict by refusing to bear arms.

Conscientious Objection is one of many ways in which generations of peace builders have put their ‘beliefs into action’ by opposing conflict. From the 930+ Welsh objectors imprisoned in WW1 for refusing to kill, to the anti-Nuclear campaigners of the 1960s-now, and ‘Stop the War’ protestors of recent years, Wales has a strong ‘peace heritage’ of speaking out against war.

–> Gain an overview from WCIA’s Opposing Conflict / Belief and Action pages.

–> To find out more about Wales’ WW1 Objectors, read our WCIA Voices May 2019 review of Dr Aled Eirug’s seminal book on ‘The Opposition to the Great War in Wales‘, published by University of Wales Press 2019.

Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors

You can discover hidden histories of over 930 WW1 COs from communities Wales-wide, using the Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors on WCIA’s Wales Peace Map.

WCIA are indebted to Prof Cyril Pearce of Leeds University for making his “life’s work” available to future researchers through our Belief & Action project.

Hidden Histories of Objectors

From 2014-18, Wales for Peace supported many volunteers, community groups and schools to explore ‘hidden histories’ of peace builders from WW1 to today. The following selection is a fitting tribute for this WW100 COs Memorial Day:

View also some of the short films / digital stories created by young people working with  Wales for Peace community projects over 2014-18, below.

‘Belief and Action’ Exhibition Tour

In 2016, WCIA worked with the Quakers in Wales and a steering group of Welsh experts to develop the ‘Belief and Action’ exhibition, which from 2016-19 has travelled to 15 communities Wales-wide and been visited by many thousands of people. Funded by Cymru’n Cofio / Wales Remembers and launched with an excellent community partnership event between WCIA and the United Reform Church in Pontypridd, the tour aimed to explore the stories and motivations of WW1 Conscientious Objectors, but with a key focus on reflecting on issues of Conscience ‘Then and Now’ during the WW100 centenary period.

–> View WCIA’s 2018 ‘Belief and Action’ Report

Maeydderwen Belief & Action Exhibition

Young Peacemakers launch ‘Belief & Action’ at Ysgol Maesydderwen, May 2018

Last year, for 2018 Conscientious Objectors Day, Wales for Peace worked with Ysgol Maesydderwen in Swansea Valley to stage a Belief and Action exhibition, and also to launch WCIA’s Learning Pack ‘Standing up for your Beliefs’, downloadable from Hwb.

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Learning Resources

WCIA, the National Library of Wales and Quakers / Friends in Wales have all produced substantial Curriculum Resources on Objection to War , including critical thinking materials and schools projects, available from the Welsh Government’s ‘Hwb’ Education Resources site for schools and teachers.

Find Out More / Take Action

Short Films by Young Peacemakers

Over 2014-18, Wales for Peace was privileged to work with schools and community groups to explore hidden histories of peace with creative responses – including  digital stories and short films

Short Film ‘Without the Scales’ by Merthyr Tydfil students of Coleg y Cymoedd / Uni of Glamorgan, with Cyfarthfa Castle Trust (displayed for Wales for Peace exhibition, Oct 2018), used records to re-enact the Conscientious Objectors Tribunals of WW1.

Short Film ‘Niclas y Glais’ by Ysgol Gyfun Llangynwyd, Bridgend (displayed for Pontypridd Belief and Action exhibition, Oct 2017) looked at the life of Thomas Even Niclas.

Digital Story ‘Conscientious Objectors’ by Crickhowell High School, Monmouthshire (displayed for Women War & Peace exhibition at the Senedd, August 2017) considered the feelings and experiences that led some WW1 soldiers to become objectors to war.

 

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Conscientious Objectors Day, 15 May: ‘Opposition to the Great War in Wales’ Review

Head of Wales for Peace, Craig Owen, reviewed Dr Aled Eirug’s seminal work ‘The Opposition to the Great War in Wales’ – published by University of Wales Press – for the Spring 2019 Agenda, the journal of the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA).  This book is the culmination of Aled’s Doctoral Thesis with Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion.

To mark International Conscientious Objectors Day on May 15th 2019 – 100 years after the end of WW1, the ‘war that was to end war’ – Craig shares for WCIA Voices his ‘longer read’  review on this perspective-changing history of Wales’ Anti-War Movements – and considers the relevance to today.

As we mark the centenary of the post-WW1 Paris Peace Process whilst simultaneously bracing for Brexit – seeking to sever the ties of interdependence with our European neighbours – the publication of a history tome that presents a different perspective’ to Wales’ received ‘great war story’ might not seem immediately relevant. But perhaps the timing could not be more poignant – or the opportunity to learn from our forebears – as we reconsider Wales’ role in the world once more within a divided British society.

Previous histories of WW1 have tended to either airbrush out anti-war perspectives from the ‘narrative’ of the Great War as pockets of unrelated, individual activity; or conversely, lionised the heroism of Conscientious Objectors who took a stand against an imperial, populist state. Aled Eirug’s landmark work, ‘The Opposition to the Great War in Wales 1914-18’ paints a far more 3-dimensional picture. The most detailed study yet of the anti-war movement in any part of Britain through WW1, this look ‘behind the blinkers’ is a critical contribution to UK-wide social history, and profoundly relevant to Welsh identity, experience and political ideologies today.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen … these conflicts of our time have been met with vocal anti-war movements that are not only a defining part of Welsh and UK civil society, but also national conscience. 100 years ago, to disagree with the government and populist tide could lead to social outcast and a prison sentence. Those who did so planted ‘anti-war’ seeds that today we take for granted – yet their story is rarely part of the WW1 narrative. Even now, after 4 years of nationwide events marking WW100, one could be forgiven for thinking that Wales was as one with the whole UK in enthusiastically supporting ‘the war that was to end war’ – united under the shrewd leadership of David Lloyd George, the UK’s only “Welsh” Prime Minister. But as for conflicts of today, such a view is simplistic in the extreme.

 

The onset of WW1 divided the nation. Beneath the populist call to arms and government propaganda, religious and political opposition to the war, of many differing shades, was witnessed Wales-wide. Aled maps this opposition systematically, not as pockets of resistance, but as patterns of beliefs – people motivated by a purpose, or rather a diversity of purposes – and importantly, looks at how this opposition became more organised as the war wore on.

Many Welsh non-conformists, and groups such as the Christadelphians and Quakers, reeled at the readiness with which the commandment ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ was jettisoned to preach military recruitment from the pulpit (though many ministers refused, proselytising against the war). Interfaith organisations such as Cymdeithas y Cymod, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, were founded to counter the hatred of war. Socialist figures such as Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald led an anti-war stance for the Independent Labour Party in Wales that, whilst initially unpopular – and indeed heavily persecuted by authorities such as tribunals – over the course of WW1 progressively attracted increasing support and respect, offering a new political home to ranks of Welsh Liberals disillusioned by the postures they felt their party had taken. Some who felt Wales had become subservient to British imperialism of WW1, would go on to develop Welsh Nationalist ideology that led to the formation of Plaid Cymru in 1925.

Central to Eirug’s exploration is the impact of the Military Service Act, compulsory conscription, in March 1916 which brought WW1 opposition into sharp focus. Those who objected on grounds of conscience faced Tribunals that were rarely sympathetic (particularly to political objectors). ‘Non-Combatants’ and ‘Alternativists’ were deployed to military or non-military work supporting the war effort, but ‘Absolutists’ – who were opposed to the war on moral grounds – were often court marshalled, and imprisoned or sentenced to hard labour. Some Welsh COs died from poor treatment and / or labour conditions.

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WW1 Conscientious Objectors at Dyce Labour Camp, Scotland, 1916 – Wikimedia Commons

Whilst Eirug has been able to trace about 900 registered Conscientious Objectors from Wales – roughly proportionate to the rest of the UK –his research also highlights that these numbers would have been far higher but not for the creation of a Welsh company for theological students in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) – nicknamed ‘Gods Own’. Alongside Ambulance Units and other non-combatant roles, many of these objectors trod the difficult line of supporting those at the front, whilst opposing the war – a sentiment increasingly shared by many serving troops, and families at home, beyond 1917.

The No Conscription Fellowship (NCF) and National Council for Civil Liberties gave voice and organising infrastructure to Objectors, with local branches Wales-wide. But the Independent Labour Party, Fellowship of Reconciliation, women’s movements and Trade Unions all played galvanising anti-war roles in wider Welsh society, and it is perhaps here that this book most challenges the ‘received versions’ of history. Where others have cited, as evidence of pro-war strength of feeling, the ‘Battle of Cory Hall’– a Nov 1916 Anti-War meeting of 900 in Cardiff that was disrupted by a mob of ‘patriots’ – Eirug looks at what happened next. A rally of over 2,500 ‘peace builders’ reconvened at the Rink in Merthyr, “steeled by the Cardiff mob” to oppose developments of conscription. In depth studies of Merthyr Tydfil and Briton Ferry offer an insight into the depth and breadth of local Anti-War organisation. And a whole section of the work looks at the influence of the South Wales Miners Federations: the 1915 Miner’s Strike (over pay and conditions), and the 1917 ‘Comb-Out Ballot’ (a vote on conscription of miners) were both a significant litmus test of pro and anti-war sentiment, with a ‘longing for peace’ spurred – perhaps ironically today – by the hopes of the Russian Revolution.

The end of war on 11.11 1918, and the Peace Process that followed, saw a shift in societal views perhaps only matched after the end of WW2. Religious congregations were deserted by those whose faith in authority had been shattered by war. Formerly reviled Conscientious Objectors were elected as Members of Parliament to lead peace building efforts – figures such as Morgan Jones (1921, Caerphilly) and George M Ll Davies (1923, University of Wales). Anti-war groups channelled their energies into over 900 local branches of the new Welsh League of Nations Union, forerunner of today’s Welsh Centre for International Affairs and Temple of Peace.  Nearly 400,000 signed the Welsh Women’s Peace Petition to America, calling for leadership in the League of Nations for ‘law not war’. When it failed, at the outbreak of WW2 the provisions for military service exemption were more enlightened. And when finally WW2 ended, many of those Welsh figures who had stood so prominently for peace through WW1, the 20s and 30s, were to play a lead role in the founding of the United Nations.

Why is any of this relevant today? For me, what comes across so powerfully from Aled Eirug’s work is how, in a time of populism, polarisation and catastrophe, the peacebuilding efforts of Welsh people and communities inspired a new generation of internationalists– outward looking, but rooted in equity and communitarianism – and can do so again. This book is an essential ‘long read’ for anyone seeking to understand the Welsh national psyche, and where our national spirit just might take us.

Craig Owen is Head of Wales for Peace and Global Action, at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA).

MOVED TO ACTION?

–> Find out more about Wales’ peace heritage of Conscientious Objection by exploring WCIA’s ‘Belief and Action’ hidden histories pages.

–> Search and uncover Hidden Histories of WW1 Conscientious Objectors from Wales and the borders, using WCIA’s Peace Map – Pearce Register of WW1 Objectors, with the kind permission of Dr Cyril Pearce of Leeds University.

–> Download and use Learning Resources on Conscientious Objection from Hwb, for use in schools and colleges.

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Welsh National Health Service: Happy Birthday!

By Niamh Mannion

2018 marks the 70th birthday of one of the UK and Wales’s most treasured institutions: the NHS. The National Health Service, which turned 70 on the 5th July this year, was founded by Welshman Aneurin Bevan. Here at WCIA, we want to look back at the legacy of Aneurin Bevan and appreciate the incredible work done by the doctors and nurses, past and present in the Welsh NHS. Everyone at WCIA wishes the NHS a very happy birthday!

The Mastermind: Anuerin Bevan

Bevan was born in Tredegar, South Wales, the son of a coalminer. As a teenager Aneurin exhibited an early aptitude for politics, becoming a trade union activist. In 1919 until 1921, he attended a trade union supported college in London – The Central Labour College, where he read economics, politics and history.

After returning home to Wales, he faced a spell of unemployment until 1926 when he was employed as a paid union official. In 1928, Bevans fortunes continued to improve, winning a seat on Monmouthshire County Council. His rise continued when he was picked to represent and won as the Labour Party candidate for Ebbw Vale in the 1929 general election. As a sitting MP, Bevan was highly critical of Winston Churchill.

Following the conclusion of WW2, Bevan believed peacetime would allow the UK a fresh start and opportunity to create “a new society”. In 1945, the Labour party won the general election with a landslide victory. The new governments victory, was based upon a programme of expansive social reforms known as the ‘welfare state’. Bevan was named Minister for Health by Prime Minister Clement Attlee. At the heart of the new ‘welfare state’ was the National Health Service. The NHS was launched by Aneurin Bevan on the 5th July 1948. Bevan centred the three core principals of the NHS to be “that it meets the needs of everyone, that it be free at the point of delivery, and that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay”. He further remarked “no society can call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”.

In 1951, Bevan was appointed Minister of Labour. However, no sooner had he been appointed than he resigned, in protest to Hugh Gaskells introduction of prescription charges for dental care and glasses. Bevan professional success was never to return to such legendary highs. He was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour party in 1959, however he died the following year, at the aged of 62. Bevan was a true visionary. Not only did he recognise the inequality and poverty experience by so many – he did something about it. His legacy of the National Health Service is truly revolutionary.

Wales and the NHS: A Special Connection

The National Health Service welcomed its first baby at Glanamman Cottage Hospital in West Wales at one minute past midnight on the 5th July 1948. The baby in question, named Aneira (the female form of Aneurin) after founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan. Since 1948, the NHS in Wales has gone onto deliver over 2,500,000 babies.

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The NHS currently provides healthcare to the three million residents of Wales. In a year, the NHS in Wales will prescribe over 80,000,000 prescriptions and carry out over 17,000,000 GP appointments. The Welsh NHS will carry out 4,375 hip replacement operations per year, 547,090 dental fillings per year and 459,225 ambulance call outs per year. NHS Wales also deals with 1,003,710 A&E attendances every year, which works out to around 2,750 daily A&E attendances.

The values of the NHS at its foundation in 1948, still underpin the NHS in Wales today. However, the un-quantifiable changes in medical technology, increased expectations and a growing elderly population has proved challenging along with the limited budget of health care.

NHS: WCIA says thank you!

As a WCIA volunteer, I would like to extended the warmest birthday wishes to the NHS! We’d also love to thank the NHS for their phenomenal care of all their patients over the last seventy years.

#WW100 Weekend – The Story of Wales’ Book of Remembrance

Visit and search Wales’ Book of Remembrance online at www.BookofRemembrance.Wales / www.LlyfryCofio.Cymru  

Wales’ Temple of Peace and Health, home of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and the HLF-funded ‘Wales for Peace’ project, was built as the nation’s memorial to the fallen of World War One – a memorial that would inspire future generations to learn from the conflicts of the past, to chart Wales’ role in the world, and to work towards peace.

100 years ago this weekend, the world said ‘Never Again’ to conflict, as the Armistice Bells tolled on 4 years that had wiped out a generation.  A nation in agony of grief and mourning braced to rebuild, and to build a better world.

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100 years later, the red poppies of military remembrance – as well as the white poppies for peace, black poppies for BME communities, and purple poppies for animals lost in war – all mark the minute’s silence at 11am on 11.11, poppies for people of all perspectives.

But on #WW100, our poppies of all colours also remember those who have fallen and been left behind by a century of conflicts since – WW2, Spain, Korea, Colonial Wars, the Cold War, Vietnam, Falklands, Gulf, Balkans, War on Terror, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria… What has the world really learned from Remembrance? To glorify war… or to prevent it?

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The Davies Family of Llandinam

Differing attitudes to confronting conflict are not new. Through WW1, the Davies family of Llandinam in Powys would have had dinner table debates that represented the cross-section of society. Grandchildren of the Welsh industrialist David Davies:

Book of Remembrance Cover

Creation of the Book of Remembrance

In the early 1920s, as families grappled with the Aftermath of WW1 and their loss, memorials sprang up Wales-wide. A Welsh National War Memorial was proposed for Alexandra Gardens in Cathays Park. The 35-40,000 names of Wales’ fallen were to be inscribed in a beautiful Book – Wales’ WW1 Book of Remembrance – that would become a work of art, a national treasure and a place of pilgrimage.

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The Book is the work of world-renowned calligrapher Graily Hewitt, working closely it is thought with the Davies sisters and their Gregynog Press artists. A great nationwide effort was made to gather the names of the fallen; and a team of women in Midhurst, Sussex worked over several years to complete the Book.

The Davies sisters and the Gregynog Press had a mission to create books of high art and beauty. Bound in Moroccan Leather, with Indian Ink and Gold Leaf on pages of Vellum, the fine illumination techniques were a revival of Mediaeval skills.

View Flickr Album of the Book of Remembrance in the Temple of Peace

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“this Book of Souls, reposed upon a stone of French Marble, encased in Belgian Bronze, illuminated individually, painstakingly by hand in Indian Ink and the finest Gold Leaf upon handcrafted Vellum… bound in a volume of Moroccan Leather, entombed in a sanctuary of Portland Stone and Greek collonades. It seemed as if the whole Empire were as one in the creation of this memorial to those whose loss must live forever.” 

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The 1,205 pages of 35,000 names were completed in March 1928; and the Book was signed, on 12 June 1928, by Edward Prince of Wales – the future King Edward VIII – on a page emblazoned ‘Er Cof’ – In Memory. It was formally unveiled to the public on 11.11, 1928 – the 10th Anniversary of the Armistice – at the opening of Wales’ National War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff. For the first decade, the Book was held at the National Museum of Wales. But its creation had inspired a greater mission.

Wales’ Peacebuilding movements had been particularly active through the 1920s on the international stage. Lord David Davies had a vision that Wales should lead the world in the realisation of Peace, enshrined in bricks and mortar – by building the first in what was hoped would be a string of ‘Temple’s of Peace’ around the world.

1930 Temple proposed cross-sections

A Temple of Peace

Leading architects were invited to design a building that would both hold the Book of Remembrance, and inspire future generations – and in 1929, Cardiff architect Percy Thomas was commissioned to design Wales’ Temple of Peace, on land given by Cardiff Corporation. After a slow start during the Great Depression, in 1934 Lord Davies gave £60,000 of his own money to get the project off the ground.

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In April 1937, the Foundation Stone was laid to great ceremony in Cathays Park, Cardiff, by Lord Halifax – one of the leading ‘peace politicians’ of the time. But the late 1930s were troubled times; the post-WW1 ‘Peace Reparations’ that had crippled Germany, had led Hitler to power – and Lord Halifax, working hard to avoid war at all costs, would go down in history as an ‘appeaser’ (although this is a perhaps unfair and simplistic view of his peace building attempts). But even as the Temple was under construction, sandbags and bomb shelters were being constructed on the streets either side.

“A New Mecca – the Opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace and Health” Blog Piece by Dr. Emma West for the ‘Being Human Festival’.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.14 1938 Crowds for Opening of Temple of Peace

In Nov 1938, the Temple of Peace was opened by ‘Mother of Wales’ Minnie James from Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, who had lost 3 sons in WW1 – representing the bereaved mothers of Wales. She was accompanied by representatives of mothers from across Britain and the Empire, identified through the British Legion and local Press campaigns. The Temple sought to champion equality from the outset – although the opening ceremony was very much ‘of its time’, as the women were not able to write their own speeches.

The inclement weather of the opening day, and the umbrellas of the massive crowds assembled to watch, were a poignant reminder that storm clouds loomed over Europe. It would be only months later that WW2 finally broke out.

View Video of Press Cuttings from the 1938 Opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace

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“We will Remember Them” by BBC’s Huw Edwards, Nov 2018, features 3 minutes on the Temple of Peace and Book of Remembrance (from 38.30)

A Place of Pilgrimage

Despite the outbreak of war, the Temple of Peace became a place of pilgrimage for people from all over Wales. In an era when travelling to France, Belgium or even further afield was beyond the reach of most working people, community groups and schools Wales-wide would organise ‘pilgrimages’ to visit the Book of Remembrance. These visits were often promoted extensively in local newspapers.

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At 11am every morning, a page of the Book would be turned – the names announced in the press the week beforehand, so that relatives could come to witness the ceremony as their loved ones were spotlighted. Visitors would take part in a beautiful, solemn yet forward looking Service of Remembrance, compiled by the Davies Sisters of Gregynog – and would sign a visitors book pledging their allegiance to pursuit of peace.

After WW2 another generation of Welsh men and women had fallen; and a WW2 Book of Remembrance was commissioned. Though intended to reside alongside the WW1 Book, for reasons lost to history it has remained hidden from view and access within the archives of the National Museum of Wales. As recent as 1993, architectural plans were drawn up to adapt the Hall of the Temple of Peace to display both books side by side. But to date, they have never been united, and this remains an aspiration of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) to this day.

As the survivors of the WW1 generation grew older – and as overseas travel has become easier – visitors to the Book of Remembrance grew lesser over the years. The Book, and the Temple, has been visited by such luminaries as Peres de Cuellar, Secretary General of the United Nations, in 1984; and Desmond Tutu in 2012. But by 2014, it seemed the Book of Remembrance had been largely… forgotten?

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Remembering for Peace – 2014-18

In 2014, WCIA alongside 10 national partners developed the ‘Wales for Peace’ project, funded by HLF and supported by Cymru’s Cofio / Wales Remembers, which aimed to mark the centenary of WW1 by exploring one big question:

“How, in the 100 years since WW1, had the people of Wales contributed to the search for peace?” 

As guardians of the Temple of Peace, WCIA’s project started with making the Book of Remembrance accessible again to the public. The aim was to create a travelling exhibition – uniting the Book for the first time with the communities Wales-wide from whom its 35,000 names originated; and to digitise the book, so it could be accessible online to future generations.

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Transcription of the book was launched on Remembrance Day 2015 with an event at the Senedd, Cardiff Bay, where Assembly Members were invited to view the book and transcribe the first names. A nationwide call was launched for volunteers, schools and community groups to participate in a ‘Digital act of Remembrance’.

Local workshops, from Snowdonia to Swansea, enabled people to be part of ‘making history’. Schools developed ‘hidden histories’ projects discovering the stories behind the names, an experience that proved deeply moving for many as they connected to people long forgotten.

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Exhibition Tour

The Remembering for Peace Exhibition was launched in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth in January 2016. It has travelled onwards to:

At each exhibition venue, local partners have worked with community groups to draw out diverse local stories, so every exhibition has been different. A Schools Curriculum Pack, ‘Remembering for Peace’ is available on Hwb, and a Hidden Histories Guide for Volunteer Groups has been widely used beyond the Wales for Peace project.

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The Book of Remembrance Online

For Remembrance Day 2017, WCIA and the National Library of Wales were delighted to unveil the completed digital Book of Remembrance and search functionality online at www.BookofRemembrance.Wales / www.LlyfryCofio.cymru.

This is not only a hugely symbolic act of remembrance in itself, but a great credit to over 350 volunteers who contributed towards transcribing the Book to make it accessible for future generations. Their outstanding contribution was recognised when the National Library was bestowed the prestigious Archives Volunteering Award for 2016.

A curious discovery from the digitising process has been the question of ‘how many died’? Most history references – including about the creation of the Book of Remembrance – quote 35,000 as being the number of men and women of Wales who fell in WW1. But just under 40,000 names (39,917) emerged from the transcription data – which suggests Wales’ losses may have been even greater than previously thought.

Soldiers Stories

The undoubted power of the Book of Remembrance is that behind every beautifully illuminated, gilded name, lies a life story – from the famous, to the ordinary, to the comparatively unknown.

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Hedd Wyn (Ellis Humphrey Evans), Welsh poet and peace icon, who died in Passchendaele just days before attaining the crown of the National Eisteddfod. His prize, forever known as the ‘Black Chair’ and his home farm, Yr Ysgwrn, now a place of pilgrimage in Snowdonia for people learning about WW1, Welsh culture and Peace building. His nephew, Gerald Williams, has kept the doors open and Hedd Wyn’s memory alive, and planted the last poppy at Caernarfon Castle for the opening of the 14-18NOW Weeping Window art work in October 2016.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.55.10.pngAlfred Thomas from St David’s was serving in the Merchant Navy when his ship, the S S Memnon, was torpedoed. 100 years later, his granddaughter, Gwenno Watkin, was one of the National Library volunteers transcribing the Book of Remembrance when she suddenly came face to face with his name – and went on to discover more about his loss in WW1.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.57.pngJean Roberts, Eva Davies, Margaret Evans and Jennie Williams were all nurses with the Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Corps, who died serving in the field hospitals of France and Belgium. The story of women, war and peace has traditionally been overlooked among ranks of male soldiers – but their stories inspired creation of the Women, War and Peace exhibition, and Women’s Archive Wales’ ‘Women of WW1’ project.

The Beersheba Graves. Eli Lichtenstein is a volunteer in North Wales who grew up in Israel. He was astonished to realise that he recognised many names in the Book of Remembrance from growing up as a child, and discovered that many of the men who fell in the Battle of Beersheba, in former British Palestine, were Royal Welsh Fusiliers from the Llandudno & Bangor area. Read Eli’s Blog Story.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.47.pngDavid Louis Clemetson served with the Pembroke Yeomanry, and is one of many Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Welsh people, as well as those across Britain’s former empire, who lost their lives in WW1. In 2018, for WW100 the Temple of Peace hosted a BME Remembrance Service where the Welsh Government for the first time recognised the sacrifices and losses of Wales’ BME communities in successive British wars.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.39.pngEveryone has a personal story; and Head of Wales for Peace Craig Owen was moved both to discover his own great grandfather, Ally Price’s story, and following a visit to his memorial in Tyne Cot, Belgium, created a short film for his family as he found out more about the ‘man behind the name’ from Radnor, Tredegar and Herefordshire.

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David James from Merthyr Tydfil, who worked in the drawing office at Dowlais Colliery, served with the Welsh Guards until he was killed in action in October 1916. His two brothers also died from WW1 war injuries, as well as two sisters from cholera. Their mother, Minnie James, was chosen to open Wales’ Temple of Peace & Health in Cardiff in 1938 in their memory.

Video – Minnie James opens the Temple of Peace in 1938.

For the WW100 Armistice weekend, the Temple of Peace remembers all those who fell in the ‘war that was to end war’ – and all those who survived, and gave their all to build peace in the years that followed. Their mission remains as relevant today as ever.

Listen to more:

Explore the Book of Remembrance for yourself:

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The Story of Minnie James and the Mothers of Peace

Written by WCIA Volunteer Peter Garwood, for WCIA’s ‘Women War & Peace’ exhibition at the Senedd, Aug-Sept 2017; edited by Craig Owen and republished on WCIA Voices for future reference. 

In November 1938 Minnie James from Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, was thrust into the limelight when Lord David Davies, founder of Wales’ Temple of Peace, decided that he would like to have a Welsh mother who had lost sons in the Great War to open the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health – on behalf of all mothers who had lost sons. She was the lead figure among 24 war-bereaved mothers from across the UK and Empire, who were invited following a publicity campaign through British Legion branches that the press sensationalised as the ‘search for our most tragic mothers’ – but fostered a nationwide recognition that despite the ‘men and military’ focus traditionally associated with remembrance, that women disproportionately bore the brunt of the impacts of war, and as leaders in peace making.

Who was Minnie James?

Minnie James was born as Minnie Annie Elizabeth Watkins on 3rd October 1866 at Merthyr Tydfil.

Minnie Watkins married William James, a bachelor, age 23 on 1st January 1891, at the Parish Church in the Parish of Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan. The 1911 census shows the family living in a seven roomed house, 8 Cross Francis Street, Dowlais. William is working as a Clerk, Minnie has no listed occupation. The parents have been married for 20 years and have had eight children, six of whom are still alive. David is 19 and single and working as a Draughtsman, John is age 16, single and working as a Apprentice Fitter, Thomas is still in school. There are two new children: Winifred James age 7 born Merthyr and William James , age 1 born Dowlais. The family are sufficiently well off to have a General Servant, one Elizabeth A. Murphy, age 22, a single woman, born Dowlais. Two children had died:

  • Elizabeth age 2 months who died and was buried 28th September 1901 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery Section.
  • Gwladys age 7, who died and was buried 6th March 1907 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery Section.

The impact of WW1 on the James family

In 1914 the Great War broke out and men were quick to enlist. Minnie’s first son, David James joined the Welsh Guards, enlisting at Merthyr. He entered the theatre of war on 17th August 1915 in France.

He had served in the Guards Division as part of the 3rd Guards Brigade, which was made up of 1st Battalion, South Wales Borderers, 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards, 2nd Battalion Scotch Guards and 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. He took part in the Battle of Flers–Courcelette – part of the 5-month Battle of the Somme – but  was killed in action on 25th September 1916, age 24.

Western Mail article on the death of Private David James from Dowlais; and his entry in Wales’ WW1 Book of Remembrance.

Like many men who died in the conflict of 1914-1918, his body was never identified and he is named on the Thiepval Memorial. He was awarded the British Victory and War medal along with the 1915 Star. His death was reported in the Western Mail on 13th October 1916 (see aside).

The war ended in November 1918, but her second son Thomas James had joined the 13th Welsh Regiment and had been wounded in France – dying from his wounds, age 21, on Christmas Day 1918. He was also awarded the British Victory and War medal.

Her third son James, (known as Jack James) had joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers and entered the theatre of war on 1st December 1915. He was wounded during the war, and awarded the British Victory and War medal along with the 1915 Star and the Silver War Badge for wounds. He was discharged on 28th January 1919.

However, he died on 23rd June 1920 at 8 Cross Francis Street, age 24 with his father present, eighteen months after his brother Thomas. His death certificate records the fact that he was “Ex-Private Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Mining Engineers Pupil)”, and that the cause of death was “General Tuberculosis”. He was buried on 26th June 1920 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery, Pant.

All three sons who died in the Great War are listed in the Welsh WW1 Book of Remembrance held in the Crypt at Wales’ Temple of Peace to this day; and commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Minnie’s husband William James died at the age of 68; he had served as a Special Constable in the Great War and was buried on 20th November 1936 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery, Pant.

Minnie as the ‘Mother of Wales’

In November 1938 Minnie, was thrust into the limelight when Lord David Davies had decided that he would like a Welsh mother who had lost sons in the Great War to be the one to open the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health – on behalf of all mothers who had lost sons.

Minnie James was invited to see the Temple of Peace for a personal visit by Lord Davies on 10th November 1938. This was to give her an idea of what was expected, and to provide a news item to give extra publicity to the opening a few weeks away.

Interviewed by the press she explained that she had a “drawer of secrets”, at home in which she kept mementoes of her three sons who gave their lives for their country. This was their school certificates, fading letters from the front, little presents given to her by the boys when home on leave, and their medals. She stated that these items would be buried with her when she dies – that they were hers and belonged to no-one else.

She was taken down into the crypt where the Welsh book of remembrance would be placed. She told the press that she thought it was lovely. She thought her sons would be: “so proud of me – I am happy to be chosen for their sake.” She explained how her boys had served and died. She explained that on each Armistice Day she stays at home and during the two minutes silence goes to her sons bedroom alone but for the memory. She told the press that

“all who come into this building must feel strongly for peace. It will be lovely for the young people to come here. They will be so impressed. And the mothers and fathers, too, for the sake of their children must come here.” She explained that her three sons had worked at the Dowlais Works, where a tablet recorded their sacrifice.

As she left the Temple she turned for a moment to look at it again She said:

“I feel so happy for my sons. I shall feel them near me when I come back to open this beautiful building.”

Mothers of the World and UK

Lord Davies invited a total of 24 mothers from all over the United Kingdom and allied countries to the opening, laying on a special train from London.

  • Mrs R Struben form the Union of South Africa, spoke on behalf of the British Commonwealth mothers.
  • Mrs Cederlund of Sweden represented mothers of the Scandinavian countries
  • Mrs Moller spoke for the women of the United States of America
  • Madame Dumontier from France spoke for mothers of the European countries.
  • Representing Northern Ireland was Mrs Nixon of Portrush, Co. Antrim. Four out of five sons served and died in the Great War. Three were killed in action, one died from wounds received on active service. Her husband had served with Lord Roberts at Kandahar. Mrs Nixon wore 20 medals at the opening ceremony.
  • Representing the Scottish Highlands was Mrs Mary Lamont of Pitlochry (The home town of Lady Davies). Three sons served, one killed, one discharged, one wounded, one son still serving in India. I have identified one as 52268 Rifleman John Henry Lamont, who served with the 16th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. He died on 24th August 1918, age 19, and was buried at Bertenacre Military, Flertre. Cemetery. He was listed as the son of George and Mary Lunn Lamont, of Fonab stables, Pitlochry, Perthshire.
  • Representing North-East England was Mrs R. Gibson, of Newcastle on Tyne. Two sons served, both killed. Husband was with relief force sent for General Gordon, re-enlisted in the Great War. I have identified one as M2/104574 Serjeant Charles Thomas Gibson, M.M. Royal Army Service Corps. He died on 10th August 1918. age 35 and was buried in Gosforth (St. Nicholas) churchyard , Northumberland. He was listed as the son of the late Robert and Jane Gibson, of Brandling Village, Newcastle-on-Tyne; husband of Isabell Gibson, of Council Chambers, High St., Gosforth.
  • Representing North-West England was Mrs Rachael Houlgrave of Liverpool. Lost four sons in the War, one dying a prisoner in turkey, another dying after discharge. A fifth son served and survived. I have identified
    • 5364 Lance Serjeant Nathaniel Houlgrave, “C” Coy. 10th Bn, Lancashire Fusiliers. He died 29th June 1916, age 25. He was buried at the Morlancourt British Cemetery No.1. He was listed as the son of Francis and Rachel Houlgrave, of 424, Mill St., Dingle, Liverpool.
    • 5484 Private Samuel Houlgrave, 10th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. He died 7th July 1916, age 23. He was buried at the Thiepval memorial as he has no known grave. Listed as above.
    • 37051 Private W. Houlgrave, 3rd Battalion South Wales Borderers. He died 23rd April 1918, age 24. He was buried at the Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery. He was listed as above
  • Representing the Midlands was Mrs G. Henson, of Cotgrave, Notts. Lost one of two sons. Daughter served in the W.A.A.C.
  • Representing East Anglia was
  • Mrs E. Lewer of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Lost her only son in the first Territorial Unit to go into action 1914.
  • Representing London, Mrs Mary Sawyer, of Battersea, Daughter of a Crimean veteran. Had three sons serving, one killed, one subsequently died and one incapacitated. 653491 Rifleman Charles Louis Sawyer, “B” Coy, London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles), died 6th November 1917, age 25. He was buried at the Naval Trench Cemetery, Gavrelle. He was listed as the son of James and Mary Sawyer, of Battersea, London; husband of Annie Caroline Dennington (formerly Sawyer, nee Blake), of 62, Ford Mill Rd., Bellingham, Catford, London.


Press Coverage of the Temple of Peace Opening, November 1938 – view on Flickr.

Opening Day of the Temple of Peace, 23 Nov 1938

The Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health was the first building to be constructed in Britain to specifically intended to symbolise the devotion of Wales and its people to these two great humanitarian causes.

On the day a special train had left Paddington at 8.20 a.m. to arrive at Cardiff at 11.20 a.m. Then coaches were used to bring the party of mothers and other representatives to the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health. The weather that day was a typical November day – with a gale that had torn branches off trees in Cathays Park.

At 11.45 there was an introductory address on the Temple steps by Alderman Sir Charles H. Bird C.B.E, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He said, “We are assembled here to day to take part in the solemn dedication of this building for the noble purposes for which it was erected.

“Much thought has been given to the question as to who should be asked to unlock the door on the occasion of to-day’s function, and it was felt that no better choice could be made than some representative Welsh mother, to represent not only the mothers of Wales and the Empire, who lost their sons in the Great War, but also to the mothers of other countries, the loss of whose sons has brought such poignant sorrow to them, whatever their nationality may be.

“So it is that we have with us today Mrs James of Dowlais who lost three of her sons, and we are all happy in the knowledge that she has been spared to join with us in this ceremony of dedication.

“It is, therefore , with great sense of the honourable position to which I have been appointed as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Welsh National Temple of peace and Health, that I now call upon Mr Percy Thomas, the architect of this building to present Mrs James with the key, and to request her to perform the opening ceremony.”

At the ceremony Mrs James was wearing a hat and holding a large bouquet of scarlet carnations given by the Hon. Lady Davies, and was wearing all three sets of medals that had belonged to her sons. She was presented with a Golden Key by Mr Percy Thomas, the architect, to open the doors of the Temple. He said: “Mrs James I have pleasure in presenting you with this key and asking you to accept it as a little token of this what I know must be a memorable occasion for you.” Mrs James said “Thank you”.

Mrs James spoke into the microphone to give her short, but historic speech:

“We are assembled here today to take part in the solemn dedication of this building for the noble purposes for which it was erected. In the name of the women of Wales it is my privilege to open the building. I dedicate it to the memorial to those gallant men of all nations who gave their lives in the war that was to end war. I pray that it may come to be regarded by the people of my country both of our generation and of those that are to follow as a constant reminder of the debt we owe to the millions who sacrificed their all in a great cause and as a symbol of our determination to strive for justice and peace in the future.”

Because she was speaking in a low voice, and despite the microphone, the newspapers reported that not all the hundreds of people present were able to hear her.

She then took the key from the presentation box and symbolically put the golden key into the lock of the bronze doors, pushed the door open and was the first person of those gathered outside to enter the newly opened Temple of Peace. The guests entered the Great Hall and sat down. Mrs James and the bereaved mothers then entered the Great Hall and the assembled crowd stood up as the bereaved mothers and other representatives entered. They walked down the central aisle to the platform. Hundreds of guests from all over the world stood up in tribute and respect.

The Temple Opening Ceremony and Luncheon

The mothers chosen to represent countries from all over the world stood up and spoke. First was Mrs E. Lewer of Aldeburgh speaking on behalf of the mothers of Great Britain, then spoke Mrs R Struben from the Union of South Africa, speaking for the British Commonwealth mothers. Mrs Cederlund of Sweden, for the Scandinavian countries, said:

“In the name of the women of Scandinavia I associate myself with the dedication of this building. May it be a constant reminder to the people of Wales of their duty to further the cause of progress, freedom, peace, and justice and of the debt they owe to those who fell in the defence of these ideals.”

Mrs Moller spoke for the U.S.A., and Madame Dumontier from France spoke for the European countries.

Five of the mothers representing practically the whole world read messages of goodwill from their regions, speaking in their own languages.

At 12.00 noon Viscount Cecil of Chelwood began a service of dedication and gave an address to those present, followed by extensive speeches from a number of high profile figures, and messages from World Leaders (and Welsh figures) read out by Alderman Charles Bird – including US President Roosevelt, the US Ambassador to Europe Mr. Joseph Davies, the Rt Hon William Hughes of the Australian Cabinet, Mr Charles Evans Hughes, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, and finally Mr David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister.

The guests then sang the Welsh National Anthem and concluded with the National Anthem. As they all left the organist played Handel’s “Occasional Overtures”.

At 1 p.m. they were welcomed at City Hall, where a civic reception was given by the Lord Mayor, Alderman W. G. Howell J.P., and the Lady Mayoress of Cardiff and Corporation of the City of Cardiff. At 1.15 p.m. they were given lunch, with a list of speeches and toasts almost as extensive as the mouthwatering menu:

Temple of Peace Opening Luncheon

Grapefruit Cocktail
Crème Portugaise
Sole Bonne Femme
Roast turkey Chipolata
Croquette Potatoes
Brussel Sprouts Green Peas
Passion Fruit Ice Souffle
Fresh Fruit Salad and Cream
Cheese and Biscuits
Coffee.

Among the many toasts and speeches, the Lord Mayor, Alderman W. G. Howell, made particular mention of the mothers:

“And particularly, do we welcome within our borders the women of courage from all parts of the Kingdom and from other countries who gave their sons in the service of their countries in the Great War and who gave themselves, in reality, made the supreme sacrifice. Wee glad to have the opportunity of meeting with them within the precincts of this City and shall honour and revere them and their sons as long as memory lasts. It may be some solace for them to know that the heart of this City beats in sympathy and in admiration for them.”

The event closed later that afternoon and the special train left Cardiff for London at 4.20 p.m. At 5 p.m. Lord and Lady Davies gave a reception at the Connaught Rooms to 500 representatives of the branches of the Welsh National Council of the League of Nations’ Union. That evening the League of Nations’ Union held a meeting at the Welsh National Temple of Peace, of the representatives of the branches of the Welsh Council of the League of Nations. It began at 7 p.m. with a two minute silence, followed by a hymn, the Chairman’s’ address and an address by Lord Davies.

It is presumed that Minnie James went home after the afternoon’s proceedings. She later told reporters that it had been a proud moment and said that:

“I felt every moment of it; but I had a duty to perform in the names of my sons and the mothers of the world. That helped me.”

Minnie James’ Later Life

Minnie does not appear to have had any further recorded involvement with the Temple of Peace, or other functions after the opening. She seems to have withdrawn from Welsh society in general, being quite a private person – but was obviously well known in the locality.

Her family were one of the first to have a television, and they would invite all the children in the street in to watch the programmes. Minnie James obviously was very fond of the children in the street and enjoyed watching the reactions of the children to the events on the television. She always held a Halloween party for the children and invited everyone to it. She was at the peace party in May 1945 held in Cross Francis street to celebrate the end of the second world war. She was pictured resplendent in a superb hat sitting with all the children at the street party.

Minnie James died at the age of 87 and was buried on 3rd April 1954 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery, Pant. Her death was reported in the Merthyr Express on April 10th 1954 (Page 16.) This mentions that she had opened the Temple of Peace in 1938 and that she had been an active spiritualist for over 71 years. It reveals that at the time of her death, her youngest son William was alive and that her daughter, Winifred, was also living.

The paper stated:

“It is difficult for those who knew her to realise life without Mrs James. She had known great sorrow in World War 1, her three sons, David, Jack and Tom made the supreme sacrifice. This experience merely enriched her life and was responsible for her many ministrations of good. He home was a sanctuary to many and the obvious tributes paid reveal the esteem in which she was held by her close as well as by far distant friends.

She will long be remembered for her gentleness, her immense triumph over personal sorrow and serenity of spirit. It was a privilege to have known her. Her home and wide circle of friends gaze sadly at the vacant chair but gratefully recall the lines:- “The memory of the just is blessed”. She will long be remembered as the heroine of the spirit who was so aptly chosen as official opener of the “The Temple of Peace”.

Her daughter and son, Winifred, known as “Winnie” and William , known as “Billy” never married and moved out of 8 Cross Francis Street in 1968. Her surviving children do not appear to have had any children themselves and with their eventual deaths, the James family passed into history.

Jonah Jones, artist and conscientious objector

By Peter Jones

My father, the artist Jonah Jones (1919-2004), was effectively a lifelong pacifist. As with many things, including religion, he was a doubter, but he never quite renounced his principles, for he hated war, having witnessed its dreadful depredations.

Len portrait 1944.jpegHis father Norman served in the Great War at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Wounded at Vimy Ridge in 1917, he was invalided out. Norman felt some bitterness about his war experiences, and always tried to ignore Remembrance Day. Clearly this had some effect on his son’s views. Then in late 1935 Jonah got a post as an assistant at Felling public library near his home on Tyneside. The librarian, Mona Lovell, was a convert to the Society of Friends and under her influence Jonah became interested in Quakerism. She became an intellectual and cultural mentor to him, helping to focus his reading and introducing him to new artistic experiences like classical music concerts, ballet and theatre. Mona played a vital part in Jonah’s development, and the two became close friends.

Jonah came to feel that he must do all he could as an individual to prevent another war. He joined the Peace Pledge Union and sold Peace News on the streets. Following the outbreak of the Second World War he was registered as a conscientious objector. In October 1940 he was sent to Exmoor to work as a forester, beginning almost three and a half years working on the land which took him also to Kircudbrightshire in south-west Scotland and Wensleydale in North Yorkshire. Mona and Jonah began a regular correspondence that continued until the late 1940s, when life took them in different directions. She kept all his letters, a selection of which, edited by me, is to be published this autumn by Seren Books.

Jonah’s letters during this time give a clear picture of life as a conscientious objector. The worst experience was his two months on Exmoor. The group of COs of which he was part was treated badly, underfed and made to work in sodden clothes that did not dry from the previous day’s soaking. The locals in a deeply conservative area were openly hostile, “waiting for the slightest excuse to beat us up, for we are hated in this valley, we know it only too well”. Solidarity between the COs soon broke down – Jonah describes a vicious row between Christadelphians and Plymouth Brethren. The four months in Scotland were better, at least initially. He lived in an isolated shepherd’s bothy with a small group of fellow COs in what he described as “six lads living out Communism in its simplest & most wholesome form”.

In Wensleydale, where he spent by far the longest time, Jonah was on the whole treated quite decently by people. He fell in with the Castle Bolton group of artists, who mentored him in his first uncertain steps towards a career in the arts (he grappled with watercolour painting during these years). Briefly he came under suspicion from the local policeman, who dimly thought this young man sketching landscapes and churches might be a spy, until Jonah got a permit from the area superintendent.

Forestry Gang.png

A crisis in his personal life in May 1943, and sheer exhaustion from constant tree felling (no power saws then), brought Jonah to a drastic reappraisal. He decided to enlist in the armed forces, but without renouncing his refusal to bear arms. He was finally called up eight months later and was drafted into the Non-Combatant Corps. Here he spent a dreary and frustrating eight months moving about sacks of flour and similar material.

Jonah was rescued from this in October 1944 when he was accepted into 224 Parachute Field Ambulance, part of the 6th Airborne Division. This was what he had been aiming for when he enlisted. He saw action in the Ardennes and Germany, and was among the first to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, spending a couple of days treating the sick and dying there. Jonah never had the slightest doubt that he had done the right thing by joining 224 PFA. He helped to save lives and heal the wounded, German as well as Allied. He was proud of his work and besides, he became friends with a number of artists, writers and designers who were fellow members of the unit. It was during this period that he decided conclusively to pursue a career in the arts after demobilization.

Jonah went on to spend almost two years stationed in Palestine during the final stages of the British Mandate. He became increasingly disillusioned with government policy towards Jewish refugees. The letters end with Jonah settled in Wales and establishing himself as a full-time sculptor and lettercutter.

Mona & Len Park Bench.png

Jonah’s letters to Mona Lovell tell a fascinating story of life in wartime, both among civilians and in the Army. They also portray the remarkable people with whom he was close friends – poets, painters and others as well as the redoubtable Mona. Above all the letters are a significant record of one man’s experience as a conscientious objector in the Second World War, and make for rewarding reading.

 

Dear Mona: Letters from a Conscientious Objector by Jonah Jones, edited by Peter Jones

Ten Years of Independence: All about Kosovo and the challenges to come

By Georgina Whiteman

The Republic of Kosovo is a disputed territory and partially-recognised state in South-east Europe that declared independence from Serbia on the 17th February 2008. Kosovo has been conquered by the Byzantine, Bulgarian and Serbian Empires, part of the Ottoman Empire and then more recently, part of Yugoslavia. Its long history has led to confusion over borders, questions of its legitimacy, and an array of languages and cultures muddled up into one small land-locked country. Much like Wales, it has spent much of its history fighting for its autonomy and rights, and much like Wales, has come out a success story. But just who exactly is Kosovo, and why is it deemed Europe’s youngest and fastest growing economy?

kosovo 1

Kosovo is an Albanian majority country, with 93% of the population identifying as Albanian. Minority groups consist of Serbs (predominantly in the North, Montenegrins, Romani, Bosniaks, Croats and Turks. During the 1999 Kosovo War, over 70,000 ethnic Albanians, 10,000 ethnic Serbs and 7,000 ethnic Bosniaks were forced out to neighbouring countries. Many of the ethnic Albanians returned following the United Nations taking over administration of Kosovo after the war. The main languages are Albanian and Serbian, with Bosnian also an increasingly popular language. It considers itself a secular country, in which the two main religions are Christianity and Islam. Kosovo has had a dark history, and still today faces many socioeconomic and political issues.

Kosovo is a transition lower-middle income economy, having seen solid economic growth in the past decade and being one of only four countries in Europe to experience growth in every year since the 2008 financial crisis. Kosovo’s growth model is heavily reliant on remittances to fuel domestic consumption, particularly due to the extremely low average monthly wage (€304) and lack of employment opportunities. In recent years, Kosovo has received an influx of foreign direct investment, seen developments in its financial and technological sectors, and increased exports significantly. Kosovo’s main exporting partners are Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Switzerland, Montenegro and Germany, and its key exports are metals, mineral products, textiles, packaged foods, plastic and rubber. In more recent years, the wine production in Kosovo has grown and has started to be traded with Germany and the US, as well as smaller countries within the region.

A Brief History of Kosovo

1st Century AD Romans gain control of the area, populated by Dardani people.

 

6th Century Slavs begin to settle in the area, which slips from Roman/Byzantine control and becomes a disputed border.

 

12th Century Serbia gains control of Kosovo – which becomes the heart of the Serbian empire, seeing the construction of many Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries.

 

1389 Battle of Kosovo leads to 500 years of Turkish Ottoman rule.

 

1912 Balkan Wars lead to Serbia regaining control of Kosovo from the Turks.

 

1946 Kosovo is absorbed into the Yugoslav Federation.

 

1974 Yugoslav constitution recognises the autonomous status of Kosovo, giving the province de facto self-government.

 

1990 Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic strips Kosovo of its autonomy and imposes Serbian administration, prompting Albanian protests.

 

1991 Start of the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. Kosovar Albanians launch passive resistance movement but fail to secure independence.

 

1996 The rebel Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) start attacking Serbian authorities in Kosovo, which see’s retaliation in form of a Serbian crackdown.
1999 NATO implements a 78-day air campaign on Serbia due to international effort failing to stop the Kosovo conflict. Yugoslav and Serbian forces respond with ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Albanians. Following a peace agreement, Yugoslav and Serbian forces withdraw from Kosovo and a UN sponsored administration take over.

 

2008 Kosovo unilaterally declares independence.

 

2012 Group of countries overseeing Kosovo since 2008 end its supervisory roles, but NATO-led peacekeepers and EU rule-of-law monitors remain.

 

2013 Kosovo and Serbia reach landmark agreement on normalising relations which grants high degree of autonomy to Serb-majority areas in the North, with both sides agreeing not to block each other’s efforts to seek EU membership.

 

Transparency International ranks Kosovo as one of the worst countries in Europe for corruption perception, significantly lower than many developing countries. There is much dissatisfaction with the war-time politicians still in power in Kosovo, due to many unresolved allegations of war crimes and abuse. Tensions with Serbia are still rife, with the occasional conflict arising in the North, particularly in Mitrovica, a melting point of cultures divided by the New Bridge over the Ibar river.

A 2016 estimate predicted that Kosovo has a population of 1.816 million people, in which roughly half are under the age of 25, according to the UNDP. Youth unemployment reaches a global low, with over 60% of young people unemployed. Education attainment is low, and most young people attend mono-ethnic classes in which all staff and students belong to the same ethnic group. The Kosovan economy generates only half the required jobs to keep up with the amount of young people entering the work force – and with poor education standards, low education attainment and segregated schools, young unemployment only seeks to grow until the Kosovan government and policy makers implement change.

Roughly 190,000 Kosovans are thought to have left Kosovo since its independence declaration in 2008. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovans left prior to this, seeking refugee due to the Kosovo War and the following unstable and corrupt political climate, with many seeking refuge in Germany and Switzerland. 50% of Kosovo’s youth stating intention to emigrate if the strict and unpopular EU visa regime changed. Migrants send money back to their family in Kosovo, in which these remittances account for approximately 15.6% of total GDP – one of the most remittance dependent countries in the world. Whilst remittances benefit the recipient due to the increase in disposable income, they further inequality due to their inflationary impact on the local economy, and their use for luxury consumption as opposed to infrastructural investment. Many migrants frequently return to Kosovo, and express dissatisfaction with the current state of the country due to the high rates of corruption and lack of representation for the Diaspora. The purpose of the establishment of the Ministry of Diaspora in 2011 was to research the causes of migration, and to represent the interests of expatriates as well as to offer representation for them to directly influence government affairs.

Whilst we celebrate ten years of Kosovo, and its booming growth in the face of 2008 and its ongoing fight for international recognition, there are still many issues that need facing. Although the main battles are over, the war is not yet finished and with the help of international organisations and development funds, its wholly possible for Kosovo to come out as a beacon of hope from the ashes of former Yugoslavia. For such a young economy, we need to aid in developing employability skills in the youth, matching jobs to seekers, and aiding ascension into the EU to enable the youth of Kosovo to access an international network of employment and education opportunities. We need to hold those accused of war crimes accountable and aid the government in reducing corruption and increasing transparency for its country. Finally, we need to connect the Diaspora, to develop a network that aids Kosovo in its development in more ways than foreign aid ever could – through the transfer of finance, skills, culture, education and political power.