A week as Caernarfon Poppies Volunteers

img_0101By Megan & Dani

A week of volunteering as a Poppy Ambassadors at Caernarfon Castle was a brilliant choice for us as it appeared to offer a range of opportunities, not only in allowing us to gain experience that will aid us in the world of work, but also facilitated us in completing a part of our gold Duke of Edinburgh award.

Conversing with such a diverse group of volunteers has provided us with a real insight into what the installation evokes within each individual; whether it acts as an artistic muse or as a commemorative exhibition (especially poignant with regards to the centenary of the First World War).

We first read about the poppies’ move to Caernarfon in our local newspaper and this sounded like something both of us would be motivated to get involved with, especially as we are both currently studying A-Level history and are considering taking this to degree level.  We believe that it is important for people of all ages to be involved with history and to remember and reflect upon our past, as well as learn from it – particularly in lieu of recent world events such as the American presidential election and the Syrian refugee crisis.

A highlight of our volunteering has most definitely been a guided tour of the exhibition with a group of blind veterans as The Last Post was played.

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A Personal Reflection on Loss and Connection post-Brexit

Wendy Tapper, Bridgend

It seems deeply ironic and, to many of us, achingly sad that we are willing to turn away from our European neighbours just as we commemorate the centenary of the battles of the Somme, Mametz Wood, and all our shared experience of the horrors of war. At such times I remember being told stories about my great uncle – the baby of his family, the only boy in a houseful of big sisters – who was interned in a German prisoner-of-war camp in northern France towards the end of the Great War. After the Armistice of 1918, his family waited in vain for his return and neither the British military authorities nor his old comrades could account for his disappearance. At length they, a south Wales miner’s family, wrote to the German authorities for help and got a courteous and kind response. Their boy had been one of thousands of victims of the influenza epidemic that rolled across the devastated continent and he had died in the camp.

Our great uncle remained vivid in our family memory; we have picture postcards he sent home from France and my mother, who died just a few years ago, would recall her childhood adoration of a lively and indulgent young uncle. Decades later a relative traced his grave – not in one of the great memorial sites but in the communal cemetery of a small French town. There, records show that allied soldiers of several nationalities were buried alongside German soldiers, Chinese labourers, and a solitary Russian. They had all suffered and died far from home and the people who loved them.

Now, a century after the carnage of the Somme, my family – like so many others – reflects a more peaceful Europe, a more inter-connected world. We have spun outwards from that Welsh mining village. I have French and German grandchildren and through their heritage I connect with families whose memories are of living under tyranny and foreign occupation. The stories of my new, wider family include: migration to escape poverty and discrimination; the experience of living in caves and foraging for food in Italy as one of the most terrible battles of World War II raged overhead; flight across Germany in 1945 ahead of the advancing Soviet army; and the desperate journey of ‘boat people’ from communist China. They are all our family, our people; their histories have melded with ours to become our common story.

Greenham Common; a significant protest seldom acknowledged

By Lydia Edwards

Greenham Common could have been an insignificant point in Berkshire if it were not for the Greenham Common Women’s peace camp that was established in 1981 to protest against nuclear weapons being sited at the RAF base.

Source: Welling, C. (2016). Towing friends Greenham Common. [online] Carywelling.co.uk. Available at: http://www.carywelling.co.uk/towingfriendsgre.html [Accessed 21 Jul. 2016].

Source: Welling, C. (2016). Towing friends Greenham Common. [online] Carywelling.co.uk. Available at: http://www.carywelling.co.uk/towingfriendsgre.html [Accessed 21 Jul. 2016].

In 1979, NATO decided the airbase located on the common was to be used as the site for the deployment of American cruise missiles, the missiles would arrive at Greenham in 1983. However even before the arrival of the nuclear weapons a remarkable protest had gathered with the notorious women’s peace camp at its center.

The camps origins began in a march organized from Cardiff to Greenham Common under the banner of “Women for Life on Earth”[1]. The march left Cardiff on the 27th of August 1981 and arrived at Greenham on the 5th of September. The original 36 women, 4 men and 3 children were there to protest on the arrival of American cruise missiles[2]. Upon arrival, the protesters decided that four women should chain themselves to the fence of Greenham and subsequently the press would be notified. Later on, the women wrote a letter to the base commander. The commander replied to this by stating “As far as I’m concerned, you can stay here for as long as you like”. This statement is one he would regret[3].

By the end of the week the women took part in chaining action on a rota basis, more and more women became a part of the movement and a peace camp came into fruition – by November it was firmly established and by March 1982, it became a women’s only peace protest.

The support for Greenham women became widespread. Many women across Britain became members of Greenham support groups. The camp also attracted women from other countries and inspired the development of further women’s peace camps “at least thirty on three continents by 1983”[4]. The slogan “Greenham Women Everywhere” formed a wider web of protest across Britain and beyond.

It accumulated further support throughout 1982 when Newbury Council were determined to evict the women from the common along with a series of activities by Greenham Women which ultimately led to arrests, court cases and prison sentences for some[5]. These activities included the first blockade of the base by 250 women in March, a symbolic die-in at the London stock exchange in June. A die-in is a type of protest whereby participants pretend to be dead. Furthermore there was an occupation inside the base in August as well as an encirclement of the base. This was known to many as “embrace the base”[6].

Many of the characteristic features of the campaign were taking shape during 1982. Women were learning techniques of passive resistance and how to plan and execute large actions within the principles of non-hierarchical organisation. They were challenging the legal framework and court procedures in ways reminiscent of the Suffragettes. It is argued that up to 50,000 women engaged with the camp by December 1983[7].

One of the women that engaged in the protests over the years was called Helen Thomas, who came from Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire. A woman who was inspired by the women of Greenham Common paid the ultimate price for peace. According to the sources, Helen went to the peace camp at the beginning of 1989 when the camp had a decline in media interest and they were short of women who wanted to be involved. Her mother once wrote to her asking her to come home, get a decent job and be involved at Greenham part-time. However, Helen was determined and argued that “peace and justice was not a part-time job”[8].

This decision was to be a significant and ill-fated. Helen was hit by a police car on August 5th, 1989 which proved to be fatal. Helen was 22 when she passed away, she was only at the camp for two months prior to the accident. Her death was ruled to be an accident although it is still contested by Helens family and friends who argue the verdict is questionable as standard procedures were not followed[9].

Source: Dicken, Paul. "Wales, Greenham Common And Occupy | Hiraeth". Hiraeth.wales. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 July 2016.

Source: Dicken, Paul. “Wales, Greenham Common And Occupy | Hiraeth”. Hiraeth.wales. N.p., 2011. Web. 19 July 2016.

Wales for Peace have a commemorative plaque for Helen, located within the garden of peace behind the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff and is available for the public to visit.

Although Greenham Common has been disbanded, and it seems we live in a society that seems to have more violence as time passes, the fight for peace continues. Helen Thomas along with the other women of Greenham played an active role in moving the struggle onward.

[1] Liddington, J. (1989) The Long Road to Greenham: Feminism and anti-militarism in Britain since 1820. United Kingdom: Trafalgar Square.

[2] Shaw, M (1993) “Women in Protest and Beyond: Greenham Common and Mining Support Groups.” PhD Thesis. Durham University. Print.

[3] Harford, B and Hopkins (1984) S. Greenham Common. London: Women’s Press. Print.

[4] We Are Ordinary Women (1985) Seattle: Seal Press. Print.

[5] Liddington, J. (1989) The Long Road to Greenham: Feminism and anti-militarism in Britain since 1820. United Kingdom: Trafalgar Square.

[6] Roseneil, Sasha. Common Women, Uncommon Practices. London: Cassell, 2000. Print.

[7] Harford, Barbara and Sarah Hopkins. Greenham Common. London: Women’s Press, 1984. Print.

[8] “The Woman Who Paid The Ultimate Price For Peace”. walesonline. N.p., 2011. Web. 13 July 2016.

[9] “Greenham Common Campaigner Helen Thomas Honoured | Women’s Views On News”. Womensviewsonnews.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 19 July 2016.

Mametz Wood; A Legacy

By Lydia Edwards

Over eight million men were killed in the conflict of the First World War and 37 million wounded, nowhere was the slaughter more extreme than on Somme in 1916. One of the battles that has left a legacy within conflict was Mametz Wood.

The battle of Somme itself was between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. It was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front and over one million men died[1]. Mametz wood was, indeed, the largest wood on the Somme Battlefront[2]. It was the objective of the 38th (Welsh) Division during the First Battle of Somme.

The aim was to seize the forest leading to a takeover of the German front within a few hours. But that’s not what happened. Although the Welsh succeeded the intended hours turned into 5 days of battle, between the 7th of July 1916 and 12th of July, which led to many dead or injured. Certainly, it was a sight where 46 officers and 556 other ranks were killed along with a total number of 3993 casualties[3]. These casualties came from the 20,000 volunteers who came together to fight for the Division. It is regarded as a momentous and gory battle fought by Welsh soldiers during the First World War.

Robert Graves, who fought in the battle, and is since a poet, wrote:

“It was full of dead Prussian Guards, big men, and dead Royal Welch Fusiliers and South Wales Borderers, little men. Not a single tree in the wood remained unbroken.”[4]

The Legacy of Mametz is something quite striking and significant. The Battle still resonates today with many families and veterans, and people who were not alive at the time of the battle are now drawn to it. The legacy of Mametz Wood on Wales is as important as the battle itself. In the words of Robin Barlow (2014) “The Name of Mametz Wood, perhaps like those of Aberfan or Senghenydd, is embedded deep in the Welsh psyche, immediately conjuring up images of the needless loss of life, bravery, chaos and self-sacrifice[5]

Lloyd George was enthusiastic to mark what he saw as the primary achievement of the Welsh battalion he had placed together. He commissioned the Welsh artist Christopher Williams to paint a huge work. The Charge of the Welsh Division at Mametz Wood, to commemorate the battle. It hung in 10 Downing Street and later was donated to the National Museum of Wales.

In Owen Sheers’ poem ‘Mametz Wood’ this is also emphasised in the first lines of the poem in the words “For years afterword”[6]. Another who has used creativity to emphasise the horror of Mametz Wood is David Jones, a soldier who fought at Mametz Wood, who wrote the epic poem “In Parenthesis” in 1937. The poem has recently been turned into an opera by Iain Bell which has recently been performed by The Welsh National Opera and performances have happened across Britain. In Parenthesis beautifully emphasises the morning after the first day of battle, in which over 400 Welshmen died. David Jones writes “But how intolerable bright the morning is where we who are alive and remain, walk lifted up, carried forward by an effective word.[7]

In 1987 the battle of Mametz was once again in focus when the 38th Welsh Division Memorial at Mametz Wood was erected. The Welsh Government contributed a significant amount of funds to establish the Monument of the battle in France.

Indeed, when one utters the words of “Mametz Wood” one imagines scenes of bloodshed, fortitude and the deceased. The National Museum of Wales is currently holding an exhibition on the battle named “’War’ Hell!’ The Battle of Mametz Wood in Art” as 2016 marks the centenary of the Battle. It is on display until the 4th of September 2016 and admission is free.

[1] Hirst, A. (2016) Battle of the Somme was probably worst ever military disaster. Available at: http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/battle-somme-probably-worst-ever-11551583 (Accessed: 5 August 2016).

[2] Carradice, Phil (2010) “The Battle of Mametz Wood”. Wales. Web. 19 July 2016.

[3] [3] Carradice, Phil (2010) “The Battle of Mametz Wood”. Wales. Web. 19 July 2016.

[4] Poet Robert Graves on Mametz wood (2014) Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/inside-first-world-war/part-eight/10741960/robert-graves-dead-boche.html (Accessed: 29 July 2016).

[5]Administrator, w. (2012). Welsh History Month: Mametz Wood. [online] wales online. Available at: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/welsh-history-month-mametz-wood-2047333 [Accessed 21 Jul. 2016].

[6] Sheers, O. (2005). Skirrid Hill. Bridgend: Seren.

[7] Jones, D. (1937) In Parenthesis.

Jenan’s story

By Zuzana Nevolová

Jenan has been living in Cardiff for ten years now. Being half British, half Iraqi, she has never had problems speaking both Arabic and English. But even though Arabic is – quite understandably – much closer to her heart since she has lived in Iraq most of her life, she feels very privileged to live in Cardiff. Many members of her family are forced to stay in the isolated city of Mosul, which is currently held by the so called Islamic state.

And so, despite being very much fluent in the English language, Jenan likes to speak with most of the family in her mother tongue, Arabic. Completely normal, isn’t it? But then her neighbour abused her for speaking Arabic in her own house!

A lady living just next door to Jenan’s house repeatedly demanded Jenan, and even her visitors to only speak English. Without any further explanation she shouted at Jenan and her little grandchildren when they were playing Arabic word games on Jenan’s porch. The neighbour said that as UK citizens, they should only speak English and basically tried to forbid them to speak another language on their own property.

This happened many times, and the neighbour made it clear that she resents the idea of being neighbours with an Iraqi.

Until then, Jenan had never had someone complain about the culture of her origin in Cardiff. She considers the people of Cardiff to be lovely and her neighbourhood to be exceptionally friendly. But as an exception to prove the rule, one of her neighbours did not share this friendly attitude.

The acts of intolerance coming from the neighbour have made Jenan feel unsafe. Unsafe to speak the language in her own home, unsafe in her own skin.

The repeated insults and utterly absurd demands forced Jenan to approach the hate-crime department of the Cardiff police. The officers reacted extremely quickly, inspected the situation and talked to the people who were involved. Despite the limited resolution possibilities, the police have gone out of their way to help and to prevent other incidents from happening not only by making a record of the incidents, but by repeatedly checking on the situation at Jenan’s house though phone-calls and general reassurance.

In fact, even the positive response from Jenan’s other neighbours was heart-warming and overwhelming supportive. Many of the residents expressed their consternation, brought Jenan and her family flowers to reassure her and a few of them even started studying Arabic with Jenan!

And therefore, thanks to her Cardiff community, Jenan feels supported and trusts that the police don’t overlook such incidents.

Because they shouldn’t ever be overlooked or underestimated.

 

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.  

Cardiff, a Place for Peace

By Belén Diez

As a volunteer working on the Wales for Peace Project, my main goal is to convey to readers the personal story of on the women refugees living in Cardiff. For the past few days I have spent a great amount of time with women from a wide range of nationalities (Algeria, Libya, Zimbabwe…), all of whom have something in common: they ran away from violence in their native countries and they all have found in Cardiff a place where the have built their homes in peace.

As a personal choice I decided to tell the story of a Syrian woman. In contrast to all the stories about fear, pain and sadness that we hear in the media everyday, I want to convey a story of hope, respect and understanding.

Interviewing the protagonist of my story has not been easy at all, I still wonder why she feels shame because what has happened is not her fault but, in any case, I can understand that her story is not easy to tell. Finally, she agreed to tell her story through one of her friends that I had the chance to meet in the non profitable organization Woman Connect First.

Lets call her Irene because Irene, in its original Greek language, means peace and peace is what this story is about.

Aged 32, Irene came to the United Kingdom three years ago running away from the horror and panic of the Syrian Civil War. Its more than 2,370 miles of fear, fear for what you have left behind but also fear about what awaits for you in your new destination but also of expectation and hope: nothing can be worse that facing the war every day.

Her first residence was in London, but she couldn’t find a home there. Some episodes of racism and the high cost of living made London a hostile place for her, so she decided to move to Wales. In Cardiff Irene has found a place where she can live in peace. Indeed, most refugees I met highlight that Cardiff citizens have a high sense of tolerance.

Just a few months after moving to Cardiff, Irene was hired as a teacher in an Arabic school as well as a babysitter. With her work she can afford the cost of the rent of her apartment and support her family. However, what she most likes in Cardiff is its open-minded people, always willing to integrate, regardless of nationality, language, religion or skin colour. Here kindness is the only response to diversity.

“Do you think that the local Government is working hard in improving and promoting the integration of refugees?” her answer is absolutely positive, pointing out that legislation on rights and the creation of a budget for rental assistance are the main paths used in order to support real integration.

The last question of the interview is whether she prefers to live in Cardiff or in Syria and the answer comes out from her mouth clearly and unhesitatingly: Syria is my home, it is where I grew up and is where my family and my memories remain, “Coming back to Syria would be a miracle.” Meanwhile, Cardiff gives her a place to live in peace, to enjoy the feeling of being part of a community. In her own words: “here, I have rights”.

From my personal view, the greatest achievement is that local citizens feel proud to live in an environment of diversity and multiculturalism; this ensures respect, understanding and peace.

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.  

Growing Peace Stories in Riverside

By Esther Jones

As part of Wales for Peace, UNA Exchange organised the Growing Peace Stories project. A group of international students from across Europe spent two weeks (9-23 August 2016) volunteering with a group of women from Women Connect First (WCF)*.

IMG_0006

Photo by Martina Gargari

Every day the international students worked with local volunteers from WCF as they helped to prepare for the Riverside Festival, build plant boxes and garden, as can be seen in these photos. The volunteers also spent quality time sharing and listening to stories and reflections on peace and worked together to produce and share these ‘Peace Stories’. They tell these stories through blogs, videos and presentations. Take a look at their stories:

What does peace mean to different people?

This video and presentation show what the concept of peace means to the international and local volunteers, including their definitions of the word. What’s interesting is that many of their answers are similar, despite their different backgrounds. A unity and like-mindedness seems to have emerged from the groups sharing, listening and experiencing one anthers’ stories.

Personal stories of the local volunteers

These are the international volunteers’ perspectives on the stories they were told by the local women volunteers, often stories of seeking peace and refuge away from their countries of origin. They take you step-by-step through the journeys of some of the women and explain how they found peace .

Peace builders and heroes

These accounts illustrate how some of the local volunteers and organisations have played a significant part in helping to establish peace in their local communities.

*Wales for Peace is a WCIA project funded by HLF seeking to answer the question how has Wales contributed to peace in the 100 years since the First World War. UNA Exchange is an international volunteer exchange organisation. WCF is an organisation based in Riverside, Cardiff, which seeks to empower Black & Minority Ethnic women in Cardiff and South East Wales by offering a range of services and training in order to improve livelihoods and employability.

Share your peace story with Wales for Peace so it adds to the Peace Map of Wales