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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#Temple80 – A month celebrating Wales’ Peacemakers and movements

Through November 2018, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs organised an ambitious programme of events to mark the 80th Anniversary of the opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace on Nov 23rd 1938, as well as #WW100 – the centenary of the Armistice of 11th Nov 1918, and beginning of the post-WW1 “Peace Process” that shaped global relations over the century since.

WCIA delivered over 43 events with a wide range of partners, each exploring an area of Wales’ ‘Peace Heritage’, and the work of Temple organisations past, present and future – as well as showcasing through the Wales for Peace Exhibition the work of volunteers and communities who have contributed to the Wales for Peace programme between 2014-18. This blog aims to draw together links and resources from all these activities, as they become available.

Voices of 1938 – Clippings Projection 

Voices of Temple80 – Film

Temple80 November Programme of Events (scroll down for recordings / outputs)

View full programme of events – English; Welsh; Eventbrite

View Temple80 Exhibition Guide – English; Welsh

Listen to ‘Assemble’, composed for Temple80 / WW100 by Iffy Iwobi and Jon Berry

Temple80 Anniversary Evening

Centrepiece of Temple80 was the Gala evening on 23rd November, attended by about 230 people and including:

Self-Guided Tours of the Temple of Peace, and Temple80 / Wales for Peace exhibition.

‘A New Mecca’ Performance in partnership with Dr. Emma West, Uni of Birmingham and British Academy; Being Human Festival; Gentle Radical Arts Collective; and 50 volunteers and participants from diverse community groups. View ‘A New Mecca for today’ Being Human Festival blog by Dr Emma West.

– Communal Rededication of the Hall of Nations (back to its original 1938 title, as discovered from the archives)

– Food, Drink and Fireworks

– Launch of ‘Voices of Temple80’ Documentary Film by Tracy Pallant / Amy Peckham / Valley & Vale Community Arts

– WCIA VIPs Reception and alumni reunion, with Cutting of a ‘Rainbow Cake’

Peace Garden 30th Anniversary

On Saturday 24th, this was followed by a #PeaceGarden30 Rededication and Family Fun Day, in which WCIA brought together UNA Exchange international volunteers and alumni and Garden of Peace Founder Robert Davies, with children from Roath Park Primary School

Together they unveiled 2 new colourful mosaics (created by international volunteers) on a new archway entrance in the Peace Garden; buried a Time Capsule in the Garden, to be opened in 50 years time; and unveiled a plaque on one of WCIA’s meeting rooms in honour of Robert Davies, and all international youth volunteers inspired by him from 1973 to today.

#Temple80 ‘Wales for Peace’ Exhibition

The Exhibition accompanying Temple80 sought to draw together the story of the Temple, with Wales’ peace heritage of the last 100 years – including hidden histories gathered by community groups and volunteers 2014-18 – along with responses from young people, schools and artists.

View Temple80 Exhibition Guide – English; Welsh

Artists in Residence showcased a range of responses for visitors to delve deeper into the Temple’s stories:

  •    Jon Berry, Temple80 Artist in Residence composed a series of musical installations responding to the Temple spaces & heritage; and also collaborated with musician Iffy Iwobi to produce and perform ‘Assemble’, a 8 minute musical tribute for the BME Remembrance Service.
  •    Ness Owen, collection of 5 poems responding  to heritage materials in exhibition;
  •    Will Salter, ‘Guiding Hand’ alternative tour of the Temple encouraging deeper spatial appreciation;
  •    Hazel Elstone, crafted multicoloured wreath of red, white, black and purple Remembrance poppies
  •    Lee Karen Stow, with her ‘Women War & Peace’ photography display;
  •    Tracy Pallant & Amy Peckham, with their community films including Temple80 Rap by BME artist Jon Chase.

Recordings / Outputs from Temple80 Events

Event Photo(s) Video(s) Audio(s)
Exhibition – throughout November Flickr Album;

Building the Exhibition

Self-Guided Tour with Craig Owen  
Exhibition Launch and ‘Temple of Memories’ Round Table Flickr Album FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – ‘Temple of Memories’  
BAME Remembrance Service, 2nd Nov Flickr Album   ASSEMBLE – by Iffy Iwobi & Jon Berry
International Development, 5th Nov      
Schools Conference, 6TH Nov Flickr Album    
War, Peace & the Environment, 6th Nov Article    
Temple Tours   Exhibition Walkthrough  
Turning the Pages – every day through Nov Soldiers Stories FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – Turning of the Pages Thoughts from the Crypt
Story of the Book of Remembrance, 9th Nov Flickr Album FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – Story of the Book 1 and 2 Story of the Book of Remembrance
Armistice Day Services, 11th Nov Flickr Album    
Campaigning for Change, 13th Nov   FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – CAMPAIGNING FOR CHANGE Campaigning for Change
Refugees & Sanctuary, 16th Nov   FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – REFUGEES & SANCTUARY  
Peace Education, 20th Nov   FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – PEACE EDUCATION  
Legacy of WW100, 21st Nov Flickr Album   Legacy of WW100 Audio
Women War & Peace, 22nd Nov   FACEBOOK LIVE – LEE STOW WOMEN WAR & PEACE

FACEBOOK LIVE – WELSH WOMEN & PEACE

FACEBOOK LIVE – 1980S ANTI NUCLEAR CAMPAIGNERS

Women War & Peace x 6
Peace Garden Rededication & Family Fun Day, 24th Nov Flickr Album Peace Garden Rededication + Robert Davies  

Media Coverage

A New Mecca for Today? Being Human Festival Blog by Dr. Emma West, British Academy

‘We Will Remember Them’ – BBC Documentary by Huw Edwards (Temple of Peace features in about 5 minutes of content, with Dr Emma West and Dr Alison Fell)

How Wales’ most Tragic Mother spread Peace and Hope – Western Mail / Wales Online

Cardiff’s Temple of Peace opens its doors to celebrate 80th birthday – University of Birmingham article

War Mothers as Peace Builders – University of Birmingham

Remembrance Weekend at Temple of Peace – The Cardiffian

Temple of Peace turns 80 – The Cardiffian

Social Media Archives

Twitter Feed & Media: https://twitter.com/walesforpeace?lang=en

Youtube Videos Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0G2l7QV_yPDU4RHB8hEEPg?view_as=subscriber

Soundcloud Event Recordings: https://soundcloud.com/walesforpeace

Flickr Photo Albums: https://www.flickr.com/photos/129767871@N03/albums

People’s Collection Wales archive collections: https://www.peoplescollection.wales/user/8498/author/8498/content_type/collection/sort/date

Facebook Community Page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/walesforpeace/posts

 

 

#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.

CaernarfonPoppies4-1200x900 Red White WfP Poppies

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?

Davies Family of Llandinam

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

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.11.30 1917 Caernarfon RfP Book of Remembrance Hedd Wyn - Ellis Evans closeup 1

“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.” 

1928_Welsh_National_War_Memorial Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.16.05

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.

1937 Foundation stone ceremony 1938 Temple from Cathays Park.jpg

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.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 19.50.03.png The Crypt in 1938

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?

Wales for Peace Exhibition Title Panel A1 Landscape

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:

Book of Remembrance Flyer Cover.png  Book of Remembrance Online

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.

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.

Community Action: The Legacy of Grenfell a year on

By Niamh Mannion

The of 14th June 2018, marked the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire, in which 72 people lost their lives. The abject horror that encapsulates the tragedy is unquantifiable. But through the tragedy, community spirit prevailed. The local community of North Kensington immediately sprang into action. Sports halls and community centres were opened for donations. Mosques and Churches opened their doors to provide solace and comfort to survivors and the bereaved. It was the community of North Kensington which provided refuge from the horror which had just engulfed their neighbourhood. Donations of the most basic essentials were given freely and openly to survivors in their hour of need.

However, it was not only the initial aftermath which generated the outpouring of charity. In the weeks and months following the fire, traumatised survivors and members of the local community needed vital support. Children and Adults alike were in dire need of mental support. A leading psychiatrist went as far to say the mental health response to Grenfell was the biggest of its kind in Europe. Charities encouraged survivors and members of the local community to seek mental health support. Children were encouraged to explore their trauma through art therapy. Legal assistance was also offered to aid survivors in their fight forward for justice.

In the same month as Grenfell, June 2017, Portugal experienced deadly wildfires. On the 17th June 2017, four wildfires erupted within minutes of each other. 66 people lost their lives. As with Grenfell, it was community action which provided practical aid to wildfire survivors. Moreover, community action also facilitated a campaign demanding improved fire regulation measures.

As we look back on the year post Grenfell, it is the tireless and passionate community action of North Kensington which has proven genuinely inspiring. The mountains of charitable donations, volunteer workers and silent vigils became the iconic images of the disaster. Community cohesion has in part alleviated the suffering of the impacted community and ensured the fight for justice continues. It is important to recognise the power of community action. All individuals have the potential to make a positive difference in their local community, in Wales and internationally.

A forgotten Crises: Pro-gun arguments and the evidence against them

By Emily Withers

Following the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, the world is yet again talking about gun control. 17 people lost their lives to a single shooter on Wednesday 14th February 2018, at Douglas High School, which is not as shocking of a sentence as it should be. Debates in the following weeks have, understandably, been emotionally driven, and can sometimes be lost beneath tears and shouting. This blog post will highlight some of the key arguments against gun control and how they are often disproved by simply looking at the evidence.

Claim 1: Mental illness is the main reason for mass shootings, not gun ownership

This argument is a popular one for conservative lobbyists and NRA members alike. In particular, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch likes to deflect serious questions about controls and new laws by suggesting that mental illness is the only reason why people commit mass shootings. In fact, using this argument merely dismisses the need for further debate. A study in 2015 found that in the decade ending in 2010, less than 5% of all mass shooting events in America were committed by someone with a diagnosed mental illness, despite 1 in 5 Americans living with one. While it is important that mental health services are improved in America, this is not what is being suggested, with conservative commentators instead using lexis which indirectly labels all mentally ill people as ‘crazy’. If indeed this was a mental health problem, which evidence suggests it is not, then should the President be calling the Parkland shooter a “Sicko”? We should instead be debating for more detailed background checks and mental health assessments for prospective gun owners. This argument, then, is not a genuine one. The facts speak for themselves; most mass shootings are not committed by mentally ill individuals, and when they are, the debate is never about how to control their access to weapons.

Claim 2: If guns were banned, only criminals would own them, and more deaths would occur

This claim runs on the assumption that civilian ownership can be helpful in the event of a mass shooting. In the thirty years leading up to 2009, not a single mass shooting was stopped or prevented by intervention from an armed civilian. In one instance, a civilian pursued, shot and killed a shooter, but this was only after the shooting had ceased. Now that we know this assumption is based on no factual evidence, why can’t the US ban guns? Conservative arguments often suggest that if gun ownership became illegal, only law-abiding citizens would hand their guns into the government during a gun amnesty. This would leave only criminals with guns, leading to an increase in mass-shooting events and no way to defend yourself in an attack. To approach this argument, we must look at case studies where other countries have imposed similar systems.

bbcstats

In the UK in 1996, 16 primary school children and their teacher were killed when a single man used his legally owned handguns to shoot at five and six-year-old children in Dunblane, Scotland. Immediately, there was a debate on new legislation and, ultimately, a ban on guns implemented in 1997. Since then, there has not been a single school shooting, and only one mass shooting event, in 2010. Every year since 1997, there have been fewer than 10 gun deaths in Scotland, where the Dunblane shooting took place, indicating that fears about an increase in use after a ban are unfounded in this case.

Australia’s situation is more similar to the US in terms of attitudes towards gun ownership. For many, having a gun was an essential part of life in the bush, but this did not stop changes in legislation after the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996. 35 people were killed and 23 injured by a lone individual. At the time, there were no restrictions on guns other than handguns, but just two weeks after the shooting, debates were already taking place. The same year, Australia passed a law restricting the ownership of all guns and enforcing the use of firearms licenses. There was also a national buyback policy for anyone who had guns which did not comply with new legislation, which gave civilians motivation to comply. Since the new legislation in 1996, there has not been a single mass shooting event in Australia.

Claim 3: New gun controls would impose on the Second Amendment rights of the American people

Looking at this statement, we must look at the Amendment itself. The phrase in question is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and was implemented in 1791. At this time, the guns used were not semi-automatic weapons with the ability to kill a large group of people at once. Would it really be an infringement of constitutional rights if guns were limited to safer, less destructive, single-fire weapons? This would still be interpreted as ‘bearing arms’, and so would arguably still be fulfilling the Second Amendment rights that lobbyists are so attached to. In addition, we must consider whether the Second Amendment is something that modern Americans should be proud of. It was added to the US constitution over 70 years before slavery was made illegal, at a time where women were treated as their husbands’ property and had no right to vote or express a political opinion. As we can all agree that the American beliefs on race and gender were wrong at this time, why can we not agree the same about the right to carry a gun? Indeed, it may be true that the Second Amendment is being misunderstood altogether. There were several regulations on gun control in the decades following the Bill of Rights. Gun owners had to go to ‘mandatory musters’ where guns would be inspected, and there were regular door-to-door surveys wherein guns were logged. The idea of the Second Amendment was to promote the safety of the American people, not simply allow everyone to own whichever gun they like. The Amendment itself asks for a ‘well-regulated Militia’, which at the time included civilian gun ownership. Supporters of the NRA should now understand that in order for the US government to serve the constitutional rights of its citizens, there must be strong, clear legislation on the types of guns which are allowed to be owned, and by who. Unfortunately for gun fanatics, complying with the Second Amendment does not allow for ordinary citizens to own and use assault rifles; there is no reason that this is appropriate or safe.

Claim 4: Arming more people will prevent mass shootings

With a surge in support after President Trump suggested arming teachers would prevent school shootings, this claim is resurfacing with more determination than ever before. As it was first debated and rejected in the 1920s, we can look to some of the suggestions about gun control from this decade to tackle this issue. There was much pressure on the government at the time, from gun enthusiasts and some media sources, to increase the number of people who could carry concealed weapons, and to take a back seat when it came to strict regulations. This idea was swiftly rejected by lawmakers and the majority of the public, and ‘may issue’ carry laws were implemented instead. These laws made it harder to carry a concealed weapon, as the state may issue you a permit to carry a concealed weapon, even after fulfilling basic requirements. These laws, first seen in the 19th-Century, were so widely accepted that even gun advocates found them reasonable. Up to the 1980s, the NRA themselves did not support the right of every American citizen to carry a concealed weapon, promoting the idea that only those individuals for whom it was necessary to carry a concealed weapon should be granted state approval to do so. So where did the general consensus take such a dramatic U-turn? Lobbyists gained power and money from the mid-1980s in the USA, and so have been able to influence the media and the government. By pumping 30.3 million dollars into Trump, the NRA gained political influence.  So, Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers should not be surprising. But would it work?

vox stats

A bill set into motion in Florida on 3rd March 2018 suggests arming highly trained individuals within schools, who would then act as a protector in the case of an attack. Supporters may argue the famous ‘good guy with a gun’ logic can be applied here, and that teachers would use their guns solely for the protection of their students. But what happens when a teacher snaps? We must consider the implications of arming teachers, an overworked group who are often loaded with stress and paperwork. Just two weeks after the Parkland shooting, Jesse Davidson, a teacher from Dalton Hugh School barricaded himself in a classroom and unloaded a shot. Fortunately, Davidson was alone in the room and there were no injuries, but we must ponder just how much worse this situation could have been. Student safety will not be increased by guaranteeing a weapon in the classroom. It certainly will not prevent school shootings. Indeed, in the case of the Parkland shooting, an armed security officer was present at the school but did not enter and address the shooter. This was an individual who had over 30 years’ experience as a sheriff’s deputy, but in the moment could not bring himself to enter a live shooting scenario. This situation helps to place emphasis on the role of human emotions and natural responses in life-threatening scenarios. So why would arming teachers, whose jobs are not remotely related to armed security, help prevent school shootings?

Conclusions

While it is clear that a calm and civilized debate must occur in the US over gun control, it is also clear that some arguments already put forward are not supported by evidence. It is imperative that any measures implemented consider evidence-based arguments and previous research and case studies. After assessing some of the loudest claims about gun control, it is clear that more guns are not the answer. Whether it be teacher or civilians with concealed handguns, more bullets and more adrenaline-fueled firing will not have positive effects on US citizens, particularly the only people guaranteed to be unarmed: innocent children.