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.” 


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.


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.


Welsh party leaders answer WCIA questions on global issues: Q5 of 6 / Arweinwyr pleidiau Cymru yn ateb cwestiynau WCIA ar faterion byd-eang: C5 o 6



UKIP were invited to participate but did not submit responses to the questions by the deadline.

Q5. Since 2008 there have been calls for a Wales Peace Institute – endorsed in 2013 by the Assembly’s Petitions Committee – to build on Wales’ peace heritage, contribute to social cohesion, and shape Wales’ role in the world for future generations, as a fitting legacy of the 100 years WW1 commemoration period. Would your party support this initiative, and what resources should the Welsh Government commit to a Peace Institute so that it can play the most effective role possible?

Wales Green Party

A Peace Institute is our party’s policy and will be a manifesto commitment of ours.

Welsh Labour

In line with the committee endorsement, we believe that there is a role for a Wales Peace Institute. However, we believe that this should be an institution separate from Welsh Government and owned by civil society in Wales.

Welsh Conservatives

Wales needs strong, resilient and harmonious communities. A Peace institution can help to create unity across Wales as well as shape Wales’ role in the world. Welsh Conservatives would ensure a Welsh Peace Institute would work with faith communities, third parties and local people to generate social cohesion, promote equality and increase citizenship.

Plaid Cymru

It was Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans who first called on the creation of a Wales Peace Institute in 2008. We continue to be committed to the initiative, and have worked with the Flemish Peace Institute, which we believe could serve as a model for the Wales Peace Institute. The Flemish Peace Institute has a strong focus on education, and since its creation it has ensured that tolerance and an insight into the role of conflicts be adopted as targets in secondary schools. We believe a similar role should be developed for the Wales Peace Institute, whereby the institute could help develop the curriculum, provide teaching information, assess current practise and provide practical support in achieving the aims of democracy and peace. The institute should put an emphasis on young people, and should work specifically to combat violence amongst and against young people in urban areas of Wales.

Welsh Liberal Democrats

We would support a Wales Peace Institute initiative, as an innovative and novel way to engage Wales further with the world and to promote peace and social justice. We would work to facilitate the creation of such an Institute. We acknowledge that a great deal of work still needs to be done, regarding the role, function and activities of a Peace Institute – in the next Welsh Government, we would seek to help facilitate these discussions. Potentially, we would explore whether the Assembly Commission would be a suitable source of support and financing.

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Arweinwyr pleidiau Cymru

Rhoddwyd gwahoddiad i UKIP gymryd rhan ond ni dderbyniwyd ymatebion i’r cwestiynau erbyn y dyddiad cau.

C5. Ers 2008, mae galw wedi bod am Sefydliad Heddwch Cymru – wedi’i gefnogi yn 2013 gan Bwyllgor Deisebau’r Cynulliad – i adeiladu ar dreftadaeth heddwch Cymru, cyfrannu at gydlyniad cymdeithasol, a llunio rôl Cymru yn y byd ar gyfer cenedlaethau’r dyfodol, fel etifeddiaeth priodol o gyfnod coffâd 100 mlynedd ers y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf. A fyddai eich plaid yn cefnogi’r fenter hon, a pha adnoddau ddylai Llywodraeth Cymru eu rhoi i Sefydliad Heddwch er mwyn iddo allu chwarae’r rôl fwyaf effeithiol posibl?

Plaid Werdd Cymru

Mae Sefydliad Heddwch yn bolisi i’n plaid a bydd yn ymrwymiad maniffesto gennym.

Llafur Cymru

Yn unol â chefnogaeth y pwyllgor, rydym yn credu bod rôl i Sefydliad Heddwch Cymru. Fodd bynnag, credwn y dylai hwn fod yn sefydliad ar wahân i Lywodraeth Cymru ac yn eiddo i gymdeithas sifil yng Nghymru.

Ceidwadwyr Cymreig

Mae Cymru angen cymunedau cryf, gwydn a chytûn. Bydd sefydliad Heddwch yn helpu i greu undod ledled Cymru yn ogystal â siapio rôl Cymru yn y byd. Byddai’r Ceidwadwyr Cymreig yn sicrhau fod Sefydliad Heddwch Cymru yn gweithio gyda chymunedau ffydd, trydydd parti a phobl leol i gynhyrchu cydlyniad cymdeithasol, hyrwyddo cydraddoldeb a chynyddu dinasyddiaeth.

Plaid Cymru

ASE Plaid Cymru Jill Evans oedd y cyntaf i alw am greu Sefydliad Heddwch Cymru yn 2008. Rydym yn parhau i fod wedi ymrwymo i’r fenter, ac wedi gweithio gyda’r Sefydliad Heddwch Ffleminaidd – credwn y gallai hon fod yn fodel ar gyfer Sefydliad Heddwch Cymru. Mae gan y Sefydliad Heddwch Ffleminaidd ffocws cryf ar addysg, ac ers ei greu mae wedi sicrhau bod goddefgarwch a mewnwelediad ar rôl gwrthdaro’n cael eu mabwysiadau fel targedau mewn ysgolion uwchradd. Credwn y dylid datblygu rôl debyg ar gyfer Sefydliad Heddwch Cymru, lle gallai’r sefydliad helpu i ddatblygu’r cwricwlwm, darparu gwybodaeth addysgu, asesu arfer cyfredol a chynnig cefnogaeth ymarferol o ran cyflawni nodau democratiaeth a heddwch. Dylai’r sefydliad roi pwyslais ar bobl ifanc, a dylai weithio i frwydro yn erbyn trais ymysg ac yn erbyn pobl ifanc mewn rhannau trefol o Gymru.

Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol Cymru

Byddem yn cefnogi menter Sefydliad Heddwch Cymru, fel ffordd wreiddiol ac arloesol o ymgysylltu Cymru ymhellach gyda’r byd ac i hyrwyddo heddwch a chyfiawnder cymdeithasol. Byddem yn gweithio i hwyluso creu Sefydliad o’r fath. Rydym yn cydnabod bod llawer iawn o waith i’w wneud o hyd, mewn perthynas â rôl, swyddogaeth a gweithgarwch Sefydliad Heddwch – yn Llywodraeth nesaf Cymru byddem yn ceisio hyrwyddo’r trafodaethau hyn. O bosibl, byddem yn archwilio p’un a fyddai Comisiwn Cynulliad yn ffynhonnell addas o gefnogaeth ac ariannu.

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