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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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 Joe pictured as a teenager, back right, with family

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

NOTES AND REFERENCES

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

[2] ibid.,

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

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

[5] ibid.,

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

 

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From Budapest to Pontypridd: A Hungarian refugee’s story after the ’56 Revolution

By Anna Rátkai

In October 1956 a group of university students in Budapest decided to hold a demonstration in the heart of the capital condemning the cruel crushing of the Polish revolution by the Soviet regime. However, the word spread quickly all across the city and the protest evolved into something much more significant than a sympathy march. By a quick turn, the demonstration shifted from a focus on the Poles to the economic hardships and tensions that the communist rule afflicted on Hungary.

In a couple days the students’ march transformed into a full-scale uprising against the Soviet regime. As enthusiastic and resilient the protesters were in the first two weeks, it took only twelve days for the Soviet tanks to fill the city. Budapest endured long days of heavy and bloody fighting. The uprising was cruelly repressed, and some participants had no other choice, but to leave their home country – and many would think that this is the end of their story. However, for many, this was just the beginning.

After the uprising, approximately 200,000 Hungarians decided to flee their home country. It is estimated that 20,000 Hungarians choose the United Kingdom as their second home. After the Second World War the demand for coal was rising, and the Western blockade was extremely willing to accept Eastern Europeans running away from their Soviet enemy. According to Campbell, Hungarians were welcomed as heroes in the UK, and people competed to share their homes with them on the nights of Christmas. As Péter Faragó, a Hungarian refugee recalls, not only the locals were incredibly friendly, but the media was enthusiastic and positive about migrants.

Many Hungarians settled in Wales and started to build a new life here, to which the country gave an immense amount of help. This Hidden History is telling the story of Fülöp Tihamér, a 78 years old Hungarian man who settled in Pontypridd, and his friend Ceri Thompson, a native Welsh who grew up next to him.

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Hungarian refugees lay a wreath at the War Memorial in Cathays Park, Cardiff in 1958

 

During the Hungarian Revolution Tihamér was only 17 years old, but he was still an active participant in the uprising – he and his brother drove back and forth between Budapest and Vienna to bring back medicine from the well-supplied Austrian hospitals for the injured Hungarians. After the revolution was cruelly repressed by the Soviet government, Tihamér had no other choice but to leave Hungary – and his unpredictable travels led him to Wales. Although at his arrival he was warmly welcomed, getting there wasn’t exactly easy:

Tihamér: ‘They forced us to get off from the trains in Győr, at the border. They knew we wanted to leave the country. Once they even turned the train back, and took us back to Budapest. But then we just took the train again. We didn’t give up. And then they told us ‘You can go wherever, but don’t use the train! Trains are controlled!’ So we had no other choice but to walk. We walked from Győr to Eisenstaedt, that’s how we crossed the border.

Interviewer: ‘You walked with all your luggage?’

Tihamér: ‘Luggage?’ – asked laughing – I had a sandwich with me. That’s all I had when I left the country!’

After arriving to Wales, Tihamér, along with another 96 Hungarians started to work in the mines of Hawthorn and Hirwaun. According to him, it was a great help that the Welsh welcomed the Eastern-European refugees with open arms:

Tihamér: ‘They taught us how to live here, but I don’t mean teaching the language. They taught us where to go to dance, where to find the girls, where to have fun. We were very young after all.’

Tihamér also made long-lasting friendships with the other Hungarians and other Polish people who worked together, as well as with the Welsh. His friend, Ceri Thompson also remembers the Eastern European refugees warmly. When asked, how did Ceri become friends with the Hungarian refugees he simply answered:

Ceri: ‘I was working with them, and to me they were just like anybody else. Just because they don’t speak exactly like you do… It didn’t really matter, I mean, even if someone in the beginning thought something along the lines of ‘Oh, these immigrants are taking our jobs’, that thought didn’t seem to last very long. After a while everyone got along. If you are working alongside someone, you know, you are just bound to become friends.’

When asked whether or not Ceri thinks accepting the refugees benefited his tiny town Churchvillage, he said:

Ceri: ‘There is a world-wide trend of becoming a right-wing supporter. It is the fear of what is foreign or unknown to you. And in a way you can understand why, I mean if someone who was blue walked down the streets, everyone would look at them twice. But in places like Churchvillage we are quite used to different nationalities. And every time I meet people from other countries living in Wales, I feel like it enriches the culture, it does! It’d be bloody boring if everyone were from here!’

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Tihamér and his wife

 

Although the opportunity to work laid down the foundation for a safe life for refugees in Wales, and it also led to the creation of many long-lasting friendships, it was not the only factor that helped the Hungarians in settling. Tihamér, during his interview referred to football as a cornerstone of his integration in his new home country:

Tihamér: ‘Right after I arrived I met the Welsh boys from a local football team. They had shoes my size, so they told me to put them on and show them what I can do. That was it. I was in the team. And when we played, everyone played with everyone. We didn’t care about nationalities. Now that we talk about it, I just remembered that I have gotten a mail like a year ago from one of those guys that I played with in the team. He organized a team catch-up in the sports centre here in Churchvillage. We still keep in touch.’

Interviewer: ‘So as soon as you arrived, you could start working, doing sports, making friends, …

Tihamér: ‘And dance! I also started dancing as soon as I was here. It helped a lot to feel at home. That’s how I got to know my wife! One night me and my friends went on a dancing event and I got to know this Welsh girl and you know… in 4 years’ time we were married.

When asked whether Tihamér thinks he would have travelled back to Hungary if he weren’t taken so good care of he answered:

Tihamér: ‘Well, I can’t be sure of that. But what I know is that only 2 of us went back to Hungary. Only 2 of the 96 Hungarians I arrived with. We were welcomed very warmly, and that helped a lot to settle. Not many people needed to go back.’ – remembers Tihamér smiling.

Wales contributed a great deal to the peaceful settlement of those fleeing Eastern Europe in the second half of the twentieth century, and highly benefited from accepting the workforce without which many mines would have had to be shut down. The response to the Hungarian crisis, and the happy memories of a 78 year old man who managed to build a peaceful life around himself with the help of the Welsh locals reminds us all, that a tiny bit of altruism and selflessness might have a life-changing power for the ones in need.

Temple Tales #3 “The Whole Package”: from Pembroke Dock to Mandela thanks

Bert banner

By Kathryn Evans

Bert Pearce is the true definition of a hidden history.  Why did I start researching Bert Pearce?  Here at the Temple of Peace we have a tree and plaque dedicated to him in our Garden of Peace so naturally, intrigue followed.  This commemoration is here because not only did Bert visit the Temple of Peace, it was believed he would respect and appreciate many of the campaigns we support here.  Another reason I wanted to delve further into the life of Bert Pearce is because he was personally thanked by Nelson Mandela in his 1998 speech at Cardiff Castle; a magnificent recognition and indication that he was a key individual in Wales’ fight for peace.

Bert Pearce gave a lifetime devotion to active politics. He was born in Pembroke Dock, Wales, to a Christian minister and an enthusiastic Co-operator.  What influenced Bert considerably  was the closure of Pembrokeshire Dockyard in 1926.  In the documentary A Welsh Life by Patrick Hannan, Bert explains there was, “like an eerie silence, unemployed workers and people being sent away and friends disappearing,” concluding that there must be something wrong with the system for this kind of devastation to be brought among them.  His parents were both members of the Labour party, and in 1936 Bert became a clerk at the Labour Exchange.  In 1938 he moved to Birmingham where he became fully integrated with political activism, the Communist party and fighting for the people’s democracy.  He was employed by the Communist party where he eventually became the party’s full time organiser.  Bert was also Birmingham’s City Secretary and was actively involved in a number of projects for Birmingham that were extremely productive.

Bert returned to Wales in 1960 when he became the secretary of the Welsh Communist Party. He was also heavily involved in National Union of Miners (NUM), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the fight for a Welsh parliament alongside the Communist Party.  Noticeably from his mention in Nelson Mandela’s speech, Bert  was also an active participant in the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement (WAAM). He was a proud Marxist and on the editorial board of Marxism Today where writings consisted mostly about the Nationalisation of Wales, where he argued we needed to devolve government and unify Britain and Europe.

Bert lived through the times of the Communist party when it was very much following the line of the Soviet Union.  When Czechoslovakia reformed Bert was one of the people in the party who was in the forefront of questioning the Socialism that they seemed to be following.  Bert believed that politics developed and you have to question to take things forward, and this is where he stood politically.

In A Welsh Life he proudly talks about how he lived to see the exposure of his mistakes and strategies that were wrong in the Soviet Union, and a new development of a Marxism which is green, humane and feminist.  Patrick Hannan asked Bert if he thought fighting for Socialism and Communism had been a waste of his life given its failures. Bert replied beautifully, laughing:

“I don’t see how I could have wasted my life better. I took part in all the key struggles of my time. Fighting for real causes: the creation of a real popular people’s democracy. Those of us who have learnt through the struggles, like the Welsh miners, clung to fact they were strong enough to stand up to anybody and fight for cause, many brilliant analysts and politics.”

 

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Picture caption: office of a communist party branch in Wales in the 1970s.

In the documentary Bert also made the perfect statement portraying his motivation towards politics: “a communist is there because you believe in the people.”

 I also discovered that the founder of the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement (WAAM), Hanef Bhamjee, was put in contact with Bert to help lift off the WAAM campaign.  I got in touch with Hanef who very kindly wrote an emotive statement describing his relationship with Bert:

“I met Bert Pearce in early 1973. He was a very committed Socialist and anti-racist and supported Revolutionary Causes. I discussed the idea of the formation of a Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement with him. When I spoke at meetings on South and Southern Africa in various parts of Wales the level of support was very high compared to other Parts of the UK. I was surprised that there was not an all Wales movement.

 He was very helpful and provided various peoples across Wales who would be supportive to the idea of WAAM. He knew people across the political spectrum, and in different forums. This was very useful. He ‘opened’ many minds and doors for WAAM. In the beginning I needed contacts that I could rely on to help in various cities in Churches, Trade Unions, Trade Councils etc. and in the cultural fraternity.

 Our friendship was a very close political one and lasted ‘til he died.  When Mandela visited Wales to receive the ‘freedom of the city’ in Cardiff, he asked me to single one Welsh person as a key activist. Without hesitation I provided the name of Bert, whom he then mentioned at the award speech. Bert was involved with anti-apartheid and anti-racism all his life as a dedicated Communist. He is and was well remembered in CND, Working class politics, and Solidarity movements associated with areas on the 5 continents. He was instrumental in assisting third world politics that I was involved with in Africa, Asia and South America. When we finally launched the WAAM in April 1981 after painstaking work in Wales, we already had 22 branches in towns and cities, all church groups and religious groups supported us. We had branches in nearly every college. WAAM was regarded as the most powerful pressure group in Wales – Bert’s involvement was well recognised.”

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Anti-apartheid demo in Wales; you can see the communist party’s banner in the background

As I mentioned before I found it an enjoyable challenge searching for information of Bert’s life, and I was lucky enough to have Bert’s daughter Marian get in touch with me. A life-saving moment as my conversations with Marian opened up a whole new side to Bert that I wouldn’t find in any library which has led me into this more personal article about Bert Pearce and why he is relevant to Wales’ fight for peace. In one question I asked Marian what she believed would be Bert’s proudest moment:

“It’s a difficult thing to say, because I think he wouldn’t be proud in that sense, he would just look at the broad brush of how he got on with the people that he worked with. I think one of the things he would be most proud of, that I ended up as the Chair of the Communist Party, you know as that was like carrying the mantle. The Nelson Mandela moment would have to be a proud moment. Mandela had obviously asked, who shall I pay tribute to? And all these people in the anti-apartheid movement said my dad! And that just has to be the most stunning tribute. Mandela had said in the speech, ‘there’s somebody here in the audience who is even older than I am..’ and when Mandela came over to meet Dad to be introduced to him all dad could say was ‘um I actually don’t think I am quite as old as you.’ Even in a moment like that, he was very sort of genuine and rounded.”

It’s very easy to understand how Bert Pearce was an ordinary, jolly man who was naturally charismatic, and had the capability to apply his passion to politics and make a difference.

Bert was a very influential and well respected man and I was extremely keen to delve further into this side of Bert. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with Marian that it came to light exactly how much of a people person he was, and how it was this personality trait that sprung him forward into a politically active life and made campaigns such as WAAM a success. Marian went into teaching along a similar career path to her mother, and also became Chair of the Communist Party as her life had always been involved with the Communist movement. I asked Marian how she thought Bert had influenced her:

“In a very real sense, what my dad influenced me in was an interest in people – he was very much a people person. His politics were very people orientated rather than dogma orientated and I learnt a lot from that. So that was kind of my approach to my parents politics – it was all about people so I took that with (me) and all those good principles.”

Marian spoke about how much of an ordinary man Bert was, he was never unwilling to engage with somebody because of differing perspectives.  He was always very intrigued to hear about people’s views and was incredibly open-minded about religion and politics and believed everyone was entitled to make their own mind up.

It’s easy to understand then why Bert was so well respected by a wide range of movements. Marian told me he was never the ‘cog’ but he was always there – at every speech, every demonstration and every activity he was one of the key individuals behind it. Marian proudly states how Bert was an incredible organiser, always there helping to support organise and publicise actions. That was essentially what he did for his career, his life – he was an extremely good organiser and strategist. I enjoyed listening to Marian as she described her father:

“He was a brilliant man.  His range of interests were phenomenal.  He knew such a lot about classical music, literature, poetry.  His mind was just stunningly broad, a fantastic person from that point of view. He was just so proud of his kids and his grandkids.  A lovely people person, his funeral was just stunningly wonderful.”      

In a very pleasant chat with Marian I also enjoyed learning about Bert’s past that didn’t involve politics, the fun loving side to him. On his plaque at the Temple of Peace it says, “a lover of music and mountains of Wales,” which Marian talks fondly about.  Describing one of her memories walking up Cadair Idris Mountain with her father:

“He packed our rucksacks and we were all climbing up Cadair Idris and I was very tired and thought ‘this bag’s heavy.’ He says, ‘come on come on we’re nearly there!’ Then I discovered that I’d carried a bottle of his Drambuie all the way to the top, so he could have some Drambuie at the top.”

Another enlightening anecdote from Marian was about the unique Community Camping Club that she is now secretary of that began in 1952 and is still active today. It was formed by a group of people with similar interests, all Communists which the Pearce family joined and enjoyed many holidays with.

Marian’s words conclude this article perfectly so I will end with one last comment from his daughter, whom I thank enormously for the insight into Bert Pearce’s life:

“I wouldn’t say he had a career, he devoted his life to the cause that he believed in and he just happened to work for the Communist Party. For him it wasn’t a career it was how he could best contribute to what he passionately believed in. What makes his life extraordinary was ‘the whole package’. How he managed to be so important in so many people’s lives. I think he would struggle to say one thing that he did because there was so many bits of things that he did.”

Further reading:

If you are interested in watching Nelson Mandela’s speech at Cardiff Castle accepting the Freedom of the City, and finding out more information of the day please follow the link below. It is at 41 minutes in that Nelson Mandela begins his speech, and at 44:40 he begins his acknowledgement to Bert:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYBcIHTBDxs

Telephone interview with Bert Pearce’s daughter Marian Darke 30.08.2017

A Welsh Life, documentary by Patrick Hannan (with thanks to Marian for this reference).

Bert Pearce has a collection of Communist papers, minutes, and newspaper clippings on various actions he took in his life and his efforts toward WAAM held at the National Library of Wales.

Obituary in the Guardian, September 16, 2002: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/sep/16/guardianobituaries

Wikipedia, Bert Pearce:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bert_Pearce

Graham Stevenson:

http://www.grahamstevenson.me.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=454:bert-pearce-&catid=16:p&Itemid=119

National Library of Wales:

http://anws.llgc.org.uk/cgi-bin/anw/fulldesc_nofr?inst_id=1&coll_id=20102&expand=

UNZ.Org for Marxism Today articles:

https://www.unz.org/Pub/MarxismToday-1977dec-00358?Author=Bert+Pearce&Action=Search

The Centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration: Britain, Palestine and Israel

By Jane Harries, Cymdeithas y Cymod peace activist, human rights observer and Wales for Peace Learning Coordinator.

Balfour Declaration WCIA Debate Leaflet Oct 2017

The Marble Hall of the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff was packed to overflowing on the evening of 18th October 2017, the air thick with expectation. The Cardiff Branch of the United Nations Association (UNA) had brought together two eminent speakers to talk about the historical context and present consequences of the Balfour Declaration – a document whose centenary is marked today, 2nd November.  It was clear we were in for an interesting evening.

So what was the Balfour Declaration, and why should we remember it today?  Does it have any significance for us in Wales?

The Balfour Declaration is in fact in the form of a letter written by Arthur James Balfour, Foreign Secretary in David Lloyd George’s wartime coalition government, to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain.  The key words are as follows:

‘His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’

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The first speaker, Avi Shlaim – Jewish historian, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and married to the grand-daughter of Lloyd George – started off the evening with a historical analysis.  He defined the Declaration as a typical colonialist act. The British had no moral or legal right to give a ‘national home’ to Jewish people in Palestine, having consulted neither with the Arab leaders, nor the Jews nor the British population. Nor was Palestine theirs to give.

Behind the scenes there were political motives. David Lloyd George wanted Palestine for the British in order to gain influence over the French and because of access to the Suez Canal.  He also wanted to dismember the Ottoman Empire and was willing to engage in double dealing to do so. Overtures were made both to Arab leaders and also to the Zionists, whom Lloyd George regarded as powerful and influential.

Jews had lived scattered across the globe before the First World war but at the end of the 19th century a nationalist Jewish campaign grew up in the form of Zionism, whose aim was to establish a national home for the Jews. Zionism particularly appealed to Lloyd George, steeped as he was in the Biblical passages and hymns of his chapel upbringing. This deep emotional connection may have been one reason why he became influenced by Dr Chaim Weizmann, Zionist Leader in the UK and later first President of Israel. And so Lloyd George’s government bowed to Zionist pressure and issued the Declaration, ignoring other Anglo-Jewish voices at the time, including Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the cabinet.

Balfour_Declaration_War_Cabinet_minutes_appendix_17_October_1917

The second part of the Declaration is often forgotten – that is that the civil and religious rights of ‘existing non-Jewish communities’ in Palestine (over 90% of the population at the time) should be respected.  The British Mandate in Palestine, issued by the League of Nations in 1923, included a responsibility to implement the Balfour Declaration.  The Mandate was, however, essentially pro-Zionist and led inevitably to the series of events we are familiar with today: the Arab revolt of 1936 – 39, the rise of Zionist terrorist activity against the British and Palestinians, British withdrawal from the region, and the foundation of the State of Israel mirrored by the Palestinian Nakba (= catastrophe, mass migration) in 1948.  The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is one of the most entrenched in the world and continues to blight lives today.  This is particularly true for the Palestinians, who have seen their homeland shrink and their human rights whittled away under a now 50-year military occupation.  Even the area which the British government recognises as a future state for the Palestinian people is now occupied by 700,000 Israeli settlers.

The second speaker, Professor Kamel Hawwash of Birmingham University, Palestinian commentator on the Middle East, explained the consequences of Balfour today.  He outlined the effects of the Israeli Occupation for those living on the West Bank, including loss of land, freedom of movement and livelihood, difficult access to education and health care, and subjugation to continuous harassment and violence.  In the Gaza Strip the population essentially lives in an open prison, deprived of many resources we take for granted, including clean water and proper sewage systems.  He then turned his talk to address an unusual question.  The state of Israel is more or less exactly the same size as Wales.  What would be the situation today if the Balfour Declaration had promised a homeland for the Jewish people in Wales, not in Palestine?  Using parallel maps, he brought this supposition to life, with swathes of Welsh land having been taken up into the State of Israel and Cardiff a divided city.  This helped us to see the Declaration from a different perspective.

As the evening wore on, there was strong feeling from one young member of the audience that the speakers were one-sided; she pleaded to hear the other side.  A student of Atlantic College, it appeared that she had spent a lot of time listening to the arguments of Palestinian and Israeli students living in her house. So what can we say about the Balfour Declaration that is more balanced and even positive?

The Balfour Declaration was of its time – as Avi Shlaim said essentially a colonialist document – so perhaps it should be judged as such.  It feels obvious from the wording of the document that the author was trying to balance what was felt to be a justified case for the Jewish people to have a homeland with the rights of the indigenous population. The problem is that this double-dealing didn’t work out in practice, with both sides seeing the British as compromising their cause.  And are we really justified in thinking that such a declaration or deal couldn’t be made today – for oil, or influence, or post-Brexit trade deals?

Balfour Palestine Mandate

It is true that Jews have been persecuted over centuries, including in pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th century. In a humanitarian global society, we surely would applaud the attempt to offer a safe haven for the persecuted, and the Balfour Declaration can be seen as such. What wasn’t foreseen, however, was that those persecuted may turn persecutors in their turn and deprive the indigenous population of their rights. What would the authors of the Declaration today say to the descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians forced to flee their homes in 1948 – and some again in 1967 –  many still living in refugee camps across the Middle East?

Balfour - West_Bank_&_Gaza_Map_2007_(Settlements)

Theresa May has talked about her ‘pride’ in the Balfour Declaration and in the creation of the State of Israel, a key ally for Britain in the Middle East.  Whilst rejoicing that persecuted Jews, including Holocaust survivors, found a homeland in Palestine, what do we feel about the plight of the dispossessed? Theresa May’s current government supports a 2-state solution in principle. What does the perpetuation of a military occupation do to the soul and psyche of the Occupier? Surely a conflict that is allowed to go on for so long cannot bring good for either side.

The Balfour Declaration is not a document that people know much about in the UK.  In Palestine it is part of everyone’s awareness – generally recognised as the starting point from which everything began to unravel, leading to a continuous process of dispossession which continues today.  To illustrate this point let me take you back to an August evening in East Jerusalem in 2012. At the time I was serving as a human rights observer on the West Bank and that evening we were called to an incident in Silwan. When we arrived we realised that the cause of the problem was seemingly small: an Israeli settler had parked his car in the middle of the road, preventing people from moving up or down. It was however Ramadan, and just before the breaking of the fast, and tempers get frayed. As we started talking to local residents and the Israeli armed police who had inevitably arrived, the expected question came: “Where are you from?” “Britain”, we said. “Ah, Balfour!” the local resident retorted – and went off into a tirade. The good thing was that once this had blown over he started joking with us, and the tension was released. The settler moved the car, and the incident passed off without any repercussions. This was not a lone incident, however. I have lost count how many times I have had to apologise for Balfour on the West Bank.

Bearing everything in mind how do we, the present generation, view the Balfour Declaration?  On the positive side, we can see it as an attempt to be balanced and to provide safety and security for persecuted Jews. It certainly was instrumental in the events leading to the creation of the modern State of Israel.  It can also be seen as an essentially political deal – an attempt to favour those who were believed to have influence whilst paying lip-service to the Arab leaders. It is hard to avoid the reality however, that the Declaration set off a string of events in the region which still have repercussions today, resulting in one of the world’s most intransigent conflicts and spelling death, dispossession and poverty for thousands.

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The Israeli Palestinian Peace Process

Some sources:

The Balfour Declaration – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration

The Balfour Declaration – New Statesman, a more critical view: https://www.newstatesman.com/books/2010/08/arab-palestine-jewish-rights

The Balfour Project  – Lloyd George –  critical view of Lloyd George’s part in the Declaration: http://www.balfourproject.org/lloyd-george/

Avi Schlaim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avi_Shlaim

What is Wales had been offered as a Jewish Homeland – Middle East eye> http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/what-if-wales-had-been-offered-jews-homeland-palestine-zionist-israel-526573400

Article on Theresa May’s stance – Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/balfour-declaration-israel-palestine-theresa-may-government-centenary-arabs-jewish-settlements-a7607491.html

Chaim Weizmann: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaim_Weizmann

Palestine – Israel: Effects of Occupation – an educational pack (from the US): http://www.palestineinformation.org/dig_deep

Jane Harries’ blog from Palestine: https://janeharries.wordpress.com 

Welsh among the ANZACs: WW1 in Palestine on the Centenary of Beersheeba, 31st Oct 1917

Hidden Histories of Welsh Fallen in Israel

By Eli Lichtenstein, North Wales

    

The Battle of Beersheba, British Palestine – now Israel

The story starts exactly 100 years ago (31st October 2017). In the Battle of Beersheba, the British army was taking what used to be my hometown, Beer Sheba from the Turkish army. The city was conquered mainly by Anzac cavalry. However, it would be impossible to take the town (whose main importance was, and still is, as a junction point) without heavy infantry involvement to the west of the parochial town. From there the joint British Anzac forces, split in a fanlike movement to Gaza in the west, and Hebron and Jerusalem in the north east and all  the way to the north. And what was until then part of the Damascus province became Palestine (and later part of Israel).

But as time passed something odd happened. We, the locals, remembered only the Anzac cavalry battle and somehow completely forgot all the rest i.e.  the Infantry and even two pilots (English, and Australian) who took part in the battle in the area, and were buried there. It is hard to say why. Is it somehow the romantic notion of a bygone era versus brutal and unglamorous modern warfare that makes us remember the cavalry and forget the rest? If so one might assume that it was, in hindsight, the last battle of its kind.  Furthermore it took place in the ‘Holy-Land’ at the town of Abraham against the ‘infidel’ and the ‘Bosch’.  One might assume that it struck a chord with the general public and could be used for propaganda purposes. On the other hand, could it be more a reflection of the Israeli attitudes following the War of Independence and the resentment created during the British rule of the area?

Either way, the results were the same. We all believed that the WWI cemetery near the old Ottoman Turkish station was solely occupied only by Anzac soldiers. I think I would still believe it to be so to this day,  if I hadn’t moved to North Wales and met several locals who told me that their great-great uncles are buried in Beer Sheba Israel.

When I finally visited the cemetery, I found that, contrary to popular belief, most of the graves are not of Anzacs – of 1179 graves at least one third are graves of Welsh soldiers. Furthermore approximately 80% of those who killed on the day of 31st October 1917, did not belong to the Light Horse Brigade, ie.  80% of the casualties were British. Which, again begs the question of how and why we choose to remember historical events.

It would be interesting therefore to find letters and photographs of those Welsh soldiers who died and are buried in the Beer Sheba Cemetery so that after a century in which they were forgotten we could bring their memories, thoughts and experiences back to life. By doing so I hope we could learn something about how the lives of their families and communities were affected, and a bit more about the consequences of war.

Pvt Percy Chandler – one of many Welsh Fusiliers who died and have memorials in Beersheba, British Southern Palestine (now Israel). Also recorded in the Welsh WW1 Book of Remembrance:   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to the Welsh Fusiliers in Beersheba Cemetery, many came from the local North Wales area – like Private Ifor Jones, who lived in York Villa Llandudno:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And some Welsh soldiers came from South Wales like Private D.E. Matthews from Merthyr Tydfil, of the Civil Service Riflemen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then finally it was the first time that I noticed that some of the tombstones are not only engraved in English, but in Welsh: Cwsg Milwr, Cwsg (“Rest Soldier, Rest) – T Roberts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then and Now

Above the WW1 cemetery shortly after the capture of Beer Sheva. See the train station master’s house (mid building) and the train in background and possibly a convoy of camels between the two buildings.

Below, the cemetery at 2017

   

Temple Tales #2: ‘A Man and his Monument’: the real David Davies?

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Picture: bronze bust of David Davies in the marble hall at the Temple of Peace

Maggie Smales, volunteer with Wales for Peace, explores different perspectives on Temple of Peace founder David Davies. 

I am currently helping to sort out the archives belonging to the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA).  In a box with materials about the Temple of Peace and Health, I found the transcript of a BBC radio programme which provides an unusually intimate portrait of Lord Davies: the Liberal statesman, philanthropist and the force behind the Temple.

The BBC’s Home Service in Wales commemorated the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff in 1963 with an hour-long radio documentary on the life and work of David Davies, “A man and his monument”.  John Griffiths– who compiled and narrated the programme- used a mixture of interviews and recordings with people who had known Davies well, from his associate Sir Wynn Wheldon  to his chauffeur. The documentary built a picture of the man and the two causes to which he devoted his life: social health and international peace.

David Davies was born into a wealthy family and given the same name as his grandfather, David Davies of Llandinam. The Welsh industrialist and Liberal politician  had first founded the Ocean Coal Company in the Rhondda, before building Barry Docks and the connecting railways to export his coal.  Like his grandfather, David Davies was a Calvinistic Methodist by upbringing, a teetotaller and firm about his Sunday observance.

Davies inherited his grandfather’s industrial wealth and landed estate when he was just eighteen and had the confidence which great wealth brings.  He was essentially a very wealthy country gentleman, devoted to field sports. His neighbours remembered him as “a big man in a pink coat”… “hunting his own hounds in all weathers in all hours” and “driving open cars at terrific speed – he had 2 Talbot Darracqs…”.  According to Sir Wynn Wheldon “he was almost unsurpassed in his ability to go on hour by hour…for more than a day…if it would be a fox, he’d find it and would follow that fox until it was 36 hours had expired and he’d have nothing to eat in the meantime.”

Davies’ private secretary recalled that he was never “really interested in business at all… and left as much work as he possibly could to other people”.  His real passion was his various philanthropic causes. Here, as his one of his employees noted “He worked himself hard and he expected everyone else to do the same”; “…he was an inconsiderate employer in that he didn’t spare himself and he certainly didn’t spare other people”.  “He had no concept of family life – he worked at home and his time over the weekend would be divided between his study, where he would be closeted with secretaries… and the great outdoors.”

In 1906, at the age of 26, Davies became MP for Montgomeryshire.  Apparently, it was touch and go which party he would join, his grandfather having broken with the Gladstonian Liberals over Home Rule for Ireland. But in the end, as Sir Wynn Wheldon put it “the Liberals got hold of him first and they found him for a good many purposes a very valuable Liberal.”  In his early days in Parliament Lloyd George apparently dismissed Davies as “the Golden Calf”, just a rich son of a rich father, but he soon began to demonstrate the shallowness of this judgement.

Davies was prominent in the 1910 public meeting in Shrewsbury to decide how Wales could best commemorate the recently deceased monarch. He was a driving force behind the decision to set up the King Edward VII Welsh National Memorial Association (WNMA) for the eradication of tuberculosis, a particular scourge in Wales at the time.  He himself gave £150,000 towards the eventual £300,000 raised and his sisters Margaret and Gwendoline also made substantial donations.  He continued to be heavily involved with this health campaign after the war.  In 1920 he endowed a Chair for the study of tuberculosis in the Medical School at Cardiff University.  Following the 1921 Public Health (Tuberculosis) Act, which compelled all local authorities to make some provision for TB, he, “moved heaven and earth”, according to his private secretary, to ensure that the WNMA would cooperate with the national scheme and become, in effect, a joint board for the whole of Wales.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Davies was given the command of the 14th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  He is recorded as having driven his men and officers to the limits of their endurance when they were training in Llandudno to make them war ready – perhaps he had an inkling of what was waiting for them in France.  Once in the field he also, “made good certain deficiencies of supply out of his own pocket, providing his men with fishing waders (to wear in the trenches) …and his unit with field telephones”. It is recorded that he did not get on well with the Higher Command and was perhaps “too original for them”.

Towards the end of 1916, Davies-who was still a serving MP- was brought back from the front to become Lloyd George’s Parliamentary Private Secretary.  He lasted for less than a year in the post as he was far too opinionated for Lloyd George.

Davies’ experience in the trenches made him a passionate advocate for peace-making.  In 1917, before the end of the First World War, he founded the League of Free Nations Association with HG Wells and Gilbert Murray.  In 1918 this merged with another group, the League of Nations Society, to form the League of Nations Union, with former Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey as President.  Davies was later to endow the organisation in Wales with enough money to meet the cost of its administrative staff.  In 1919, he also funded the world’s first Chair of International Relations at Aberystwyth University College.

Davies had many other interests.  He realised the importance of better housing, especially in the fight against TB, and encouraged T Alwyn Lloyd to develop model housing estates in places such as Machynlleth and Wrexham, and after the First World War, Rhiwbina.  He was interested in agriculture, bailing out the debts of the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show on more than one occasion, and loaning out prize bulls and stallions to local farmers in his county to improve the quality of livestock locally.  He gave away parcels of his own land to form playing fields in Machynlleth and Caersws and encouraged neighbours in mid-Wales to do the same; he helped fund village institutes including the pavilion in Newtown and also sent one of his staff to help set up the first Miners’ Welfare Scheme in the Rhondda.

But the League of Nations Union was his abiding passion.  Davies was never a pacifist – his vision of the League of Nations included the concept of an International Court of Equity to intervene in disputes and an International Police Force to carry out its decisions.  Here he parted company with much of the interwar peace movement, including the Peace Pledge Union, and what he saw as “negative disarmament”.  After resigning as an MP in 1929, he spent much of the 1930s campaigning for an armed League of Nations, including founding an organisation called New Commonwealth in 1932 to promote the idea of an International Police Force and writing several books and political tracts.

In the late 1920s a plan was emerging to build a headquarters for the WNMA in Cathays Park in Cardiff on a site donated by the City Corporation.  Davies saw this as another opportunity to promote the cause of peace by including in the proposal offices for the League of Nations Union in Wales and a Temple of Peace “which will be an example for the whole world”.  This inevitably involved considerable extra expense, especially as Davies envisaged a grand Hall of Peace built with material from all parts of the world.  The WNMA agreed to contribute just £12k (the capitalised value of its £500 annual rent) towards the eventual £85k cost, and David Davies provided much of the remaining funds whilst furnishings in the Temple were the gift of Misses Margaret and Gwendoline Davies.   Davies’ factotum Captain Glen Jones noted that while Davies had a proper familial affection for the two “he always brought in his sisters… he always wanted to screw out of them any contributions” for whatever project was occupying him at the time.

The foundation stone for the Temple of Peace was laid by Viscount Halifax in 1937.  Ironically, Halifax went on to be Foreign Secretary and one of the architects of the policy of appeasement towards Hitler which David Davies himself resolutely opposed.  By the time the Temple was formally opened in November 1938, Hitler had already marched into the Sudetenland, and despite PM Chamberlain’s hope of “peace in our time”, war was in the offing.

Sir Wynn Wheldon believed that Davies’ premature death from lung cancer in June 1944 was caused at least in part by his feelings of impotence in the face of the second great war of his lifetime.  “He had to pay the price physically – he didn’t live to be an old man”.   Davies had become embittered in the 1930s when he could see that war was imminent and governments and politicians refused to heed his warnings. As Wheldon explained, “if you have one thing burning in you all the time, people tend to avoid you.  He didn’t always find the welcome that the splendour of his own ideas and the amount of work, money and time he had given to it, really deserved. He became in a sense tedious”.

Posthumously, of course, Davies’ ideas influenced the writing of the United Nations Charter, especially with regards to sanctions and the transition of national armies to an international police.  In his own words: “We shall never get prosperity and security until we get peace: we shall never get peace until we get justice and we shall get none of those things until we establish the rule of law by means of a really effective International Authority equipped with an equity tribunal and an international police force.”

Sources:

“A man and his monument” was broadcast on 21 November 1963 by the BBC Home Service in Wales.

 

Storytelling for Wales for Peace: Ann Pettitt

By Vivian Mayo

Welsh men and women from all backgrounds have gone on to achieve great things. Many of these people became famous by their activities in the First and Second World War; whereas others made a name for themselves in sport, music and architecture, which can be seen in so many buildings around the country. The names of these individuals have been immortalised through engravings in walls and buildings, their stories can be retrieved on the internet or heard in school, colleges and universities.

There is one fascinating story in the history of Wales which hit some headlines in the early 1980s. The Greenham Common camp and the champion of this campaign was a woman called Ann Pettitt. The interesting thing about this story, is how it started and who was behind idea and how that sharing made a difference. A young woman by then, she inspired other young women in her surroundings and turned her ideas to be a massive protest which spread nationally.

The saga of this campaign began with the news in 1979 which suggested that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) decided to base cruise missiles at Greenham and missiles were to arrive in Britain from the United States. Ann was inspired by a march which had taken place in Copenhagen and decided to embark on a 120 mile walk from Cardiff to Berkshire airbase with a group of women. Her sharing just sparked and became the exodus of that protest.

Ann Pettitt

The scale of Greenham campaign attracted support and groups merged from around the country and letters were written to prisons where women were imprisoned for trespass or other surrealist crimes such as breaching the peace. Letters linked with women’s peace groups and sister camps set up in the wake of Greenham, in Britain and internationally, including the missile ‘defence’ base in in some part of Britain. It is suggested that the letter writing was a symbolic too, from the open letters to base commanders and local townspeople to the handwritten newsletters and the personal networking that started from Greenham.

Ann Pettitt can be remembered as an inspirational leader, who influenced friends and women around her, as well as energising and creating a sense of direction and purpose. The idea attracted a group of forty women and from there, this women campaign group was organised successfully. Their voices were raised against the arrival of a cruise with missiles in 1981 and that action will never be forgotten in the history of Wales and Britain. The impressive thing of this story is the strength of the protest became and the resilience from this group of women. The march was long and lots of things happened on the way: they were harassed by police, received some abusive threats from members of the public and were called by all sort of names. However the group remained unwavered, determined to finish their course. And the most inspiring thing about this, is the leadership quality and the vision of Ann, a young woman. Truly real tells us that a vision can be persuaded from anywhere around our social spaces. But how sad it is that in so many cases see a vision just sit on it.

I am convinced that if Ann didn’t have the courage to share that idea, this historic event could have never be done or taken place. By then Ann Pettitt was 19 years old and a mother to a young baby, but that didn’t stop her from taking an action against something that she didn’t like. She found the idea of nuclear arms coming to the country very disturbing and together with other women thought of made their concern known to the society. And that led women of all ages to this historical campaign. Ann now runs a tile business from her home in West Wales and doesn’t oppose nuclear power outright but suggest that she’d do it all again if something make her angry enough.  Unfortunately there is no image of Ann on her own in that event.