Women to Women for Peace – Exchange between Cuba, the US and Wales‘, 1998-2001

Kathyrn Evans

Women to Women for Peace’ – The Mission

The mission statement of Women to Women for Peace (W2W4P) was “World Peace will come through the will of ordinary people like yourselves”. This encapsulates in a nutshell why the organisation – founded in 1984 – enjoyed thirty years of success.

“No young mother in this country or any other wants her son to go and kill the sons of other young mothers and I believe that if inter-visitations were arranged between parties of young mothers from Britain … and from other countries who chose to join in, bridges of understanding could be built … as a REAL contribution to world peace”

 

Lucy Behenna, founder of Mothers for Peace (later became W2W4P).

This was a powerfully motivated group of people who came together to build bridges between people from countries which have contrasting and conflicting political, philosophical, cultural and religious interests. The aim was to promote the message that war was not the answer to resolving conflict by supporting intercultural understanding on a transnational level. W2W4P had numerous highlights throughout their duration as a non-profit organisation that accentuate their success as an international solidarity movement. I will illuminate some highlights over the course of two articles about the South West and Wales group of W2W4P who achieved undoubtable success for peacekeeping from Wales to Cuba, America, Israel and Palestine, starting with their achievements in Cuba and America.

Why you need to know about Women to Women for Peace

It is my hope that when you read the articles I have written on the inspirational work of Women to Women for Peace, you will feel the same as I felt; that there are lessons to take away and how vital it is to have international solidarity movements. The work of W2W4P has left me feeling proud of Wales for being part of an amazing peacemaking organisation that strove for pacifism internationally as well as locally; they brought solidarity to our front doors. I feel positive that there is always something an individual or collective group can do to reach out and show support to other countries in distress. I am also questioning whether we are lacking this sense of solidarity and peacemaking now, which I evaluate further in a second article. I have had an uncomfortable realisation that many issues addressed over the course of these articles can be directly related to today’s struggles (inequality, discrimination, oppression, exploitation to name a few). Perhaps we are led to think about more conflicts going on around the world but we may be doing less to help now, than we were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is my pleasure to take you through some major turning points and highlights of W2W4P. I want to draw upon their links to Wales, explain what they stood for and to take some lessons from this organisation in the hope that you too are inspired to keep fighting to make a difference.

Women to Women for Peace visit Cuba, 1998

 

In 1998, four delegates of W2W4P (including a Welsh representative) were given the opportunity to travel to Cuba for the ‘International Independence, Sovereignty and Peace’ conference. There were roughly 3,000 women from 75 countries present and they were all women from dramatically diverse circumstances. This represents an amazing collaboration of peace organisations across the globe who were all striving for the same goal; peace. This was a chance to build bridges with other organisations worldwide and such links were made with peace workers from Brazil, Cyprus, US, Italy, Cuba, Ireland and many more. There were many positive far-reaching consequences from the experience; strong networks were built on cooperation and it showed that international solidarity can counteract powerful negative influences.

A highlight of the Cuba visit was a speech from Fidel Castro. In his speech he passionately explained his world view – that the world’s preoccupation with profit was at the cost of humanity … for the sake of the global economy. This statement rang alarm bells for me as it seems there are parallels with our situation in 2018, hence my view that we need a resurgence of a group such as W2W4P.

Women from Cuba and America visit Wales, 2001
The most successful outcome of the W2W4P visit to Cuba in ‘98 was the building of friendships with women from Cuba and America; this led to a reunion in Wales in 2001. W2W4P were eager to raise further, real awareness of the Cuban situation because they had witnessed first-hand the extent of the suffering that Cuba was enduring because of the blockade imposed by America; far more than had ever been published by the media. The ladies from the peacemaking organisations across the three countries all sought this opportunity to develop closer and stronger relations with each other, to deepen the understanding of the situations in each country and to bring awareness to Wales about the injustice of the American Blockade. It was the perfect opportunity for the ladies of Cuba and America, two conflicting countries, to tell their official and unofficial story of the US blockade as a method of spreading the message and fighting for peace. It was quite special to have women from Cuba and America over to Wales to enjoy and appreciate our city of Cardiff, vibrantly multicultural and home to fascinating buildings such as the Temple of Peace.

Veronica Alvarez, of the Cuban peacemaking organisation that visited was warmed by the kindness and concern of W2W4P because it showed a humbling sign of solidarity, that other countries and people care for peace in societies other than their own. One of the American visitors Robin Melavalin had some encouraging words about W2W4P; that they were impressive and showed an excellent model for peacemaking. Robin was able to meet people from Cuba in a neutral country and have time to get to know them. It really helped build bridges, relations and gain a key understanding of an array of perspectives on international issues confronting them.

Lessons we should take away from Women to Women for Peace movements
The W2W4P delegates who attended the conference in Cuba witnessed a multiracial society with no visible signs of prejudice or discrimination. This ought to be a lesson that many countries and communities today could take away with them. Cuban citizens also held a political and economic view about the blockade which was very reasoned and factual; the people showed no signs of aggression or bitterness towards their political oppressor America; another lesson that some nations could learn.

The ladies from W2W4P who spent time in Cuba noticed that partly because of the blockade Cuban streets were visibly deteriorating and crumbling due to lack of resources and materials, yet the atmosphere was still vibrant with a huge amount of culture that was itching to be shared. It was moving to experience a country who was suffering terribly but who still stood strong, where people were passionate and proud to be who they were. Isn’t this the kind of lens through which we need to look at Palestine, Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan, for example? Each have their own cultural and political background yet are under immense pressure to conform to a particular version of democracy. The work of W2W4P brings me to the daunting conclusion that we still don’t seem to be capable or accepting a multi-faceted world.

One thing that is apparent here is that media has a powerful influence over international conflicts and issues, by promoting often superficial views. W2W4P’s visit to Cuba, and the return visit to Wales made it possible to witness and understand the true impact of the American blockade – aspects that weren’t seen in the media. What Cuba and America’s differences came down to and what we still witness today is that they have different political systems, a different ideology and different priorities which is part and parcel of a multipolar world. The government and organisations in Cuba were able to create solidarity with organisations across the globe, and it is in my belief that every country still needs to fight for this. Today, we are still witnessing vicious cycles of exploitation and suffering and although peace may be unattainable to many, the situation could still be improved. The first step is perhaps to create awareness, as is shown in the story of W2W4P.

For more information and stories from the Women to Women for Peace successes, please read my other article about the time when women from Israel and Palestine came to visit Wales!

Sources:
Mothers for Peace report on International Encounter of Solidarity among Women: Havana, Cuba – April 1998.
Jane Harries, ‘Pesar de todo…’, The Friend, 31 July 1998.
Emma James, ‘Mothers rise above the arguments of nations’, The Western Mail. 22 August 2001.
Sheila Ward, ‘A Most Remarkable Old Lady: Mother For Peace: Lucy Behenna’, Quaker Home Service, London, 1989

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Women to Women for Peace – Building Bridges between Israelis and Palestinians in Wales, 2004

Kathyrn Evans

‘Women to Women for Peace’ – The Mission

The mission statement of Women to Women for Peace (W2W4P): “World Peace will come through the will of ordinary people like yourselves” encapsulates the vision behind the founding of the organisation in 1984:

“No young mother in this country or any other wants her son to go and kill the sons of other young mothers and I believe that if inter-visitations were arranged between parties of young mothers from Britain … and from other countries who chose to join in, bridges of understanding could be built … as a REAL contribution to world peace”

Lucy Behenna, founder of Mothers for Peace (later became W2W4P).

The organisation consisted of a group of likeminded people who came together to build bridges between people from countries which have contrasting and conflicting political, philosophical, cultural and religious interests. W2W4P had numerous highlights during their thirty-year history as a non-profit organisation working for international solidarity.

Why you need to know about Women to Women for Peace

I hope that once you’ve read my articles you feel the same as I felt; that there are lessons to take away and how vital it is to have international solidarity movements. The work of W2W4P has left me feeling proud of Wales for being part of an amazing peacemaking organisation dedicated towards pacifism internationally as well as locally, bringing solidarity to our front doors. I feel positive that there is always something an individual or collective group can do to reach out and show support to other countries in distress.

Jane Harries, who was a member of W2W4P for over 20 years, said:

“It is difficult to gauge the impact that W2W4P had on my life and that of my family for many years.  When our children were small we opened our home to a variety of extraordinary peace women.  There was Marina, who traipsed all the way from Moscow to Bridgend on the train, bearing traditional Russian ornaments which still grace our living room.  Then there were the women from the former East Germany who were part of the street protests in Dresden which started the decline of the DDR and led to German unification. 

As our children grew I was able to travel further afield and play an active role in visits that helped to break down prejudices and stereotypes between women from countries in conflict: Cuba and America; Israel and Palestine.  Thus W2W4P was able to contribute to building bridges of understanding and to help create networks focused on creating peaceful relationships. 

Even today when in Israel and Palestine I visit my dear friends Hanna (Israeli) and Violette (Palestinian).  They are both still working for peace – for a solution based on justice and mutual respect for both peoples.  I admire them greatly, and am grateful to W2W4P for the opportunity to get to know them and to support them in their vision.”

A successful example of W2W4P’s success in building bridges between people with contrasting values and beliefs happened in 2004 when 8 women from peace organisations from Israel and Palestine came on a joint visit to the UK, including Cardiff, Wales (where they spoke at The Temple of Peace). I would like to invite readers to explore the motives and outcomes of such an important visit, and to learn more about international solidarity in action.

Israeli and Palestinian women from peace organisations visit Wales, 2004

Aims of Visit

I have summarised below the aims of the Israel Palestine visit to show how these aims are relevant for today’s world which is characterised by ongoing international conflicts.  The story of the visit shows how a small group of dedicated individuals can make a positive difference:

  • To help build up a network of support for women and families in Israel and Palestine (two conflicting countries).
  • To raise public awareness:
    • Promote a more accurate international awareness regarding identity and presence.
    • The need to keep getting the message out so people will feel galvanised into activity out of conviction, not sympathy.
  • To engage in a mix of formal and informal meetings with the public, politicians, influential audiences and the media to promote awareness of the subject.
  • To help change how the conflict is framed:
    • For it not to be seen as solely a security problem .
    • Strong emphasis on occupation, inequalities, values and human rights.
    • Positive international intervention!
  • To break down international barriers and break through stereotypes, which are so often a big factor in conflict and crisis.
  • To promote a vision of peace and solidarity, and how it is possible through the will of ordinary people.
  • The opportunity for all members to meet in a neutral safe place:
    • To establish a real nucleus of friendship.
    • To work on existence and existing identities.
  • To develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for different national and faith communities.
  • To give the women a public platform, so their voice can be heard by the media, politicians and many other influential members of public.

Outcomes

Overall the visit was extremely successful. It was noted that the women from Israel and Palestine were brave, committed and shared the same hopes and concerns as women and families in Wales. Although they came from countries experiencing bitter conflict, the ability to meet and share their realities in a neutral safe space, enabled the women to develop a warm and affectionate relationship.  They fed back to members of W2W4P that they found the visit to the United Kingdom a positive experience and wished to continue their cooperation in the future. The visit encouraged a more informed understanding of the ways people were working for peace in the region. It was endearing that the women felt heartened and impressed by the level of support they were greeted with in Wales and England; they felt people’s concern for their respective communities, and for their work for peace under difficult circumstances.

The Israeli and Palestinian women returned home with a vision for the future.  They had gained inspiration from their visit and were able to formulate new ideas about how to move forward in their fight for peace and how people in the UK could support them in this. On returning home, they were able to organise joint initiatives and to meet in Jerusalem – building on the positive relationship that was made possible through the work of W2W4P.

The all important lessons of solidarity from Women to Women for Peace

Over its 30 year existence, the work and experience of W2W4P was tremendously valuable and rewarding. A lot can be achieved if we allow it to happen. The results from international solidarity movements can only be positive.  There is so much to learn beyond our borders and re-creating an organisation like Women to Women for Peace could allow us to make a positive contribution to peace in conflicting countries.

The motivation and dedication of members of W2W4P represents a desire for peace and friendship that can expand over oceans and cross national boundaries. It’s difficult to actually put into words how W2W4P held such inspirational and influential links to Wales in their fight for peace for thirty years. As an individual I am certainly proud of their achievements and want their successes to be heard.

What W2W4P has shown is how barriers and walls only perpetuate stereotypes, myths and fears; it is what the root of conflicts come down to. W2W4P’s motivation and passion have helped me to recognise what we have in common; Lucy Behenna, the co-founder of W2W4P in 1984 (originally called Mothers for Peace) states:

“Mother love is one of the greatest powers and it’s universal. Mothers of all creeds and colours, religions and no religions, whatever government they are under, desire the best for their children and I thought that great link between mothers we might use to help break down a little of the fear and mistrust.”

Lucy had “instinctively tapped into the most powerful peacemaking power in the world” and we need it back again!

For more information and stories from the Women to Women for Peace successes, please read my other article on their visit to Cuba and the time when women from Cuba and America came to Wales

Sources:

  • Sheila Ward, ‘A Most Remarkable Old Lady: Mother For Peace: Lucy Behenna’, Quaker Home Service, London, 1989
  • Women to Women for Peace Newsletter, October 2004
  • Women to Women for Peace Evaluation Forms
  • Women to Women for Peace Itineraries
  • Women to Women for Peace Meeting Agendas
  • Plaid Cymru press release October 2004, Jill Evans MEP.
  • Women to Women for Peace report and background statement, September 2004
  • Jane Harries, ‘Report of a Visit by Palestinian and Israeli Women to the UK – October 2004’. October 2004.

COLLI BYS DROS HEDDWCH

Gan Bethan Siân Jones

Yn ystod y Rhyfel Oer ym Mhrydain, cyflwynwyd strategaethau amddiffyn sifil, a bu adeiladu bynceri yn un ohonynt. Ym 1985 derbyniodd Cyngor Dosbarth Caerfyrddin grant o £45,000 gan y Swyddfa Gartref i adeiladu byncer gwerth £60,000. Byddai’r byncer ond yn darparu lloches ar gyfer wyth person – a bwriad y Cyngor oedd defnyddio arian trethdalwyr i dalu gweddill y £15,000. Yn nodweddiadol, heb ganiatâd cynllunio, dechreuodd y Cyngor adeiladu’r byncer mewn ardal a oedd i fod yn ddi-niwclear. Yn wir, erbyn 1982 roedd pob awdurdod lleol yng Nghymru wedi’i ddatgan yn ardaloedd di-niwclear gan wneud Cymru oll yn wlad ddi-niwclear. Sbarduniwyd ymgyrch gan bobl gyffredin Caerfyrddin a oedd yn gwrthwynebu’r byncer, ac fe’i gelwid yn Ymgyrch Gwrth-Fyncer Caerfyrddin. Atynnodd yr ymgyrch gefnogaeth a chyfranogaeth oddi ar lu o bobl amrywiol, yn lleol ac yn genedlaethol. Ymgyrch graff ydoedd gan nid yn unig oedd yn gwrthwynebu’r byncer yn foesol, ond mi oedd hefyd yn ei wrthwynebu ar sail gyfreithiol, o ganlyniad i ddiffyg caniatâd cynllunio’r Cyngor.

Yn nyddiau cynnar yr ymgyrch, aeth y protestwyr ati i feddiannu’r byncer er mwyn atal ei adeiladwaith. Cysgon nhw ar sylfaeni concrid y byncer am ychydig o wythnosau gan wrthod symud. Derbynion nhw ymwelwyr cyson gan gynnwys Maer Caerfyrddin a ddaeth â sglodion i’r meddianwyr gyda’r nos. Ymddangosodd baneri CND enfawr y tu allan i ambell i ffenestr mewn adeiladau’r Cyngor, hyd yn oed! Er roeddent yno i amddiffyn y byncer, bu swyddogion diogelwch y Cyngor yn llac iawn gyda’r protestwyr – gan ganiatáu iddynt fynd i mewn i ardal adeiladu’r byncer er mwyn protestio.

TRAIS

Ar ôl i’r protestwyr bod wrthi am wythnosau’n meddiannu’r byncer, cael eu herlid wnaethant, ac yna cafodd y byncer ei feddiannu unwaith eto. Ar ôl cyfres o ddadleuon yn y llys, llwyddodd y Cyngor i roi caniatâd cynllunio i’w hunain. Cododd y Cyngor ffens 12 troedfedd o amgylch y byncer a diswyddodd ei swyddogion diogelwch gan logi cwmni preifat yn ei le. Cwmni diogelwch Pritchards oedd y cwmni newydd, ac yn flaenorol roeddent wedi bod yn gweithio yn Ne Affrica yn ystod Apartheid. Er mai protestio trwy ddulliau heddychlon wnaeth protestwyr Ymgyrch-Gwrth Fyncer Caerfyrddin, cafodd cŵn a thrais eu defnyddio yn eu herbyn er mwyn amddiffyn y byncer. Cafodd un protestiwr ei daro ar gefn ei wddf gan swyddog diogelwch ac wrth iddo gwympo i’r llawr, brathodd ci diogelwch ei goes. Mewn achos arall, cafodd cynghorydd ei frathu gan gi diogelwch ar y ffordd yn ôl i’w gar ym maes parcio’r Cyngor. Yn eironig, roedd y cynghorydd wedi bod yn dadlau yn erbyn adeiladu’r byncer mewn trafodaeth dwy awr o hyd yn union cyn yr ymosodiad. Yn ôl atgofion y protestwyr a fu’n rhan o Ymgyrch Gwrth-Fyncer Caerfyrddin, y menywod a dderbyniodd y trais gwaethaf. Cafodd cyhuddiadau eu gwneud yn erbyn swyddogion diogelwch Pritchards am gyffwrdd â menywod yn anweddus tra’n eu symud oddi ar safle’r byncer. Yr achos mwyaf erchyll o drais oedd achos Dr Sue Pester. Mewn protest fawr yn Ionawr 1986, dringodd Sue’r ffens a oedd yn amgylchu’r byncer. Ei reswm oedd cael golwg well ar yr hyn a oedd yn digwydd oherwydd roedd ei ffrind ar safle’r byncer gyda’r swyddogion diogelwch. Yn sydyn, teimlodd ei hun yn cael ei thynnu wisg ei chefn gan rym anferthol swyddog diogelwch. Wrth gael ei thynnu i’r llawr, daeth ei bysedd yn sownd yn y ffens, ond parhaodd y swyddog diogelwch ei thynnu nes rhwygo un o’i bysedd i ffwrdd. Cofiodd Sue’r ddigwyddiad fel a ganlyn:

“When I saw that I had lost my finger I knew that I would need treatment. A couple of people around me came to my aid. People started shouting. I was very concerned because I’m a very small woman, I’m only 5ft tall, the security guard who had injured me was a tall man. I could see that could be a situation which could easily escalate into violence, and that was what we had been determined right from the outset wouldn’t happen. So my first thought was to try and stay calm, to make sure the situation was calm, to reassure people that I was OK while a couple of friends helped me to get round to the front of the building where an ambulance could be accessed. So it was a question of trying to reassure people, keep calm. Perhaps I needed to keep calm too. It was quite a shocking experience… and to try and get some medical help, but I didn’t want to be carried off – I walked but with somebody on each side who was just assisting me so I didn’t fall or anything. And I tried to hold my hand to stop the bleeding.”

Yn ddiweddarach, cafodd Sue achos llys preifat yn erbyn y cwmni diogelwch am ei hanafiadau. Bu’r achos yn aflwyddiannus. Gwadodd y swyddog diogelwch ei bod wedi achosi niwed corfforol iddi. Honnodd ei bod wedi mynd at Sue tra oedd ar y ffens er mwyn ei chynnal a’i hatal rhag syrthio i’r ddaear. Ni dderbyniodd Sue unrhyw gyfiawnder am ei hanafiadau a chafodd y mater ei anwybyddu gan Margaret Thatcher yn ogystal. Serch hynny, mi atynnodd stori Sue lawer o sylw gan y cyhoedd. Yn wir, teithiodd y bardd R.S Thomas i lawr o Ogledd Cymru i Gaerfyrddin ar ôl iddo glywed am hanes Sue. Eisteddodd y bardd wrth ochr y byncer gyda’i draed yn hongian drosti er mwyn gweld os byddai’n cael ei arestio neu beidio.

Rhoddodd y Cyngor y gorau i adeiladu’r byncer, ac ni ddefnyddiwyd erioed. Mae’n dal i fodoli ym maes parcio Cyngor Dosbarth Caerfyrddin. Daeth ei wariant i £400,000 o’i gymharu â’i swm gwreiddiol o £60,000. Yn ôl pob sôn, mi oedd y byncer yn gollwng dŵr blynyddoedd wedyn – sydd wir yn cwestiynu’i effeithlonrwydd mewn rhyfel niwclear wedi’r cwbl! Er nad oedd y protestwyr wedi atal y byncer rhag cael ei adeiladu, mi oeddent yn llwyddiannus yn y modd wnaethant atynnu sylw’r cyhoedd at y paratoadau roedd y Deyrnas Unedig yn ei wneud tuag at ryfel niwclear. Pwysig ydyw i gydnabod aberth a dewrder yr unigolion yma.

I gloi gyda dyfyniad gan Sue:

“…it’s not something I would have volunteered to have happened to me because, actually the loss of a finger, it does effect a number of things to do with your hand and it’s extremely inconvenient and sometimes still quite painful. But, in the scheme of things, the loss of a little finger compared to a nuclear war doesn’t really weigh up!”

Making a stand: William Trevor Jones of Pontyberem (1901-75)

By Jeffrey Mansfield

Trevor family photo

Trevor with his wife and daughter, Rhinedd

“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.”

– Memorial stone to Conscientious Objectors

Temple of Peace, Cardiff

If you were asked to name the people and places associated with the search for peace during the 1930s, you probably wouldn’t mention William Trevor Jones of Pontyberem.

Yet some of the most important players in the peace movement were all guests at the Pontyberem home of William Trevor Jones – coal-miner, Christian, Labour Party activist and conscientious objector (CO) in the Second World War.

George Lansbury, Clement Attlee, Scott Nearing, and Canadian journalist Douglas Carr, all visited Trevor, as he was known.

With kind help from Rhinedd Rees, Trevor’s daughter, and her husband Alban we are able to reveal the hidden history of Trevor’s life and his experiences as a C/O. It is a cameo of industrial south Wales at the time.

Family montage.jpg

Trevor then (left), daughter Rhinedd now, with husband Alban (right)

Early life

A coal-miner at age 14, he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1918 after hearing an election speech by local Labour candidate, Dr. Williams. Asked to set up a branch of the ILP, he recruited four other colliers, and was elected Secretary.

He resumed his education by taking adult education classes and almost gained a scholarship to Oxford, failing by only one mark. During 1926 he supported the General Strike and acted as Secretary to the Children’s Distress Committee. When his ILP branch decided to join the (new) Labour Party in 1928, he was elected to Pontyberem Parish Council, on which he served until 1969.

In 1930 he attended Coleg Harlech to continue his education but had to leave after one year and return to Pontyberem after his father was killed in the colliery. He later said that his time at Coleg Harlech had been a great influence on him and made him more capable of service to society.

coleg .jpg

Trevor at Coleg Harlech, highlighted in the bottom row

Between 1934 and 1935, Trevor’s Labour group were active in promoting the Peace Ballot in their region, and he began serving as Trades and Labour Council Secretary.

Though he came from an Anglican family he did not approve of what he felt was a militarist stance by the Church, and on marriage he became a Welsh Independent.

War breaks out

At the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939 Trevor was employed as an Insurance Inspector with the Co-op Insurance Group.

The National Service (Armed Forces) Act was passed into law, requiring all males aged between 18 and 41 to register for military service. Registration was by age group and took a long time, so it wasn’t until June 1941 that 40-year-olds were registering. Trevor’s 40th birthday was on 17th May 1941 – his time to register was imminent.

However, as a committed Christian, he decided to apply to register as a Conscientious Objector (CO) on religious grounds.

The application

His application was received at the Ministry of Labour and National Service in Cardiff on 13th June 1941, just one day before the deadline. The original papers pertaining to his application, kindly provided by Rhinedd, give a fascinating insight into the process.

He begins with a statement of his Christian values:

“As a professed Christian and a humanitarian, I profoundly and conscientiously believe that War, in all its aspects, is in direct contradiction to the Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ.”

He states his conviction that only by following Jesus can Man be liberated:

“The salvation of mankind does not lie in the way of force.”

Finally, he claims his moral right to the dictates of his own conscience and stands:

“On the firm conviction that to me each man is a potential Christ.”

The hearing

His application was heard by the Local Tribunal in Carmarthen on 18th July 1941. We have no record of what was said, but it is known that these hearings could be hostile and often tried to persuade, guide or command the applicants into some form of service.

Interviewed in 1972, Trevor said he was expected to leave his job with the insurance company and go back to the mine. Mining was a ‘reserved occupation’ and miners of his age were exempt from conscription, but he refused to do so because he didn’t believe it was right for him to take another collier’s job, which would have subsequently meant that collier having to join the army instead.

The application was granted and he was registered unconditionally in the Register of Conscientious Objectors, effective 23 July 1941. He said in 1972 that he felt he had ‘got off lightly’ in front of Judge Frank Davies at Caerfyrddin.

Aftermath

Like other COs he encountered rejection. Rhinedd recounts that some people spat on him, and threw stones on the roof when he was addressing meetings. But despite undercurrents of hostility, he had support in his chapel, where there were other COs, and he was elected Deacon. He continued working with the Insurance, which he could not have done had he been shunned. He was even asked to provide references, evidence that he was recognised as a man of conscience.

But the whole experience took its toll: after the war he became less confident and suffered a nervous breakdown, giving up his job as Inspector to become an ordinary Agent.

older trevor.jpg

Trevor in his later years

Final thoughts

The coalfields, the Independent Labour Party, and the religious faith which nurtured Trevor have now either disappeared or are less visible in society. But the courage which he and other COs showed is everlasting and serves as an example to us all.

“Mae Alban, Catrin, Anwen a finnau yn ymfalchio yn fawr ar ei safiad a’i ddewrder ar gyfnod anodd iawn. Roedd yn berson egwyddorol ac roedd yn barod i wrthwynebu anghyfiawnder a chasineb yn erbyn cyd-ddyn.Bu’n driw i’w ddaliadau trwy gydol ei oes.”

-Rhinedd Rees, Hydref 2017

“Alban, Catrin, Anwen and I are very proud of the stand he made and his bravery during a very difficult period. He was a very principled person and was ready to oppose injustice and hatred against his fellow man. He was true to his beliefs throughout his life.”

-Rhinedd Rees, October 2017

Thank you to  Rhinedd for your involvement with this piece and the family photographs.

Temple Tales #4: Back to the Future at the Garden of Peace

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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

 

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.