The Story of Minnie James and the Mothers of Peace

Written by WCIA Volunteer Peter Garwood, for WCIA’s ‘Women War & Peace’ exhibition at the Senedd, Aug-Sept 2017; edited by Craig Owen and republished on WCIA Voices for future reference. 

In November 1938 Minnie James from Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, was thrust into the limelight when Lord David Davies, founder of Wales’ Temple of Peace, decided that he would like to have a Welsh mother who had lost sons in the Great War to open the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health – on behalf of all mothers who had lost sons. She was the lead figure among 24 war-bereaved mothers from across the UK and Empire, who were invited following a publicity campaign through British Legion branches that the press sensationalised as the ‘search for our most tragic mothers’ – but fostered a nationwide recognition that despite the ‘men and military’ focus traditionally associated with remembrance, that women disproportionately bore the brunt of the impacts of war, and as leaders in peace making.

Who was Minnie James?

Minnie James was born as Minnie Annie Elizabeth Watkins on 3rd October 1866 at Merthyr Tydfil.

Minnie Watkins married William James, a bachelor, age 23 on 1st January 1891, at the Parish Church in the Parish of Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorgan. The 1911 census shows the family living in a seven roomed house, 8 Cross Francis Street, Dowlais. William is working as a Clerk, Minnie has no listed occupation. The parents have been married for 20 years and have had eight children, six of whom are still alive. David is 19 and single and working as a Draughtsman, John is age 16, single and working as a Apprentice Fitter, Thomas is still in school. There are two new children: Winifred James age 7 born Merthyr and William James , age 1 born Dowlais. The family are sufficiently well off to have a General Servant, one Elizabeth A. Murphy, age 22, a single woman, born Dowlais. Two children had died:

  • Elizabeth age 2 months who died and was buried 28th September 1901 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery Section.
  • Gwladys age 7, who died and was buried 6th March 1907 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery Section.

The impact of WW1 on the James family

In 1914 the Great War broke out and men were quick to enlist. Minnie’s first son, David James joined the Welsh Guards, enlisting at Merthyr. He entered the theatre of war on 17th August 1915 in France.

He had served in the Guards Division as part of the 3rd Guards Brigade, which was made up of 1st Battalion, South Wales Borderers, 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards, 2nd Battalion Scotch Guards and 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. He took part in the Battle of Flers–Courcelette – part of the 5-month Battle of the Somme – but  was killed in action on 25th September 1916, age 24.

Western Mail article on the death of Private David James from Dowlais; and his entry in Wales’ WW1 Book of Remembrance.

Like many men who died in the conflict of 1914-1918, his body was never identified and he is named on the Thiepval Memorial. He was awarded the British Victory and War medal along with the 1915 Star. His death was reported in the Western Mail on 13th October 1916 (see aside).

The war ended in November 1918, but her second son Thomas James had joined the 13th Welsh Regiment and had been wounded in France – dying from his wounds, age 21, on Christmas Day 1918. He was also awarded the British Victory and War medal.

Her third son James, (known as Jack James) had joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers and entered the theatre of war on 1st December 1915. He was wounded during the war, and awarded the British Victory and War medal along with the 1915 Star and the Silver War Badge for wounds. He was discharged on 28th January 1919.

However, he died on 23rd June 1920 at 8 Cross Francis Street, age 24 with his father present, eighteen months after his brother Thomas. His death certificate records the fact that he was “Ex-Private Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Mining Engineers Pupil)”, and that the cause of death was “General Tuberculosis”. He was buried on 26th June 1920 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery, Pant.

All three sons who died in the Great War are listed in the Welsh WW1 Book of Remembrance held in the Crypt at Wales’ Temple of Peace to this day; and commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Minnie’s husband William James died at the age of 68; he had served as a Special Constable in the Great War and was buried on 20th November 1936 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery, Pant.

Minnie as the ‘Mother of Wales’

In November 1938 Minnie, was thrust into the limelight when Lord David Davies had decided that he would like a Welsh mother who had lost sons in the Great War to be the one to open the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health – on behalf of all mothers who had lost sons.

Minnie James was invited to see the Temple of Peace for a personal visit by Lord Davies on 10th November 1938. This was to give her an idea of what was expected, and to provide a news item to give extra publicity to the opening a few weeks away.

Interviewed by the press she explained that she had a “drawer of secrets”, at home in which she kept mementoes of her three sons who gave their lives for their country. This was their school certificates, fading letters from the front, little presents given to her by the boys when home on leave, and their medals. She stated that these items would be buried with her when she dies – that they were hers and belonged to no-one else.

She was taken down into the crypt where the Welsh book of remembrance would be placed. She told the press that she thought it was lovely. She thought her sons would be: “so proud of me – I am happy to be chosen for their sake.” She explained how her boys had served and died. She explained that on each Armistice Day she stays at home and during the two minutes silence goes to her sons bedroom alone but for the memory. She told the press that

“all who come into this building must feel strongly for peace. It will be lovely for the young people to come here. They will be so impressed. And the mothers and fathers, too, for the sake of their children must come here.” She explained that her three sons had worked at the Dowlais Works, where a tablet recorded their sacrifice.

As she left the Temple she turned for a moment to look at it again She said:

“I feel so happy for my sons. I shall feel them near me when I come back to open this beautiful building.”

Mothers of the World and UK

Lord Davies invited a total of 24 mothers from all over the United Kingdom and allied countries to the opening, laying on a special train from London.

  • Mrs R Struben form the Union of South Africa, spoke on behalf of the British Commonwealth mothers.
  • Mrs Cederlund of Sweden represented mothers of the Scandinavian countries
  • Mrs Moller spoke for the women of the United States of America
  • Madame Dumontier from France spoke for mothers of the European countries.
  • Representing Northern Ireland was Mrs Nixon of Portrush, Co. Antrim. Four out of five sons served and died in the Great War. Three were killed in action, one died from wounds received on active service. Her husband had served with Lord Roberts at Kandahar. Mrs Nixon wore 20 medals at the opening ceremony.
  • Representing the Scottish Highlands was Mrs Mary Lamont of Pitlochry (The home town of Lady Davies). Three sons served, one killed, one discharged, one wounded, one son still serving in India. I have identified one as 52268 Rifleman John Henry Lamont, who served with the 16th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. He died on 24th August 1918, age 19, and was buried at Bertenacre Military, Flertre. Cemetery. He was listed as the son of George and Mary Lunn Lamont, of Fonab stables, Pitlochry, Perthshire.
  • Representing North-East England was Mrs R. Gibson, of Newcastle on Tyne. Two sons served, both killed. Husband was with relief force sent for General Gordon, re-enlisted in the Great War. I have identified one as M2/104574 Serjeant Charles Thomas Gibson, M.M. Royal Army Service Corps. He died on 10th August 1918. age 35 and was buried in Gosforth (St. Nicholas) churchyard , Northumberland. He was listed as the son of the late Robert and Jane Gibson, of Brandling Village, Newcastle-on-Tyne; husband of Isabell Gibson, of Council Chambers, High St., Gosforth.
  • Representing North-West England was Mrs Rachael Houlgrave of Liverpool. Lost four sons in the War, one dying a prisoner in turkey, another dying after discharge. A fifth son served and survived. I have identified
    • 5364 Lance Serjeant Nathaniel Houlgrave, “C” Coy. 10th Bn, Lancashire Fusiliers. He died 29th June 1916, age 25. He was buried at the Morlancourt British Cemetery No.1. He was listed as the son of Francis and Rachel Houlgrave, of 424, Mill St., Dingle, Liverpool.
    • 5484 Private Samuel Houlgrave, 10th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. He died 7th July 1916, age 23. He was buried at the Thiepval memorial as he has no known grave. Listed as above.
    • 37051 Private W. Houlgrave, 3rd Battalion South Wales Borderers. He died 23rd April 1918, age 24. He was buried at the Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery. He was listed as above
  • Representing the Midlands was Mrs G. Henson, of Cotgrave, Notts. Lost one of two sons. Daughter served in the W.A.A.C.
  • Representing East Anglia was
  • Mrs E. Lewer of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Lost her only son in the first Territorial Unit to go into action 1914.
  • Representing London, Mrs Mary Sawyer, of Battersea, Daughter of a Crimean veteran. Had three sons serving, one killed, one subsequently died and one incapacitated. 653491 Rifleman Charles Louis Sawyer, “B” Coy, London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles), died 6th November 1917, age 25. He was buried at the Naval Trench Cemetery, Gavrelle. He was listed as the son of James and Mary Sawyer, of Battersea, London; husband of Annie Caroline Dennington (formerly Sawyer, nee Blake), of 62, Ford Mill Rd., Bellingham, Catford, London.


Press Coverage of the Temple of Peace Opening, November 1938 – view on Flickr.

Opening Day of the Temple of Peace, 23 Nov 1938

The Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health was the first building to be constructed in Britain to specifically intended to symbolise the devotion of Wales and its people to these two great humanitarian causes.

On the day a special train had left Paddington at 8.20 a.m. to arrive at Cardiff at 11.20 a.m. Then coaches were used to bring the party of mothers and other representatives to the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health. The weather that day was a typical November day – with a gale that had torn branches off trees in Cathays Park.

At 11.45 there was an introductory address on the Temple steps by Alderman Sir Charles H. Bird C.B.E, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He said, “We are assembled here to day to take part in the solemn dedication of this building for the noble purposes for which it was erected.

“Much thought has been given to the question as to who should be asked to unlock the door on the occasion of to-day’s function, and it was felt that no better choice could be made than some representative Welsh mother, to represent not only the mothers of Wales and the Empire, who lost their sons in the Great War, but also to the mothers of other countries, the loss of whose sons has brought such poignant sorrow to them, whatever their nationality may be.

“So it is that we have with us today Mrs James of Dowlais who lost three of her sons, and we are all happy in the knowledge that she has been spared to join with us in this ceremony of dedication.

“It is, therefore , with great sense of the honourable position to which I have been appointed as chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Welsh National Temple of peace and Health, that I now call upon Mr Percy Thomas, the architect of this building to present Mrs James with the key, and to request her to perform the opening ceremony.”

At the ceremony Mrs James was wearing a hat and holding a large bouquet of scarlet carnations given by the Hon. Lady Davies, and was wearing all three sets of medals that had belonged to her sons. She was presented with a Golden Key by Mr Percy Thomas, the architect, to open the doors of the Temple. He said: “Mrs James I have pleasure in presenting you with this key and asking you to accept it as a little token of this what I know must be a memorable occasion for you.” Mrs James said “Thank you”.

Mrs James spoke into the microphone to give her short, but historic speech:

“We are assembled here today to take part in the solemn dedication of this building for the noble purposes for which it was erected. In the name of the women of Wales it is my privilege to open the building. I dedicate it to the memorial to those gallant men of all nations who gave their lives in the war that was to end war. I pray that it may come to be regarded by the people of my country both of our generation and of those that are to follow as a constant reminder of the debt we owe to the millions who sacrificed their all in a great cause and as a symbol of our determination to strive for justice and peace in the future.”

Because she was speaking in a low voice, and despite the microphone, the newspapers reported that not all the hundreds of people present were able to hear her.

She then took the key from the presentation box and symbolically put the golden key into the lock of the bronze doors, pushed the door open and was the first person of those gathered outside to enter the newly opened Temple of Peace. The guests entered the Great Hall and sat down. Mrs James and the bereaved mothers then entered the Great Hall and the assembled crowd stood up as the bereaved mothers and other representatives entered. They walked down the central aisle to the platform. Hundreds of guests from all over the world stood up in tribute and respect.

The Temple Opening Ceremony and Luncheon

The mothers chosen to represent countries from all over the world stood up and spoke. First was Mrs E. Lewer of Aldeburgh speaking on behalf of the mothers of Great Britain, then spoke Mrs R Struben from the Union of South Africa, speaking for the British Commonwealth mothers. Mrs Cederlund of Sweden, for the Scandinavian countries, said:

“In the name of the women of Scandinavia I associate myself with the dedication of this building. May it be a constant reminder to the people of Wales of their duty to further the cause of progress, freedom, peace, and justice and of the debt they owe to those who fell in the defence of these ideals.”

Mrs Moller spoke for the U.S.A., and Madame Dumontier from France spoke for the European countries.

Five of the mothers representing practically the whole world read messages of goodwill from their regions, speaking in their own languages.

At 12.00 noon Viscount Cecil of Chelwood began a service of dedication and gave an address to those present, followed by extensive speeches from a number of high profile figures, and messages from World Leaders (and Welsh figures) read out by Alderman Charles Bird – including US President Roosevelt, the US Ambassador to Europe Mr. Joseph Davies, the Rt Hon William Hughes of the Australian Cabinet, Mr Charles Evans Hughes, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, and finally Mr David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister.

The guests then sang the Welsh National Anthem and concluded with the National Anthem. As they all left the organist played Handel’s “Occasional Overtures”.

At 1 p.m. they were welcomed at City Hall, where a civic reception was given by the Lord Mayor, Alderman W. G. Howell J.P., and the Lady Mayoress of Cardiff and Corporation of the City of Cardiff. At 1.15 p.m. they were given lunch, with a list of speeches and toasts almost as extensive as the mouthwatering menu:

Temple of Peace Opening Luncheon

Grapefruit Cocktail
Crème Portugaise
Sole Bonne Femme
Roast turkey Chipolata
Croquette Potatoes
Brussel Sprouts Green Peas
Passion Fruit Ice Souffle
Fresh Fruit Salad and Cream
Cheese and Biscuits
Coffee.

Among the many toasts and speeches, the Lord Mayor, Alderman W. G. Howell, made particular mention of the mothers:

“And particularly, do we welcome within our borders the women of courage from all parts of the Kingdom and from other countries who gave their sons in the service of their countries in the Great War and who gave themselves, in reality, made the supreme sacrifice. Wee glad to have the opportunity of meeting with them within the precincts of this City and shall honour and revere them and their sons as long as memory lasts. It may be some solace for them to know that the heart of this City beats in sympathy and in admiration for them.”

The event closed later that afternoon and the special train left Cardiff for London at 4.20 p.m. At 5 p.m. Lord and Lady Davies gave a reception at the Connaught Rooms to 500 representatives of the branches of the Welsh National Council of the League of Nations’ Union. That evening the League of Nations’ Union held a meeting at the Welsh National Temple of Peace, of the representatives of the branches of the Welsh Council of the League of Nations. It began at 7 p.m. with a two minute silence, followed by a hymn, the Chairman’s’ address and an address by Lord Davies.

It is presumed that Minnie James went home after the afternoon’s proceedings. She later told reporters that it had been a proud moment and said that:

“I felt every moment of it; but I had a duty to perform in the names of my sons and the mothers of the world. That helped me.”

Minnie James’ Later Life

Minnie does not appear to have had any further recorded involvement with the Temple of Peace, or other functions after the opening. She seems to have withdrawn from Welsh society in general, being quite a private person – but was obviously well known in the locality.

Her family were one of the first to have a television, and they would invite all the children in the street in to watch the programmes. Minnie James obviously was very fond of the children in the street and enjoyed watching the reactions of the children to the events on the television. She always held a Halloween party for the children and invited everyone to it. She was at the peace party in May 1945 held in Cross Francis street to celebrate the end of the second world war. She was pictured resplendent in a superb hat sitting with all the children at the street party.

Minnie James died at the age of 87 and was buried on 3rd April 1954 at Merthyr Tydfil Council Cemetery, Pant. Her death was reported in the Merthyr Express on April 10th 1954 (Page 16.) This mentions that she had opened the Temple of Peace in 1938 and that she had been an active spiritualist for over 71 years. It reveals that at the time of her death, her youngest son William was alive and that her daughter, Winifred, was also living.

The paper stated:

“It is difficult for those who knew her to realise life without Mrs James. She had known great sorrow in World War 1, her three sons, David, Jack and Tom made the supreme sacrifice. This experience merely enriched her life and was responsible for her many ministrations of good. He home was a sanctuary to many and the obvious tributes paid reveal the esteem in which she was held by her close as well as by far distant friends.

She will long be remembered for her gentleness, her immense triumph over personal sorrow and serenity of spirit. It was a privilege to have known her. Her home and wide circle of friends gaze sadly at the vacant chair but gratefully recall the lines:- “The memory of the just is blessed”. She will long be remembered as the heroine of the spirit who was so aptly chosen as official opener of the “The Temple of Peace”.

Her daughter and son, Winifred, known as “Winnie” and William , known as “Billy” never married and moved out of 8 Cross Francis Street in 1968. Her surviving children do not appear to have had any children themselves and with their eventual deaths, the James family passed into history.

Welsh International Development Summit / Hub Cyrmu Africa

International solidarity, and the mutual benefit of the global work of charities.

My Experience at the Welsh International Development Summit: where my interest began

By Sumayah Hussain

I am an undergraduate student doing a degree in Education and International Development. Last year as part of my degree I attended the Welsh International Development Summit in Swansea.

Hus inter dev image 1.png

The summit was held by Hub Cymru Africa at Liberty Stadium in Swansea. Attending this event this got me interested in the work of the charity.

After the event I conducted internet research and found the website containing information about Hub Cymru Africa based at the Temple of Peace and its partnership with the African Community.

This blog post explores some of the things I found about the work of the charity, as well as some of the partnerships that they work with.

I wanted to know more about how they are making a significant change, and are able to strengthen future links between Wales and Africa. I also wanted to highlight recent and past achievements, and find out more about how the international solidarity that they show can be of mutual benefit to people in Wales and in Africa.

Hub Cymru Africa

Firstly, I spoke to Julian Rosser, grants and policy manager, Hub Cymru Africa. He informed me that the charity enables people in Wales to make connections to support people in Africa. The charity was started in April 2015, and it is funded by the Welsh Government.

“There is a strong desire within this community to act in a sense of friendship and solidarity: to understand that these sorts of relationships are mutually beneficial. We aim to help people act in a way which supports that ethos.”
I then spoke to Cat Jones, who is the Head of Hub Cymru Africa. In an interview with her I asked about the work carried out by the charity. I wanted to gain a better understanding of the role of Hub Cymru Africa plays in contributing towards a more peaceful world, and created this video with her:

 

The response I got from Julian to the same two questions were also very informative:

“Essentially, Wales is a small, poor country with a limited capacity to act on the global stage. However, the people of Wales have a long history of taking action for international solidarity and of campaigning for global peace and justice. This comes from a mix of religious tradition with organising by trade unions and co-operatives. We can see this in recent decades with the Greenham women marching from Wales, strong support for the anti-apartheid movement from Wales and Welsh efforts to lead the fight for sustainable development.

We hope our work can help create a peaceful world by bringing people of different cultures together to share understanding, grow to love each other and learn that we have so much in common.

Hub Cymru Africa has achieved a lot of success over the years. We host an annual small grants scheme with a total of £180,000 from small-scale events and Wales – Africa projects. We also organize the Wales Africa Awards and support Fairtrade communities situated in Wales. There are many achievements that Hub Cyrmu Africa have accomplished.”

He also mentioned some of the awards schemes that they support. Awards are a way to congratulate people and recognise the success of their work carried out. For example, the Youth Leadership Award runs for people under 30 years old situated in both Africa and Wales. The Sustainability Award, is also another great example since it enables individuals to think of the long-term sustainability of a project design.

I was also impressed by all the ways in which Hub Cymru Africa has helped African communities. Some examples are midwifery training in Sierra Leone, and agricultural support for famers in rural Uganda.

 

Dolen Cymru Hidden History

By Clemence Junot

In December 2013, my family and I took a trip to South Africa. As she was reading a travel guide to plan the trip, my mother came across a few pages on Lesotho, a small and high (the whole state lies entirely above 1,000 metres) country land-locked in South Africa. This name rung a bell. She remembered playing Trivial Pursuit when she was young, and that one question no one ever seemed to get the answer to: “what is the capital of Lesotho?”. Having found out that was Maseru, the next step, she thought, was to go explore the rest of Lesotho. We thus went a few days in Lesotho, getting there by the infamous Sani Pass, a notoriously dangerous road. After a series of winding twists, hairpins, plunging drops, we got to Lesotho and spent a few days in a small village called Molumong. Needless to say, the trip was very enriching, the people of Lesotho were extremely welcoming, and the scenery mind-blowing. We visited a primary school in this town, which we had brought paper, pens and books for. Little did I know, the Molumong Primary School was actually one of the 34 Sesotho (the people of Lesotho) schools the charity School Aid and Dolen Cymru picked to send a consignment of books to. And little did I know, two years later, I would end up leaving France to study in Wales, a country that had established the first country to country link with Lesotho.

Dolen Cymru (the Wales-Lesotho link) began back in 1985, at a time where the idea of twinning countries was a very novel concept. The key motivation of its founders was then to “enable Wales to look out and encourage its understanding of the developing world”, to link communities at a grass-roots level and bridge a gulf in understanding. Thirty-two years later, Dolen Cymru still maintains these links. Exchanges and partnerships were created in a wide range of areas. These include between schools, churches, women’s organizations and even choirs. A significant health portfolio was also put in place, as well as a teacher placement program.

In order to understand Dolen-Cymru, the Wales-Lesotho link, and grasp the reasons why that link has proved so strong, one must first look at its origins and at its founding principles. People familiar with Dolen Cymru will claim that the greatest strength of the link was its capacity to see everyone on an equal footing and develop links between people and their communities rather than between governments. This is reflected in the story behind the creation of Dolen Cymru, a story of human to human relations, and a story of the quest for peace. One of the ways it can be told is through the experience of Dr. Iwan Carl Clowes, the founder, first chair and now Life President of Dolen Cymru.

Carl Iwan Clowes and the origins of the idea

The idea of a nation-to-nation link finds its origins in Carl Clowes’ experience of establishing himself as an oncologist within a rural practice in North-West Wales after graduating. At the time, the employment opportunities were low, the area was low in morale and Carl Clowes witnessed a community in decline and wished to act upon it. With time, he began to ask himself “how can I formulate my thought into something more constructive, [more] positive?”. While on a 2-year postgraduate course at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, he came across many people involved in countries all over the world and began to understand more about international health and development. He then furthered his understanding by reading WHO bulletins. As his awareness of the problems encountered by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) was increasing, his frustration was also growing: “It was not clear to me what Wales’ role was in any of this work”, he recalls. “Wales is very good at looking at its culture, its history, its tradition, but what could we do in terms of reaching out to the rest of the world?”. His first attempt to answer that question was an article in Y Faner in 1982 in which he suggested Wales could adopt one of the LDCs as a twinned country for assistance, adding Wales could well benefit from such a permanent relationship in terms of developing understanding.

Shortly after, he attended a conference on the topic of Wales’ role in the context of the World. Two points of views clashed. One side argued that Wales was part of the UK should thus only act if the UK got involved in international development. On the other hand, people amongst Carl Clowes, argued Wales needed to act independently, make its own voice heard to achieve its rightful role in the world. There, Carl Clowes presented his idea of country-to-country link which took hold, and gradually gained strength. Many dialogues followed and a steering committee was eventually put in place to develop the idea further. The first step, of course, was to choose country to twin with.

The ideal twin: Lesotho

Through the media, the people of Wales were consulted on most appropriate LDCs with which to twin and have a permanent relationship with. A lot of passionate letters flowed in and Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania, Lesotho were eventually shortlisted by the Dolen Cymru Committee. Lesotho was finally chosen because of its similarities to Wales in terms of size (both small), geography (mountainous), population (at the time 2-3 million). Both countries also share a mining tradition, bilingualism, and a love of choral singing. Moreover, Lesotho already had civil society bodies and organisations which would make it easier for people in Wales to link with the Sesotho communities. The similarities were sufficient to begin to approach the people of Lesotho. With the help of Owen Griffiths, former British High Commissioner in Lesotho, Bishop Graham Chadwick, priest in Lesotho for 16 years, O T Sefako, the High commissioner of Lesotho in London and many others, the Dolen Cymru team established contact with the government of Lesotho. At the time, the apartheid era was not over, and Lesotho was known around the globe as an island of peace in the middle of South-Africa where members of the African National Congress (ANC) could take refuge. Consequently, a large number of countries identified with Lesotho and supported it, making it the most aided country by capita in the world at the time. However, as Paul Williams, first secretary of Dolen Cymru highlights, “Most [aid] projects are, by their nature, short term. Experts come and go, their reports sadly often gathering dust. So a much longer term approach was needed”. This is what the intention of Dolen Cymru was: it aimed to develop an equitable and lasting relationship with both partners having equality within that relationship, as much as that was possible with one country having greater material means than the other. This approach was so original that “I think it fair to say that when our approach was first made, there was cynicism in corridors in Lesotho that it was another ‘aid organization’ wanting to get involved” recalls Carl Clowes. Dolen Cymru would have to prove its intentions were genuine.

The founding principles and aims of Dolen Cymru

As soon as the Wales-Lesotho link was established, several principles were drafted, differentiating it from the type of relationships between the global North and the global South which were usually seen in the 1980s. First, the link had to be, as far as possible, an equitable relationship, with both Wales and Lesotho benefiting and contributing. This principle would not be easy to maintain in practice because of the inequalities of the two countries in terms of resources, but nevertheless proved to be fulfilled over the years. Second, understanding and friendship should be the building blocks of the link, whereas material and financial aid would only play a part when it arose naturally over time out of the friendship made and the real understanding gained. Understanding was to come first, and involved learning about the development problems of Lesotho, but also its natural and cultural characteristics, its strengths per se. “For Wales, there should be great educational value in focusing on one nation, understanding its ambitions, noting the options available to its leaders regarding paths to development, appreciating the practical difficulties of implementing plans, sympathising with their anxiety that fundamental national values should not be undermined in the process” highlights Geraint Thomas in his set of Guidelines for Linking. Out of this understanding would eventually come friendship and involvement, then collaboration where links initiated by individuals, communities and organisations, both in Wales and in Lesotho led to common action in a particular sphere. So Dolen Cymru would not go into Lesotho with its own agenda but rather becomes involved in work based on need assessment.

One of the central feature of the link is that it was to be set at grass-roots, community level. Two very positive effects come out of this. Firstly, it makes the link sustainable and lasting. As highlighted by Carl Clowes, “Governments come and governments go, but people and communities remain throughout changing political allegiances. Thus, developing links between communities, could be more permanent than relying on governments to develop these bridges”. Second, encouraging learning from one another, promoting the capacity of one activity to potentiate another through the joint understanding and friendship and engaging in meaningful debates at a personal level could be considered as a new, peaceful way of doing international relations. In the words of Carl Clowes, “confrontational policies can never be the answer if we are to secure world peace and justice. Developing understanding between our various communities, however, can”.