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.

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

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.