Belief and Action: Wales’ Heritage of Opposing Conflict, from WW1 to today

By Craig Owen

In Wales’ National Garden of Peace, between Cardiff’s Temple of Peace and the leafy grounds of Bute Park, stands an imposing stone unveiled in 2005 by peace campaigning group Cynefin y Werin, and dedicated to Wales’ Conscientious Objectors of all wars. Inscribed upon it is a challenge to all generations:

“If the right to life is the first of all human rights

Being the one on which all other rights depend

The right to refuse to kill must be the second.” 

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Conscientious Objectors Stone, Welsh National Garden of Peace. Craig Owen / WCIA

15 May every year has been recognised since 1985 as International Conscientious Objectors Day – remembering generations of individuals who have opposed conflict by refusing to bear arms.

Conscientious Objection is one of many ways in which generations of peace builders have put their ‘beliefs into action’ by opposing conflict. From the 930+ Welsh objectors imprisoned in WW1 for refusing to kill, to the anti-Nuclear campaigners of the 1960s-now, and ‘Stop the War’ protestors of recent years, Wales has a strong ‘peace heritage’ of speaking out against war.

–> Gain an overview from WCIA’s Opposing Conflict / Belief and Action pages.

–> To find out more about Wales’ WW1 Objectors, read our WCIA Voices May 2019 review of Dr Aled Eirug’s seminal book on ‘The Opposition to the Great War in Wales‘, published by University of Wales Press 2019.

Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors

You can discover hidden histories of over 930 WW1 COs from communities Wales-wide, using the Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors on WCIA’s Wales Peace Map.

WCIA are indebted to Prof Cyril Pearce of Leeds University for making his “life’s work” available to future researchers through our Belief & Action project.

Hidden Histories of Objectors

From 2014-18, Wales for Peace supported many volunteers, community groups and schools to explore ‘hidden histories’ of peace builders from WW1 to today. The following selection is a fitting tribute for this WW100 COs Memorial Day:

View also some of the short films / digital stories created by young people working with  Wales for Peace community projects over 2014-18, below.

‘Belief and Action’ Exhibition Tour

In 2016, WCIA worked with the Quakers in Wales and a steering group of Welsh experts to develop the ‘Belief and Action’ exhibition, which from 2016-19 has travelled to 15 communities Wales-wide and been visited by many thousands of people. Funded by Cymru’n Cofio / Wales Remembers and launched with an excellent community partnership event between WCIA and the United Reform Church in Pontypridd, the tour aimed to explore the stories and motivations of WW1 Conscientious Objectors, but with a key focus on reflecting on issues of Conscience ‘Then and Now’ during the WW100 centenary period.

–> View WCIA’s 2018 ‘Belief and Action’ Report

Maeydderwen Belief & Action Exhibition

Young Peacemakers launch ‘Belief & Action’ at Ysgol Maesydderwen, May 2018

Last year, for 2018 Conscientious Objectors Day, Wales for Peace worked with Ysgol Maesydderwen in Swansea Valley to stage a Belief and Action exhibition, and also to launch WCIA’s Learning Pack ‘Standing up for your Beliefs’, downloadable from Hwb.

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Learning Resources

WCIA, the National Library of Wales and Quakers / Friends in Wales have all produced substantial Curriculum Resources on Objection to War , including critical thinking materials and schools projects, available from the Welsh Government’s ‘Hwb’ Education Resources site for schools and teachers.

Find Out More / Take Action

Short Films by Young Peacemakers

Over 2014-18, Wales for Peace was privileged to work with schools and community groups to explore hidden histories of peace with creative responses – including  digital stories and short films

Short Film ‘Without the Scales’ by Merthyr Tydfil students of Coleg y Cymoedd / Uni of Glamorgan, with Cyfarthfa Castle Trust (displayed for Wales for Peace exhibition, Oct 2018), used records to re-enact the Conscientious Objectors Tribunals of WW1.

Short Film ‘Niclas y Glais’ by Ysgol Gyfun Llangynwyd, Bridgend (displayed for Pontypridd Belief and Action exhibition, Oct 2017) looked at the life of Thomas Even Niclas.

Digital Story ‘Conscientious Objectors’ by Crickhowell High School, Monmouthshire (displayed for Women War & Peace exhibition at the Senedd, August 2017) considered the feelings and experiences that led some WW1 soldiers to become objectors to war.

 

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Conscientious Objectors Day, 15 May: ‘Opposition to the Great War in Wales’ Review

Head of Wales for Peace, Craig Owen, reviewed Dr Aled Eirug’s seminal work ‘The Opposition to the Great War in Wales’ – published by University of Wales Press – for the Spring 2019 Agenda, the journal of the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA).  This book is the culmination of Aled’s Doctoral Thesis with Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion.

To mark International Conscientious Objectors Day on May 15th 2019 – 100 years after the end of WW1, the ‘war that was to end war’ – Craig shares for WCIA Voices his ‘longer read’  review on this perspective-changing history of Wales’ Anti-War Movements – and considers the relevance to today.

As we mark the centenary of the post-WW1 Paris Peace Process whilst simultaneously bracing for Brexit – seeking to sever the ties of interdependence with our European neighbours – the publication of a history tome that presents a different perspective’ to Wales’ received ‘great war story’ might not seem immediately relevant. But perhaps the timing could not be more poignant – or the opportunity to learn from our forebears – as we reconsider Wales’ role in the world once more within a divided British society.

Previous histories of WW1 have tended to either airbrush out anti-war perspectives from the ‘narrative’ of the Great War as pockets of unrelated, individual activity; or conversely, lionised the heroism of Conscientious Objectors who took a stand against an imperial, populist state. Aled Eirug’s landmark work, ‘The Opposition to the Great War in Wales 1914-18’ paints a far more 3-dimensional picture. The most detailed study yet of the anti-war movement in any part of Britain through WW1, this look ‘behind the blinkers’ is a critical contribution to UK-wide social history, and profoundly relevant to Welsh identity, experience and political ideologies today.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen … these conflicts of our time have been met with vocal anti-war movements that are not only a defining part of Welsh and UK civil society, but also national conscience. 100 years ago, to disagree with the government and populist tide could lead to social outcast and a prison sentence. Those who did so planted ‘anti-war’ seeds that today we take for granted – yet their story is rarely part of the WW1 narrative. Even now, after 4 years of nationwide events marking WW100, one could be forgiven for thinking that Wales was as one with the whole UK in enthusiastically supporting ‘the war that was to end war’ – united under the shrewd leadership of David Lloyd George, the UK’s only “Welsh” Prime Minister. But as for conflicts of today, such a view is simplistic in the extreme.

 

The onset of WW1 divided the nation. Beneath the populist call to arms and government propaganda, religious and political opposition to the war, of many differing shades, was witnessed Wales-wide. Aled maps this opposition systematically, not as pockets of resistance, but as patterns of beliefs – people motivated by a purpose, or rather a diversity of purposes – and importantly, looks at how this opposition became more organised as the war wore on.

Many Welsh non-conformists, and groups such as the Christadelphians and Quakers, reeled at the readiness with which the commandment ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ was jettisoned to preach military recruitment from the pulpit (though many ministers refused, proselytising against the war). Interfaith organisations such as Cymdeithas y Cymod, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, were founded to counter the hatred of war. Socialist figures such as Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald led an anti-war stance for the Independent Labour Party in Wales that, whilst initially unpopular – and indeed heavily persecuted by authorities such as tribunals – over the course of WW1 progressively attracted increasing support and respect, offering a new political home to ranks of Welsh Liberals disillusioned by the postures they felt their party had taken. Some who felt Wales had become subservient to British imperialism of WW1, would go on to develop Welsh Nationalist ideology that led to the formation of Plaid Cymru in 1925.

Central to Eirug’s exploration is the impact of the Military Service Act, compulsory conscription, in March 1916 which brought WW1 opposition into sharp focus. Those who objected on grounds of conscience faced Tribunals that were rarely sympathetic (particularly to political objectors). ‘Non-Combatants’ and ‘Alternativists’ were deployed to military or non-military work supporting the war effort, but ‘Absolutists’ – who were opposed to the war on moral grounds – were often court marshalled, and imprisoned or sentenced to hard labour. Some Welsh COs died from poor treatment and / or labour conditions.

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WW1 Conscientious Objectors at Dyce Labour Camp, Scotland, 1916 – Wikimedia Commons

Whilst Eirug has been able to trace about 900 registered Conscientious Objectors from Wales – roughly proportionate to the rest of the UK –his research also highlights that these numbers would have been far higher but not for the creation of a Welsh company for theological students in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) – nicknamed ‘Gods Own’. Alongside Ambulance Units and other non-combatant roles, many of these objectors trod the difficult line of supporting those at the front, whilst opposing the war – a sentiment increasingly shared by many serving troops, and families at home, beyond 1917.

The No Conscription Fellowship (NCF) and National Council for Civil Liberties gave voice and organising infrastructure to Objectors, with local branches Wales-wide. But the Independent Labour Party, Fellowship of Reconciliation, women’s movements and Trade Unions all played galvanising anti-war roles in wider Welsh society, and it is perhaps here that this book most challenges the ‘received versions’ of history. Where others have cited, as evidence of pro-war strength of feeling, the ‘Battle of Cory Hall’– a Nov 1916 Anti-War meeting of 900 in Cardiff that was disrupted by a mob of ‘patriots’ – Eirug looks at what happened next. A rally of over 2,500 ‘peace builders’ reconvened at the Rink in Merthyr, “steeled by the Cardiff mob” to oppose developments of conscription. In depth studies of Merthyr Tydfil and Briton Ferry offer an insight into the depth and breadth of local Anti-War organisation. And a whole section of the work looks at the influence of the South Wales Miners Federations: the 1915 Miner’s Strike (over pay and conditions), and the 1917 ‘Comb-Out Ballot’ (a vote on conscription of miners) were both a significant litmus test of pro and anti-war sentiment, with a ‘longing for peace’ spurred – perhaps ironically today – by the hopes of the Russian Revolution.

The end of war on 11.11 1918, and the Peace Process that followed, saw a shift in societal views perhaps only matched after the end of WW2. Religious congregations were deserted by those whose faith in authority had been shattered by war. Formerly reviled Conscientious Objectors were elected as Members of Parliament to lead peace building efforts – figures such as Morgan Jones (1921, Caerphilly) and George M Ll Davies (1923, University of Wales). Anti-war groups channelled their energies into over 900 local branches of the new Welsh League of Nations Union, forerunner of today’s Welsh Centre for International Affairs and Temple of Peace.  Nearly 400,000 signed the Welsh Women’s Peace Petition to America, calling for leadership in the League of Nations for ‘law not war’. When it failed, at the outbreak of WW2 the provisions for military service exemption were more enlightened. And when finally WW2 ended, many of those Welsh figures who had stood so prominently for peace through WW1, the 20s and 30s, were to play a lead role in the founding of the United Nations.

Why is any of this relevant today? For me, what comes across so powerfully from Aled Eirug’s work is how, in a time of populism, polarisation and catastrophe, the peacebuilding efforts of Welsh people and communities inspired a new generation of internationalists– outward looking, but rooted in equity and communitarianism – and can do so again. This book is an essential ‘long read’ for anyone seeking to understand the Welsh national psyche, and where our national spirit just might take us.

Craig Owen is Head of Wales for Peace and Global Action, at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA).

MOVED TO ACTION?

–> Find out more about Wales’ peace heritage of Conscientious Objection by exploring WCIA’s ‘Belief and Action’ hidden histories pages.

–> Search and uncover Hidden Histories of WW1 Conscientious Objectors from Wales and the borders, using WCIA’s Peace Map – Pearce Register of WW1 Objectors, with the kind permission of Dr Cyril Pearce of Leeds University.

–> Download and use Learning Resources on Conscientious Objection from Hwb, for use in schools and colleges.

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#Temple80 – A month celebrating Wales’ Peacemakers and movements

Through November 2018, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs organised an ambitious programme of events to mark the 80th Anniversary of the opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace on Nov 23rd 1938, as well as #WW100 – the centenary of the Armistice of 11th Nov 1918, and beginning of the post-WW1 “Peace Process” that shaped global relations over the century since.

WCIA delivered over 43 events with a wide range of partners, each exploring an area of Wales’ ‘Peace Heritage’, and the work of Temple organisations past, present and future – as well as showcasing through the Wales for Peace Exhibition the work of volunteers and communities who have contributed to the Wales for Peace programme between 2014-18. This blog aims to draw together links and resources from all these activities, as they become available.

Voices of 1938 – Clippings Projection 

Voices of Temple80 – Film

Temple80 November Programme of Events (scroll down for recordings / outputs)

View full programme of events – English; Welsh; Eventbrite

View Temple80 Exhibition Guide – English; Welsh

Listen to ‘Assemble’, composed for Temple80 / WW100 by Iffy Iwobi and Jon Berry

Temple80 Anniversary Evening

Centrepiece of Temple80 was the Gala evening on 23rd November, attended by about 230 people and including:

Self-Guided Tours of the Temple of Peace, and Temple80 / Wales for Peace exhibition.

‘A New Mecca’ Performance in partnership with Dr. Emma West, Uni of Birmingham and British Academy; Being Human Festival; Gentle Radical Arts Collective; and 50 volunteers and participants from diverse community groups. View ‘A New Mecca for today’ Being Human Festival blog by Dr Emma West.

– Communal Rededication of the Hall of Nations (back to its original 1938 title, as discovered from the archives)

– Food, Drink and Fireworks

– Launch of ‘Voices of Temple80’ Documentary Film by Tracy Pallant / Amy Peckham / Valley & Vale Community Arts

– WCIA VIPs Reception and alumni reunion, with Cutting of a ‘Rainbow Cake’

Peace Garden 30th Anniversary

On Saturday 24th, this was followed by a #PeaceGarden30 Rededication and Family Fun Day, in which WCIA brought together UNA Exchange international volunteers and alumni and Garden of Peace Founder Robert Davies, with children from Roath Park Primary School

Together they unveiled 2 new colourful mosaics (created by international volunteers) on a new archway entrance in the Peace Garden; buried a Time Capsule in the Garden, to be opened in 50 years time; and unveiled a plaque on one of WCIA’s meeting rooms in honour of Robert Davies, and all international youth volunteers inspired by him from 1973 to today.

#Temple80 ‘Wales for Peace’ Exhibition

The Exhibition accompanying Temple80 sought to draw together the story of the Temple, with Wales’ peace heritage of the last 100 years – including hidden histories gathered by community groups and volunteers 2014-18 – along with responses from young people, schools and artists.

View Temple80 Exhibition Guide – English; Welsh

Artists in Residence showcased a range of responses for visitors to delve deeper into the Temple’s stories:

  •    Jon Berry, Temple80 Artist in Residence composed a series of musical installations responding to the Temple spaces & heritage; and also collaborated with musician Iffy Iwobi to produce and perform ‘Assemble’, a 8 minute musical tribute for the BME Remembrance Service.
  •    Ness Owen, collection of 5 poems responding  to heritage materials in exhibition;
  •    Will Salter, ‘Guiding Hand’ alternative tour of the Temple encouraging deeper spatial appreciation;
  •    Hazel Elstone, crafted multicoloured wreath of red, white, black and purple Remembrance poppies
  •    Lee Karen Stow, with her ‘Women War & Peace’ photography display;
  •    Tracy Pallant & Amy Peckham, with their community films including Temple80 Rap by BME artist Jon Chase.

Recordings / Outputs from Temple80 Events

Event Photo(s) Video(s) Audio(s)
Exhibition – throughout November Flickr Album;

Building the Exhibition

Self-Guided Tour with Craig Owen  
Exhibition Launch and ‘Temple of Memories’ Round Table Flickr Album FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – ‘Temple of Memories’  
BAME Remembrance Service, 2nd Nov Flickr Album   ASSEMBLE – by Iffy Iwobi & Jon Berry
International Development, 5th Nov      
Schools Conference, 6TH Nov Flickr Album    
War, Peace & the Environment, 6th Nov Article    
Temple Tours   Exhibition Walkthrough  
Turning the Pages – every day through Nov Soldiers Stories FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – Turning of the Pages Thoughts from the Crypt
Story of the Book of Remembrance, 9th Nov Flickr Album FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – Story of the Book 1 and 2 Story of the Book of Remembrance
Armistice Day Services, 11th Nov Flickr Album    
Campaigning for Change, 13th Nov   FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – CAMPAIGNING FOR CHANGE Campaigning for Change
Refugees & Sanctuary, 16th Nov   FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – REFUGEES & SANCTUARY  
Peace Education, 20th Nov   FACEBOOK LIVE BROADCAST – PEACE EDUCATION  
Legacy of WW100, 21st Nov Flickr Album   Legacy of WW100 Audio
Women War & Peace, 22nd Nov   FACEBOOK LIVE – LEE STOW WOMEN WAR & PEACE

FACEBOOK LIVE – WELSH WOMEN & PEACE

FACEBOOK LIVE – 1980S ANTI NUCLEAR CAMPAIGNERS

Women War & Peace x 6
Peace Garden Rededication & Family Fun Day, 24th Nov Flickr Album Peace Garden Rededication + Robert Davies  

Media Coverage

A New Mecca for Today? Being Human Festival Blog by Dr. Emma West, British Academy

‘We Will Remember Them’ – BBC Documentary by Huw Edwards (Temple of Peace features in about 5 minutes of content, with Dr Emma West and Dr Alison Fell)

How Wales’ most Tragic Mother spread Peace and Hope – Western Mail / Wales Online

Cardiff’s Temple of Peace opens its doors to celebrate 80th birthday – University of Birmingham article

War Mothers as Peace Builders – University of Birmingham

Remembrance Weekend at Temple of Peace – The Cardiffian

Temple of Peace turns 80 – The Cardiffian

Social Media Archives

Twitter Feed & Media: https://twitter.com/walesforpeace?lang=en

Youtube Videos Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0G2l7QV_yPDU4RHB8hEEPg?view_as=subscriber

Soundcloud Event Recordings: https://soundcloud.com/walesforpeace

Flickr Photo Albums: https://www.flickr.com/photos/129767871@N03/albums

People’s Collection Wales archive collections: https://www.peoplescollection.wales/user/8498/author/8498/content_type/collection/sort/date

Facebook Community Page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/walesforpeace/posts

 

 

#WW100 Weekend – The Story of Wales’ Book of Remembrance

Visit and search Wales’ Book of Remembrance online at www.BookofRemembrance.Wales / www.LlyfryCofio.Cymru  

Wales’ Temple of Peace and Health, home of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and the HLF-funded ‘Wales for Peace’ project, was built as the nation’s memorial to the fallen of World War One – a memorial that would inspire future generations to learn from the conflicts of the past, to chart Wales’ role in the world, and to work towards peace.

100 years ago this weekend, the world said ‘Never Again’ to conflict, as the Armistice Bells tolled on 4 years that had wiped out a generation.  A nation in agony of grief and mourning braced to rebuild, and to build a better world.

CaernarfonPoppies4-1200x900 Red White WfP Poppies

100 years later, the red poppies of military remembrance – as well as the white poppies for peace, black poppies for BME communities, and purple poppies for animals lost in war – all mark the minute’s silence at 11am on 11.11, poppies for people of all perspectives.

But on #WW100, our poppies of all colours also remember those who have fallen and been left behind by a century of conflicts since – WW2, Spain, Korea, Colonial Wars, the Cold War, Vietnam, Falklands, Gulf, Balkans, War on Terror, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria… What has the world really learned from Remembrance? To glorify war… or to prevent it?

Davies Family of Llandinam

The Davies Family of Llandinam

Differing attitudes to confronting conflict are not new. Through WW1, the Davies family of Llandinam in Powys would have had dinner table debates that represented the cross-section of society. Grandchildren of the Welsh industrialist David Davies:

Book of Remembrance Cover

Creation of the Book of Remembrance

In the early 1920s, as families grappled with the Aftermath of WW1 and their loss, memorials sprang up Wales-wide. A Welsh National War Memorial was proposed for Alexandra Gardens in Cathays Park. The 35-40,000 names of Wales’ fallen were to be inscribed in a beautiful Book – Wales’ WW1 Book of Remembrance – that would become a work of art, a national treasure and a place of pilgrimage.

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The Book is the work of world-renowned calligrapher Graily Hewitt, working closely it is thought with the Davies sisters and their Gregynog Press artists. A great nationwide effort was made to gather the names of the fallen; and a team of women in Midhurst, Sussex worked over several years to complete the Book.

The Davies sisters and the Gregynog Press had a mission to create books of high art and beauty. Bound in Moroccan Leather, with Indian Ink and Gold Leaf on pages of Vellum, the fine illumination techniques were a revival of Mediaeval skills.

View Flickr Album of the Book of Remembrance in the Temple of Peace

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.11.30 1917 Caernarfon RfP Book of Remembrance Hedd Wyn - Ellis Evans closeup 1

“this Book of Souls, reposed upon a stone of French Marble, encased in Belgian Bronze, illuminated individually, painstakingly by hand in Indian Ink and the finest Gold Leaf upon handcrafted Vellum… bound in a volume of Moroccan Leather, entombed in a sanctuary of Portland Stone and Greek collonades. It seemed as if the whole Empire were as one in the creation of this memorial to those whose loss must live forever.” 

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The 1,205 pages of 35,000 names were completed in March 1928; and the Book was signed, on 12 June 1928, by Edward Prince of Wales – the future King Edward VIII – on a page emblazoned ‘Er Cof’ – In Memory. It was formally unveiled to the public on 11.11, 1928 – the 10th Anniversary of the Armistice – at the opening of Wales’ National War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Cardiff. For the first decade, the Book was held at the National Museum of Wales. But its creation had inspired a greater mission.

Wales’ Peacebuilding movements had been particularly active through the 1920s on the international stage. Lord David Davies had a vision that Wales should lead the world in the realisation of Peace, enshrined in bricks and mortar – by building the first in what was hoped would be a string of ‘Temple’s of Peace’ around the world.

1930 Temple proposed cross-sections

A Temple of Peace

Leading architects were invited to design a building that would both hold the Book of Remembrance, and inspire future generations – and in 1929, Cardiff architect Percy Thomas was commissioned to design Wales’ Temple of Peace, on land given by Cardiff Corporation. After a slow start during the Great Depression, in 1934 Lord Davies gave £60,000 of his own money to get the project off the ground.

1937 Foundation stone ceremony 1938 Temple from Cathays Park.jpg

In April 1937, the Foundation Stone was laid to great ceremony in Cathays Park, Cardiff, by Lord Halifax – one of the leading ‘peace politicians’ of the time. But the late 1930s were troubled times; the post-WW1 ‘Peace Reparations’ that had crippled Germany, had led Hitler to power – and Lord Halifax, working hard to avoid war at all costs, would go down in history as an ‘appeaser’ (although this is a perhaps unfair and simplistic view of his peace building attempts). But even as the Temple was under construction, sandbags and bomb shelters were being constructed on the streets either side.

“A New Mecca – the Opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace and Health” Blog Piece by Dr. Emma West for the ‘Being Human Festival’.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.14 1938 Crowds for Opening of Temple of Peace

In Nov 1938, the Temple of Peace was opened by ‘Mother of Wales’ Minnie James from Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, who had lost 3 sons in WW1 – representing the bereaved mothers of Wales. She was accompanied by representatives of mothers from across Britain and the Empire, identified through the British Legion and local Press campaigns. The Temple sought to champion equality from the outset – although the opening ceremony was very much ‘of its time’, as the women were not able to write their own speeches.

The inclement weather of the opening day, and the umbrellas of the massive crowds assembled to watch, were a poignant reminder that storm clouds loomed over Europe. It would be only months later that WW2 finally broke out.

View Video of Press Cuttings from the 1938 Opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace

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“We will Remember Them” by BBC’s Huw Edwards, Nov 2018, features 3 minutes on the Temple of Peace and Book of Remembrance (from 38.30)

A Place of Pilgrimage

Despite the outbreak of war, the Temple of Peace became a place of pilgrimage for people from all over Wales. In an era when travelling to France, Belgium or even further afield was beyond the reach of most working people, community groups and schools Wales-wide would organise ‘pilgrimages’ to visit the Book of Remembrance. These visits were often promoted extensively in local newspapers.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 19.50.03.png The Crypt in 1938

At 11am every morning, a page of the Book would be turned – the names announced in the press the week beforehand, so that relatives could come to witness the ceremony as their loved ones were spotlighted. Visitors would take part in a beautiful, solemn yet forward looking Service of Remembrance, compiled by the Davies Sisters of Gregynog – and would sign a visitors book pledging their allegiance to pursuit of peace.

After WW2 another generation of Welsh men and women had fallen; and a WW2 Book of Remembrance was commissioned. Though intended to reside alongside the WW1 Book, for reasons lost to history it has remained hidden from view and access within the archives of the National Museum of Wales. As recent as 1993, architectural plans were drawn up to adapt the Hall of the Temple of Peace to display both books side by side. But to date, they have never been united, and this remains an aspiration of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) to this day.

As the survivors of the WW1 generation grew older – and as overseas travel has become easier – visitors to the Book of Remembrance grew lesser over the years. The Book, and the Temple, has been visited by such luminaries as Peres de Cuellar, Secretary General of the United Nations, in 1984; and Desmond Tutu in 2012. But by 2014, it seemed the Book of Remembrance had been largely… forgotten?

Wales for Peace Exhibition Title Panel A1 Landscape

Remembering for Peace – 2014-18

In 2014, WCIA alongside 10 national partners developed the ‘Wales for Peace’ project, funded by HLF and supported by Cymru’s Cofio / Wales Remembers, which aimed to mark the centenary of WW1 by exploring one big question:

“How, in the 100 years since WW1, had the people of Wales contributed to the search for peace?” 

As guardians of the Temple of Peace, WCIA’s project started with making the Book of Remembrance accessible again to the public. The aim was to create a travelling exhibition – uniting the Book for the first time with the communities Wales-wide from whom its 35,000 names originated; and to digitise the book, so it could be accessible online to future generations.

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Transcription of the book was launched on Remembrance Day 2015 with an event at the Senedd, Cardiff Bay, where Assembly Members were invited to view the book and transcribe the first names. A nationwide call was launched for volunteers, schools and community groups to participate in a ‘Digital act of Remembrance’.

Local workshops, from Snowdonia to Swansea, enabled people to be part of ‘making history’. Schools developed ‘hidden histories’ projects discovering the stories behind the names, an experience that proved deeply moving for many as they connected to people long forgotten.

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Exhibition Tour

The Remembering for Peace Exhibition was launched in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth in January 2016. It has travelled onwards to:

At each exhibition venue, local partners have worked with community groups to draw out diverse local stories, so every exhibition has been different. A Schools Curriculum Pack, ‘Remembering for Peace’ is available on Hwb, and a Hidden Histories Guide for Volunteer Groups has been widely used beyond the Wales for Peace project.

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The Book of Remembrance Online

For Remembrance Day 2017, WCIA and the National Library of Wales were delighted to unveil the completed digital Book of Remembrance and search functionality online at www.BookofRemembrance.Wales / www.LlyfryCofio.cymru.

This is not only a hugely symbolic act of remembrance in itself, but a great credit to over 350 volunteers who contributed towards transcribing the Book to make it accessible for future generations. Their outstanding contribution was recognised when the National Library was bestowed the prestigious Archives Volunteering Award for 2016.

A curious discovery from the digitising process has been the question of ‘how many died’? Most history references – including about the creation of the Book of Remembrance – quote 35,000 as being the number of men and women of Wales who fell in WW1. But just under 40,000 names (39,917) emerged from the transcription data – which suggests Wales’ losses may have been even greater than previously thought.

Soldiers Stories

The undoubted power of the Book of Remembrance is that behind every beautifully illuminated, gilded name, lies a life story – from the famous, to the ordinary, to the comparatively unknown.

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Hedd Wyn (Ellis Humphrey Evans), Welsh poet and peace icon, who died in Passchendaele just days before attaining the crown of the National Eisteddfod. His prize, forever known as the ‘Black Chair’ and his home farm, Yr Ysgwrn, now a place of pilgrimage in Snowdonia for people learning about WW1, Welsh culture and Peace building. His nephew, Gerald Williams, has kept the doors open and Hedd Wyn’s memory alive, and planted the last poppy at Caernarfon Castle for the opening of the 14-18NOW Weeping Window art work in October 2016.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.55.10.pngAlfred Thomas from St David’s was serving in the Merchant Navy when his ship, the S S Memnon, was torpedoed. 100 years later, his granddaughter, Gwenno Watkin, was one of the National Library volunteers transcribing the Book of Remembrance when she suddenly came face to face with his name – and went on to discover more about his loss in WW1.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.57.pngJean Roberts, Eva Davies, Margaret Evans and Jennie Williams were all nurses with the Queen Mary’s Auxiliary Corps, who died serving in the field hospitals of France and Belgium. The story of women, war and peace has traditionally been overlooked among ranks of male soldiers – but their stories inspired creation of the Women, War and Peace exhibition, and Women’s Archive Wales’ ‘Women of WW1’ project.

The Beersheba Graves. Eli Lichtenstein is a volunteer in North Wales who grew up in Israel. He was astonished to realise that he recognised many names in the Book of Remembrance from growing up as a child, and discovered that many of the men who fell in the Battle of Beersheba, in former British Palestine, were Royal Welsh Fusiliers from the Llandudno & Bangor area. Read Eli’s Blog Story.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.47.pngDavid Louis Clemetson served with the Pembroke Yeomanry, and is one of many Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Welsh people, as well as those across Britain’s former empire, who lost their lives in WW1. In 2018, for WW100 the Temple of Peace hosted a BME Remembrance Service where the Welsh Government for the first time recognised the sacrifices and losses of Wales’ BME communities in successive British wars.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.39.pngEveryone has a personal story; and Head of Wales for Peace Craig Owen was moved both to discover his own great grandfather, Ally Price’s story, and following a visit to his memorial in Tyne Cot, Belgium, created a short film for his family as he found out more about the ‘man behind the name’ from Radnor, Tredegar and Herefordshire.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 18.54.31.png

David James from Merthyr Tydfil, who worked in the drawing office at Dowlais Colliery, served with the Welsh Guards until he was killed in action in October 1916. His two brothers also died from WW1 war injuries, as well as two sisters from cholera. Their mother, Minnie James, was chosen to open Wales’ Temple of Peace & Health in Cardiff in 1938 in their memory.

Video – Minnie James opens the Temple of Peace in 1938.

For the WW100 Armistice weekend, the Temple of Peace remembers all those who fell in the ‘war that was to end war’ – and all those who survived, and gave their all to build peace in the years that followed. Their mission remains as relevant today as ever.

Listen to more:

Explore the Book of Remembrance for yourself:

Book of Remembrance Flyer Cover.png  Book of Remembrance Online

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.

Justice Committees: Opening the dialogue on Truth Commissions

By Ryan Lewis 

On the 24th of March, Aberaid, a charity who aims to home Syrian refugees fleeing the bloodshed and heartache of their home country, hosted their successful ‘Mid-Wales meets the Middle East’ event in the university town of Aberystwyth. The event brought the unlikely pairing of Welsh and Syrian culture in a blending that seemed harmonious in its goal for peace and friendship. The music and laughter could almost make you forget the tragedies and suffering that linger beyond the event.

The warm smiles of volunteers, refugees and supporters all covered the frustrations and disappointment at not only the government but the international community. the feeling that the government were not doing enough was common. Considering that Britain took in 200,000 refugees at the start of the first world war, Britain today has only taken over 10,000 Syrian refugees. While debates are ongoing as to whether the UK can cope with more refugees or if the UK is simply neglecting its responsibilities as a first world nation. There are other issues at play: one being overlooked-justice.

It can be hard to think of justice so early. After all, justice is served after the crime has been committed, and the crimes in Syria are still continuing seven years after conflict broke out. With no sign of peace, it might even feel wrong to begin considering justice when more immediate concerns need to be dealt with like shelter and food for the people forced to flee their homes. But it’s our duty as people, and as a country as privileged as Wales to think of the past, present and future. Not just for our own country but for other countries too. justice, and post-conflict intervention should be considered now for a more well-developed plan for the survivability of Syria. In the past the international community has been underprepared and become overwhelmed in handling post-conflict states, particularly in its delivery of justice. It cannot be argued that courts are a fundamental mechanism for justice; justice goes far beyond a court room. The International Criminal Tribunals of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia (ICTR and ICTY) are both examples of the international community’s active response to bring justice for post-conflict states and no doubt a similar court will be set up for Syria, but more needs to be done.

One approach overlooked by the international communities is Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. Truth Commissions are established to create dialog between all sides, while still allowing accountability for crimes to be recognised. Offenders can come forward to tell their stories, not just their crimes which allow for the victims to gain better understanding of the experiences they were put through. Some say truth commissions trade justice for truth, that only courts can deliver true justice, but this is not the case. Punishment can create order, but I question if it brings justice wholeheartedly. While the international community might be satisfied, what about the victims? Studies have shown that truth commissions have provided better satisfaction for justice and healing than courts for victims (Waldof, 2006). Truth commissions allow for dialog. They allow for those most affected the opportunity to talk about their suffering and experiences and to form a singular ‘memory’ of events. These break down the ‘them vs. us’ mentality that lingers after post-conflict. This allows tensions between the opposing sides to continue. In turn a higher risk of conflict to break out again occurs. Truth commissions focus on the victims, not the offenders and this approach has provided the comfort of truth needed to heal. truth allows victims to understand why crimes against them and their loved ones were committed, it allows them to understand the other side. This was the case for Jean-Baptiste Ntakirutimana. He visited his mother’s killer, to understand why anyone would kill his mother. Turikunkiko explained that he did her because no one else dares. She was too nice to kill even in a genocide. Except Turikunkiko wanted to loot her. He went into detail in how he killed her while the grieving son listened on. The prisoner thought Ntakirutamana wanted to kill him as justice for his mother. To his surprise Ntakirutimana extended forgiveness. Both men were given the opportunity to heal because of truth. Courts focus on the crimes, which is exactly what they should do, but a true narrative could never be given in the way truth commissions allow.

While at the event in Aberystwyth and seeing the refugees smile I wondered what they want, and it seemed what they wanted was not international courts. They want truth. They want to go back home and find their families or bury their loved ones. Most importantly they want an end to the war. it is something we should be planning. Syria needs to be rebuilt. Cities upon cities destroyed by one of the most brutal civil wars in history. Whole families killed and many more ripped apart, fleeing in any direction they can. The Syrian people, who have seen more suffering than we can even imagine only want to go home and rebuild. Most do not seek retribution but restoration. It’s probably hard for an observer to imagine not wanting revenge if the shoe was on the other foot but is what many refugees want.

Europe forgets this. Europe will respond with an International Criminal Tribunal of Syria and it will do good. But Europe needs to see retribution and restorative justice as equals and one cannot succeed as well without the other. Large-scale crimes need a large-scale approach with multiple responses by the courts, truth commissions and by traditional justice approaches from Syrian culture. In Rwanda, the truth commission, called the Gacaca Courts, were only implemented because the backlog for the ICTR became overwhelming. It was a secondary response despite its evident success for conviction rates compared to the ICTR, who after years of trials only 93 people were indicted.

It is time that the international community’s responses are planned and well-thought out, catering to the needs of not just the international community’s desire for retributive justice and order, but for the victims needs for healing and rebuilding. To victims, justice can be found in truth, but more importantly they want to go home. Wales has generally shown a positive response to refugees and the bonds created between Syrian refugees and the locals of Wales will resonate when the Syrian people find stability in their homeland. The Syrian victims will need a voice when conflict ends as to what they need in terms of justice, rebuilding and recovery. Wales can be that voice. Wales can be the voice to fight for truth commissions along with courts. Wales has a responsibility to speak for the interests of the Syrian population within its borders and beyond. With no money or position, Syrian refugees have no voice. They talk through those who help them such as charities. It is the responsibility of states who are able to help to do just that. The chaotic period after conflict will not help refugees who want to return to Syria to rebuild if Wales and other countries to stand behind Syrian refugees in their goal for stability. Refugees do not want to wait two years for international courts to take its first case like The International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda. A planned response is needed now, and it needs to be inclusive to the victims.

Seeing Syrian refugees express their culture and wanting to share this with the locals of Aberystwyth made me see just how vibrant and joyful life can be and why we should be doing more for refugees in Wales and across the world. But more importantly, the event made me realise just how ordinary refugees are in the sense that they want exactly what everyone else wants: To go home at the end of the day to their loved ones. This process is only going to be delayed unless the international community plans for post-conflict Syria now.

References:
Economics Help: https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/7/trade/the-rise-of-globalisation/
International Center for Transitional Justice: https://www.ictj.org/gallery-items/truth-commissions
International Encyclopaedia of the First World War: https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/refugees_belgium
Refugee Council: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/20facts
United Nations Mechanisms for Criminal Tribunals: http://unictr.unmict.org/en/tribunal
Waldorf, L, (2006), Mass Justice for Mass Atrocity: Rethinking Local Justice as Transitional Justice, Temple Law Review, 79 (1), pp. 1-88

 

Moving forward from the Oxfam scandal

By Hannah Westwell

RAF C17 Lands in Nepal with Vital UK Aid

A DFID staff member supervises the unloading of UK Aid from an aircaft in Kathmundu, Nepal on the 29 April 2015.  Images By Sgt Neil Bryden RAF

Over the past weeks a number of allegations have been raised in the international aid sector. Oxfam remains at the centre of the scandal, with accusations that senior staff hired prostitutes while working overseas and that the charity helped cover it up. The issue, it seems, was not a stand-alone occurrence, with reports of sexual abuse in Haiti in 2011 and Chad in 2006, demonstrating a much deeper problem. Médicins Sans Frontières, Save the Children and the UN all came under fire for similar reasons, being asked to explain the reasons for the repatriation of a number of workers and other claims of inappropriate behaviour.

Of course, the public’s response to the scandal was not small. In the immediate aftermath of these revelations, celebrity ambassadors of Oxfam- Minnie Driver and Desmond Tutu- stepped down and thousands of regular donators cancelled their donations. There was a lot of anger at the situation in which workers had severely abused their power, not just because of the nature and hypocrisy of the abuse but because so much of Oxfam’s income is from the government and public funds.

As the media now reflects on the Oxfam situation and the state of the foreign aid sector more generally, it seems there are two main threads of thought emerging.

Firstly, there is a call to action so that this kind of thing cannot happen in the future. In an article in the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker argues “Oxfam shows we must stop giving NGOs a free pass”. Whilst the ultimate aim of charities is to benefit others, they too are businesses who have to manage their staff and their public image. One of their largest streams of income is public donations, in which thousands of individuals place their trust in an organisation which they believe are doing good. In order to rebuild this trust, Oxfam and other organisations must take action to reassure supporters that there are procedures in place to prevent future misconduct.

Secondly, there is a warning that this issue doesn’t lead to those people that NGOs help missing out. William Hague, writing for The Telegraph, suggests that “The Oxfam scandal should not lead us into the blunder of cutting aid”. There are fears that not only will donations drop but that the scandal will be used politically to reduce the UK aid budget. This fear is shared by Oxfam celebrity ambassador Simon Pegg, who, when questioned about continuing to work with the charity, said “Oxfam is an organisation which helps countless people. I think it would be wrong to hold the entire organisation to account for the actions of a few people, I worry about the people that are going to suffer if everybody abandons this charity”. Ultimately, by giving less money to the charity, or charities generally, people in great need will suffer and we cannot allow this to happen.

Safeguarding needs to become a higher priority within charities working with vulnerable people.

Whilst these two arguments have repeatedly been presented separately, at times in opposition to each other, it seems to me that there is nothing to stop both happening in order to move forward. It is important that we make steps intentionally as the sector tries to learn from and move on from this scandal. We must build a culture where this behaviour isn’t tolerated, but beyond that stricter rules should be put in place which require charities to report cases of misconduct. Safeguarding needs to become a higher priority within charities working with vulnerable people.

There have also been ideas of ways the sector could prevent past offenders getting another job in the sector for instance by having a global register of aid workers. At the same time, we need to continue to give money to those who need it. We may use this time to evaluate who we are giving money to, holding these organisations accountable in making these changes, but in order to ensure the lives of many aren’t affected by the actions of a few, we must continue to give. Overall, the events of the past few weeks have demonstrated the serious need for change in the international aid sector but should also be used as a learning experience so that individuals pay closer attention to the way in which their money is used and in ensuring power is not abused.