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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This is a story – A different story. This is Alice’s story.

By Linda Blankenburg

When Alice* was 29 years old she made a decision that was going to change her life. She decided to abandon her loved, always sunny home country Zimbabwe for cold, cloudy Cardiff, UK.

What does a woman from southern Africa want in the busy city of Cardiff? Alice left Zimbabwe because of religious and political persecution caused by President Robert Mugabe and his party the ZANU-PF. Mugabe has been ruling the country dictatorially leading it to an economic crisis.

But Alice didn’t only leave her country; she left her family, her friends and her dream job. Following two of her older brothers who were already living in Cardiff, she took the plane to the capital of Wales in order to start a new life. While reading this we have to keep in mind that the life we have here is completely different from life in other countries. Going out for a drink, walking alone on the streets at night – this is a luxury we might not appreciate enough. Nor do we value ever-present rights such as the freedom of religion or the right to vote.

14 years have passed since then and many things have changed. Not only did Alice get used to the (in her opinion) cold weather, but she also started appreciating life itself. Still, there are many difficulties to overcome: As for all asylum seekers, Alice had to apply for asylum in the UK. Though she was persecuted and leaving her country was the right decision, her asylum application has been rejected three times. At the moment she is waiting for a positive response from the responsible immigration authority.

Sometimes Alice is sad. She is sad because she misses her family and friends who are still in Zimbabwe. But she is also sad because she is not allowed to work or study here. In Zimbabwe she was working as an IT System Administrator – a job that suited her perfectly.

As she can’t work and therefore has a lot of free time, she started volunteering. Four days a week she helps in organizations such as Women Connect First in the heart of Cardiff. There she met many women who have been in similar life situations. Volunteering also helped her gain more confidence, and experience a loving and caring community. Although she hasn’t been to Zimbabwe since she came here, Zimbabwe will always remain her favourite country.

She would love to go back when the situation is better but right now it is still too dangerous. This is not the life she imagined and this is not the life she was dreaming of when she was a little child, nevertheless one can see that she is happy here. This is mainly due to the fact that she found peace here. She felt the peace she had been waiting for so long, the first moment she arrived at the airport.

Defining peace is a difficult question. Someone might find peace while doing yoga or just taking a bath and relaxing. But is this really the same peace other people feel? Alice’s definition of peace is being happy and content with what you have. For her peace is also connected to love and care. Alice definitely changed my perception of peace because I wasn’t aware of how lucky we are here. What is your definition of peace? Did this story change it?

*Name changed in order to keep privacy

This blog was written as part of a UNA Exchange / Wales for Peace project: A group of international volunteers from across Europe spent two weeks volunteering with a group of women  from Women Connect First based in Riverside, Cardiff. As they volunteered together, they shared peace stories.