Welsh among the ANZACs: WW1 in Palestine on the Centenary of Beersheeba, 31st Oct 1917

Hidden Histories of Welsh Fallen in Israel

By Eli Lichtenstein, North Wales

    

The Battle of Beersheba, British Palestine – now Israel

The story starts exactly 100 years ago (31st October 2017). In the Battle of Beersheba, the British army was taking what used to be my hometown, Beer Sheba from the Turkish army. The city was conquered mainly by Anzac cavalry. However, it would be impossible to take the town (whose main importance was, and still is, as a junction point) without heavy infantry involvement to the west of the parochial town. From there the joint British Anzac forces, split in a fanlike movement to Gaza in the west, and Hebron and Jerusalem in the north east and all  the way to the north. And what was until then part of the Damascus province became Palestine (and later part of Israel).

But as time passed something odd happened. We, the locals, remembered only the Anzac cavalry battle and somehow completely forgot all the rest i.e.  the Infantry and even two pilots (English, and Australian) who took part in the battle in the area, and were buried there. It is hard to say why. Is it somehow the romantic notion of a bygone era versus brutal and unglamorous modern warfare that makes us remember the cavalry and forget the rest? If so one might assume that it was, in hindsight, the last battle of its kind.  Furthermore it took place in the ‘Holy-Land’ at the town of Abraham against the ‘infidel’ and the ‘Bosch’.  One might assume that it struck a chord with the general public and could be used for propaganda purposes. On the other hand, could it be more a reflection of the Israeli attitudes following the War of Independence and the resentment created during the British rule of the area?

Either way, the results were the same. We all believed that the WWI cemetery near the old Ottoman Turkish station was solely occupied only by Anzac soldiers. I think I would still believe it to be so to this day,  if I hadn’t moved to North Wales and met several locals who told me that their great-great uncles are buried in Beer Sheba Israel.

When I finally visited the cemetery, I found that, contrary to popular belief, most of the graves are not of Anzacs – of 1179 graves at least one third are graves of Welsh soldiers. Furthermore approximately 80% of those who killed on the day of 31st October 1917, did not belong to the Light Horse Brigade, ie.  80% of the casualties were British. Which, again begs the question of how and why we choose to remember historical events.

It would be interesting therefore to find letters and photographs of those Welsh soldiers who died and are buried in the Beer Sheba Cemetery so that after a century in which they were forgotten we could bring their memories, thoughts and experiences back to life. By doing so I hope we could learn something about how the lives of their families and communities were affected, and a bit more about the consequences of war.

Pvt Percy Chandler – one of many Welsh Fusiliers who died and have memorials in Beersheba, British Southern Palestine (now Israel). Also recorded in the Welsh WW1 Book of Remembrance:   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes to the Welsh Fusiliers in Beersheba Cemetery, many came from the local North Wales area – like Private Ifor Jones, who lived in York Villa Llandudno:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And some Welsh soldiers came from South Wales like Private D.E. Matthews from Merthyr Tydfil, of the Civil Service Riflemen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then finally it was the first time that I noticed that some of the tombstones are not only engraved in English, but in Welsh: Cwsg Milwr, Cwsg (“Rest Soldier, Rest) – T Roberts:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then and Now

Above the WW1 cemetery shortly after the capture of Beer Sheva. See the train station master’s house (mid building) and the train in background and possibly a convoy of camels between the two buildings.

Below, the cemetery at 2017

   

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North Wales Women’s Peace March 1926

Stephen Thomas
Volunteer – Wales for Peace
Peace March

Following the horrors and destruction of the First World War (1914-1918) many women around the globe became activists in the campaign for arms reduction and for the end of war as a means of settling international disputes. Across Britain a variety of women’s groups came together to organise a peace pilgrimage to London for a mass demonstration in Hyde Park on 19 June 1926. In north Wales, under the leadership of two tireless peace activists, Mrs Gladys Thoday and Mrs Silyn Roberts, a procession of peacemakers travelled for five days through the towns and villages of north Wales to reach Chester. Eventually 28 north Wales’ pilgrims joined the 10,000 women at the Hyde Park demonstration.

World War 1 unleashed unimaginable levels of death and destruction across the whole planet. Millions of people, both military and civilian, were killed or suffered serious injury – estimates for casualties run from 30 million upwards, but the true number will never be known. From Britain alone over 723,000 service personnel were killed in the conflict and over a million more were seriously injured. The war had destroyed the lives of so many young men on the battlefield that by 1921, there were one million more women in Britain than men, aged between 20 and 39. It meant that many women were unable to find partners in life or have children and raise a family. The impact of the war on Britain was devastating both socially and economically.
As early as 1915 there were organisations of women around the world calling for mediation between governments to end the war. By 1919 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) had become a permanent committee with a headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The League called for international disarmament and an end to economic imperialism, supporting the US /France Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, as the basis for creating a peaceful world order.
The women of Britain were very much involved in these quests for peace, freedom and equality. (Remember, in Britain, it was only in 1918 that all males over the age of 21 finally won the right to vote. And it wasn’t until 1928, and the Equal Franchise Act, that the same rights were applied to women over 21 for the very first time). In light of this struggle to have their voice heard, under the slogan ‘Law not War’, a variety of women’s groups from across Britain came together in 1926 – as wives, widows, mothers, sisters and friends – to organise a huge peace pilgrimage to London.
The women peacemakers of north Wales began their march in May 1926 with a meeting in the village of Penygroes, just south of Caernarfon. As was reported at the time “To the first meeting at Penygroes in South Carnarvonshire on May 27th came five streams of pilgrims winding their many blue flags down the hill-sides, and over 2000 persons were gathered in the little market square from villages far up in the hills.”
The pilgrimage continued across the towns and villages of north Wales for five days until, some 150 miles later, they reached Chester. At the time, a newspaper reported “There were on the main route 15 meetings and 16 processions besides many meetings on side routes…Through the villages the pilgrims in six cars and charabancs went along the Caernarvon Road, and at one place after another they found crowds across the road which insisted on speakers getting out and addressing them from the steps of the local war memorial… Everywhere they were welcomed, everywhere there was interest and enthusiasm, never once was there a single hand raised against the resolution.”
Without modern ‘social media’ to help, it was a great enterprise to spread the news of the pilgrimage to all the remote villages and hamlets of north Wales in the 1920s. They would rely largely on newspapers and post to carry their message. But it all needed effective organisation and for this the north Wales pilgrimage can be thankful for Mrs Mary Gladys Thoday from Llanfairfechan.
Mrs Thoday (nee Sykes) was born in Chester in 1884. She was a botanist having studied at Girton College Cambridge, which had been established as the first Cambridge college to admit women in 1869. In 1910 she married at Wrexham David Thoday, who later became Professor of Botany at Bangor University. Gladys was an intelligent and determined woman of her time and became a tireless activist for the abolition of war. She wrote in 1926 “We realise that the great success of the pilgrimage is due to the many helpers who in every place had done their part because they believe that it is full time that REASON shall take the place of FORCE and arbitration be tried first in every international dispute before there is resort to WAR.”
Among the 28 north Wales pilgrims who finally took part in the peace demonstration in Hyde Park on 19 June 1926 were Mrs Thoday and Mrs Silyn Roberts. These two women addressed the crowd of 10,000 that day in central London – Mrs Roberts spoke in the Welsh language. Following the peace pilgrimage these two women later became the English speaking and Welsh speaking secretaries of the North Wales Women’s Peace Council (NWWPC).

Cartoon
In 1928, under the professional guidance of Mrs Thoday and Mrs Roberts, the voice of women in north Wales was linked to other parts of Britain and the wider international peace movement when the NWWPC became affiliated to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Although the North Wales Women’s Peace March had ended, a Welsh women’s voice had been added to the international call for disarmament and world peace. Their actions played a part in the eventual signing by 62 nations of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an agreement in 1928 which hoped to outlaw war between nations and prevent another World War.

George M. Ll. Davies (1880–1949)

Cymraeg

George M. Ll. Davies is remembered with great reverence and respect by peace-makers in Wales, but is little known outside that small circle. And yet he had considerable influence on those around him – as a conscientious objector, social reformer, Member of Parliament, Methodist minister and conciliator. He lived in turbulent times – through two World Wars and a Depression – and struggled with how to live a life based on a belief in peace and equality.

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Origins:

       George M. Ll. Davies (1880–1949)George M. Ll. Davies was born into an affluent Liverpool Welsh family in 1880. In 1891, when George was eleven, his father went bankrupt, and he remembered all his life the judgemental attitudes of people who had formerly been friends of the family.

       Because of his father’s financial situation George could not go to university, so he got a job in a bank. At the age of twenty-six he was made manager of Martin’s Bank in Wrexham. In 1909 he joined the new Territorial Army, and enjoyed weekends training his men, preparing for the defence of Britain. One day, however, the realisation came to him that he could never kill anyone, and that indeed this was against Christ’s teachings. He resigned from his officer position, although still, officially, a private in the TA. He also left the bank, and started working for David Davies Llandinam in various social enterprises: for example, one aimed at preventing tuberculosis, and another providing planned social housing for working people.

World War I:

       When war broke out in August 1914, a new organisation was formed – the Fellowship of Reconciliation. George left Wales and went to London as Secretary to the FoR. When conscription came in in March 1916 George stood before a Tribunal and applied to be a Conscientious Objector. As an ‘absolutist’ he refused to do any work at all that would help the war effort. He was therefore required to undertake ‘alternative service’.

       As part of this service, George went to a new home in Leicestershire run by the FoR for young people who had been in trouble with the law. It was run on experimental lines: for example, when the kids broke the house rules, they were asked to make new rules – which they kept! This reflected George’s ideas of how a peaceful community could be run.

       After working there, George went to find work in the Llŷn peninsula, but a lot of people didn’t want a ‘Conshi’ working for them. Early in 1917 he found a job as a farm labourer at Uwchlawffynnon, then worked as a shepherd at Llanaelhaearn. He loved this work and was very happy. George, his wife Leslie, and their baby, Jane, lived together on the farm. George was not content to lead a ‘quiet life’, however. He believed he should tell people that peace was a better way of living than war, and took every opportunity to do so. This very public stance was bound to get him in trouble with the authorities. Eventually, George was arrested, and imprisoned as were 1,600 other ‘Conshis’.

       The prison system was cruel and inhumane. Men were kept in cells on their own. They were not allowed to speak to anyone – warder or prisoner – or even smile at them. The food – what little there was – was terrible. The same rules applied to ‘Conshis’ as to violent criminals. Some men lost their minds, and many were damaged physically or mentally for the rest of their lives. George, even though he suffered from depression all his life, seems to have survived relatively well, but there were scars.

After prison: 1920s – 1940s:

       George’s nineteen months in prison had changed him. He started travelling around Wales, addressing meetings about peace, and prison reform. He also became involved in a number of social projects, including building an outdoor swimming pool with international volunteers in Brynmawr, Blaenau Gwent, and constructing a public park in Rhosllannerchrugog near Wrexham. From 1932 until 1947, he worked with Quakers in Maes-yr-haf in the Rhondda valley, helping unemployed miners and their families.

       George was asked to become a parliamentary election candidate for the Welsh University, and in October 1923 he won the seat, standing as a Christian Pacifist. It was also in the 1920’s that he undertook some of his most high-level and risky conciliation work.   He was asked to go to Ireland and try to encourage Éamon de Valera, a militant republican leader to talk to David Lloyd George. He risked his life to do this, as the situation in Ireland at the time was volatile and violent.

George suffered from bouts of depression throughout his life, and it was in Denbigh Hospital that he died in December 1949, where he was found hanged. The impression we have is of a man who genuinely aimed to live out his values and ideals in a very imperfect world, who was distressed by his own personal shortcomings and those of society – and the consequences of these shortcomings which he witnessed all around him.

       To George, then, peace-making was all about living out our values in the world: ‘There can be no real pacifism’, he said ‘unless we have the courage and the conduct of real peace-makers.’ Whilst we may feel this stance is foolhardy, we can’t help but admire it. It places George alongside figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who paid the price for choosing non-violence.


George M. Ll. Davies (1880–1949)

Caiff George M. Ll. Davies ei gofio gyda pharchedigaeth a pharch mawr gan heddychwyr yng Nghymru, ond ychydig a wyddys amdano y tu allan i’r cylch bach hwnnw. Ac eto, roedd ganddo ddylanwad sylweddol ar y rhai hynny o’i gwmpas – fel gwrthwynebwr cydwybodol, diwygiwr cymdeithasol, Aelod Seneddol, gweinidog gyda’r Methodistiaid a chymodwr. Roedd yn byw mewn amseroedd cythryblus – trwy ddau Ryfel Byd a Dirwasgiad – ac roedd yn cael trafferth gyda sut i fyw bywyd ar sail credu mewn heddwch a chydraddoldeb.

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Gwreiddiau:

       Ganwyd George M. Ll. Davies i deulu Cymreig cefnog yn Lerpwl ym 1880. Ym 1891, pan oedd George yn un ar ddeg, aeth ei dad yn fethdalwr, a chofiodd agweddau beirniadol pobl a oedd wedi bod yn ffrindiau i’r teulu cyn hynny drwy gydol ei fywyd.

       George M. Ll. Davies (1880–1949)Oherwydd sefyllfa ariannol ei dad, ni allai George fynd i’r brifysgol, felly cafodd swydd mewn banc. Cafodd ei wneud yn rheolwr Martin’s Bank yn Wrecsam yn chwe blwydd ar hugain oed. Ym 1909, ymunodd â’r Fyddin Diriogaethol newydd, a mwynhaodd benwythnosau yn hyfforddi ei ddynion, ac yn paratoi ar gyfer amddiffyn Prydain. Un diwrnod fodd bynnag, sylweddolodd na allai fyth ladd unrhyw un ac, yn wir, bod hyn yn erbyn dysgeidiaeth Crist. Ymddiswyddodd o’i swydd fel swyddog, er yn swyddogol, roedd yn dal yn breifat yn y Fyddin Diriogaethol. Gadawodd y banc hefyd, a dechreuodd weithio i David Davies Llandinam mewn mentrau cymdeithasol amrywiol: er enghraifft, un gyda’r nod o atal twbercwlosis, ac un arall oedd yn darparu tai cymdeithasol cynlluniedig i weithwyr

Y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf:

       Pan ddechreuodd y rhyfel ym mis Awst 1914, ffurfiwyd sefydliad newydd – Cymdeithas y Cymod. Gadawodd George Gymru ac aeth i Lundain i weithio fel Ysgrifennydd i Gymdeithas y Cymod. Pan ddaeth gorfodaeth consgripsiwn i rym ym mis Mawrth 1916, safodd George cyn Tribiwnlys a gwneud cais i fod yn Wrthwynebwr Cydwybodol. Fel ‘diamodwr’, gwrthododd wneud unrhyw waith o gwbl a fyddai’n helpu ymdrech y rhyfel. Felly, roedd yn ofynnol iddo ymgymryd â ‘gwasanaeth amgen’.

       Fel rhan o’r gwasanaeth hwn, aeth George i gartref newydd yn Swydd Gaerlŷr oedd yn cael ei redeg gan Gymdeithas y Cymod ar gyfer pobl ifanc a oedd wedi bod mewn trafferth gyda’r gyfraith. Roedd yn cael ei redeg ar linellau arbrofol: er enghraifft, pan fyddai’r plant yn torri rheolau’r tŷ, gofynnwyd iddynt wneud rheolau newydd – y cadwont atynt! Roedd hyn yn adlewyrchu syniadau George o sut y gallai cymuned heddychlon gael ei rhedeg.

       Ar ôl gweithio yno, aeth George i chwilio am waith ym Mhenrhyn Llŷn, ond nid oedd llawer o bobl eisiau ‘Conshi’ yn gweithio iddynt. Yn gynnar ym 1917, daeth o hyd i swydd fel gwas fferm yn Uwchlawffynnon, yna, bu’n gweithio fel bugail yn Llanaelhaearn. Roedd wrth ei fodd gyda’r gwaith hwn ac yn hapus iawn. Roedd George, ei wraig Leslie, a’u baban, Jane, yn byw gyda’i gilydd ar y fferm. Nid oedd George yn fodlon byw ‘bywyd tawel’, fodd bynnag. Roedd yn credu y dylai ddweud wrth bobl fod heddwch yn ffordd well o fyw na rhyfel, a manteisiodd ar bob cyfle i wneud hynny. Roedd y safiad tra chyhoeddus hwn yn sicr o beri iddo fynd i helynt gyda’r awdurdodau. Yn y pen draw, cafodd George ei arestio a’i garcharu, gyda’r 1,600 o ‘Gonshis’ eraill

       Roedd y system garchar yn greulon ac yn annynol. Cedwid dynion yn eu celloedd ar eu pen eu hunain. Doedden nhw ddim yn cael siarad gyda neb – boed gwarchodwr neu garcharor – neu hyd yn oed wenu arnynt. Roedd y bwyd – hynny oedd ohono – yn ofnadwy. Roedd yr un rheolau yn berthnasol i ‘Gonshis’ fel i droseddwyr treisgar. Collodd rhai dynion eu meddyliau, a chafodd llawer eu niweidio’n gorfforol neu’n feddyliol am weddill eu bywydau. Er y bu George yn dioddef o iselder ar hyd ei oes, mae’n ymddangos ei fod wedi goroesi yn gymharol dda, ond roedd creithiau.

Ar ôl gadael y carchar: 1920au – 1940au:

       Roedd y pedwar mis ar bymtheg a dreuliodd George yn y carchar wedi ei newid. Dechreuodd deithio o gwmpas Cymru, yn annerch cyfarfodydd am heddwch ac am ddiwygio carchardai. Dechreuodd gymryd rhan hefyd mewn nifer o brosiectau cymdeithasol, gan gynnwys adeiladu pwll nofio awyr agored gyda gwirfoddolwyr rhyngwladol ym Mrynmawr, Blaenau Gwent, ac adeiladu parc cyhoeddus yn Rhosllannerchrugog ger Wrecsam. O 1932 tan 1947, bu’n gweithio gyda Chrynwyr ym Maes-yr-haf yng Nghwm Rhondda, yn helpu glowyr di-waith a’u teuluoedd.

       Gofynnwyd i George fod yn ymgeisydd etholiadol seneddol ar gyfer Prifysgol Cymru, ac ym mis Hydref 1923, enillodd y sedd, yn sefyll fel Heddychwr Cristnogol. Hefyd, yn y 1920au, ymgymerodd â pheth o’i waith cymodi mwyaf peryglus a lefel uchel. Gofynnwyd iddo fynd i Iwerddon a cheisio annog Éamon de Valera, arweinydd gweriniaethol milwriaethus i siarad â David Lloyd George. Mentrodd ei fywyd i wneud hyn, gan fod y sefyllfa yn Iwerddon ar y pryd yn ansefydlog a threisgar.

Bu George yn dioddef o gyfnodau o iselder ar hyd ei oes, a bu farw yn Ysbyty Dinbych ym mis Rhagfyr 1949, lle daethpwyd o hyd iddo wedi’i grogi. Yr argraff sydd gennym yw o ddyn a oedd yn ddiffuant yn ceisio byw yn unol â’i werthoedd a’i ddelfrydau mewn byd amherffaith iawn, ac a oedd yn gofidio am ei ddiffygion personol ei hun a rhai cymdeithas – ac am ganlyniadau’r diffygion hyn yr oedd yn eu gweld ym mhobman o’i amgylch .

       Felly i George, pwrpas cymodi ydy byw yn unol â’n gwerthoedd yn y byd: Ni ellir cael heddychiaeth go iawn’, meddai oni bai bod gennym ddewrder ac ymddygiad gwir heddychwyr.’ Safiad byrbwyll, efallai, ond ni allwn lai na’i edmygu. Mae’n rhoi George yn yr un categori â heddywchwyr megis Gandhi a Martin Luther King, a dalodd yn ddrud am ddewis di-dreisedd.

Thomas Rees and ‘y Deyrnas’ / Thomas Rees a’r Deyrnas

Cymraeg
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Thomas Rees (1869-1926) was truly influential during World War I as a pacifist in the city of Bangor and as the Editor of y Deyrnas’, a Welsh language magazine that came into existence through the Conference that was held by the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Neuadd yr Hendre, Bermo at the end of March 1916. The magazine was published monthly between October 1916 and November 1919 for the price of two pennies per copy at the outset. The Editor put his own stamp on ‘Y Deyrnas’, and reading his articles and his editorial column always makes the reader feel uncomfortable that we continue to wage wars.

The Life and Work of Thomas Rees

Thomas Rees was born on May 30, 1869 in a homestead in the parish of Llanfyrnach near Crymych in North Pembrokeshire to Martha Rees and James Thomas. As they were not married, the baby was sent to live with Benni and Mati Davies, Waunfelen on the foothills of Frenni Fawr, where he grew up in a loving family. Two other children were born In the same area and during the same period who became pacifists, namely T. E.Nicholas (Niclas y Glais) and D.J.Davies. The three of them eventually became Ministers with the Welsh Congregationalists, a denomination that nurtured a host of pacifists.

Education:
Thomas Rees left school at the age of thirteen and went to work in the farming industry. He stayed in this job for five years, then went to work as a miner in the Aberdare area. There he came under the influence of the Rev. J.Grawys Jones, who was a minister in Trecynon, and a native of Llanfyrnach. The Minister saw that the young man was intelligent, and advised him to start preaching the Gospel in 1880 and to go for training in Carmarthenshire where he did well academically. He moved to study at the University of Wales Cardiff and Mansfield College, Oxford, and was appointed to Brecon Memorial College in 1899. From there he was called in 1907 to become the Head of Bala College – Bangor, another College for students of the Congregational Denomination.

The Great War and Pacifism:

He achieved his greatest works in Bangor during the Great War. He stood his ground firmly as a pacifist in the constituency of David Lloyd George who was promoting the War as Minister of the Crown and from 1916 as the British Prime Minister. Thomas Rees angered people who supported the war, which were the majority. He lost most of his students, someone spat in his face in the town, and he was thrown out of Bangor Golf Club. There were articles in the press every week asking people to consider the facts and to condemn war and the attitudes of any of his fellow Christians. He believed sincerely that the Christian churches and denominations across Wales had betrayed the evidence of pacifism and the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. He became the leader of the Bangor and Bethesda Branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and travelled across Wales to address meetings against the war.

Y Deyrnas’:

These days, we associate the name Thomas Rees primarily with the magazine Y Deyrnas’. The first edition arrived from the printers in Bangor in Oct. 1916. Thomas Rees continued to be responsible for the magazine until the last edition in November 1919, and he was not only the editor, but he wrote also – consistent and detailed work.

By catching a glimpse of the contributors to the magazine and seeing the nature of the contributions, one can understand why it would be a thorn in the side of the authorities. Amongst the contributors were prominent pacifists such as George M. Ll. Davies, a conscientious objector and T.E. Niclas, a pacifist, poet and a radical minister. The blind preacher from Pwllheli, J.Puleston Jones, sent occasional essays describing many residents of that town as people who were drunk on warfare. The Professor of Welsh at Aberystwyth University, T Gwynn Jones, contributed one or two poems on the futility of warfare. Thomas Rees condemned the National Eisteddfod for being in favor of the war. At the National Eisteddfod in Aberystwyth in 1916 he said:
Molwch yr Arglwydd a lladdwch y Germans yw arwyddair newydd yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol. Gwnaed elw o £430 o’r Gymanfa Ganu yn Aberystwyth a rhennir yr arian rhwng gwahanol gronfeydd rhyfel’’. [‘Praise the Lord and kill the Germans is the new motto of the National Eisteddfod. A Cymanfa Ganu in Aberystwyth made £430, a sum that was shared beween different war funds.’]

In the National Eisteddfod the following year in Birkenhead, the Chair was won by Ellis Evans (Hedd Wyn), a poet from Trawsfynydd, who was killed in the battle of Paschendaele on 31 July 1917. In response the editor of ‘Y Deyrnas’ expressed huge disappointment:

‘’Drych o dristwch oedd Cadair Ddu Eisteddfod Birkenhead. Gwag oedd y gadair am fod Ellis Evans a’i henillasai yn gorwedd yn fud mewn estron dir ‘’.

[‘The Black Chair of Birkenhead Eisteddfod radiated sadness. The chair was empty because the winner, Ellis Evans, lay silently in foreign fields.’]

Perhaps the greatest tribute paid to Thomas Rees for his supervision of ‘Y Deyrnas’ was from the poet and scholar W.J. Griffith who was a member of the British Navy during the war. He said:

‘Mi ddysgais ei garu cyn imi erioed ei weled, oherwydd derbyn Y Deyrnas pan oeddwn mewn gwlad bell amser rhyfel; ac yr wyf yn credu hyd heddiw mai’r deyrnas honno fu un o’r achosion cryfaf na chollodd Cymru ei henaid yn hollol yn nydd y gwallgofrwydd mawr’.

[‘I learnt to love him before I ever met him, because I received Y Deyrnas when I was abroad during the war; and until this day I believe that that paper was one of the main reasons why Wales didn’t completely lose her soul during a time of huge madness.’]

Professor Dr D.Ben Rees

Thomas Rees a’r Deyrnas

1Bu Thomas Rees (1869-1926) yn ddylanwadol go iawn yn ystod y Rhyfel Byd Cyntaf fel Heddychwr cadarn yn ninas Bangor ac fel Golygydd ‘y Deyrnas’, cylchgrawn Cymraeg a ddaeth i fodolaeth trwy ‘r Gynhadledd a gynhaliwyd gan Gymdeithas y Cymod yn Neuadd yr Hendre, Bermo ar ddiwedd mis Mawrth 1916. Ymddangosodd y cylchgrawn yn fisol rhwng Hydref 1916 a Thachwedd 1919 am y gost o ddwy geiniog y copi ar y cychwyn. Gosododd y Golygydd ei stamp ei hun ar ‘Y Deyrnas’ ac mae darllen ei erthyglau a’i golofn olygyddol yn peri o hyd i’r darllenydd deimlo yn anghysurus ein bod yn dal i ryfela.

Bywyd a Gwaith Thomas Rees
Ganwyd Thomas Rees ar 30 Mai, 1869 mewn tyddyn ym mhlwyf Llanfyrnach ger Crymych yng Ngogledd Sir Benfro i Martha Rees a James Thomas. Gan nad oedd y ddau yn briod trosglwyddwyd y baban i Benni a Mati Davies, Waunfelen ar odre’r Frenni Fawr, ac yno y’i magwyd yn annwyl. Yn yr un cylch a’r un cyfnod y ganwyd dau blentyn arall a ddaeth yn heddychwyr, sef T,E.Nicholas (Niclas y Glais’) a D.J.Davies. Aeth y tri ohonynt yn y diwedd yn Weinidogion gyda’r Annibynwyr Cymraeg , enwad a fagodd lu o heddychwyr.
Addysg:
Gadawodd Thomas Rees yr ysgol yn dair ar ddeg oed a mynd i weithio ym myd ffermio. Arhosodd yn y gwaith hwn am bum mlynedd, wedyn aeth i gylch Aberdâr i weithio fel glöwr. Yno daeth o dan ddylanwad y Parchedig J.Grawys Jones, gweinidog yn Nhrecynon ac yn enedigol fel Rees o Lanfyrnach. Gwelodd y Gweinidog fod y gŵr ifanc yn alluog, a chynghorodd ef i ddechrau pregethu’r Efengyl ym 1880 a mynd am hyfforddiant i Sir Gaerfyrddin lle y gwnaeth yn dda yn academaidd. Symudodd i astudio i Brifysgol Cymru Caerdydd, Coleg Mansfield, Rhydychen a’i benodi i Goleg Coffa yn Aberhonddu ym 1899. Oddi yno, galwyd ef ym 1907 i fod yn Brifathro Coleg Bala – Bangor, Coleg arall ar gyfer myfyrwyr enwad yr Annibynwyr .

Y Rhyfel Mawr a Heddychiaeth:
Gwnaeth ei waith mawr ym Mangor yn y Rhyfel Mawr. Safodd yn gadarn fel Heddychwr yn etholaeth David Lloyd George a oedd yn hyrwyddo y Rhyfel fel Gweinidog y Goron ac o 1916 fel Prif Weinidog Prydain. Cythruddodd Thomas Rees bobl oedd o blaid y Rhyfel, sef y mwyafrif llethol. Collodd rhan helaeth o’i fyfyrwyr, poerid yn ei wyneb gan rai yn y dref, a thaflwyd ef allan o Glwb Golff Bangor. Ysgrifennodd i’r Wasg o wythnos i wythnos yn galw pobl i ystyried y ffeithiau ac i gondemnio Rhyfel ag agweddau nifer fawr o’i gyd Gristnogion. Credai yn ddidwyll fod yr eglwysi a’r enwadau Cristnogol ledled Cymru wedi bradychu’r dystiolaeth heddychol a Thywysog Tangnefedd, sef Iesu Grist. Daeth yn arweinydd Cangen Bangor a Bethesda o Gymdeithas y Cymod (FOR) ac fe deithiodd ledled Cymru i annerch cyfarfodydd yn erbyn y Rhyfel.

‘Y Deyrnas’:
Erbyn hyn cysylltwn enw Thomas Rees yn bennaf gyda’r cylchgrawn ‘Y Deyrnas’. Daeth y rhifyn cyntaf o’r argraffwyr ym Mangor ym mis Hydref 1916. Daliodd Thomas Rees i ofalu amdano hyd y rhifyn olaf yn Nhachwedd 1919, ac nid golygu yn unig a wnaeth ond ysgrifennu ei hun – gwaith cyson a manwl.

Wrth gael cipolwg ar y rhai a gyfrannodd i’r cylchgrawn a gweld natur y cyfraniadau, gellir deall pam y byddai’n ddraenen yn ystlys yr awdurdodau. Ymhlith y cyfranwyr yr oedd heddychwyr amlwg megis George M. Ll. Davies, gwrthwynebydd cydwybodol a T.E. Niclas, heddychwr, bardd a gweinidog radical. Anfonodd y pregethwr dall o Bwllheli J.Puleston Jones ambell i ysgrif gan ddisgrifio llawer o drigolion y dref honno fel pobl wedi meddwi ar Ryfela. Cyfrannodd Athro Cymraeg Coleg y Brifysgol Aberystwyth T,Gwynn Jones ambell i gerdd ar ffolineb rhyfela. Condemniodd Thomas Rees yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol am fod o blaid y rhyfel. Am Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Aberystwyth a gynhaliwyd ym 1916 meddai:
‘Molwch yr Arglwydd a lladdwch y Germans yw arwyddair newydd yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol. Gwnaed elw o £430 o’r Gymanfa Ganu yn Aberystwyth a rhennir yr arian rhwng gwahanol gronfeydd rhyfel’’.
Yn yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol y flwyddyn ganlynol ym Mhenbedw, enillwyd y Gadair gan Ellis Evans (Hedd Wyn), bardd o Drawsfynydd a laddwyd ym mrwydr Paschendaele ar 31 Gorffennaf 1917. Siom aruthrol oedd ymateb Golygydd ‘Y Deyrnas’:
‘’Drych o dristwch oedd Cadair Ddu Eisteddfod Birkenhead. Gwag oedd y gadair am fod Ellis Evans a’i henillasai yn gorwedd yn fud mewn estron dir ‘’.
Efallai mae’r deyrnged orau a gafodd Thomas Rees am ei oruchwyliaeth dros ‘Y Deyrnas’ oedd gan y bardd a’r ysgolhaig W.J. Gruffydd a oedd yn aelod o’r Llynges Brydeinig adeg y rhyfel. Dywedodd ef:
‘Mi ddysgais ei garu cyn imi erioed ei weled, oherwydd derbyn Y Deyrnas pan oeddwn mewn gwlad bell amser rhyfel; ac yr wyf yn credu hyd heddiw mai’r deyrnas honno fu un o’r achosion cryfaf na chollodd Cymru ei henaid yn hollol yn nydd y gwallgofrwydd mawr’.

Yr Athro Dr D.Ben Rees