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.

 

Jenan’s story

By Zuzana Nevolová

Jenan has been living in Cardiff for ten years now. Being half British, half Iraqi, she has never had problems speaking both Arabic and English. But even though Arabic is – quite understandably – much closer to her heart since she has lived in Iraq most of her life, she feels very privileged to live in Cardiff. Many members of her family are forced to stay in the isolated city of Mosul, which is currently held by the so called Islamic state.

And so, despite being very much fluent in the English language, Jenan likes to speak with most of the family in her mother tongue, Arabic. Completely normal, isn’t it? But then her neighbour abused her for speaking Arabic in her own house!

A lady living just next door to Jenan’s house repeatedly demanded Jenan, and even her visitors to only speak English. Without any further explanation she shouted at Jenan and her little grandchildren when they were playing Arabic word games on Jenan’s porch. The neighbour said that as UK citizens, they should only speak English and basically tried to forbid them to speak another language on their own property.

This happened many times, and the neighbour made it clear that she resents the idea of being neighbours with an Iraqi.

Until then, Jenan had never had someone complain about the culture of her origin in Cardiff. She considers the people of Cardiff to be lovely and her neighbourhood to be exceptionally friendly. But as an exception to prove the rule, one of her neighbours did not share this friendly attitude.

The acts of intolerance coming from the neighbour have made Jenan feel unsafe. Unsafe to speak the language in her own home, unsafe in her own skin.

The repeated insults and utterly absurd demands forced Jenan to approach the hate-crime department of the Cardiff police. The officers reacted extremely quickly, inspected the situation and talked to the people who were involved. Despite the limited resolution possibilities, the police have gone out of their way to help and to prevent other incidents from happening not only by making a record of the incidents, but by repeatedly checking on the situation at Jenan’s house though phone-calls and general reassurance.

In fact, even the positive response from Jenan’s other neighbours was heart-warming and overwhelming supportive. Many of the residents expressed their consternation, brought Jenan and her family flowers to reassure her and a few of them even started studying Arabic with Jenan!

And therefore, thanks to her Cardiff community, Jenan feels supported and trusts that the police don’t overlook such incidents.

Because they shouldn’t ever be overlooked or underestimated.

 

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.  

Growing Peace Stories in Riverside

By Esther Jones

As part of Wales for Peace, UNA Exchange organised the Growing Peace Stories project. A group of international students from across Europe spent two weeks (9-23 August 2016) volunteering with a group of women from Women Connect First (WCF)*.

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Photo by Martina Gargari

Every day the international students worked with local volunteers from WCF as they helped to prepare for the Riverside Festival, build plant boxes and garden, as can be seen in these photos. The volunteers also spent quality time sharing and listening to stories and reflections on peace and worked together to produce and share these ‘Peace Stories’. They tell these stories through blogs, videos and presentations. Take a look at their stories:

What does peace mean to different people?

This video and presentation show what the concept of peace means to the international and local volunteers, including their definitions of the word. What’s interesting is that many of their answers are similar, despite their different backgrounds. A unity and like-mindedness seems to have emerged from the groups sharing, listening and experiencing one anthers’ stories.

Personal stories of the local volunteers

These are the international volunteers’ perspectives on the stories they were told by the local women volunteers, often stories of seeking peace and refuge away from their countries of origin. They take you step-by-step through the journeys of some of the women and explain how they found peace .

Peace builders and heroes

These accounts illustrate how some of the local volunteers and organisations have played a significant part in helping to establish peace in their local communities.

*Wales for Peace is a WCIA project funded by HLF seeking to answer the question how has Wales contributed to peace in the 100 years since the First World War. UNA Exchange is an international volunteer exchange organisation. WCF is an organisation based in Riverside, Cardiff, which seeks to empower Black & Minority Ethnic women in Cardiff and South East Wales by offering a range of services and training in order to improve livelihoods and employability.

Share your peace story with Wales for Peace so it adds to the Peace Map of Wales