7pm Friday, 12th January 2024

Belle Vue Community Centre, Albert Crescent, Penarth, CF64 1BY

Entrance fee: £10 (concessions available)

Host:  Heledd Fychan,  Senedd Member (South Wales Central)

And in conversation:

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru Leader 2012-18

Richard Wyn Jones, Director, Welsh Governance Centre

Come and celebrate the centenary of this historic meeting: 

In January 1924, four Welsh nationalists met at 9 Bedwas Place, Penarth, and recorded their decision to create “Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru”: the National Party of Wales. A year later this led to the public launch of the new party at the 1925 National Eisteddfod in Pwllheli. Those present at the meeting in Bedwas Place were Ambrose Bebb, Griffith John Williams, Elizabeth Williams and Saunders Lewis, the great poet  and playwright and future leader of the party, who subsequently lived in Penarth from 1952 until his death in 1985.

Heledd will invite Leanne and Richard to discuss the past 100 years of Plaid Cymru’s existence and also look into the future, before opening up the event to questions and comments from the audience.

Tea/coffee and some Welsh savouries will be available for no charge.

For more information, please contact Cllr. Chris Franks at: familyfranks@btinternet.com

Penyberth – New Research on Old Bailey Switch

New research reveals that the controversial transfer of the Penyberth Bombing School trial from Wales to London was engineered by a local police chief rather than the Westminster government.

Three of the Plaid Cymru’s leading members, Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine and DJ Williams were imprisoned following the burning of the bombing school under construction at Penyberth near Pwllheli in September 1936.

The move of the trial to the Old Bailey came after a jury in Caernarfon had failed to find the Three guilty of committing the damage and caused a major furore in Wales.  Former Prime Minster David Lloyd George was one of many who blamed the government of the day – “They crumple when tackled by Mussolini and Hitler, but they take it out on the smallest country in the realm,” he said, “This is the First Government that has tried Wales at the Old Bailey.”

Now freshly published research by law expert Keith Bush finds that pressure for the move originated with the then Chief Constable of Caernarfonshire Police, Edward Williams rather than London government ministers.

Mr Bush, Senior Fellow in Welsh Law at the Wales Governance Centre,  shows that just twelve days after the first trial in Caernarfon, the Chief Constable wrote to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions urging them to move the case out of Wales

To demonstrate his concern, he sent a copy of the panel of he had marked to show which jurors had been prepared to find the Three guilty and which were not – seven for guilty and five against.  This evidence of the deep division in the jury, together with the atmosphere outside and inside the court during the trial, made it necessary in his view to shift the trial out of Wales to the Old Bailey: the outcome of the case had given “a great stimulus to the Party and it is said by them that a similar result will happen again if the defendants appear before a Welsh jury”.

However, such was the strength of objections that the Attorney General looked for another option, admitting that he had not anticipated that the idea of moving a case from Wales to England could be so controversial.  Prosecution lawyers offered the Lord Chief Justice an alternative, that of holding a second trial somewhere else in Wales, with Cardiff suggested; but by then it was too late, as the only application before the Court was for the case to be moved from Wales to London.

The research was revealed in a lecture delivered by Mr Bush at the National Eisteddfod at Boduan near Pwllheli, organised by the Plaid Cymru History Society.  It also examines other legal aspects of the Penyberth case, including treatment of the Welsh language by the judge at the first trial,

It is now published in Welsh and English on the website of the Plaid Cymru History Society, hanesplaidcymru.org.

Picture:  Painting of the Penyberth Three by Ifor Davies, exhibited in the National Eisteddfod main arts centre Y Lle Celf this year


Legal Aspects of the Penyberth Case

Thursday 10 August at the Eisteddfod in Boduan, a lecture was given by the barrister, author and academic, Keith Bush, who is a Fellow of Welsh Law at the Wales Governance Centre.

Legal Aspects of the Penyberth Case

(Lecture delivered by the author (as “Agweddau Cyfreithiol Achos Penyberth”) on behalf of the Plaid Cymru History Society at the National Eisteddfod, Boduan, August 2023)

The Penyberth case

On 19th January 1937, at the Old Bailey in London, Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine and D. J. Williams (“the Three”) were found guilty of property damage, contrary to sections 5 and 51 of the Malicious Damage Act 1861. They were sent to jail for 9 months. The basis of the charge was that the Three had “unlawfully and maliciously” burned buildings and materials on land that had been part of Penyberth farm near Penrhos, Llŷn but was now being converted into a Bombing School for the RAF. The action was part of a campaign against the Bombing School led by Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (the Welsh Nationalist Party), of which the Three were leading members. Saunders Lewis had been its President for ten years, succeeding Lewis Valentine in that capacity. From the outset, the Three intended to take responsibility for the damage so that the ensuing court case could be used as a platform for the campaign and for the Party as a whole.

The social and political aspects of the Penyberth case have been discussed at length and in detail over the last eighty-seven years. But today I want to focus on its legal aspects, and in particular on the decision, after a jury in Caernarfon had failed to find the Three guilty of committing the damage, to move the case to the Central Criminal Court in London.   


The story of the burning itself is told in a number of volumes, including “Tros Cymru”, the autobiography of J. E. Jones, then Secretary of the Welsh National Party, “Valentine”, a biography of Lewis Valentine by Arwel Vittle, and “O Gwmpas y Tân” the autobiography of O. M. Roberts.

A thorough and detailed treatment of the court cases, is given in “Tan yn Llŷn”, published in 1937, by the 25-year-old barrister, Dafydd Jenkins (afterwards Professor Dafydd Jenkins) and I am deeply indebted to his work. But I have also been able to draw on sources about the case that were not available when “Fire in Llŷn” was written and which take us behind the scenes of the legal process. 

The start of the process

The legal process began at about half an hour after two in the morning, Tuesday 8 September 1936, when the Three walked into the Pwllheli police office and asked to see the chief police officer for the area, Superintendent William Moses Hughes. When Constable Preston, the policeman on duty, asked what justified rousing Superintendent Hughes from his bed, Lewis Valentine replied, “Mae Penyberth ar dân” (“Penyberth is on fire”).

That was enough to cause the Constable to call the Superintendent. When he arrived, Saunders Lewis gave him a letter, signed by all Three, which “acknowledged our responsibility for the damage done to the Bombing Camp buildings this night, September 7.” (Note that the document is dated on the basis that the attack would take place before, and not after, midnight.)

Chief Constable

The Three’s letter was specifically addressed to the Chief Constable of the Caernarfonshire Police, Edward Williams and after the Three had been arrested and placed in the cells, Superintendent Hughes telephoned the Chief Constable to inform him of what had happened. Chief Constable Williams receives little attention in the various histories written about the Penyberth case. But, as will become clear, his role in it was, in fact, an absolutely pivotal one. Edward Williams was a native of Llanllechid near Bethesda and the son of a quarryman. He started his career as a policeman in London, before returning to Caernarfonshire and working his way up to become head of police there. On the face of it, he was on good, even warm terms, with party representatives in Caernarfon, including J. E. Jones, whose office was in the town, and the Party’s solicitor, E. V. Stanley Jones, who had a practice there.

The Chief Constable was certain that Party officials were in over their heads in the attack on the Bombing School premises – a perception which was, of course, absolutely correct. Although the Three were the “A Team” that lit the fire, the buildings and materials hat were set on fire had already been doused with petrol by the “B Team” of four other Party members, led by J. E. Jones himself. But the Chief Constable did not have enough evidence to prove the direct involvement of other Party members in the act, which, not surprisingly caused him professional frustration. But his hostility and contempt for the National Party went far beyond that, and he already had a desire, when the opportunity came, to restrain its activities, as he explained to the prosecution lawyers. He described the Party as “a noisy clique (which) needs checking”. Membership included the kind of person the Chief Constable did not think very highly of: “It is mainly composed of Ministers of the Gospel, School Teachers, College Students and Members of the Nonconformist Body”. It had, in his view, no right to speak for Wales.


Something that still irritated him was what happened on St David’s Day 1932 when J. E. Jones and three other young men, two of them trainee lawyers, went to the top of the Eagle Tower at Caernarfon Castle, pulled down the Union Jack that was waving there, and raised the Red Dragon instead. He had failed, moreover, to find justification for prosecuting them. But that small success, in his view, was enough of a threat to the constitutional order that he brought the matter to the attention of the Security Service (MI5). He believed the incident had been an encouragement to the Party to risk direct action on a much more ambitious scale. When he received the news from Pwllheli, therefore, it did not surprise him. And he saw it as an opportunity to take that effective action against the National Party which he thought was necessary. 

The Director of Public Prosecutions

Until the establishment of the Crown Prosecution Service in 1986, responsibility for carrying out prosecutions in the courts fell on local police forces, using either their own legal department or, particularly in rural areas, by employing firms of private solicitors. But there was a specialist central office in London, that of the Director of Public Prosecutions (or “DPP”), which was available to take over complex, sensitive or particularly serious prosecutions. Taking into account the political implications of what had happened in Penyberth, the Chief Constable arranged for his officers to contact, immediately, the DPP’s officers in order to warn them that he intended to ask them to conduct the and in order to seek their advice about the appropriate charge to bring against the Three. The DPP’s office advised that police should gather as much evidence about the incident as they could and to send them a full report as soon as possible. They should formally charge the Three, meanwhile, with an offence of doing damage to property contrary to section 51 of the Malicious Damage Act 1861, explaining to the local Magistrates, when the Three were brought before them, that more serious charges were likely to follow. The Three were represented before the Magistrates at Pwllheli, that afternoon, by E. V. Stanley Jones. The case was adjourned until the following week and the Three were released on bail.

The Chief Constable sent the fruits of police enquiries, including statements describing the nature and value of the damage in detail, to the DPP’s office two days later, confirming, at the same time, his request for that office to take over the prosecution. He suggested, though, that it would be appropriate for the DPP to work with local lawyers. But he warned the DPP against seeking help from those lawyers who would normally carry out prosecutions for the police in the Llŷn and Eifionydd area, namely Alderman William George, brother of David Lloyd George, the former Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for Caernarfon Boroughs. The Chief Constable’s reason for avoiding William George was because, “his sympathies lean towards the Nationalists” – a trend highlighted, in the Chief Constable’s view, by a speech made by William George at a meeting of Caernarfonshire County Council on 8th September.  He added that Wiliam George was also in partnership with his son, W. R. P. George, one who was “one of the four young men who pulled down the Union Jack from the flag pole at Caernarvon Castle on St. David’s Day, 1st March 1932; one of the others was Mr E. V. Stanley Jones, Solicitor, Caernarvon, who acts for the defendants in this case.”

The Chief Constable, in his letter to the DPP, stressed that he saw the attack on Penyberth as a real threat to law and order. He had heard that three other Party members had already been chosen, if the Three were sent to jail, to step into their shoes and to attack the site again, so as to prevent the completion of the Bombing School.

A witness for the Air Ministry had assessed the cost of the damage caused to its property by the fire (including the destruction of a number of wooden buildings) at £2355 (equivalent to around £120,000 today) plus further damage worth £300 (£15,000) to equipment personally owned by the workers. The DPP decided, therefore, that it was appropriate to charge the Three with an additional, more serious offence of setting on fire buildings belonging to the Crown, contrary to section 5 of the 1861 Act. After hearing the evidence of the prosecution (which was not challenged by the defendants) the Pwllheli justices, when the case came before them again on the 16th of September, decided to commit the Three, on bail, to stand trial at Caernarfon Assizes, which were due to commence on 13th October. Getting the case before a jury was exactly what the Party wanted, of course.  

Preparing for the Assizes

Looking forward to the Assizes, the Assistant DPP, Arthur Sefton Cohen, wrote to Chief Constable Williams on the 28th of September to request specific information. Mr Sefton Cohen had clearly taken seriously the Chief Constable’s warnings that the offence was part of a campaign of purposeful law-breaking on the part of the Party and realised that its members or supporters might be chosen to be members of the jury that would decide the case. He questioned whether the Chief Constable had reason to believe the trial would not be fair. He added: “I should also like to know if it is possible for you to obtain a copy of the jury panel before the trial and to let me have it together with your observations upon anyone on the panel so that I may instruct counsel as to whether a challenge should be made to any particular juror.”

It was the custom, at that time, for the High Sheriff to publish, before each Assizes, a list of prospective jurors – the “panel” – from which the jurors for each case would be selected. Police would check the panel names to see if someone who was disqualified from serving had been included on it by accident or if there was anyone on it who had personal links with a defendant or witness. Interfering with jury composition on the basis of jurors’ political charges could be something much more controversial, of course, if it came to light.  But the Chief Constable had portrayed the Party as some sort of extremist cell – nothing more than a “noisy clique”. His general advice to the DPP was, therefore: “There   is strong feeling of sympathy for the defendants amongst the Party, comprising mainly of students, school teachers, Non-conformist ministers and a fair number of quarrymen. It is difficult to express an opinion as to whether the trial is likely to be a fair one. As far as I have been able to scrutinise the panel  of jury, apart from my remarks thereon, I am of the opinion that the jury will be guided by the evidence.”

What then were the comments he made on individual prospective jurors? 56 prospective jurors were summoned to come to the Assizes but three of them were excused due to illness and so on. Of the remaining 53, the Chief Constable advised that four were “sympathiser(s) of the Party” and another was “An active leader in the Welsh Nationalist Party”. That was a reference to the first name on the list, one Willam Ambrose Bebb. As everyone knew that Ambrose Bebb was one of the most prominent members of the Party and had worked closely with Lewis Valentine no one would have been surprised to see him excluded from the jury that was to hear the case. But in the event, he was not chosen and neither were any of the other four whom the Chief Constable believed to be Party supporters. The prosecution did not have to decide, therefore, whether they should exclude jurors on the basis of their perceived political opinions.

Caernarfon Assizes

The Judge who was to visit Caernarfon in October 1936 was the Hon. Sir Wilfred Hubert Poyer Lewis, who was born in London but of Welsh descent. His grandfather was a Pembrokeshire priest who was promoted to be Bishop of Llandaff and although Mr Justice Lewis was educated at Eton and Oxford he had started his career as a barrister in Cardiff and served in a Welsh regiment during the Great War. He did not speak a word of Welsh, of course, and it was the first time, since being appointed a judge the year before, that he had administered justice in North Wales.

The legal position at the time was that the court had to be held  in English, including the official recording of the evidence. But the judge had a discretion to  permit a witness or party to speak Welsh if justice demanded it, with ad hoc  arrangements being made to interpret from Welsh to English. By the 30s, a growing trend had been noted on the part of some Judges, particularly those not accustomed to sitting in Wales, to refuse to allow the use of Welsh by those who appeared to be able to speak English. No one knew what Mr Justice Lewis’s attitude would be when, as everyone expected, the Three claimed to defend themselves in Welsh.

The defence’s strategy was that the burden of presenting the Three’s case would fall largely on the shoulders of Saunders Lewis and Lewis Valentine. It was decided that they would represent themselves, while D. J. Williams would be represented by a 30-year-old barrister, a native of Mountain Ash, Herbert Edmund Davies (afterwards Lord Edmund-Davies).

Edmund Davies’ role in the case was very limited but the Party felt it would be advisable to have someone on hand to keep an eye on legal and procedural questions – a wise decision as Edmund Davies had to remind the judge of the defendants’ rights to challenge jurors. E. V. Stanley Jones, was there, of course, and another solicitor was also employed, to assist with the defence, Mr H. Cornish of the firm of Thompson’s of London. The Three’s legal representation was paid for out of a special public fund collected for the purpose. The prosecution was led by W. N. Stable KC, one of the stalwarts of the North Wales and Chester Circuit, who divided his time between London and Plas Llwyn Owen, Llanbrynmair.

In the same way that the prosecution had scanned the list of prospective jurors to see who was likely to favour the defence, the defendants and their advisers had been considering challenging the jurors who they thought would be least likely to sympathise with their case. They chose to do so largely on the basis of the linguistic background of the prospective jurors.  Five non-Welsh prospective jurors were removed, and a further five were chosen to replace them, all of whom were Welsh-speaking. The Judge referred to this process, the exercise by the defendants of an undoubted right they had under the law, as a “farce”, making that criticism of the defendant’s conduct in the presence of the jurors, of course. 

 The evidence

The Three did not dispute any part of the prosecution’s evidence other than the story of the night watchman, David William Davies, that two men (whom he had been unable to identify) had assaulted him during the raid on Penyberth. The Three denied there was any truth in this and asserted that there was no sign of Mr Davies on the premises when they were there. Although no charge of assaulting Mr Davies had been formally made against the Three, and the evidence on the point was therefore technically irrelevant, it was unavoidable that they should spend time denying Mr Davies’s account, for fear that the jury would believe that the Three had been violent towards him.

Although Mr Justice Lewis had been reluctant, at first, to let the Three speak Welsh because he was confident they were fluent in English, he had, by the end of the prosecution’s evidence, had an opportunity to reconsider. He allowed the Three, in presenting their defence, to do so in Welsh, with their words translated, sentence by sentence, by Mr Gwilym T. Jones, a trainee solicitor from Pwllheli (who subsequently became Clerk of Caernarfonshire County Council and a leading member of the Gorsedd). But while the Judge eventually adopted a more conciliatory attitude towards the use of Welsh, it was his initial hostility, it seems, that has remained in the public memory.  

The Three, when questioned, admitted that they had lit the fire at Penyberth. At the conclusion of both sides’ testimony, there was, therefore, no doubt that the Three had set the site on fire. They did not claim to have any legal authority to do so. What, then, was their defence?

Addressing the Jury

On behalf of D. J. Williams, Edmund Davies limited himself to reminding the jury that, ultimately, they had the right to decide whether the Three were guilty or not. Lewis Valentine made an address laying out the pacifist argument against the Bombing School. He tried to convince the jury that the plan was contrary to the moral law since aerial bombardment was an extremely inhumane method of warfare. He argued that the practice should be banned by international treaty rather than promoted. He asked the jury to place the moral law above English law.  Saunders Lewis’s argument was based largely on nationalist considerations, emphasising the Government’s unwillingness to listen to Wales’ opposition, as a nation, to a project that would harm Welshness and endanger peace. He endorsed Lewis Valentine’s call on the jury to acquit them, placing national and Christian principles above law. The Judge repeatedly interrupted Lewis Valentine’s and Saunders Lewis’s addresses, claiming that their arguments were irrelevant and that only “English law” counted. He made the same point in his instructions to the jury.  The only question the jury should consider, according to Mr Justice Lewis, was whether they were certain that the Three had set fire to the site, contrary to English law.

The prosecution clearly did not anticipate any difficulty in obtaining a verdict of guilty from the jury. The Chief Constable had advised that the Party’s supporters were a very small group and none of those whom he believed to be their sympathisers had been selected to be on the jury. Prosecuting counsel W. N. Stable had been asking around Wales about attitudes towards the Three and his finding, which he shared with DPP officials, was that “Public Opinion is dead against the men, it seems, except for a very small minority.”

Jury fails to agree

But after considering their verdict for only three-quarters of an hour, the jurors returned to court and reported to the Judge that they were unable to agree on a verdict, with the divide so deep that it would be futile to spend more time discussing. As it was not possible, in those days, for a jury to reach a verdict on any basis other than unanimity, Mr Justice Lewis had to adjourn the case until the next Assizes in the new year, and he released the Three, once again, on bail.

The crowd outside the court had already been singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, disrupting, at times, proceedings inside but, as it became known that the jury had been unable to agree, the singing broke out even more strongly. Already, copies of Saunders Lewis and Lewis Valentine’s speeches to the jury, in the form of the pamphlet “Paham y Llosgasom yr Ysgol Fomio” (“Why We Burned the  Bombing School”) were on sale on the streets of Caernarfon for 3 pence each.




Shocking news

The jury’s unwillingness to find the Three guilty was seen as a major victory for their case. The Party envisaged that the same outcome would be repeated when the case came before the next Assizes and that the prosecution would ultimately have no option but to drop the charges against the Three. The Plaid began organising public meetings across Wales to support them.  But at a meeting of the Party’s Executive Committee on the 31st of October there was a startling report from J. E. Jones, “(W)e have received information, from someone claiming to be close to its source, to the effect that the Crown is closely watching the situation in Wales in order to determine whether it would make a request for the case to be moved to London, and that we should keep as silent as mice lest we cause this to happen. This puts us in a pickle. We would not, by giving the country an opportunity to show its enthusiasm for the three, to want to cause the case to go to London and for  all three to go to jail. On the other hand, it was necessary to rise up strongly against the Bombing School.”

The implications of transferring the case to London,  a move which, with the consent of the High Court, was allowed under the Central Criminal Court Act 1856, were inescapable, The strategy of making the case the centrepiece of the campaign in Wales against the Bombing School would be seriously undermined and there would be no chance of a jury in London refusing to convict the Three.

The question of applying to the High Court to move the case to London was discussed on the 12th of November, with the Attorney General, Sir Donald Somervell KC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Edward Tindal Atkinson and the prosecution’s counsel, W. N. Stable KC, all present. It was decided to proceed with an application and there were hearings before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, Mr Justice Swift and Mr Justice McNaghten at the High Court in London on Monday November 23rd and Monday 7th December.

The prosecution was represented by the Attorney General himself and such was the importance of resisting the move, in the Party’s view, that it enlisted the service of one of the most prominent (and costly) barristers of the day, Norman Birkett KC, to try to do so.

Norman Birkett KC

But he did not succeed. There was no doubt that the Three had set fire to Penyberth deliberately and without legal authority. The defendants had confessed and even taken pride in the deed. They had urged the jurors to decide the case on grounds other than principles of law. The proceedings took place in an emotional atmosphere, with the crowd outside singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau so loudly that it was difficult, at times, to hear what was being said inside the court. The addresses of two of the Three had been published and were on sale immediately after the conclusion of the hearing. And supporters of the Three had been urging any who might be chosen, next time, to be jurors to follow the example of the original jury and refuse to find them guilty. There was, therefore, sufficient evidence to support the prosecution’s argument that, if the case were to be heard again in Caernarfon, the jury would be placed under exceptional pressure which could influence their decision. As the High Court recognised no constitutional principle that Welsh people should stand trial in front of a jury of their fellow countrymen, it was inevitable that the Court would agree that the objectives of justice (the relevant legal test) justified moving the case to the Central Criminal Court, as the 1856 Act allowed. 

Wales’ reaction to the decision to move the case to London

By the time the application was finally decided by the High Court it had already drawn a hornet’s nest on the head of the Government. The newspapers received piles of letters accusing the Government of undermining the rights of the Welsh by depriving the Three of their right to lay their case before a jury of their fellow countrymen, in their own country and in their own language.     

Criticism of the decision to move the case was not limited to those who had supported the Three’s opposition to the Bombing School. Local MPs David Lloyd George and Goronwy Owen had kept their heads down quite successfully during the campaign, with Lloyd George, as the Prime Minister responsible for setting up the RAF, reluctant to condemn the principle of improving its efficiency. But his reaction to the decision to move the case to England was scathing: “I think this is a piece of unutterable insolence, but very characteristic of the Government. They crumple when tackled by Mussolini and Hitler, but they take it out on the smallest country in the realm…. This is the First Government that has tried Wales at the Old Bailey.” A wave of protest against the intention arose from Welsh MPs from all parties, and the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, had to receive a delegation that included prominent figures such as Goronwy Owen, Gwilym Lloyd George and Clement Davies from the Liberals and Robert Richards, Wil John, William Jenkins and Aneurin Bevan of the Labour Party.  (Lloyd George himself was on his way to the Carribean but sent a message supporting the opposition.)



In response to a Parliamentary question by Robert Richards, Labour Member of Parliament for Wrexham, the Attorney General tried to distance himself and the Government from the decision. “Facts were brought to my notice which, in my view, made it my duty to apply to the Court for the transfer to the Central Criminal Court on the grounds that such transfer, in the wording of the Act of Parliament, was “in the interests of justice””.

The Old Bailey

As it would be futile to try to convince the Old Bailey jurors of the correctness of the arguments presented at Caernarfon, the Three did not bother to make any addresses to the jury at the conclusion of their evidence there and were found guilty by the jury without them even leaving the court to discuss the matter. Another wave of protest ensued, with Professor W. J. Gruffydd, who had by now become one of the Party’s vice-presidents, declaring in the Western Mail that the Government had struck a fatal blow to the idea of impartial English justice and, thereby, destroyed “the only decency left in the English in the eyes of modern Welshmen.”

What was behind the decision to move the case to London

Despite the Government’s argument that moving the case to London had been inevitable in the interests of justice, the version of the decision that has been accepted by the national movement and by many others in Wales, is that it was a politically oppressive move. It was believed to have been taken by the Government in London in order to punish the people of Wales for being so presumptious as to challenge the authority of the state.  But is that entirely true? Or is there another interpretation which is more complex and perhaps less comfortable for us Welsh. 

On 25th October 1936, twelve days after the first trial in Caernarfon, Chief Constable Edward Williams wrote to the DPP with his comments on what had happened. Bearing in mind his goal of using the case to restrain the Party, and his view that it was nothing but a noisy clique, what had happened was a disaster, and the last thing he wanted to see was the same thing happening again. To demonstrate to the DPP that very decisive steps had to be taken to avoid this, he attached a copy of the panel of prospective jurors which he had marked to show which jurors had been prepared to find the Three guilty and which were not – 7 for guilty and 5 against (none of the five, by the way,  had been on the police list of Party supporters).

This clearly showed how divided the jury had been. It had not been a case of one or two stubborn individuals. The origin of his knowledge of jury deliberations was what he described as “discreet enquiries” among them. Although such enquiries were not illegal at that time, the public reaction to the police’s interest in jury proceedings would probably not have been favourable, particularly bearing in mind the political implications of the case, which explains why the enquiries had to be “discreet”. It is worth noting that one of those named as refusing to find the Three guilty was the jury foreman, John Harlech Jones of Criccieth. His attitude had hardly been a secret as he had been winking at Lewis Valentine during the hearing and had sought him out that evening in order to assure him that he had been one of his supporters. 

As well as referring to the deep division in the jury, the Chief Constable, in his analysis, emphasised the atmosphere outside and inside the court during the trial. A crowd had gathered in support of the Three who, according to the Chief Constable, included “Students from Bangor University, female School Teachers (and) unemployed quarrymen from outside Caernarvon” – all of whom, he believed, were supporters of the Welsh Nationalist Party. The outcome of the case had given “a great stimulus to the Party and it is said by them that a similar result will happen again if the defendants appear before a Welsh jury”. The jury’s failure to reach a decision was, he believed, “(a) challenge to the Law of England”. He finished by expressing the view that “that a fair trial cannot be obtained here and that the trial should take place if possible at the Old Bailey”.

Responsibility for moving the case

We see, therefore, that it was not the prosecutor, nor the Director of Public Prosecutions nor the Attorney General who made the original suggestion that the case be moved from Caernarfon to London but the Chief Constable of Caernarfonshire, Edward Williams.  The move of the case out of Wales and to London was necessary, according to him, to secure a “fair trial”, a concept which, in the Chief Constable’s view, meant one that hindered the development of the Nationalist Party. 

And, having regard to the response of the DPP and the Attorney General to his suggestion, it is clear that the Government did not share the Chief Constable’s view that a fair trial would not be possible before any Welsh jury. Such was the strength of the objection raised against the application to move the case to London that the Attorney General looked for another option, admitting that he had not anticipated that the idea of moving a case from Wales to England could be so controversial. At the end of the final hearing in front of the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Donald Somervell rose to make it clear that the prosecution would be satisfied if the case was moved not to the Old Bailey but rather to somewhere in Wales other than Caernarfon. He suggested Cardiff as a possibility. But by then it was too late. As Lord Hewart pointed out, the only application before the Court was for the case to be moved to London. As the evidence showed that, in his view, the interests of justice would be better served in London than in Caernarfon he did not feel he needed to consider any alternative.

It is clear, therefore, that the impetus for moving the Penyberth case from Caernarfon to London originated not in Westminster but in the office of Edward Williams, Chief Constable of Caernarfonshire. One must ask how someone whose salary was paid by the people of Caernarfonshire could be so willing to deprive them of the right to administer justice in their own county? The answer, I think, is that he saw his function as Chief Constable not, primarily, in terms of protecting the people of the county and their rights but as custodian of “English law” and the British order in general. Ironically, his zeal for that order had the effect of transforming the Penyberth case from being a matter of primarily local interest to one that heightened patriotic sentiment from Anglesey to Monmouthshire. 

Although there has been considerable change in the organisation of the courts since 1936, and in their attitude towards the use of Welsh, the Welsh courts are still nothing more than a region of those of England. By the next general election for Westminster five years will have passed since the publication of Lord Thomas of Cwmgïedd’s report on “Justice in Wales for the People of Wales”. That called for authority over the Welsh courts to be transferred to the Cardiff Bay Parliament. Only achieving that will be able to draw a final line under the disrespect towards the residents of Wales highlighted by the Penyberth case.  


© Keith Bush, August 2023

Brian Arnold (1941-2023)

Writing a posthumous appreciation of Brian Arnold and his contribution to the stability and success of Plaid Cymru in Pontypridd, the Cynon Valley (to which Ynysybwl belonged administratively) and the valleys of mid-Glamorgan is an unsought privilege.

It is a privilege because he was such a steadfast and upstanding character in personal and political terms and, because, over a period of sixty years or so, it was an honour to have counted him a good friend. It is unsought for the same reasons.

It has been said in other tributes to Brian (by Heledd Fychan A.S. on-line and David Walters in Clochdar, April, 2023, pp.14-15) that his inspiration for joining Plaid Cymru in 1957, at the age of 16, was Gwynfor Evans’ leadership of the Party and the latter’s statement that Wales was a nation in its own right and so possessed of the right to govern itself.

I don’t doubt that. Indeed, I heard Brian say as much over the many years of our political friendship. However, his real mentor – ‘on the ground’ as it were – in bringing him into lifelong membership of and service to Plaid Cymru was his predecessor as the leading party figure in his home district, the late Cllr. Gernant Jones (1920-2001) and also the latter’s wife, Eluned.

I have been told there was a family-link between Gernant and Brian “rhywle yn yr achau” as we say in Welsh, though I never managed to get to the root of it. Whether true or not, Gernant was Brian’s political father within the Party and primarily responsible for encouraging him to join it. What an auspicious day that turned out to be! Gernant too is worthy of retrospective tribute on the Plaid Cymru History Society’s website and I hope to furnish such a piece at some future date.

Neither of Gernant’s sons chose to pursue a political career and so Brian became his ‘political heir’. The two remained close; and when Gernant died in June 2001, aged 81, Brian was genuinely bereaved. It was as if he had lost the father-figure he had not known within his own family (having been born at Ynysybwl on the 16 February, 1941 in unsettled circumstances at the height of WW2).

Brian was raised initially by his maternal grandparents and, when they died, by his maternal aunt, Doris, at Thompson Street, Ynysybwl. On leaving school, he took a job as a trainee chef; but it wasn’t long before he went to work as a trainee and ultimately senior figure in the stores department of the old East Glamorgan Hospital at Church Village. This was a job he came to know like the back of his hand and in which he remained until retirement in 2006.

Though dedicated to his job, Brian possessed a wider vision for the society and country into which he had been born. He pursued that vision with commitment and integrity as a community figure, as a churchman and as a political activist in Plaid Cymru until the very end.

Brian was a lifelong member, and ultimately deacon and secretary, of Zion English Baptist chapel in Robert St., Ynysybwl. He was also a founder-member and leader of several community and social enterprises in the village and its environs. Among them were the local Ramblers society; a Youth Club that ran for many years on Robert Street; the Dârwynno Outdoor Pursuits Centre and its most recent addition, ‘Caban Guto’ (which Brian officially opened on 10 July, 2021), and the Ynysybwl Regeneration Partnership of which he was director between 2007 anfd 2012.

He was first elected a Plaid Cymru member of Ynysybwl Community Council in 1986 and served without a break on that body for 26 years. He regarded his rôle there (as elsewhere) as one of serving the community as a whole, not only that section of it which had voted for him. I believe it’s fair to say that his electoral opponents, as well as the wider public, appreciated this approach to politics on his part – an approach which absolutely typified him.

Brian’s first foray into a wider political field – that of the (then) Cynon Valley Borough Council – was in 1979 when he stood for election alongside his mentor, Gernant Jones, in an attempt to limit damage to the Party’s cause arising from a decision by a former Plaid councillor, Norma Harvey, to stand as an Independent in opposition to the Party. Unfortunately, Norma’s decision resulted in splitting the Plaid vote thereby allowing Labour (temporarily) to take both borough council seats – including Gernant’s, which he had held for some years prior. It hardly needs sayng that Norma’s campaign got nowhere as she came bottom of the poll. There’s a lesson there, folks!

Brian was not politically ambitious for himself. So, when Gernant again stood for election to the CVBC in 1983, his running mate wasn’t him but Gareth Evans, Coed-y-cwm, who taught French in the Rhondda. In 1983, this time without a ‘renegade’ candidate to split the vote (though two Independents stood) Gernant was comfortably re-elected at the top of the poll and stayed there in 1986, 1987 and 1991 (with Gareth joining him on the local authority between 1987-91). During all this time, Brian was content to be a ‘back-room boy’: planning, persuading and campaigning on the Party’s behalf.

In 1995, a lead-election was held for the new Rhondda Cynon Taf local authority, formed in 1996 out of three previously existing borough councils (Cynon Valley; Rhondda; Taf-Elai). At this contest Ynysybwl was awarded a single member as opposed to the two that had previously been allocated on CVBC. Against every expectation, Gernant lost his seat by a single vote (696 to 695) to Labour’s Christine Chapman, the wife of a local GP. She was subsequently elected (1999) to the first Welsh Assembly as constituency member for the Cynon Valley.

It was this jolt – together with Gernant’s advancing years (he was 75) that spurred Brian into biting the electoral bullet in a way he had not previously sought to do. Thus, at the second RhCT borough election in 1999, Brian agreed to stand – with some reluctance as I recall – as the Party’s candidate for the Ynysybwl ward.

His reluctance was based not on any misgiving about the Party or on serving the community of which he thought so much. Rather, it was based on an entirely objective – and humble – realisation that, if he stood, he knew, without question, he would be elected – such was the respect in which he was widely (and rightly) held.

So it proved. In his initial RhCT election in 1999, Brian polled 745 votes (45.7%) to Labour’s 504 (30.9%) with an Independent on 380 (23.3%). He stood again in 2004, easily topping the poll above Labour, an Independent and a LibDem. The same was true in 2008 as he topped the poll with 51.3% of the vote, above Labour and a LibDem. In 2003-04 Brian served as Chair of RhCT local authority (a post subsequently re-designated ‘mayor’ by the Labour Party).

In all, Brian served on RhCT.CBC. for thirteen years (1999-2012); but decided as he entered his 70s to make way for younger candidates. He was by then 71, retired and had no wish to ‘hog’ the electoral stage. With Gernant and him having led the Party locally between them for at least forty years (1972-2012) a period of difficult readjustment inevitably lay ahead.

So it proved. In subsequent borough elections (2012 and 2017), Labour managed to regain the Ynysybwl seat on RhCT council (much to Brian’s disappointment); but it was not to last. To his relief, Ynysybwl (by then restored to be a two-seat ward) comfortably returned two Plaid members, Amanda Ellis and Tony Burnell, to RhCT Council in 2022 (in what was otherwise a disappointing election for the Party in the borough).

Sadly and tragically, Tony Burnell died a few months later, which meant, inevitably, a by-election. This was held in September 2022 and resulted in Paula Evans, the Plaid candidate, comfortably holding the seat against Labour, Conservative, Green and ‘Gwlad’ candidates: the latter having no chance of winning but seemingly content to put the seat at risk by seeking to split the ‘Welsh aware’ vote. (The lesson is still to be learned).

By this stage, Brian’s health was deteriorating markedly. He was becoming frailer and more susceptible to falling. Even so, while no longer able to canvass, drop leaflets or campaign on the streets, he sought to do what he could in support of Paula’s by-election contest by plastering 28, Thompson Street with her posters to show that she had his full and willing support.

Brian Arnold gave exceptionally long service to his community and to Plaid Cymru. Thus, it was fitting that in January 2022 the trustees of the Llanwynno-based Edward Thomas Charity (founded in 1678 – yes, you read that correctly) included him among those whom the Charity formally honours each year for service to the community. The ceremony is normally held annually in the ancient church at Llanwynno but had to be held on-line in 2022 owing to Covid restrictions. Nevertheless, it was a well-deserved (and appreciated) gesture by the trustees.

Plaid Cymru too readily paid tribute to Brian as one who devoted much of his time, energy and undoubted interpersonal skills to building the party and encouraging comradeship within it (sometimes in difficult circumstances it must be said!).

After he stood down from elective politics in 2012, the Party bestowed on him at its annual conference in 2013 its Outstanding Achievement Award in recognition of his long and sustained service at many levels across some fifty-five years (until then). At his passing on the 28 January, 2023, a few weeks before his 82nd birthday, Leanne Wood, a previous leader of the Party, paid him fulsome tribute for his life’s work, as did Heledd Fychan, regional A.S. for South Wales Central. in a warm tribute delivered at Brian’s funeral at Glyn-taf Crematorium on the 6th March this year.

It was a shock to hear of Brian’s decease because, somehow, he always seemed to have a busy positivism about him. It was a disappointment too that I was unable to make it to his funeral to pay my respects to someone I had known as a political colleague and friend since I first joined Plaid Cymru, aged 14, in 1962.

I met Brian soon thereafter as we campaigned for Plaid Cymru’s candidates in the Aberdare constituency (as it then was) in the general elections of 1964, 1966 and subsequently. During all that time, I can honestly say – along with probably everyone who knew him – that, while we might have argued over issues, we never quarrelled; and I, for one, will miss those occasional sessions which members of the Cynon Valley constituency party at its best would have at the Brynffynnon Inn, Llanwynno or the Old Bwl Inn as we put Wales and the world to right!

Brian was a profoundly moral individual who radiated personal and political integrity. He treated – perhaps especially – his direst political opponents (not least in the Labour Party) with respect and moderation and they respected him in return. His friends, Plaid Cymru and the cause of Welsh advancement are the better for having known him – and the poorer for his loss.

Brian served his community selflessly. That is beyond question.

The wider significance of his and Gernant’s electoral and political work is that, for years during the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, they proved – along with others such as Ted Meriman in Ogmore Vale, Glyn James at Ferndale and Pauline Jarman in Mountain Ash – that the Labour Party could be beaten by credible Plaid Cymru candidates representative of the communities they sought to serve.

The significance of their work lies too in the confidence this still imparts to others, and in having helped to drive the huge constitutional advance Wales has made during the past quarter of a century.

Does a journey of a thousand miles not start with a single step ?

David Leslie Davies,


Charlotte Aull Davies, 1942-2023

A talented American and a Welsh patriot

Dafydd Williams

One day in the mid-1970s, a young American woman walked into Plaid Cymru’s headquarters in Cardiff.  Charlotte Aull  had set her mind on finding out everything she could about Wales and its national movement. The plan was to return over the Atlantic once her PhD was complete, but – fortunately for Wales – things turned out otherwise.

Charlotte was born in Lexington, Kentucky, one of three children.  She took a degree in mathematics and then an MSc in Mississippi University before switching to social anthropology, the study of communities and their culture.  And for her PhD in North Carolina, she chose Wales as the focus of her study.

Charlotte had a quiet demeanour and a pleasant personality, but she was no shrinking violet.  Hours after landing in the UK, she was in the House of Commons interviewing Gwynfor Evans, Plaid Cymru’s leader and first MP.  Later on, while in a bookshop, she spotted a gentleman browsing a row of Welsh-related books – it turned out to be the well-known poet Harri Webb, who was interviewed on the spot!

It was probably Gwynfor who suggested a visit to the Plaid Cymru office to find out more and obtain a list of other people to interview.  But little did I foresee the happy outcome – that Charlotte would marry my friend Hywel Davies, a journalist, nationalist and author of a classic study of Plaid Cymru’s first twenty years.  So Charlotte came to live in Wales, mastering the Welsh language during the course of her PhD field work in Bangor and Cardiff.

The couple moved to the United States in 1985 when Charlotte took up the post of lecturer in the University of South Carolina.  By then they had a two-year old daughter – Elen Gwenllian, who they had adopted in 1983.  The family moved back to Wales in 1988, living in a number of places before settling in Morriston – Hywel to pursue his career in television and Charlotte in Swansea University.

Many will be familiar with her classic work Welsh Nationalism in the Twentieth Century (1989).  Although the work was published at a difficult time for Wales and Welsh nationality, Charlotte’s book broke new ground in tracing the relationship between nationalism and institutional factors, such as the growth of functions devolved to the Welsh Office.

In 1992, Charlotte was appointed as a lecturer in Swansea University, and in 2000 as senior lecturer in sociology and anthropology.  She became a prolific author, her book Reflexive Ethnography (1998) proving a key reference for those studying peoples and their cultures.  Her colleagues recall her kindness, her spirit of cooperation and her dedication to social justice.  She became a recognised authority in her subject, approachable and popular among her students.

Charlotte contributed a large number of academic papers, as well as writing for the magazine Planet and the Welsh language periodical Barn. Between 2007 and 2012 Hywel and she produced the Papur Gwyrdd, an environmental publication that presented the struggle for the future of the planet to a Welsh-speaking readership.  She was an active member of Plaid Cymru, serving as Secretary and as Treasurer of the party’s Swansea East branch, and contested the Morriston ward as Plaid candidate for a seat on Swansea Council.

Charlotte remained a patriotic American, keeping her American citizenship, making frequent visits to her family in the United States and celebrating Independence Day and Thanksgiving in style.  She was keenly interested in her homeland’s politics – it is fair to say she was no fan of Donald Trump!  As well as a love of jazz, she had a lifelong interest in horses and riding, a passion she passed on to Hywel and Elen – to such an extent that Hekla, an Icelandic pony gifted to Elen crossed the Atlantic to take up residence in Wales!

Charlotte was a committed supporter of the cause of Wales and the Welsh language, of social justice and of peace.  She served as governor of Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Tan-y-Lan, Morriston.  She loved mountain walking, cycling and gardening, an interest commemorated in verse by a friend and neighbour, the chaired Eisteddfod bard Robat Powell:

Ein Charlotte ddoeth, Charlotte dda – a gofiwn

drwy nos gyfyng gaeaf,

ac o’r ardd daw atgo’r ha’

i ddyn, a bydd hi yna!


Our Charlotte, wise and good – we will remember

in the winter night

and from the garden will come an echo of summer

and she will be there!


We extend our sympathy to Hywel and Elen, and to Elen’s husband Adam. 


Charlotte Aull Davies was born on 8 October, 1942.  She died on 18 February, 2023.

This tribute is an extended version of an article that appeared in the June 2023 issue of the Welsh-language magazine Barn, and translated by the author.  We are grateful to the editor of Barn Menna Baines for her kind co-operation.


Fighting Poverty – Plaid’s Role over the Years


Valuable information has come to light about Plaid Cymru’s role in combating poverty in the nineteen thirties.

Papers transferred to the care of the Plaid Cymru History Society by Siôn ap Glyn show the extent of practical work done to help unemployed people and their families in underprivileged areas in the North and South.  ‘Clybiau Cinio Difiau’ – Thursday Dinner Clubs – were set up by Plaid Cymru during the Great Depression which hit Wales especially hard nearly ninety years ago, by a small party that had been launched barely a decade before.

As pointed out by Saunders Lewis, Plaid Cymru’s President at the time, the aim was for people in employment to help those less fortunate by foregoing one meal a week and giving sixpence to provide food for the unemployed.  Thursday was the day suggested to hold the dinner clubs, mainly because by Thursday many poor families would run out of money and be unable to afford a meal.  The cost of the meals were paid by party members, the funds administered by the party office. The Thursday Dinner Clubs continued their role until the outbreak of war in 1939.  Historian D. Hywel Davies concluded that this was the most successful charity work undertaken by Plaid members during the 1930s – “the flow of nationalist sixpences had continued unabated”.

The papers include detailed reports for the year 1937 about the work of two clubs in the South Wales coalfield – Dowlais, Merthyr and Dyfnant (Dunvant) near Swansea – and one in the North-west quarrying area of Rhosgadfan.  Dowlais was the area where the initiative was launched, it seems, and a visit by Saunders Lewis was the catalyst that led to its being rolled out to other areas.  Later on, another dining club was set up in Treorci in the Rhondda.

The reports are full of interest – in Dunvant, for example, on local leader Dr Gwent Jones, revealed that the first dinner held proved something of a damp squib – proud local people were unwilling to accept ‘charity’.  This barrier was surmounted by inviting ‘guests’ from among unemployed people in the community to an evening session where they could “speak, lecture, sing etc., depending on their talent, but always sharing food with us”.  After that, the dining sessions proved a great success.

The original documents, which are mainly in Welsh, will be deposited as part of the Plaid Cymru archive in the National Library in Aberystwyth and they can now be viewed on the Plaid Cymru History Society website here –

Clwb Cinio Difiau 1937

Wil Roberts 1943 – 2022

Wil Roberts, or Wil Coed as he was universally known, was a well-known figure in Plaid Cymru who died in October 2022.  He played an active role in all the party’s campaigns from the nineteen sixties and served as secretary of the Pwllheli branch.  Former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley delivered the eulogy in his funeral which we publish in full.

Translation of the Funeral Tribute by Dafydd Wigley
to the late Wil Roberts.

Dear Friends,

I would give anything not to be here today; but nothing would have stopped me from accepting the invitation from Siw and the family, for me to pay this tribute, on behalf of Elinor and myself,  to one who was such a friend to us all, in differing ways and at different stages of our lives. He was a very dear friend, whose course is now run; and whose immense contribution to his family, his community and his nation, have now, alas, come to an end.

This morning, our deep condolences go to Siw, to Dewi and Ifan; and to Quentin, who is also  part of the family; and to Jordan, Mia and Cai, for whom Wil was a loving Taid; and indeed to all the family. And I know that everyone would want me to thank Siw  for the loving care she gave Wil over the years, and particularly in this recent challenging period which they as a family had to face.

Siw has the certainty which she derives from her faith, rooted in this church; and that will be an anchor for her in the storms through which she is living. Siw was, of course, brought up in the Catholic tradition in Cardiff and came under the inspiration of the renowned Father  Gregory Fitzgerald; and her faith, together with the  Catholic church, have been a strength to Siw down the years.

So may I thank Bishop Emeritus Edwin Regan, for leading us today and for his support to Siw during this recent difficult period; and to everyone  associated with this church for their support for Siw and the family; for their kindness towards them; and for their practical help in their time of need. Also, may I thank Archdeacon Andrew Jones for the exceptional support he has given the family.

Siw has asked me to draw attention to the invitation extended to everyone, to join her and the family for a light lunch at Pwllheli Golf Club. The burial will be at Deneio Cemetery  after this service; but those who don’t wish to attend the cemetery are  welcome to go directly to the Golf Club.

William O Roberts was born on the 23rd December, 1943, the son of J.O, and Catherine Roberts, Cefn Coed Chwilog; and so it was  as “Wil Cefn Coed” he was known to everybody, later truncated to “Wil Coed”. His father was manager of the Creamery at Rhydygwystl; and a Caernarfonshire County Councillor.

Many of our generation don’t realize that Wil was one of twins, but sadly his sister died at birth; and it was a miracle that Wil survived. And the family suffered another tragedy, when Wil’s younger brother, Richard, then aged sixteen, was killed in a motor bike accident.

But I am under orders from Siw not to be too sad in my remarks today, rather to remember Wil as a delightfully happy friend, as indeed he was to all of us. I’ll try to obey that request.

After being a pupil at Ysgol Uwchradd  Pwllheli, Wil went on to study to be a Vet, at Liverpool university; but while his written work was excellent, he had difficulty with spoken English – a frequent feature amongst children in rural Wales. So he went to work for a year at the Creamery, before going on to the University at Bangor, to study agriculture. He was in the same year as Dafydd Elis Thomas, whom I am glad to see here today.

It was at about that time that I first met Wil. I was working over the summer vacation  as Plaid Cymru’s organiser in the Arfon Constituency. I arranged to meet a crowd of young party supporters in Pwllheli – and I handed them a pile of Welsh Nations – Plaid’s English language newspaper – for them to distribute from door to door.

I immediately sensed that I had a problem. Wil and his school friend Osborn Jones (whom I’m also glad to see here today)  were both glaring angrily at me.. One of them declared “There are already far too many English papers being read in Pwllheli!” –  threatening to leave me with my mountain of unwanted papers. Somehow, a compromise was reached – and Osborn, Wil and I became lifelong friends!

After graduating in Bangor, Wil won a scholarship to take a higher degree, in Agricultural Economics at Aberystwyth. So, naturally, his first job was with the Welsh Agriculture Department in Cardiff. He was in his seventh heaven travelling around the farms in the Vale of Glamorgan – and was surprised to discover how many farmers were still, at that time, Welsh speakers. And the farmers themselves were equally happy to deal with a civil servant who spoke Welsh.

Wil went  on to work with the Welsh Folk Museum at St Fagans,  with the task of driving around Wales, recording interviews in Welsh with farmers. Those recordings remain some of the treasures of St Fagans up to this day.

Wil was Plaid Cymru to the core; and he had no fear of declaring his allegiance. Despite his stammer, he was willing to knock doors the length of Wales; and wherever there might be a rally, or protest, or byelection, Wil would be there.

By 1970. Wil had met Siw – and guess where they met? Yes, in the romantic location of a Plaid Cymru Constituency  Committee in Cardiff. Siw was then sixteen years of age and Wil ten years her senior.

Although still a teenager, Siw was an experienced as a canvasser – and also of selling Welsh Nation papers from door to door in Cardiff. Just as well that Will hadn’t baulked at selling that paper in Cardiff as he had earlier in Pwllheli!

Wil and Siw “became an item” in 1971 – the year Elinor and I moved to live in Merthyr Tydfil; and that’s where I first met Siw. She and Wil came to canvass there in a famous parliamentary byelection and stayed in our home, where it seemed that half of Wales had chosen to camp down. In their sleeping bags, all; across our floors!

Wil had one abiding characteristic: he could sleep anywhere!…so much so, that on one occasion while riding his bike along Lon Goed, he dropped off – to sleep and from his bike – and suffered a nasty accident.

Wil was a person with whom accidents seemed to have an abiding relationship… On one occasion, he smashed his foot severely in a hay harvester. On another occasion, while a schoolboy, he went to play in the fields, and put down his coat, without realizing that a nosy pig was busily eyeing it; and when Wil turned his back, started to devour it for supper. Wil’s mother was not best pleased!

On another occasion, Wil suffered a serious accident while travelling in a car driven by his lifelong friend Geraint Eckley, which, on traversing the brow of a hill, hit black ice and Wil broke his back in three places. Geraint apologises that, for family health reasons, he cannot be here today.

Geraint recalled to me another of Wil’s traits – that he would suddenly get a great idea into his head – and off he would go! One morning, Wil announced to his house-companions in Aberystwyth that he was going to see the great Welsh author and patriot, D J Williams, down in Fishguard. Geraint went with him – and they landed, unannounced, on DJ’s doorstep. They were given a great welcome  and Wil became a bosom friends with DJ and visited him in Fishguard half a dozen times before DJ died, to chat with him about his recollections.

But let me return to Wil’s own story. Wil and Siw were married in 1973 at St Peter’s Church , Cardiff – and that was another story worth recalling. Wil had already by then introduced Siw to the Welsh mass at Cowbridge; and it was Welsh language Catholic marriage service which they enjoyed in Cardiff, with the famous Bishop Mullins officiating.

But there were two other officials responsible for organising the wedding ; and they hadn’t discussed which of them was responsible for organising the registrar to be present. During the service, it dawned on them that no registrar was in attendance; Panic! Someone was despatched from the Church to scour the suburbs of Cardiff for an available registrar.

The poor harpist, Eleri Owen, had to improvise on the harp for over half an hour until some deputy registrar was found and the legal niceties of the wedding could be concluded. At long last, Wil and Siw were then declared husband and wife.

After the wedding Wil was due to start a new job, as deputy secretary of the Welsh Black Society in Caernarfon. So off they went on honeymoon – only for Wil to get an urgent message – that his new boss had been taken ill and he was required immediately in Caernarfon. So Wil had a new job, a new home, in a new area,…and a new wife!

Their new home was on a small group of houses in Llandwrog. Their neighbours included Huw Jones (Sain) and Siân; Menna and Ceredig Davies of Gwynedd council; around the corner lived Wil’s old school friend Osborn Jones and Glesni; as did poet Gerallt Lloyd Owen and Alwena. Up the road was Richard Morris Jones and Manon Rhys; and a little further, John and Gwenno Hywyn. What a gallery of 1970s young Welsh talent.

This was quite a change of scene for Siw; but Wil was in his element and in his territory. According to Osborn, Wil was the character who held that diverse group together. Wil had the ability to deal with everyone; he was one of the most likeable people you could ever meet.

 It is Siw’s belief that if Wil had his time over again, he would have studied history and Welsh. Wil certainly had a delight in writing, particularly for newspapers. He had a column in Y Cymro on agricultural matters; he wrote for the Herald papers under the name of Thomas Parry (and such was his articulate style, many thought that it was Professor Tom Parry, Principal of Aberystwyth!); and Wil was an active member of the small group which produced the Ddraig Goch and Welsh Nation papers.

This was serious and responsible  work; but Wil’s humour found an outlet as he wrote letters to the Herald papers – not in his own name but in that of Twtws Parry of Llandwrog – expressing controversial  views that would anger the more respectable residents of the village. No-one could make out who was this Twtws Parry. Only close friends  realized that was the name of Wil and Siw’s pet cat!

Wil was also a first class photographer and for a while was the Western Mail’s official photographer  in international rugby matches.

Siw and Wil lived in Llandwrog for five years and during that time Wil was appointed  estates valuer for Gwynedd Council. They then moved to Wil’s childhood home at Cefn Coed, where they lived for ten years before moving to Yr Ala in Pwllheli where they resided for thirty-six years.

Wil was careful with his money. On one occasion, when he and Siw came down to join me for lunch in the House of Lords, he realized – too late – that he had left his suit at home. Surmising that he would be expected to wear a jacket in the rather grand Peers Dining Room,  he visited several shops and was horrified at the prices.  He eventually found a charity shop which had a jacket of his size; paid five pounds for it; and no-one noticed.

I can remember as if it was yesterday, when Wil, twenty tears ago, told me on Crewe station that he had just learnt that he was suffering from prostrate cancer.  He had clearly been shaken – but took a positive attitude that he wouldn’t allow that condition to define the rest of his life; however long that transpired to be.

However, he retired from Gwynedd Council to give his body every chance to conquer the cancer; and after five years, was given the all-clear.

And so it was that Wil,  over the subsequent fifteen years, lived a full life – at home with his family, within the local community in Pwllheli; active with the local Plaid branch; helping Siw with her work for this church; and writing even more – including  a tribute to his good friend Ioan Roberts in the book “Cofio Ioan”.

And then, just before the Covid lockdown, cancer struck again. For a time, because of lockdown, he couldn’t access the hospital. He then had several checks – all suggesting that the cancer had gone. But then, in 2020, symptoms returned and Wil suffered a fall at home.

It was feared that he had suffered a stroke; but that wasn’t the case. He had cancer in his spine and he endured protracted treatment at Ysbyty Gwynedd and Glan Clwyd. However in May this year, his spine collapsed and he fell down stairs.

Following that he was in Bryn Beryl hospital for many weeks  where he was given outstanding care; and both he  and Siw are so grateful to the staff.

When I called at Bryn Beryl to see Wil in July,  he was in excellent spirits; chatting with everyone; but yearning to return home to Siw. He made it clear how much he appreciated  the visits he had received, and the messages which Siw passed on,  wishing him a speedy recovery.

And when Wil returned home in late August,  a special bed was placed for him downstairs; and Gwynedd Council were excellent in providing ramps and equipment to help his mobility.

He had great assistance from  Jo and Natasha, therapists at Bryn Beryl; and aid from the “Tuag Adref” service  from Ysbyty Alltwen, in providing care at home; something Wil and Siw greatly appreciated. And nurses would call, day and night, to help, over the seven week period. 

The family wish to pay the highest possible tribute to both  the social services and the NHS; and it’s good, and appropriate that this is noted. But there is one special; person who Siw wishes me to name – that’s Bonnie, who many of you will know through her work at Canolfan y Gwystl. She called every night at Wil and Siw’s home, to clean Wil and care for him. Without her help, Siw doubts whether she could have coped. And she did this totally voluntarily: aren’t there some fundamentally good people still around?

I saw Wil for the last time at home in Yr Ala, a fortnight ago, on Wednesday 5th of October. He was in bed, and heavily sedated. But it was possible to conduct a fascinating and purposeful conversation with him; his mind was still very active and his aspirations for Wales as committed as they ever were.

When I mentioned the huge Independence rally in Cardiff the previous Saturday, where I had spoken,  his eyes lit up and he was so eager to learn more. And when I told  him that I would be presenting a Bill in the House of Lords next Friday, to protect the Welsh Senedd’s devolved powers,  he was voluble in his support.

I don’t know whether Wil, at that stage, realized  – as Siw had warned me – that he would hardly survive to the end of this month to  learn of the outcome of my Bill. I chatted with Wil that day for just half an hour;  he was clearly tiring;  and the time had come for me to withdraw – but not before he insisted that we shook hands; and he held my hand with a grip more powerful than I ever remember.

None of us know what is our destiny; nor whether we shall ever be allowed to know, after we have left this life, what will happen to our loved ones, to our aspirations; to our community,  and to our nation. But if there is any justice  in this great scheme of things of which we are a part, Wil’s spirit will be with us in those struggles which we shall have to wage – for the future of our countryside, for social justice, for national freedom,  for cultural fulfilment and for international peace.

Wil is with us in each and every one of those campaigns; he will not be forgotten; nor will he be indolent; his memory will fire us in our aspirations; and thereby, he too, will share in their ultimate triumph.

Thank you Wil; blessed is your memory; and rest in peace.

Dafydd Wigley

21 October, 2022.                     

Kitch – Lecture by M Wynn Thomas

“Kitchener Davies – from Tregaron to Trealaw “

Lecture by Athro M Wynn Thomas Thursday 4 August 2022 12.30pm Pabell y Cymdeithasau 2 in the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol. Chairman Dafydd Williams


James Kitchener Davies, brought up in the Tregaron area of Ceredigion, won renown as a poet and dramatist.  He was also a leading figure in Plaid Cymru at a time when it was a small movement seeking a foothold in the valleys of the South.  In this lecture, the author and academic Wynn Thomas presents a penetrating analysis of an important character in the story of Wales’ national movement.

‘Kitch’:  political hero and lost soul

Wynn Thomas

Next time you visit Cardiff, venture a few miles north along the A470, past Castell Coch and carry on until you reach the turn-off for Pontypridd. Go through the town and head for Porth. There, take the road that goes in the direction of the Rhondda Fawr.  Before long, you will see  a cemetery on the right, mynwent Y Llethr Ddu. Go in, and among the innumerable graves you will find the grave of the famous Tommy Farr. Everyone of course still remembers his heroic contest in New York against Joe Louis. And then within a stone’s throw you will come across the grave of  James Kitchener Davies, someone who in his own way was a fighter just as brave, just as fearless, just as tough – and perhaps in the end just as unsuccessful – as Tommy Farr himself.  Kitch was a real ‘scrapper’, to use the language of the valleys.  As he confessed when recalling the past,

‘We are the George family, quite rough people, some of us.  There was once a bitter quarrel between us and another respectable family, one of whom was the gravedigger in Bwlchgwynt.  One day, a stranger came past and looked at the gravestones.  “Well,” said the stranger, ‘there are a lot of these Georges buried here”.  “Yes,” was the blunt reply, “but not half enough of the devils.” ‘

Kitch was a champion in the world of words, y ceiliog bach dandi a arfere glochdar o un pen i gwm Rhondda i’r llall, ‘the little bantam cock who used to crow from one end of the Rhondda valley to the other.’ In the school where he taught, he was one of the ‘suicide squad’ – those low status teachers who taught subjects such as Welsh, Music and Scripture.  In a bid to persuade the children that Welsh remained a viable language, he would recite the names of the principal European rivers in Welsh. ‘Nothing hurts more,’ he said, ‘than to hear such phrases as “Oh isn’t it lovely to hear them talk in Welsh,” when this is said patronizingly of Welsh-speaking children. The Welsh-language, like every other, is because it is.’  He argued forcefully in favour of establishing a thoroughly Welsh-medium university college – and he deserves to be remembered, and honoured, as one of the prophets of our present Welsh-language college, y Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol.   In the staff room he stood his ground in the face of mocking and poisonous attacks against him by the numerous adherents of the Labour Party.  When they claimed scornfully that the three prominent nationalists who in 1936 had set fire to the bombing school established in the teeth of Welsh opposition at Penyberth on the Llŷn peninsula had used ‘England’s Glory’ matches, his quickfire answer was no, they were Pioneer matches.  Kitch himself was a Pioneer, one who proclaimed his challenging and revolutionary message from every street corner.

In the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, Kitch was one of the pupils of T. Gwynn Jones, the author of ‘Ymadawiad Arthur,’ the poem on the return of Arthur that in 1902 had signalled the beginning of the great twentieth-century renaissance in Welsh-language literature.  But in the Rhondda he found himself among the disciples of Arthur Horner and Arthur J. Cook.  The valleys were in the cruel grip of the Great Depression, with the Labour movements at their peak, and the population conscious of being not members of the Welsh nation but of being members of the working class.  A class that knew it was quite powerless in the face of the inhuman processes of the capitalist system.  A class that was also international in its outlook – Penyberth meant nothing to the miners;  but they could identify with the people of Spain and feel horror on hearing of the bombing of Guérnica.  A high percentage of the workforce was without employment or hope.  Disease was rampant.

In recalling all this it is right for us to ask whether Kitchener could really recognize the desperate state confronting the industrial valleys.  And then to inquire further whether he had the medicine that was really able to meet their needs.

The answer to the first question without doubt is yes: in his own way at least, and to the utmost of his ability, he empathised with the disastrous crisis of the valleys. ‘And this,’ he said in a characteristically penetrating essay,  ‘is the Rhondda of the depression, where people live on the earnings of better days, eating up their homes and destroying their children’s education; existing on charity …; falling into debt, breaking their hearts and perishing of sickness of body and soul.’’  He recognised the problem of drawing a realistic picture – as he did in his drama Cwm Glo – of the life of the industrial valleys.  ‘In examining Realist Welsh drama,’ he said, ‘which was stillborn, we see that Welsh language life is a thin layer between two thick layers of Anglicisation – a little meat between a slice of the Englishness of the slaves of poverty and a slice of the Englishness of the slaves of fake gentry.’

Kitch’s main aim was to rouse his fellow Welsh from their national slumber.  His goal, as he succinctly explains, was ‘to make the sense of nationhood a fact to the thousands who under capitalism have been defrauded of their lawful past.  Slumdom is like the dragon of fairy stories far enough away from us at normal times. But canvass a constituency.  If we cannot give life more abundantly there, we must not mock suffering with the twaddle of dying things.’  He made friends with Communists such as the author and union leader Lewis Jones.  He remembered with glee the fun they had together.  ‘I shall never forget,’ he said towards the end of his life, ‘that summer evening with the man in his shirtsleeves on top of the box, after an hour and a quarter, stopping in mid sentence, and slowly pointing at the crowd, back and fore: “Comrades,” he said, “you do dant me, you look so bloody dull.”

But could he truly understand that man beside him in his shirtsleeves, and the industrial working class to which he belonged?  I don’t know.  What is certain is that he failed completely to persuade the mass of the population that he could.  To them, he spoke in a language that was foreign.  To them, Kitch appeared as a respectable teacher, even when he was on his soap box on the corner of the street.  He was someone who insisted on them looking at themselves in a totally different way.

Perhaps it is too easy for us today who live easy lives to do nothing but heap uncritical praise on Kitch  for his matchless and unsparing work for the well-being of the nation.  Without doubt he would have none of such praise.  Kitch was someone who throughout his life was uneasy and restless under his skin.  And nothing was more hateful to him than the failure of the Welsh to admit their failings and face up to their shortcomings as a people.  At the very end, he was resolved to look back and coldly examine his own shortcomings, in a frighteningly honest poem.  So beware of  turning ‘Kitch’ into ‘kitsch’ – in the English sense that suggests something sentimental, contrived,  debased.

Even so, there is no doubt that he fully deserves veneration as a national hero.  And without doubt it was Kitch, more than anyone, who prepared the way for establishing Welsh-medium schools in the Rhondda, a development that by now has ensured that the language can be heard on the lips of so many of its people.  It can also be argued that Kitch was sufficiently far-sighted to predict the inevitable decline that befell the society of the industrial valleys in the post-War era, and furthermore that Wales would have to undergo a painful process of deindustrialisation.  Nor is there any doubt that he prepared the way for the political revolution in the valleys in recent decades.

Yet still, there was a yawning gulf between Kitch and his audience in the Rhondda, a gulf that meant he could not really understand the experience of the workers.  There were two obstacles to achieving such understanding.  The first was his education, which meant that in fact he had a contemporary middle-class outlook – in his case, that of the cultured Welsh-speaking middle class.  And the second obstacle was his early background.  Because Kitch was at heart a country boy, and it was here in Tregaron that he was born, bred and moulded.  The industrial experience was not part of his make-up, although, as we shall see, the story of his family offers a vivid example of the complex links that existed between the rural areas of that era and those ‘foreign’ Anglicised areas that had grown up so rapidly in the valleys of the south.  The tendency of many admirers of Kitch is to contrast two polar opposites in his experience.  At one time some would refer to his career as though it were a missionary campaign to save Rhondda for the nation by bringing the spotless purity of pura Walia – the ‘original’ pure and genuine Wales – to the heart of the corrupted society of the valleys.  But Kitch did not see it like that, nor was that the real course of his life.  He was shrewd enough to realise that both rural Wales and industrial Wales had similar weaknesses.  We see that clearly by comparing two of his masterpieces, Cwm Glo and Meini Gwagedd.  And as we do this, it is worth our pausing a little to consider some aspects of his early life that explain the origin of some aspects of his vision.

Kitch was born in Y Llain, ‘bwthyn unllawr pridd,’ a small and poor  cottage with an earth floor north of the town of Tregaron.  So his life thus began in the heart of the countryside, but already the coal mines were casting a shadow over his earliest memories, as he confessed decades later.  His father was already spending months at a time away from home working underground as a carpenter in the pits of Blaengwynfi.  He also had an aunt who had left home for domestic service in Tonypandy.  There she gave birth to an illegitimate child – an early example of the fate that would often befall defenceless women in the industrial community.  And bearing that in mind, it is easy to understand how in due course Kitch succeeded in drawing such a strikingly honest picture of the experiences of a young girl and a married woman in his disturbing drama Cwm Rhondda (Coal Valley), and to lay bare the sexual longings of the working class.

Bodo Mari – Kitch’s aunt – sent her child back to Tregaron, where he was brought up as her sister’s child.  So here is an example of the unexpected compassion of rural chapel-going Wales, yes; but an example of the hypocrisy of that Wales as well – its readiness to suppress the truth, to cover up the unacceptable, and to breed an untruthful, frustrated society. And this is precisely the picture of rural life that is shown later on in that great, wonderful play,  Meini Gwagedd (the Stones of Desolation) another of Kitch’s revolutionary masterpieces. It is a play that is full of the restless spirits of the dead, spirits who are bound to their old home because they cannot bear to confront the unacceptable, liberating truth  about their suffocating, nightmarish existence as living people.  Because of that their relationship verges on unhealthy spiritual incest.  No wonder that Jacob Davies, who played the part of one of the main characters, suffered a nervous breakdown following its performance.  It remains even today a play that can shake you to the core.    And it shatters the myth about rural life, just as Cwm Glo shattered the corresponding myth about ‘gwerin y graith’, the blue-scarred proletariat of the mining valleys.

Kitch was by nature an iconoclast.  And as we shall see, on his deathbed he shattered the greatest icon of all – the icon some of his friends had created about himself, the false image that Kitch partly blamed himself for creating.  His honesty is so extreme that it sends a shiver down your spine.  The great radio poem ‘Sŵn y Gwynt Sy’n Chwythu’ (The Sound of the Wind that is Blowing), is a confessional poem that disembowels itself unsparingly.  Here is an act of poetic hara-kiri if there ever was.

I have ventured to suggest that Kitch could not truly identify  with the experience of the miners. ‘I’m an incomer’, he said himself about his life in the Rhondda. Adding ‘I’m an incomer, my home country is elsewhere.’  He knew that in one way this was an obvious drawback for him both as a writer and as a politician.  The language of Cwm Glo is that of religious meetings at Llwynpiod, he admitted – Llwynpiod was the Calvinistic Methodist chapel where he and his family used to cross the Tregaron marshes every Sunday to attend services.  But in another way being a stranger was an advantage. Because it meant he had an outsider’s viewpoint on both rural Wales and industrial Wales, a viewpoint that enabled him to observe some aspects that the members of those societies were unwilling to acknowledge.  There is no wonder that he took an interest in the work of Sigmund Freud, who did so much to make us aware of the hidden underlying motivations that secretly govern our lives.  Kitch, for example, revealed the state of the Welsh language in the valleys, explaining the economic, political and cultural implications of its startling decline.

Between 1931 and 1951 the number of Welsh speakers in the Rhondda fell from forty-five per cent to twenty-nine per cent.  The response of Kitch and his followers was to generate a movement to set up Welsh-medium schools in the valleys – Ynys-Wen in the Rhondda Fawr to begin with, and then Pontygwaith in the Rhondda Fach.  Here you see the advantage of being able to observe the society from the outside, thus noticing the gaps and weaknesses that were hidden from the society itself.  And Kitch the writer and poet benefitted from the same feature.  In Cwm Glo he laid particular stress on the character of the miner Dai Dafis.  He is an idler, quite willing to prostitute his daughter, betray his fellow workers, abuse his wife and waste his wages on drinking and gambling.  There was no lack of such characters in the Rhondda valleys, but the local people and their supporters refused to accept that, and as a result Kitch was cursed for daring to portray such a figure. 

Furthermore, it is worth remembering that Kitch had left his rural environment, albeit unwillingly, as we shall see, — becoming an exile and developing an outside and distant view of the community of his birth.  It was that view that enabled  him to fashion a play as raw and subversive as Meini Gwagedd, an anti-pastoral work if there ever was.  This is a masterpiece by a man on the sidelines, in exactly the same way as Cwm Glo.

In one way, throughout his life Kitch looked upon the Tregaron area as a lost paradise.  Here is a sample of his magical remembrance of life there: ‘He glimpsed the pale yellow of the tiny frogs splashing about in the paler yellow of the sun, and he saw (from the furthest corner of the yard where, like a shower of petals, there was a spray of feathers from the over-venturesome yellow hen) the course of the fox walking directly through the dew.’

It is a description full of richness and exciting in its sensuality.  The wealth of language – a wealth wholly lost by now – is intoxicating.  ‘Naddu gwernen yn llwyau pren o flaen tân, plethu gwiail yn lipau yn y sgubor, anadlu moethusrwydd tail yr eidonau wrth garthu crit y lloi….Crychydd cam yn codi a chwibanogl yn troi, sgrech cornicyll.’

‘Carving alder into wooden spoons by the fireside, wickerwork in the barn, inhaling the sweetness of the cattle dung while clearing out the calves’ quarters….A heron rising and a curlew turning, the scream of the lapwing.’  This is language heart-breaking in its longing.

Then suddenly we come across a different picture, as Kitch talks of ‘the more chilling scream of poor Ann as she suddenly goes mad in the marsh.’  The honesty of Kitch cuts across every sentimental portrayal of life, and shatters it in pieces. ‘Sgrech oeraidd Ann’ – Ann’s chilling scream – is heard echoing in Meini Gwagedd.  And the scream is heard in a very personal way in ‘Sŵn y Gwynt’ as well.

Kitch was forced to leave this paradise quite early in his life, for two reasons.  First of all, his mother died when he was only six years old.  And then, a few years later, his father suddenly decided to sell the little cottage, Y Llain, and marry a ‘little woman from the south’, in Kitch’s words, a greedy stepmother.  Because of this, Kitch had to leave the Tregaron district for ever, and move to live with his beloved aunt in Tonypandy. So Kitch was cruelly uprooted, and he was disinherited as well, – a bitter experience that he would see repeated later on all over the valleys of the South, where the whole population had been disinherited. After marrying and settling down in Brithweunydd, what did Kitch do, but set about creating a garden beside the house, a garden that was celebrated for its beauty and which obviously represented that which he had lost when Y Llain was sold.

But if the loss of Y Llain was a formative loss in the story of the development of Kitch, losing his mother was a much greater and more significant blow.  He returned to this life-changing loss when lying on his sickbed in Church Village hospital, and it was this that led to his incredible poem ‘Sŵn y Gwynt sy’n Chwythu’ (The Sound of the Wind that is Blowing).  In this work a number of important themes come together for the first time.  Attending a Seiat Profiad in Llwynpiod chapel in his boyhood; Saunders Lewis’s observation, in his pioneering study of the life and work of Pantycelyn, that meetings of the Seiat resembled the analytical sessions of modern psychiatrists; discovering in his youth that sin was an integral part of the make-up of every human being; developing an interest in the spiritual plays of T.S. Eliot;  the desire to use new media such as the radio to promote the development of the Welsh language; the realisation that this new medium afforded a revolutionary and thrilling form of intimate communication; and so on and so on.  And the poem is a complex and elegant weaving together of a number of powerful symbols. Above all, it uses the image of Y Llain’s sheltering hedge, a hedge that protected the cottage from the wind.  And that is contrasted with the bare, defenceless valleys of the Rhondda, valleys that were completely open to destructive tempests, economic, political and cultural.

But there is a contrary aspect as well to the protective hedge of Y Llain. At the end of his life, Kitch realises that he sheltered behind the hedge to avoid facing up to some telling truths about his own character.  Because by now, very late in the day, Kitch considered himself not as a defiant hero standing up for the rights of the Welsh, but as a lifelong cheat, a coward who had hidden throughout his life from recognising a number of fundamental challenges.  One of these was the challenge to acknowledge his own character, to know his history since childhood.  But the greatest challenge of all was to open up fully in obedience to the call of the Holy Spirit, and to bow to those requirements that came in its wake.  Now, at the very end of his life, Kitch could admit that this challenge completely terrified him.

In ‘Sŵn y Gwynt’ he traces these presumed weaknesses back to their source, to the early experience of losing his mother when he was just six.  The cruellest accusation, and the most telling of all, that he insists on bringing against himself, is that throughout his life since childhood he had only been playing a part.  It was all an act.  And he insists he began to act when he lost his mother:


Wyt ti’n cofio dod ‘nôl yn nhrap Tre-wern

O angladd mam? Ti’n cael bod ar y sêt flaen gydag Ifan

A phawb yn tosturio wrthyt, yn arwr bach, balch.

Nid pawb sy’n cael cyfle i golli’i fam yn chwech oed,

A chael dysgu actio mor gynnar.


[Do you remember coming in the Tre-wern trap

From mam’s funeral? You were allowed on the front seat with Ifan

And everyone pitying you, a proud little hero.

Not everyone gets the chance to lose their mother at six years old,

And get to learn acting so early.]


To me, those lines are heart-breakingly sad, full of the bitterness and anger that the young child could not express at the time, although the adult Kitch could now acknowledge them. These are feelings that inevitably find their way to the surface at the very end, and demand a public expression.  It is the explosion of these feelings that make this such a memorable confessional poem; a poem that can shake you to your foundations.  You could almost call it an embarrassing poem, because it is so unsparingly raw.

Remembering Kitch’s interest in psychology and psycho-analysis, I started to wonder what is the opinion of modern psychologists of the experience of a young child losing a beloved parent, and I found that some revealing research had been done.  At the time of the second world war, psychologists were engaged in studying the response of refugees from London to the experience of leaving their mothers and living in totally strange homes.  It was found that a number of them defended their weak, bruised psyche at that time by taking on a persona that did not correspond with their true selves.  And furthermore it was recognised that this childhood role play was continued throughout later life.  After becoming adults these children could not throw off the habit of acting, because that would mean facing up to the primal loss of losing their mother for the first time.  Life had deceived them when young, and after that they in their turn needed to deceive in order to defend their core personality from ever again suffering the same loss.

As far as I can see, that is exactly the same situation as that of Kitch.  And now I would further suggest that we could describe such an experience as some form of post traumatic stress disorder, ptsd.  I completely accept that these days we are too ready to use this label.  And I would not want explicitly to claim that Kitch suffered from ptsd throughout his life.  But I would venture to suggest that there is at least a suggestive similarity between the underlying trauma he admits to in ‘Sŵn y Gwynt’ and the experience of those unfortunate people who are prey to fully blown ptsd.  And in observing his life through this lens, a number of interesting aspects come to the fore.

It explains why he is able to identify, as he does in Meini Gwagedd, with the spirits of the dead, shackled to their old home because they cannot truly face up to the consequences of their terrible lives they spent there.  Wasn’t Kitch himself such a restless spirit?  It also throws new light on his obsession with the theatre – the true play-house of course – and his willingness to write challenging drama.  And perhaps it also explains his outlook on the condition of Wales – the outlook at the root of all his political activity.                                            

Because Kitch considered that Wales had suffered an industrial revolution that was also a cultural rupture.  It was a country that had refused to face up to the painful truth about itself.  The Welsh were determined to play the part of English people.  It was all fraud, in his opinion – and perhaps it needed a fraudster, as Kitch saw himself to be, to know a fraudster.

Every fraudster is by nature cunning.  Psychologists offer a secular explanation.  But we do not get that in ‘Sŵn y Gwynt.’  Because Kitch possessed a religious worldview, the Calvinistic worldview implanted so deeply in him inthe little chapel of Llwynpiod here beside the bog.  This meant that at the end he saw himself as a sinner through and through, because his life had been nothing more than fraud and hypocrisy from its beginning to its end.

That is the tragedy.  That is also the greatness of his poem.  It concludes with a sinner’s prayer, a pleading, impassioned prayer for salvation that is enough to send shivers down your spine.

 Paradoxically he pleads to be saved by not being saved.  He wants to avoid suffering the ultimate penalty for his faith.  He wants the Almighty to raise the protective hedge of Y Llain once more between himself and the agony of the cross: at the same time, he prays to be spared from suffering the agony of the cancer that is slowly killing him.

Quo vadis, quo vadis, I ble rwyt ti’n mynd?

Paid â’m herlid i Rufain, i groes, â ‘mhen tua’r llawr.

O Geidwad y colledig,

Achub fi, achub fi, achub fi

Rhag Dy fedydd sy’n golchi mor lân yr Hen Ddyn.

Cadw fi, cadw fi, cadw fi

Rhag merthyrdod anorfod Dy etholedig Di.

Achub fi a chadw fi

Rhag y gwynt sy’n chwythu lle y mynno.

Boed felly.  Amen

            Ac Amen.


Quo vadis, quo vadis, where are you going?

Do not pursue me to Rome, to the cross, and my head to the ground.

O Saviour of the lost,

Save me, save me, save me

From Thy baptism that washed the Old Man so clean.

Keep me, keep me, keep me

From the inevitable martyrdom of Thy chosen one.

Save me and keep me

From the wind that blows where it will.

So be it.  Amen

            And Amen.

This is the cri de coeur of the spirit, the cry of the stricken Calvinist soul de profundis.  But it also has the undertone of Ann’s raving in the marsh, and the cry of a small boy who will, for ever and ever, have just lost his mother.


Professor M.Wynn Thomas is a distinguished academic and writer who holds the Emyr Humphreys Chair of Welsh Writing in English at Swansea University.  This lecture was delivered in Welsh at the National Eisteddfod  in Tregaron on Thursday 4 August 2022 at the invitation of the Plaid Cymru History Society.  The text of this English language version has been translated by Dafydd Williams, and amended and approved by Wynn Thomas.

Kitchener Davies – from Tregaron to Trealaw

Thursday 4 August 2022 12.30pm Pabell y Cymdeithasau 2 

in the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Tregaron

“Kitchener Davies – o Dregaron i Drealaw “

Darlithydd Athro M Wynn Thomas

Cadeirydd Dafydd Williams

The poet, dramatist and nationalist, James Kitchener Davies (1902-1952) will be the subject of this special presentation, 120 years since his birth.

The presentation will be in Welsh.

Hanes Plaid Cymru