At a special meeting in the Cardiff National Eisteddfod on Thursday, 9 August 2018, Plaid Cymru celebrated the life of the late Professor Phil Williams, the party’s candidate in the Caerffili by-election fifty years ago.
At the meeting, organised by the Plaid Cymru History Society, tributes were paid by Dafydd Williams and Cynog Dafis with a contribution by Dafydd Wigley.
Remembering Phil Williams
A tribute by Cynog Dafis
I could speak all day about Phil, wondrous polymath as he was, but I have only a brief 15 minutes and I want to concentrate on his very particular contribution to green issues – the most crucial subject – if I may venture to say, of every subject in the world.
But there is no way I can omit some special memories.
I have a clear recollection of the first time I ever saw him – in the Plaid Summer School in Llangollen in 1961, a pint of beer in his hand, and his face shining as he joined in the singing that resounded through the bar, Welsh singing of course. We usually think of Phil as a thinker – he said that reading Ted Nevin’s essay on Welsh economic statistics caused him to join Plaid Cymru – but his passion for Wales and its national movement flowed from the heart and guts. It was that visceral passion that drove his work for Plaid Cymru throughout his life.
My second memory of him is speaking in a meeting of the Plaid National Executive in November 1964 in the wake of a thoroughly disappointing general election, on a motion John Bwlchllan and I proposed that the party should cease, for a while, to contest parliamentary elections. And that reminds us that in those days Phil was a rebel, a member of the Cilmeri group, along with Emrys Roberts, Ray Smith and others, who sought to modernise the party’s organisation and by the way clip Gwynfor’s wings somewhat in the process.
But let’s move on to green issues, beginning with another disappointing election result, that of the 1989 European election. Plaid Cymru had held high hopes but in three out of four constituencies, had been pushed into fourth place by the Green Party. I clearly remember Phil in the count in Swansea, deeply engrossed in a friendly and harmonious conversation with Barbara McPake, the Green candidate. It is easy to understand the harmony – Phil, as a space scientist had long been convinced of the overwhelming and terrifying significance of climate change. I remember him saying, in a meeting of scientists to discuss the latest news about climate change that the feeling was one of cold terror.
Some days before that election, the Wales Green Party had been invited to take part in a discussion session on Sunday morning during the 1989 Plaid Conference in Denbigh (the invitation to attend had been sent before the election). A working party was set up between the two parties to explore common ground, with Phil leading for Plaid Cymru. It was to meet regularly over a period of several months. Two important consequences flowed from this process.
1 Phil drafted a lengthy, detailed and remarkably radical motion on sustainable development to the 1990 Plaid conference in Cardiff. We can date the greening of Plaid Cymru, which has had a quite far-reaching impact on Welsh politics, more or less from that day.
2 The Plaid National Executive Committee authorised local constituency parties to establish electoral pacts with the Greens where there was local support. Local agreements were made in the South-east and in Ceredigion, where a striking victory was achieved in 1992, as a result of which I was obliged to undergo an extended period of national service in Westminster. This was all warmly welcomed by Phil – the readiness to work across party boundaries with people of like mind to bring about valuable gains chimed with his natural instincts. I remember him telling me as much with approval when we both cooperated in establishing a cross-party group on renewable energy in the National Assembly.
Like Phil, I had been convinced early on of the revolutionary significance of the green agenda and as a result we came to understand each other very well. It was of course an unequal relationship – he was the guru and I was the disciple who would ask questions and make occasional suggestions. When I got the opportunity to lead a debate on renewable energy in the House of Commons, Phil’s policy on renewable energy and Wales formed the substance of the speech.
I would like to turn for a minute to a different matter, a very significant one as well. During the period leading up to the establishment of the National Assembly in 1999 I was Plaid Cymru’s director of policy. One day a message came from Phil stating that Wales had never received a penny of European money. Uh? said I. What about the hundreds of thousands that had come to Wales under the Objective 5b programmes and so on? But Phil had immersed himself in the Welsh Office accounts and had discovered that every penny of the European funding received by Wales for social, economic and agri-environmental programmes had been clawed back in devious ways by the British Treasury. This was nothing short of a swindle that was replicated in a number of European countries – the central state using European funds to swell their own treasuries at the expense of the regions that were supposed to benefit, completely undermining the intention of the European Union to increase the economic prosperity of poorer areas.
When Phil became an Assembly Member in 1999 this was a matter of crucial importance, with Wales by now eligible for Objective 1 funding – many millions of pounds. There was no certainty, to put it mildly, that this European finance would be genuinely additional to the existing Welsh bloc, the National Assembly’s entire funding. Gordon Brown refused, and Alun Michael could not, guarantee that Objective 1 money would be additional. The result of this was that (1) the National Assembly deposed Alun Michael in February 2001 and (2) the Westminster Government yielded on the issue in a statement, if I remember correctly in July. Objective 1 funding would now be additional to the block grant. The Labour Party claimed the credit. However, but for Phil, it is safe to say that the Treasury would have carried on with their fraud, at least for a while. Consider seriously the loss that this would have involved to the Welsh economy under these circumstances.
Phil’s contribution to the work of the first Assembly, in which he served on the economic development committee, was outstanding. I remember how he would always prepare his speeches meticulously and rehearse them with care. He would work all hours of the day and night apart from the occasional solo on the saxophone which would echo down the corridors between 10 and 11. But I somehow think he experienced an element of disappointment with the lack of direction of the Government under Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan. In the absence of any strategic direction, sustainable development was interpreted, not as an opportunity for Wales to take the lead in a number of new environmental sectors, but as a series of obstacles to development in the name of conservation and landscape protection. During those four years, for example, the growth of renewable energy was smothered rather than encouraged.
Despite that, being a member of the first National Assembly, no matter how restricted and unsatisfactory were its powers and internal capacity, was the pinnacle of his political career if not his life – and the fact that he gained this great privilege is a cause of happiness to those who came to know him – another great privilege.
Long may we cherish the memory of the brilliant and beloved Phil Williams.
This is a translation of the address to a meeting of the Plaid Cymru History Society delivered in the Cardiff National Eisteddfod, Thursday 9 August 2018
Elwyn Roberts, the anchor man of Plaid Cymru throughout much of the twentieth century, was the topic of the Plaid history society’s 2017 annual Eisteddfod lecture. For all his apparent solid background in bank management, Elwyn Roberts was a committed and determined nationalist who put love of Wales before his professional career.
His work for Wales was described by former Plaid leader Dafydd Wigley, historian Gwynn Matthews and Elwyn’s successor as party general secretary Dafydd Williams. You can read the full text of their lectures and listen to a recording the session in the Societies’ tent in the 2017 National Eisteddfod in Ynys Môn.
Memories of Elwyn Roberts
Translation of the Address by Dafydd Wigley to the Plaid Cymru History Society,
Eisteddfod Ynys Môn; August, 2017
It is a pleasure to open this meeting to commemorate Elwyn Roberts, one of Plaid Cymru’s stalwarts, and appropriate that we should gather here on the Eisteddfod field in Anglesey, Ynys Môn, as he was also twice the organiser of the National Eisteddfod. For decades he lived in Bodorgan, although his roots were in Abergynolwyn, Meirionnydd. He was someone whose influence was to be felt throughout Wales.
As a nation we have cause not only to respect Elwyn’s memory but also to carry on the contribution which he made, as an inspiration to a new generation to roll up its sleeves and complete his heartfelt ambition. He was a practical nationalist who believed that victory would grow from a foundation of political organisation – through harnessing human and financial resources in the service of our nation’s highest goals.
I pondered whether I could do justice to this subject, wondering whether I really knew Elwyn Roberts. Perhaps many who worked with him would admit similar feelings, because Elwyn, as well as being a national figure and a political heavyweight, was also a very private man.
Elwyn was one of half a dozen who had a substantial influence on me personally, drawing me – from a young age – to work for Plaid Cymru. The other national influences were Gwynfor Evans and Saunders Lewis; locally in Gwynedd Dafydd Orwig and Wmffra Roberts; and of my own generation, the late and beloved Phil Williams. It is worth noting that among these three were the sons of slate quarrymen – Dafydd Orwig, Wmffra and, yes, Elwyn Roberts.
Elwyn was the son of Evan Gwernol Roberts, a quarryman in Abergynolwyn; his mother, Mabel, was headmistress of an infants’ school. Abergynolwyn was so important to him that his autobiography turned into a volume of history about Abergynolwyn – he never spoke about himself! Thus he takes pleasure in the book that it was through the endeavours of Plaid Cymru in the 70s that quarrymen at long last won the right to dust disease compensation.
Elwyn was born in 1905, and was a child of his generation. The shadow of the first world war rested heavily upon him, as did the revolution in Ireland and the depression in the heavy industries. He had no university education – indeed, he had little regard for the education he received in Tywyn grammar school, which for him was far too English. After leaving school he went to work in the bank, where he would remain for a quarter of a century, first in Blaenau Ffestiniog, then Bethesda – two quarrying communities – and later Llandudno, rising to the position of deputy manager at scarcely thirty years of age.
He could have risen to the heights in the world of banking, but the future of Wales was more important to him than career or wealth. He joined the National Party in its early days; at the age of twenty-one, he set up the Blaenau Ffestiniog branch – the biggest branch throughout the whole of Wales. Then, as throughout his career, he worked strenuously in the background, leaving others to enjoy the limelight.
When war came in 1939, Elwyn refused to enlist in the armed forces, basing his action on nationalism rather than pacifism. He refused to recognise the right of the English state to compel him to fight for it. One of the Tribunal members asked him “You are standing as a Welshman, are you?”. Elwyn answered, with his withering humour, and his totally contemptuous view of the English establishment, “No, as a Chinaman!” He was ordered to work as a rat catcher in the Corwen area.
During the war – at the instigation of Saunders Lewis and J.E. Daniel – the “Committee for the Defence of Welsh Culture” was set up – in the words of Gwynfor Evans, “the most important national movement that worked for Wales during the war”. Rallies were organised throughout Wales, and the most successful of all these took place at Colwyn Bay. Gwynfor enquired who was responsible for attracting such a crowd. He was told that a young bank clerk had achieved this miraculous turnout. This was the first time that Gwynfor met Elwyn; and a partnership was forged that would influence the future of our nation.
The bank must have thought highly of him, because despite his fervent nationalism he was able to return to the bank before the end of the war. When Gwynfor stood for Merioneth in the 1945 election, he requested the bank to release Elwyn to work as organiser; and the bank agreed! Rhys Evans, in his biography of Gwynfor talks of Elwyn starring as election agent – and I quote – “for his proverbial toughness”.
Elwyn returned to the bank after the election; but his organisational ability was now well known, and he received an invitation to work as the organiser of the Colwyn Bay National Eisteddfod, 1947 – getting the bank to release him once again! He was headhunted once more to work as organiser for the National Eisteddfod at Llanrwst in 1951. This time he did not return to the bank, and was appointed by Plaid Cymru as its Gwynedd organiser and Director of Finance.
Another call came – to organise the cross party Parliament for Wales campaign. When Elwyn took over, the campaign had been running for two years but had attracted only a few hundred names. Elwyn took up the reins with his characteristic dedication, and succeeded in raising the number of signatories to over a quarter of a million. This led to S.O. Davies MP presenting a Parliament for Wales Bill in Westminster in 1956.
In 1958, Elwyn organised a successful tour of the United States by Gwynfor Evans. Gwynfor took part in a broadcast seen by twenty million people; he was warmly welcomed by John L Lewis, the leader of the United Mineworkers of America; and Elwyn organised an invitation for Gwynfor to meet President Eisenhower – only for the British Embassy to obstruct it.
Other requests flowed in. When the television company Teledu Cymru hit financial difficulties in 1962, it was to Elwyn that the call came, and he succeeded in raising investments for the venture, the equivalent of £1 million in today’s money. Fund raising was one of Elwyn’s strengths: it was he, later on, who persuaded a wealthy businessman to employ Gwynfor as a consultant between 1970 and 1974, after losing Carmarthen – and when Gwynfor, to all intents and purposes, was financially on the rocks.
Elwyn was drawn into the battle to save the Clywedog valley from being drowned, and he devised a scheme for hundreds of people to buy a square yard of ground in the valley, so as to frustrate Birmingham Corporation – a scheme which unfortunately failed because of defective legal advice.
In 1964 Elwyn was appointed General Secretary of Plaid Cymru. He accepted the post – at a time of great difficulty for the party – on condition that he could work from the Bangor office.
It is fair to say that not everyone within the party could respond positively to Elwyn’s personality, to his “proverbial toughness” nor to the sort of “traditional” nationalism that he represented; nor to his conservative orthodoxy from the standpoint of handling money. A great deal has been written about the tension between Emrys Roberts, who until 1964 worked as Plaid Cymru’s General Secretary in the Cardiff office, and Elwyn Roberts, the party’s finance director,who worked from the Bangor office. I could personally see great virtues in both of them, and they each contributed much to the success of Plaid Cymru in their different ways.
Elwyn played a key role in a number of campaigns, including the Carmarthen by-election in 1966, where he worked with the Agent, Cyril Jones. Elwyn ensured the resources to carry the day. And it was Elwyn who had the privilege of telling Gwynfor, as he arrived at the count, that he had won!
Elwyn Roberts held the post of General Secretary of Plaid Cymru through the most incredible period in its history – the by-elections in Carmarthen, Rhondda West in 1967, Caerffili in 1968, and through the frenzy of the Investiture in 1969, before retirement in 1971. Immediately after retiring – as though he had not already done enough for Plaid Cymru, Elwyn took over the unpaid post of National Treasurer of the party.
As part of this job, he set about organising fund raising through nosweithiau llawen and pop concerts – Tribannau Pop! I cannot imagine anyone less likely than Elwyn, in his grey top coat, his hat and his briefcase, as organiser of rock ‘n roll events in the 70s . But he raised thousands of pounds for the cause, and it was he who laid the financial foundations for the elections of 1974 when Plaid won three seats in Westminster.
Perhaps election organisation created a wish to take part in politics himself, because soon after retirement he was elected as County Councillor in Ynys Môn, and then to the new council of Gwynedd in 1973. He remained as a councillor until 1985 – playing a prominent role in improving the economy of Gwynedd.
I first met Elwyn in 1962. I was a student in Manchester and had just joined Plaid Cymru. During one university holiday, I attended a meeting of Caernarfon branch in the People’s Café – on the Maes in the town. Elwyn was speaking there and I mention in my book “O ddifri” how he entered in a purposeful way with a bulging brief-case. He had come, not to talk niceties, still less to socialise, but rather to give us directions. He was the one who set the agenda and the priorities, like some Soviet Commissar.
Soon afterwards, I called in his office in Bangor and that was an experience. He organised the work like a machine and was complete master of everything and everyone as I am sure Nans Couch – Nans Gruffydd as she was then – could testify from personal experience.
Elwyn had little time for fools – and he made that pretty clear. But if he saw that someone had a contribution to make to the national movement, then nothing was too much trouble for him. He decided fairly soon that I had something to offer – and he took a great interest in everything I would do for a number of years.
He was behind my appointment to work as organiser for the Caernarfon constituency from June to October 1964, after I graduated and before I started work, a period leading up to the general election of 1964. Earlier he had suggested that – after graduation – I should look for a job in the South Wales Valleys to get to know Wales better. When he heard that I wanted to go to work with the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham, for a while he was disgusted – apparently I had angered him because he thought I would vanish from the party and from Welsh politics, as was the story of so many young men at that time.
His fears were confirmed after he and Wmffra Roberts sought to persuade me to stand in Caernarfon in the general election of March 1966. I flatly refused to consider anything of the kind – after all I was just twenty-two years old, and it was far too early for me. But Elwyn had planted the idea in my mind that I should prepare myself for such a possibility in the future.
When I saw Elwyn in Carmarthen on the last Saturday before the 1966 by-election, his attitude towards me remained frosty, to say the least. He sent me out canvassing with scarcely a word – I was really in his “bad books”! But when I returned to report the substantial support in the town, he had thawed. He said that this was the response throughout the constituency – and lowering his voice, in case anyone should hear, he whispered “I think Gwynfor’s going to win”.
In the wake of the by-election, a number of us – Phil Williams, Dafydd Williams, Eurfyl ap Gwilym, Gareth Morgan Jones, Rod Evans and others – set about forming the Plaid Cymru Research Group – to assist Gwynfor with aspects of his parliamentary work, and to prepare an Economic Plan for Wales. This pleased Elwyn enormously – and without any persuasion he provided a budget of some fifty pounds a month to enable us to rent a very small office and employ a part time typist.
Having failed to get me to contest Caernarfon, Elwyn persuaded the Meirionnydd Rhanbarth Committee to invite me to stand there in the 1970 election, although I was living in London and working for the Mars company in Slough. Elwyn provided practical support for me from the party’s national resources.
By 1972 I had returned to live in Wales, working for the Hoover company in Merthyr and had been elected to Merthyr council – it was as if Elwyn’s long -term plan for me had at last been pushed through as he had intended. When I was elected for Caernarfon, he once more gave me every support as he did when I stood to succeed Gwynfor as President.
Yet although Elwyn proved such a mainstay of support for me, and considered me to be something of a protégé, I cannot claim to have really known him – only once did I call at his home in Bodorgan – just to collect some papers – and I hardly ever had any conversation with his wife Nansi. Such a person was Elwyn; and there was no alternative but accept him for what he was – because nothing would change him. He was like the rock of ages, consistent, firm, genuine and completely dedicated to Wales.
It is right that today we should remember his life, because Plaid Cymru and our nation are greatly in his debt: Elwyn Roberts, “Y graig safadwy drwy dymhestloedd” – “The rock that stands firm through the tempests”; the sort of rock that is hiddden under the surface of the land, but which is so vital if we are to build the future of our nation on firm foundations. Thank you for listening and thanks for his life.
Elwyn the Man
Reminiscences by Gwynn Matthews
I am grateful for the invitation to share my memories of Elwyn, and to Dafydd Wigley for the notable portrait he gave us. Who could add to that picture of Elwyn as a national figure? I am not going to attempt to do so – what I am going to do is speak of Elwyn the man – the man so many people have found it difficult to penetrate below the outer skin.
I first met Elwyn in 1961. I was a schoolboy at the time, and the circumstances of our meeting were not of the happiest, for I had received a summons to appear before him at a Pwyllgor Rhanbarth!
I had set up a school branch of Plaid Cymru at Denbigh Grammar School early in the sixties. We would meet during the dinner break in various classrooms unbeknown to the staff. This was possible because I wore a ‘Prefect’ badge (enabling me to allow pupils into the building) – but the trouble was that teachers were able to come by, open the door and enquire “What’s going on here, then?” If the teacher was English, I could just say, “Oh, it’s the Welsh Society, Sir”. And that would be fine. Once, the Religious Education teacher came and asked me if I was conducting a prayer meeting – and I regret to have to tell you that I said that I was!
In fact, there was a risk that we would be caught, but eventually we were allowed to use the Plaid office in town. However, someone complained that children were coming and going to and from the office and causing a commotion. So, I was summoned to give an account of myself and my fellow pupils before none other than Mr Elwyn Roberts.
Those of you who knew Elwyn can imagine what it felt like to appear before him! I fully understood – you can’t waffle with him. But, in fact, he found in our favour and said that we were free to use the office from then on.
Some years later, in 1968, as Dafydd Williams said, I was appointed a member of Plaid staff. I had my interview in Pwllheli following Robyn Lewis’s adoption meeting. Elwyn approached me at the end of the rally – “Right” he said, “I want you to help me fill the car boot with these pamphlets.” As I filled the boot, he asked me questions. When I had filled the boot, he said, “You’ve got the job”. That was the shortest interview of my life.
As Dafydd Wigley has said, he was a private man. And I would say that he was really a shy man. Maybe, he had a facade that shy people often adopt which gives the impression that they are less warm than they truly are. Basically, Elwyn was a warm person.
And as Dafydd Wigley has commented, when he did have some leisure time, he did not write about himself but about his native locality – the community that gave him his values. [Wrth Odre Cadair Idris] He writes about his childhood, and one sentence is quite a surprise. He refers to his school, and to a teacher of whom he was very fond, Mr Fielding. Mr Fielding’s family had come from the Netherlands, but he spoke Welsh.
And this is the sentence that struck me as unexpected: “I recall some of the lessons in arithmetic, although I hated the subject.” Says he, the conjurer with figures! The man who could conjure money from the air – and he hated arithmetic! He states that Welsh and local history were much more to his taste. Yes, love of patrimony was the foundation for his patriotism, and as Dafydd Wigley has described it, slightly old world patriotism. I would agree – his values were those of a Nonconformist Welsh-speaking Wales.
I recall that at a conference in the early seventies one of the Rhondda branches had proposed a motion calling on Plaid to set up licensed clubs. Only two speakers’ cards had been submitted – proposer and seconder. Elwyn came up to me and said, “Gwynn, you must speak!” I had not intended to speak but he insisted, “You must speak against this! Good heavens, what do you think the supporters of Goronwy Roberts, the great teetotaller, will make of this in Arfon if we pass this motion?”. And so it was that I had to speak, with two minutes’ notice, against setting up licensed clubs. The motion failed, but not because of anything I said!
Another aspect of his Nonconformist values was his pacifism. I know that it was as a nationalist that he objected to doing military service, but he could well have done so as a pacifist too.
I remember one occasion during the run-up to the Investiture when the late ROF Wynne (Garthewin) had expressed an allegedly ambiguous attitude concerning the use of violence in struggles for national freedom. A fairly prominent Plaid member spoke up in defence of ROF Wynne. Elwyn was incensed. “Him! Him of all people! If he saw a real gun, he’d wet himself!”
Elwyn could get quite cross, that has to be admitted. I remember returning from an Eisteddfod where Elwyn had been very cross with one of the party’s most faithful workers, Nans Jones. (I’m bound to say that, of the staff, it was Nans Jones who seemed to irritate Elwyn most often.) When Elwyn had gone to Y Ddraig Goch stand (in the days when political parties were banned from the Maes) what did he see under the table but copies of JE Jones’s gardening book [JE was a former Plaid General Secretary]. What Nans had been doing when she saw anyone who knew JE approach was to offer them the gardening book – rather than party literature! “And in any case”, said Elwyn, “when did JE ever find time to do gardening?”
Elwyn had been a National Eisteddfod organiser twice. [Llanrwst Eisteddfod, 1951, was one of them] One Monday he arranged for Cynan to come to Llanrwst to inspect the Gorsedd Circle as the architects had been arranging the stones in the order stipulated for them (before the advent of plastic stones – i.e. real rocks) the previous week. However, over the weekend the farmer had allowed bullocks to graze on the site. And here are Elwyn’s words, “Do you know what, the bullocks were lifting their tails against the stones – Cynan was enraged! ‘Don’t you realize’, said Cynan, ‘that those atones are sacred?’” It was clear from his expression as he told the story that Elwyn had a sense of the absurd.
One day we were discussing cars. Among the jobs that Elwyn had done was selling second hand cars. I’m sure he was a good one – he had the knack of parting people from their money – as he did many years later as Plaid’s Treasurer! He sold cars for a businessman from Colwyn Bay, Mr Bill Knowles.
Bill Knowles was quite a character, a prominent Tory, and he became Mayor of Colwyn Bay. (As it happens, during the sixties he joined Plaid Cymru, and served as chairman of Denbigh Pwyllgor Rhanbarth.) Coming back to our chat, Elwyn said, “Gwynn, if ever the radiator of your car leaks, I know how to settle it. You need to pour a packet of pepper into it, and that will seal it – something Bill Knowles taught me!” Second hand car salesmen do not always have a good reputation, but if you asked me would I buy a second car from Elwyn I would answer, “Yes, oh yes!”
I think that he could sometimes be over cautious – two small examples. A research group, under Dewi Watcyn Powell I believe, had prepared a constitution for a free Wales (for which a conference was held at the Temple of Peace for its adoption). One point that was raised was what to call the Crown’s representative. ‘Viceroy’ was out of the question, and there was a feeling that ‘Governor-General’ was too imperialist. So they suggested ‘First Citizen’. Elwyn thought that too elitist for Plaid.
“Can you think, Gwynn, of another title for the head of something?”
“Well, the ceremonial head of a University is called a Chancellor,” I said.
“Yes, I like it – Chancellor of Wales,”
“Come to think of it,” I said, “that is what the prime minister of Germany is called”.
“Good heavens – we can’t have that! Just think what the Daily Post would make of it!”
So, ‘First Citizen’ it was!
One day, I recall, we were discussing family life, I suppose, and he discovered that I was an Anglican. He felt he needed to explain something to me.
Those days every political party was invited to some place of worship on the Sunday before their conference. It had been arranged in advance, of course, who would extend the invitation.
“I must admit that I have never sought an invitation to attend a church service [i.e. as distinct from a chapel service], and I should explain why. The reason is that a church service includes a prayer for the Queen, and I’m afraid of some hothead walking out during the service – what would the papers make of that?”
Yes, over cautious, sometimes, perhaps.
But what are the lasting impressions of him? Discipline, tenacity and integrity.
Discipline – personal discipline, work discipline. If you pulled your weight, Elwyn would not be slow to express appreciation. But if he was disappointed, he would let it be known! I disappointed him once – I failed my driving test. “Damn you!”
Tenacity – perseverance in the face of difficulties. I remember summer 1969 (the summer of the Investiture) – it was a frightfully difficult period – and one of Elwyn’s main fears was that the Summer Raffle would fail! The Summer Raffle was important – it funded our wages – but Elwyn kept his nerve.
Finally, and supremely, integrity. A genuine man. I have worked for a number of people – some of them very good people – but I retain the highest respect, on account of his unsparing dedication, for Elwyn.
A tribute by Dafydd Williams
I got to know Elwyn Roberts after joining Plaid Cymru’s staff – supposedly for just twelve months – almost half a century ago, in December 1967. I had met him already on a number of occasions in the party conference and Summer School, as well as one never to be forgotten day shortly before the Carmarthen by-election in 1966. But it was in Plaid Cymru’s office in Pendre, Bangor that I saw the man himself at his daily work. He would be there without fail every morning, and usually would be hard at it well after the clock on the wall told us it was time to be going home.
It was an exciting time. In the wake of the Carmarthen by-election, and Rhondda West the following year, and with Gwynfor in the House of Commons, new members were flocking in, and the aim was to channel that growth into an effective pattern of branches and constituency organisations. As General Secretary and Chief Organiser – that was his job title – Elwyn Roberts had the job of dealing with all the issues that accompanied that rapid growth, and a steady stream of callers who would drop in.
I soon came to see that it took someone of exceptional talent, experience and character to occupy that key role. Someone who would keep the ship on course whatever the weather. And there was no doubt that Elwyn Roberts was that person. Of course he worked in the background. Although he was fully capable of addressing councils or conferences if need be, the public stage was not his natural environment.
I still have a vivid picture of him, at his desk in his sports jacket – it wasn’t often that he took that off – and a handkerchief neatly folded in his top pocket. Working with him at that time in Bangor was a young woman from the Llŷn peninsula, Nans Gruffydd – by now Nans Couch. Nans is unable to be with us today because of family duties, but I am very grateful for her recollections.
This is how Nans recalls Elwyn Roberts: “He was definitely one of my heroes in Plaid Cymru and it was a privilege to work with him. Elwyn was someone who went the second mile – a tireless worker who gave up his career in the bank in order to serve his nation. He was the strongest influence on me … working with Elwyn was better than any college”.
Elwyn was fond of his tea. Just about every hour in the afternoon, it seemed, both of us would hear his voice from the back room: “Is there something warm in the teapot?” And – cue a confession! – it was Nans who would put her work to one side and prepare another pot of tea. This was 1967, remember!
Of course, long before either Nans or I came on the scene, Elwyn had already given decades of his life to Wales and Plaid Cymru – and through times of great difficulty. For example:
Elwyn served as election organiser to Gwynfor Evans in Meirionnydd in 1945, winning praise for his “proverbial hardness” as agent according to the author Rhys Evans – by the way, during that campaign, he arranged a public meeting before the memorial to Hedd Wyn in Trawsfynydd – at 11:30pm in the night!
Ten years later in 1955 – released by Plaid Cymru to rescue the struggling Parliament for Wales campaign, and succeeding as well.
Or this – in 1961, raising £62,525 to launch Teledu Cymru.
And there is no way I can relate all his work in raising funds to keep Plaid Cymru from going bankrupt – time after time and in all sorts of ways. No wonder that in Rhys Evans’ magisterial biography of Gwynfor Evans he gets 45 mentions.
In 1971, and quite unexpectedly, I became the successor to this unique figure in the history of Plaid Cymru, following a walk on the prom in Aberystwyth with Gwynfor, but that is another story! How on earth could I hope to fill his shoes? I knew there was no way I could imitate him.
But fortunately for me and the party, if Elwyn was retiring as General Secretary, his contribution to Plaid Cymru was far from being over. In the same year, his was elected as party Treasurer – a post he had in reality been doing for years. And, however much some of you may doubt it, thanks to his hard graft in an improved political atmosphere Plaid’s financial situation markedly improved.
He went on to carve out a whole new career as an elected member of Gwynedd County Council representing Bodorgan here in Anglesey and holding a number of public posts – among them the Development Corporation for Wales and Gwynedd Health Authority.
I was fortunate enough to call at his home a number of times – a bungalow named Peniarth on the corner of a small rural lane in the village of Bodorgan, with a grouted roof in the style familiar in Anglesey (I heard a lot about ‘grouting’!) and an immaculate interior. I was sure of a warm welcome and every kindness from Elwyn and his wife Nansi – it is sad to think that Elwyn spent the last years of his wife without her lively company.
I learnt of his death when I phoned Gwerfyl in the national office the day before his funeral while on holiday with my parents in Scotland, and unable to get back in time for his funeral. It was a comfort to visit his last resting place in Abergynolwyn a few months later.
I would like to end with an appeal. There is a real need to set down the history of this unique hero – the banker who became organiser of a national movement. The raw material is ready – volume upon volume of his papers in the National Library, and no shortage of red ink! It is a story worth telling – a subject worthy of a PhD and a book to follow. What about it, you historians?
For my generation, and the younger generation, the story of Elwyn Roberts is an inspiration – and a challenge. The success of Plaid Cymru today, whatever the difficulties, stem from the seeds planted by Elwyn and his contemporaries.
It is difficult to believe that his time came to an end nearly a decade before our country won the battle to secure its own national assembly. He would have been overjoyed – and would have given anything to played his part in that victory. We give thanks for his life and his work.
The former leader of the Scottish National Party Gordon Wilson died recently, aged 79. Gordon was a great friend of Wales. Plaid Cymru extends its sympathy to his widow Edith and the family, and to our friends in Scotland and beyond who will mourn his passing. His friend and former fellow MP Dafydd Wigley has made this special tribute.
Gordon Wilson, SNP – a tribute by Dafydd Wigley
Gordon was a great friend of Wales and a totally committed nationalist. We had met in the 1965 Plaid Cymru summer school in Machynlleth when he was National Secretary of the SNP, and he visited Wales on many occasions. We were both elected to Westminster in February 1974 and were colleagues during the fraught days of the 1978 Devolution Acts and the 1979 Referenda when the iniquitous 40% rule prevented Scotland from getting their National Assembly, although a majority of those voting in Scotland had supported it. In the following election, after the downfall of the Callaghan government, the SNP lost 9 of their 11 seats – with just Gordon and Donald Stewart surviving, as colleagues for Dafydd Elis Thomas and myself. We continued to argue the case for our two nations, until Gordon lost his Dundee seat in 1987. By then Margaret Ewing and Andrew Welsh had regained their seats, and they were joined by Alex Salmond, leading to the campaign that eventually, in 1997, secured our respective parliaments. Gordon was a key person, at a critical time, in the emergence of the SNP as a major parliamentary party. Modern-day Scotland owes him a debt of gratitude and we in Wales salute his memory.
Plaid Cymru are to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of the party’s Maenclochog branch with a special evening of celebration on Thursday, 27 April (at 7:30pm in Maenclochog community hall).
The branch was established in the wake of the famous Carmarthen by-election in July 1966 when Gwynfor Evans captured Plaid’s first-ever seat in Westminster.
The evening will recall those events, but also look forward to the new challenges facing Pembrokeshire and Wales in the 21st century, said Hefin Wyn, who will be contesting a seat on the county council in the elections on 4 May.
“We need to safeguard what we have in the face of torrid cuts forced on local government”, said Mr Wyn. “In particular, Plaid councillors will scrutinize the workings of Pembrokeshire County Council – Plaid council members backed every attempt to discipline the former Chief Executive and opposed the payment of £332,000 to ensure his departure.”
Guests will include the leader of the Plaid Cymru county council group, Coun. Michael Williams and the chair of the Plaid Cymru History Association Dafydd Williams. Entertainment will be provided by local talent.
The Plaid Cymru History Society is pleased to publish an extended version of the 2017 Spring Conference lecture delivered on Friday 3 March by D. Hywel Davies.
Entitled ‘DJ and Noëlle: Shaping the Blaid’, the lecture examines the role of Dr DJ Davies and Dr Noëlle Davies, who both exerted a strong influence on the development of Plaid Cymru.
Hywel Davies graduated in International Politics at University College, Aberystwyth and was a Research Student at University College, Cardiff. He is a former editor of the Merthyr Express and was also a television journalist and producer/director with HTV/ITV Wales and Nant Films. His book ‘The Welsh Nationalist Party, 1925-1945: A Call to Nationhood’ remains a classic text on the foundation and early decades of Plaid Cymru.
‘DJ and Noëlle: Shaping the Blaid’ – by Hywel Davies. A lecture to the Plaid Cymru History Society – Newport, Gwent, March 3, 2017
When I was 21, not so long ago, only some 51 years, I took a degree in International Politics at Aberystwyth. That’s what I wanted to do. I had already been a member of Plaid Cymru for several years – signed up by J E Jones no less. Living in Nantymoel in mid Glamorgan, I had attended Sixth Form at Ogmore Vale Grammar School. I regarded Ogmore, sited near the Wyndham Colliery, as somewhat of a finishing school. Previously, during my family’s extended and very pleasant sojourn in Denbighshire, I had enjoyed country and coast as a pupil at the linguistically pioneering Brynhyfryd Bilateral School at Ruthin followed by Eirias Park Grammar School, at Colwyn Bay. With its mere 352 pupils in what was still a coal mining valley, Ogmore Vale Grammar School was very different. But it would attain a A⃰ rating when a school contemporary of mine, Lyn Davies of Nantymoel, won Gold in the long jump at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. I don’t think it’s pushing our small school’s quality too far by adding that, in 1961, Ogmore School Debating Society voted in favour of a motion that I presented before them calling for Welsh self-government.
I happily explain, as background to that famous victory, that Ted Merriman was already a very active Plaid campaigner in the Ogmore Valley, and that the sounds of Radio Free Wales were echoing from Nantymoel to Ogmore Vale. With my parents, I had arrived in the Valley from Colwyn Bay where, in the General Election of 1959, someone had pushed a copy of the Welsh Nation through our letterbox in Hillside Road. When I saw that Gwynfor Evans was to give a speech in support of Plaid’s Westminster candidate, Dr Dafydd Alun Jones, at a local cafe, I made sure I was there and was greatly inspired. For teenage me, that was it!
Rapid immersion in the hot-house Bridgend Branch of Plaid Cymru provided a parallel education in politics – with often super-heated discussions being led in a pub upper room by people such as Ted, Ron Dawe and Pedr Lewis. “Local politics,” Ted Merriman once informed me as we distributed leaflets in Gilfach Goch, “is all about ball and chain.” Seeing my mystification, Ted, the future County Councillor, emphasised the campaigner’s golden rule never to ignore people’s basic problems such as malfunctioning old-style toilets.
But as a Sixth Former, my eyes were for higher things. I had seen that Aberystwyth had a very distinguished Department of International Politics. It was at Aber that the first Chair in that subject at any university had been endowed – by League of Nations supporter and former MP David Davies of Llandinam in 1919. As you see, there was a much higher quality of David Davieses in politics in those days! My firm conviction as an 18-year-old that a self-governing Wales should be a full member of international institutions meant that there was only one university I wanted to go to.
Having arrived in Aber in 1962, Plaid Cymru activities took up a great deal of my time. But I also gained a degree. Not only that, but the International Politics department, to my surprise, suggested I should follow on by studying for an MSc by researching and writing a thesis on the Welsh Nationalist Party from its founding in 1925 to 1945.
I leapt at that opportunity. I later came to know that some academic historians doubted there would be sufficient material to justify such research. But one visit to the Plaid Cymru archive at the National Library of Wales showed me I had a very busy time ahead of me. It would prove challenging not only in terms of the number of large storage boxes that awaited my attention on the quiet NatLib shelves, but because their contents were entirely without a schedule or much order.
Despite my Plaid Cymru membership, I came to the job of tackling this material with a fairly unbiased mind. I had not studied enough Welsh language and literature, for example, to fully appreciate the standing of Saunders Lewis – though the response to his 1962 BBC radio lecture on the Future of the Welsh language had left me in little doubt of that; I had not studied Welsh history sufficiently to be aware of early devolutionary movements, though my own reading rapidly helped in that regard; nor did my Maesteg family have a long Plaid Cymru pedigree, none at all in fact.
So, I began my journey reading a wide variety of material including personal letters – hand-written, of course – signed by what I came to know as the ‘big names’ such as Saunders Lewis, DJ Williams, Kate Roberts, Lewis Valentine and Iorwerth Peate. But I also came across two names that meant nothing at all to me.
The first name was that of H.R. Jones, from slate-quarrying Caernarfonshire. HR was the first secretary of the Welsh Nationalist Party from its official launch in 1925. From a working class background, untrammelled by higher education and inspired by the example of Ireland, HR, I learnt very quickly, had a brightly burning vision of a free Wales. Indeed, H.R. Jones’s activities had been among the most significant in the crystallisation of the new specifically Welsh political party. I particularly noted Saunders Lewis’s generous comment at H.R.’s death from TB in 1930, aged only 30, in which he described HR as ‘the true founder of the Welsh National Party.’
From an ex-quarryman, to an ex-collier. The second new name for me was ‘DJ Davies’. Yes, another ‘DJ’ to deal with, and also from Shir Gar. But this was David James Davies rather than David John Williams. And his name came at the end of letters written in English! DJ Davies soon stood out for me, not only because he communicated with the party in English, but because of a life experience which was very different to that of other leading nationalists at the time. It stood out also because of the clarity and range of his ideas as to how the infant party should develop. He was a young man who had already done a lot of studying and thinking about the need for a Welsh nationalist party, before any such party was established.
Many of you will be familiar with Dr Ceinwen Thomas’s biography of DJ Davies in her valuable collection of his articles published by the Blaid in 1958 under the title of Towards Welsh Freedom. Ceinwen had worked closely with DJ and and his Irish wife, Noëlle, at their home, Pantybeiliau, near Gilwern in Breconshire. Other personal notes were made by the Breton nationalist Yann Fouere who had enjoyed his stay with DJ and Noëlle for a period in 1946 which included a Plaid Ysgol Haf in Abergavenny. Yann said that DJ walked and talked him near to exhaustion on the slopes of Mynydd Llangynidr explaining coal mining techniques.
DJ had been born in 1893 near Carmel not far from Cross Hands. He followed his father by becoming a boy collier at Cross Hands and then worked underground with his elder brother at Bedlinog. His father, Thomas Davies, was from Carmarthenshire but had been a miner in the Rhondda before returning to Cross Hands. His mother, Elen Williams, who died when DJ was 14, was from Ferndale in the Rhondda Fach. So DJ Davies was born into a typical Welsh mining family, and was apparently set for a future in the mines of southern Wales. But in 1912, in a remarkable grasping at a different life, this lively and ambitious lad, aged only 19, decided to apply for the American Dream – and he had a really good shot at it.
DJ later enjoyed claiming that he visited 47 of the 48 American states during the seven years he spent in the United States, causing major financial losses to American railroad companies by taking to the hobo habit of travelling unannounced and undetected! His main source of employment, again, was underground as a collier. He specialised in operating coal-cutting machines in several states from Pennsylvania to Washington State. He founded a colliery company, the Northwestern Coal and Coke Co at Steamboat Springs, Colorado – nowadays proud of its image as ‘a gem of a ski resort’ – and, on one occasion, was trapped underground under a rock fall for 10 hours. By the way, as a trainee geologist, DJ also called in at China and Japan to check how dreams were going there. As if all this wasn’t enough excitement, DJ was also a boxer. Not the odd fight here and there to spice up his CV – but 40 bouts as a prize fighter. DJ also continued his efforts to improve his own education, having previously attended evening classes in Wales. He spent two short periods of study at the University of Washington at Seattle and at Colorado State University at Pueblo, and followed a correspondence course in mining with the Universal Mining School in Cardiff. He also attended lectures on physical fitness by the famous ‘Father of Physical Culture’, Bernard MacFadden, in his New York institute. And, yes, it’s said he even learnt to fly.
Dr Ceinwen Thomas tells us that DJ – a popular Plaid Summer School raconteur – insisted that in the seven years he spent in the USA he had lived the equivalent of 50. You will give that claim even more credence when you hear that, in addition to the above, DJ also learned to fly and, in 1918, in time for America’s hurried intervention in the Great War, joined the American Navy. He was trained at the naval yard in Charleston, South Carolina, and made his mark there too, writing rollicking nautical verses for the Naval Dockyard magazine Afloat and Ashore. I have noticed that a fellow naval trainee was contributing funny illustrations for that magazine at the same time. They surely met and perhaps collaborated. That young man was Norman Rockwell. He, of course, became one of America’s most popular artists, a true household name.
On the high seas, DJ served as a mechanic but, in view of his extra qualifications, was also put in charge of physical fitness on every ship on which he served. As I noted earlier, DJ had had a lucky escape in a colliery accident while in America; he was lucky in his wartime experience as well. In 1918, he escaped unscathed from a US battleship that was sunk by a German mine in the North Sea, though he and other crew members spent several days in an open boat before being rescued. With war pressures at an end in 1919, by which time he was serving as a mechanic on an American warship in the Mediterranean, we learn that DJ had found time to consider the world of politics. From that American warship he wrote a letter home to his sister declaring that he had become a socialist, convinced of the centrality of the class struggle in politics.
Returning to Wales while on leave from the US navy in 1919, DJ went back to work underground at Cross Hands. While there he was badly injured in an accident which ended his coal mining career. Following that, in 1920, he was discharged from the US Navy having attained the rank of Mechanic 1st Class. Aged 27, DJ’s remarkable American saga was at and end and he settled back in Wales, though no longer employed as a coal miner. (I should note that I have not seen any reference to DJ gaining other employment at this time. He may have been eligible both for a United States Military Pension following his naval service and for Disablement Compensation resulting from his injury at Cross Hands colliery, but I have seen no confirmation that this was the case.)
Now able to put political ideas to the fore, he teamed up with other socialists in Ammanford where, we are told, he worked enthusiastically alongside leading Labour activist Jim Griffiths. Jim Griffiths was appointed Labour’s agent for Llanelli in 1922 – later becoming MP for Llanelli and, eventually, as a committed Welsh devolutionist, the first Secretary of State for Wales. So, in the early 1920s, the siren call of Labour must have been strong for DJ, too.
But DJ, like Jim, was still studying hard. Jim Griffiths chose the classic route through Central Labour College in London, educational HQ of British socialism. Providentially, however, in 1924 DJ broke the bonds, travelling to Denmark to become a student at the International People’s College at Elsinore. Providentially personally certainly for DJ because it was there that he met a young Irish woman, by the name of Noëlle Ffrench.
The names of DJ and Noëlle would become inextricably entwined. In my view, no one can talk about DJ Davies without talking, too, about Noëlle – “Y ddihafal Ddr Noëlle,” as DJ Williams described her, ‘the peerless Noëlle’!
Noëlle was raised at Bushy Park House near the village of Mount-Talbot in County Roscommon not too far from Galway. On the current Mount Talbot village Facebook page there is a note with a photo of Bushy Park House in 1919 which has a valuable reference to Noëlle and her links with one of the tragic heroes of the Irish fight for freedom. The note reads: ‘Two daughters, Noëlle and Rosamund, lived in the house at this time with their parents Tom and Georgina. Noëlle was an accomplished poet and knew General Michael Collins personally, she wrote 3 unpublished poems about him after his death at Béal na mBláth and was a regular visitor to his grave in Glasnevin. Words in Irish commemorating the formation of the Irish Free State were carved into a beech tree by Rosamund and Noëlle on the 6th of December 1921, it is still visible today alongside the original avenue. They were both very strong, intelligent and open minded women who are remembered with fondness in the area.’ Noëlle was the scholar of the family. A graduate of the University of Dublin, she won the Vice-Chancellor’s Prize in English and Modern Languages as a Literary Scholar in 1921. So, a Literary Scholar – and also a committed Irish nationalist now celebrating her country’s self-government.
I greatly enjoyed visiting Noëlle in 1978, at her home in Greystones on the coast near Dublin. ‘Dai’ was how she warmly referred to DJ in our conversation. Her meeting with ‘Dai’ in Denmark created a scholarly, creative and determined Welsh-Irish partnership that would make a central contribution to the development and growth of the Welsh national movement.
So, Denmark proved providential personally for DJ – and Noëlle! And providential for Wales, too. This, because at Elsinore DJ was won over by the philosophy of the Danish Folk High School movement created by Bishop Nicholas Grundtvig in the 19th Century. With Denmark under pressure from Germany, Grudtvig had argued that a healthy sense of nationood and nationality was essential to creating resilient and civilised political systems based not on competition through either internal class struggle or international power politics but on co-operation. His schools declared as their – to help people have ‘a simple, active, cheerful life on earth.’ Hearing DJ was Welsh, one of the Danish Folk High School headmasters, Gronald Nielsen, famously told him: “Your country is ruled by England. Your duty, young man, is plain. You must go back and work to make her free.” Thankfully, DJ was already disposed to agree.
Dr Ceinwen Thomas tells us in December 1924, during further study in Denmark, DJ sent a letter home to friends in Llandybie in which he presents his new vision for Wales, avoiding class conflict. The central idea now was co-operation – within and between nations. She quotes his letter:
“The great point is how can little Wales benefit from the idea. I’ll tell you. We must ask the Englishmen to give back our national home, and the sooner we do this the better. Your see, we cannot develop the right kind of patriotism whilst we are in bondage … To cry for good internationalism is just to put the cart before the horse once more. For if internationalism means anything at all it must mean co-operation between nations, and you cannot have co-operative internationalism based on competitive nationalism. You must make the various nations co-operative first, and to do this, every nation must have absolute freedom or at least Home Rule … Welshmen should shout from the hilltops for the return of their nationality.”
This, remember, was written before the national establishment of the Welsh Nationalist Party in Pwllheli in August 1925.
Noëlle and ‘Dai’ enthusiastically embraced the co-operative theme themselves when they married in 1925. The other ‘DJ’ (D.J. Williams) said their marriage “was one of those marriages arranged in heaven and blessed on earth.” They then moved to Wales, to Aberystwyth where they enrolled as students, and where, providentially again, was located the office of the new Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru / The Welsh Nationalist Party.
At the University College, DJ sailed through his studies. He gained a BA (Hons) in Economics in 1928; an MA (Econ.) in 1930, and a Ph.D. (Agri.Econ) in 1931. His thesis on The Economy of South Wales before 1800 was published by the University of Wales Press in 1933. But not DJ alone: Noëlle also gained a PhD at Aber in 1931.
But they hadn’t just been working for their doctorates. Over the same period, imbued with Scandinavian inspiration, they began their vigorous contribution to the infant Welsh Nationalist Party in what would prove to be four particular areas – to clarify its political objective, to develop a coherent socio-economic philosophy, to press for an increase in its use of English, and to have its central office relocated to the populous south east of Wales.
With regard, first of all, to a political aim – when Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru was established in 1925, it had no clear vision. From 1926 to 1930 no mention of self-government of any kind was included on party membership forms. Indeed, there was a heated row between Saunders Lewis and HR Jones on the topic of ‘independence’ and ‘republicanism’, both of which Saunders rejected. In 1927, DJ had his first article translated into Welsh for publication in the party’s monthly Welsh language journal Y Ddraig Goch launched the previous year. Our 34-year old economics student, with experience of American industry and society, and of Welsh Labour political activitism, looked at the question from a practical rather than a theoretical standpoint:
As yet even advocates of self-government are far from unanimous on the subject, he said. Let us try to determine, therefore, what sort of self-government is likely to be best suited to Welsh economic conditions and at the same time provide the nation with maximum economic and political rights.
The choice, Davies argued, was between devolution within Britain and Dominion Status within the British Empire as it was still known until 1931. The crux of the matter, he said, was freedom in policy making. Any system which did not allow Wales to carry out social or educational experiments would not be acceptable:
Unless national aspirations are given complete freedom of expression, declared DJ, the Welsh national character is denied adequate expression in the material sphere, and political sovereignty is essential if this freedom is to be achieved. For that reason, Devolution cannot satisfy our national aspirations.
Devolution would not provide Wales with the necessary control over revenue, he claimed; only political sovereignty could do so.
DJ Davies argued the party should adopt as its aim Dominion Status on the pattern of the Irish Free State which had been established in 1922. This would entail full control over trade, finance, taxation, economic resources and so forth – and also acceptance of the British Crown. He made his proposal in 1927. But it wasn’t confirmed by the Nationalist Party’s Executive Committe, its sole policy making body, until a committee of Welsh legal experts in London announced they agreed with Davies in August 1930. It headed a new list of Welsh Nationalist party objectives from February 1931.
But, DJ Davies, like Saunders Lewis, also bore in mind the need for a higher national authority, specifically accepting the notion of limited sovereignty.
Under present world conditions, he wrote, it is also essential to recognise the supreme sovereignty of the League of Nations: to avoid strife between self-governing nations.
DJ Davies also made a centrally important contribution to the development of the National Party’s socio-economic policy. Established during the turbulent Twenties, the party was inevitably drawn into suggesting what shape a new Wales should take. Two prominent figures during the formation of the party, Saunders Lewis and Ambrose Bebb, turned to history to find guidelines for what they considered might be a ‘nationalist’ style in economics. Ambrose Bebb fiercely rejected the socialist class analysis in a manner clearly directed at the Labour party:
We are as indebted to the blood of the aristocracy as we are to the energy and toil of the workers … It was not one class that shaped our destiny, but every one.
Saunders Lewis, too, looked back to what he regarded as a golden age in14th Century Wales in which he saw a population of small property-owning families sustaining a vigorous cultural life. Having initially seen the new pre-formation Nationalist group as a conservative movement, Saunders Lewis declared in 1926 that capitalism was ‘one of the chief enemies of nationalism’, dividing and impoverishing the nation. So, as he looked ahead to the elimination of ‘major’ capitalists, he argued for the distribution of ownerhsip and wealth –
It is appropriate for the majority of the workers of the nation also to be capitalists. That alone suits the dignity and contentment of man. That alone can ensure freedom for him, so that he will be master of himself. The majority of citizens should be … small capitalists, owners of land, factories, or quarries.
But, for DJ Davies, the question was not a theoretical one, but the practical one of how a Welsh Parliament might improve the lives of the people of Wales in the bleak 1920s and desperate ‘30s. He looked at the issue first of all from the point of view of a Labour government which he expected to be elected by the free people of Wales. A socialist government of Wales, he envisioned, would seek to tackle the economic reconstruction of the country through the centralist nationalisation of the banking system, of land, coal mines and industry in general.
But DJ counter-argued that a better way ahead would be provided by a decentralist form of socialism on the Guild Socialist model. Decentralisation and co-operative structures became his major themes. Democracy itself could be enhanced, and costs cut by transferring powers to local government. In industry, he argued, decentralised control in a small national community would provide individuals with a greater sense of self-esteem.
The closer the economic factor is brought to the individual, said DJ, the more easily it can be controlled, a fact which explains the success of co-operation. There is a far greater stimulus to individual enterprise and interest and co-operation in public affairs in a small nation, in which each individual feels that he counts for something, than in a large state in which the individual is lost in the mass.
Greatly expanding on the pioneering early-century work of ET John MP in analysing the Welsh economy, DJ and Noëlle Davies provided a detailed critique of British government economic policy and prepared an economic policy blueprint for a future Welsh National Government. These ideas were brought together in the The Economics of Welsh Self-Government, the Nationalist party’s first English-language pamphlet published in 1931 in the throes of the Great Depression. Wales’s industrial base, so overly dependent on heavy industry, would be diversified by Welsh Government intervention, road and rail links would be developed between north and south Wales aiming to create a national economy, and Welsh water resources would be developed for the benefit of Wales, not for ‘big English cities.’ Anti-imperialist and anti- big business, the pamphlet called for the creation of industrial and agricultural workers’ cooperatives to start pulling Wales out of depression. The key to successful reconstruction, said DJ, lay in those twin principles of co-operation and decentralisation:
The ideal form of ownership and management is no doubt the co-operative one, he argued, since this is the form that permits the fullest human development of the working man and that encourages individual initiative together with a sense of responsibility and solidarity.
He contrasted such an attitude with those of capitalism and laissez-faire individualism which, he said, were ‘devoid of the element of common control and common purpose’. But he also rejected state socialism in which ‘the voluntary initiative and personal responsibility of the individual tend to be ignored.’ The workers of a self-governing Wales, he declared, should not remain ‘wage slaves.’
Davies’ further exhortations on the co-operative theme had their effect during the Welsh Nationalist Party’s Brynmawr summer school of 1932 when it was resolved that ‘the only way of bringing Wales out of its present problems is by establishing a state based on co-operation.’ The resolution was confirmed by the party’s executive committee as the Nationalist Party’s official economic policy – though it was never a condition of party membership as were support for Dominion Status and League of Nations membership.
So the contribution of DJ and Noëlle to the development of both the political and the socio-economic policies of the Nationalist Party was absolutely central. It should, however, be noted that their ideas would mesh with ideals that Saunders Lewis, who became a Roman Catholic in 1932, would bring from the Papal Encyclical ‘Rerum Novarum’ on ‘The Condition of the Working Classes’.
It should also be noted, however, that a younger generation of socialists who emerged in the Nationalist Party late in the 1930s disagreed, pressing for a more orthodox, Labour-style, adoption of state nationalisation and state centralism as the way forward. The party’s Swansea conference of 1938, however, backed the economic policies of ‘co-operation and widespread private property.’
A change in position did come in relation to international trade policy. In 1931 DJ Davies stressed that a self-governing Wales should not go against ‘economic trends’ by establishing tariff barriers. Though Wales would be a customs unit, he did not anticipate departing from what he described as ‘our Free Trade tradition’: tariffs would be retained for the sake of revenue; assistance to home industries would be given through legislative measures. This changed considerably after Britain left the Gold Standard in September 1931 with the election of a National Government, the abandonment of Free Trade and the growth of protectionism. A different argument was now advanced by DJ Davies:
“What happens when two countries are linked together by Free Trade is that the stronger country promptly begins exploiting the weaker,” he wrote. “To protect the nation from international financial jugglery and periods of depression, Wales must be made as self-supporting as possible.”
DJ Davies and the party now argued for increased autarky, self-suffiency – seeking the end of the dominance of international finance and the creation of a national economy for Wales ‘on the basis of its own home market.’ Increased self-sufficiency by states, he argued, would mean that the export trade would eventually be governed by the ‘economics of indispensability’ – by which he meant trade in goods that could not be produced locally. This, he argued, would provide ‘greater security for the individual and the community’ rather than ‘the economics of cut-throat competition’.
Party Vice-President Prof J.E.Daniel supported this new stance in a very succinct statement:
“Of all things that should not be free, trade is one. It is a thing to be organised and disciplined or it will turn society upside down.”
That eventuality is one with which we, of course, are very familiar with abandoned former industrial communities throughout the western world.
But though they were so committed to the Nationalist Party’s policy development, DJ and Noëlle had not forgotten their Danish Folk High School inspiration. In 1931, they had moved to a large country house called Pantybeiliau, beautifully located between Depression-ravaged Brynmawr and the Usk valley village of Gilwern. There, with Dr Ceinwen Thomas as their assistant, they planned to establish a Welsh Folk High School for young unemployed men and women on the Danish model. The curriculum included world history and literature as well as Welsh economic, social and cultural life, allied to country walks, sports and crafts of various kinds. Essential to the financial viability of the project was continued government unemployment assistance for the students. There was much celebration when that was confirmed in 1934 and the school’s first term was hailed as a promising success. Sadly, Ministry of Labour support for students was soon withdrawn and DJ and Noëlle had to abandon their ambitious Welsh Folk High School project in 1935. It must have been a huge personal disappointment for them. Certainly it robbed Wales of an exciting departure from our long England- and empire-dominated education system.
Pantybeiliau nevertheless became in effect a pioneer Research Department for the National Party. DJ and Noëlle produced several impressively researched and persuasively written books and pamphlets and led popular discussions at Plaid Summer Schools. Having seen them in action, Yann Fouere said of them: “D.J. was abrupt, straightforward, whilst Noëlle was gentleness and patience itself. The former would be carried away by a flood of ideas falling over each other.”
As well as their contribution to the formulation of political and socio-economic objectives, DJ also argued for the party to start using more English and for its national office to be moved to the more populous southern industrial areas.
DJ was a Welsh speaker, and a strong advocate of the language and culture, but his bitterly anti-Welsh primary school education left him unable to write in Welsh. The party having published his The Economics of Welsh Self-government in 1931 – its first English language pamphlet – DJ now pressed that the party’s monthly Welsh language journal, Y Ddraig Goch, established in 1926, should at least be published in a bilingual format or also be available in English.
‘The best guarantee for the future of the Welsh language,’ he said, ‘is the speedy victory of the Nationalist Party; and the issue of Y Ddraig Goch in English is an essential first step towards bringing that about, since it is one of the surest means of enlisting the support of the industrial workers of South Wales, without whose backing our movement can never become a nationalist movement in the full sense of the term.’
But the Welsh Nationalist Party had been created by Welsh speakers who valued this new, political arena in which Welsh had been the sole medium of communication. So the proposal to publish a journal in English, caused a good deal of friction. Nevertheless, the monthly English-language Welsh Nationalist was launched in 1932. Several prominent members resigned, but DJ Davies continued to seek even greater use of English. This is how he wrote to JE Jones in July 1934:
“… As we are going on now as a political movement it seems to me that we are creating a very wide division between the Welsh and the English-speaking Welsh. As things are I am sure we are not making any real progress at all but just waddling in the mud, gaining a little one day only to lose it the next.”
The Welsh Nationalist survived and an English booklet by DJ and Noëlle – the strongly argued Can Wales Afford Self-government? – was published in August 1939 with others in English following. English joined Welsh for the first time in a Welsh Nationalist Party conference in 1941.
And fourthly, DJ fought for the party to move its national office in order to identify itself more clearly with the population balance of Wales. Initially located in Aberystwyth, the office had in 1929 been moved to Caernarfon which DJ referred to disparagingly as the ‘tail-end of Wales’. He gave JEJones and the Plaid’s officers another warning:
There is no future for ‘y Blaid’ without the English-speaking Welshman and a half-hearted policy to meet him half-way will prove useless.’
It was a battle DJ Davies won. In 1944, he presided over the opening of a new Plaid Cymru office in Cardiff. And in 1946, JE Jones left Caernarfon heading south to Plaid’s new HQ in 8 Queen Street. Though on the fringe of the party’s inner leadership circle, DJ and Noëlle, more than anyone, had worked tirelessly to show how self-government was essential to meet the economic and social problems of Wales. The parliamentary by-elections and general election of 1945 seemed to confirm that the Blaid had a degree of support in those very parts of Wales which DJ felt had been ignored. In 1945, too, Gwynfor became Plaid President. With Saunders Lewis having withdrawn from politics, and the word ‘nationalism’ now set aside, Plaid Cymru was emerging.
With tremendous energy and commitment, DJ and Noëlle provided the Blaid with a rich legacy of deeply researched and carefully argued writings on the Welsh political, economic and social situation. And in doing so, along with others such as Saunders Lewis, they always placed Wales within an international context, stressing the rights and dignity of all humanity as the basis for creating democratic, co-operative, decentralised communities in a world of nations co-operating within higher institutions such as the League of Nations and then the United Nations. DJ died in October 1956.
Towards the end of my years as a producer / director with ITV Cymru/Wales, I was lucky enough to work on a series called Your Century. Initially intended as a Millenium reflection of the 20th Century experience of some six Welsh towns, it proved so popular that we produced 10 series portraying lives in some 60 towns. The programmes were presented by our own Dr John Davies. We tried hard to give a bit of a boost particularly for our industrial areas through John’s end of programme pieces-to-camera. The pattern was – “Despite the difficulties of…. dah dah dah dah … Nevertheless, the advantages of … dah dah dah dah … give reason for confidence in the future.” But more often than not we knew our optimism was very weakly based.
DJ Davies would not have been surprised by the worsening financial and economic problems affecting our nation and many parts of the world, particularly since the 1970s and 80s. He would say that this had to be the result if we depended on competition rather than co-operation, if we put private profit before the common good, if we put undemocratic global corporations before communities, money before morality. Dare we be more specific about how he would react, with such vast changes having occurred in the 60 years since DJ’s death, and continuing at such an increasing pace? Just a few thoughts …
He would have been furious to hear Milton Friedman promoting monetarism and the maximisation of personal wealth.
He would have welcomed efforts to solidify European peace and re-balance plundered economies through the co-operative efforts of the European Economic Community and Union.
He would have danced with all of us at the creation of the Welsh National Assembly, while lambasting its paucity of powers and the failure of Welsh Labour to rise to the challenge of securing its role.
He would have thrown up his arms in disgust at the way in which bank and stock market profiteers got away with the 2008 Financial Collapse caused by their quick-profit schemes.
He would have said, “Told you so!” as free market Global Corporations abandoned entire communities, moving production to cheap labour factories with freedom to pollute.
At the narrow vote to turn our backs on our European Union neighbours, he surely would have exclaimed – “Never have so many poor people and poor communities been duped by so few immensely wealthy individuals!”
He would have been appalled at the disregard for workers’ rights entailed by the Gig economy and would have reminded us passionately of the need to boost our co-operative sector.
Faced with our vast inequality of personal wealth and social opportunity, he would agree with French economist Thomas Picketty that the super rich should be heavily taxed – as they were until Reagonomics – to facilitate the re-distribution of wealth and the re-building of healthy local economies.
And at the new evidence of interference through clandestine mass social media systems, he would demand a rapid response to re-establish the integrity of our democratic voting processes.
DJ Davies died in 1956. He didn’t see Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, published in 1962, heralding the movement to safeguard the environmental balance of the only planet we have. Neverthelss, I’m convinced he would say how essential it is that countries co-operate in face of the threat of Global Warming.
In one of his letters to JE Jones regarding the need to communicate effectively with non-Welsh speakers as well as Welsh speakers, DJ Davies added this, and I draw your attention to his final phrase:
We must somehow reconcile our approach to these two wide differences in our population very soon or else the opportunity will be lost when political democracy will have gone out of existence in Europe – we will have 8 – 10 years left to “play” with again.
DJ wrote those words in 1934. He saw what was coming. Hitler had just come to power. Now the extreme right is on the move again, immensely empowered by mass social media deception – in the US, in the UK and other European countries. DJ’s words are a warning. The undermining of democracy and disregard for human rights, the dismissiveness of global capitalism regarding rooted communities, the growth of militarism with weapons of mass slaughter, the pressure of private companies on public services, devastating environmental destruction, all echoe his concerns. The stakes are much higher now than in the days of DJ and Noëlle. I’m sure they would insist, however, that Wales can yet be part of the solution and not constantly the victim of the problem – but that Plaid Cymru’s success remains essential to that eventuality.
To end on a happier note – despite being saddened by the current plight of Wales, DJ and Noëlle would have been encouraged to hear that the United Nations has declared that the happiest country in the world for 2017 is Denmark, where they met and were so inspired.
Plaid Cymru History Society, 4pm Friday 21 October 2016
Plaid Cymru Conference Llangollen Pavillion
Wales and the Easter Rising – Jack White’s 1916 Mission
Lecture by Syd Morgan
In this Easter Rising centenary year, Wales has focussed on Frongoch concentration camp. However, there’s a second connection between the two nations. This shines light on how Labour reacted to the Rising, one which fixed the narrative of the Welsh Nationalist Party on both Ireland and Labour for decades. In April 1916, Jack White came on a fortnight’s mission to Glamorgan to save James Connolly from execution. He failed; Connolly was shot the morning White was arrested.
A plaque is being unveiled next week at the house where Saunders Lewis lived in Penarth to mark the 30th anniversary of his death.
The event is being arranged by the local Plaid Cymru branch and the Plaid Cymru History Society, with the support of the current house owner, who has lived there since Mr Lewis died and who has preserved some of the furniture in his old study.
The commemorative blue plaque will be unveiled by Dafydd Wigley at a ceremony at the house in Westbourne Road on Thursday afternoon, November 19. Lord Wigley, a former MP and Assembly Member who was a bearer at Mr Lewis’ funeral, will also give a lecture on Mr Lewis’ life and legacy in the evening at Evenlode Primary School, Penarth.
Mr Lewis was present at the meeting in Bedwas Place, Penarth, in 1924 which led to the formation of Plaid Cymru the following year. He was a founder member of the party and its president. As well as being a political activist, he is generally recognised as one of Wales’ leading literary figures of the 20th century. He was a dramatist, poet, historian and literary critic.
His 1962 lecture, Tynged yr Iaith (the Fate of the Language), led to the formation of the Welsh Language Society. He is buried in St Augustine’s Churchyard in Penarth.
Guests at the unveiling ceremony will include Bethan Jenkins, the party’s Assembly spokesperson on Heritage and the Welsh language, Dafydd Trystan Davies, Plaid Assembly candidate for Cardiff South and Penarth and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.
Everyone is welcome at the evening event, which takes place between 7pm and 9.30pm at Evenlode Primary School, Penarth. Admission is £10 to include light refreshments.
Saunders Lewis remembered
Saunders Lewis’s contribution to the Wales we live in cannot be overestimated and deserves commemoration and celebration.
2015 marks the 30th year of his passing and Penarth’s Plaid Cymru branch and Plaid Cymru History Society are delighted to host a two-part event to remember the man and his memory.
On Thursday 19th November at 2pm, Lord Dafydd Wigley will unveil a commemorative blue plaque which will be mounted on Saunders’ former home on Westbourne Road. The current homeowner has lived there since Saunders died and has preserved much of the furniture in his study. The Penarth branch are very grateful for his support with this event.
From 7pm – 9:30pm the main event takes place at Evenlode Primary School, Penarth, CF64 3PD. Lord Wigley – former MP and Assembly Member who was a bearer at Saunders Lewis’s funeral – will deliver a fascinating and insightful lecture on his life and legacy.
This promises to be an interesting and entertaining evening not to be missed.
Tickets for the evening event are available on the night at £10 per person and include light refreshments.
Both events will be in Welsh with translation provided.
Tributes by Cennard Davies and Leanne Wood and Jill Evans
This tribute was delivered at the funeral of Vic Davies at Bethlehem, Treorci on Friday, 30 October 2015 by Councillor Cennard Davies. A native of Treorci, Rhondda, Cennard is the former head of the Language Studies Centre in Glamorgan University (now the University of South Wales). He has served as a Plaid Cymru councillor for Treorci since 1999.
Braint yw cael y cyfle hwn i dalu teyrnged i gyfaill a gyfrannodd gymaint i fywyd politicaidd yr ardal hon yn ystod ei oes hir ac ar yr un pryd i gydymdeimlo â’i deulu yn eu colled.
Today we share with Vic’s family their sense of loss, but also take comfort in the knowledge that he led a very long, active and purposeful life and this large congregation is evidence of the high esteem in which he was held both in this community and further afield.
Vic was born in Nanternis, New Quay, Ceredigion in 1917, the youngest of 6 children. His mother died soon after childbirth and his father brought him to Ystrad Rhondda to be reared by his coalminer friend, Tom Thickins and his wife. At first he took the name Thickins and always praised the love, kindness and support that he received from this family. It was only in later life that he learnt of his true background, eventually contacting his blood relatives in Ceredigion and reverting to the name by which we came to know him, Vic Davies.
After leaving Tonypandy Grammar School in 1934, he worked as a mechanic at Central Garage, Pentre and remained there until he was called up in 1940. He returned to the garage in 1945 before moving on to work for various companies including Rhondda Transport, Thomas & Evans and the Ministry of Defence. Vic continued studying in the evenings, eventually gaining qualifications that enabled him to join Pontypridd College of Further Education as a lecturer in motor mechanics. There he stayed until he retired. The urge to study and better himself remained throughout his life. After retiring he registered as a student at the University of Glamorgan and at the age of 73 was awarded a degree in the Humanities.
Whilst in the RAF Vic met his wife, Irene, a native of Hull. They married in 1945 and came to live in Prospect Place, Treorci, sharing the home with his adopted father, Tom Thickins. They had 3 children, John, Peter, who passed away in 1996 and Ann.
I first got to know Vic in the early 60s, working for him in the 1964 General Election. The prospects weren’t good as Labour were commanding huge majorities. In 1951, Iorrie Thomas had a 22,000 majority and won 81% of the vote here in Rhondda West when the constituency was half its present size! Everyone else, as you can imagine, lost their deposits. In politics, as in other aspects of life, there are periods of success and periods when you need to plug away until prospects improve. The early 60s was such a period and Plaid owes a great debt to people like Vic who stuck at a thankless task, without ever losing faith or conviction.
In the 1964 General Election, Iorrie Thomas secured 79 per cent of the vote, with Vic coming third behind the Tories. Two years later in 1966, undaunted, he stood again, this time managing to overtake the Tory but still lagging 16,888 votes behind Iorrie Thomas. Then, things changed dramatically. Iorrie Thomas died suddenly in December 1966. There was a Labour government in power, led by Harold Wilson, and in February 1966 the Parc & Dare Collieries, the largest employer in the area, finally closed and mining families, without alternative employment, felt betrayed. Gwynfor Evans had won a famous by-election victory in July 1966 in Carmarthen and with a by-election in the offing, there was a feeling in the air that things were changing.
Vic was chosen to stand and I was appointed his election agent. The task we were facing was enormous. As George Gale, the Daily Express political correspondent put it the beginning of the campaign, ‘The constituency is surrounded by mountains and Plaid Cymru certainly have a mountain to climb’. We had to box clever and create an impression that we were much stronger than we actually were. Vic’s adoption meeting, for example, was held in Parc Hall, Cwmparc, a fairly small venue, but we distributed hundreds of invitations and when the big day arrived the hall was full to capacity with lots of people standing outside. The urban myth got round that a huge number of people had failed to gain admission to the meeting and, fortunately for us, the size of the hall was hardly mentioned. When the same tactic was used at a subsequent meeting at Judge’s hall, Trealaw even more people arrived, only to be refused admission at the door. Supporters flocked in from all parts of Wales to help in the campaign, ensuring that every house in the constituency was canvassed many times over. The evening before polling day the Parc & Dare was full to the rafters for a final rally, addressed by Gwynfor Evans, Meredydd Edwards, the actor, Illtyd Lewis, the powerful socialist debater as well as Vic himself. It was probably the biggest political gathering that this valley had seen in years and news of its success spread like wildfire. George Gale’s headline in the Express the following morning was simply ‘The Mountain is Moving’.
Well, it moved – but not far enough. Labour’s majority was slashed from 17,000 to 2,306, a swing of almost 30 per cent. Gwynfor Evans’ victory in Carmarthen had been explained away by saying it was a rural, Welsh speaking constituency but achieving such a result in the English speaking, industrial Labour heartland sent shock waves throughout Britain and was the forerunner of further success in by-elections in Merthyr and Caerffili. If seats like Rhondda West were to tumble, then Labour’s grip on its fourteen Valley seats would be in grave jeopardy. Harold Wilson’s government moved fast, announcing relocation of the Royal Mint, no less, to Llantrisant – amid protests from its London workforce and comments by the prominent Labour council leader T Dan Smith that north-east England would benefit from a good dose of Welsh nationalism! The Mint has been there ever since – quite a legacy.
By the time Vic fought the 1970 election, things had seemingly returned to their previous pattern, with Labour once more in the ascendancy. But Vic kept going, sticking to his socialist principles and his unbending belief in a self-governing Wales. He continued to fight local elections. Gwynfor Evans describes him in one of his books as a solid, dependable man, balanced in his views. Although Vic could sometimes appear to be a diffident canvasser on the doorstep he had strong social convictions and was Welsh to the core. In no way could he be described as flash or colourful, but he had a huge store of dogged determination to achieve his political ends. He was a strong supporter of Rhondda CND, believing fervently in unilateral nuclear disarmament, and joined with fellow members on the well publicised Christian CND march from Wallingford to Oxford.
In 2010, aged 93, Vic moved into Tŷ Pentwyn where he was content and well looked after. He spoke enthusiastically about his travels in North America, his interest in boxing and rugby and remained actively interested in politics to the end. His good friend, Roger Price and I tried to keep him informed of developments in Paid Cymru and the politics in general. Fortunately, we also managed to record some of his reminiscences that are now part of the Plaid Cymru history archive. > Atgofion Vic Davies
It is paradoxical that a man who never won an election made such a political impact on the life of this community. He lived to see the upper Rhondda Fawr become a Plaid Cymru stronghold, Geraint Davies winning the Assembly seat, Plaid Cymru controlling RCT Council, but I hope that he also realised that without his faith, determination and perseverance, that none of this would have been possible.
Diolchwn i Vic am ei ymroddiad, ei argyhoeddiad a’i ddyfalbarhad. Mawr yw ein diolch a’n dyled iddo. Heddwch i’w lwch!
Vic Davies, Man of Principle
A Tribute by Leanne Wood
I’m afraid I can’t talk of my memories and working with Vic when he stood in the famous by-election – I wasn’t born!
When I joined Plaid Cymru in the early 1990s, Vic Davies was coming to the end of his politically active life.
I have fond memories of Vic Davies and Glyn James – the veterans of Rhondda Plaid Cymru – attending constituency meetings, public meetings, social events.
To the end, Glyn was a firebrand. Vic was too – but in a quiet way. They complemented each other.
Vic was a thinker. His points were always very well thought through and always from a point of principle.
Vic was a socialist.
And whenever he made a political contribution – whether in a one-to-one conversation, or in a meeting – his sincerity, his quest for justice and recognition of the underdog shone through.
Today’s generation of political activists owe so much to Vic and the others of Vic’s generation.
And for that – on behalf of all of us – I say thank you, diolch yn fawr iawn.
You laid the foundations for the Wales we know we can be.
You taught us the importance of integrity and principle in politics – and we will continue with your work.
We will build on the foundations that you laid.
Vic – your contribution to the national cause of Wales, the defence of working people and for peace was immense.
From the bottom of my heart I thank you for all that you did and all that you were.
Diolch o galon. Cwsg mewn hedd. Nos da Vic.
Vic Davies, Rhodda Pioneer
A Tribute by Jill Evans
Mae’n anrhydedd mawr i gael y cyfle heddiw i ddweud rhywbeth. Rwy’n ddiolchgar i’r teulu ac mae meddyliau ni i gyd gyda nhw yn ystod y cyfnod anodd yma.
Hoffwn sôn am rhai o’r pethau rwy’n cofio mwyaf am Vic. Fe wnaethon ni gydweithio dros y Rhondda, dros Gymru a dros heddwch.
It is a special honour to be asked to speak today. I am grateful to the family and all our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.
I’d like to mention a few of the things I remember most about Vic from the time we worked together for the Rhondda, for Wales and for peace.
I knew the name Vic Davies a long time before I met him, of course. Everyone in Plaid Cymru knows the name. Vic was one of the pioneers, the heroes, who showed us it could be done. There may have been several years between 1967 and 1999, but Geraint’s victory in the Rhondda was Vic’s too.
I was only seven at the time of the famous by-election so I don’t remember that event. But Vic had a big influence on my life that I don’t think he was really aware of. I used to walk to Bodringallt Junior School from my home in Tyntyla Road, where he had also lived when he was young. Every day I passed the marble plaque in the garden by the Star which read “Hiroshima, Nagasaki 1945, Never Again”. Those words were forever etched on my mind. I didn’t understand them when I was little, of course. But I came to understand them only too well.
As a founder member of Rhondda CND, Vic was one of the small group of people who placed that plaque there. I have been active in the peace movement all my life, as he was. I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. Vic helped me understand early on the folly of nuclear weapons.
Having heard the much repeated stories about 1967, I was surprised when I first met the quietly spoken, quite unassuming man that was Vic Davies. It was in a Plaid constituency meeting in the Gelli Hotel. I was in awe of him, but he soon dispelled that. He was more interested in learning about other people than talking about himself.
I remember walking into the bar of the Star Hotel with him for one of the Rhondda CND meetings and being conscious of people looking over and nudging each other. People recognised him, but he seemed oblivious to it, or maybe just pretended to be.
His gentleness was in contrast to the strength of his convictions. He always said it about me – and now I can say it about him – he had steel in him. The strongest beliefs. A socialist, a European, a nationalist and internationalist, he took the side of the weak against the strong, with an absolute dedication to peace and disarmament. He was on every march through the Rhondda.
In the eighties, at the height of the Cold War, he went driving around Eastern Europe, talking to ordinary people, learning about their lives, making friends with those people we were supposed to think of as our enemies, breaking down barriers, venturing behind the Iron Curtain. He was brave as well as everything else.
Talking was one of the things he loved best. He loved a political debate! When Vic came to Plaid Cymru National Council, he was always in the group discussing international affairs and Europe. He listened to other peoples’ views. He was thoughtful and wise and knowledgeable. And highly respected.
He never pushed himself forward – not your usual politician, you might say – but he would encourage others. I am lucky to be one of those people. I will always be grateful for Vic’s support. Whenever I spoke at a meeting, however tricky things got, I knew that if Vic was in the audience I had strong back up! He gave me confidence.
No one was more delighted when I was the first Rhondda member ever elected to the National Executive of Plaid Cymru!
Nicola Sturgeon reminded us in the Plaid Cymru conference last week, that we stand on the shoulders of giants. To me, to all of us, Vic is one of those giants. I will always be grateful for his inspiration, his support, his friendship. A great man who made a difference – to the Rhondda, to Wales – and for peace.
Diolch Vic am yr ysbrydoliaeth, y gefnogaeth a’r cyfeillgarwch.
Fe wnest ti wahaniaeth i’r Rhondda, i Gymru – a dros heddwch.
Among the many people from Wales who travelled north to help the campaign for Scottish independence were Gwerfyl Hughes Jones, Llanuwchllyn and Mari Evans and Dafydd Williams from Swansea. This is an unofficial record of their referendum week.
Monday 15 September 2014
‘Pob lwc’ – all the best was the encouraging farewell as we left Bala for Scotland a few days before the independence referendum, the first time for a century for one of the Celtic nations to challenge the might of the British state.
We had heard that Dumfries and the border areas were lukewarm, so crossing the Scots border gave a boost. There were at least as many Yes as No posters along the road, and it seemed that the temperature increased the further north we travelled towards the small town of Balerno on the outskirts of Edinburgh, the home of our friend Morag Dunbar, who is well acquainted with Wales.
Tuesday 16 September
We reported for duty at the office of Gordon MacDonald, SNP member of the Scottish parliament. This was the Yes Scotland headquarters for the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency. The organisation was truly impressive, with plenty of work ready and waiting for the dozens of volunteers who were turning up but time for a warm welcome from Gordon and his fellow workers for the Welsh contingent. It was reminiscent of the atmosphere of the Caerffili by-election back in the 1960s – and there was something similar taking place the length and breadth of Scotland.
Before long we were out distributing Yes campaign literature in Saughton, a working class area of Edinburgh – a folded mini-leaflet summing up the key massages of the campaign together with a striking red poster urging a Yes vote to end Tory rule for ever! And the impression we got was that people were listening to the message and talking about it – in an area that would have been counted as a Labour stronghold until just a few years ago.
Time for a quick lunch in the local Sainsbury where the young man behind the counter was pleased to see our campaign badges – he and his friends were backing the Yes campaign, he said. Then back to a neighbouring area, Stenhouse, and coping with several tenements where we needed to persuade one of the local residents to open the door for us to spread the good news!
In the evening we boarded the 44 bus to the centre of Edinburgh to meet Neasa, a young woman from County Kerry in the West of Ireland in the Cafe Royale, which despite its name is a celebrated tavern rightly proud of its traditional ale. And plenty of discussion about the referendum there too – at the bar I bumped into Donny who had met other Welsh volunteers, including one group who had camped, the grandchildren of Gwynfor Evans among them.
Wednesday 17 September
Of course not everyone’s supportive. Campaigning in the Broomhouse area we met a 92-year-old lady who was voting ‘Nae!’, her flat plastered with No campaign posters. Despite that, in Broomhouse too there was plenty of evidence of the Yes campaign. Not so the Press. The day before the referendum vote the tabloid papers were viciously against, with no attempt to give space to both sides. Their open bias reflected the real nature of the contest, with the Establishment playing every trick in the book to prevent Scotland from moving ahead – the press barons joining up with the Westminster elite, the bankers and some bus business chiefs to create fear.
In the afternoon Colin took us over to the Oxgang Road to offer last minute stickers to traffic held up by road works – not the most enjoyable way of spreading the word. You could readily sense the difference in response between people in more expensive cars and others; those in the top of the range vehicles, with some exceptions, refusing abruptly, while ordinary more ready to accept the blue Yes stickers. But there was no mistaking the strong support for independence among the young people walking home from school, some of them over 16 years of age and preparing to vote the next day. Perhaps that was the big story of the referendum – the fearful opposition of the elderly versus the enthusiastic support of the young for a better future. One poll on referendum day found discovered that a majority of people under 55 had voted Yes.
Thursday 18 September
The day of destiny dawned. We were already equipped with a substantial quota of reminder cards and away we went to the Wester Hailes to take them from door to door. An area to be compared with Ely in Cardiff, said some, but the streets in our patch were pleasant and well maintained. Children had a day off school of course, and we met a young girl and her brother who were holding their own opinion poll on how people were voting, by studying the window posters on display and asking passers-by how they were voting – their score was 22-1 for Yes (but that did include three from Wales!)
As we neared the end of our quota, who should appear round the corner but two familiar faces, Lis and Emyr Puw from Llanuwchllyn, despatched on the same mission! That set us thinking how many people from Wales had travelled to work for independence for Scotland, scores if not hundreds for sure, helping to cancel out the negative voices of Welsh Labour politicians.
Then it was down to the centre of Edinburgh to experience some of the thrill of this unique campaign. We found a place to park in the elegant Charlotte Square, where as well as Yes posters some large Union Jacks demonstrated the opposition of a substantial number of those in the financial and professional sectors to independence for their country. But outside Scotland’s striking Parliament the Yes campaign was everywhere, a colourful crowd of blue posters and Saltire flags with a number of loudspeaker vans raising the temperature. In the quiet of the Parliament chamber itself, we talked with a young man originally from Birchgrove, Swansea who now works in the oil industry; he told us of a friend who went to his polling station intending to vote No but ended up voting Yes.
That evening on the Royal Mile, we met a number of young people from Catalunya and the Basque Country, dedicating holiday time to take part in a historic event, their singing and dancing adding to the atmosphere and the feeling that something truly great was about to happen. Then we got involved in an exchange of views with a Better Together outside a polling station – given their support for Trident missiles, consensus was never really on the cards!
Friday 19 September
Then it was back to Balerno to watch the result. For the first time, I had begun to hope that the Yes campaign could win against all the odds, however much the head told the heart that a Yes vote was a big ask. So it was a disappointment to see the first council to declare, Clackmannan, going to the No side and the hope for independence fade. I grabbed some sleep before coming back to see the Fife area confirming that Scotland would have to wait before joining the world. It was sad to walk the streets of Edinburgh down towards the Holyrood Parliament once again, the drizzly weather reflecting our feelings. We bumped into Richard Wyn Jones on the Royal Mile, his analysis as incisive as ever. There were a number of Red Dragon flags among the crowd outside the parliament building although things were quieter than the day before. On our way back came another blow as we heard by text of the resignation of the SNP leader Alex Salmond, a hero to many throughout the Celtic nations.
But on our way back to Wales that evening, we still felt the excitement of being in a truly historic battle for the soul of our sister nation. With the younger generation in favour, I have no doubt that Scotland will continue its journey to independence. We didn’t win this battle, not quite, but the dream lives on.
Plaid History secretary Alan Jobbins travelled with Owen John and Sian Thomas to Scotland to help the Yes campaign in Scotland’s independence referendum. Here is his story.
Landing at Glasgow I wondered what was in store for Owen & Sian and myself. Glasgow being almost solid Labour land, what hope could there be for a ‘Yes’ vote?
We were quickly into the fray. Canvassing, leafleting houses and streets, singing and chanting with flash mobs – plus knocking up and polling booth duty. A particular memory was canvassing in a deprived area where voter after vote said ‘Yes’.
The ‘Yes’ Campaign was marvellous, well-organised, hard working – and even feeding us.
Late night St. Georges Square was inspirational with flags, bands, speeches and cheering. Even the shouting of a group of Loyalists waving Union flags only added to our good mood.
The result in Glasgow was for us – and another Referendum is inevitable. But when? Aided by the antics of Cameron and the other Unionist parties, before long.
Photo: Alan Jobbins in Glasgow – backing the Yes campaign