Vaughan Roderick discussing the poet Harri Webb with Peter Finch on Sunday Supplement 13 September 2020
Vaughan Roderick discussing the poet Harri Webb with Peter Finch on Sunday Supplement 13 September 2020
Syd Morgan has been closely involved in Plaid Cymru’s struggle for five decades – since the days he ran a nationalist magazine in Swansea University in the 1960s. He gave up a post in university administration to become a full-time organiser for the party in the Rhymney Valley – and one of the councillors who formed one of the first Plaid administrations in the South Wales valleys. You can hear more about his work for the national movement in this interview with Plaid History chairman Dafydd Williams here.
Syd Morgan (on the left, above), Plaid candidate in the Pontypridd by-election, February, 1989
The years when Wales became a political nation: how 1979 turned into 1997
Here you can listen to a recording of Plaid History chairman Dafydd Williams in conversation with John Osmond about his newly published documentary novel Ten Million Stars Are Burning in Plaid Cymru’s Spring Conference in the Pavilion, Llangollen on Friday 23 March 2018.
The book is the first of a trilogy by the well-known writer and commentator John Osmond. It traces the big changes in Wales between the two devolution referendums of 1979 and 1997 through the eyes of two fictional characters – and a host of real-life players!
While the two principal characters are fictional, the novel presents a detailed factual account of the decade leading up to the first devolution referendum of 1979 by an author who played an active central role in the key events. It is essential reading for all who want to understand the background of Plaid Cymru’s campaign for self-government for Wales.
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.
“Wales!” they would say, “Pay attention!”
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.
Michael Williams, Tenby
Councillor Michael Williams, Tenby represents the Tenby North ward on the council and leads a determined group of Plaid Cymru members of Pembrokeshire County Council. In this conversation with Plaid History Chairman Dafydd Williams he describes how his life changed after he was persuaded to stand as a Plaid Cymru candidate by the late Wynne Samuel.
Social Secretary and County Councillor 1977
Caerffili Borough Councillor from 1996
Cyngor Sir Morgannwg Ganol Plaid Cymru 1977 Mid Glamorgan County Council
An evening event to commemorate the lives of two great pioneers of Welsh nationalism will take place in Gwaelod y Garth (at 7.30pm, Thursday 3 December 2015 in Bethlehem Chapel).
The focus of the evening, arranged by the Plaid Cymru History Society, is Professor Griffith John Williams and his wife Elisabeth, who played a leading role in the foundation of Plaid Cymru in the 1920s.
It was in their house in Bedwas Place, Penarth that a meeting was held in 1924, attended by Saunders Lewis and Ambrose Bebb, which led to the formation of Plaid Cymru the following year – with Elisabeth drafting the minutes of the meeting.
Griffith John Williams (1892-1963) was a University professor, poet and Welsh scholar who achieved widespread recognition for his ground-breaking study of the career of Iolo Morgannwg.
Among his works was a pamphlet published by Plaid Cymru entitled ‘The Welsh Tradition of Gwent’ which set out the old county of Monmouthshire’s claim to be Welsh decades before its status was secured.
His wife Elisabeth was also recognised for her staunch support for the Welsh language and way of life – insisting that the minutes of the local Pentyrch Parish Council were recorded in Welsh.
Locals tell stories of Mrs Williams walking into the school uninvited and taking over classes to teach the children Welsh, says her nephew, former Plaid leader of Merthyr council, Emrys Roberts.
During the evening’s events, Prof E. Wyn James will speak on “Seeing a great country emerging – the exciting dream of GJ Williams and Saunders Lewis”, while family members Elenid Jones and Emrys Roberts will share their memories of the couple.
There will also be an exhibition of part of the materials they have bequeathed to the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans.
Details: ‘Remembering Griffith John Williams and Elisabeth’, 7.30pm Thursday 3 December 2015. Bethlehem Chapel Gwaelod y Garth. Organised by Plaid Cymru History Society . Lecture in Welsh with simultaneous translation.
“Cymru am Byth”
Mrs G J Williams – a Committed Welshwoman
“Cymru am Byth” were the last words spoken by Mrs G J Williams before she passed away in St David’s Hospital, Cardiff in 1979. She had dreamed of a free and Welsh – speaking Wales since her childhood in Blaenau Ffestiniog – and that is what she fought for all her life.
She was a member of the initial discussions which led to the formation of Plaid Cymru, to the establishment of a Welsh school in Cardiff, the founding of St Fagan‘s Folk Museum and the formation of a separate Teachers Union for Wales. She harassed the Co-operative Movement and Welsh Local Authorities to make use of local suppliers and contractors, she set up a small co-operative to provide work for women and she organised the meeting which led to the establishment of the first Trading Estate in Wales during the depression.
The Early Years
Elisabeth Roberts (Mrs William’s maiden name) was born in1891 — the fourth of the six children of Richard and Elinor Roberts of Leeds Street, Blaenau Ffestiniog. Her father — originally from Llanddeusant in Anglesey – had been a soldier in South Africa and later worked in the Oakley Slate Quarry in Blaenau. Her mother was from Trawsfynydd. When her mother’s mother died, most of the family emigrated to Y Wladfa in Patagonia where her father built a hotel in Gaiman (where it is said Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stayed while on the run from the US authorities). The building is now the Gaiman College of Music. Elinor, however, stayed behind in Wales to get married and had 6 children.
Richard and Elinor wanted their children to have a good education but could afford to send only two of them to university. The first was the eldest son Huw who became a Baptist minister and later for many years Welsh master at Llanelli Boys Grammar School – where he was nicknamed “Huw Bobs”.
Elisabeth also went to college, at Aberystwyth, where she studied Welsh. One of her fellow students was Griffith John Williams of Cellan near Tregaron and they both devoted their lives to studying and promoting the use of the Welsh language. Elisabeth taught Welsh in Cilfynydd, Pontypridd and later in Cendl (Beaufort) in Penycae (Ebbw Vale). After teaching Welsh for a while in the Rhondda, Grifﬁth John became a lecturer in Welsh at University College, Cardiff. When they were married, Elisabeth – as was the rule in those days — had to give up her post.
Elisabeth was a particularly strong character —she knew her own mind and would always express her opinion very forcibly. She was also a very active and industrious person who always sought ways of putting her ideas into action. She and her husband was very concerned at the declining position of Welsh after the first World War and invited friends to their home in Penarth to discuss what could be done. Lt was there in 1924 that four of them – Griffith John and Elisabeth themselves together
with Saunders Lewis and Ambrose Bebb — decided to form a Welsh Movement to campaign for a free and Welsh speaking Wales. Ambrose Bebb was chosen as President, Saunders Lewis as Secretary and Grifﬁth John as Treasurer. lt was Elisabeth who made notes of the meeting and it was probably she who insisted that some positive action be taken rather than do nothing but talk.
ln her funeral in Bethlehem Chapel Gwaelod-y-Garth a few miles north of Cardiff the minister, the Rev Rhys Tudur, said that visiting Mrs Williams was always something of a challenge because on every visit she would give him a list of things he should be doing and would question him about progress with all the projects she had discussed on his previous visit — and this when she was well into her eighties and had been a widow for over 10 years.
In the months following that first meeting in Penarth other early stalwarts like D J Williams joined that first small group and then they leamt of a similar group being formed by H R Jones in the north. lt was these two groups of course which came together to form Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (the Welsh National Party) during the National Eisteddfod at Pwllheli in 1925.
The Literary Traditions of Glamorgan and Gwent
Griffith John Williams was an enthusiastic and effective lecturer in Welsh Grammar and Philology but concentrated his research on the literary inheritance of Glamorgan and Gwent. He was the main authority on the work of the multi-talented lolo Morgannwg (whose descendant Taliesin Williams became a close friend) and he was appointed Professor of Welsh at Cardiff when the previous incumbent, W J Gruffudd, was elected as a Member of Parliament after the war. When T J Morgan (Rhodri Morgan’s father) moved from Cardiff to become Professor of Welsh in Swansea, Saunders Lewis was appointed to the vacancy left in Cardiff.
From very early days Grifﬁth and Elisabeth would roam every corner of Glamorgan and Gwent with Elisabeth making notes about their discoveries. They also visited Italy a number of times on the track of Griffith Roberts, a Welsh catholic who had fled Britain under Queen Elizabeth l to escape religious persecution. He became a prominent figure there as secretary to Cardinal Borromeo in Milan. He also found time to write the ﬁrst ever Welsh Dictionary — another of Griffith John Williams’s interests.
Elisabeth Williams’s role was not just to make notes for her husband, she also devised a record-keeping system so that the information could be retrieved when required. She designed a special cupboard containing scores of small drawers exactly the right size to keep the notes in their proper order. This cupboard — and a great deal of other furniture in Bryn Taf, the house in Gwaelod-y-Garth to which the couple moved in the early 1930s – was made in the Brynmawr factory established by the Quakers during the great depression – more of that later. Elisabeth also helped prepare material for publication — especially after Griffith John’s death in 1963.
Although Elisabeth had to resign her teaching post when she got married, she retained a great interest in education. Friends were gathered together in Bryn Taf to discuss how to promote education through the medium of Welsh and the need for such a school in the Cardiff area. Eventually a Welsh stream was established in one of the city’s schools and then a Welsh school was established in Llandaf — and called Bryn Taf.
The entrance to Bryn Taf, Gwaelod-y-Garth is just across a lane from a side entrance to the local primary school. During break periods Mrs Williams would invite the children into her garden where she would play the harp and teach them Welsh folk dancing. (Her harp, incidentally, was the one on which Evan James of Pontypridd had composed Hen Wlad fy Nhadau.) Mrs Williams later gave it to Rhydfelen Welsh Comprehensive School for use by the pupils and had it renovated by John Thomas, a harp-maker who lived in Gwaelod-y-Garth at the time. When the school was moved some years later the harp was given to the Pontypridd Museum). If the weather was bad, the children would be taken into the house and shown how to make paper hats and boats – and everything through the medium of Welsh, though most of the children weren’t Welsh speaking. Mrs Williams was always reluctant to turn to English, believing that the children would soon pick up Welsh if one persisted in speaking it.
Locals also tell stories of Mrs Williams walking into the school uninvited and taking over classes to teach the children Welsh — with the teachers too afraid to intervene! Some of the children used to go round the village each year collecting donations for overseas missionary work. They knew they would get nothing at Bryn Taf unless they asked in Welsh. There are monoglot English speakers still living in the village who can reel off the Welsh greeting they would have to use if calling on Mrs Williams.
UCAC and St Fagan’s
The late Gwyn Daniel was Headmaster at Gwaelod-y-Garth school during part of this period and he would often visit Mr & Mrs Williams for a chat after school. One of the topics was the need for a distinctly Welsh teachers‘ union. This led to the formation of UCAC (the National Union of Teachers in Wales) of which Gwyn Daniel was the ﬁrst secretary. In 1968, Mrs Williams gave a substantial sum to UCAC to establish a Bryn Taf Trust providing scholarships to Welsh-speaking disabled children.
Gwaelod-y-Garth was part of the Parish of Pentyrch and Mrs Williams would regularly attend Parish Council public meetings where she would speak in Welsh. At her insistence, the Council Minutes were kept in Welsh only well after the 2nd World War. Some of the only English words she ever used were when she imitated a snobbish Englishman who, when the meeting was asked if the minutes were correct, would reply “I suppose so” in a posh English accent even though he couldn’t understand a word of them!
Iorwerth Peate, who later became the first Curator of the Welsh Folk Museum, was also a regular visitor at Bryn Taf at this time and it was here they discussed the possibility of establishing this kind of museum in Wales. Who had the original idea l don’t know, but l’m pretty sure it was Mrs Williams who insisted that something should be done to make it come true.
Mrs Williams’s interests were far wider than the Welsh language alone. She understood that the language and traditions would not survive unless there was a sound economic base for local communities. She wrote incessantly to Welsh local authorities urging them to purchase locally produced goods where possible and use local companies for goods and services. She also corresponded with the Co-operative movement in Scotland and secured from them long lists of goods and services they sourced locally. She would then pass the information on to the Co-operative movement in Wales, urging them to follow suit wherever possible.
From Gwaelod-y-Garth to London
Again, she decided to act as well as write. Unemployment amongst the men of the village was getting worse during the 1930s and Mrs Williams realised that in many cases the wives were hit hardest, having to keep the home warm and put food on the table. She set to and formed a women’s group in the village to make some money and keep alive a traditional skill.
Bryn Taf is a fairly large house with rooms on the second floor not often used. Mrs Williams arranged for the women to be taught how to quilt. She herself copied traditional patterns to produce designs for quilted cushions, dressing gowns etc. And paid for someone to make the necessary frames. She persuaded some of the local school-children to collect bundles of sheep’s wool from local fences and hedges for the filling and set-up work rooms in Bryn Taf. Mrs Williams herself purchased the materials needed and was responsible for selling the finished product.
She contacted David Morgan’s – the top Department Store in Cardiff at the time — and persuaded them to put on an exhibition of traditional Welsh crafts, which became an annual feature until well after the 2“° World War. She realised, however, that because of the depression few people in the area could afford to buy their produce, so she packed her bag with samples and went to London where she sold the goods to some of the best London shops — Liberty’s for example would pay £25 (several hundred pounds in today’s money) for a Gwaelod-y-Garth dressing gown. They won prizes for their work — some fine examples can be seen today in St Fagan’s Museum. Mrs Williams was very supportive of the Quakers when they decided to establish a furniture factory in Brynmawr to provide employment for unemployed men. As mentioned earlier she designed the cupboard which they made to house her husband’s research notes. She bought a number of other items of furniture from them as well, especially for her bedroom. The Carreg Gwalch Press has published an interesting booklet about this Quaker venture in which they list many of the people who bought furniture from them. lt is interesting to note that most of them were friends of Mrs Williams and her husband. Although l’ve got no evidence to support my theory — l bet many of them agreed to buy the furniture to stop her nagging them!
Mrs Williams understood that though the quilting group she had established might provide some income for a small group of people in Gwaelod-y-Garth, something on a much bigger scale was needed to tackle the area’s problems as a whole. She wrote to every minister and every clergyman in the industrial south-east to urge them to attend a meeting she organised in Cardiff – it should be remembered that men of the cloth were still very influential people in the community in those days. Hundreds turned up and again Mrs Williams took the notes of the meeting — taking another lady friend with her as it would not have been considered appropriate for her to be the only woman present in such a meeting! This was the start of the campaign to try to find work for the unemployed men of the area which was responsible for the establishment of the first Trading Estate in Wales in Trefforest – virtually within a stone’s throw of Gwaelod-y-Garth on the other side of the Taff Valley.
Throughout her life Mrs Williams remained faithful to the party she had helped create back in 1925 – for example at one stage she was in correspondence with Robert Maclntyre, President of the SNP, to seek his views as to whether or not it would be wise to campaign for the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales as an interim measure.
In the 50s and 60s of the last century she would be seen frequently in the Plaid head office in 8 Queen St, Cardiff – often in the company of her brother Hendri (my father, William Henry Roberts) stuffing financial appeals into envelopes, maintaining membership and financial records etc. And when I became one of the leaders of the Plaid Cymru group that took control of Merthyr Tudful Borough Council in 1976 (the first public body to be ofﬁcially controlled by Plaid) she was always full of suggestions as to what our priorities should be and grilled me on how we were getting on. (I fully understood Rev. Rhys Tudur’s comments at her funeral!)
When she died, all the books were let to the National Library (which kept a replica of Grifﬁth John’s study for many years), the furniture and some of the quilting to St Fagan’s and Bryn Taf itself to Plaid Cymru. She and Griffith John never had any children of their own. Wales and the people of Wales were their children and they took great care of them. lf “Cymru am Byth” (Wales for ever) truly does become a reality they will have contributed immeasurably to enabling that to come about.