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!”