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MEET THE BURNING, BOMBING DRAGONS

August 11, 2017

AS A boy growing up in Gwynedd, the epi-centre of extremist Welsh nationalism (I have memories of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon in 1969 when I stood probably waving a daffodil aged eight and the terrorist activities as well as the Free Wales Army graffiti on walls). I always felt certain that I was Welsh through and through and had sympathy for the protestors against what was an insulting imperialist imposition of an English/German token figurehead upon us timid, winsome Welsh.
A recent dip into genealogy, however, has revealed that my given surname came more out of places like Somerset, Birmingham and London than places like Swansea, Bethesda and Llangefni and that my ancestors on that side were almost certainly English immigrants, not Welsh pure breeds at all.
This is the fatal flaw in extremist Welsh nationalism (indeed, any kind of extremist nationalism, which usually emanates from a far right mind-set and always seeks to separate and divide rather than join and mingle). Just because your family happens to live in one part of the world does not mean they have done so since the beginning of time. Genealogy teaches that we are usually more like leaves blown from place to place rather than trees standing firmly in one place always.
The Wales Governance Centre and Institute for Welsh Affairs has invited me to an all-day event in Cardiff Bay on September 18 to celebrate 20 years since the formation of the National Assembly for Wales. Tickets for the shindig, with speeches by Carwyn Jones, Elin Jones and Leighton Andrews are going for up to £140.
They trumpet loudly the fact that Wales said YES to devolution in 1997 (just, and with most of the money spent in funding the YES campaign) and are even now preparing their eulegies and celebratory fanfares for an institution which they insist gives power to the people of Wales previously denied by the English. They are, of course, hungry for more power and to further separate Wales from England.
Two hugely significant, principled people will be absent: Ron Davies, the true architect and father of Welsh devolution who has been written out of history by Welsh Labour as he remains unforgiven for his colourful sex life (he tried to revive his political career by joining Plaid Cymru when his back slapping friends turned into backstabbing enemies) and Rachel Banner, another figure written out of Welsh history because of her popular and principled vigorous campaign against.
Also absent because many of them are now dead will be those radical fighters for a free, fearless and independent Wales, many of whom were inspired by and worked in close proximity to Irish Republican Army terrorists, who also regularly used guns and bombs to intimidate and challenge London-based power brokers.
Julian Cayo-Evans, Denis Coslett and John Jenkins – who all went to prison for their stubborn, violent resistance to English rule – would have a right to turn up at the event but what, I wonder, would they think of the Welsh Assembly? Some of the fanatical Welsh nationalist fighters who occupy the blogosphere don’t seem to think much of it, branding it as merely a new form of imperialist conceit which does little to empower the Welsh. Some of those gathered at Cardiff Bay for the event may not even know that extremist, militant nationalist terrorism ever happened in Wales.
Two books, Freedom Fighters Wales’s Forgotten “War” 1963 – 1993 by John Humphries, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2008, and To Dream of Freedom, the story of MAC and the Free Wales Army, by Roy Clews, Y Llolfa, 2004, will enlighten them.
Humphries, the Newport-born former Western Mail editor, speculates on whether Welsh terrorism will occur again and reveals much about the macho, red-in-tooth-and-claw anti-Welsh nationalist prejudice on his newspaper then.
“At the Western Mail the front page headline was “Sabotage at Treweryn” but inside the office the reaction of the then editor Don Rowlands was to pin responsibility on the outrage on Plaid Cymru,” writes Humphries. Their journalists then repeatedly helped to maintain the status quo by merging Welsh nationalism with terrorist acts casually in their reports.
He reveals much, also, about the way Special Branch and MI5 tried to address what was a growing problem by watching, sometimes intermingling, waiting and swooping, particularly before the investiture when fears of an attack on the Royal Family was at its height in Wales. He reveals neither MI5 nor Special Branch “was prepared to share intelligence relating directly to Investiture security with the Welsh, for fear of their sources being compromised.”
“Neil Galbraith, HM Inspector of Constabulary in Wales, thought he knew exactly where the problem lay: with Col Williams, the reactionary chief constable of Gwynedd. According to Galbraith “the old man of the Welsh mountains” was inordinately conscious of any apparent attempt to “subordinate the authority” of the chief constable to external influence, Home Office or otherwise.”
Three pages of a classified 29 page report Subversion in the United Kingdom, written by Burgess and Maclean investigator Dick Thistlethwaite, director of the counter subversion division of MI5, dealt exclusively with Welsh extremism.
Friction and tension between the neighbouring countries of England – bigger, bolder and better resourced – and Wales – smaller, slighter and hugely self-conscious about its contrasting economic disadvantages – has existed for centuries and, sadly, still does (just look at the way politicians at the Assembly regularly refer to politicians at Westminster and vice-versa).
Caernarfon Castle, where Charles was crowned in a ghastly ceremony stuffed full of patronising pomp specially designed by Lord Snowdon, who appeared on the day alongside Princess Margaret in what looked like a Chinese army outfit, was the fortress for Edward 1 in defeating the Welsh in 1283 and was then used by the English to keep the Welsh out and maintain their grip over the rebellious fighting mountain tribesmen in hardy and unyielding parts of north Wales.
Humphries used Freedom of Information requests and gained help from the National Archives and the National Library of Wales for his book so his is the more scholarly, authoritative work but Roy Clews, whose book features a foreword by Sian Dalis Cayo-Evans, the daughter of Julian, is more reasoned in his portrayal of them so was able to dig out more information about their modus operandi rather than about how the press and the police reacted to them.
The causes of resentment and conflict between the two nations are difficult to trace to one point in history, more a process over centuries than an event but these two books start broadly at the early 1960s. Humphries’s book has a useful timeline for this period in Welsh history which starts when two valleys near Bala, north Wales, where drowned to supply water for Liverpool residents. They were forced out of their homes though not without protest as they marched on Liverpool with banners in a vain demand to keep the thirsty English from drowning them.
Dai Pritchard, of New Tredegar; Dave Walters, of Bargoed; Owen Williams, of Nefyn; Robert Williams, of Criccieth; and Edwin Pritchard, of Nefyn, released oil from a transformer to cause an explosion and stole detonators for a bomb attack on Treweryn in 1962.
Bombs then blew up many water pipelines, blew out windows at the Welsh Office, blew down walls in tax offices in Chester and Cardiff, and two men George Taylor and Alwyn Jones were killed while assembling bombs near the railway line along which the royal train would pass to Caernarfon in 1969 where another bomb would go off as well as one at Holyhead and numerous others. There were even plans to blow up the Severn Bridge when it opened in 1966.
Extremists then targeted holiday cottages owned by mostly English immigrants after a referendum granting devolution to Wales was defeated in 1979 and 20 estate agents in England were attacked as well as numerous cottages in Wales were burnt down when their English owners left them empty.
Humprhies highlights the collusion between the journalists and then Secretary of State for Wales George Thomas, later Lord Tonypandy, who described those responsible as a “cowardly bunch who creep up in the dark to do their dirty work” and that the spate of attacks had earned Wales notoriety as “a land of violence”.
Significantly, journalists comprised the majority of the 72 prosecution witnesses called to give evidence at the Free Wales Army trial at Swansea Assizes in April, 1969, when Cayo-Evans and Coslett were jailed for 15 months on firearms and explosives charges and controlling, managing, organising and training FWA members, some of whom had earlier appeared on the David Frost TV show dressed menacingly in green military garb when the popular presenter ridiculed them as being a ramshackle Dad’s Army.
Clews features a drawing of an FWA soldier with the Snowdonia white eagle badge on their caps, full military uniform and carrying a loaded gun.
Cayo-Evans told him “It was never our intention to storm over the border in armoured cars and tanks. Ours was to be more of a war of propaganda, punctuated by acts of sabotage and shows of strength. Of course we wanted arms badly and getting them presented a lot of problems. We bought, begged, borrowed, stole whatever we could get. War souvenirs, granddad’s revolver, rifles forgotten by the Home Guard, sporting rifles and shotguns, in fact anything that could be fired. To be honest I think that any folk museum would have been pleased to acquire some of our arms.”
After being sentenced, Coslett made an emotional speech in Welsh from the dock, in which he said he was trained to use violence by the British Army (so too, was John Jenkins. who started Mudiad Amddifyn Cymru and was jailed for ten years at Flintshire Assizes in 1970). “I do not believe that it is possible to kill the soul that has been inspired by the spirit of freedom. The only arm I shall now use is the pen .. I am ready for your sentence ….free Wales.”
Clews also lets us in on the bitter battle between Plaid and the extremists with Welsh language campaigner and first Plaid MP Gwynfor Evans saying: “I’m tired of talking about the FWA. All this publicity for them does nobody any good.” Clews concludes thus “He could truthfully have added, least of all Plaid.”
John Jenkins told Clews he opposed the leaders of Plaid Cymru “because they are prepared to sacrifice their people, their country and their heritage on the shrine of their respectability and pacifism.”

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