Wales Celebrates 90 Years of Gwynfor; Pacifist Giant of Welsh Culture Whose Place in History Is Secure Recalls His Contribution to the Nation's Political and Cultural Life

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 31, 2002 | Go to article overview

Wales Celebrates 90 Years of Gwynfor; Pacifist Giant of Welsh Culture Whose Place in History Is Secure Recalls His Contribution to the Nation's Political and Cultural Life


Byline: STEVE DUBE

NINETY years ago tomorrow a baby was born, into the English-speaking home of a Barry shopkeeper, who was to become one of the outstanding champions of Wales.

Gwynfor Evans has been described as ``one of the great souls of the 20th Century.''

Alongside Lloyd George and Aneurin Bevan he is one of the last century's three greatest Welsh politicians.

But he arguably stands alone and ahead of them all in the measure of his influence and is one of the few people from any era recognised solely by their Christian name.

Gwynfor is perhaps best remembered for the stunning by-election victory at Carmarthen in 1966 that gave Plaid Cymru its first MP.

Then there was his threat to fast to death in 1980 when Margaret Thatcher's first Government reneged on an election promise to set up a Welsh language TV channel in Wales.

As the date for the fast drew nearer Gwynfor addressed packed public meetings across Wales - and Scotland.

The lady who claimed to be ``not for turning'' backed down and the moment was commemorated in graffiti, in letters a metre high on the Thames Embankment opposite the Houses of Parliament: Gwynfor 1, Thatcher 0.

These were two watershed moments that helped to waymark the extraordinary progress achieved by the nationalist movement in Wales.

In many ways they were Gwynfor's finest hours, but his contributions to Welsh political and cultural life have been greater than these.

There is his pacifism. Gwynfor was a pacifist and an internationalist before he be-came a nationalist - and learned Welsh - as a law student at Aberystwyth and later Oxford - and is responsible above anyone for making non-violence an integral element in both Plaid Cymru and Cymdeithas yr Iaith, the Welsh language society effectively run by his son-in-law Ffred Ffransis.

His pacifism is one of the main reasons why violence has hardly featured in the struggle for nationhood in Wales and in the campaigns in defence of the language and culture. When it has, as with the Free Wales Army or Meibion Glyndwr, Plaid has been consistent in its condemnation, and has stood alone amongst British political parties in opposing international violence such as the Falklands, Gulf and Afghan wars.

``I was honorary secretary of the Welsh pacifist movement Heddychwyr Cymru from 1939-45 but I had to give it up when I became president of Plaid,'' he recalled in an interview at his home last week.

``People thought of nationalism as being something violent, and I don't know of any other nationalist movement that was consciously pacifist. To call me a Nazi as some Labour people did was insulting and deliberately misleading.''

A second major influence is in the field of history. The first of several history books, Aros Mae, later translated as Land of My Fathers, was the first history of Wales since 1900. The late Professor Gwyn Alf Williams told Gwynfor that it had inspired him to write, and it spawned an entire industry in Welsh history that continues to grow. The original book is a classic that still sells several hundred copies every year.

Gwynfor himself considers this his greatest contribution, although he says it was ``not a good book'' and maintains that he was a propagandist rather than a historian.

He once explained, ``I always thought that nobody who knew Welsh history well could fail to be a patriot.''

Gwynfor was well aware of the power of a good story and used it to great effect in the endless public meetings that helped to increase party membership slowly but steadily during the first 20 years of his 36year stint as party president.

Dafydd Wigley, who joined Gwynfor in the House of Commons in 1974, described his style as unique.

``He would begin with some aspect of Welsh history - if possible relevant to the area of the meeting,'' recalled Mr Wigley. …

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