AUTHOR'SNOTES; One Hundred Years to the Day of His Father Pennar Davies' Birth, Owain Pennar Plays Tribute to a Man Whose Binding Faith and Nationalistic Beliefs Helped Lead the Way to Safeguarding the Welsh Language for Future Generations to Come

Article excerpt

Adecade ago, I was approached by Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Dr Densil Morgan, about my father's personal papers.

Dr Morgan wanted to write a Welsh-language biography of my father's life for the biography series Dawn Dweud.

My father, the writer, academic, theologian and language campaigner Pennar Davies, had died some five years previously and Dr Morgan asked me whether I could look through my father's correspondence and papers to see whether I could find anything new of interest.

This foraging into scores of boxes in the attic of our family home in Swansea started a journey of discovery into my dad's life which still continues today.

I became aware for the first time of parts of my dad's life that I knew very little about and led to a fascinating, if sometimes critical biography, which deserves far more recognition for its author than it has received. This biography led ultimately to the recent publication of two books by Y Lolfa.

They are written by two of my father's former students at the Congregational College of which he was principal for more than 20 years.

The two books see light of day on the centenary of my father's birth which falls today.

The biography, Saintly Enigma by Rev Ivor Thomas Rees, and the English translation of my father's confessional diary Cudd fy Meiau, by the late Rev Herbert D Hughes, the former lecturer and minister who sadly died just months before the launch, are fitting publications for such an anniversary.

In his foreword to The Diary of A Soul, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, wonders what kind of national reputation my father would have enjoyed if he had decided to write in English.

That is one of a number of his enigmas which intrigued his contemporaries who felt he would have been better off sticking to his mother tongue, English.

This was certainly the view of his fellow Anglo-Welsh writers whom he knew in the 1930s - people like the editor and writer Keidrych Rhys, Vernon Watkins and Dylan Thomas.

My father was born William Thomas Davies at 11 Duffryn Street, Mountain Ash on 12 November 1911, and although he never forgot his roots in the Cynon Valley, he did reinvent himself as a Welsh-langauge minister and writer, Pennar Davies.

Why he did this has always intrigued me.

One of the most pivotal events in my father's life was the decision of a rich American widow, Mrs Fitzgerald, to sponsor him through college and degrees in the classics and English at University College, Cardiff, Balliol College, Oxford and Yale University.

In the '20s and '30s he seemed destined for a career purely in academia. But the horrors of World War II made him a conscientious objector and this led to the end of Mrs Fitzgerald's patronage and ultimately convinced him that his future lay in the Christian ministry.

Back at Oxford, this time as a student in the then theological college, Manfield, he fell in love with a German refugee of Jewish heritage, Nurse Rosemarie Wolff. The rest is family history.

After some years as a congregational minister, my father became a Professor of Church History with the Welsh Congregational denomination and then became principal of the denominations college in Brecon and Swansea. He served as college principal until his retirement.

By the time I, as the 'cyw melyn olaf' (the spoilt youngest child) remember him, dad was most certainly middle-aged. …