Why a football TeamGB is a threat to the independence of the ‘home nations’

To have an official national football team, a country has to be a member of FIFA, football’s world governing body. Membership of FIFA is not permanent. A vote by three-quarters of members can expel any FIFA member.

Article 10.1 of the FIFA statutes states:

Any Association which is responsible for organising and supervising football in its country may become a Member of FIFA. In this context, the expression “country” shall refer to an independent state recognised by the international community.

England, Scotland , Northern Ireland and Wales do not meet this criteria but do have their special position as seperate members enshrined in their own article (10.5).

FIFA also recignizes that nationhood may not be straightforward and article 10.6 states ‘An Association in a region which has not yet gained independence may, with the authorisation of the Association in the country on which it is dependent, also apply for admission to FIFA.’  Note the ‘yet’, an assumption that independence will come.

Thus the position is that the British associations having separate membership is an acknowledged contradiction to FIFA’s membership rules but one that is explicitly protected in its own statutes.

So, do the 2012 Olympics threaten that? It can’t be pretended that the Olympics are nothing to do with FIFA.  Olympic matches are regarded by FIFA as official internationals (because this means it can charge a financial levy). Can the UK say it is four nations in one FIFA competition but one in another? Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, has said yes. He has repeated his belief that Olympic participation does not undermine the UK position. But Blatter is also a man prone to change his mind, something evident by his conversion to goal-line technology after a long entrenched hostility.

Moreover, in 2008 Blatter said:

If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympic Games, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team. If this is the case then why the hell do they have four associations and four votes and their own vice-presidency? This will put into question all the privileges that the British associations have been given by the Congress in 1946.

Blatter is 76 years old and will not be around forever. His successor will probably want to make big changes at FIFA, to lessen the taint of scandal and corruption that hangs over its highest levels.

FIFA is also a democracy. A president may offer guidance but ultimately it’s down to what individual members think. As Blatter himself has said in a different context: ‘FIFA must not be reduced to the smallest common denominator: its President … FIFA is ultimately nothing but the expression of the will of its more than 208 Member Associations’.

The fiasco of the recent England World Cup bid illustrates that British football is not exactly held in wide regard amongst those members. Admiring the Premier League is one thing. Understanding why the British get special treatment is another.

BBC Wales have recently pointed to the trend being for more countries in FIFA not less, while Stuart Pearce has claimed that no one is calling for the return of a single Yugoslavian team. That last argument is silly because Yugoslavia no longer exists, but the UK does. The trend for more FIFA members has been because the number of independent nations has grown in the last 30 years. Of course, if Scotland votes for independence then the whole parameters of this issue will change. But the key issue is not the politics of statehood but of football.

There is historical evidence that the UK’s special position has been questioned before. For example:

  • In 1972 the Uruguay FA withdrew a proposal to end the home nations’ independence after the 4 UK associations agreed to pay FIFA a levy from the home championship (as all other nations have to from their internationals). That year the Secretary of the SFA noted ‘there was no doubt that the South American Confederation wished to remove the independence of the Four British Associations’.
  • In 1992 British delegates at the International Football Association Board were told by FIFA delegates that if they voted against the introduction of the backpass rule it would jeopardise their separate status. The FAW’s sense that its position was under threat was already so strong that it created the League of Wales in 1992 to ensure it could not just be seen as a region of English football.

The FAW were particularly shocked at the threats that surrounded the backpass rule because they had always believed they had European support for their position. Four British nations after all cemented the European domination of the world game but the break up of the old Communist bloc significantly increased the number of European members. Suddenly, Europe had less need of British votes at FIFA.

The European domination of world football is clear in the places allocated for the 2010 World Cup:

Number of countries seeking qualification Number of places allocated
Europe 53 13
Africa 53 6
Asia 43 4
Central & N America 35 3
Oceania 11 1
South America 10 5

Morever, Africa only got 6 places instead of its normal 5 because South Africa qualified automatically as hosts.

The executive of FIFA appears to think this is not an issue in which democracy should prevail. Blatter said in 2011: ‘All of the Fifa member countries have equal voting rights, but when it comes to the World Cup, which is the only income of Fifa, our executive committee agrees that those confederations that have the best football should have more representatives.’

Television money and sponsor reasons aside, the key moral argument in support of the status quo is that this is about the quality of football and FIFA rankings do support the notion that the bulk of the best teams are in Europe. But it is difficult for the rest of the world to accept European domination for reasons of  ‘quality’. There is more than a whiff of an old-fashioned western sense of superiority here, a sense that the rest of the world resents. Even in Australasia there is resentment that their continent isn’t even guaranteed at least one place.

It’s within this context of resentment about the nature of power within FIFA that the British nations’ special position can come under the spotlight. This is likely because the British privileges extend beyond just having four members.

The FIFA executive is made up of a president, 8 vice presidents and 15 members. Of these vice presidents Britain gets one, Europe gets another two and the rest of the world get five between them. The distribution of members is also skewed towards Europe.

The only justification for the UK having the same number of vice presidents as the whole of Africa is history. When football was reorganized after the Second World War, FIFA was desperate to bring in the UK nations, the inventors of the game, to legitimize its own position and buttress the organization’s financial future. The cost was giving the British a disproportionate influence.

That extends beyond the FIFA executive. The International Football Association Board is the body that sets the actual rules of the game of football. There are eight votes on this board: FIFA have 4 and the UK associations have one each. In other words, the British associations have as much say in the rules of football as the rest of the world put together.

A stranglehold on the game’s rules and a permanent vice-presidency on an executive that does not distribute the spoils of football’s centrepiece fairly mean that the British position is of interest to the rest of the world. It has a direct impact on the governance of world football and a symbolic importance. Paul Darby, a historian of African football, has noted:

The individual membership of each of the British associations, which affords them full voting rights at FIFA Congress, has been a particular source of discontent with the African football confederation. Indeed, on many occasions the membership status of the British authorities has been heavily criticised as evidence of global inequality within world football and has been cited as constituting just one manifestation of European bias and privilege within the game’s institutional and administrative structures.

Just because there isn’t currently a campaign to get rid of the UK’s four teams does not mean there won’t be in the future. And when it happens, people will point to the precedent of the 2012 Olympics.  If TeamGB competes again, as some pundits, players and the manager hope, the danger of the issue coming back will be all the greater.

There is little sentiment for tradition and history in football and it is only tradition and history that allows the four UK nations to have their own national teams.  Moreover, as long as the British nations have a disproportionate say in the power of world football then there will be those that resent the fact that the UK has four teams.

Some quick thoughts on Cabinet minutes, government records and the 30 year rule

It’s been announced that government records will begin to be released after 20 rather than 30 years. On the whole this is good news for historians but we shouldn’t expect too much, especially from the records of Cabinet.

As Simon Ball’s (1995) research has shown, only rarely do newly released records radically change existing historical interpretations.  When it comes to British government, we already know ‘what’ happened and ministers have usually said something about ‘why’ in the media and in their memoirs. On the whole, what new government records do is in fill in the gaps of our existing knowledge of decision making.

Some of the most interesting material in government files relates to decisions not taken but considered. Yet even here there are limits to what we can learn.  The full breadth and frankness of discussion gets lost. This is partly because it can take place unrecorded in the bar, in the corridor and on the phone. But even in formal meetings the historic record is not full or accurate.

Richard Crossman’s dairy recorded that cabinet minutes are ‘a travesty [which] do not pretend to be an account of what actually takes place in cabinet’. Yes Minister tried to explain why:

  1. Minutes do not record everything that was said at a meeting.
  2. People frequently change their minds during a meeting.
  3. Minutes, by virtue of the selection process, can never be a true and complete record.
  4. Therefore, what is said at a meeting merely constitutes the choice of ingredients for the minutes.
  5. The secretary’s task is to choose, from a jumble of ill-digested ideas, a version that presents the Prime Minister’s views as he would, on reflection, have liked them to emerge.

It then goes further:

  1. The purpose of minutes is not to record events.
  2. The purpose is to protect people.
  3. You do not take notes if the Prime Minister says something he did not mean to say, especially if this contradicts what he has said publicly on an issue.
  4. In short, minutes are constructive. They are to improve what is said, to be tactful, to put in better order.
  5. There is no moral problem. The secretary is the Prime Minister’s servant.

As with all humour, it’s funny because there is a grain of truth here and Lowe’s research (1997) has shown the difference between the minutes actually taken at cabinet (something strongly denied by the Cabinet Office) and those published.

The really interesting stuff in the files of government is often not the minutes of the highest levels of government but in the departments. It’s not the material written by politicians but by civil servants and by members of the public writing to government. There historians can mine the National Archives and begin to understand how government works and what people in and outside government thought about what was going on.



Ball, Simon, ‘Harold Macmillan and the politics of defence: the market for strategic ideas during the Sandys era revisited’, Twentieth Century British History, 1, 3 (1995), 78-100.

Crossman, Richard (1975). Diaries of a cabinet minister, volume 1: Minister of Housing, 1964-66, London: Hamish Hamilton and Jonathan Cape

Lowe, Rodney (1997) ‘Plumbing New Depths? Contemporary historians and the Public Record Office’, Twentieth Century British History, 8, 463-91.

Lynn, J. & Jay, A. (1989) The Complete Yes Prime Minister, BBC.

Welshness, Welsh Soldiers and the Second World War

Welshness, Welsh Soldiers and the Second World War

Martin Johnes

This chapter was first published in Wendy Ugolini and Juliette Pattinson (eds), Fighting for Britain? Negotiating Identities in Britain during the Second World War (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2015), pp.65-88

On the heights of El Rhorab, looking out through the Fondouk gap, and on the rocky hill that stands over Hammam Lif facing blue distances across the sea, two marble stones were raised later bearing the names of those who fell in battle, with the Regimental crest and motto ‘Cymru am Byth.’ Rupert Brooke wrote that where he fell would be ‘for ever England.’ So to the 3rd Battalion the hill tops by Fondouk and Hamman Lif are marked as ‘Wales for ever.’

Maj. L. F. Ellis, Welsh Guards at War (1946)[1]

 The Second World War is often thought of as a time when Britishness peaked. Some historians have argued that propaganda, bombing, the threat of invasion, the shared sacrifices of serving in the forces and enduring rationing all created a common sense of purpose amongst the British people, bringing together its different nations and regions. That sense of solidarity also cut across gender and class lines in a war where everyone was ‘in it’ together.  This was a feeling that the state was only too keen to encourage and it helped ensure that the news and popular entertainment were dominated by the ‘shared national predicament’.[2] Such perspectives have also been adopted by Welsh historians. John Davies’ seminal history of Wales argues that the war ‘did much to strengthen Britishness. At the same time, it seemed to be a death blow to Welshness’.[3] Similarly, K. O. Morgan suggests that ‘Culturally the second world war seems largely to have passed the Welsh and Scots by. The quintessential images of the war, and of what the country felt it was defending, were essentially timeless English concepts.’[4]

There is little reason to doubt the argument that, just as the shared experience and fear of mass unemployment had sustained a powerful consciousness of class that cut across local, regional and national identities within inter-war Britain, the shared experience of war did much the same for a British identity. The Welsh people probably did feel more British during the Second World War than at any other time during their history. Moreover, war meant people in Wales travelled more, listened to the radio more and had more contact with the English; even the most remote Welsh villages gained inhabitants from elsewhere in Britain.  Psychologically and physically, the British nation came closer together. The war thus, as Morgan puts it, further integrated Wales into Britain.[5]

Yet the idea of a united Britain is not quite as straightforward as is often imagined and other historians have emphasised the disunity that also existed. Angus Calder, in particular, has questioned the extent of British national unity, arguing that beneath the propaganda were low morale and ongoing social conflict and inequalities.[6] Building on Calder’s work, Sonya Rose has emphasised the difficulties women, ethnic groups and colonial peoples had fitting into dominant ideas of British national identity. She also highlights the ongoing potency of Welsh and Scottish identities, arguing that ‘The very existence of these “regional” nations, and the continuing issue of national/cultural difference, suggested that “Britain” both historically and contemporaneously was less a nation and more an empire.’[7] Neither Rose nor Calder go as far as saying there was no British national unity or identity but they do demonstrate that there was no single notion of a British national identity that people united behind. Britishness was subject to different meanings and it was read and constructed differently by different regions, sexes, races and classes.

The plurality of British identity meant that a sense of Welshness was neither lost nor subsumed during this period of heightened Britishness. More contact with England made people more aware of not just what they had in common but also their differences, especially in the context of a war that was being fought over issues of national identity and self determination. With national identity being discussed in pubs, papers, pulpits and programmes on the radio, it is unsurprising that at least some of Wales reflected on what it meant to be Welsh. Central to this question was the sense of difference engendered by the popularity of Nonconformity and the Welsh language. Both, however, were in clear retreat and struggling against the influences of mass education, class-based politics, the wireless and cinema, and the economic and demographic upheavals brought first by inward migration from England before 1914 and then, between the wars, by outward migration to England. By the 1931 census, just 36.8 per cent of the population spoke Welsh and that figure was as low as 30.5 per cent in Glamorgan, by far the most populous county in Wales. The cultural and economic pull of both England and working-class consciousness did not, however, mean that Welsh people who could not speak Welsh did not feel Welsh, something only too evident in sport.[8] Thus what war did was sharpen Wales’ faltering sense of its own identity, particularly amongst those for whom it was generally a rather unfocused and diffuse feeling. Rose is quite right that the war activated expressions of cultural distinctiveness. Its challenges, its opportunities to debate what was being fought for, and the way it increased the role of the state and the state’s interest in what its people thought, all created a space for Wales to have a public profile. Moreover, she suggests, ‘It seemed almost as though the very efforts on the part of the Government to recognize Britain’s cultural heterogeneity in order not to antagonize those who felt themselves to be equally Welsh or Scottish and British fostered identity politics.’[9] This chapter explores how these themes played out for men who served in the armed forces. It embraces the argument that national identity during the war was a plural concept but it adds that this was as true of Wales as it was of Britain. Just as there was no single understanding of Britain, nor was there was a single understanding of Wales. Moreover, the Welsh could actually find it easier to embrace Britishness than the English because they had always had to balance and react to two nations, whereas for the English there had been traditionally little understanding of the nuances of nationality within the mainland of the United Kingdom.

Welshness and the war

The continuing power of Welsh identity during the war was only too evident in the names, traditions and insignia of Welsh regiments, all of which were examples of what social scientist Michael Billig called banal nationalism, the subconscious but influential flagging and reminder of the existence of the nation.[10] The Royal Welch Fusiliers’ emblem, for example, was a red dragon; it had choirs that sang Welsh hymns and a tradition where men ate a raw leek on St David’s Day (although shallots sometimes had to be substituted when the regiment was on active service aboard). Such was the power of these traditions that part of the regiment even wore leeks in their hats when fighting on St David’s Day 1945.[11] Their pride in Wales was further evident in a notice in The Times in memory of the soldiers of the 6th battalion killed in northwest Europe in 1944; it finished with the words ‘Cymru am Byth’ [Wales forever].[12] Welsh regiments also had a keen sense of history, despite the way that history could emphasise disunity between Wales and England. David Lloyd George addressed the Royal Welch Fusiliers’ 250th anniversary celebrations at Caernarfon castle in August 1939, claiming ‘It is a source of confidence to us that we know that this Regiment will once more face its responsibilities in a way which will be worthy of its glorious past and which will uphold that reputation for bravery which the Welsh people won in their age-long struggle for freedom.’[13] Similarly, the official history of the Welsh Guards, whose emblem was a leek, began by making connections between the regiment and Celts fighting the Romans and medieval Welsh princes fighting the Normans.[14]

The regiments were very proud of their identities and traditions and, like all parts of the army, promoted them to ensure men felt they belonged to a unit of consequence.[15] By St David’s Day 1943, part of the Royal Welch Fusiliers was in North Africa and its men celebrated with leeks, beer and a ‘Wales versus the Rest’ soccer match, in which one Sergeant-Major ‘carried an enormous leek with which he belaboured opponents foolish enough to come within reach’.[16] The needs of military operation however were complicating the identities of regional and national units by leading to relatively frequent reorganizations. When, in November 1938, the 5th (Flintshire) battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers was converted into an anti-tank unit and made part of the Royal Artillery, there was some resentment and senior officers secured the right to continue wearing Royal Welch Fusiliers’ uniforms. The regiment’s official history claimed ‘These units and their offshoots, although part of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and despite numerous drafts of replacements from every corner of the British Isles, clung tenaciously to the old Royal Welch traditions, customs, and memories.’ A merger with two other units from London regiments to create the 101st Light Anti-Aircraft and Anti-Regiment RA led to the Royal Artillery uniform being worn in the battalion but Welsh traditions continued and St David’s Day 1940 was celebrated ‘with, if possible, even greater fervour than usual’.[17]

Military needs and a growing policy of cross posting personnel to where they were needed also meant there was no guarantee that Welshmen would end up in Welsh units. The records (or indeed official definitions of Welshness) do not exist to know how often this happened but the issue was a matter of periodic public and private concern. For Glyn Ifans, a trainee teacher from Carmarthenshire, being in the RAF led to a feeling of being detached from his comrades and superiors and it fed his growing sense of political nationalism. With no units existing just for Welsh troops, he exclaimed ‘Are we a nation? Certainly the authorities running this war do not believe so’.[18] Great War veteran Sir Henry Morris Jones, a Liberal MP and chairman of the Welsh Parliamentary Party in 1941-2, was the leading voice of such concerns. Accusing the War Office of broken promises, he told the House of Commons in 1941: ‘Judging from my correspondence and the feeling expressed in the Principality there is a very distinct and a justifiable grievance that the War Office has not met them’ on the issue of keeping Welshmen in Welsh units.[19] Part of the blame for this was thought to be the issue of whether Welsh was used in recruitment processes and in 1940 a question was raised in Parliament about how many recruiting officers actually spoke Welsh.[20] In 1941, Wyn Griffith, a civil servant, broadcaster and former captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, noted:

That young Welshmen should join the armed forces is, of course, only right and proper. They have no wish to shelter behind the sacrifices of others, and they are proud of the fighting qualities of their race. They remember their fathers. All they ask is that they should be allowed to serve in Welsh units, as Welshmen. But this is denied to them, not out of malevolence, but out of sheer indifference: it does not seem important enough for any great trouble to be taken to contrive it.[21]

Whether it actually did so or not, the War Office always maintained that those who volunteered and expressed a desire to serve in a Welsh unit were posted to one where vacancies existed. It also claimed that territorial connections were taken into account in allocating conscripts but this was always subject to the vague proviso ‘where possible’. The government was not, however, willing to repeat what had happened in the Great War and form a separate Welsh division of the army.[22] Similarly, in 1943, a request from Sir Henry Morris-Jones that Welsh soldiers be allowed to wear a distinctive mark on their uniform was turned down by the Secretary of State for War because it would be too complicated to administer.[23] How many Welshmen were actually concerned about such issues is a different matter. The likes of Wyn Griffith were what might be called cultural nationalists, people deeply committed to the identity of Wales. In contrast, one Welsh-speaking Meirionnydd man, who found himself in the South Lancashire Regiment, wrote in his memoirs, ‘this did not really bother me: the army was the army, and it hardly made any difference which badge I was given’.[24] With comrades sharing the same experiences, hardships and routines, other Welsh speakers also described their wartime experience in terms that centralised a common bond with their English comrades over any sense of national difference.[25]

It was not just Welshmen who were being posted to English units; the reverse was happening too. In 1940, after hearing that some Welsh units drew as much as 40 per cent of their strength from outside Wales, a military correspondent at the Western Mail visited one unit with the permission of the War Office to investigate. He found a ‘mixed bag. B.A.s, M.A.s, bakers, butchers and candlestickmakers. Cambridge University men rubbed shoulders with miners in this democratic army.’ But the unit was 99.5 per cent Welsh.[26] Yet this was far from typical and there was a long history of Welsh regiments recruiting from England.  Between 1883 and 1900, just 28 per cent of men in Welsh regiments were from their regimental districts.[27] The recruitment patterns of the Great War intensified the locality of regiments but casualties and reorganizations still led to Welsh units drawing on men from across Britain.[28] Unable to rely on local or national identities to bond regiments, there was instead an emphasis on teaching men regimental traditions and using associated rituals to enhance a sense of togetherness and regimental loyalty. Thus what on the surface might appear to be national symbols were in practice driven more by the need to create personal relationships and a common bond between diverse sets of men. This does not mean that national pride played no role for soldiers who were Welsh in their personal sense of regimental identity but it did mean that Englishmen also partook in the first of March tradition of ‘eating the leek’.[29] Non-Welsh servicemen thus do appear to have been assimilated easily into Welsh regiments. This was made easier by the fact that the Welsh Guards were actually based in London. One of its sergeants recalled recruits from outside Wales were made to feel part of the regiment: ‘They are Welsh Guardsmen and once they joined us they were treated equally, the same as if they had been born and bred in Wales. They also learned that the family spirit is more binding in the Welsh Guards than in any other regiment … I think it’s just the way we are in Wales’.[30] But it happened in other regiments too. A man, who in 1939 was allocated to the 81st (Welsh) Field Regt RA, recalled ‘the Welsh boys were extremely friendly and gave us a genuine warm welcome, sharing their food parcels, mainly of Welsh cakes.’[31]

The experience of fighting together in combat tends to produce a powerful bond between men so the lack of influence of cultural differences should not be surprising.[32] An officer who served with the Welsh Guards argued that he had a very close relationship with his men from their time training together and that he knew many of them better than his own family. The pride in themselves and the fear they might let their comrades and friends down intensified that and led, in his opinion, to many of the acts of bravery. One of his sergeants similarly argued ‘We developed an obsession to help each other, sharing ourselves without expecting reward’.[33] Thus the war certainly developed a sense of group consciousness amongst troops in Welsh units but it was not necessarily based on the nation. This is further evidenced by the fact that battalions from Welsh regiments were put in the same brigades as battalions from English regiments without any problems. A history of the Welsh Guards noted, ‘No Welsh Guardsman who fought in the Second World War would like this account to close without special mention of the Leicestershire Yeomanry, the Lothian and Border Horde, the Ayrshire Yeomanry, or the Light Aid Detachment from REME, which gave such unstinted backing to the 2nd Battalion.’[34] Of course, this does not mean there were not tensions and army morale reports suggested that the cross posting of men and officers across units detracted from the development of an esprit de corps.[35] Yet, on the whole, the sense of unity within and between units that had fought together was strong.

This was not down to the experience of combat alone. Most of a serviceman’s time was not spent in the frontline and the dominant experience was preparing for war rather than fighting. Indeed, perhaps only a fifth to a quarter of the army actually directly experienced combat during the war.[36] As Jeremy Crang has summed up, for most soldiers ‘the experience of war was not one of daring deeds at the sharp end, but rather of a sedentary existence in camps and depots across the country polishing their brasses and wondering why they were there.’[37] The hardships, sacrifices and monotonies of military service pulled men from different parts of Britain together. One Welsh Guardsman thus recalled that the talk in the military huts ranged from:

sex to the absolute bloody awful life of the British Soldier and then inevitably to the schemes for ‘working your ticket’, i.e. being thrown out as unfit for duty. Schemes like holding the little finger of the right hand just over the barrel of a 2″ mortar and getting it blown off were discussed and discarded, the impact might blow the lot off, and in any case, the loss of a little finger was considered too trivial, there were many cases of soldiers with three fingers. Threatening the Sergeant Major with a bayonet, and many similar enterprises were all discarded. Surprisingly all this talk did no harm at all to the general moral[e] and discipline. Quite the opposite in fact, it kept the dream alive to beat the system, now that would be something![38]

When people were thinking along such lines, rather than serving first and foremost from a strong sense of patriotism or ideology, it is unsurprising that different backgrounds and understandings of nationality could be easily assimilated. Indeed, many soldiers were acutely aware that their sense of individuality was actually being eroded by their experiences of military life.[39]

However, the boredom and discomforts of camp life also gave opportunities for pre-existing tensions and cultural tensions to fester, especially when mixed with alcohol and the nerves and tensions of battles been or forthcoming.[40] Raymond Williams, the son of a Welsh railway worker and an officer in the Guards Armoured Division, never felt comfortable with the English officers that he mixed with in the mess, although that probably owed more to class than nationality.[41] Others objected to being referred to as the ‘bloody Welsh’.[42] Those from strict Nonconformist backgrounds could feel uneasy with the drinking and swearing of their comrades. Even when the powerful bonds that existed between comrades did transcend any differences arising from different cultural backgrounds, individuals’ Welshness or personal beliefs were not completely subsumed beneath a wider Britishness and loyalty to one’s comrades. Servicemen and women for whom English was a second language were hardly going to forget they were Welsh. But for English-monoglot Welshmen and women too, being surrounded by people from other parts of the UK, probably for the first time in their lives, could make them more aware of their own Welshness and the diversity of Britain.  A Welsh member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service recalled: ‘I don’t think I’d ever heard of a Scouse person or a Geordie until I joined up. Then, suddenly, all these different accents all around you. A lot of people didn’t know my accent. I’d be asked what part of Scotland I came from. Or Ireland – was I north or south?’[43] The unfamiliarity of the accent of one nurse from west Wales, together with her white cap and long uniform, even made some men regaining consciousness after anaesthetic think she was an angel.[44] Whether others initially knew the accent or not, many men and women spent their war being known by everyone as Taff or Taffy, making their nationality central to who they were, even if this did not make for a distinct Welsh experience of military service. One result was that when Welshmen outside Welsh units met they often quickly felt something in common, regardless of where in Wales they were from.[45] The autobiography of a Welsh-speaking Royal Engineer from Caernarfonshire records that the small crew from Wales in his unit would come together to swap news. Such encounters were a link back to home but they also reinforced differences within Wales too, reminding those from the north in particular that not everyone spoke Welsh. This Royal Engineer found he was called Taff by everyone except men from south Wales who called him Ianto, an archetypal Welsh-language name.[46]

With around a third of the Welsh population able to speak Welsh, it was unsurprising that the language was spoken and, by and large, tolerated in the forces. In October 1939, a Welsh-speaking censor was posted to the British Expeditionary Force to deal with soldiers’ writing home in Welsh and in May 1940 it was reported to the House of Commons that there had only been one known case of a letter being returned to a soldier because it was written in Welsh.[47] Welsh was included in BBC broadcasts to the forces and the secretary of the National Eisteddfod organised Cofion Cymru (Memories of Wales), a newsletter with stories, poems and the like, which was distributed with official support to Welsh speakers in the forces between 1941 and 1946.[48] In Cairo, another Welsh-language paper was set up, Seren y Dwyrain (The Star of the East). The toleration of Welsh was further evidence of how the state was aware that while all the men were fighting for Britain, their conception of what Britain actually was could be very different. Welsh had practical uses too. The Western Mail told readers in 1945 that Welsh had been used to ‘deceive the Germans on the Western Front and confound the Japanese in the swamps and jungle of Burma’.[49] There was some truth to such claims. In 1943, for example, the Royal Welch Fusiliers were able to re-establish contact with a company that had been cut off during fighting in Burma by asking them in Welsh over loudspeakers to fire rifles to indicate their position and strength. During the ensuing battle, further orders were given in Welsh over the loudspeakers. This lesson led to it becoming standard practice in the regiment that one wireless operator in every company be Welsh speaking.[50] Such actions could be rather confusing for the enemy. After the Welsh Guards used Welsh in radio communications at Cassino in 1944, the Germans responded twenty four hours later with propaganda leaflets in Urdu.[51] There were other occasional military advantages to Welshness too. One battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers spent some of the war stationed in Northern Ireland and the regiment’s official history claimed that it was probable that the Welsh nationality of soldiers had helped keep the peace amidst tensions on the border and poor relations with the police.[52]

Yet the British authorities could also be rather perplexed or just indifferent to the needs of Welsh-speaking soldiers. In November 1939, the government was worrying that Welsh might be used to leak information to Germany via Eire.[53] In 1941, the Minister of Information was asked in Parliament why a telephone conversation in Welsh between a parent in north Wales and his soldier son in Northern Ireland had been prohibited by the Liverpool Telephone Exchange.[54] Such cases owed much to misunderstandings and were never the result of official policy but they happened repeatedly and added to the sense that Wales was not being treated fairly. In 1942, a deputation of Welsh MPs saw the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs to complain of a general failure to recognise that Wales was a distinct nation. Amongst the issues raised was the placing of Welsh men and women in Welsh units, especially when they did not speak English, and the issue of being allowed to write home in Welsh. Attlee recommended to Cabinet that ‘care should be taken’ to see that Welsh men and women were posted to Welsh units and that ‘Unless security grounds render it undesirable, they should be allowed to send and receive letters in the Welsh language’.[55] Cabinet agreed that it ‘was desirable to avoid action which might foster the growth of an extreme Welsh Nationalist movement’ but it was pointed out that ‘the Ministry of Labour and National Service and the Fighting Services went to great trouble to ensure that Welsh-speaking men were posted to Welsh-speaking units’. A reminder was sent to all departments on the need to recognise Welsh nationality.[56] The greater importance given to placing Welsh-speaking soldiers in Welsh units than was attached to where English-monoglot Welsh soldiers was sent owed much to the practicalities of censoring Welsh letters in English units. A Royal Engineer in Egypt found himself summoned before one of his officers and asked to write home in English because the difficulties in censoring his letters was causing delays in getting them sent. Because he saw the officer as a gentleman who had taken the time to explain the situation to him, the soldier agreed, although he noted it felt repugnant to write to his parents in English. He did continue to write the occasional letter or passage in Welsh and sometimes they would be crossed out.[57] He was not the only one to find it strange but still accept the situation with the resignation that characterized so much of military life. Meurig Evans, of the 31st East Africa Infantry Brigade, recalled that it was ‘strange’ to write to his parents in English ‘but that’s how it was’.[58] In contrast, one RAF serviceman felt insulted when a Welsh-language telegram he sent to his parents was returned to him. For him, this was part of a wider process of politicization and alienation caused by his feeling that his nationality was not recognized.[59]

Yet not everyone was able to write or even speak English. The 1931 census reported that there were 97,932 Welsh monoglots, 8,831 of whom were males between the ages of 10 and 24.[60] It is thus unlikely that there were no Welsh monoglots in the armed forces. The census did not define language ability and it was up to people to classify themselves. Compulsory education meant there cannot have been people of service age who were completely unversed in English but if they recorded themselves as Welsh monoglots their English skills must have been very rudimentary and many others who returned themselves as bilingual may also have had relatively limited commands of English. There are no records of any official discussion of the implications of this but this does not mean there were not problems. In 1955, the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire set up a committee to investigate whether Welshmen faced any special problems in their national service. It found that the army’s personnel dossiers did not record Welsh-language ability and that recruits were told that Welsh should not be recorded in the section on foreign languages spoken. It also found that Welsh-monoglot recruits and those with a poor command of English suffered in the intelligence tests. This affected where they were posted and it may be that in the Second World War too those with poor skills in English found themselves sent to service units where the emphasis was on manual labour.[61]

These interactions between the Welsh and British authorities were thus creating a situation where some people at least contemplated their place in the world and the meaning and relevance of where they came from. In 1943, one soldier wrote in a journal entitled Wales:

This is a time when members of the fighting generation everywhere should be expressing themselves and their opinions strongly – without cynicism – and nowhere more forcibly than in our small green oblong country. For the war has made the Welsh realise that they are a nation with a country, a people, a culture and a tradition different from England’s to fight for. There is a new wave of national feeling about among our people. There is, in truth, a Welsh renaissance.[62]

Another even suggested that the experiences of Welshmen in military service would lead to a growth in Welsh nationalism.[63] Nor was it just Welsh soldiers who were becoming more conscious of Welsh identity. Back home too, that intensifying awareness of Welsh difference was beginning to be felt through greater contact with people from other parts of the UK. As in the forces, this simultaneously led to a sense of a common interest and difference. The isolation that had kept Welsh strong in the west and north was being eroded, not just physically but psychologically too, as more people took an interest in global affairs and listened to the wireless.[64] Some 110,000 children were evacuated to Wales and they were received with both a sense of horror at their different manners and hygiene but also love and care.[65] Children were not the only ones arriving, as government departments and even the BBC’s Variety Department were moved to the safety of Wales. National Geographic Magazine thought that children, government officials and civil servants had ‘taken possession of Wales’. Its correspondent was told by one man that Wales had become ‘little old England’s refuge room’.[66] It is unlikely that they followed the example of some evacuees and learnt Welsh, but it was impossible to live in rural Wales without being aware that Welsh was a genuine community language. Indeed, even in the industrialized valleys, American GIs could become aware enough of the differences between Wales and England to write home about it.[67] Some civilians went the other way too, especially conscripted young women who were sent to factories wherever in Britain needed their labour.

Quite how all this interaction played out was no doubt an individualized experience that varied by personality and outlook; but there were certainly some tensions. Mass Observation reported that there was frequent resentment of the Welsh, the Irish and other foreigners in English towns.[68] Another Mass Observation report recorded being told that the Welsh were rather ‘peculiar’, while someone else reported that he saw the Welsh as a different race.[69] Similarly, there was resentment amongst nationalists about the influx of English people into Wales, not so much at an individual level but in terms of their collective impact on what was already a fragile traditional Welsh-speaking culture.[70] W. J. Gruffydd, a professor of Celtic languages and the Liberal MP for the University of Wales, remarked that ‘England can win the war and Wales can lose’.[71] The requisition of land by the military was the strongest cause of nationalist concern, because for many the landscape was an embodiment of the Welsh nation. This was evident in the powerful verses of Pembrokeshire poet Waldo Williams that bemoaned the loss of community land to the cause of the British state’s war.[72]

But nationalists also resented the loss of people to the war and parts of the nationalist party Plaid Cymru complained that the ‘English government’ did not have the right to conscript Welshmen.[73] Not many shared this concern though. There were 2,920 registered conscientious objectors in Wales, a proportion significantly higher than in any other part of Britain but one which owed more to religion than nationalism or politics. A 1940 Mass Observation report thought that Welsh nationalism was too marginal and its members too old to have much impact on conscientious objector numbers. It noted that there were only six cases where conscientious objection was based on Welsh nationalism alone. The English Appellate Tribunal did recognize Welsh nationalism as grounds for conscientious objection.  While tribunals in England followed this ruling, the two tribunals that covered Wales refused to allow nationalism as a sole basis for conscientious objection, arguing that the objection had to be to military service rather than the issue of the governance of Wales. Thus nationalists who did not cite pacifism or religion could be imprisoned for refusing conscription, although Caernarfon magistrates preferred to fine them. But such cases were few and far between. Over the course of the war, perhaps as few as two dozen members of Plaid Cymru ended up in court for making political objections to conscription.[74]

In 1945 one Welsh writer complained of Plaid Cymru:

This was the party that saw more peril to Wales from English evacuee children than from Hitler’s hordes. They were ‘neutral’ in the greatest war for human freedom. They, a handful of fanatics, presumed to speak for Wales from their safe jobs and safe hide-holes when 250,000 Welshmen were risking their lives to resist the greatest military despotism the world has ever seen.[75]

In fact, many Welsh nationalists were deeply hostile to Nazism and members of Plaid Cymru did serve in the armed forces.[76] Although conscription limited their options, not all nationalists resisted enlistment and some believed that the war was ultimately a just cause. In this, they reflected a much broader feeling amongst their compatriots. People may have joined up with a strong sense of resignation rather than British patriotism but there was a widespread acceptance that war was inevitable and that ultimately the British cause was morally sound, even if a clear ideological commitment to it was often rather lacking.[77] One Welsh writer, who gave speeches in favour of the war effort, noted in his 1946 autobiography of his officer son and others like him:

These were free men ready to defend our freedom. They had not been driven or bamboozled into the uniforms they were wearing, or hypnotized into a state in which they did not know what they were doing. They knew they were fighting for something really worthwhile, whilst well aware that Britain had been no garden of paradise between the wars. The main thing was that they still had minds of their own.[78]

That was rather a romantic view of military service that belied how the conscript’s existence was dominated by getting by but it indicated a feeling that could be found if military researchers dug deep enough and in this there is no evidence that Wales was any different to anywhere else in Britain. People may have been conscious at some level or other that Wales was different to England but that did not mean that they did not also feel part of Britain and its war effort.

Two interwoven nations

It was because people served with minds of their own that Welshness and Britishness were interwoven in the minds and experiences of both military personnel and civilians. These twin national identities were clearly evident in the Western Mail’s celebrations of VE day. At one level, the newspaper celebrated how the British had contributed something very real to the future of the world, telling its readers that they had served a ‘humane and righteous cause’. But it also published a page looking proudly at what the Welsh had contributed to the victory at home and abroad.[79] To readers of the article, it was evident that the Welsh had fought, worked and died for a greater cause, and many had sung while doing it. That same month Megan Lloyd George told an Anglesey eisteddfod that the Welshmen who had fought were ‘worthy successors of the [medieval] heroes of Wales, such as Llewelyn and Owain Glyndwr, and others who fought not only for the independence of Wales, but of nations as well.’[80] In the aftermath of the war, even the London press occasionally celebrated Welshness. The Daily Mirror, for example, proudly told the story of POWs in Thailand, who, each week, held a meeting of a Welsh society, singing hymns and the Welsh national anthem. Some of them, it claimed, died singing.[81]

There was nothing surprising in any of this; war or no war, the Welsh were a people that belonged to two nations. Yet which took precedence was something that varied significantly. There was not even any straightforward link between language and the balance that individuals struck. There were Welsh speakers who were content to see their Britishness predominate, and there were English monoglots who clearly saw themselves as Welsh before British. Rose is thus right when she uses Wales to illustrate that while the British did pull together, they did not agree on what Britain meant.[82] But it also has to be remembered that there was no singular definition or understanding of Wales either. The war did not change the fact that what Welshness meant remained as problematic as ever. For a relatively small number of nationalists, it was about defending Welsh-language culture through some kind of self-government. For parts of the labour movement, it was about preventing a return to economic catastrophe through stronger Welsh representation in London government. For probably many more, it was just a simple pride in where they were from, something that was only enflamed when ignored or not recognized.

The government was aware of that and made efforts to ensure Welsh nationality was recognized. This extended beyond how it treated Welsh soldiers to passing legislation giving people the right to speak Welsh in court, to reminding the BBC to not say England when it meant Britain, and to pushing for propaganda that displayed the plurality of Britain, even if the results could actually annoy Welsh listeners who felt a narrow and overly traditional image of Wales was being portrayed.[83] The state even advertised in Welsh-language papers hostile to the war. This did not mean there were not tensions and the odd civil servant or military official who did not understand or recognise Welsh difference.[84] But it is not unreasonable to conclude that there was a greater sensitivity to Welsh identity in London government during the Second World War than there had been at any previous time.

If anything, the government worried too much about Wales. Nationalists were in a minority, not all were against the war, and there was nothing to suggest that their numbers might grow significantly. The Germans had tried to exploit the sense of Welsh national identity but got nowhere. In April 1940, for example, Wales was given special prominence in Nazi propaganda broadcasts which claimed that the Welsh were as different from the English as the Poles or Czechs were from the Germans. ‘Anyone who has heard 80,000 Welshmen singing “Land of My Fathers” knows what a spirit these people have. Will that spirit be broken in grinding poverty, or will it burst forth in revolt?’ one broadcast asked.[85] Yet there was nothing to suggest that the Welsh as a whole were not as behind the war effort as any other part of Britain, even if they had their own understandings of what Britain meant.  Indeed, the Welsh might even have a stronger sense of British identity than the English. A 1941 Mass Observation report claimed ‘Britain is felt to be somehow symbolic and rather impersonal, whereas England (or whichever other country the person lives in) is more personal, intimate. … [A]n astonishing number of people, irrespective of education and politics, talk about Britain as if it were a unit of four countries, the one in which they live and three others, all foreigners.’[86] Their research was concentrated in England and there was actually little to suggest that there was the same remoteness from Britain in Wales, whether amongst civilians or soldiers. The state might be remote but that was not the same as the British nation. Most memoirs by Welsh servicemen do not make any sustained reference to their sense of Welshness, while civilians could also happily speak of themselves as British. This was perhaps because to the Welsh the difference between Britain and Wales were much clearer than the differences between England and Britain were to the English. The Welsh, or at least those that listened to the radio or worked in the cosmopolitan communities of the south, were used to thinking of the complexities of their nationality and their position within a multinational state.[87] Before the war, the English, in contrast, tended to simply conflate the two. Thus while the war certainly reinforced a sense of Welshness amongst the Welsh, this was just a case of building on what was already there. It was perhaps the English that had a bigger task in facing up to the existence of Wales and the plurality of Britain.

Yet the fact that nationality is not a pervasive theme in the memoirs of so many soldiers from all parts of the United Kingdom is because, for the majority, the experience of military service, like all everyday existences, was not, by and large, a reflective one. Military service could be dangerous and frightening, adventurous and exciting, tedious and monotonous, enlightening and educational. Patriotism or ideology rarely had much to do with everyday service, even when it came to what led men to fight, kill and die.[88] Thus while at an abstract level people may have been fighting for Britain and Wales, whatever they might mean by those terms, those abstract concepts actually had little impact on their everyday existence, an existence dominated by making do and survival. The world of the Welsh soldier was thus not Wales or Britain but their immediate unit, their mates, comrades, superiors and subordinates.

[1] Maj. L. F. Ellis, Welsh Guards at War (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1946), 36.

[2] Richard Weight, Patriots: National Identity in Britain 1940-2000 (London: Pan, 2003); John Baxendale, ‘“You and I – All of Us Ordinary People”: Renegotiating “Britishness” in Wartime’, in Nick Hayes & Jeff Hill, eds, ‘Millions like Us’? British Culture in the Second World War (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 295-322. On the role of cinema in this, see Jeffrey Richards, ‘National Identity in British Wartime Films’, in Philip M. Taylor, ed., Britain and the Cinema in the Second World War (London: Macmillan, 1988).

[3] John Davies, A History of Wales (London: Penguin, 1993), 602. The Second World War in Wales awaits its definitive history but for an overview see Martin Johnes, Wales since 1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), ch. 1. For Welsh-language responses to the war see Gerwyn Wiliams, Tir Newydd: Agweddau at Llenyddiaeth Gymraeg a’r Ail Rhyfel Byd (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2005). For commemoration of the war see Angela Gaffney, ‘“The Second Armageddon”: Remembering the Second World War in Wales’, in Matthew Cragoe and Chris Williams eds, Wales and War: Society, Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007), 184-203. On munitions workers see Mari A. Williams, A Forgotten Army: The Female Munitions Workers of South Wales, 1939-45 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002).

[4] K. O. Morgan, ‘England, Britain and the Audit of war’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, sixth series, VII, (1997), 151.

[5] Morgan, ‘England, Britain and the Audit of war’, 150-1.

[6] Angus Calder, The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico, 1991); Angus Calder, The People’s War, 1939-45 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1969).

[7] Sonya O. Rose, Which People’s War? National Identity and Citizenship in Wartime Britain, 1939-45 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 238. Also on the gendered nature of national identity see Lucy Noakes, War and the British: Gender, Memory and National Identity (London: I. B. Tauris, 1998).

[8] On sport and nationhood before the war see Martin Johnes, Soccer and Society: South Wales, 1900-39 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002). On the wider relationship between class and nation see Chris. Williams, ‘The Dilemmas of Nation and Class in Wales, 1914-1945’, in Duncan Tanner, Chris Williams, W. P. Griffith and Andrew Edwards, eds., Debating Nationhood and Government in Britain, 1885-1945: Perspectives from the ‘Four Nations’ (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 146-68.

[9] Rose, Which People’s War?, 231, 286.

[10] Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage, 1995).

[11] Lt-Com. P. K. Kemp and John Graves, The Red Dragon: The Story of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, 1919-45 (Aldershot: Gale and Polden, 1960), 46-7, 258.

[12] The Times, 1 August 1945.

[13] Quoted in Kemp and Graves, Red Dragon, 9.

[14] John Retallack, The Welsh Guards (London: Frederick Warne, 1981), xi.

[15] David French, Raising Churchill’s Army: The British Army and the War Against Germany, 1919-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 124.

[16] Kemp and Graves, Red Dragon, 287.

[17] Kemp and Graves, Red Dragon, 279-81.

[18] Glyn Ifans, Coron ar Fotwm (Denbigh: Gee and Sons, 1960). Quoted in translation in Gerwyn Wiliams, ‘Continental excursions’, Planet, 129 (1998), 85.

[19] HC Deb 18 March 1941 vol 370, cc84, 93-5, 108-9. Also see HC Deb 23 January 1940 vol 356 cc360-1.

[20] The answer was one out of the nine recruiting officers in Wales. HC Deb 12 November 1940 vol 365 cc1606-7W.

[21] Wyn Griffith, Word from Wales (London: George Allen Unwin, 1941), 33.

[22] HL Deb 14 August 1940 vol 117 cc237-8.

[23] HC Deb, 19 January 1943 vol 386 c19.

[24] Selyf Roberts, Tocyn Dwyffordd (1984). Quoted in translation in Williams, ‘Continental Excursions’, p.87.

[25] For example, Caradog Prichard, Rwyf Innau’n Filwr Bychan (Dinbych: Llyfrau Pawb, 1943).

[26] Western Mail, 23 December 1940.

[27] David French, Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army, and the British People c.1870-2000 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 46.

[28] For a discussion of this and an attempt to quantify the trends see Chris Williams, ‘Taffs in the trenches: Welsh National Identity and Military Service, 1914-1918’, in Chris Williams and Matthew Cragoe, eds, Wales and War: Society, Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007), 126-64.

[29] Kemp and Graves, Red Dragon, 305, 334.

[30] Trevor Royle, Anatomy of a Regiment: Ceremony and Soldiering in the Welsh Guards (London: Penguin, 1990), 87.

[31] Patrick Delaforce, Red Crown and Dragon: 53rd Welsh Division in North-West Europe, 1944-45 (Stroud: Amberley, 2009), 10.

[32] As Keegan notes, the esteem of comrades was an important motivation in combat. John Keegan ‘Towards a Theory of Combat Motivation’, in Paul Addison and Angus Calder, eds, Time to Kill: The Soldier’s Experience of War in the West (London: Pimlico, 1997), 3-11. Reading the citations of VC winners, it is hard not to think that these men were reckless in their concern for personal safety and willing to sacrifice themselves for their comrades. W. Alister Williams, The VCs of Wales and the Welsh Regiments (Wrexham: Bridge Books, 1984).

[33] That sense of belonging continued after the war too. A Welsh Guards NCO injured at Normandy in 1944 recalled with pride the importance of wearing the regimental tie after the war: ‘You’re never alone when you wear this. You can be anywhere in the world and soon as they see it someone will talk to you.’ Royle, Anatomy of a Regiment, 90, 92.

[34] Retallack, Welsh Guards, 151.

[35] Morale report, February-May 1942, p. 10. National Archives (hereafter NA): WO 163/51.

[36] John Ellis, World War II: The Sharp End (London: Windrow and Greene, 1990), 157-8. There are, of course, issues of how experience of combat is defined.

[37] J. A. Crang, ‘The British Soldier on the Home Front: Army Morale Reports, 1940-45’, in Paul Addison and Angus Calder (eds), Time to Kill: The Soldier’s Experience of War in the West (London: Pimlico, 1997), 60-74, 60.

[38] A. R. Lewis, Working His Ticket, online at http://www.proprose.co.uk  Accessed: 23 June 2014.

[39] Ellis, World War II, 14.

[40] Ellis, World War II, 327-8.

[41] Dai Smith, Raymond Williams: A Warrior’s Tale (Cardigan: Parthian, 2008), 161.

[42] Wiliams, Tir Newydd, p. 7.

[43] Quoted in Phil Carradice, Wales at War (Llandysul: Gomer, 2003), 98.

[44] Lleisau Ail Rhyfel Byd: 1939, Episode 1, S4C (16 September 2012).

[45] For memories of such encounters amongst POWs see Sydney Pritchard, Life in the Welsh Guards, 1939-46 (Talybont: Y Lolfa, 2007), 50, 63.

[46] Ifan G. Morris, Atgofion Hen Filwr (Caernarfon: Wasg y Bwthyn, 2005), 73, 63.

[47] HC Deb 28 May 1940 vol 361 c397.

[48] Wiliams, Tir Newydd, 27-33.

[49] Western Mail, 9 May 1945.

[50] Kemp and Graves, The Red Dragon, 51-53, 54.

[51] Morris, Atgofion, 126; Ellis, Welsh Guards at War, 144.

[52] Kemp and Graves, Red Dragon, 160.

[53] Confidential annex by Minister without portfolio, 2 November 1939.  NA: CAB/65/4/2.

[54] HC Deb, 18 December 1941 vol 376 c2067.

[55] ‘Welsh representation’. Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, 15 March 1942. NA: CAB 66/23/3.

[56] Cabinet minutes, 16 March 1942.  NA: CAB/65/25/34.

[57] Morris, Atgofion Hen Filwr, 95.

[58] Lleisau Ail Rhyfel Byd: 1939, Episode 1, S4C (Broadcast: 16 September 2012).

[59] Wiliams, ‘Continental Excursions’, 85.

[60] Digest of Welsh Historical Statistics, table 1.18. Data refers to people aged 3+.

[61] The Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, Third Memorandum by the Council on its Activities 1956-57 Cmnd. 53 (London: HMSO, 1957), 118-30. The report recommended against sending those with poor commands of English to such units.

[62] Keidrych Rhys, ‘Editorial’, Wales, 3, 1 (July 1943), 4.

[63] N. Hughes, ‘Effaith galwad i’r caci’, in J. E. Jones, ed., Llais y Cymry yn Lluoedd Lloegr: Dyfyniadau o’u Llythyrau (Caernarfon: Plaid Cymru, 1944), 3. The membership of Plaid Cymru did grow from 3,750 to 6,050 over the course of the war. Wiliams, Tir Newydd, 37.

[64] Between 1939 and 1945, the number of radio licenses in Wales increased from 406,000 to 490,000. John Davies, Broadcasting and the BBC in Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2004), 138-9.

[65] Some of these evacuees came from other parts of Wales. For an overview of their reception see Johnes, Wales since 1939, 14-6.

[66] Isobel Wylie Hutchinson, ‘Wales in Wartime’, National Geographic Magazine, 85/6 (1944), 751-68.

[67] See the reproduced letter in Bryan Morse, A Moment in History: The Story of the American Army in the Rhondda in 1944 (Llandysul: Y Lolfa, 2001), 94-5.

[68] ‘Public opinion and the refugee’, Mass Observation file report 332 (August 1940).

[69] ‘What Britain means to me’, Mass Observation file report 904 (October 1941).

[70] For contemporary concerns about evacuation see R. I. Aaron, ‘A Modern Dispersion’, University of Wales Guild of Graduates: The Guild Annual 1940 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1940), 2-6.

[71] Quoted in translation in J. Graham Jones, ‘The attitude of the political parties towards the Welsh language’, in Geraint H. Jenkins and Mari Williams, eds, ‘Let’s Do Our Best for the Ancient Tongue’: The Welsh Language in the Twentieth Century (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), 262.

[72] For a discussion of these poems see Robert Rhys, ‘Poetry 1939-1970’, in Dafydd Johnston, ed., A Guide to Welsh Literature (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1998), 89-116.

[73] See, for example, the 1939 editions of Welsh Nationalist.

[74] K. O. Morgan, ‘Peace Movements in Wales, 1899-1945’, Welsh History Review, 10/4 (1981), 398-43; ‘Conscientious Objectors’, Mass Observation file report 312 (June 1940); A. O. H. Jarman, ‘Plaid Cymru in the Second World War’, Planet, 48 (1979), 21-30. For the recollections of nationalist objectors see John Griffith Williams, Maes Mihangel (Dinbych: Gwasg Gee 1974).

[75] Western Mail, 21 April 1945.

[76] Jarman, ‘Plaid Cymru’, 24.

[77] On the lack of ideological commitment see French, Raising Churchill’s Army, 126 and Ellis, World War II, ch. 8.

[78] Jack Jones, Me and Mine: Further Chapters in the Autobiography of Jack Jones (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1946), 124-5.

[79] Western Mail, 8 May 1945.

[80] Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald and North Wales Observer, 11 and 25 May 1945.

[81] Daily Mirror, 13 September 1945.

[82] Rose, Which People’s War?, 290, 286.

[83] On the 1942 Welsh Courts Act see J. Graham Jones, ‘The National Petition on the Legal Status of the Welsh Language, 1938-1942’, Welsh History Review, 18/1 (1996), 92-124. For a wider view of official responses to Welsh identity in the war see Johnes, Wales since 1939, ch. 1. For resentment of Welsh clichés see Rose, Which People’s War?, 221. On the BBC see Davies, Broadcasting and the BBC, ch. 3.

[84] There were periodic concerns, for example, that Wales was not properly represented on bodies such as the Ministry of Information. See Western Mail, 21 December 1940.

[85] Analysis of German propaganda, April 1-15, 1940. NA: CAB/68/6/8. For memories of a Welsh Guardsman POW who the Germans tried to entice into doing radio propaganda broadcasts by appealing to his Welshness, see Pritchard, Life in the Welsh Guards, 30-1.

[86] ‘What Britain means to me’, Mass Observation file report 904 (October 1941).

[87] For a wider consideration of British in Wales see Martin Johnes, ‘Wales, History and Britishness’, Welsh History Review, 25/4 (2011), 596-61.

[88] French notes that the lack of personal commitment to the war did not mean a lack of morale or combat effectiveness. French, Raising Churchill’s Army, 134.

Welsh rain

Welsh rain… It descends with the enthusiasm of some one breaking bad news. It comes down in a constant cataract. It blots out sea, sky and mountain. Vast shapes from the beginning of the world that tower to the clouds are as if they had never been. The rain is like a separate element. A man can lose himself in it as if lost in fog. It flies, abetted by its companion the wind, to the left and to the right. It even blows upward over the edge of high places. It runs around corners with the wind.  It finds its way up your sleeves and down your neck. It sings a song on the roads as it runs, a miniature stream, to join other rivulets until it forms a little mountain torrent. In the hills it comes rushing through the heather-stems to fall in hundreds of tiny waterfalls – hundreds of Lilliputian Bettws-y-Coeds – over stone walls upon the mountain passes. And a man looks at it in amazement and thinks that Owen Glendower must have been at his tricks again. In such wind and rain was the tent of Henry IV blown down when the English armies were seeking the Welshman. And no wonder the whisper went round that he could control the elements; for rain in Wales can seem directed by some malignant producer, some one bent on drowning the earth and wiping from the mind of man all memory of dry places.

From H. V. Morton, In Search of Wales (1932).

Writing Welsh History

This short essay was originally published on a website called WalesHome in 2012. That site is no longer available so I have reproduced the piece here.

Writing history isn’t easy.  It can be like doing a jigsaw when you don’t know what the picture is, half the pieces are missing and those that are left can be put together in a variety of quite different ways. Thus the story told ends up owing as much as to the historian as to what actually happened. This isn’t to say that the history is made up, just that it could have been made to look very different.

I have just published a book called Wales since 1939. At more than 200,000 words, it’s a rather long and it covers a lot of ground. It includes material not just on the expected topics of devolution, miners and rugby but also on themes less commonly found in books on Welsh history such as youth culture, house prices and shopping. It’s a book that features the Beatles, the Queen and Churchill, as well as Gwynfor, Nye and Rhodri.

Even then the picture painted of Wales is only partial. Much has been left out or skimmed over.  People interested in classical music, the theatre or even the Liberal Party may feel their pet topic has been given short thrift. Others, however, may get upset, not so much because their interest has not been given due attention but because they don’t like what’s said about it.

Historians of older periods have the luxury that the people they write about can’t answer back. For those of us who write about more recent times, being told we’ve got it wrong is an occupational hazard.  A member of the audience saying something along the lines of ‘it wasn’t like that’ has been a feature of probably every public contemporary history talk I have ever given.  One woman’s comment was simply to point out that she was actually there. It was unclear whether the implication was that the analysis given was wrong or that history should only be discussed by first-hand witnesses.

Writing about the nature of Wales exacerbates these problems because people hold very deep-held views about what the answer is.  As the comment pages of WalesHome illustrate, questions of nationalism, politics and language are not always debated very calmly or rationally.  Some will disagree with my book not because of the evidence I present but because they don’t like the answers I’ve come up with. I doubt any evidential base or any form of argument would have persuaded them otherwise.

Moreover, I expect I will at times get attacked from all sides because the book is sometimes nice and sometimes critical about both nationalism and the Labour movement. It acknowledges both the importance of the Welsh language and how at times it has alienated people. It even points out that there are many Tories in Wales and some of them have made important contributions to their nation. In the past my writings have led to me being called both a Welsh nationalist and anti-Welsh.

The trick to writing a history of a nation is not so much coming up with one definition of that nation but acknowledging that modern nations are comprised of different peoples, with different ideas, experiences and outlooks.  Many of these are wholly incompatible and very contradictory. The task of the historian is to make sense of them and put them in some form of order that acknowledges the plurality of experiences but does not lose sight of the totality of the parts.

Doing that is easier said than done when the historian has been a witness and participant in some of the events and trends under discussion. No matter how hard we try we can never be neutral but try we must. I have certainly tried to stop my background and my politics from colouring the answers I have come up with but they have shaped the questions I have asked.  That is evident in how themes of national identity are central to my work. Having grown up in an English-speaking family in a Welsh-speaking community, such questions have mattered in my life.

Yet it is far too simple to just say that historians write histories that are coloured by who they are.  Historians change their minds, especially as the optimism and anger of youth gets tempered by the weariness and pragmatism of later years. Moreover, the actual experience of researching and writing history itself impacts on the historian’s views.  It encourages us to see the world in more nuanced, qualified and complex terms.  Having researched contemporaryWalesI better appreciate how resilient Welsh identity has been but also how for the majority it is not quite the issue that it has been in my life.

It is the final chapter that looks at Wales after 1997, that will probably draw the most criticism. For earlier periods I can claim that the interpretations are the basis of reasoned and sustained judgement. But for the very recent past this is more difficult because events are still evolving. I started writing the book at a time when most people considered we were living in a relatively stable economy; I finished writing it at a time of significant problems and only time can tell whether this is the beginning of a long period of austerity or just another cyclical downturn. Similarly, it’s simply too early to make any sound judgement on how devolution had changed the structure of the Welsh economy and society.  It’s probably unfair to even ask the question given how limited the Welsh government’s powers have been.  Moreover, who knows how future events might make my judgements on the last decade look hopelessly naive or outdated.

The Wales I describe in my book is a place divided by class, culture, age, gender, region and ethnicity. But it’s also a place where people felt something in common too, whether that was based on a shared sense of history, national identity, economic experience or even just watching the same television programmes. The Wales I see in the past is a place people have both died for and thought irrelevant, a place that has stirred both passion and apathy.

It is a place with much in common with England but different too.  It is a place that deserves understanding on its own terms but that cannot be understood without acknowledging that the outside world helped shape it.  My history of Wales includes war, racism and the British Empire.

I could have painted a different picture of Wales. I could have told the story of a people oppressed and ignored by foreign rule or greedy capitalists. But the Wales I see is a more complicated and perhaps boring place. It’s a place where many people were more interested in shopping, sport and soap operas than the politics of class and nation. That’s neither a criticism nor a universal truth. And it makes devolution and the rise in a popular Welsh patriotism over the last 70 odd years, no less important but certainly more remarkable.

Wales since 1939 is published by Manchester University Press and retails at £16.99 or less. 

Wales and Britain since 1945

The Pierhead, Cardiff Bay

Saturday 14 July 2012,  12 pm to 4 pm

Llafur, the Welsh People’s History Society, is holding an afternoon of papers and discussion on social, cultural and political change in Wales and Britain since the Second World War.

The three speakers are:

  • Rhodri Morgan. Former First Minister of Wales (2000-2009)
  • Martin Johnes (SwanseaUniversity). Author of Wales since 1939 (Manchester University Press, 2012). For more information on Martin’s books please visit www.hanescymru.com
  • Alwyn Turner. Historian and writer. Author of Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s (Aurum, 2008) and Rejoice! Rejoice! Britain in the 1980s (Aurum, 2010). For more information on Alwyn’s books please visit http://www.alwynwturner.com/ He will be discussing how broadcasting technology has shaped our sense of society and nationhood in the post-war period.

There is no charge for attending.

To book your free place, please contact Sian Williams, Llafur Secretary by email: miners@swansea.ac.uk or by phone: 01792 518603


Random Swansea scenes from the 1937 Coronation

The South Wales Evening Post noted most of the celebrations were unofficial and reported that ‘the mass of people has been aflame with enthusiasm, and the results in the small streets and tiny hamlets have been half comic, but touching in their exuberance. “Eat, drink and be merry” is the national watchword tomorrow.’

One Swansea woman noted in her diary, ‘As we passed small public house [that afternoon] I heard about 4 or 5 men inside singing God Save the King very emotionally and raucously – they sounded half-intoxicated.’

At an unemployed men’s club in the town, the coronation concert began at 3pm with God Save the King and ended with Hen Wlad fy Nhadau and For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. In-between was a comedian, old music hall songs and some Welsh hymns. It was followed by a bus trip to the Gower.

A 62-year-old charwoman noted how her Swansea street was decorated with streamers and Christmas festoons. The children had tea at the street party at 3.30pm (Blanc Mange Jelly, Cream Slices and Pastry). The women had theirs at 4pm (Ham and tongue, pickles, pastries and cake). The men ate next. She listened to the King’s Speech too, saying it was ‘very nice’ and that he did ‘very well’. She noted that he did not stutter but did stop periodically: ‘you’d think he’d finished and then he’d go on again’.

That night there was dancing in neighbouring streets with the music coming from radios in open windows. There was no ‘rowdyism’ and it was all very friendly. The charwoman did, however, break a tooth on a bread roll which led her to later tell her employer ‘So I shall remember the Coronation’.

Taken from the Mass Observation May the Twelfth day survey, 1937

Why Wales should not take part in a Team GB at this year’s Olympics

In today’s Western Mail, Andrew RT Davies, the Welsh Conservative leader, makes a case for the inclusion of Welsh players in a Team GB football side at this year’s Olympics.  He’s wrong.

His argument is based on the following points:

1. It’s a one off and for Ryan Giggs this is his last opportunity to play in a major tournament.

If it’s individual Welsh players’ chances of competing in tournaments that matter then why stop at the Olympics? After all, Bale and co will have a better chance of making it to Brazil 2014 as part of a UK team. The argument that individuals matter more than their nation cannot be taken up or cast aside according to circumstances.  The wishes of, or sentiment for, any individual player should never take precedence over the interests of his club or national team.

2. ‘Recent statements from the FIFA president have indicated that one-off participation would not jeopardise our independent status as a national association’

This is the key issue.  Unfortunately there are older statements from the FIFA president where he essentially says completely the opposite (see Bethan Jenkins’ reply article on the same page). If Blatter’s changed his mind once he can change it again.

Moreover, as a politician, Davies should really know that the leadership and direction of democratic institutions can change.  His argument is rather like saying that because David Cameron says something now, no other future prime minister will ever say or do the opposite.  Even if it’s 50 years before a future FIFA leader raises a precedent from 2012 to question the special status of the UK nations, a Team GB would prove to be a mistake. We have to remember that to many in the football world the position of non-independent nations having independent status purely because the game was invented here seems illogical. There are already plenty of precedents to the issue being questioned and discussed. Why take the risk and give ammunition to opponents?

 3. A Team GB will not undermine a sense of Welsh nationhood.

He’s right here, but this argument is irrelevant.  The case against a football Team GB is nothing to do with whether Wales is British or not. It is about whether Wales is able to retain its independence in the football world, not in any other world.

4.  Our footballing talent stands to gain much from ‘exposing themselves to high level international competition’.

Presumably this means in developing their experience rather than their exposure to potential employers. Perhaps Bale and co will develop their talents through the experience, but there are many, many more Welsh players who will lose out on international experience if Wales cease to have their own international side.

5. ‘Giving young Welsh people the opportunity to watch their Welsh heroes playing for Team GB will have obvious benefits for increasing sports participation.’

Will it really? Is there any evidence for this at all? Are there really young kids around who would take up football just because Bale is playing for Team GB? If these guys are heroes already, then the kids must already be watching them for Wales, Spurs etc.  Why would kids be watching the football Olympics at all, if they didn’t like football already?

6. The involvement of Welsh players ‘will place our nation in the global shop window with obvious economic benefits’.

Again, is there evidence for this? If there are economic benefits to Welsh players in a Team GB, they aren’t even remotely obvious to me. Will watchers even know Bale, Ramsey and whoever is on the bench are Welsh?  Will there be some industrialist watching who thinks, “What a great player. I must open a factory near where he comes from”?

7. Not taking part will damage Wales economically and culturally.

Presumably the economic argument is the imagined opportunities discussed in point 6. The cultural damage Davies foresees seems to be that we will be isolated from ‘our British neighbours’.  Quite how not taking part in a short football tournament (some of which is held in Wales anyway) amounts to cultural damage is not clear. Did the UK’s non participation in any of any of the recent Olympic tournaments hurt Wales culturally? Did anyone here even care? Why does the fact that the Olympics are in the UK mean this issue suddenly matters?

In conclusion, a football Team GB is a potential threat to the independent status of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in football.  Yes, it is not a definite threat but it is a risk.

Sometimes we need to takes risks in life when there are obvious rewards for doing so. In this case there are no overall rewards for doing so, whereas the potential fallout would change Welsh sporting history forever.

People who look at the history of FIFA know that. The FAW and SFA know that. Any Welsh player who wants to pull on that GB shirt, and any fan or politician encouraging him to do so, needs to know that.  If you believe Wales should have its own football team, you have to be opposed to Welsh players in football’s Team GB.

Martin Johnes teaches history at Swansea University. His books include A History of Sport in Wales (2005) and Wales since 1939 (2012).

First words in Welsh history (or openings from some random books)

Tonight a new ‘landmark’ series begins on BBC Wales about the history of Wales. I don’t know how far back it will begin but it’s prompted to me to dig out some schoolbooks on the history of Wales and see how they start.

Here are the results of this random exercise:

” History tells us of the deeds of the men of olden time, and their manner of life. These men were our ancestors, and therefore we resemble them, as children resemble their parents: nevertheless, no age is exactly like the one before it; for new things are constantly being discovered, and so the world progresses. Thus, though ancestors of ours have for many centuries lived among the hills of Wales, we should not recognize one of them, if he were to come to life again, but should certainly believe him to be some wild savage.”  J. E. Lloyd, Llyfr Cyntaf Hanes (1893).

“The story of England and Wales is a very long and a very famous one. It is full of deeds of brave and wise men, each of whom loved his own country, and did his utmost for it.” John Finnemore, The Story of England and Wales (1924).

“Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice, fifty-five and fifty-four years before the birth of Christ. He wrote a book about his invasion, but he never came to Wales so his story does not belong to Welsh history.” Mary McCririck, Stories of Wales (1957).

“During the early years of the Second World War, Britain was threatened with invasion from the east across the North Sea, and from the south across the English Channel. Thousands of people left their homes in eastern and southern England, and came to Wales to find refuge from possible occupation by the enemy. It has always been like that. Through the Christian era, and through far longer prehistoric ages, in the face of invasion the people of lowlands have pressed westward into Wales, and the invaders of one age have become the refugees of the next.”  David Frasers, The Invaders (1962).

“Imagine living in a country where the trees drip with human blood.”  Terry Deary, Horrible Histories: Wales (2008)

There are lots of different ways to tell the story of Wales and lots different places it might start. But however and wherever history is started says more about the teller than the subject.