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Emlyn Davies - Pilgrim of Peace: George M. Ll. Davies

(December 01, 2017)


Pilgrim of Peace: George M. Ll. Davies (1880-1949)
George M Ll Davies 1940s
George M Ll Davies, 1940s

As a teenager, I once heard someone describing how his uncle, a farmer, had bought a new fountain-pen. To try it out, he had written the letters G.M.Ll.D. over and over on the blank page in front of him. This person knew quite well that his uncle’s great hero was George Maitland Lloyd Davies, but he decided to pull his leg by pretending that the writing was a bit of a mystery, and he queried the meaning. The old farmer's response was “Gŵr Mewn Llaw Duw” ("A Man in the Hand of God").

It would take a series of articles in this magazine to do justice to the brilliant contribution made by George M. Ll. to different causes, here in Wales and around the world, but since this year is the centenary of the start of the political career of Éamon de Valera, we will focus on his efforts to bring together the Irish and British leaders to try to avoid any further loss of blood.

Éamon de Valera, c. 1922-30
Éamon de Valera, c. 1922-30

To understand George Davies' mind and motives, one needs to start with his privileged upbringing in Liverpool, and the influences on him. At that time, of course, Liverpool was the unofficial capital of north Wales, and the Welsh language was prominent on its streets, with Princes Road Chapel, where his father was a deacon, considered to be the Cathedral of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists. His mother, Gwen, was the daughter of John Jones Talysarn, a preacher renowned as one of the greatest orators in Wales at the time.

The family’s comfortable middle-class life was, however, to be short-lived. In March 1891, when George was still a pupil at the Liverpool Institute, his father’s business failed, and all was lost. For a respectable leader to become bankrupt in such a snobbish society was unforgivable, and the family lost many of their friends and their status. This episode had a great impact on George M. Ll., and there is reason to believe it partly explains his aversion to material wealth and pretentious snobbery. But his mother's influence was also responsible for forming his personality.

He embarked upon a promising career with the Territorials while employed as a banker, becoming a Lieutenant in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and in 1911 he played a prominent role in the investiture of Edward as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. But his mother, Gwen Davies, disapproved and accused him of dressing up in uniform to learn how to kill. Gwen's intervention in this respect was not her only effort to interfere in his life, for she was critical of his choice of sweetheart as well. George had met Leslie Royde Smith, a young girl from London who became a teacher in Wrexham, but she was not to his mother's liking.

Soon, George became disillusioned with the army, and at the same time he acquired a complete hatred of the banking world, seeing it contrary to the teachings of Christ. He suffered from manic depression, an illness that stayed with him for the rest of his life. By 1914, within three years of being at the centre of the pomp at Caernarfon Castle, George M. Ll. resigned from the army and from the bank.

He worked for a while at Gregynog with the Town and Housing Planning Trust for Wales, the scheme that arose from David Davies Llandinam’s burning desire to improve the quality of both the health and the homes of the people of Wales. Then, in September 1914, he was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in London, and for the rest of his days, he worked for peace and reconciliation in different ways.

As a prominent pacifist preaching openly against military force during the First World War, he was bound to come to the attention of the authorities. The inevitable consequence was imprisonment, and he spent time in four different prisons between the end of 1917 and June 1919.

While in Birmingham prison and at Knutsford Camp, in Cheshire, George Davies met many Irish nationalists, and he was very sympathetic to their cause in favour of a Free Irish State.

The other important factor was that Thomas Jones, the Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, was a good friend of his, since the Gregynog days. He was therefore well-placed to arbitrate between Britain and Ireland. Throughout 1920 and 1921, he carried messages back and forth between the leaders of the rebels in Ireland and the Cabinet Office in London.

Did George achieve anything? One must accept that historians in general are not in agreement on that point, but it is possible to present a strong argument in favour of his contribution and its importance.

In August 1920, he travelled to Ireland on behalf of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, but only after discussing his intentions with David Lloyd George. There, he learnt of the desire to see the establishment of a free republic, without any partition for Ulster. He went from Ireland to the General Assembly of the Church in Scotland, where a motion was passed calling on the Government to stop the violence in Ireland. From there he rushed to Porthmadog for an Association Meeting (Sasiwn) by the Presbyterians, where Lloyd George was the guest speaker, to inform the Prime Minister of the demands of the Irish. Lloyd George asked him to go to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, to persuade the Sasiwn being held there to press for reconciliation in Ireland. Where else would the prime minister of a country organise international diplomacy around religious mission rallies?


David Lloyd George, c. 1918David Lloyd George, c. 1918

Early in 1921 George M. Ll. was once again in Downing Street to see Lloyd George, to press upon him the importance of opening discussions with De Valera. As the Prime Minister was not available, he left a note, in Welsh, appealing to him to show a conciliatory attitude. The following Monday morning he saw in the press that Lloyd George had indeed issued an invitation to de Valera to come to London for discussions.

Was that George's influence? Who knows? He sincerely believed so. It was not so unexpected that the Deputy Cabinet Secretary wrote to George in early July 1921, asking him to go to Dublin once more. There, he met a rare breed of politician, James Douglas, who was a Quaker as well as being a keen member of Sinn Féin. It was arranged for George to meet Erskine Childers, who, in turn, promised an interview with de Valera at his home. George M. Ll. waited for him for some hours, but he did not turn up. The following day, on the morning of the 4th of July 1921, he wrote a letter to de Valera intending to deliver it in person to the Mansion House. When he arrived there he saw hundreds of people standing in front of the building, blocking his way. He asked people in the crowd to pass the letter by hand over each other's heads to the door. And that is exactly what happened!

Robert Erskine Childers, c1920 Y Mansion House, Dulyn, 1921
Robert Erskine Childers, c. 1920 Y Mansion House, Dulyn, 1921

The next morning, they had half an hour of honest discussion. De Valera, like James Douglas and Erskine Childers, felt that Lloyd George was setting a trap for them, as representatives from Northern Ireland would also be present, and Sinn Féin could not recognise them without surrendering the principles of a united Republic of Ireland. But George emphasised that he believed the invitation to be valid. 

Cynrychiolwyr Iwerddon yn y trafodaethau 1921Cynrychiolwyr Iwerddon yn y trafodaethau, 1921

Pilgrim of Peace - Jen Llywelyn

Soon afterwards, he heard that General Jan Christian Smuts of South Africa had been sent to Dublin to re-issue the invitation. This time, De Valera accepted.

At the start of the discussions, George presented a hymn book to Lloyd George through Thomas Jones. This had once been owned by his grandfather, John Jones Talysarn, a preacher for whom the Prime Minister had great admiration. Lloyd George later acknowledged that he had shown it to De Valera and had told him a little about the powerful preacher.

These talks led to the signing of the treaty in December 1921, but unfortunately it did not last, and subsequently there was a civil war.

George's attempts at peacemaking attracted very little attention from historians in Ireland and England alike. Whatever the importance of his efforts, the truth is that he risked his life talking to Sinn Féin leaders at the time. Who knows how much influence he had on Lloyd George and Thomas Jones?

George Maitland Lloyd Davies was not someone who hid behind his pacifism to save his own skin; he was a peacemaker by conviction who did not shy away from danger in a bid to seek reconciliation. He was an M.P. for a short period, and worked to secure peace in Ireland in Westminster also. In her book Pilgrim of Peace, Jen Llywelyn quotes the words of the theologian and pacifist Charles E. Raven who said on the death of George Davies, "There are few people whom we meet in life who have that peculiar quality of saintliness, and I myself could not rank George Davies lower than a saint.” The author explained what led her to write her excellent and detailed volume in a piece for Cymru Culture last year, Writing a biography in Wales

Emlyn Davies, June 2017

For further reading:

Pilgrim of Peace, Jen Llywelyn (Y Lolfa, 2016)
Writing biography in Wales, Jen Llywelyn, cylchgrawn Cymru Culture, March 2016
Heddychwr Mawr Cymru, E. H. Griffiths (Llyfrfa’r Methodistiaid 1967)
Seraff yr Efengyl Seml, E. H. Griffiths (Llyfrfa’r Methodistiaid 1967)
Protest a Thystiolaeth, Dewi Eirug Davies (Gomer 1993)
Oriel o Heddychwyr Mawr y Byd, D. Ben Rees / E. H. Griffiths (Cyhoeddiadau Modern Cymreig 1983)
Pererindod Heddwch, George M. Ll. Davies (Gwasg Gee 1945) 

If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy these by Emlyn Davies:

     Canon William Evans; September 2017
Robert Owen; June 2017

Ynysyfelin; a lost community; March 2017
Laura Ashley; December 2016
Adelina Patti, September 2016
Billy Hughes; June 2016
Coed y Bleiddiau; March 2016
Betsi Cadwaladr; December 2015
Sir Thomas Artemus Jones; September 2015
The two redheads; June 2015


cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan: Caregos Cyf., 2017

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