Cymru Culture

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Investiture, part I, by Wyn Thomas

(June 01, 2014)

Investiture

The 45th anniversary of the Royal Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales will take place on 1 July, 2014. However, before he analyses the events in Caernarfon in 1969 in its current context, Dr Wyn Thomas establishes the event in its contemporary context, in the first part of his series on key events in modern Wales.

Caernarfon Castle 30 June 1969. The day before Charles' Investiture
Caernarfon Castle 30 June 1969
The day before Charles' Investiture

To close the Empire Games in Cardiff, in July 1958, the Queen - by way of recorded message due to illness - announced that her eldest son Charles would henceforth be Prince of Wales; and that he would be invested as such in a ceremony at Caernarfon "at some point in the future".

The declaration came twelve months after Wales’ political nakedness was exemplified, by parliamentary endorsement of Liverpool Corporation’s Tryweryn Reservoir Bill, when all but one of the nation's 36 MPs either opposed the measure or abstained. It was wholly apparent to Welsh nationalists, that without adequate parliamentary protection, the cultural and political interests of Wales were extremely vulnerable. Out of this anger emerged two groups: the publicity orientated Free Wales Army (FWA) and the clandestine, audacious and militant Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC - the Movement to Defend Wales).

Crucially however, it is the belief that Cwm Tryweryn was sacrificed on the altar of Plaid Cymru's electoral advance which gave rise to militancy. It has been argued that, in attempting to attract broader electoral support, the party refused to take a more sharpened approach. Such as, a mass 'sit down' at the doomed village of Capel Celyn. This precipitated the notion - particularly among younger members of the party - that only militant action could prevent such episodes from happening again.

Watching "horrified" from the wings at this juncture was John Jenkins, sergeant in the Army Dental Corps and, until April 1965, stationed in Germany. Jenkins decided to return to Wales and orchestrate a covert campaign of militant action against the British State. This, Jenkins decided, following what he and others regarded as the failure of Plaid Cymru to prevent - through constitutional means - the flooding of another Welsh valley: Cwm Clywedog in Montgomeryshire. Posted to Saighton Barracks near Chester and living with his family in Wrexham, John Jenkins soon determined one crucial component was needed for this campaign of militant action to succeed: that activists should operate in groups of only two or three and that only the cell leader would be known to him. More importantly, even the cell leader would know nothing of Jenkins' background: including his name. John Jenkins has since revealed that information would filter back to him of a person in a particular area, who was espousing support and sympathy for a militant response. Jenkins would then meet this individual and in an attempt to determine their suitability, "try to argue him under the table". Finally, after weeks of what Jenkins has called "careful consideration and deliberation", he would make contact with this individual again and reveal his involvement in the militant campaign. This person would then be informed that what awaited him through his active participation was either death or imprisonment. "There are not", Jenkins has said, "many who subscribe to that brochure. But there are some; there are always some, and in those people lay the future". Another criterion Jenkins recognized as paramount was that a campaign of militant action must graduate in accordance with public opinion. It must always be an organization's primary objective "to reflect the concerns of those it seeks to represent". Mindful of this, Jenkins soon realised he could only "move so far, so fast".

In September 1967, John Jenkins and Frederick Alders - a colleague in the Territorial Army brass band - undertook their first action in the name of MAC. They successfully targeted the pipeline carrying water from Llyn Vyrnwy to Liverpool at Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochant. Over the next two years, with devices assembled by Jenkins using gelignite stolen during a raid at a quarry, the two men carried out a number of explosions. It is believed they did not act alone. The explosions occurred both across Wales and just over the border in England. While only men planted the devices, Jenkins says the role played by women sympathetic to the cause proved invaluable. This support came in the way of providing meals, safe houses and 'local' information.

The former Welsh militant community (which the Free Wales Army can fit within to some degree) is an interesting phenomenon. It comprised a disparate group of men and women, of different ages, from various educational and socio-economic backgrounds, who against their natural instincts as parents and in many cases as respected members of Welsh community life, collectively regarded themselves to be in conflict with the British state; and a central government, which they considered ambivalent, if not hostile, to Welsh cultural interests.

In May 1967, it was announced that the Royal Investiture of Charles Windsor as Prince of Wales would be held in Caernarfon on 1 July 1969. Responding to the news, Gwynfor Evans stated he was "unenthusiastic" about it. It is likely he felt similar, when it was announced six months later that Charles would spend the 1969 summer term at University College of Wales Aberystwyth, learning about the nation’s history and cultural identity. Not for the first, nor indeed the last time, the president of Plaid Cymru and MP for Carmarthen, found himself between a political 'rock and a hard place'. To be seen to support the entire investiture process went against his own political instincts. But so too did he realise it would undermine his standing in nationalist circles. Yet, to appear openly hostile, would, he believe, cost the party electoral support. Perhaps uppermost in Evans’ mind - with the campaign of militant activism continuing apace - was that someone might try to physically harm the prince. Possibly with this in mind, in September 1968, Plaid Cymru announced that it was "up to the conscience of individual party members if they chose to oppose the ceremony". In other words, there would be no official, collective, party response. To John Jenkins this was "merely a cop out", and a decision which resulted in "a lot of ill-feeling at the time".

Contrary to the perceived nebulous opposition of Plaid Cymru, to those on the militant periphery of Welsh politics, the investiture was regarded an 'open sore' and an act of English imperialism. Dubbed 'Croeso 69' (Welcome '69) by organising bodies, it was dismissed as 'Insult 69', by those who opposed it. Further, it was felt that the investiture programme was being undertaken with the full connivance of the failing Labour Party government, to stymie the political advance of Plaid Cymru and the nationalist agenda.

In autumn 1967, John Jenkins, by now Operational Director of MAC, formulated this policy: every time a member of the Royal family or those involved in the planning of the investiture stepped into Wales, there would be an explosion. This would lead to an inevitable overreaction from the authorities, which consequently, would lead to increased support for the militant struggle. Jenkins did not have long to test his theory. In November 1967, a 15lb device exploded at the entrance to the Temple of Peace in Cardiff. The venue had been chosen for the inaugural conference of the Investiture Organising Committee. To coincide with this meeting, Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg held a demonstration to protest the investiture. As a result of the explosion hours before, the police - protestors allege - were very heavy-handed. To his credit, John Jenkins had correctly anticipated what would transpire.

Later asked what "disruptive measures" the anti-investiture movement planned for the occasion, Gethin ap Iestyn, at the vanguard of the anti-investiture movement, disclosed a veritable stratagem. As a means to convince the authorities fires were raging throughout Caernarfon, a significant number of industrial 'plumbers' smoke bombs (drain testers) had been amassed and stored on "Forestry Commission land in mid Wales and among a slate slag heap in north Wales". Once activated, these would be placed in public toilets, in drains - from where smoke would surge from outlets - and in empty buildings with their windows ajar. As a means of disrupting the procession, marbles were to be discarded beneath the hooves of horses to "bring them and the rider down". Barricades were to be established: petrol bombs, stones and even potatoes embedded with razor bladeswere to be thrown. Recognizing that to truly affect the proceedings - and ensure world reaction - some measure of assault upon the ceremony was required, model airplanes replete with smoke canisters and/or horse excrement was contemplated. All to no avail. His active participation curtailed, with his arrest and prison sentence, Gethin ap Iestyn instructed all units to "stand down". It can only be imagined how history might have recorded Investiture Day had these proposals been implemented. Interestingly, ap Iestyn also revealed that plans were established for leading anti-investiture figures to go to Scotland, where they were to be housed by sympathetic Scottish nationalists. It was then the intention, having laid low until shortly before the investiture, to return to Wales and implement the above listed course of protest action. Many activists, however, opposed undertaking any action which endangered life.

Wyn Thomas, June 2014

 

Part two of Investiture, by Dr Wyn Thomas is available here.

Dr Wyn Thomas is a noted authority on the flooding of Capel Celyn and Cwm Tryweryn, its cause and effects. His seminal work, Hands off Wales; Nationhood and Militancy, on the campaign of Welsh militancy from 1963 to 1969, is published by, and available from, Gwasg Gomer, Llandysul.

Discover more on Wyn Thomas' website: www.welshmilitanthistory.com

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