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Investiture, part II, by Wyn Thomas

(September 01, 2014)

Investiture

1 July 2014 was the 45th anniversary of the Royal Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales. To analyse the events in Caernarfon in 1969 in its current context, however, Dr Wyn Thomas first establishes the event in its contemporary context, in the second part of his series on key events in modern Wales (part one is here).

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

What of the Free Wales Army (FWA) in 1969? Certainly, some regarded the antics of the FWA and its garrulous cries of intimated responsibility for the bombings, as both an embarrassment and a hindrance to the advance of Welsh nationalism. Derided as a 'Dad's Army farce', it should nonetheless be remembered that the FWA was essentially involved in a 'campaign of propaganda'. Moreover, an increasingly warmer view - in certain nationalist circles - is that the Free Wales Army did have its role to play within the militant arena: it was visual, vocal, and did succeed in diverting attention and resources away from the real bombers. Led by John Jenkins, in May 1968, three incognito members of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC - the Movement to Defend Wales) held a meeting with three journalists. Its aim, John Jenkins has revealed, was to send a signal to the authorities - via the journalists - that the threat to Prince Charles was real. Jenkins may have secretly lacked the intention to harm the prince, but he wanted it understood that MAC had the 'means' and was 'willing and able' to do so. Again it was hoped this information would lead to an overreaction from the authorities: both in the build up to the ceremony and on investiture day itself, turning Wales into what Jenkins hoped would resemble 'an armed camp'.

Why was Prince Charles not seen as the rightful Prince of Wales by the nationalist community? However amiable, however well-intentioned, however much the Buckingham Palace spin machine legitimized his credentials historically; however much Charles himself was the victim of political opportunism, the rigid fact remained, nationalists declared, that Charles Windsor was not, nor indeed would he ever be, the rightful Prince of Wales. Opposition in essence was simple: had Wales not been conquered by an Anglo/Norman military force in 1282, when Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native Prince of Wales was killed, then Charles would not today be invested Prince of Wales. This, they maintained, was not an extreme view, rather historical fact. For all the prince's charm and his PR successes prior to the ceremony, his unawareness of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd - as revealed in June 1968 - did demonstrate a certain lack of sensitivity.

Yet, remarkably, the biggest problem facing the security services in apprehending the bombers, appears to have been a reluctance within the police forces in Wales - as was probably typical of police forces across the UK - to share information and knowledge. This appears to have been borne of a certain degree of professional jealousy, and the belief that officers within other Welsh constabularies, may well be sympathetic to the nationalist cause; and therefore, providing the militants with 'inside' information. This was not without foundation, as John Jenkins has stated, the movement was receiving information from sympathetic junior officers. With the investiture impending, this situation could not continue; and as a result of the on-going upsurge in extremist activity in Wales, the Shrewsbury Unit, headed by Jock Wilson of the Metropolitan Police, was established as an information centre. Its 'terms of reference' was to act as a centrally established base, where information and intelligence regarding known militant sympathizers could be collated, considered and cross-referenced. More specifically, the Shrewsbury unit was established, to ensure the success of both the investiture and the protection of the Royal Party. To this end - and to the chagrined embarrassment of Buckingham Palace - days before the ceremony, it was revealed that Prince Charles would wear throughout the day a bullet proof vest. The revelation suggests the threat to his safety was not taken lightly.

With the security and police operation to apprehend the bombers considered an embarrassing failure, questions began to be asked as to who might be responsible. Gwynfor Evans said - of the belief the security forces might themselves be behind the explosions, in order to discredit Welsh nationalism - that while it was "fantastic", it should "not be ruled out". Unsurprisingly, such allegations were easily countered in Parliament by the Secretary of State for Wales, George Thomas. Nevertheless, there are former militant campaigners who believe the authorities were prepared to use fair means or foul to ensure the success of the investiture; and more succinctly, to ensure the safety of the prince. If that involved discrediting the nationalists of Wales, by planting explosive devices apparently in their name, then so be it.

If the authorities were having no luck in arresting the saboteurs, one group easily dealt with in the build up to the investiture was the Free Wales Army. At the end of February, senior figures within the group - and others involved in the anti-investiture campaign - were arrested. Charged under various Public Order and explosives legislation, there followed a surprisingly lengthy 53 day trial. Suspiciously, as far as the nationalist community was concerned, the trial culminated on Investiture Day. For, not only did the trial ensure that the nine men were safely under lock and key during the final preparations for the ceremony, it also ensured that calculated images appeared on the day's evening news. First, the jubilant scenes from Caernarfon and then prison vans taking those convicted to begin their sentences. Was this intended to send a resounding signal of what awaits those prepared to challenge the might of the British State? Whatever the truth, Cayo Evans and Denis Coslett received fifteen months and Gethin ap Iestyn nine months imprisonment. The others on trial were either dismissed, or they were given suspended sentences.

Yet, what was the degree of support in Wales for the investiture and how important was this to the thinking of John Jenkins? A poll in August 1968, claimed 44% of the Welsh public considered it 'a waste of money'. In the 18-34 age group, the figure was 53%. Another poll four months before the ceremony, declared that 76% of those approached supported it. On closer inspection, however, the figure dropped to 60% for those surveyed under the age of 45. John Jenkins maintains the entire concept of disrupting the investiture was to give 'a voice' to those disenchanted. As a result of his army duties - whereby he travelled throughout Wales recording supplies of dental equipment - Jenkins was aware that many people regarded the event as, what he describes as 'the stamp of the conqueror'. And so, amid this atmosphere of increasing uncertainty, the scene was set for potentially one of the most tumultuous days in recent Welsh history.

Shortly before midnight, on investiture eve, one of the four MAC active units armed by John Jenkins to protest the ceremony, were killed as they apparently planted a device outside the Social Security office in Abergele. The two men, Alwyn Jones and George Taylor, were killed instantly. Since the death of her father, Jennie Evans, George Taylor's daughter, has argued passionately that her father was not in MAC, but was instead trying to talk his friend from undertaking what she calls 'a foolish act'. This view is challenged by John Jenkins, who claims Mr Taylor's daughter - just three at the time of her father's death - was not in a position to know. Moreover, an entire family might be unaware that a father, brother or husband was involved. It was not, Jenkins says tellingly, a 'matter brought up at the breakfast table'. It is a belief supported by some former police officers, who also believe George Taylor had no reason to join Alwyn Jones unless actively involved.

The fact that Abergele is en route for Caernarfon, has also led some to claim the bombers were attempting to target the railway track, or indeed, the Royal Train, which was scheduled to pass through the town that night. Despite the tantalizing conjecture, it is a claim dismissed by both John Jenkins and a number of police officers. With Jenkins stating that ever mindful of the 'hearts and minds' philosophy which underpinned MAC doctrinaire code, any attempt to target the Royal Party to have been hitherto recognized as 'massively counter-productive' in political terms; as indeed would injury suffered by police officers, who, Jenkins was further informed through a police contact, were 'patrolling the rail line in Abergele, searching for devices throughout the evening'. This same police contact, Jenkins attests, could have provided information as to the time the Royal Train was passing through Abergele, had this information been desired. Yet, it was not requested, as it was utterly superfluous to his intentions. Not all shared their commander's reasoning, says Jenkins, with some in MAC regarding an attack on the prince as wholly justified.

Whatever the truth surrounding the appalling Abergele incident, at 2:00 pm the following afternoon, just before the Royal Party began their horse-drawn journey to Caernarfon Castle, an explosion was heard moments after the traditional 21 Royal Gun Salute of welcome. It was deliberately timed to undermine the prestige of the salute, admits John Jenkins, by adding a twenty second. As the procession continued, the third of the four devices - which comprised the protest - was meant to explode. It did not. Despite some degree of public discontent during the ceremony, rude gestures and so on, there would be no more militant activity.

Wyn Thomas, September 2014

Part one 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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