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Investiture, part III, by Wyn Thomas

(December 03, 2014)


The Royal Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, in Caernarfon on 1 July 1969, was opposed by many in Wales; Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC - the Movement to Defend Wales) and the Free Wales Army (FWA) among them.

In the third part of his series on this key event in modern Wales, Dr Wyn Thomas establishes the event in its contemporary context, and looks at its legacy (parts one and two are here and here).

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

On investiture eve, Alwyn Jones and George Taylor, one of the four MAC active units armed by John Jenkins (leader of MAC) to protest the ceremony, were killed as they apparently planted a device outside the Social Security office in Abergele.

As the Royal Party drew near Caernarfon Castle, a second bomb exploded, moments after the traditional 21 Royal Gun Salute of welcome.

The day after the investiture, the fourth device was reputedly located at Llandudno pier, where, minutes later, Prince Charles was due to come ashore from the Royal Yacht Britannia, to begin a tour through Wales. It was 'reputedly' discovered, because official sources deny a device was found. This is sharply contested by John Jenkins, who claims that police officers and the judicial establishment played down its discovery.

But what of the third device? Four days after the ceremony, in what is surely regarded as the nadir of the entire campaign, ten-year-old English lad, Ian Cox - holidaying in Caernarfon - was badly injured when he disturbed a package while retrieving his football from a garden. The bomb was meant to have detonated as the royal procession to Caernarfon Castle went by. It was intended, John Jenkins states "to serve as a disruption" and not "to cause injury or damage". However, placed beneath two large oil containers - empty as it transpired, but the MAC saboteurs were presumably unaware of this - it can only be imagined what the result might have been, had the device ignited the oil through its activation. Nonetheless, with regard the injuries sustained by Ian Cox, there are those - and this is not a view shared by John Jenkins - who claim it was unfortunate 'collateral damage'; that the state itself, having engineered the spectacle for its own political ends, should be held to account. Yet, others believe such injuries to a ten-year-old boy can never be justified; whatever the cause. And, furthermore, that the MAC campaign had derailed itself morally and was now dangerously out of control. Asked why the authorities were not notified of the unexploded device, John Jenkins resolutely declared they were. But, having alerted the police to the bomb's location, any attempt to retrieve the device was thus prevented, owing to the likelihood the site was being watched. The explanation is regarded by many as insufficient.

As a spectacle of Royal pageantry, the investiture was a success. So too did it appeal to 'mainstream' Welsh public opinion. It also succeeded, largely, in sending the political message that Wales 'rightfully' belonged in the union of British nations. The apparent warmth shown by the people of Wales towards Prince Charles as he toured the country following the ceremony, suggests the investiture had struck a chord and that he was held in some fair degree of affection. However, the investiture did not attract the 200,000 expected visitors to Caernarfon; only 70,000-100,000 attended. Crucially, it was not the jamboree or carnival that organizers and royal and government officials hoped for. The heavy security presence on the day, and the undermining of the royal salute, was enough to ensure the militants could claim with some justification, to having undermined the prestige of the occasion. Asked for his opinion, John Jenkins replied that while people have said the military won because the investiture went ahead, these people had simply missed the point. "To cancel the ceremony, was never our objective", he said. "It would have been the 'icing on the cake', but with Plaid Cymru's refusal to lead a protest, that was never going to happen. However, had the party formally stated its intention to lead a mass sit-down in Caernarfon; had the authorities feared an outbreak of militancy, then I'm sure" Jenkins declared, "it would have been cancelled. They'd have claimed that Charles had a terrible cold; anything", he added, "which offered a diplomatic way out".

So did Plaid Cymru benefit from the militant campaign? Certainly John Jenkins and other former activists believe it did. And there is evidence that, prior to the explosion at Clywedog in March 1966, party canvassers in industrial south Wales, were robustly asked "what is Plaid Cymru?". Following the explosion, this did appear to change. Interestingly, the vote for Plaid Cymru - despite Gwynfor Evans losing the Carmarthen seat - did peak at the 1970 General Election; when, following the 'British occasion' of the investiture, it might have been expected to fall. However, there is a contrary view: that support for Plaid Cymru was already falling in the months before the militant campaign ended. And that more importantly, it was not militant action that Plaid Cymru profited from, but rather the Labour Party's poor economic record, its mishandling of the Aberfan financial settlement issue and the tip clearance controversy. Subsequently, when the more acute memories of the Aberfan disaster began to fade, the Labour Party's electoral fortunes in Wales revived. As for the party president, it has since emerged that Gwynfor Evans did privately acknowledge the benefit of some degree of direct action to both the political advance of Plaid Cymru and the nationalist agenda, but to have stated so publicly would have proved electoral suicide.

So, what were the short and long-term objectives of the wider campaign, and can it today be considered successful? "Considering what our objectives were", John Jenkins recently declared, "it was a success. It was to draw attention to a democratic deficit, through a hearts and minds approach: a political objective at all time. Despite what was said, it was not about stopping the people of Liverpool per se from receiving water, but to draw attention to the unfairness of what was happening. Dramatic action, namely, a campaign of direct militancy, proved to be the answer. The media - even the English media - could not ignore it; and this press attention raised questions among the Welsh populace. It was not a call for 'armed revolution', as was alleged", Jenkins added, "but rather the first, incremental step on the road to constitutional change". It is a view given countenance by Denis Coslett of the Free Wales Army. He also believed the pathway to the National Assembly began - to some degree - with the campaign of propaganda undertaken by the FWA.

Today, the campaign of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru is regarded in certain Welsh circles as a 'sacred cow'. A brilliantly orchestrated strategy above reproach; and in strictly combative terms, it did prove a worthy opposition. It achieved notable successes: including, the breaking of an apparently - un-breachable - steel water pipeline in June 1968. However, there is evidence that after the investiture, one senior MAC official wanted to take the struggle to a higher level of militancy. And for all but the most ardent supporter, this is the problem. For although John Jenkins can claim with justification that the militant campaign received a fair degree of acquiescent support throughout Wales, what troubles people is where it might have ended. John Jenkins is a man of integrity and intelligence, but a bomb in the hands of one lacking his scruples does not bear thinking about. A campaign of militant action is - by its nature - a process of escalation. Certainly, history would suggest so; a series of increasing responses, either from the state or the militants. Such a campaign of violence therefore, ultimately destroys - or certainly threatens to destroy - the very community it seeks to protect. That said, the MAC campaign did unite, to some degree, those from different political and cultural backgrounds. The bombers were seen - rightly or wrongly - as 'standing up for Wales'. This appears to have created a certain degree of pride and unity throughout the nation. It did not go unnoticed in Whitehall, Jenkins believes. "Never again will the authorities take Wales for granted", he has remarked. Interestingly, it should be noted that no populated valleys in Wales have been flooded since the campaign of direct action.

Each was arrested in November 1969 and, in April 1970, John Jenkins was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, Frederick Ernest Alders to six years. Despite this, many questions remain unanswered. By looking at the geographical spread of the explosions, it is quite apparent Jenkins and Alders did not act alone. Yet, despite a belief that between fifteen and twenty men were actively involved in the campaign, no one has been tried, let alone convicted, for undertaking protest in the name of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru. The efforts of the police have not been helped by John Jenkins, the group's leader and able strategist, who has resolutely refused to name or implicate anyone else to this day.

So, having considered the Investiture in its contemporary context, what can be said of the event with the benefit of hindsight? Was the occasion purely the flexing of unionist muscle; a callous, albeit effective way of stymieing the political growth of Welsh nationalism?

Does Prince Charles still feel, as he apparently did in the days before the ceremony, that the Welsh language and culture is "very unique and special and worthy of preservation". Having eloquently expressed his thoughts, can it be said that the prince has 'done his bit' during the interim period to safeguard the language? It certainly warranted ministerial comment at the time, with George Thomas, the loved-and-loathed-in-equal-measure Secretary of State for Wales, imploring Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, to ask the Queen to have "a discreet word" with the prince; such was Thomas's conviction that the prince's head had been turned while studying at Aberystwyth by those despicable Welsh nationalists. Whatever the truth here, if the prince were instructed to remain silent and apolitical, it certainly contrasts with his use of powers to veto, in recent years, Westminster Government Bills he considers to be in conflict with his own personal interests.

With the 50th anniversary approaching, how will the Welsh nation recall the events of that day in Caernarfon some 45 years ago: as a half-remembered charade of anachronistic, unconstitutional nonsense? Will it be dismissed, as it was then – at least by some – as 'the stamp of the conqueror'? Or will it be celebrated in 2019, as it was by many on that July day in 1969, as a true reflection of the nation's proud and affectionate link with the Royal Family?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the legacy of the Royal Investiture still manages to draw heartfelt reaction. During interviews for what I hope will be my second book – one which addresses the judicial journey of the Tryweryn Reservoir Bill – some interviewees reacted with what appeared to resemble indignation at how Prince Charles appears to harbour so little affection for 'his principality'; with one lady from the Bala area declaring: "I think he prefers Scotland, doesn't he?" The matter is hardly helped by Charles's annual one week summer 'tour' of Wales; with the smiling, PR-conscious prince, laden down with tins of home-made bara brith and jars of chutney, seemingly as happy to leave, as some of his subjects are to see him go. Still, the rent received from his house in Myddfai – utilized as base camp for the week – must come in handy during the other 51 weeks of the year. Perhaps the income explains why no other Royal residence is available for the public to rent. There again, perhaps such enterprise should be applauded during this period of economic austerity – however much more acutely felt by some than others.

As for the future, will Wales ever witness such a ceremony again? Will Prince William be bestowed with the title, Prince of Wales, with the same degree of pageantry? Lord Snowdon, one of the organisers of the '69 investiture, thought not, when interviewed for Hands Off Wales in 2009, believing that "things have moved on". Yet, to a home-made bara brith, sporting, and particularly rugby-loving nation, the England-supporting Prince William's appointment as a WRU 'patron' appears utterly baffling. Sorry, but why was William offered the position again? And by whom? Perhaps someone better placed than I might be kind enough to put me in the picture, because I completely fail to understand. Nonetheless, who can forget that trouncing, Crimea-esque result, by which the Welsh public roundly endorsed the WRU's proposal to create the 'Prince William Cup'? What, there was no discussion at all?! Do you know why? If so, would you be kind enough to put me in the picture, because clearly I have no understanding of Westminster Government's machinations.

Yet, putting my cynicism to one side, no-one can deny that there are many in Wales who feel real and genuine warmth for the Royals. One such, is a rather elderly gentleman who farms above the lapping shores of Llyn Celyn. During a recent interview, and despite his lingering anger at the "injustice" which surrounds the flooding of Cwm Tryweryn, I was left in no doubt as to his belief that the "industrious" Royal Family does much good for Wales – and the UK as a whole. For people like him, good and sincere, the Royals will always be assured of 'a welcome in the hillside'. As for me, I've said my piece. You are the reader; you decide.

Wyn Thomas, December 2014

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

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