Peace Profiles: Gareth Jones, ”The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

Peace & Journalism

‘Peace profiles’ is a series by Academi Heddwch Cymru, which aims to draw attention to peace figures from around the world who have had a role in Welsh peace history.

The Second World War is a subject that is widely explored, and as the anniversaries since that cataclysmic period become sesquicentennial and bicentennial, still a surprisingly small number of people are aware of the role of one Welsh journalist who fought for the truth in the face of fascism. Gareth Jones was born in 1905 in Barry, south Wales, to Major Edgar Jones (a Headmaster) and Annie Gwen Jones (who had been the tutor to the children of Welsh steel industrialist John Hughes – founder of Hughesovka in Ukraine). Gareth graduated from Aberystwyth University with a degree in French in 1926, and went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he was very active in the League of Nations Union.  

A Welshman looks at Europe‘: 

In 1929, Gareth became a professional freelance reporter and quickly began submitting articles to newspaper outlets and journals. In the following year (January, 1930), Gareth Jones was hired as the Foreign Languages Advisor to the former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. By 1932, Jones had visited the Soviet Union twice, and had documented his observations through three separate articles, two of which were titled ‘The Two Russias’ and one named ‘The Real Russia’. The latter article reported on the starvation of peasants in Ukraine and Southern Russia, and all were published anonymously in The Times.

Throughout 1933 and 1934, Jones travelled to Germany three times, writing a total of 12 articles. Jones, an astute and sharp-witted man, recorded his observations in his articles and through diaries. The articles make for fascinating testimony, with this young Welsh reporter being the first journalist to interview Hitler following his appointment as Chancellor in late January 1933. From his seat in the ‘’Richthofen’’ on February 23rd, mere meters from Hitler, Jones wrote: ‘If this aeroplane should crash then the whole history of Europe would be changed.’ This sentence is particularly chilling to modern readers, in light of what we now know of the Third Reich, but Gareth would not live long enough to see the beginning of the Second World War, or understand how true his words were.

We are now descending, however.  Frankfurt is beneath us.  A crowd is gathered below.  Thousands of faces look up at us.  We make a smooth landing.  Nazi leaders, some in brown, some in black and silver, all with a red swastika arm-band, await their chief.  Hitler steps out of the aeroplane.  But he is now a man spiritually transformed.  His eyes have a certain fixed purpose.  Here is a different Hitler.  

There are two Hitlers – the natural boyish Hitler, and the Hitler who is inspired by tremendous national force, a great Hitler.  It is the second Hitler who has stirred Germany to an awakening. 

Gareth Jones’ article in The Western Mail, February 28th, 1933. Written ‘In Hitler’s Aeroplane, Three o’clock, Thursday Afternoon, February 23, 1933.’

In March 1933, Jones travelled to Russia for a third time. On March 7th, he slipped away from authorities and into Ukraine, where his diary entries provide first-hand accounts of the mass starvation that Jones witnessed. Unable to allow such a fate to befall the Ukrainian people, Jones issued a press release to several newspaper outlets upon his return to Berlin on March 29th.

Jones’ claims, however, were dismissed by other Moscow-based journalists, some of whom were held with high regard in the world of journalism, such as Walter Duranty. Duranty, the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Correspondence in 1932, attacked Jones’ claims through numerous counter-articles. This attack by a high-profile and well-respected journalist severely tarnished Jones’ reputation. Duranty’s motives for doing so are hotly debated to this day. According to Jones’ great-nephew, Nigel Linsan Colley, the only work that Gareth could find following his Ukraine articles was with The Western Mail in Cardiff, covering ‘arts, crafts and coracles’.

Banned from entering the Soviet Union ever again, Jones set his sights on the Far East. It was in this pursuit that Gareth was kidnapped by bandits in 1935, who were suspected of being paid by the Soviet NKVD. Gareth Jones was murdered the day before his 30th birthday, on August 13th, 1935, for exposing the Holodomor to the West.

One of Gareth Jones’ diaries, detailing his observations in Ukraine.

The tragic circumstances of Gareth’s death haunted his family for many generations, particularly his grieving parents. Gareth’s father, Major Edgar Jones, became warden of the Temple of Peace and Health during the Second World War. Gareth’s parents presented a collection of his books to the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff. The collection, some items of which contain Jones’ annotations, has lain undisturbed ever since.