Remembering for Peace: The Story of Wales’ WW2 Book of Remembrance

WCIA’s home, the Temple of Peace and Health, was founded as Wales’ memorial to the fallen of the Great War – 35,000 souls commemorated in the WW1 Book of Remembrance , held in the Crypt of the Temple (and searchable online). But few people know that there is also a WW2 Book of Remembrance – held for safe keeping within the archive collections of the National Museum of Wales. Ahead of VE Day 75, Craig Owen uncovers the story of Wales’ WW2 Book of Remembrance.

On Friday 8th May 2020, Wales, the UK and much of the world will pause to reflect on one of the greatest tragedies of the past century, as we mark the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War 2 in Europe on 8th May 1945 – ‘Victory in Europe’ Day, or VE Day 75. Over 15,000 Welsh men and women lost their lives in WW2, out of an estimated 75 million globally; and the horrors of the Holocaust and of Hiroshima, as a terrifying ‘nuclear age’ dawned, would define generations to this day.

The Temple of Peace in WW2

Poignantly, Wales’ Temple of Peace – the nation’s memorial to the fallen of WW1 – had opened in November 1938, just months before the onset of hostilities. Intended by founder David Davies to mobilise a generation against the ‘scourge of war’ through campaigns of the Welsh League of Nations Union, with the outbreak of war the building became mothballed – yet a place of pilgrimage; a beacon of hope for a better world that might emerge on the other side. Whilst war raged, peacebuilders in Wales and further afield weighed up ideas for an international order that might provide the architecture to Unite Nations. Their post-war creation would be the United Nations.

Those who had lost loved ones in WW1 – including wives, children, ‘mothers of peace’ – flocked to the Temple to visit Wales’ WW1 Book of Remembrance, the rollcall of the fallen held in the Crypt beneath the building. Visitors books, held in the Temple Archives to this day, record train loads of pilgrims from communities Wales-wide participating in services that ended with a ‘pledge for Peace’.

The Temple also hosted special events such as a 1943 Thanksgiving Service for American Services personnel stationed in Wales.

Rediscovering the WW2 Book

Cover of the WW2 Book

Wales’ WW1 Book of Remembrance, and the ‘Peace Heritage’ work of the Temple of Peace with community groups Wales-wide, have been central to WW100 Centenary activities over 2014-19, uncovering the story of the Book, and some of the stories behind the names within. Conversely however, the WW2 Book of Remembrance has become a relatively ‘hidden history’; it has not been been publicly accessible for some years, and no ‘digital footprint’ or public information has been available online to date.

Documents in the Temple of Peace Archives contain tantalising references to the WW2 Book – in particular, architects drawings and reports from c 1990 proposals to redesign the Temple’s ‘Hall of Nations’ to accommodate the WW1 and WW2 Books side by side. Visitors to WCIA’s regular Temple Tours and Open Doors days, participating in the traditional 11am ‘turning of the page’, often asked WCIA’s staff and volunteers about the WW2 Book of Remembrance. However, the WW2 book itself can presently only be viewed by appointment – though there have been suggestions over the years that the Books could be digitised, reunited and / or displayed together.

With the 75th Anniversary of VE Day and other WW2 anniversaries approaching, it seemed fitting to explore the story of the WW2 Book of Remembrance, in the hope that, like the WW1 Book, it will inspire others to uncover the ‘stories behind the names’ – or possibly stimulate interest in making the Book accessible online. In January 2019 – shortly before the COVID lockdown curtailed further work – WCIA Peace Heritage Coordinator Craig Owen visited the National Museum of Wales Collections, to view the WW2 Book of Remembrance and find out more about its story.

Creation of the WW2 Book of Remembrance

Inscription within the WW2 Book

The proposal for a WW2 Book of Remembrance, modelled upon the WW1 Book housed in Wales’ Temple of Peace, emerged in the 1950s. Perhaps surprisingly, it took until 20 years later – 1965 – for the WW2 Book to finally reach completion and accession; not to the Temple of Peace (created to house the WW1 Book), but to the National Museum of Wales.

World War 2 had claimed yet another generation of Welsh men and women, among them Lord David Davies (1880-1944), founder of Wales’ Temple of Peace, who had tragically died of Cancer months before the end of the war. His son and heir Michael was killed in action during the liberation of Eindhoven, Holland; and thus the Temple lost two of its greatest champions. Following the cessation of hostilities, the Welsh League of Nations Union morphed into the United Nations Association and efforts quickly focused upon mobilising Welsh public support for the newly created United Nations, and the challenges of reconstruction – building a new world.

The fallen of WW2 became added to community War Memorials Wales-wide; but the desire to produce a dedicated national memorial and rollcall of Wales’ fallen remained. A Welsh National Book of Remembrance Committee was founded and met between 1957 and 1967 – their correspondence and accounts (1958-1979) are held at Glamorgan Archives. The committee was wound up in 1979, following transfer of the residual accounts in 1977 to a Welsh National Book of Remembrance Fund (for need, hardship or distress of WW2 survivors / descendants), which was wound up in 2005.

The book was inscribed by C Cullen, and bound by W T Morrell. Although it followed a similar style and look to the WW1 Book – and followed a similar regimental order – the information held within it is markedly different – for example, it does not record the towns / villages from which the fallen came.

There seems to have been an ongoing debate over the location for the WW2 Book; the express condition of the committee was that it should be viewable “in a public place.” It would seem that, during the mid-1960s, there was some doubt over the suitability of the Temple of Peace: letters and newspaper articles from the time suggest a perceived decline in the condition of the building, and public access to the spaces. Clearly, the Temple at this point in time fell out of favour with the WW2 committee.

On 12 March 1965, the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff was formally chosen by the Committee as the resting place for the rollcall of the fallen of WW2. NMW formally accepted this ‘national responsibility’ on 14 May 1965.

Unveiling and Public Display of the Book

A public competition to design a display for the WW2 Book of Remembrance was won by Swansea Architect Ceri Jones in 1965. In June 1966 a formal unveiling ceremony was headed by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who pronounced:

“I present to you for safekeeping within the National Museum of Wales, the Welsh National Book of Remembrance for the Second World War.”

To which the Marquess of Anglesey , on behalf of the Trustees of the NMW, responded:

“I do willingly and proudly receive it for safekeeping in the National Museum of Wales.”      

An account of the unveiling ceremony is featured in the National Museum of Wales Annual Report for 1967-68.

The WW2 Book – with its memorial display designed by Ceri Jones – was publicly displayed at NMW from 1966 to 1998; after which there were ‘one off’ showings in 2001 and 2004. As museums entered the ‘digital age’ of the new millennium, online articles featured it as the ‘Book of Month’ in 2001,2 and 3.

Bringing the Books Back Together?

Architects Drawings for the Temple of Peace WW2 and WW1 Book Displays in the Hall of Nations.

Have the WW1 and WW2 Books of Remembrance ever been brought together? At present, we do not know.

The Temple Archives hold some fascinating records from discussions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it appears discussions on displaying the WW1 and WW2 Books side by side became sufficiently advanced to have commissioned the original Architects of the Temple of Peace – Percy Thomas Partnership – to design a new home for the books:

The designs and reports would have seen both Books moved from their current locations – the Crypt of the Temple, and the Archives of the National Museum – into bespoke marble and bronze display cabinets in the ‘Hall of Nations’, the heart of Wales’ Temple of Peace. It would seem logical that these proposals may have emerged following the 50th Anniversary of the Temple of Peace, which generated considerable public profile and by which point the Welsh Centre for International Affairs had become well established.

These plans did not ultimately go ahead, for reasons lost to time. And so it would seem that, as yet, the ambition to unite Wales’ Books of Remembrance from two World Wars has yet to be realised. Although moves to progress discussions around display and digital access have been thwarted in 2020 by the COVID lockdown, it is hoped that in years to come the WCIA and National Museum of Wales might work together to once again enable Wales’ rollcall of the fallen from WW2 to be accessed for future generations – to Remember for Peace, the fallen of WW2.

1995 Design for WW1 and WW2 display cabinets in the Hall of Nations, Temple of Peace. WCIA Archives.