Directions: From the Temple’s Reception, to either side of the entrance to the Hall of Nations, follow the stone staircases down into the Crypt – beneath the Temple itself and heart of the building’s foundations.
In the very foundations of the Temple is the very reason for its existence: the tragedy of World War 1. This is the Welsh nation’s memorial to the fallen; and this Crypt has been a place of pilgrimage for generations who came to remember their loved ones.
Symbolically at the heart of the building’s foundations, the small chamber has a vaulted roof of Bath Stone, the walls are crested by heraldic shields of the counties of Wales from whence hailed the men and women commemorated in Wales’ Book of Remembrance, “reposed upon a pedestal of black Belgian Bronze encased in French Marble” – materials of Flanders Fields.
A Place of Pilgrimage
For decades after World War 1, before overseas travel became accessible to most people, this was where families Wales-wide came to visit and remember their loved ones. A page of the book was turned symbolically at 11am every day – a tradition continued to this day by the WCIA team – with the names published in advance in the Western Mail, so that people could attend to witness the ceremony often alongside the families of those who had fallen alongside their lost husbands, sons or fathers.
With 1,100 pages in the book, each page would be on public view roughly every 3.5 years – so for families the Temple Pilgrimage would have been a hugely significant date. Through World War 2, Visitors Books recorded 7,000 people every year (an average of 25 a day), many part of groups who would participate in a peace service in the Temple following their reflection time in the Crypt.
‘WAR’ by Kevin Sinnott
Within the antechamber to the Crypt, the enormous painting ‘War’ by Kevin Sinnott conveys the chaos of conflict, as innocent bystanders – women and children – look helplessly on at the thrashing of great powers. Kevin Sinnott is a Bridgend-based contemporary artist famous for ‘Running Away with the Hairdresser‘ in the National Museum of Wales. He has described ‘War’ – created in 1987 specifically for this space – as his darkest, most uncomfortable painting. It was one of a pair, ‘War’ and ‘Peace‘, the latter being in a private collection.
Conscientious Objectors Memorial Benches
Offering pause for reflection, the Conscientious Objectors memorial benches to either side are dedicated to George M Ll Davies, as representative of over 900 men Wales-wide who refused to kill on grounds of their religious and political beliefs, in protest against the Great War. In 1914 George set up the pacifist organisation Cymdeithas y Cymod, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which remains active today. As with many ‘conchies’, George was imprisoned for his beliefs in 1916 following the introduction of the Military Service Act (compulsory conscription). Many COs were sentenced to hard labour and harsh conditions; a number died at the hands of the state, and socially shunned through WW1. However, in a sign of how dratamically the pendulum of public opinion can shift, by 1923 George was one of several former Conscientious Objectors elected to Parliament, to build the post-war peace.
Poppies of Remembrance
The spectacular wreath of multicoloured poppies was created by Welsh textile artist Hazel Elstone for the 2018 WW100 Armistice Centenary events, specifically a BAME Memorial Service, which was one of the first ‘official government recognitions’ of the contribution and sacrifices of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities across Britain – and its former Empire and Commonwealth.
Poppies of many colours have long been a symbol of Remembrance: the red poppy was championed from 1920 by women activists Moina Belle Michael (USA) and Anna Guerin (France), and first adopted by the Royal British Legion in 1921. The white poppy was adopted from 1926 by the Women’s Cooperative Guild and WW1 veterans movements concerned at increasing use of the red poppy for military recruitment – the white symbolising peace. The black poppy has been a symbol of remembrance for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Service People since the 1980s; whilst the purple poppy has been a symbol for animal victims of war since 2006. Find out more about poppies from the link below.