Hywel Francis in Memoriam: Passing of a great Welsh Internationalist

Hywel Francis, Internationalist – credit LSW (Learned Society of Wales)

WCIA’s ‘Temple of Peace’ team and supporters Wales-wide are saddened to learn of the passing of prominent Welsh Internationalist, historian and former MP for Aberavon Dr Hywel Francis on February 14th 2021, aged 74, at Morriston Hospital.

Hywel was one of Wales’ most prominent ‘socialist internationalists’ with a particular interest – reflected in his position as Wales’ leading expert on – the Spanish Civil War and Wales’ ‘International Brigades’; the volunteers who fought fascism by enlisting, from the South Wales Valleys and Northern slate quarries, to support the resistance against General Franco in 1936-9.

Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting ‘GUERNICA‘, displayed in Wales’ Temple of Peace to this day, with the original exhibited in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

During these 3 years prior to WW2, Hitler’s closest ally overthrew the Spanish Government and democracy in full view of the world, leading to the massacre of Guernica and the flight of a generation of Basque children, many of whom sought sanctuary in Wales – with 4,000 taken in by communities in Brechfa (Carmarthenshire), Swansea, Caerleon (Newport) and Old Colwyn (North Wales coast).

Welsh Volunteers of the XV International Brigade before the Ebro Offensive, 1938
Credit: South Wales Coalfield Collection

Wales’ International Brigades Memorial Trust, of which Hywel was President, continue to organise events to this day in memorial of the generation of young Welshmen many of whom gave their lives not just to fight fascism, in a brave attempt to even kerb the onset of World War Two. In 2017 Wales IBMT launched a new booklet on Wales and the Spanish Civil War, written by Robert Griffiths with support and input from Hywel Francis.

Wales International Brigades Memorial Trust lead a memorial march through the streets of Aberystwyth

The entrance to Wales’ National Garden of Peace, entering from North Road and the City Centre, is approached through the ‘Spanish Archway’ – erected in 1993 by International Volunteers from Spain participating in a UNA Exchange youth workcamp, as a gesture of thanks from Spain to Wales for the efforts of the international brigades volunteers.

Hywel has been a huge champion of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs since its founding in 1973, having once quoted as an MP on the floor of the House of Commons:

The Welsh Centre for International Affairs… has for decades played a vital role. Its quiet, educational voice of tolerance and reason needs to be listened to and valued in Wales and beyond. It deserves our full support and we should be proud of its work.”

Hywel Francis MP for Aberavon, House of Commons

Peace Garden and UNA Exchange Founder Robert Davies working on construction of the ‘Spanish Archway’ in Summer 1993.

Hywel was hugely involved in supporting WCIA’s 2007-11 Heritage Lottery Funded project ‘Wise and Foolish Dreamers‘, a touring exhibition and educational pack developed to explore Welsh participation in the Spanish Civil War.

WCIA hope later in the year to add a Peace Garden memorial to Hywel Francis, hopefully near to the Spanish Archway – in recognition of his longstanding dedication to Welsh Internationalism.

WCIA Chief Executive, Susie Ventris-Field, said:

“Hywel Francis has been one of Wales’ leading internationalists over a generation, and his untimely loss will only be outshone by the profound inspiration he has fostered in so many to build a better world. This will never be eclipsed – but he will be sorely missed.”

WCIA Chief Executive, Susie Ventris-Field

Hywel Francis (RH) as a young activist – Credit ‘Labour Country‘ blog, Daryl Leeworthy