‘Solidarity for Peace’, ESC volunteers’ pop-up exhibition

Note to Visitors: the ‘Solidarity for Peace’ exhibition at the Temple of Peace over July 2023 can be viewed in Reception when the building is open for events, or by joining one of WCIA”s regular Temple Tours.

‘Solidarity for Peace’ is a thought-provoking exploration of a few extraordinary Welsh stories about people who, in recent history, chose the path of Peace amidst the ravages of War. What can we learn from them? Can we apply their experiences to our present? What can we do to work towards a more peaceful future?

Delve into the digital display as we unravel these stories through a curated collection of artefacts sourced from the archives of the Temple of Peace and Health, nestled in the heart of the Civic Centre in Cardiff, and Gregynog Hall, a captivating place in Newtown, Powys.

These two “Places of Peace” share a remarkable heritage rooted in the legacy of David, Margaret and Gwendoline Davies — three siblings and Welsh philanthropists whose common goal was to make Wales a better place.

Solidarity in War

“The thundering of the guns seems to never cease.” — David James, Welsh Guards, writing from the Battle of the Somme in Summer 1916

Newspapers excerpts: Great Britain joins World War One on 4 August 1914. Historic headlines from the Birmingham Gazette, the Evening Despatch, the Daily Herald, the Birmingham Daily Mail, the Cambria Daily Leader, the Abergavenny Chronicle, and The North Wales Chronicle.

In August 1914, the First World War broke out and began affecting the lives of millions across the globe. From 1914 to 1918, approximately 273,000 Welshmen were called to arms, representing 21.5 percent of the male population. They were brothers, husbands, fathers and sons, leaving families and communities often reluctantly to face a very uncertain fate at the front. At least 35,000 would never return; and of those who survived, many were maimed or suffered lifelong PTSD — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — affecting not only veterans themselves, but families and communities for a generation.

A peek inside what could have been a “soldier’s suitcase” reveals glimpses of three photos representing David James of Dowlais and his younger brothers, Tom and Jack. None of them would make it home after the War, experiencing instead just how cruel life and death within the trenches could be. In November 1938 their mother, Minnie James, was invited by David Davies to open the Welsh National Temple of Peace and Health on behalf of all mothers who had lost loved ones.

Photo of David James of Dowlais and his “Soldier’s small-book”. A tiny form inside the book reads: “Name David James / enlisted at Merthyr / in the County of Glam. / on the 5th March 1915 /  at the age of 23 years 60 days / for the Welsh Guards / for the Duration of War”. More snippets of information are scattered here and there on the other pages of the Soldier’s small book. 
Photo of a table of soldiers. Behind it, the back of a postcard reads: “Love to all
Tom James, the youngest of the trio.

Back at home, the soldiers’ sisters, daughters, and mothers were barred from voting or serving in military combat roles, but filled manufacturing and agricultural positions. Some women provided support on the front lines as nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, translators and, in rare cases, on the battlefield.

Gwendoline and Margaret Davies outside a Red Cross canteen near Troyes, with soldiers and other nurses. The two sisters managed to go out to France by volunteering through the London Committee of the French Red Cross. There was little provision in the French army for the welfare of the ordinary soldier, and the Committee sent women to operate canteens at railway stations, hospitals and transit camps.

TODAY there are 32 countries in conflict, and the types of conflict vary widely. While the severity and duration of these conflicts differ, they all have significant impacts on the affected populations and can result in a high number of casualties as well as humanitarian crises.

To see a map of of ongoing armed conflicts as of April 2023 click here.

Solidarity in Sanctuary

“[We were on] the last but one boat to get away from the Front.” — Press account of the Belgian Refugees who fled from Flanders to Aberystwyth in 1914

As Germany invaded Belgium at the onset of World War I, over a million Belgians sought refuge, with a significant number—between 225,000 and 265,000—finding solace in the embrace of Britain. Among the welcoming nations, Wales stood out, extending sincere displays of enthusiasm to over 4,500 Belgian refugees—an inspiring contrast to the narratives of refugees depicted in today’s press and tabloids.

Belgian Refugees welcomed to Rhyl, 1914 (Credit – Belgian Refugees in Rhyl Project)

In the heart of this humanitarian effort were Margaret and Gwendoline Davies, whose unwavering dedication provided a home for several Belgian artists and their families. Notable figures such as sculptor George Minne and painters Valerius de Saedeleer and Gustave van de Woestyne found sanctuary under the care of the Davies family, spending the duration of the war as refugees, reliant on their support. It is worth noting that the sisters’ efforts carried a dual purpose: while they selflessly aided the Belgian artists, they also harboured hopes that these talented individuals would settle in Wales and contribute to the elevation of arts and crafts in the region.

However, as the echoes of war began to fade, the majority of Belgian refugees returned to their homeland, seeking to rebuild their lives in the aftermath. Even De Saedeleer himself relocated back to Etikhove in 1920. The dreams harboured by the Davies sisters, of a lasting artistic legacy taking root in Wales, were met with the ebb and flow of history.

On the right: Gustave Van de Woestyne (1881-1947), Portrait of Valerius De Saedeleer, 1914.
Winter in Etikhove, Roger Hebbelinck (1912-1987) after Valerius de Saedeleer. Etching and aquatint in colours on heavy white wove, 19xx.
Les Grands Arbres (The Tall Trees), Armand Apol (1879-1950) after Valerius de Saedeleer. Etching and aquatint in colours on heavy wove paper, 1930.

Fast forward less then a century, a series of anti-government protests, uprisings and armed rebellions spread across the Arab world and became known as the ‘Arab Spring’ . Demonstrators demanded an end to mass poverty, corruption, repression, and injustice. Some succeeded in sweeping longstanding authoritarian rulers from power, but many more were met with violent responses from authorities, pro-government militias, counter demonstrators and militaries, prompting what has been described as “the world’s largest wave of mass migration since the end of the second world war”.

In the face of this new refugee crisis, the United Kingdom’s response differed significantly from the resolute unity witnessed a century ago. The fervent enthusiasm that once greeted Belgian refugees seemed tempered and fragmented, a stark juxtaposition that invites reflection on the evolving dynamics of our world.

TODAY there are 103 MILLION forcibly displaced people worldwide (as of mid-2022); 53.2 MILLION are internally displaced people (as of end-2021); 32.5 MILLION are refugees (as of mid-2022); 4.9 MILLION are asylum-seekers (as of mid-2022); 5.3 MILLION are other people in need of international protection (as of mid-2022).

Data taken from the UNHCR Refugee Data Finder, which is constantly updated. Therefore, the numbers on this website might already be obsolete.

Solidarity in Cooperation

“Peace can only become a reality if it is enshrined in the hearts of people” — David Davies, 1938

In the face of the destruction left by the Great War, David Davies of Llandinam led creation from 1920 of the Welsh League of Nations Union (WLNU), a regional and autonomous committee of the British League, which in 1918 set out to promote international justice, collective security and a permanent peace between nations, through campaigns that involved many thousands of people Wales-wide.

The Temple of Peace was built and opened in 1938 as a “headquarters befitting the biggest internationalist movement in Wales”. But World War 2 dashed the dreams of interwar peace builders, and sadly Davies — who passed in 1944 — did not live to see the fruits of his life’s work on health and peace realised in the post-war creation of the NHS and the United Nations.

In Wales after WW2, the mantle of the WLNU on world issues was taken up by UNA Wales — the United Nations Association — along with the schools-focused Council for Education and World Citizenship (CEWC), and the volunteering-focused International Youth Service (IYS). All eventually merged into the Welsh Centre of International Affairs (WCIA), which in October 2023 celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

A small notebook and a bigger booklet. The notebook is from a volunteer project run by UNA International Youth Service in Butetown Cardiff, in 1969. It was for the use of the Camp Leader and it contains the contact list, the description of the project, and expense receipts. The booklet is “An Introduction to Wales”, created by the United Nations Association used during many of the international workcamps held in Wales in the 60s and 70s. In many ways, it’s a shortened version of a travel guide book.
Russian Doll, Matryoshka, 1966, presented by a Russian Youth Delegation to IVS/UNA International Service Workcamp in Butetown, Cardiff.

IN RECENT DECADES, WCIA has become a catalyst for Welsh internationalism and peace activism. Like its predecessors, WCIA promotes political and social change through grassroots campaigns, educational forums and initiatives around global issues, and through worldwide community links through volunteering projects, international work camps and placements.

International Volunteering Today

International Volunteering has its roots in post-WW2 European reconstruction efforts. From the late 1950s, with wide swathes of Europe still in ruin and thousands of people homeless a decade beyond the devastation of war, UNA established International Youth Service as a means of mobilising assistance, whilst also building relationships between generations previously divided by war: building peace through building communities and solidarity. Since 1959, many thousands of young people in Wales and across Europe have participated in life changing exchanges that have shaped their world views, aspirations, future career choices and relationships.

European Solidarity Corps (ESC) today is an EU-funded programme for young people to engage in solidarity activities in a variety of areas. These range from helping the disadvantaged to humanitarian aid, as well as contributing to health and environmental action across the EU and beyond. Over 2022-23, 10 ESC volunteers have worked with Welsh organisations, from environmental projects such as Skomer Island to heritage projects such as this one between WCIA and Gregynog Hall Trust.

This exhibition has been brought to you by 4 of those heritage volunteers: Ludo, Aleks, Gunel and Arina have worked together to support WCIA and Gregynog Trust in uncovering hidden histories and exploring the shared peace heritage of Gregynog Hall and the Temple of Peace. To discover more about their placement, click here.

L-R: Aleks, Arina, Gunel & Ludo enjoying exploring Aberystwyth durign an archives visit to the National Library of Wales

Do you know someone who might like to participate in a solidarity exchange project with a organisation overseas – or host a volunteer from Europe? Although the UK is no longer part of ERASMUS, the Welsh Government has introduced as a replacement the “Taith” programme — find out more at taith.wales. To find out more about volunteering with WCIA, click here.

EMBRACING PEACE and taking action towards it is not solely the responsibility of governments or world leaders. Every individual has the power to contribute to a more peaceful world through their daily actions, no matter how small they may seem. By taking intentional steps, we can collectively create a ripple effect of positive change. Together, we strive to create a future where compassion, understanding, and cooperation transcend borders.

Still curious about our exhibition? Take a peek behind the scenes right here to catch a glimpse of the construction process, or browse our full selection of items down below.

Gregynog Exhibition

The ESC team would like to express their thanks to colleagues at Gregynog Hall Trust who have assisted with preparing this exhibition display; to WCIA’s team for their heritage support and advice; and to ERASMUS as funders of the ESC European Solidarity Corps programme. This exhibition has been written and curated by Gunel Mamedova, Ludovica Cino and
Aleksandra Trynova, with inputs from Arina Yakupova, Mary Oldham (Gregynog) and Craig Owen (WCIA).

Coming soon: a full list of all the online resources used to make this exhibition. Thank you for reading!