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Celebrating Temple82: Welsh Historian shares family memories of the Temple of Peace

Following the 82nd Anniversary of the Temple of Peace, we want to share different perspectives on the importance of its legacy, the multiplicity of projects of those translational organizations based on the venue and the key role that the latter plays in cooperation as well as the forthcoming challenges brought about by an imminent Brexit from 2021 onwards.

I first met Dr. Susan Davies (lecturer at Aberystwyth University) at the online celebration of #Temple82 where she told us that her father had been at the opening of the building in 1939. Here is our conversation sharing her memories of the Temple of Peace and her father’s connection.

Dr. Susan Davies

Good morning Susan, thank you for talking to us today.  Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what’s your relationship to the Temple of Peace? 

I [Dr. Susan Davies] am speaking to you from Aberystwyth. I first came here as a student, and I never left because I met my husband and we settled here and both of us taught at the University. I am a historian and I followed in my father’s footsteps. He [Iorwerth Howells, 1907-1999] also studied history at the University. I am also a specialist in understanding and reading old documents. I used to teach that subject, specifically for post-graduate students who were training to be archivists. So, I am well used to looking at historical records and being able to understand them from the time that they were written. It is not a common skill these days, but it’s very useful. 

I believe the Temple of Peace has a key role in offering insightful information. 

Yes, indeed. My connection with the Temple of Peace was through my father, who told my brother and I about attending the opening and his interests in the work. And we also deserved how he applied some of these interests in his work. But, it certainly has a direct relevance to what the majority of people in Wales thought and felt and so, there is that wider relevance as well as the family relevance. 

When did you first hear about the Temple of Peace? And how has it evolved through time? 

At the time of the opening my father was teaching in Canton Highschool. He was born and brought up in Llandaff North – which you will probably know as an area of Cardiff now. He studied History and Music at Cardiff University. And then he directly went on for 12 years to teach at Canton Highschool. Now, that actually included the year of the opening of the Temple of Peace. And I remember him telling me when I was quite young, and then repeating on a number of occasions, how much he had appreciated being at the opening and how interested he was. He also had many friends who were at the opening and had a good understanding of the purpose of the Temple of Peace.

Iorwerth Howells in the 1950s 

So, he repeated his experiences on a number of occasions during his long life. Because in the very early 1940s he was appointed as warden, and that was head, of the educational settlement at Pontypridd. Now, there were a few educational settlements in Southeast Wales, and they were established in order to support young people and adults in areas of social and economic distress. There were problems with employment too.

He also had many friends who were at the opening and had a good understanding of the purpose of the Temple of Peace

So, he was there from the beginning of the 1940s until 1946. That in some ways, again, was working with people who needed help. And that is working alongside the principles of the Temple of Peace. In 1946 he was appointed Assistant Director of Education for Carmarthenshire. So, he moved westwards. He was bilingual, Welsh and English. When he went there, it was specifically like a couple of his colleagues who implement the 1944 Education Act – Commonly known as the ‘Butler’ Act, passed in London. This introduced secondary education for all children for the first time, so it required new schools, technical and agricultural colleges, which were particularly important after WW2.

Quite shortly afterwards, he was moved up to Director of Education for the county. And he’s still been remembered for the work that he did of that kind, because it was all new and relevant in the post-war aftermath. He remained there in post until 1972 when he retired. There are a few connections with the principles of the Temple of Peace:

It’s partly the way he was always ready to help children who had come from other countries and who had no English or Welsh. And he arranged for them to have special help in the rural primary schools. And quite shortly afterwards they were fluent in English and had some Welsh, so that system worked well. It was specially Polish children whose families couldn’t go back to Poland because they had supported Britain during the War and were not allowed back.

“He was always ready to help children who had come from other countries and who had no English or Welsh.

But then too, a very interesting episode arose in 1954 when he went to Rothenburg in Bavaria, Germany with a small member of senior educational staff. Now, this isn’t long after the end of War World II. The visit was organized by the British Council in Cardiff with the purpose to explain to the Bavarian people how Wales was developing technical and agricultural education and training and how well it was working. He often spoke about how interesting that visit was and how much they were welcomed. Now, that demonstrates how wide his interest was wanting to help other countries.

Opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace on 23 Nov 1938, with Architect Percy Thomas (RH), founder Lord Davies Davies of Llandinam (middle), and Mrs Minnie James of Dowlais (LH)

Do you feel the charities based in the Temple embody that philosophy?

Yes, by sharing the skills with other countries who are in similar positions and have not had the benefit of people helping them in that way. My father corresponded with friends from that period throughout his life, and they had all been involved in similar work. They tried to transfer the skills that they had acquired in this country, and helped people to move forward, to learn more and make their lives better. 

Do you think people are aware of the Temple of Peace knowledge-sharing? 

Yes, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people today do not have the same kind of memories as people of my generation do. Of the impact of WWI to start with, having been told what it did to families and what it did to my own family! And then the impact of WWII because everybody had thought after WWI we couldn’t have another war, and yet it happened. And the effect on so many people was that we had to stop that, and that we had to bring people from different countries together.

Because we are all human beings and we should try to have the same thoughts on peace and how to help people, so that every country can improve itself. I think that was a very important factor. And in the work that people like my father in his position had to do after WWII, all those people knew the importance of what they were doing and sharing. But because we haven’t had quite the same experience in recent years, a lot of people are not aware of that at all. And this is also when the religious factor comes in… 

We are all human beings and we should try to have the same thoughts on peace and how to help people

David Davies as a WWI soldier

How do you think this lack of awareness impacts all of us as a society and the progress we want to aim towards? 

The younger generation in particular – and I am not criticizing in any way, aren’t affected by circumstances. Because they haven’t experienced nor have direct memories told to them of the experiences in two World Wars, so they don’t understand as deeply the importance of peace and international cooperation. And I think we can honestly see it at the moment even with things like Brexit – constantly on the news. When you think about what happened after WWII, everybody thought it was important to work together with other countries. And we haven’t got that strength of feeling at the moment. 

Maybe the problem is more that we don’t fact-check, and so we consume narratives that align with our own values, hence going increasingly polarized. 

Indeed. And we are not getting any sort of direct information without everybody asking, is this true or is it fake? I have been involved in two projects recently based in the History Department in the university, but working with the National Library, a local museum, the local archives and student population. We had one on WWI and how it affected this part of Wales, and we are now starting on the WWII project. The students have been absolutely fascinated, they are volunteering to gather information from different places and find out the details of what happened here. And they feel that has been ignored. So it’s interesting to have a group of students all wanting to do that work and finding it fascinating. 

Definitely! I personally did an MA in Latin American Studies in New Mexico, US, which deconstructed my way of seeing Spanish history in relation to Latin America. It had to be 8,000 km far away [from home]! But it knocked my concepts of privilege, race, class divide… that I carried along and we don’t really get to discuss when learning Spanish History. 

Architect Sir Percy Thomas

Yes, and it is a totally different perspective, and you learn a lot from it. That is very interesting! 

Maybe it’s now a good time for you to introduce that religious side mentioned earlier… 

Yes, I was thinking this may be something that would be fresh to you. It is a major, wider, religious factor that affected Wales and that’s why it’s important for the Temple of Peace. It influenced my father, David Davies in the same way and his family, and 90% of the population in Wales. It also influenced the funding of Aberystwyth University, which was the first university college in Wales. So, we have to look at the religious pattern in Wales from the late 18th Century to the mid-20th, so that still included the opening of the Temple of Peace and the feelings behind it. Because during that period, the majority of the population in Wales was what we called non-conformist.

Now, is that a new word to you? It may be. So, they were devout Christians who attended chapels, but they did not agree with all the beliefs of the long-established Church of England. And the latter also included Wales until 1920, when the Church of Wales was established. The word nonconformist was used for those people who didn’t quite agree with every point that both churches wanted them to agree with. My father’s family had long been rooted in the non-conformist sector, they were chapel goers. Calvinistic Methodism, which is the largest non-conformist group in Wales, and it’s now called Presbyterian. Now, David Davies, the first Baron of Llandinam, who was so important in establishing the Temple of Peace and Health and in the League of Nations, came from the same background in Wales, nonconformist.

It’s relevant in connection to the Temple of Peace because the non-conformists differed from the Church of England and Wales inasmuch they believed very strongly in doing what they could to improve their own skills. That was a duty. But also to help others whenever possible, that was a guiding principle. And it influenced many of them who went to India and China. Not only did they do missionary work, but they built schools, hospitals and trained women.

The same sense of purpose led to very significant philanthropy. And the Davies family of Llandiman and Gregynog includes David Davies’s grandfather, in the middle of the 19th Century, his father, Edward Davies, and his two sisters, Gwendolyn and Margaret. All of them were huge philanthropists, and the University College of Wales at Aberystwith benefited hugely from the Davies family from its origins in the 1860s. It is largely because of their non-conformist background. The grandfather hugely supported this college because it was founded on non-sectarian principles. So, it did no matter what your religious or cultural background was. You could come here, not to Oxford or Cambridge because you had to sign up to the Church of England beliefs. That of course affected Catholics and Jews as well, for they were welcomed. By the 1890s more than 90% of the [Welsh] population was nonconformist. 

Marble Hall at the Temple of Peace

The Davies family supported too the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff. The two sisters gave an important art collection to the National Museum, David supported the National Library of Wales, and they welcomed Belgian refugees from WWI.

What might non-conformity bring about?

Most of the philanthropy in Wales, at all levels, is based upon it. In the past it was not necessarily related to wealth, everyone followed and tried to do whatever they could to help. David Davies was brought up in the non-conservative tradition, but was mainly influenced by his activist service in WWI. He actually commanded the 14th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He had a senior military position in France, in WWI. Both his sister went there to support troupes – which was unusual in those times. After seeing what was happening, he was determined to work for international peace. He always thought that was decisive.

Many nonconformists in Wales shared David Davies’s recognition of the need to seek peace and help those affected by war and deprivation, and expressed their views, while also following the work of the well-known leaders in the press. My father was a typical example of those who followed the reports of what was being done by the leaders of the peace movement.

I’m gathering a certain sense of collectivism – as opposed to individualism. How do you see that collectivism currently in the light of the 0.7 spending cut by the UK government when it comes to international aid?

[At that time] there was no Welsh government, so we had no independence, but we could make that decision. The were too some nonconformists in England but they had a low voice, and still there were churches doing the same as in Wales. These [current] overseas cuts show how there are many fewer people to go to church and following those [aforementioned] principles. There are still people, but less so, also less politicians thinking like that.

My father was a typical example of those who followed the reports of what was being done by the leaders of the peace movement

Aberystwyth University

You seem to be calling for a go-back to the roots. Are people who do not know their past condemned to repeat it?

Yes! That is true in many ways. Our religion is part of our heritage. It’s everything we gain from the past, and we have to remember the good things and some of the bad so that it’s not repeated. Traditions and things that happened years ago are still bearing fruit today. For example, there were so many nonconformist missionaries and their work, most of it from the London Missionary Society, still exists.

Do you feel like the image of the Church has been damaged because of the occurrences within the institution?

I think people has forgotten the importance of Church in helping others. As a result, they are struggling more. During this pandemic the chapel I go to still organizes online meetings and we talk about what can we do to help each other. [Linking back to the issue at hand], the Temple of Peace was opened [among others] by a lady who lived in the South Wales valleys, and she lost 3 sons in WWI. Those valleys were really important in the chapel communities through their support. They all knew each other and kept helping others in their difficulties.

Written by Santi, our long term ESC Volunteers