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Bill Davies, Founder of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs: A Tribute

By Craig Owen, WCIA / Temple of Peace Heritage Advisor and Curator

Bill Davies (RH) with UK Foreign Secretary Dr David Owen, October 1977,
about to present WCIA’s 4th Anniversary Lecture at the Temple of Peace

William Roch Davies (W.R., widely known as Bill Davies) was the Founding Director of WCIA – the Welsh Centre for International Affairs – from 1973 to 1996. His lifelong involvement with Wales’ Temple of Peace extended from his 1st graduate job in 1962, to the Temple80 Anniversary programme of 2018.

WCIA’s current team are hugely saddened to learn of Bill’s passing on 17 February 2021, and we’ve no doubt supporters Wales-wide will join us in extending our empathies to Bill’s family on his passing – and in celebrating his considerable life achievements.

Bill Davies’ ‘quietly towering’ role in Wales’ International Affairs – and in the story of Wales’ Temple of Peace in particular – has shaped Welsh public and political opinion on internationalism (across all parties) and Wales’ ‘national identity’ in the world, over decades from the 1960s to the 1990s.

In his own Words

In the lead-up to the Temple’s 80th Anniversary celebrations in 2018, Bill shared memories from his years as Founding Director of WCIA with community film maker and interviewer Tracy Pallant, as part of WCIA’s Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Wales for Peace‘ programme. View Temple80 short documentary film here.

“A lot of people were conscious that the war hadn’t long ended… People hoped that some sort of legacy would come from all that suffering. The Temple of Peace inspires a lot of people to do inspirational work.”

Bill Davies, september 2018 – oral history interview (by tracy Pallant) for #temple80

Founding Director of the WCIA

A product of Bridgend Boys’ Grammar School and of Christ’s College, Cambridge, Bill was a talented soccer player who represented Wales as a schoolboy. During his period of National Service in the 1950s he learned Russian, a skill he used to advantage on occasion in his career at the Temple of Peace.

“Bill was… the man who both saved and created a great Welsh Institution.”

David Melding, former WCIA Deputy Director and current Member of the Senedd

Having read Anthropology at Cambridge and returned to Bridgend, Bill was in the right place at the right time when, in September 1962 a ‘West Wales Area Organiser’ was sought for UNA Wales (the United Nations Association), a post funded by the Davies Sisters, Margaret and Gwendoline (siblings of Temple Founder David Davies, who had died in 1944). Bill Davies set to work under the Temple of Peace’s Coordinating Secretary William Arnold – but in April 1963, after 20 years at the helm, he died suddenly, and Bill was ‘catapulted’ into the role of Welsh National Secretary for UNA from September 1963: a somewhat meteoric rise for a recent graduate.

The 1960s was an era of huge change in Wales and the world, reflected in huge changes for institutions, charities and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). The organisational structure and set up of the Temple of Peace, as with the wider Welsh ‘international sector’, was a spaghetti bowl of overlapping organisations, committees, sub-committees, councils, advisory groups, campaign groups, etc… But with very limited resources between any of them. In the 1950s, UNA had been the world’s leading post-WW2 body, “stirring the conscience of a new generation” as David Melding (ex WCIA staff / current Member of Senedd) described. But by the 1960s, it was in sharp decline, overtaken by specific issue movements such as CND – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – and with the loss of traditional fundraising mechanisms such as mass membership, community collections and big philanthropic donors. By the mid-1960s Bill Davies recognised that if the concept of a ‘Temple of Peace’ were to not just survive , but be able to support all of the educational, volunteering, campaigning, policy and advocacy work, humanitarian aid and global partnerships that it was taken for granted “someone should do” – then the Temple had to become an institution in its own right.

Bill’s view was widely shared, beyond the bricks and mortar of Memorial Buildings; by the late 1960s, Welsh civil society movements and political figures were openly expressing frustration at the increasingly London-centric machinery of Whitehall and Westminster ‘carving Wales out of the picture’. This was reflected in a resurgence and confidence in the Welsh independence movement, but also in a widespread desire for Wales to have it own distinct voice on world affairs. A campaign was taken up by the Western Mail, signed up to and fronted by the ‘great and the good’ of Wales, the building blocks all quietly being mortared into place by Bill Davies from beneath.

The Opening of WCIA in 1973, by Lady Tweedsmuir (RH) with WCIA President the Hon Edward Davies

“the idea of a Welsh Centre for International Affairs is an exciting and interesting one… it will encourage Welshmen to look beyond the confines of Wales and Britain; to extend their knowledge and understanding of the rest of the world.”

Western Mail ‘UN Day’ Editorial, 24 October 1968

A proposal to form a ‘WCIA’ was formally adopted by a Committee to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN in 1970, set up by the then Secretary of State for Wales, George Thomas MP (later Viscount Tonypandy). Working alongside International Youth Service volunteer and trustee Robert Davies, Bill also spotted an opportunity to work in parallel to bring the United Nations Association’s global volunteering activities to Wales, and develop a ‘youth arm’ to the Centre’s work.

WCIA Director Bill Davies accompanies United Nations Secretary General Perez de Cuellar, viewing the WW1 Book of Remembrance in Wales’ Temple of Peace, 1988.

In 1973, both UNA Exchange and WCIA, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs, were launched and officially opened on 11 October 1973 by Priscilla Buchan / Lady Tweedsmuir, then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – with Bill Davies as the WCIA’s Founding Director.

The WCIA under Bill Davies

It is a both unfortunate and fortuitous coincidence of timing, that at the point of Bill’s passing in February 2021 WCIA currently have a team of heritage volunteers and student placements drawing together materials and features exploring the work of WCIA between 1973 and 2010, which will be added to WCIA Archives and Features from here.

As Director of WCIA, Bill Davies wore many hats in driving forward major projects involving ordinary Welsh men and women in international activities. The WCIA’s work under Bill was formally organised into six areas throughout his time at the helm:

  • Public Opinion / Adult Education
  • Schools
  • Youth Sector
  • Humanitarian
  • United Nations
  • Information and Publications

The following organisations / movements were overseen, developed and supported through Bill Davies’ period of tenure, working alongside others, and – despite recent challenges such as post-2010 austerity – their work continues to this day as they have pooled resources or merged in to WCIA.

Bill Davies (LH), WCIA Director 1973-1996; with Stephen Thomas (RH), WCIA Director 1996-2010, share their stories at the ‘Temple of Memories’ Exhibition Launch, Nov 2018
  • WCIA, the Welsh Centre for International Affairs, as established by Bill Davies in 1973, remains the ‘core’ Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) continuing the mission and vision of Wales’ Temple of Peace – as founded by David Davies through the Welsh League of Nations Union (WLNU) in 1920. WCIA is the direct modern-day successor to the WLNU, UNA Wales, and…
  • Freedom from Hunger Campaign in Wales – predecessor to many of the aid agencies that today we take for granted, from 1962 FFHC was a major focus of the Temple’s, work. From 1978, under Bill’s leadership alongside Professor Glyn O Phillips, the Temple became FFHC’s UK / global Headquarters, with Bill and Glyn travelling widely to oversee aid, humanitarian and development projects, from Lesotho to India. Formally wound up / work incorporated into WCIA from 1997; work incorporated into ‘Global Partnerships‘ programme; View history of Wales FFHC campaign.
  • UNICEF Wales – the United Nations Children’s Programme. From 2000 onwards, work incorporated into WCIA’s Global Learning programme.
  • CEWC (Council for Education in World Citizenship) – formally merged with WCIA from 2009, incorporated into ‘Global Learning‘ programme
  • Cyfanfyd (Wales’ Development Education Association) – wound up 2015, work continued by WCIA’s Global Learning programme
  • UNA Wales – formally merged with WCIA from 2014, incorporated into ‘Global Action‘ programme
  • UNA Exchange – formally merged with WCIA from 2020, incorporated into ‘Global Action‘ and ‘Global Partnerships‘ programmes
  • View ‘Short History of UNA Exchange’ here
  • UNA Cardiff Branch and UNA Menai are still active as independent community branches, supported by both UNA UK and the WCIA in Wales. UNA Cardiff hold regular meetings and events in the Temple of Peace.
  • View ‘History of UNA Cardiff’ here

Bill Davies’ Books and Publications

‘The United Nations at 50: The Welsh Contribution’ by Bill Davies
The Temple of Peace & Health, 1938-1998 by Bill Davies

Following his retirement in 1996 – as he ‘handed over leadership to Stephen Thomas to lead WCIA from 1996 to 2010 – Bill turned his hand (and his Cambridge History Graduate’s pen!), to recording the ‘story’ of the Temple of Peace. Between 1995-98 he published 3 books:

WCIA are currently in process of making these available as open-source digital copies, a process started with Bill’s permission and indeed his desire for these to be available to ‘young people of the future’.

Bill also authored a wide range of publications and policy briefings during his time as WCIA Director, coordinating with Wales’ leading minds of the time to create a ‘Thinktank for Welsh Internationalism‘. WCIA also hope to bring these in to the digital sphere within coming months, as a tribute to Bill’s legacy.

Bill Davies in 1977

Tributes to Bill Davies

Bill’s ‘life’s legacy’ will extend far beyond his life. If you would like to forward a tribute for inclusion by the WCIA team, please send to walesforpeace@wcia.org.uk, or with tweets you can tag @wcia_wales. We hope to include tributes in due course in a small display within the Temple of Peace about Bill’s contribution.

WCIA’s Heritage Advisor and Head of ‘Wales for Peace’ Craig Owen commented:

“Bill Davies’ legacy is a whole generation. All of us who care about Wales and the world, probably do so because of something he set up behind the scenes.”

Craig Owen, WCIA Heritage Advisor and Temple of Peace Curator

Susie Ventris-Field
Susie Ventris-Field, WCIA Chief Executive

Susie Ventris-Field, WCIA’s current Chief Executive, added: “Bill leaves a legacy in every Welsh person with an interest in internationalism today. If you learned about global issues at school… If you participated in events or debates on world issues… if you volunteered or did exchanges with young people overseas, or here in Wales… if you’ve been involved in a charity that sends aid from Wales to a particular place or cause that’s important to you… if you expressed an opinion on a conflict or world issue you didn’t feel was right… If you believe Wales and its communities should play a role in the world… Although none of us know it today, Bill created the conditions ‘behind the scenes’ that enable almost all of these things to be a part of Welsh life, discussion and debate now.”

David Melding MS, Member of Senedd for South Wales Central, worked as WCIA’s Deputy Director alongside Bill Davies, and contributed a fitting memoriam which has been referenced in this Tribute (with many thanks from the WCIA team):

Martin Pollard, Learned Society of Wales:

Martin Pollard, LSW

When I joined the WCIA staff team in 2001, I quickly became aware of Bill Davies’ remarkable achievements. Internationalism in Wales has a long history, but to thrive, it needs strong institutions and widespread appeal. Establishing the WCIA gave everyone in Wales an organisation they could relate to, whether as a school pupil, a community member, an activist, an academic or an international development specialist. Taking over as WCIA Chief Executive in 2010, I was acutely aware of the ‘big shoes’ I would be stepping into. I’m grateful that Bill remained involved with the Temple of Peace and the WCIA until his final years; indeed, it gave him great pleasure to walk several miles between his home and the Temple to keep an eye on what we were all up to. He leaves an important legacy for everyone in Wales.

Martin Pollard, Head of the Learned Society for Wales (LSW) and former WCIA Chief Executive 2010-2017

Stephen Thomas, WCIA Director 1996-2010

“Bill was, amongst other things, a pragmatist. He saw that the internationalist work at the Temple of Peace needed a new structure in order for it even to survive, let alone flourish. Hence his dedication to the vision of the WCIA, and to its outreach in drawing so many Welsh civil and governmental bodies into its network. His undoubted fundraising skills led to solid financial foundations; indeed, some of his efforts there bore fruit as legacies to the WCIA long after he had retired.”

Sir Emyr Jones-Parry, former UK Ambassador to the United Nations

“I first heard of Bill in the 1970s, when my mother, a Trustee of the Centre from Carmarthenshire, spoke highly of this well informed lovely man. It was at the start of a great visionary service to internationalism and for Wales. He as much liked as admired and did much to consolidate the wider work of the Centre,  of which he was always a constant supporter.”

Robert Davies, Founder of UNA Exchange and Wales’ National Garden of Peace

“I was privileged to have known Bill as a dear friend, from when he began in the Temple of Peace as Secretary of the Wales United Nations Association, in 1963; then through his period as Director of the WCIA, and into his retirement from 1996. My special interest was volunteering by young people. At the time of the founding of WCIA in 1973, Bill gave huge encouragement to the independent establishment of International Youth Service – what later became known as UNA Exchange – which continues to this day.”