101 Years of Peacemaking: Centenary of WCIA’s ‘Justice League’ #OTD 22 April

Engine for Peace: A steam traing brings children from Tregaron to Aberystwyth to participate in a WLNU-organised ‘Peace Pageant’ involving schools from across Cardiganshire. Rev Gwilym Davies and David Davies are among those stood on the locomotive.

This weekend marks a ‘Centenary + 1’ for WCIA – with the founding of our post-WW1 predecessor body, the Welsh League of Nations Union (WLNU), over the Easter Weekend of 21-22 April 1922. And 100 years ago, over 20-21 April 1923, League activists from all over Wales would have been gathering in Tregaron, birthplace of Welsh Peacemaker Henry Richard, to reflect on their first full year of campaigning work – and the challenge of a Women’s Peace Petition to America that they had just decided to launch. Community activists would have shared campaigning ideas and potential allies over their Tregaron weekend; and the the following month, proposals for the Women’s Peace Appeal were cemented through the National Conference of Women, held in Aberystwyth on 23 May 1923.

‘THE LEAGUE’ as the WLNU was widely known throughout the 1920s and 30s, involved people Wales-wide in campaigning for world peace, and was part of the interwar fabric of Welsh communities – with over 1,000 local branches and 60,000 active members driving the League’s mission to ‘build a better world’. After a couple of years laying the foundations from May 1920, under leadership of founders David Davies of Llandinam, Rev Gwilym Davies of Cwmrhymni and Annie Hughes Griffiths of Llangeitho, the WLNU’s first members’ conference was held in Llandrindod Wells over Easter 1922, from which point the organisation was formally constituted and recognised. The following year’s conference in Tregaron in 1923 completed the process of organisational establishment.

‘Welsh Efforts for World Peace’: these banners outside the ‘Hall of Nations’ commemorate the groundbreaking global campaigns of the 1920s Welsh League of Nations Union – commonly known as ‘The League’

The WLNU’s grassroots-up campaigns engaged youth, school children, teachers, women, churches, trade unions, miners lodges and many others in advocating for solutions to conflict and fostering positive international relations – often with a strong ‘community to community’ element. Their first campaign, the ‘World Wireless Children’s Message of Peace and Goodwill‘, marks its own centenary next month in May 2022: coordinated by Urdd Gobaith Cymru since 1954, its first 32 years were spearheaded by the League and then UNA Wales from Cardiff’s Temple of Peace. Teachers of Wales over Summer 1922 devised the world’s first world education curriculum, and initiated annual global conferences of educationalists at Gregynog Hall in Powys. Women of Wales over 1923 organised a Memorial Appeal attracting 390,296 signatories, calling for America to join and lead the League of Nations; a petition “7 miles long” presented in New York and Washington, the centenary of which will shortly be marked by Academi Heddwch. By 1926, the West Wales seaside town of Aberystwyth was hosting the World Congress of League of Nations Federations. And by 1935, against clouds of conflict gathering on the European horizon, the WLNU succeeded in organising an entirely voluntary Wales-wide ‘Peace Ballot’ in which over 1 million people voted. Despite huge challenges of the Great Depression, in 1937 Wales’ Temple of Peace was erected as a ‘fitting headquarters for Wales’ most far-reaching international body, opening on 23 Nov 1938 – just 10 months before the outbreak of World War 2.

Interwar Peace campaigners efforts had not been in vain however. In the aftermath of World War 2, many of the global peace building and cooperation structures long advocated by the ‘idealistic’ WLNU, saw fruition with the creation of the United Nations and its constituent bodies – with a group of Welsh Educationalists in particular commissioned to devise a post-war International Organisation for Education, from which was created UNESCO.

Timeline of organisations and movements who have worked from Wales’ Temple of Peace & Health (click to view detail on Flickr)

In 1945, with creation of the UN, the WLNU morphed into the United Nations Association (UNA) Wales; in 1973, UNA founded WCIA – the Welsh Centre for International Affairs – and UNA Exchange, the International Youth Service programme; and over 2014-19, all 3 merged in to WCIA to pool resources and expertise. WCIA represents the continuation of this work from the post-WW1 founders to this very day, with 3 programmes – Global Learning, Global Action and Global Partnerships – underpinned by Peace Heritage work drawing from the rich history of Wales’ internationalist movements.

“Peace can only become a reality, if it is enshrined in the hearts of the people.

Governments come and go… But the people go on Forever.”

David Davies, later Lord Davies of Llandinam, founder of the Welsh League of Nations Union.

This May 2023 will see the start of work on the Welsh Women’s Peace Appeal Centenary programme through Academi Heddwch, as well as the beginning of work by volunteers to uncover the story of the Welsh Churches Peace Appeal to America of 1925, and other movements from interwar Wwelsh peace campaigning. If you would like to get ionvolved, please contact walesforpeace@wcia.org.uk.