Minnie James from Dowlais, Merthyr opened Wales’ Temple of Peace on 23 November 1938, representing war bereaved mothers of Wales and the world. She had lost 3 sons in the war – David, Thomas and Jack James – and led a procession of 24 women at the opening whose anguish as the nation’s ‘most tragic mothers’ encapsulated the deep desire for peace into the future.
On 23 November 2022 – centenary of WCIA’s predecessor body the Welsh League of Nations Union – descendants of Minnie James, led by her great grandchildren Marguerite, Jeanne and Robin Paul, participated in a moving ‘family reunion’ at the Temple of Peace, where they presented to WCIA for future display at the Temple, an extensive collection of Minnie’s mementoes from World War One and from the 1938 opening of the building.
WCIA’s heritage volunteers team are digitising all of these items for posterity, research access and use by communities and historians alike. Here we draw together some of the digitised albums of Minnie James’ collections.
Collections interface: https://www.flickr.com/photos/129767871@N03/collections/72157721269839499/
World War 1: photos & documents from Minnie’s Sons
This collection of potraits and papers from Minnie’s three sons David, Thomas and Jack as they were serving in the WW1 trenches of France over 1915 to 1918, and the tragic heartfelt letters and cold official telegrams informing Minnie and Bill of their deaths and subsequent arrangements, are in an uncredibly poignant and personal collection that brings home to any of us the loss of a loved one – let alone all 3 sons. In curating the set for display, Craig and Gunel were most touched by aletter from one of David’s comrades in the trenches, informing her of what had happened – and so painfully stained with tears. Find out more about Minnie James and her sons here.
Postcards from the Trenches
A most unexpected and beautful collection of approximately 30 postcards in total that are most intricately embroidered with folds that reveal trinket notes and special messages ‘from the heart’. As the war progresses through 1915 towards 1917, these items of beauty and messages of positivity become superseded by cold, censored military despatches where soldiers may not write anything save ticking a box to say confirm they are well / in hospital / being ‘sent back to base’. There are also a number of postcards that poke fun of public figures, and even of kittens – just to show today’s social media doesn’t have a monolopy on sharing cat pictures. Find out more about letters from the front at 14-18 Encyclopaedia.
Minnie James’ Son’s Medals
Each of Minnie’s 3 sons were posthumously awarded a range of medals in recognition of their World War One service; the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal 1914-1920, and the Allied Vistory Medal 1919, as well as berat heralds of the Welch Guards and Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Minnie wore of all her sons medals to the opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace, saying to the press that she was ‘holding her boys close with me through this proudes, saddest, happiest day of my life’. Find out more via the IWM about WW1 Service Medals and their meanings.
Mementoes from the 1938 Temple Opening Ceremony
This collections includes the original Press Pack issued in the run up to the opening ceremony on 23 Nov 1938; the leather bound programme issued to the 500 guests; and a comprehensive array of press clippings from media coverage of the Temple’s opening and the ‘war mothers’ who led it.
Lord Davies Peerage Memorial, 1935
In 1933, David Davies was elevated to the peerage as Lord David of Llandinam by the recommendation of Prime Minister Ramnsey MacDonald to King George V, for his services to interwar peace building and coperation. In 1935, Davies was presented with a public memorial as a thankyou from the people of Wales in further recognition of his philanthropy and support: a bronze bust was commissioned by the eminent 1930s sculptor Sir Goscombe John (which looks to this day over the Hall of Nations at the heart of Wales’ Temple of Peace), accompanied by a leather bound memorial document. This beautiful manuscript was only rediscovered in recent years by the present Davies family, and on 23 November 2022 was presented to the Temple for future display alongside Lord Davies bronze bust – reinforcing the eminence in which David Davies was held by Welsh people of the time.
Minnie James’ Family Reunion at the Temple
Over 3 days surrounding 23 November 2022, WCIA were delighted to welcome 9 descendents of Minnie James’ family, from as far afield as Surrey and Guernsey, to a reunion where they could witness for the first time Wales’ Temple of Peace which their great garndmother from Merthyr had opened on this very day 84 years before. They presented a quite exceptional collection of items and artefacts to WCIA for display in the Temple, digitisation and curation, with the hope that these items may bring inspiration to many others for generations to come – and continue the legacy of Minnie and of herwider family, daughters Winnie and Letty (who served in the International Red Cross), and granddaughters Daphne and Betty.
As a memento of the reunion itself, Minnie James’ great-great-great grandchildren Millie (9) and Henry (5) unveiled a celebratory Memorial Bench to be placed in Wales’ National Garden of Peace, honouring Minnie and the future generations for whom she “pray this building may come to pass, as a symbol of our determinaation for justice and peace into the future.” Perhaps most central to the whole collection and handover, was the reuniting of the original enbraved key from the opening of the Temple… (said to have been ‘golden’, but conspicuously silver today!).
Many thanks for enabling this wonderful evening to go ahead, through generous legacy support of the Estate of Daphne Paul – Minnie’s grand daughter – and a small grant from the Gwendoline and Margaret Davies Charity, who have enabled WCIA’s volunteers and placements to catalogue and digitise the Temple’s Collections over recent months – for which this evening was the realisation and unveiling of much of that hard work.
A huge thankyou also to WCIA’s volunteers and placements who inidvidually put a great deal of work in the background, in particular Gunel Mamedova, Arina Yakupova, Hannah Spruce, Georgia Osborne, Georgia Wood and Clara Finkelstein.