#OTD 29 Jan – A most peaceful coup? The Welsh Campaign for the League of Nations

Peace Campaigns of the Welsh League of Nations Union were part of the fabric of Welsh society throughout the interwar era. This ‘Peace Pageant’ of May 1936 involved every schoolchild in Ceredigion – each school representing a nation of the world. Two key ‘drivers’ of the peace movement, WLNU Organiser Gwilym Davies and Patron David Davies – who was also a Director of the Great Western Railway – smile from the locomotive that has brought these children to Aberystwyth. An album and record of the whole Pageant, presented to Gwilym Davies, has been digitised and can be viewed here.

#OTD #OnThisDay 100 years ago, 29 January 1922, the campaigns of the Welsh League of Nations Union (WLNU) were officially kickstarted at a meeting in Shrewsbury – where philanthropist and founding patron David Davies of Llandinam unexpectedly announced that he would “endow the Welsh movement with a sum.. that would ensure a degree of permanence,”enabling the WLNU to become self-sustaining. Co-founder Gwilym Davies was appointed as Honorary Director, to spearhead a peace campaign “the likes of which the world has never seen before.” This was the small beginnings of what would quickly become one of Wales’ biggest social movements – and the origin of today’s WCIA / Welsh Centre for International Affairs.

A Welsh League had been proposed as early as August 1918, from the stage of the National Eisteddfod in Neath. A regional council of the British LNU had been established, and held their first conference in Llandrindod Wells over Whitsuntide (25th May) 1920. But by the end of 1921, many in Wales felt that this arrangement fell far short of what the peace movement in Wales wanted to achieve:

“At the present moment there are supposed to be 51 branches of the Union in Wales, with a total membership of 1,092. It is to be feared many of these branches have only a shadowy existence – and great deal of interest will have to be aroused before these can become living organisms.” Welsh LNU Council Memorandum

On the day that the League of Nations came into being in Geneva – on 10 January 1921 – a group met at Plas Dinam in Powys to rise to this challenge. The ‘dynamic and mercurial’ Rev Gwilym Davies (press quote) was tasked with dreaming up a campaign that would engage every man, woman and child in Wales with the quest for World Peace. A thoroughly modern and media-savvy internationalist, he quickly drafted a ‘Plan of Campaign‘ involving communities, churches, schools and artists, and within weeks grew to include the launch of Wales’ Youth Message of Peace Goodwill, Teachers ‘World Education Advisory Committee’, and a Women’s Peace Appeal. When the Welsh Executive met in Shrewsbury on 29 January 1922, he presented this vision for Welsh peacemaking: and David Davies responded by offering a not insubstantial financial endowment from the Davies family – longstanding Welsh philanthropists – to make it happen. The Rev Gwilym Davies was asked to take on the role of Honorary Director, on behalf of the Welsh National Council.

Gwilym Davies took control of the Welsh LNU Office in Museum Place, Cardiff from the first week of February, and to the next meeting of the Executive on 19 April 1922 he presented his first Hon Director’s Report – having completely reorganised the body, community branches and publications, and secured a mutually congenial ‘independence and cooperation agreement’ with the British LNU in London, and the League’s International Association in Geneva (an impressive first 2 months in any post, let alone an unpaid voluntary role?! Ed).

Within a few years, the movement had over 60,000 members across over 1,000 community branches, actively campaigning on global issues of the day… a 60-fold increase in participation. Many of the propositions pursued by Wales’ peace campaigners saw fruition sadly not in the interwar era – but with the creation of the United Nations out of the ashes of World War Two. UNESCO, the UN Security Council, UN Women, UNDP and UN Peacekeeping all practice ideas and ideals espoused by peace campaigners of the interwar era.

Perhaps one of the most productive gatherings from the platform of Shrewsbury station?

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