Over 2022, WCIA will be producing regular ‘Peace100’ features on significant Peace Heritage anniversaries – ‘Hidden Histories’ from the archives of the Temple of Peace and beyond.
10th January, On This Day (#OTD):
The League of Nations came into being in Paris, 10 January 1920
The League of Nations, the world’s biggest multilateral peace body at that time, was instituted with the passing of the ‘Covenant of the League‘, the part of the post-WW1 Treaty of Versailles which provided its Charter and arrangements for future peace provisions. Negotiated by UK Prime Minister & Welshman David Lloyd George, and brainchild of US President Woodrow Wilson, he had stated:
“I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world do not concert the method by which to prevent it.”
For those in Wales and worldwide who had survived the horrors of the First World War, the League of Nations was the ‘great hope’ of a generation. This was reflected in the many thousands who quickly signed up as members of the League of Nations Union in Wales (see below) – the support body often considered the ‘third chamber’ of the League through the 1§920s and 1930s, bridging world politics with informed public opinion. Many hoped that no longer might international affairs be decided by distant men behind closed doors. The League of Nations Union became a part of the fabric of Welsh, British and societies around the world through the interwar era.
Although the first League Council met in Paris’s Quai d’Orsay on 16 January 1920, it was 15 November 1920 when he first formal sitting of the League of Nations was held in in Geneva at the Salle de la Reformation (RH).
One of Britain’s first nominated representatives to the League of Nations (and first woman) was Winifred Coombe Tennant of Swansea (1874-1956), who attended the Third Assembly in Summer 1922.
The Welsh League of Nations Union was conceived in Plas Dinam, Powys, 10 January 1922
Initially proposed by founder David Davies at the August 1918 National Eisteddfod in Neath, the Welsh LNU began life as a ‘regional committee’ of the British League, who on 25th May 1920 organised a first Welsh League of Nations conference in Llandrindod Wells.
However, this rather London-centric arrangement ‘failed to rise to the challenge’ for Welsh communities and on 10th January 1922 (the 2nd anniversary of the League’s first sitting in Geneva) WLNU founders David Davies and Rev Gwilym Davies met in Plas Dinam, Llandinam (Powys) to conceive a campaign that would “mobilise the people of Gwalia… every man, woman and child for peace”.
Their proposals – for a semi-autonomous Welsh national body affiliated to the British League, but undertaking its own complementary campaigns – were endorsed at a meeting of the Welsh League Committee on 31st January 1922 in Shrewsbury; where David Davies pledged “to endow the Union with funds… to ensure its permanence.”
Rev Gwilym Davies was appointed Honorary Director, taking charge of the Welsh LNU office in the first week of February (see Hon Directors Report April 1922), and at Easter 1922 in Llandrindod Wells the first national conference of the Welsh League of Nations Union was held.
Women peacemakers were central to the WLNU’s campaigns, with Annie Hughes Griffiths of Llangeitho, Carmarthenshire becoming Chair of WLNU and later leading the Welsh Women’s Peace Appeal to America in 1923.
United Nations General Assembly starts in London, 10 January 1946
After World War 2, the League of Nations was disbanded and absorbed into the new United Nations Organisation – whose first General Assembly meeting, involving 51 nations, opened at Central Hall Westminster on 10 January 1946.
Behind the scenes, the first UN General Assembly was organised by two Welshmen: David Owen and Gladwyn Jebb (both later knighted).
“I was Jebb’s deputy,” Sir David recounted. “He turned to me and announced: I’ll handle the high diplomacy; you take on the rest. Find an office and a secretary and get this thing started.” ‘This thing’ was a world organization formed by 51 war time allies without a staff or money – and only a promise that it could make London its temporary home. David rushed back to London to borrow a typewriter from the Foreign Office and a secretary from the War Office. “Together in a taxi we leaded for Church House in Westminster, and knocked on the door. The old custodian peered at us across barricade of sandbags and demanded to know who we were. ‘We are the United Nations,’ I remember answering. And that was the beginning.”
David financed the early days of United Nations operations with a £30 loan from his London bank account. “We lived on that £30 for almost two weeks in 1945.” New York Times Obituary of David Owen, June 1970
Discover more about #Peace100 and the Peace Heritage anniversaries we will be marking over 2022-24 – down load flyer from: https://www.wcia.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Peace100-Anniversaries-2022-24.pdf