On the evening of 17th January, 1946, the world’s first United Nations General Assembly was formally opened with a ceremonial gathering at London’s Royal Albert Hall – the ‘British Welcome’ to delegates of every nation.
Reading through this opening programme from the Temple of Peace Archives (below), one remarkable thing that stands out is the profile and level of involvement of Wales, and Welsh participants. The Temple of Peace Choir received ‘top billing’, singing no less than 6 songs through the course of proceedings – ‘Men of Harlech’, an English / Irish / Scottish / Welsh musical journey, and the very apt ‘Sons of the World’. The whole audience were invited to join in with a finale of John Hughes‘ song, ‘These Things Shall Be’. Keynote speaker was Lady Megan Lloyd George, MP for Anglesey and Wales’ first female member of parliament; alongside Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States, Sir Walter Citrine of the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) representing the voice of workers worldwide, and the prominent disarmament campaigner Philip Noel-Baker, ex-Olympic athlete and (then-future) Nobel Peace prize winner. The event was ‘officiated’ by Field-Marshall Sir Harold Alexander, Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, and Paul-Henri Spaak as President of the 1st UN Assembly.
The proceedings of the United Nations first Assembly had actually started a week beforehand, from Central Hall in Westminster (see WCIA post #OTD 10th January – Start of United Nations) – as members of 51 states gathered to start the process of building a new world.
So why were Wales, and the Temple of Peace, so prominent in this world’s first ‘launch’ of the United Nations? Beneath all the politics and pageantry, this 1st UN Assembly was organised ‘behind-the-scenes’ by 2 Welshmen civil servants, David Owen and Gladwyn Jebb, with no office or budget – very hurriedly, in the immediate aftermath of World War Two (which had ended 4 months beforehand), in a London were the rubble of bombing raids was still being cleared. It is not unreasonable to imagine that they may have called in many favours from friends and organisations willing to help; and Wales’ Temple of Peace, particularly through the efforts of (Welsh League of Nations Union Director) Gwilym Davies, had been very pro-active in seeking to support and shape the post-WW2 peace landscape.
A final more personal story from this UN Welcome Programme in the Temple Archives, came from the signature at the top of the first page “K R Moger’. In Autumn 2021, now-retired ex-NHS Manager Keith Moger visited the Temple Archives to research the history of Wales’ National Memorial Association (WNMA, predecessor to the 1948-founded NHS). Keith saw the UN Welcome Programme on WCIA’s ‘Peacemakers Timeline’ display, and did a double take… “That’s my mother!” It seems the Temple’s programme was originally Marjorie Moger’s copy. Keith had known his Mum had participated in a Choir with the Temple of Peace when he was young… but until that point, he hadn’t known she had sand for the Opening Ceremony of the United Nations. What a momentous memory to discover!