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#Temple81: Incredible Hidden Histories from 1938 opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace offer ‘Key to the Past’

Crowds gathered in the rain for the Opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace on 23rd Nov 1938

On Saturday 23rd November of this year, we marked 81 years to the blustery day in 1938 when Wales’ Temple of Peace and Health was opened by war-bereaved mother Minnie James from Merthyr Tydfil – accompanied by ‘mothers of Wales and the world’, the Temple’s founder Lord David Davies, and among 500 specially invited guests, a young 14 year old schoolboy from Carmarthen, Gordon James.

#Temple81 may not hold quite the same ‘diamond anniversary status’ as the hugely ambitious programme staged by WCIA / Wales for Peace for #Temple80 in November 2018 – with 43 events in one month, culminating in a Gala Night Rededication (on 23rd Nov 2018) featuring a community performance of ‘A New Mecca’ and launch of the documentary film, ‘Voices of Temple80’.

However, in a remarkable turn of recent events, WCIA is rewriting the ‘hidden histories’ from that day following 3 incredible dicoveries linking the past to the present – through generations with ‘peace building in the blood’, quite literally. We are delighted to share these 3 incredibly inspiring stories for #Temple81:

  • ‘I Was There!’ Gordon James’ firsthand account of the opening ceremony as a 14 year old schoolboy, 80 years later: “23rd November, a Day to Remember”.
  • The ‘Founders Tribute Refound’ – Daniel Davies, descendant of Lord David Davies, rediscovers a memorial presented by the people of Wales.
  • Minnie James’ ‘Key to the Past’ to return to Wales’ Temple of Peace with her descendants.

View on Temple81 ‘Peacemakers Feature’ Page

 

The Story of Gordon James: ’23rd November – A Day to Remember’

Revisiting the Temple after 81 years, Gordon shares his memories of the Opening Ceremony – experienced through the eyes of a 14-year old schoolboy from Carmarthen.

View ’23rd November, a Day to Remember’ on YouTube. Filmed by Tracy Pallant and Amy Peckham of Valley & Vale Community Arts, with #Temple80 music soundtrack by Jon Berry. Interviewed by Craig Owen, WCIA and Dr Emma West, University of Birmingham / WCIA Trustee.

Gordon James (standing) in 1938, Carmarthenshire prior to WW2

Gordon James revisiting Temple of Peace, Summer 2019

In early 2019, Gordon James attended the inauguration of the High Sherriff of South Glamorgan Dr Isabel Graham at the Temple of Peace, and casually remarked to one WCIA’s venue team that “The last time I was here, was for the opening…!” Gordon had been a 14-year old school boy at Queen Elizabeth High School in Carmarthen, when in November 1938 he was 1 of 4 young people from Carmarthenshire selected to ‘represent the future generation’ among the ‘Great and the Good’ at the prestigious opening of Wales’ Temple of Peace.

In Summer 2019, at the age of 95, Gordon retraced his footsteps into the Temple’s ‘Hall of Nations’ – and shared his remarkable first hand memories of the Opening Ceremony through the eyes of a child, on the eve of the outbreak of World War Two just months later. Interviewed by Valley & Vale filmmakers Tracy Pallant and Amy Peckham, with WCIA Heritage Trustee Dr Emma West and Head of Wales for Peace Craig Owen, Gordon’s oral history shed completely new light on the opening ceremony. For one, WCIA previously had no inkling that children had been included in the audience. So we had no idea that anybody present would be alive today, let alone with such an incredible first hand account of the Temple’s opening ceremony – and having personally met figures such as David Davies and Minnie James who are legendary links to the past for us today! But more than anything, we were astonished by the clarity with which Gordon recollects the day… ’23rd November, a Day to Remember’.

I do remember there was this little old lady (Minnie James) who made a lot of fuss of… she was frail in comparison to all these ‘big men’ that were around her, important Archbishops and Mayors… But she had a composure about her, she coped very well I thought… I remember we were told why she was chosen.. she’d lost 3 sons in the war. If you can even imagine that… so, so awful. She was so composed in the presence of all those bigwigs! It was truly wonderful to be part of it.”

Gordon James, age 95 (Summer 2019) recollecting events of November 1938.

Daniel Davies, and the ‘Founders Tribute’ Re-found

Daniel Davies is the great grandson of Lord David Davies (1880-1944), founder of the Temple of Peace, and has been a Trustee and Vice Chair of the WCIA over recent years, supporting development of the organisation’s work on Global Learning, Action and Partnerships. Daniel has continued in his ancestors’ footsteps working in humanitarian affairs with Save the Children and ELRHA both in Wales, and in Geneva.

Daniel’s sister Eldrydd continues to live in Plas Dinam in Powys, the family of home of David Davies during the time (1920s-30s) he was founding the Temple of Peace and the Welsh League of Nations Union.

Lord Davies’ bust by Sir Goscombe John, looks over the Temple of Peace Hall today.

Memorial Tribute presented by the people of Wales to David Davies in 1935, rediscovered in 2018.

During Summer 2019, Daniel’s parents, the current Lord and Lady Davies, rediscovered – in a cupboard in Plas Dinam – an exquisite illuminated ‘Memorial’, presented by the people of Wales to Lord David Davies in 1935 to accompany the unique bronze bust by leading 1930s sculptor Sir Goscombe John – which hangs today above the Hall of Nations in the Temple of Peace.

The Memorial records the gratitude of Welsh communities and voluntary organisations, in particular from the post-WW1 Peace Movement and communities Wales-wide, for Lord Davies’ philanthropy in support of ‘building a better world’. It is hoped in the near future to display this beautiful memorial close to the bust it originally accompanied, with the kind support of Bea, David and Daniel Davies.

“It’s so important we don’t forget the driving force behind the peace and health movements between WW1 and WW2… and keep our attention on encouraging, especially young people in Wales, to take an active interest in the links between our health and wellbeing in Wales, and the wider world – to be truly global citizens.

Beyond its 80th year.. I hope the Temple will have many years ahead of carrying forward the message of peace and health that are in its title, in its bricks and mortar, its spirit… and the unique place it has in Welsh public life.”  

Daniel Davies, 2018 Oral History interview with Tracy Pallant

Discovering the Descendants of Minnie James, ‘Mother of the Temple of Peace’

Minnie James, ‘Mother of the Temple of Peace’ at the Opening Ceremony in November 1938

Marguerite, Robin and Jeanne are the great-grandchildren, and James and Emily the great-great-grandchildren of Minnie James – the war-bereaved mother from Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil who opened the Temple of Peace, accompanied by ‘mothers of Wales and the World’ – and became an inspiration to a whole generation of peacemakers and women.

Previous research had suggested that Minnie had no living descendants, the loss of her 3 sons in WW1 having been the reason she was invited to open the Temple of Peace, as Wales’ ‘most tragic mother’- representing the loss of a whole generation.

However, as well as her daughters that were on record (all of whom died without children), Minnie had another daughter, Letty – who had escaped research, having been living with her aunts in Merthyr at the time of the 1911 census. Letty went on to serve as a nurse in World War 1 with the Red Cross in the Channel Islands, where she met her future husband, Jack Martel. Jack and Letty had 3 children, David, Elizabeth (Betty) & Daphne, who spent their childhoods on Guernsey – but with stories of their ‘grandmother of peace’, Minnie. With the occupation of Guernsey by Nazi forces in 1940 all three children were evacuated to the UK (David to live with Minnie and her two youngest children, Win and Bill, in Dowlais – where Minnie’s husband was in the Home Guard). At the end of the war, David and Betty returned to live on Guernsey while Daphne stayed on in England.

Robin Paul, Great Grandson of Minnie James

Millie and Henry, Great Great Great Grandchildren of Minnie James

In October 2019, Wales for Peace received a call from Robin Paul, who had been researching family history whilst his mother Daphne, Minnie’s grand-daughter, was unwell – and had stumbled across WCIA’s recently published ‘Peacemakers Feature’ article on Minnie and the Mothers of Peace. Tragically, on 7th November 2019, Daphne passed away aged 94, her brother David having died in 2012 and sister Betty (Marguerite and Jeanne’s mother) in 2016.  But Robin’s son James has two children, and James’ sister, Emily, Daphne’s grandchild and Robin’s daughter, will be getting married this December, age 32… and so the circle of life, and Minnie’s legacy, continues.

WCIA’s understanding had always been that Minnie was buried 1954, in Pant Cemetery, Merthyr, with the Silver Key (below) with which she opened the Temple of Peace – and the letters and mementoes from her sons who died in WW1.

But in a remarkable twist of history, these mementoes were actually passed on to her daughter Winifred, and thence to Betty and Daphne. With Daphne’s sad passing this November, the family have expressed their incredibly kind support to loan these incredible historical heirlooms to WCIA at the Temple of Peace, hopefully from the Spring of 2020, to create a display dedicated to Minnie and her sons as part of the Temple’s public exhibitions.

The Welsh Centre for International Affairs / WCIA are very grateful for this gesture of goodwill, which will offer a profound connection for visitors to the building with not only the causes for which it was built – peace, health and justice – but the very individuals who inspired its construction, and continue to inspire generations of internationalists today.

“Minnie’s Key’ from 1938 opens the locks linking generations past, present and future in the Temple’s story… Generations working to shape Wales’ role in building a better world of peace, justice and health.” 

Newspaper clipping from Nov 1938

Craig Owen, Head of Wales for Peace, Nov 2019

Recent picture of the beautifully inscribed key which opened Wales’ Temple of Peace, presented to Mrs Minnie James of Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil by Temple Architect Sir Percy Thomas on 23rd Nov 1938. Thought to have been buried with Minnie in 1954, the key has recently come to light through descendants of Minnie James just prior to #Temple81 – the 81st Anniversary of the opening which will be marked on 23rd Nov 2019.

Gold.. or Silver? Newspaper clippings from the time may stand to be corrected in light of the key’s rediscovery!      

Thanks

The author of this article, Craig Owen, would like to express profound thanks to Gordon and Joy James; Daniel, Bea and David Davies; and to Robin Paul and his family for their contributions to this ‘Temple81’ feature.

Also to WCIA volunteers Peter Garwood and Frank Holloway for their original research into Minnie James and the Temple Opening.

I would also like to dedicate this article with a ‘special thankyou’ to ex-Wales for Peace staff Ffion Fielding, Mari Lowe and Fi Fenton, whose personal commitment in supporting volunteers to uncover the Temple’s histories over 2015-18 ultimately enable these ‘hidden histories’ to emerge in a way that is profoundly moving for both the WCIA team today, and for the individuals / descendants involved. Diolch.