#Neges100: Wales’ Youth Message of Peace & Goodwill

Wales’ first Youth Message of Peace and Goodwill in 1922 expressed the hope after World War One, that in future there will be no need for any of us, as we grow older, to show our pride for the country in which we were born by going out to hate and to kill one another. Young people have been at the forefront of Wales’ peace and internationalist movements for over a century – as ambassadors of goodwill, international volunteers, or passionate campaigners and activists challenging the world’s most pressing issues, from Nuclear Disarmament to Climate Change.

2022 marked the centenary of ‘Neges Heddwch’, initially known as the ‘Children’s World Wireless Message’. First broadcast in June 1922 from Lavernock Point, Penarth and the Eiffel Tower, from 1923 ‘Goodwill Day’ was established on 18 May every year (the date of the 1st Hague Peace Conferences of 1899) – still observed to this day as the message turns 100. In 1923, ‘the Neges’ was the topic of the world’s first ever Welsh language broadcast on the BBC by the WLNU and Neges founder, Gwilym Davies; and from 1924, the BBC World Service brought it to homes in every nation. Over the century, every generation of young people have been part of forming, sharing and responding to the message of peace. Initially organised through the Welsh League of Nations Union (WCIA’s predecessor at the Temple of Peace), from 1954 it passed to Urdd Gobaith Cymru and has inspired the movement’s humanitarian and international work ever since – engaging 1,500 branches and 50,000 members across the country (not to mention many thousands of teachers and school children). It has inspired reciprocal messages from youth movements as far afield as Norway, Nigeria, and New Zealand; and the National Library of Wales archives contain hundreds of ‘replies’ charting the hopes, dreams and aspirations of young people the world over.

The International Youth Service, pioneered in Brynmawr, Wales from 1932, continues today through the work of UNA Exchange – WCIA’s volunteering arm. Generations of young Welsh volunteers have participated in international placements, exchanges and workcamps, from European reconstruction after WW2 to more recent (2017-18) exchanges uncovering and digitising the heritage of the Peace & Goodwill Message itself.

#Neges100 is one of the key anniversaries being celebrated by WCIAs #Peace100 programme over 2022-24.

Peace Heritage of the Youth Message

Celebrating its centenary in 2022, ‘Y Neges Heddwch’ – the annual Peace & Goodwill Message from the Youth of Wales to the World – is a part of growing up for most Welsh speaking children today, coordinated Wales-wide by Urdd Gobaith Cymru. It started life as the very first campaign of the newly formed Welsh League of Nations Union (WLNU), WCIA’s predecessor body for whom Wales’ Temple of Peace was originally constructed as a headquarters ‘befitting the nation’s leading movement for world peace and cooperation’.

The first documented proposition of the Youth Message idea was in correspondence between Gwilym and David Davies in January 1922. Appointed Honorary Director of the WLNU in February, Rev Gwilym Davies floated his idea to the ‘Adolescent Conference’ of the Welsh School of Social Service in Llandrindod Wells, April 1922, who “adopted the suggestion with enthusiasm.”  At the same event, a parallel Women’s Conference discussed and adopted the proposal for a Women’s Peace Petition to America., and the 2 campaigns were organised alongside each other.

Suggestions for the ‘World Wireless Message’ were invited by post and received from schools in all 13 counties across Wales, crafted by Gwilym Davies into a narrative for broadcast on 28 June 1922 (full text here – first 5 years). Transmitted by Morse Code via the Post Office from ‘the most powerful station in the world’ (Leafield in Oxfordshire), the first message was forwarded by the Controller of the Eiffel Tower – expressing the desire of the young people of Wales that

“there will be no need for any of us, as we grow older, to show our pride for the country in which we were born, by going out to hate and kill one another.”

Wales Youth Message of Peace & Goodwill, 1922-28

In 1923, the second message – based on the same text as 1922 – was ‘submitted via hundreds of schools, through lessons given on the message and the League of Nations… children learned to write the message, and take home to explain to their mothers and fathers.’ The broadcaston 18 May 1923 – marking the anniversary of the first Peace Conference in the Hague in 1899 – was pronounced as ‘World Peace Day’, and the date has been adhered to ever since. The message gained its ‘first adoption’ by South Australia, who used it for their ‘International Christmas Tree’ in Adelaide.

In 1924, the third message was broadcast for the first time by radio on the BBC World Service – as well as by Morse Code from Leafield and the Eiffel Tower. This prompted the first international responses, from Poland’s Minister for Education and the Archbishop of Uppsala in Sweden, who said “Swedish children and parents ardently wish… a Christian Soul and strong future for abolishing war and deepening peace in men’s minds and in our distressed world.”

By 1925, the Children’s Message was “featuring in newspapers and magazines of Great Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal and other continent countries… and leading American newspapers”. It is notable that this American coverage would have closely followed the Welsh Women’s Peace Appeal and Tour of America, undoubtedly instrumental in raising awareness of Welsh peace efforts. In 1926, the Message had been integrated into school teaching Wales-wide, with 14 schools from the Caerphilly area being cited for the example of their ‘Peace Week activities in the 1927 Peace Message booklet.

In 1926, Gwilym Davies made the first fully programmed broadcast in Welsh over the BBC, speaking about and then reading out the Children’s World Wireless Message, from Cardiff and Daventry Stations. The first ‘Cablegram’ response, from the Prussian Minister of Education, relayed that the message had been printed in the journal for all schools across Prussia; and the Government of New Zealand proposed a reciprocal correspondence between children of Wales and Aotearoa.

The actual text of the message remained the same until 1929 message, when the first divergence – celebrating the forthcoming  10th Birthday of the League of Nations – asked:

“Will you, millions of you, join with us today in thinking with gratitude of those men and women, or every race and people, who are working so hard to build a finer, better world?”

Wales Youth Message of Peace & Goodwill, 1929

Through the 1930s, the message started evolving, as the Great Depression tightened its grip. As storm clouds gathered on the horizon leading to WW2, the tone of the message shifted from what might be considered in retrospect a conceptual and idealistic text, to annual messages that reflected the deep concerns of younger people about the world around them, as peace seemingly unravelled and became threatened.

The message continued through WW2; after WW2, particularly heart-rending replies from the young people of Germany and Japan underlined the ijportance of the message for reconciliation and peace building out of the ashes of war:

It is so long since we heard from the young people of Wales: how it grew dark. We pray to hear from you again.”

German youth response to the 1946 Welsh Youth Message of Peace & Goodwill

“We are really happy to know, after so many years of isolation, that you have sent so hearty words of friendship and love.”

Japanese youth response to the 1948 Welsh Youth Message of Peace & Goodwill

This coincided with the founding of the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, with whom the message was co-created in the interwar years with UNA Wales – successor to the WLNU, below)). Llangollen went on to develop their own parallel Peace Message during the 1980s, although the divergence was primarily for practical reasons (Wales’ young people that year chose to produce a pop song instead of prose!)

Throughout the 1930s-40s, the WLNU continued to be the main organisational vehicle for organisation of the message, as the Temple of Peace opened to become its new headquarters – a moment celebrated by the cover of the 1938 Peace Message. However, after WW2, as WLNU morphed into the new UNA Wales structure, the severely constricted austerity era resources constrained UNA’s ability to service and support the work involved with the message.

With Gwilym Davies’ passing in 1954, responsibility for the Message passed to Urdd Gobaith Cymru, with the blessing of his widow Mary Gwilym Davies (nee Ellis, who had organised the 1924 American Women’s Peace Tour).

In the 1970s-80s, with the Urdd facing financial challenges, the reciprocal element of the Peace Message (facilitating responses form around the world) was organisationally deprioritised and soon disappeared altogether – indeed, by the time of the Wales for Peace project over 2014-19, this element of the message’s heritage, and its WLNU origins, were a genuinely hidden history that is now being rediscovered and bringing back to life the origins and motiovation behind the message.

In recent years, as its heritage has been rediscovered, participation in the Peace Message has seen a resurgence. The centenary peace message in 2022 focused on the Climate Emnergency, and was presented at the Nobel Peace headquarters in Oslo

See digitised Peace Messages at People’s Collection Wales – A Message of Peace & Goodwill