Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Book of the Month

Although published by the University of Wales Press, this book is not really a history of the post-war physical force element in Wales. In some ways it is autobiographical, tracing the story of the author from his anglicised, somewhat anti-Welsh background, to highly successful editor of the Western Mail, to Secretary of the nationalist Independent Wales Party.

The book starts in 1963, thus largely ignoring the activities of the Welsh Republican Party in the 1950s, even though many of the leading characters in that movement re-emerged as backers of Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC) in the 1960s. The book also suggests links between MAC and the holiday home fire-bombings of Meibion Glyndwr in the period 1979-1992. No real evidence is presented for this connection, which is hardly surprising given the fact that no-one was ever convicted for any of the 200 or so attacks during the period.

Despite these reservations this is a highly readable and well-researched account of the time. The author, an insider, places meat on the bones of the anti-Welsh attitudes of the Western Mail. The book is somewhat sympathetic to MAC activists such as Owen Williams and John Jenkins, while at the same time painting the Free Wales Army as the clowns they no doubt were. The Stasi-like attitudes of the Special Branch Shrewsbury Unit and, in particular, its successors are detailed, a reminder that the English human rights industry did precious little to protest against some of the disgraceful infringements of basic rights occurring in Wales. The book also has its fair share of controversial revelations . Did Owen Williams actually convince the IRA of the virtue of the "cell system" of insurgency and was John Summers really a police informer?

This is a worthwhile book, casting light on an important aspect of Welsh history that is too often ignored by historians. It is also interesting that so many of the characters in the physical force movement were English speakers. Mainstream nationalism's inability, understandable as it may be, to fully engage with the English speaking Welsh majority, is surely the great failure of the independence movement to date.

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