Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Patriot Game

So who led Plaid Cymru's official delegation to Berlin in 1940?  J E Daniel?  Saunders Lewis perhaps?  And wasn't that young Gwynfor booking into the Hotel Kaiserhof; right next door to the mighty Reichskanzlei itself?  Soon our gallant band would be sitting down with Adolf and discussing the imminent downfall of the British Empire.

You might think my scenario is tripe, nonsense, poppycock, claptrap, balderdash?   No doubt you'd be right, but don't tell me, tell the readers of the well-regarded book Patriots, National Identity in Britain 1940-2000.  Here are some reviews:

Wide ranging, intelligent, sensible, and important - Sunday Telegraph
A major work - The Independent
A treasure trove - Daily Mail
Many perceptive thoughts - The Guardian
Marvellously rich - Financial Times
His research is formidable - Sunday Times

So the book went down well in the Metropolis then.  The Guardian did complain about a lack of footnotes but no reviewer thought to query one rather astounding claim:

"Plaid Cymru was less circumspect, sending an official delegation to Berlin in the summer of 1940 to convince Hitler that in return for some measure of Welsh independence they would support a Nazi regime elsewhere on the island."

You have to wonder how such a tall-tale ever got into the mainstream.  Perhaps it stems back to MI5's fantasy Welsh-nationalist Arthur Jenkins (Snow) and his imaginary pals.  Certainly one of their number, the British agent "Jack Brown" visited Germany in 1940 as a guest of the Abwehr.  The eisteddfodwr Leigh Vaughan Henry is also said to have had links with German Intelligence, but he was a member of the British Union of Fascists  and by the summer of 1940 was safely interned in one of His Majesty's establishments.

In an email the author of Patriots told me that the "official delegation" story came from a Welsh historical monograph on the early history of the party.  It's a monograph, unreferenced in the book, which is unknown to other academics versed in the history of Plaid Cymru.  The author's other Welsh researches do not inspire much confidence - for example he confuses MAC and the FWA, who seemingly sent a letter-bomb responsible for "blowing the hands off a small girl."  Once out into the mainstream, like black propaganda, such accusations fester and are reprinted in other books and taken-up by bloggers and tweeters. It soon becomes, as one English author of a subsequent re-telling informed me, "fairly well documented."  A documentation built on sand.

It says a lot about the relationship between England and Wales that none of the distinguished reviewers of the book thought a Plaid "official delegation" to Berlin in 1940 at all shocking or unbelievable.  It's also telling that such a visit was not worth the bother of any subsequent follow-up or investigation.  The Welsh are clearly untrustworthy but also unimportant.  Yes, they would have scuttled-off to Berlin - presumably in one of those mythical U-boats that used to call into Cardigan Bay for fresh eggs and a sing-song in the local pub - but who cares.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Radnorshire From Above - Review

Let's get the praise out of the way first; this is a beautifully produced book - in Aberystwyth - containing more than a hundred aerial photographs illustrating the archaeology and landscape of the old county of Radnorshire.  The colour photographs are accompanied by an informative text describing the background to aerial archaeology and what each of the often stunning images tells us about the past.

Anyone with the slightest interest in our Radnorian heimat should snap up a copy without delay.  Published by the Radnorshire Society and the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, it costs just £9 from the Society and a still great value £12.99 from local bookshops.  Congratulations to all involved in its production.

Here you'll find snowscapes, landscapes, the complexities of the Walton basin, hill forts, castles plundered of every last stone by the perspicacious Radnorshire folk and the churchyard of Newbridge-on-Wye with the graves of the local toffs shielded from the hoi polloi by a neat hedge.  Innes Ireland's old home at Downton merits a page, there are splendid shots of the Elan Valley including nostalgic shots of dried-out 2003, Roman marching camps, tai un nos and traces of the Glasbury church which ended up on the wrong side of the Wye after one 17C flood.

Any complaints I have may seem trivial to those who view the world through anglocentric spectacles, but here you go:

First off the text does recognize that the Anglo-Norman hold on Radnorshire castles was pretty precarious.  For long periods they were back home in Herefordshire and at others, a bit like the British army in Basra, confined to barracks.  So where were successful local rulers like Cadwallon ap Madog hanging out, since they tended to despoil the Norman castles rather than move in?   In Welsh castles more than likely, places like Buddugre - I would have liked to have seen some discussion about that.

Castell Cwm Aran?  This monstrosity may be perpetrated by the Ordnance Survey and the local High School but it's just wrong.  I'm far from being a language purist, I'm not vexed by the use Rhayader instead of Rhaeadr and I positively welcome the use of a localism like Noyadd instead of Neuadd.  But there is no river Aran in Radnorshire - the river and the castle are properly called Cymaron.  It was good enough for the bards and it should be good enough for the Radnorshire Society.

Likewise the use of placenames like Crug Erydd (Crug Eryr) and Penarth Mount (Bryn Pennardd).  Indeed the names used by the bards for these supposedly Norman sites might offer a big clue that they were in use by the local uchelwyr in the 15C.  None of them have been - so perhaps it's time CPAT dug one of them up?  I guess archaeologists don't like documentary evidence much, but Lewis Glyn Cothi describes Cefnllys Castle being rebuilt and occupied in the 15C - he even names the builder!

To me it illustrates the fact that in order to get a fuller picture of medieval and early modern Radnorshire history you really have to get to grips with the bards and their work.

Mistakes?   Well no-one was transported for  Rebeccaite attacks on toll gates in and around Rhayader, p87.