In the country of the Red Dragon
THE WELSH NATIONALISTS
The white cliffs of Dover became clearer as the boat from Ostende drew closer to the shore where we would be landing. They were part of the Norman cliffs, which had been separated from them by the cataclysm that had created the English Channel, some hundreds of thousands years ago. They towered over the port installations towards which we were heading. The passengers were already making their way to the exit on the port side of the ferry.
I followed them carrying my suitcase and my briefcase. They contained all my meager possessions at that time, apart from the clothes I wore and the few pounds sterling in my wallet. I was from now on an “emigrant”, though I had to carefully hide this fact.
In spite of having papers officially in order, it is still nerve racking to pass through a border, which you have been legally forbidden to cross. During that summer of 1946, barely a year after the end of the Second World War, Europe’s borders were all closely watched and difficult to cross. My passport and my visa were in order, with a photo of myself on them; but they were not in my own name. I had to put myself in the shoes of another person whom I barely knew. I had to forget about my own past and, if necessary, invent another one.
It was my turn to go through and I began a conversation half in French and half in English with the immigration officer. He questioned me on the object of my trip to study the market for metals in Great Britain, with a view to reestablishing commercial links, which had been disrupted by the war. That was what I had already declared to the British Embassy in Paris, who had issued me with the visa. On request, I gave him the address of the Pennaroya Company’s offices in London. No, I had no place to stay as yet, but one of my friends had undertaken to book me a room in a London hotel.
I was given ration coupons for a week and was told to report to the police if I was to extend my stay beyond the time stipulated on the visa issued by the Embassy in Paris. The customs search presented no difficulties. Shortly after, I boarded a train for London from one of the platforms of the harbour station. I breathed an inner sigh of relief.
The journey was not long. The English countryside, on both sides of the track, looked like a vast garden. The setting sun stroked the clusters of trees, the fields and wooded valleys scattered about it. The little towns we passed through had the same rows of standard houses, square towers of their churches and red tiles of their roofs.
We arrived at Victoria station after passing through ugly suburbs, desperately monotonous and sad in their uniformity. A phone call to my friend George Palthey, whom I had asked to book me a room in London, gave me the address of a modest “Bed and Breakfast” where I would stay: I made my way there by tube.
It was still very hot and the city was stifling, in spite of the nightfall. Here and there, traces of the destruction could still be seen, scars left by the aerial bombing of the past few years. At times, entire streets seemed to have been destroyed. After a short walk around the area and a light meal of sandwiches and tea with no milk, in a gloomy café, I lost no time in going to bed and sleeping.
Firstly, I had phoned Meirion Dyffnalt Owen in Abergavenny. She arranged to meet me in the lounge of the hotel where she usually stayed and where she was well known.
“I have organised hospitality for you,” she said, “on a temporary basis, with one of our friends from the Welsh nationalist party. All of us will be pleased to have precise details of what has been happening in Brittany since the beginning of the war and of the repressions which struck the militants of the Breton national movement at the Liberation: repressions started by the French government and of which you were yourself one of the victims.”
The following day, with my French-English dictionary and a map of London under my arm, I arrived at George Palthey’s place where I was to have lunch. We were friends from our student days. We had both stayed at the Fondation des Etats Unis in the Cité Universitaire de Paris, then after that in the rue des Artistes, near the parc Montsouris, where with his wife he had rented the apartment just below mine. We had always kept in touch afterwards, though I had not seen him since leaving Paris towards the end of 1940 to direct the daily La Bretagne. We had decided to set up this newspaper to try and wrest administrative and cultural autonomy for Brittany, which at the time was invaded and occupied by German forces, from the Vichy government.
For the past few months of this year, now midway through 1946, Palthey had been seconded from his administration in the Ministry of Finance, to the general staff of the commercial and financial councillor of the French Embassy in London.
“I know all about your trials and tribulations,” he said, “thanks to the letters you wrote to me from prison and afterwards: and I understand very well the reasons which have driven you into exile. I must assume that you have come over here illegally, since the French special courts, on the pretext of “collaboration”, have sentenced you, just as they have sentenced many others. You told me you had been sentenced to hard labour for life and the seizure of all your present and future assets. I am very much aware of what these political sentences are worth and it goes without saying that this does not change our personal relationship in any way, though these must now also remain as clandestine as you are…”
“That is what is in question,” I said, “I am no longer, for the present anyway, the person you knew. I am Doctor Moger and I am about to seek refuge and, if possible, work in Wales where I will be in a few days time.”
“You will undoubtedly have a great deal of trouble in settling down there, and your illegal status will make this even more difficult. Unless, of course, you find in Wales all the necessary help and complicity. But even that seems to me to be precarious. It is true that, on the other hand, I do not advise you, at least not yet, to ask the British authorities for the status of political refugee. We are still too near the end of the world conflict and military links between the two countries are still too close: you would run the risk of being sent back to France. It would obviously not be the French Embassy who would intercede on your behalf, on the contrary. Monsieur Massigli, our ambassador, was on de Gaulle’s general staff when he took refuge here. He is already worried about the campaign, led by the Welsh, against the manner in which the purges have been taking place in Brittany against Breton militants. It is certainly a difficult undertaking, as you can hardly take advantage of your qualifications, since you are no longer that same man. Your legal studies may be of no use to you here, with an institutional and legal system which is very different from that of the French.”
“Which is why I have not contemplated revealing who I am, for the moment, though I do not discard that eventuality in the future. It is necessary first to investigate what the consequences of applying for political refugee status would be from a practical point of view. We are not as yet in a normal Europe, free from all the trauma and folly of the war. The international trial taking place in Nuremberg at present is alone a blatant proof of that.”
“Therefore do not go near the embassy,” concluded George Palthey.
“Especially as you are known to some of my colleagues, at least by name and I think one of them even personally: he is a member of L’Union Fédérale des Anciens Combatant, with which we were both involved.”
Over the following two or three days, I visited the local representative of the Pennaroya Company, who was French, and whose address had been given to me before leaving Paris, by Monsieur Le Ferrer, my contact in Paris. It was preferable that he should be aware of my visit if an administrative enquiry was carried out regarding my presence. I also visited the prior of the Dominican convent, for whom I had a letter of introduction from Reverend Father Courtois, who had given me refuge on several occasions, before my departure from France.
“Our order has no house in Wales,” the prior told me. “You probably know that there are very few Catholics in Wales. Nearly all the Roman Catholic clergy that is there is of Irish origin.”
Both of these contacts had indicated that it was difficult for a foreigner to obtain work. All those demobilized after the war had first to be reintegrated into society. In addition, my as yet imperfect knowledge of English was a serious handicap. I started studying the ‘Méthode Asimil’ that I had brought in my luggage, completed by the reading of newspapers. In the street and in public places, little by little, I became used to the sound of spoken English again.
Meirion was waiting for me as arranged, in the place and at the time she had stipulated. We quickly made each other’s acquaintance. Her father, who was a minister of the Welsh Congregationalist church, had been deeply shocked and affected by the assassination of Father Jean-Marie Perrot by the French Résistance. He had only learnt of it after the Liberation, when postal links were reestablished between France and Great Britain. Meirion was pleased to have direct news of the Caouissin brothers, Father Perrot’s faithful assistants, and of their families. They had also been sentenced to exile in the Paris region.
She was truly the ex student with “big calves”, as she was called by her friends at university in Rennes, where she had completed her studies a few years previously. But the vivacity of her eyes, deep and expressive, largely compensated for this physical defect, accentuated by her short stature and a tendency to stoutness. She had turned grey all of a sudden, she told me, after learning of her husband’s death in the war. She made no effort at hiding her grey hair, already practically white, even though she was not yet forty.
She was a professor of French in Abergavenny and brought up her little son on her own.
“You will be provided with accommodation and taken care of in Abergavenny for several weeks by a couple who are Welsh nationalist militants, Doctor D.J.Davies and his wife,” she told me. “The latter is Irish and we call her by her Christian name, Doctor Noelle. D.J.Davies is one of the Welsh party’s economists. He has had an interesting and adventurous life, which he will maybe tell you about. In addition, tonight is the opening in Abergavenny of the national party, Plaid Cymru’s, summer school. We have planned that, without betraying your anonymity, you would give a short exposé, during one of the sessions, of what happened in Brittany since the beginning of the war. We are sadly lacking in first hand information on this subject.”
The following morning I met Meirion again at Paddington Station, where we took the train to Cardiff and then Abergavenny. Meirion told me that she was planning to go to Brittany, before the end of the summer, to keep up her French. She would visit Marie-Madeleine and the children and be able to give me more precise, more detailed and especially more direct news.
D.J.Davies and his wife were waiting for us at the station. ‘Doctor Noelle’ spoke French fairly well, which her husband did not. A short drive brought us to Pantybeiliau, in Gilwern, a vast country house where they had settled shortly before the war.
They had chosen such a large place, they told me later, because they had intended setting up a Folk School or People’s School, modeled on those which the Danish philosopher, Grundig, had set up in Denmark: they fulfilled an important role in popular adult education there, maintaining both the language and national traditions of the Danish people, frequently battling against the influence of its powerful German neighbours. It was at one of these Folk School sessions in Denmark that D.J.Davies and his wife had met. They had married late in life and had no children.
The war arrived and put an end to the project they had planned. Thus, a part of the house and outbuildings remained permanently unoccupied. I was shown the room I would occupy and where the bathroom was.
Pantybeiliau was situated on the side of a hill between a canal lined with tall trees, where I would later often walk along the tow path, and a steep mountain which dominated the Usk valley and marked the north east part of the Welsh coal basin. From the large windows of the lounge practically the whole mountain could be seen, blocking out most of the horizon to the west. Its colour was constantly changing with the daylight, from green to navy blue to purple. Clouds were often caught by its summit and hid it from view when the rain came.
A few kilometers further down the valley, is the town of Abergavenny: proud of its antique bridge with fifteen arches and the imposing ruins of its old religious buildings. Pantybeiliau was a vast cold house which must have been very difficult to heat in winter. It did not have many modern amenities, and the centuries old beech trees that surrounded it to the east blocked out the sun from that side. But the weather was hot and the shade they gave was refreshing, with the scent of grass, moss and ferns.
My hosts, who were not financially well off, did not seem to be bothered by the relatively hard conditions of their life in that house which was far too big for them, and not made any easier by the strict rationing of basic products, still in force.
Doctor Noelle managed somehow or another, with the help of a young student friend, Doctor Ceinwen Thomas, to maintain the part of the house which was occupied: her husband, known by his initials D.J., as was the custom in Wales where there are few surnames, took care of the garden and surroundings. All three of them spent long hours studying and writing their articles for the Welsh press. They lived practically just in one room, comfortably furnished, a large living room where they also took their meals and where, in the winter, they probably gathered around the only coal fire in the house, apart from the kitchen.
The day after my arrival, the four of us went down to Abergavenny to attend the summer school sessions, a sort of annual study congress, organized by the Welsh nationalist party and which still remains as one of their activities. The sessions were held in a fairly large hall decorated with the Welsh flag, the red dragon astride two wide horizontal bands, one red and the other green. There were about sixty people present.
Plaid Cymru – the name of the party – had not as yet grown to what it would be during the following quarter of a century and which allowed them to have as many as three deputies in the House of Commons in London as well as many locals elected. Its militants were as yet scattered and quite isolated. The pacifist propaganda which they had led during the war, the fact that some of its members had refused to serve in the British army and that others had been imprisoned until the end of hostilities, had made it difficult for them to pursue their activities, especially in the south of Wales, a mining part of the country and traditionally Labour.
Spurred on by its first president, Saunder Lewis, professor at Cardiff University, the Welsh nationalist Party, officially founded during the mid twenties, had at first followed a total boycotting policy against English establishments, whose legitimacy they did not recognize. They were thus inspired by the Irish Sinn Fein tradition. Close links had been established between the new party and the nationalist autonomist Breton group Breiz Atao, to the extent that the first political platforms of the new party had been published in Welsh in the Breton movement’s newspaper, Breiz Atao.
The protagonist of this policy had been Ambrose Bebb, another one of its leaders at the time, professor in Bangor, in the north of Wales. During the sixties, Plaid Cymru had influenced this policy: they began here and there to present candidates for the elections, though declaring that if they were elected they would not take their seats. Saunder Lewis and Ambrose Bebb were also influenced by the “nationalisme intégrale” doctrine, advocated by Charles Mauras for France, but applied, of course, only in Wales and on a territory free from any British influence.
This philosophy of complete nationalism was, by them, at the same time associated with a firm pacifist and non violence policy. A few years later however, influenced maybe by the example of the Breton secret society Gwen ha Du, who in 1932 had just blown up with dynamite the monument in Rennes which symbolised the ‘union’ of France and Brittany, three of the party’s main leaders, Saunder Lewis, D.J.Williams and Rev.Lewis Valentine had burnt down a British army establishment which had been set up in one of the Welsh regions where the Welsh language and traditions had remained deep-rooted. In the belief that their gesture would not obtain the desired publicity if they were not brought before a court and tried, they gave themselves up on the spot. They had been transferred to London where a court had sentenced them to a year in prison.
Shortly after his return, in spite of the party’s approval of him and his policy, Saunder Lewis resigned from the presidency before retiring completely from all political activity in 1945. His successor, as leader of Plaid Cymru, professor J.E.Daniel, had influenced the party’s policy in convincing it to put an end to the boycotting policy with regard to establishments already in place. He had declared that on standing for election to the Chamber of Commerce he would take possession of his seat should he be elected.
Gwynfor Evans in 1935 at Oxford, photo with kind permission of Meleri Evans.
In 1945, a year prior to my arrival, the young militant Gwynfor Evans had been elected president of the party to replace J.E.Daniel. He was the one who presided at the session where I had been asked to give an account of the events which had made such an impact on the Breton nationalist autonomist movement’s political life during the war years, and of the repression which had been unleashed against it at the time of the Liberation: a repression which had been the reason, amongst others, for my exile and my presence amongst them.
I did not know any Welsh, and my imperfect knowledge of English was not sufficient, at the time, to enable me to express myself in that language. I therefore had to give my account in French. I stopped after every two or three sentences to allow Don Piatt, an Irishman who was interpreter-translator for the Dail, the Irish parliament in Dublin, who had a good knowledge of French, to translate into English what I was saying.
I hid nothing of what had transpired in my country since war was declared in the summer of 1939, nearly seven years ago. I explained how Mordrel and Debauvais, in charge of the Parti National Breton, had thought it necessary to go into exile on the eve of the declaration of war, in order to gamble on the possibility of independence for Brittany should France be defeated; how this policy had failed because of the Franco-German armistice, and of the setting up of the French Vichy government with its Franco-German collaboration policy, a collaboration deemed incompatible with any support given by the Germans to Breton separatism.
I explained how Mordrel and Debauvais had been obliged to step back, towards the end of 1945, and make room for a more moderate nationalist movement, led by Raymond Delaporte. I also explained how the moderate regionalist or nationalist forces had regrouped and had been able to obtain from the Vichy government, thanks to the support of a powerful press, the creation of a consultative Breton assembly; how that assembly had also been able to obtain the application of important measures for the teaching of the Breton language and of the History of Brittany in schools, which had given birth to the impressive development of the Breton cultural movement.
I made no secret of the fact that a small band of Breton separatists had, towards the end of the occupation, joined the Germans to fight an armed conflict against armed groups of the French Resistance army, who had set about assassinating militants from the Breton nationalist movement, one of them being Father Perrot, a revered figure of the movement who had been one of their first victims.
I explained how the involvement of this separatist minority alongside the Germans served today’s French government as an easy pretext to try to justify the arrests, imprisonments, sentences and in other words, the blind and unqualified repression they had launched after the Liberation against all Breton militants, without exception, whether they had been political or cultural; repressions under which many were still suffering at that moment while I spoke. I also pointed out that the Breton consultative Assembly and all the cultural concessions we had obtained from the Vichy government had been withdrawn, but that it was undeniably thanks to the Welsh press campaign for the Bretons that Roparz Hémon, the undisputed leader of the cultural movement, had recently been acquitted, though just partially, by the special courts set up after the Liberation.
“First of all, on the 13th March 1946, he appeared before the Court,” I explained, “But the presence in the audience of Dewi Powell, special envoy from a Welsh newspaper, was enough to convince the bench that it would be wiser to postpone the trial to a later date. He appeared again before the same court on the 31st May 1946, just two months ago, and this time he was acquitted. Thus he escaped from any criminal sentence. He was only sentenced to loss of citizenship rights. This outcome was undeniably thanks to the actions of Welsh militants.”
The audience warmly applauded this news they had just received.
I had to reply to numerous questions. I was not expecting it. I was aware of the fact that Ambrose Bebb, who had maintained personal contacts with Breton nationalists until the War had visited Brittany in the summer of 1939. He had published in Welsh an account of this visit, where he reported on his conversations with Debauvais, Mordrel and a few other Breton nationalist leaders, expressing his surprise at their deliberate intention to call on the support of Germany, in spite of the totalitarian tendencies of that government at the time.
Fanch Gourvil, ex Breton nationalist militant, who had received a copy of Bebb’s report during the early war years, and had translated some passages into French, had used the pro-German declarations of some of these leaders quoted in it. He had since been using these to attack and discredit them, as well as the Breton nationalist movement as a whole, in the eyes of public opinion and French government circles. By doing this, the French government was intentionally misleading the public by taking these declarations out of context at the time they were made. That little book of Ambrose Bebb, written with the best intentions, would also be used for many years by the French propaganda services to continue discrediting the Breton national movement on the whole, accusing it of “pro-Nazi” sympathies. The story was even picked up in 1978 again by prosecutor Béteille in his arraignment against the Breton nationalists of the F.L.B. brought before the State Security Court in Paris, even though these militants were not even born at the time that Bebb wrote his little book!
I explained that the stand taken by Mordrel and Debauvais, at the time when the conflict started, was a stand taken because of the circumstances rather than as an expression of sympathy for the policies and ideologies of the German government at the time. It was nothing more than the application by them to Brittany of the old rule of conduct defined by Machiavelli, which states that the enemies of our enemies are our friends, a rule which the Irish, during their struggle for independence, had translated into the slogan “England’s difficulties, Ireland’s opportunities”. I reminded them that at the time of the 1916 Easter rising, which had taken place in the midst of the first World War, the Irish nationalist leaders had not hesitated to ask the Germans, who were at the time at war against England, for their help.
“Moreover,” I added, “this stand, even though it was also taken up at the end of the war by armed Breton nationalist and separatist groups who fought against the French Resistance alongside the Germans, was only that of a minority of Breton nationalists. The Parti National Breton of R.Delaporte, being the moderate nationalist or regionalist movement that had given birth to the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, was careful to assert its neutrality in the Franco-German quarrel, in spite of the Germans being there. Whilst the cultural movement, concerned with their own objectives which were the defence of the language and of cultural values, it was obviously apolitical and simply continued to pursue these under the German occupation and the Vichy government. Yet, the repression which was unleashed against Breton militants after the Liberation struck out at them all indiscriminately, preventing many of them from living in Brittany or from working and practicing their trade, even though as regards collaboration with the Germans they could not blame them in any way.”
I quoted the example of Delalande-Kerlann, the teacher, founder of Ar-Falz, friend of Yann Sohier from whom I had just received the text of his sentence. His main crime was to have founded in Plestin-les-Grèves, in 1941, a monolingual school in Breton: after having been imprisoned for several months, like thousands of others, without any trial, and though he had not been given a criminal sentence, not even to loss of citizenship rights, he had been struck by the administrative “purges”. He had been dismissed with no pension and banned from teaching, even in private establishments which were not answerable to the State.
On request from the audience I explained what a sentence of loss of citizenship rights was. This measure had been established to strike at those on whom it was obviously impossible to inflict any criminal sentence, or restriction of freedom, but who was nonetheless deemed to be a “wrong-thinker” by the government authorities after the Liberation. The victims of the loss of citizenship rights were condemned to a sort of civic death; deprived of the right to vote or to be eligible, dismissed, excluded from any public or semipublic employment, banned from practicing law, from being a witness, a specialist, a professor, a journalist, a company manager, an administrator or member of any union or business office. In addition, this sentence was often combined with a ban from residing in Brittany or seizure of assets. The sentence to loss of citizenship rights also carried a 10% tax increase, levied not only on the income of the person concerned but also on the incomes of those family members, wife or children, who lived with him!
“This is not a question of a repression of collaboration,” I added, “but simply of a violation of fundamental human rights, of the principle of non-retroactivity of the laws and of freedom of expression or of enterprise, of which the French government is guilty today in Brittany and elsewhere.”
During the course of the proceedings, I also gave them to understand that other Breton refugees would also probably be arriving seeking refuge in Wales or in Ireland during the coming months. It was therefore decided that an informal committee to assist Breton refugees would be created from amongst the Welsh nationalists to facilitate their reception and stay in the country. I was also given strong encouragement to write a brochure taking stock of the situation and describing the policies and problems which Breton nationalism had to face during and since the war. This brochure would be translated, published and distributed by Plaid Cymru.
1946 – Booklet on ‘Breton Nationalism’, 85 pages – written by Yann Fouéré and translated by Hervé Le Helloco, for the Welsh Nationalist Party – Front cover designed by Dewi Prys – Preface by Gwynfor Evans. On the site under, Various Texts by Y.F.
I promised to do this during the coming weeks. The solidarity offered to us was comforting. J.E.Jones, soon to shoulder the thankless task as Plaid Cymru’s competent and selfless general secretary, would look for nationalist families who could, at least temporarily, take in Breton refugees and ease their first steps in the country. Don Piatt would do the same in Ireland. He would soon have the opportunity to do so.
I only stayed a few weeks with the Davies: it had been arranged that the host families who agreed to take in a Breton refugee would relay each other in order to distribute the task between a greater number of people. Most of the Welsh militants were of modest means: many of them were teachers or professors in secondary establishments. In addition, the rationing of foodstuffs was still in force.
I made notes and drew up a plan for the brochure which I had promised to write. But I spent most of those weeks improving my English: on my list of priorities it was one of the first tasks to carry out. I could not hope to find work without it. I did not have a particular gift for languages, and I wanted to acquire a more comprehensive command of written as well as spoken English. My hosts obligingly helped me. Ceinwin Thomas corrected my written exercises taken from the Méthode Assimil, and other textbooks which I obtained. D.J. would listen to my reading of English texts and correct my pronunciation. Every Sunday we would set off for long walks, during which we would converse continuously. One of these walks led us to the small mining town of Brynmawr, on the other side of the mountain, despairingly sad in the ugliness and uniformity of the miners’ small houses. D.J. had taken the opportunity to explain the different techniques for the extraction of coal from the mines to me. I would sometimes arrive back from these walks, both physically and intellectually exhausted, but it gave me an opportunity to get to know the engaging personality of D.J. and that of his wife.
Before settling in Wales and getting married, D.J. had had many varied experiences. He was the son of a miner from Camarthen, and had emigrated to the United States at the age of nineteen. He had remained there for over twelve years, during which he had practiced many different professions: from that of mine worker and professional boxer, to that of mechanic in the American war navy on a battleship which had been sunk. Returning to Europe in 1924, he had studied at the People’s International University of Elsinore, in Denmark, before returning to Wales with the Irish Noelle Ffrench, who became his wife a few years later. They had registered with Aberystwyth University, and both of them left there with a doctorate. When he first registered in Aberystwyth, D.J. was 32 years old. He finished his studies in 1931, at the age of 39, with a doctorate in Agricultural science. During his studies he had been won over by Welsh nationalism, though he had first been involved with the Welsh deputy Jim Griffith, in the Independent Labour Party, and the same year that he did his doctorate he had published a fundamental book entitled The Economics of Welsh Self-Government. Having learnt from his Danish experience, he advocated the organization of an economy based on a system of agricultural and labour cooperatives.
This was the first time that the Welsh question had been put forward in modern economic terms. It thus gave the nationalist party a new justification for its struggle, which until then had been put forward mostly in cultural terms. So it was that D.J.Davies’ book had been the first one published in English by the party, which until then had done all its publications in Welsh, with the restricted distribution this implied.
D.J. and his wife Noelle felt that until the War, nationalist propaganda had been limited too much to the Welsh speaking regions in the north of the country. In publishing this new book they had broken new ground. They also published another important book together, on the eve of the Second World War: Can Wales afford self-government? More recently, they had both been persuasive advocates of a more extensive use of English in the Welsh nationalist propaganda, going on the basis that, after all, English was the only language understood by all the Welsh, and not just Welsh speakers. This was also the thinking behind my political action in Brittany in order to extend its range, in conjunction with the vigorous defence of the Breton language and its dissemination, as well as its teaching. I had realised right from the beginning of my struggle that Brittany would only obtain the cultural autonomy it needed to save its language by obtaining political autonomy, an objective around which it was necessary to rally all Bretons, whether or not they understood and spoke Breton.
D.J. was abrupt, straightforward, whilst Noelle was gentleness and patience itself. The former would be carried away by a flood of ideas falling over each other, and did not consider himself a good speaker: he got his wife to defend their ideas and seldom intervened at meetings and assemblies of the Welsh party. He spoke a rather rough sort of English but which I understood better than that of Noelle, who spoke very fast and in a soft even tone but swallowed part of her words. She also had slight intonations, taken from both the Welsh and Irish accents. I have always regretted that my insufficient knowledge of English at the time prevented me from benefiting more from their presence, their conversations and their points of view. Both of them had exceptional open minds, under a modest exterior, and were good company. After my departure from Pantybeiliau, I saw them very seldom but met Doctor Noelle again, in Ireland, many years later. She had survived her husband and had returned to her home country. She had settled in Greystones, near Dublin, and was the first treasurer of the Celtic League which we founded in the sixties, of which Alan Heusaff, who had taken refuge in Dublin where he had settled, was the devoted general secretary for twenty five years.
Dyffnallt Owen, Meirion’s father, had organised a stay of one week for me in a hostel, or miners’ camp, enabling me to assist at the national Eistedffod, which was being held that year in Aberdare, in a mining valley near the camp. I went there with him by car: it had been decided that I would be taken in afterwards in Aberystwyth, where he lived, by Gwenallt Jones, a professor at the local University. I was allocated a bed in one of the camp’s dormitories for young single mining apprentices and workers at the mine. The place was deserted the day I arrived, which happened to be a holiday. But the following day I was able to get to know those who shared the dormitory and engage them in conversation.
I was surprised at their general knowledge, especially in the field of history and literature: they were far ahead of the, admittedly, few young French workers which I had the opportunity of mixing with during international and political meetings before the War. I went down the mine, one morning, with my new companions. I had been provided with a helmet, a lamp and overalls, and had signed a relief from responsibility form in case of accidents. I was thus able to realise the harshness of the conditions under which they worked. The lift really took you down into the dark bowels of the earth, into a world of darkness, where shadows crowned with a star moved around, armed with pneumatic drills, shovels and various other instruments, in the midst of a black dust which blackened your face, hands and clothes. I was no longer surprised that silicosis often cut short the careers of mine workers.
The Welsh national Eistedffod is an annual cultural and literary manifestation, which, in August, attracts tens of thousands of Welsh speakers. It is a testimony to the vitality of the culture, the language and the national traditions of the Welsh people. Nothing in Brittany or in France can be compared to this sort of general assembly of culture. Under a huge marquee there are song, poetry and choir contests taking place, each with a coveted prize. The excellence of the Welsh choirs and chorales has become famous throughout the world. I was moved to tears to hear and to join in singing again, with a fervent crowd, the Bro Goz Ma Zadou, the national anthem we have in common with the Welsh and which it was dangerous to strike up in Brittany at the time, where an exaggerated French Jacobinism had free rein.
The Princess Elizabeth, who would later become Queen, had been invited to preside at the more important performances of the Eistedffod, those after which prizes would be awarded. She gave her speech in Welsh, and the president of the Eistedffod had congratulated the charming accent she had when speaking the country’s language.
He explained to me that this was customary. A prince or princess, destined to become the future English sovereign had to be able to speak the national language of a country whose title they usually held and over which they would reign one day. What a gulf there was between this notion of the State and the French unitarian one!
What an outcry there would be amongst French intellectuals and politicians, if a president of the République or leader of government decided one day to make his speech in Breton! Only Napoleon III and de Gaulle have dared to try it, and as regards de Gaulle the circumstances were rather unfortunate; he only said a few words in Breton, whilst he at least said a few sentences in German, in Russian and in English in the countries where he was received. I was close to the princess when she stepped off the stage: she already bore that appearance of calm and simple dignity, an image which she has conveyed to those millions who have seen and heard her since she acceded to the throne.
I had the pleasure of meeting Pol Quentel who was the first Breton I had seen since leaving Paris. It is to him that credit is owed for being the first to draw the Welsh people’s attention to events in Brittany and the persecutions taking place there. He was made to pay dearly for this later, in the development of his career. I also met a number of Plaid Cymru’s militants, eager to find out more about events in Brittany and about their tragic consequences on the lives of several thousand Bretons. One of them was Morgan Watkin, professor of French at Cardiff University, who I would meet again on numerous occasions. He promised to help me find a posting teaching French at a university or secondary school in Wales.
When the Eistedfodd was over, I went to Aberystwyth to my new host, professor Doctor Gwenallt Jones. He was a famous poet, well known to everyone by his Christian name, Gwenallt. He lived in a small comfortable modern house on a hillside overlooking the town with his wife who had just given birth to their daughter, still in her cradle. Small in stature, kind and cultured, he was not very talkative. He did not work from home, probably preferring the calm comfort of his office at the university. Thus every morning we left together and went down to the university, whose neo gothic style building was situated right on the seashore. I usually settled down in the library, where I had plenty of time to work on compiling the brochure which Plaid Cymru had asked me to write. Around one o clock, he would come to collect me to go with him for lunch to one of the restaurants in town, the university restaurant being closed because of the summer holidays.
Gwenallt, like most Welsh people, attached a great deal of importance to religion. His particularity, as most of his compatriots were Methodists or Congregationalists, was to belong to the official Anglican Church, known as Church of Wales in Wales, as also Church of Ireland in Ireland and Church of England in England. Thus he undertook to have me visit Saunder Lewis, longtime president of the Welsh Nationalist Party who, being of the Roman Catholic faith, was of the same religion as myself he told me. Any conversations with the latter were bound to be fruitful and Gwenallt offered to organise them.
Saunder Lewis was by then already living very much in retirement, in Llanfarian near Aberystwyth. His position as professor of English at Cardiff University had been taken away from him, following on the part he played in the burning down of the English barracks. Since 1945 he had retired from all political functions and actions. However his advice and the stand he took still carried a lot of weight and greatly influenced Welsh militants, both cultural and political. Thus it was that on two or three occasions I met this lively little man, with a troubled face, piercing eyes and large forehead, the lines of bitterness at the corner of his mouth often expressing disillusionment and disappointment. I mainly explained to him what had been happening in Brittany, as he was one of the Welsh people with Ambrose Webb who knew many of the important Breton nationalist militants. I was thus able to penetrate a bit further into the mystery of his thoughts and the brilliant intelligence he displayed.
It had been undoubtedly his thinking, his politics and himself which had dominated and had the most impact on the Welsh nationalist party during the previous twenty years since it’s foundation in 1925. I could see that he had long hesitated, and probably still hesitated, an inner conflict which all national militants of nations without a State find very difficult to resolve, between public actions in broad daylight, employing purely legal and constitutional methods, and outlawed actions based on civic resistance expressed by pulling off a coup whose publicity value was undeniable. This is what the destruction of the Rennes monument in 1932 had been, and the burning down of the Penhros English barracks in which Saunder Lewis had himself taken part when he was then still president of the Welsh party in 1936.
I believe that nowhere in the world can a nationalist organisation, fighting for the freedom of its homeland and the political emancipation of its people, escape from this dilemma. Most of the time, both methods of combat, according to the circumstances and events at the time, are successively and simultaneously applied. It is quite probable that Saunder Lewis saw it in that light. The boycotting of British institutions, the refusal to recognize their legitimacy, and the burning down of the English barracks fell under methods of combat which were the opposite of each other but were not contradictory to constitutional, lawful and pacific actions which, under the direction of Gwynfor Evans, Plaid Cymru had finally chosen as from 1945.
It is not possible, within the same political organization or unless coupled with it, to fluctuate from one to the other, according to events and necessity at the time. Gwynfor Evans and the militants who followed him had the merit, and probably the wisdom, to resolutely emerge from this dilemma that Saunder Lewis was still locked into. The relative success in later elections, achieved by Plaid Cymru was only made possible by the extraordinary continuity in the application of this legalist policy for over thirty years by Gwynfor Evans and the undeniable personal authority he exerted at the head of the party. The sceptics, the muddleheaded, the irresponsible and the impatient ones, as well as the ideologists of all colours, as these are everywhere, were powerless before the calm authority he exerted. In this persistent and realistic policy he was constantly and powerfully assisted by the efficient and smiling diplomacy of J.E.Jones, the general secretary appointed by the party, who retained that position until his retirement. Nevertheless it is to Saunder Lewis that Plaid Cymru owes some unchanging policies, which have continued to inspire it to this day. It is probable that without these unchanging policies, Welsh nationalism would have been deprived of the safeguards necessary for its lasting quality. The British Liberal Party, of Gladstone and Lloyd George, since the end of the XIXth century, had carried with it the hopes of all Welsh nationalists by declaring that it was clearly in favour of separated Welsh institutions and of self-government for Wales. Once in power, the Liberal party granted nothing of the sort, neither to the Welsh, nor the Irish, nor the Scots.
Saunder Lewis and Ambrose Webb, at the end of the First World War, had come to the only logical and still valid conclusion; “One can not serve both England and Wales at the same time”, “Wales is not a region of England, but a nation without a State”. Therefore it was necessary to create a Welsh national political party, apart and independent from all the already existing political parties in England and Wales. “All these other parties,” Saunder Lewis would say, “are nothing but “foreign parties”. Nothing will ever be obtained for Wales through the English Parliament. Welsh nationalism must not be considered as an appendage of English socialism or liberalism, but as a political and social philosophy apart.”
This unshakable policy of non-recognition and non-alliance with any English party, whether it be rightwing or leftwing or centre, has remained to this day as the very basis of Plaid Cymru’s policy. It remains unchanged to this day, even though at present the Welsh nationalist party appears to be leaning towards a “socialist decentralization”. Nevertheless the only alliance it is contemplating on a British parliamentary level is with the Scottish nationalist party, whose orientations are purely nationalist and independent.
According to Saunder Lewis, in fact it is the nations, which must not be confused with the States, which are the support and cement of civilization: “Nationalism,” he wrote, “is the defence of man’s soul and mind against both the oppression of the centralist and imperialist state and economic materialism which denies or ignores the spiritual nature of man.”
Faithful to his concept of fundamental values represented by the nation, and having witnessed the replacement of the Liberal party by the English Socialist Labour Party favorable to the Welsh electorate, he had also warned his compatriots against a policy which would be primarily based on the concept of social classes, an eminently variable and changeable concept, whilst the nation is a permanent reality which transcends all other values: “Proposing loyalty to a class concept instead of loyalty to the nation,” he had also written, “is to deprive civilization of its roots and destroy national tradition!”
Nonetheless, Saunder Lewis had not rallied to the organising of society in keeping with the principles of liberal capitalism, which he accused of dividing and impoverishing the nation by creating and concentrating a mass of exiled, uprooted and denationalised workers in the location of production, whose political power was increasing, and yet at the same time concentrating economic decision making in fewer and fewer hands. “Our nation is the fruit of the labour of all classes,” he would say. “The capital accumulated by all this work must be distributed and progressively shared out between the largest numbers of Welsh people as possible. The majority of citizens must become small capitalists, proprietors of the land, the factory and the mines.” Thus he had no problem in rallying to D.J.Davies’ idea, which advocated the multiplication of private enterprise and production cooperatives, as well as the sharing of profits between members of the latter. The only way of eliminating a rootless proletarian class, a manoeuverable mass for any political adventure, was to have all Welsh people participating in the production process and share of profits.
In addition, both Saunder Lewis and D.J. Davies felt that it was not possible as yet to draw up detailed economic and social options for a parliament of an autonomous Welsh government. First of all, it had to be an existing parliament and government. They alone would be able to make the decision when the time came. On a practical and political level, the goal of the founders of the party was to obtain an equivalent status to that of the British Dominions and for Wales to have a direct representation at the League of Nations and at the U.N. D.J.Davies even tended to think that once this objective had been attained and a national government had been established, Plaid Cymru should then be dissolved in order to make room for new Welsh political parties whose task would be to reorganise and govern the country autonomously.
I would like to have had more of these enriching conversations, but any outing I undertook to make incurred expenses that I had difficulty in covering. All this did not prevent me from relentlessly continuing my work on the brochure for Plaid Cymru. The university library was an ideal place for this. Not even the sound of the waves breaking on the rocks and pebbles under the window could be heard from there. Thus I had practically finished writing the brochure when, early in September, the time came to leave Gwenallt, and be taken in by D.J.Williams, who was also one of the founding fathers of the Welsh nationalist party.
My new host, like D.J.Davies, had married late in life and had no children. Both he and his wife had retired from teaching and lived in an old house right in the center of the small town of Fishguard, one of the ports of embarkation for Ireland. The house was dark and cool and did not let in much sunshine but, on the south side, it was situated below a large garden, calm and secluded with fruit trees in espalier along the walls, flowers and a well-kept lawn that he maintained himself.
Wearing narrow spectacles, with a receding hairline and a practically non-existent upper lip drawn over the upper jaw in a constant half-smile, D.J.Williams had an easy, kind and modest manner. Just like D.J.Davies, he had some political experience before joining Plaid Cymru from the time of its foundation. His family was from a rural background, and on his death he left the little farm property he had inherited from his parents to the Welsh party. He had worked in the mine before becoming a student at Aberystwyth. He had, like D.J.Davies, been a militant for the labour party. During the course of his studies, he had visited Ireland and had met the Irish nationalist leaders, Eamonn O’Neil and Arthur Griffiths, the future president of the insurrectional provisional government.
Though deeply “legalistic” and a pacifist, he did admit that it was at times necessary to step aside from strict legality to join in with a civic resistance movement, or by pulling off a coup to attract the attention of public opinion to the fate of Welsh culture and the nationalist claims of the country. Thus he had taken part with Reverend Lewis Valentine, who was the first national party president, and with Saunder Lewis, its president, in the burning down of the Penrhos English barracks in 1936. He had endured his prison sentence in London, with steadfastness and good humour, as his companions had also done.
In the course of our conversations, he related some of the details. But it was mostly the political path that had led him to this violent gesture, the only one taken by Welsh political nationalism before the Second World War, which interested me. Saunder Lewis and those who followed him were convinced that legal parliamentary action, by simply presenting candidates for the elections, was insufficient to enable Wales to acquire political freedom. He went on the simple basis, which he wrote of openly, that not one single European nationalist movement had achieved its objectives as a result of representation in a “foreign parliament”. Hungary and Ireland had only been able to do it by withdrawing from the “foreign parliament”.
This legalist action had to be coupled with a non-violent civic resistance movement. But this in turn would not be effective unless numerous disciplined and revolutionary minded militants waged it with perseverance and continuity. Unlike Irish nationalism already hardened by a long century of political turmoil since the abolition of the Irish Parliament at the beginning of the XIXth century, Welsh nationalism did not have this mass of militants. I had already myself realised that its militants were generally of a modest background, unselfish and deeply sincere, intellectuals, belonging to various protestant religions or also simply cultural militants. Most of them were “sensible”, gentle, calm and deeply attached to their clear conscience and peaceful life. They were virtually devoid of that revolutionary spirit in the sense that the French, Bretons and Irish understood it. Saunder Lewis was convinced, as was also De Valera, for whom he had little appreciation nonetheless, that there was “only one path to the establishing of a Welsh parliament, and that this path led through English prisons”. How would it be possible to transform these deeply religious, and in fact socially very conformist, pacifist militants into “enraged sheep” as the Bretons had been in 1793 and the revolutionary Irish nationalists since the 1916 Easter rising? Could a sort of national awakening take place by pulling off a carefully planned violent coup, with a clear objective already pre designated by public opinion as being truly legitimate?
I was struck by the parallel with Brittany. It did not seem to me to be purely accidental. 1932 was the year of the destruction by Breton nationalists of the monument in Rennes, symbolising the union of Brittany with France, which marked the four hundredth anniversary of the treaty uniting the two countries, a treaty rejected and repudiated by France in 1789. 1936 was the year of the burning down of the Penrhos English barracks in the Lym peninsula, and also marked the four hundredth anniversary of the act of union which had purely and simply annexed Wales to the English crown. The essential difference between these two gestures was that the three Welshmen had given themselves up immediately, whilst the Bretons, authors of the 1932 attack, were careful not to do so. British justice only judges the facts and their consequences. It does not judge the political motivation of the accused. French justice has no such scruples. The Welsh could only be condemned for voluntarily setting fire to the place; the Bretons would have been charged with “attempting to attack national territorial integrity”, which incurs a much heavier sentence. Yet it is only through a widely publicised process that these actions can have the broader consequences expected of them.
The Welsh national party had unanimously joined together in solidarity with the three accused. Unfortunately this national awakening had not produced a corresponding increase in the number of party militants. It had no choice but to continue in that legalistic and pacific path, on the eve of another World War which appeared to be inevitable. In 1938, the young militant Gwynfor Evans, who would later become president of the party in 1945 after the resignations of S.Lewis and J.E Daniel, led the party to officially adopt a motion whereby Plaid Cymru “completely rejected the using of the war as a means of obtaining self-government for Wales”.
Over twenty years later, his daughter Meinir took up the methods of passive resistance and civic disobedience that Saunder Lewis had advocated, but in defence of the Welsh language, completely aside from the national party. Meinir also believed, and still believes, that the path to Welsh freedom leads through English prisons.
On the eve of the war and during it, few Welsh militants abided by the nationalist party’s call, in accordance with its pacifist stand, of refusing to enroll in the English army. The disappearance of the party was avoided thanks to J.E.Daniel, the new party president, who abandoned the policy of systematically boycotting all English institutions, and to the candidacy of Saunder Lewis for the Welsh university’s biased elections in 1943, to name a new representative to the House of Commons, for which he obtained 1330 votes, being 22.5% of the polls: and finally to the general election of July 1945 for which the nationalist party, better known now by the neutral title of Plaid Cymru , presented seven candidates. These Welsh candidates had obtained an average of 10% of the votes. That same year, Gwynfor Evans, unequivocal supporter of the constitutional and legalist policy, was elected president of the party. The search for and constitutional achievement of Home Rule thus became the clearly expressed goal of the policies which the Welsh party carried out.
D.J.Williams had offered to translate the journal published by Ambrose Webb on his visit to Brittany in August 1939. It is common knowledge that it was this book, published in Welsh towards the end of 1939, which Fanch Gourvil had used to discredit in the eyes of public opinion, the motivations behind the actions of Mordrel, Debauvais, Lainé and their Breton nationalist followers. Thus I had a first hand account of the contents of this slim book, which French propaganda had appropriated.
Always keen to learn, D.J. had asked me to give his wife and himself some French classes. I did so with pleasure. I suspected that they had asked me to do this, to make me feel that I was doing something in return for their generous hospitality…I carried on my writing every morning as well and had soon finished the brochure. The text still had to be translated into English, a task I could not accomplish alone. My afternoons were mostly dedicated to conversations with my hosts; but I had once again taken up the long solitary walks that I was so fond of, and which took me along the coast right around Ben Dinas. I became familiar with this steep headland, thanks to the young Welsh poet Waldi Williams, a friend of D.J.
It was there, one day, that I weathered a violent equinox storm, a foretaste of those which were to become frequent events for me when, three years later, I settled down in the extreme West of Ireland.
I was worried about my material situation. I could not carry on like this going from one refuge to another, nor abuse the hospitality that was being offered to me by various people. In addition, I could not hope to obtain an extension to my residence permit without a plausible reason to support it.
It was close to the end of September when I received a telephone call from Morgan Watkin, advising me to attend the Welsh teachers’ association congress that was to be held in the next few days in Cardiff. It would be a good occasion, he told me, to speak with those attending the congress and to try, with their help, to find a post coaching French in a secondary school or elsewhere. I therefore eagerly followed this advice. Cardiff was also the headquarters of Plaid Cymru where they had established their permanent offices. As well as this, they had set up a reception centre there where I would find shelter during my visit.
The teachers association’s congress was held at Cardiff University. In those same premises, in 1937, I had assisted at a Celtic congress, with Mordrel, Debauvais, James Bouillé and Marius Le Toiser. The University premises were situated at Cathays Park, in the heart of an architectural complex formed by the administrative buildings of the Welsh capital, just off the centre of the city. J.E. Jones and Morgan Watkin guided me around the participants in the congress. We learnt that the position of French assistant at Swansea University was vacant. It was usually offered to the holder of an arts degree having just finished university studies, of French nationality, who was subsequently planning to teach English in France. Morgan Watkin intervened on my behalf with his colleague, Professor Mary Williams, who had held the chair of French in Swansea for many years. He made an appointment for me for the following day.
Swansea is not very far from Cardiff, and there are frequent trains between the two cities, which pass through the vast industrial and mining towns of South Wales by Bridgend, Neath and Port Talbot. This is to say that a countryside bristling with factory chimneys, mine pits and slag heaps, does not have the rustic and at times grandiose charm of the rest of the country. The centre of Swansea, between the harbour and the city, had been razed to the ground by the bombings of the war: it was still only an empty space and clearing site of ruins. The city and its inhabitants had taken refuge on the hills that dominate the northern side of the city.
Mary Williams, who also, like my other new Welsh friends, was unaware of my true identity, welcomed me kindly. She had been in her position in Swansea for many years and was close to retirement age. She was already quite elderly, small, well-groomed and white haired. Her French was excellent. I gave her a list of the qualifications I had, but which the new person I had become was incapable of backing up under my new name.
“I could also therefore,” she said, “in addition to French vocabulary and conversation classes with first and second year students, entrust you with an hour or two a week for final year students of French history and its institutions since 1789?”
I replied in the affirmative: my studies in law, political science and arts enabled me to give her every guarantee on that score. The salary being offered was certainly very low, and would not provide for much more than the cost of a room and board in the city. I did not have much choice and made a quick decision, reserving the right to round off my salary giving private French classes in a city where secondary schools were relatively numerous.
I went straight back to Fishguard: I only had a few weeks before the beginning of classes at the University. A Breton, Pol Le Diverrès, member of the Breton bards’ college and friend of Taldir Jaffrenou, had been a lecturer at Swansea University, for many years. He had married a Welsh girl, had settled in Wales and had retired there a few years previously. We had met on several occasions, in particular at the annual general meetings of Ar Brezoneg er SkolGorsedd, which were generally held in Brittany with that of the Gorsedd.
It would be fatal if he were to recognise me and I became increasingly aware of the difficulties I would come up against in order to preserve my anonymity. I therefore decided to make the first move, to advise him of my refugee status and to ask him if he could help me find a room in Swansea. I also knew that he had received a letter from Gildas Jaffrenou, who was preparing to follow me into exile. The procedures for obtaining “valid false passports”, which we had perfected before I left France, were working perfectly. I had to expect that I would be followed by a number of other Breton militants fleeing the repressions in France, after the sentences in absentia that had been inflicted on them. The Welsh press campaign in their favour continued, keeping the problem as front-page news: but it was important to make sure it did not lose momentum.
Le Diverrès’ only son, Armel, who was about to embark on a university career following in his father’s footsteps, wrote to me indicating that he had booked a room for me in the city, near Singleton Park where the university was situated. He also advised me that his father was bedridden and seriously ill.
Early in October, I therefore regretfully took my leave of D.J.Williams and his wife. They had surrounded me with friendly care and attention. Before leaving Fishguard, I had decided to visit the imposing ruins of St.David’s abbey and cathedral, which had been founded by the patron saint of Wales in the middle ages. They are situated near Fishguard at the extremity of Pembroke peninsula.
A city bus brought me from Swansea station to the vicinity of Brynmor Road, after passing through the vacant area that marked the old centre of the city. I had trouble finding the boarding house with the room where I would stay. There was a butcher’s shop at the number that I had been given. I was told that the entrance to the living quarters was at the back, off an unkempt bad smelling little laneway. Mrs. Gruffydd’s kitchen opened onto the yard. That was the only non-commercial entrance into the house. The dining cum living room was on the first floor and reserved for the five or six lodgers in the house. The first room allocated to me was very bleak, dark, just under the roof on the top floor, with no view of the sky. After searching unsuccessfully for something else in the city and in the vicinity, I finally obtained from my landlady her agreement that when one of the other lodgers left, she would give me a bigger room with heavy mahogany furniture, situated below the roof. It looked out onto the street and was noisier but the window opened out to the sky and it had a large table.
Across the street, there was a laundry run by a Chinese man, and various other shops. It was certainly not a residential area…But it was in reality quite convenient, near the park and university buildings and with good public transport facilities. There was unfortunately only one bathroom in the building, a rather antiquated one, with a rather shaky gas water heater. In the morning therefore, turns for the use of the bathroom had to be organised with the other lodgers, all male.
My landlady was a strange person: she lived alone with two young nieces of school age, whom she apparently raised. Short, dark haired and slim, she went to endless trouble to make sure that her few lodgers were well fed with both the traditional breakfast in the morning and the traditional high tea in the evening. It was sometime before I realised that she did not even have a room of her own. She slept in the entrance to her kitchen, curled up on a small couch. She would doze off whenever she sat down: if by chance she accompanied her nieces to the cinema, she would immediately fall asleep in her seat, and had to be woken at the end of the program. This did not stop her from being alert and attending to the household chores of the kitchen and cleaning of the rooms during the day, taking advantage of the absence of her lodgers.
One of my first visits was to the Le Diverrès: he was confined to bed. He recognised me immediately but promised, as did his son, to be discreet as regards my identity. I was able to give him news of our mutual friend Taldir, still imprisoned in Brittany, with whom I had shared a cell for a few days in the Quimper prison, a year earlier. He confirmed that he was expecting Gildas and had offered him the hospitality of his home.
Le Diverrès lived in a pleasant house in Sketty, a residential suburb of Swansea, situated on a hillside, on the outskirts of the town, and had not suffered from the bombings. He was a neighbour of Doctor Jones, a Plaid Cymru militant, as was his wife, whom I was soon to meet. On the town side, Sketty extends to the Brynmill and Uplands districts, where Steven Williams, Welsh professor at the university, lived. From there, in the direction of the bay, it was downhill towards Singleton Park, a vast green area, dotted with trees and flower beds, where the university, its buildings and campus were situated. I usually went there by following the route past the vast stadium of St.Helen’s with Singleton Park on one side and the sea on the other. Further on the walk continues towards the village of Mumbles, situated at the other end of the bay, on the headland which closes it and the picturesque Gower peninsula, protected a long time ago by the old fortified Norman castle of Oystermouth, with its imposing ruins.
Southern Wales, the part that borders the Bristol Channel, is scattered with ruins of these old Norman fortresses, often built on the side of mountains where the Celts had gathered to battle against the new invaders. They protected the narrow plain to the south against incursions and guarded its shores.
The university buildings were already well organized, with an administrative centre, classrooms and a library: they were far from being as large and numerous as they are today. The university houses, where students now have accommodation, did not exist, nor did the central buildings with the university restaurant, the post office and other common use facilities. Students had to find accommodation in the city and eat off the premises, as I had been obliged to do.
The district of St.Helens, where Bryn-y-Mor Road was, had only partly escaped the bombings. The street itself however was practically intact. To this day, it still retains the alignment of fairly old houses, whose ground floors have nearly all been converted into commercial premises. But it is now much brighter, cleaner and more pleasant than when I stayed there. I probably did not look at it then with the same eyes as I do now.
I had very little time and even less funds to do any tourism, as my time was taken up with my new position and searching for private classes which would round off my earnings. My work at the university did not take long to organise. Once I had established my timetable, I was left with quite a bit of spare time. I spent some of it preparing my classes, using the well-stocked library for my research, and the rest of the time searching for private classes. I did also make time to maintain my correspondence and militant’s work, which I had not abandoned in spite of my precarious position. As I was now in fixed employment, I had no difficulty obtaining from the police a residence permit valid for a year, which gave me a breathing space. On the advice of Mary Williams who, through force of circumstances, had fairly frequent contacts with the cultural services of the French embassy in London, I declared my presence to the French Consulate in Swansea: all of this under my new identity, of course.
I had discovered a new vocation: I was enjoying giving the classes, and the research I did allowed me to perfect my knowledge of literature and history. I could easily have made a new career of it, dedicated to intellectual work. I started looking for the same kind of position in other British Universities, which would have given me the opportunity of making a career with them. But it was obvious that I first had to recover my true identity, if only for the purpose of providing evidence that I was the holder of my qualifications. However, I was advised against it, as I had been sentenced in absentia, and the administrative authorities’ courts continued with the repression of political and cultural activities that had taken place during the occupation, though they were the same activities as beforehand. Only time would tell.