Author: South Wales Miners Library, Swansea University

Provider: South Wales Miners' Library

Rights: Copyrighted

Interview of Davies, D. J. and Davies, Beatrice by Egan, David on 3rd November 1972.
The interview forms part of Swansea University’s South Wales Miners’ Library collection.

1 audio file (37 min.)



Egan, David: When did you first join the I.L.P and what induced you to do that?

Davies, D. J.: Well I joined them in the anti-war agitation.

Egan, David: In 1914? You can remember the outbreak of the war can you?

Davies, D. J.: Oh yes, yes. In 1914 I was 18 years of age then, well going towards 18.

Egan, David: What, Keir Hardie spoke out against the war but he was shouted down wasn’t he in Aberdare?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, but you see for the years during the war because I was in the pit, I didn’t go into the army, I wasn’t called to go for until later. You see we had meetings in Aberdare and Aberaman every Sunday night practically, with Ramsey MacDonald, Philip Snowden, Bob Williams of the Old Transport Workers, Bruce Glasier and his wife, Dick Walhead, and a number of others who came later you know who were against the war, so that there was some or the other there all the time.

Egan, David: Was the whole of the I.L.P in Aberdare against the war or was it split at all, was there, you know a pro war group, I mean Stanton was obviously one of them?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, yes, most of the miners were in favour of the war of course, well in fact I can’t remember that, that I could say that the labour party was for the war in Aberdare because there was no labour party as such there because you see the labour party, well the miners were reluctant to join the labour party at the beginning if you remember, on the grounds, so they say, I don’t know whether it’s true {Mainwaring} used to deny this, but the suggestion is that the miners weren’t very much in favour of political action, they were more in favour, they were impressed by the syndicalism that was, you know, which had appeared earlier in France and which was represented by a man whose name I forget now.

Egan, David: In Britain? {Tom Mann}

Davies, D. J.: No a French man.

Egan, David: {unclear}

Davies, D. J.: Possibly, I’m not sure, who, you know believed in this setting up syndical, syndicats as he called them.

Egan, David: {Sirell}

Davies, D. J.: And anyway with the influence of men like Ablett, Mainwaring and a number of the people who formed what they call the unofficial reform committee, they took the view that whichever way the revolution {come} it would have to come via the trade unions.

Egan, David: Was there any support in Aberdare for their position, I mean they were all in the Rhondda?

Davies, D. J.: No but I would say that the unofficial reform committee in the mining unions itself were much more influential than the I. L. P., which was political and was inclined to be, you know, let’s get our members back to parliament and then we’ll change the system, but as the {Marxian} elements represented, if I mention Noah Ablett, there were others as well, because I always remember this excellent quotation with Noah Ablett, you know, he talked about the need to build up the trade union movement in such a way that when we brought about the change, the branch of the trade unions, something of the Soviet concept, you know, could take over society straight away, and that’s why it was necessary to have this build up within the trade union movement in order that it should be not only an instrument for fight for better wages, but a sort of instrument which would form the nucleus of the new forms of society when we had nationalised everything or sent the capitalist about his business. Well in the aim of getting that, Ablett used to have this pithy illustration, you know, that it would be the trade unions who would bring it about in any case, because you know, it was the industrial arm that counted and he would say when they talked about political action to achieve socialism, he used to say, why cross the river to fill the bucket when you can fill it this side, you see he would think political action was going over to bring water from the other side, where you can get it this side of the river.

Egan, David: What impression did this have on you? You were in the I.L.P which was committed to parliamentary route to socialism wasn’t it?

Davies, D. J.: Yes. Well of course, I went in on the basis of the opposition to the war, you see, because we felt that as far as the working class was concerned, that the workers shouldn’t be taking part in what was, from our point of view, a capitalist war, a struggle with, a commercial struggle between Germany and Britain, you see, and the tremendous amount of literature about that time, E.D. Morel wrote a book, the truth about the war, which contained a vast amount of facts for what had taken place before the war took place, you know, with the Agadir incident, which had taken place a little earlier than 1914, you know, struggle between the French and the British down on the top of South Africa somewhere. And all these things, it became fairly clear that no serious thinking miner would think of going to give his life to achieve the aims of the people who were at the top in Britain at that time.

Egan, David: So you’ve been interested in politics before 1914, and sort of leaned towards socialism. In fact it was the effect of the war that pushed you, you know, to actually join something like the I.L.P?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, yes.

Egan, David: The reality of seeing society in that way?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, yes.

Egan, David: Were you still {going} to chapel before the war?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, I was brought up in chapel.

Egan, David: By the time the war came the attitude of the chapel was {what} , you know

Davies, D. J.: I can raise a smile sometimes, from my present position, when I say that I used to be, not a superintendent, but a {secretary} of the Sunday School. They all laugh.

Egan, David: Did you stop going to Chapel immediately after the outbreak of the war?

Davies, D. J.: Well I was becoming, you know, I used to go to the Sunday school and I would say if one to be assessing the value of Chapels, I would say the outstanding thing was the Sunday school. You know because there you could have a discussion about things, it isn’t a case where you go into the pew and listen to the sermon and if you dare interrupt, well you'd be out. They'd throw you out quicker out of a Chapel if you interrupt than if you were in a pub. So that I was beginning to have doubts because my father was Liberal and Radical but he was also interested in theological problems as most of the fellows in the pits who didn’t drink or weren’t interested in what you might call the ordinary activities of the average collier. My father didn’t drink because actually he couldn’t afford to drink with all these children, but he didn’t drink because he was convinced of course that strong drink was an enemy of any Christian, he shouldn’t indulge in it. But of course he also took in religious journals. I remember he used to take a thing called The Christian World and there were a lot of discussions in there. And there was another paper where the ideas of R.J. Campbell from London you know, City Temple I think. We used to take those. And although he was still a devout Christian there was a discussion within that paper which almost moved to what you call the Unitarian situation you know, where they believed in Jesus but they didn’t believe in him other than he was a human being you know. There was no, I don’t know whether these aspects interest you but I was interested in them because you know God was one in three as it were, and the average Chapel believed in him as God the Father, and then the Son and then the Holy Ghost, as they used to say. Well the Unitarians only believed in Christ as, almost as a good man you know, without any divine power. Well those kind of discussions regarding the position of Christ in this Trinitarian set up, I suppose started me off to think well you know, and when I listen to somebody like this Anthony Bloom talking this morning now on the radio here now, I find it difficult to think that anybody can believe that kind of thing you know. Well, at that time I started reading literature, I used to read Robert Blatchford’s book God and my Neighbour, and that helped me, and later on when I went to the college I studied Marx and the philosophy of Marx, and as I told you the last time you were here, that I can’t accept that there are two kinds of truth. If you started building bridges on the principles of what we accept from Christian belief well of course, we wouldn’t be running many motor cars over them, they'd be all falling down!

Egan, David: But there again the war had the effect of actually turning you away from the Chapel?

Davies, D. J.: It helped, but even if the war hadn’t come I would have gone.

Egan, David: Was there much debate in the Chapel you attended about the war?

Davies, D. J.: Not much.

Davies, Beatrice: but they weren’t happy when you were a C.O. were they. And when you went to prison they weren’t happy

Davies, D. J.: The best recruiting sergeants then except for an exceptional character here and there were the ministers. When I went down to B.B.C. I was there within the framework of a religious programme as I told you, and I said I was irreligious and I didn’t want to take part in that kind of thing. Well they said We merely want you to come, we know you’ve been to prison during the war, we merely want you to give your impressions of what the Chapels in general did during the war. And that’s all I did say. I wasn’t there to Addoli Duw as the programme was called.

Egan, David: Can you remember the war, the effect of the war you know, did it have any effect on work in the pits? I mean was there a great you know demand for coal for the navy, was there an intensifications of work at all?

Davies, D. J.: Well the only thing I can remember is that it was as hard and as unpleasant as it had always been as far as I was concerned. And during the years of the war I had started reading about the booklets that we got there about, Value, Price and Profit, and Theories about Economics by Marx, and the, his theory about Surplus Value and Profits, and not having any great interest in hewing coal from the very beginning really, I had less after reading Marx. And as I said I was determined to give just enough money back, work back to them to cover my wages. They didn’t make any profit out of me.

Egan, David: Can you remember that there was, prices of food and things like this went up a lot in the war?

Davies, D. J.: Well during the war and now, her sister was here today, she likes to tell us how she had to stand in the margarine queues you see. Well I didn’t stand in a margarine queue but somebody in the house did so because of that, that impression is outside my experience. But she would probably remember more about that, I’m sorry my wife Beatrice, I mustn’t refer to her as she, because I’m told that she is a cat’s mother.

Davies, Beatrice: That’s what my mother always said!

Davies, D. J.: I mustn’t say my wife because why don’t you call me by name, so I call her Beatrice.

Egan, David: There was a strike in 1915 can you remember that?

Davies, D. J.: 1915, yes, wasn’t it when Smuts and those people and Lloyd George came down to persuade them, yes.

Egan, David: It was a very short …

Davies, D. J.: Well there you see I can’t remember those things distinctly because as I say I didn’t have any active position in the Lodge. I can remember them, but you can remember things better if you are doing something.

Egan, David: What about the election in 1915 when Stanton got elected, Jimmy Winston?

Davies, D. J.: Oh yes, well there you are. He got in easily, so that you see, there was a general support for the war.

Egan, David: It was just that was it, I mean, just the fact that Stanton was standing you know as a pro-war candidate and there was this belief that …

Davies, D. J.: Yes, because I would say that Winston from the point of view of making a contribution to the miners movement in South Wales, contributed you know outside of the war, contributed much more to what you might call the development of the miners struggle than Stanton did. So that from that point of view Winston should have beaten him, but Winston was against the war you see. Oh the feeling that existed at that time well when I look back on it, I think that's part of the reason why some times I do things because I don’t want to sort of endure the displeasure of people, and it all stems from the experience I had then. You know people used to, oooh, you know, you could feel their hatred for you coming towards you almost, especially with some of the women. It wasn’t a very pleasant period I can tell you.

Egan, David: What about in your family, I mean?

Davies, D. J.: Well they didn’t agree, my father didn’t agree with me, but I mean he didn’t alter his attitude towards me because my father was a very fair man of course, he was naturally inclined that way.

Egan, David: What, were you sort of goaded towards, although in fact they didn’t want miners to join up did they in the early period of the war, they were against them going?

Davies, D. J.: No, no, no …

Egan, David: But when in fact were you first, you know when the {comb} out came, is it, the end …?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, I've got some vivid recollection about some Derby scheme, you remember, and you had wear an armlet and all this, yes, and you had to go for a medical examination. Well I refused to have anything to do with it you see. And I suppose the fact that I worked in the pit meant that the military weren’t very actively in search of you, until as I said, earlier, I wasn’t arrested until August 1918. I'd gone through the procedure of appearing before a tribunal, and having to answer the famous question they had you know, what would you do if a German came and ravished your wife or your sister. Well I said I didn’t have a wife, which didn’t help my case at all. I haven’t got a wife. Well what if it was your sister then. And that kind of nonsense, and what if everybody behaved like you, what would happen to the country. To which I used to retort if everybody were to behave like me there wouldn’t be any war you see. But of course that kind of logic wasn’t accepted inside of a tribunal. So as I was basing then, which shows the position I had reached really, I was basing my objection on moral grounds then, not on religious grounds, so you can say that before, well long before 1918, I had arrived you know, via Blatchford at a one who, to put it mildly, didn’t accept the theological explanation of this universe.

Egan, David: In fact Blatchford became a jingoist didn't he, in the war?

Davies, D. J.: There you are, yes. But his reasoning, I’ve got one of his books upstairs now.

Davies, Beatrice: Haven’t you got your, what you said, when you went before the tribunal

Davies, D. J.: I don’t think so.

Davies, Beatrice: What is that stuff that your mother gave me, your letters from prison. Isn't there something there?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, well somewhere, I haven’t looked at them for years.

Davies, Beatrice: well they are upstairs

Davies, D. J.: Oh yes …

Egan, David: So you weren’t accepted then as a conscientious objector because, you know, you used moral grounds?

Davies, D. J.: No, no.

Egan, David: So then they …

Davies, D. J.: No, I was arrested you see. I remember I was getting ready to go to bed when he came in, all these things in my life happen as I’m getting ready to go to bed! The only time I’ve been in hospital, I was in bed and ready to go to sleep. When she fetched the Doctor and I was going down those steps at eleven o’clock, and I'd had my operation by half past twelve, yes.

Egan, David: They came to fetch you from your house, from your mother’s house?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, policeman came, almost apologetic in disturbing the household, you know. Banks, I think his name was, you know, quite a decent old chap in his way, earning his living as a policeman, hoping that everybody would behave, so that he didn’t have to hurt anybody’s feelings.

Egan, David: And then you were taken to prison in Aberdare first?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, I slept, put in the cell in Aberdare Police Station, then in the morning, Mark Starr, who had been on the run for a period, and had come back to work in Mountain Ash, he had been arrested, so he came in. We were taken to the Police Court in the afternoon, in front of an old chap, Davies Ynyslwyd, snow white beard, and of course it was just a matter of saying that we had failed to respond to the call, then we were taken to Cardiff.

Egan, David: How long were you given in jail, what was the sentence?

Davies, D. J.: Six months. Taken to Cardiff, to the Barracks, which shows, you know, the position of the, there was nobody there to receive us! Nobody there! Then the soldier who accompanied us, well he said, You’d better wait here 'till somebody comes. Because I remember discussing with Mark, Well shall we go and catch a train home. But he said, It’s not worth it, he said, he'd been doing it for about three or four months. So we stayed there until somebody came later, and, we were taken to a sort of a hut outside the barracks there in a field, and I think we had some sort of interview, giving your names and all this. And we spent the time in Cardiff outside in the field, you know in the hut. There was only Mark and myself there for a long while, then we had some more boys from G.C.G. and Ammanford there. The only thing I noticed there was that the same amount of food came over when Mark and I were there, as when these other boys were there. I can, you know, I don't know whether that was deliberate or not.

Davies, Beatrice: weren't happy days then I expect!

Davies, D. J.: I felt very hungry, yes.

Egan, David: And they took you from there to London?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, I remember having to go out on the square there and, a line of soldiers around, and this sentence being read out. And I was given six months without hard labour, I don't know. And then we went to London, went to Scrubs.

Egan, David: By train?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, we walked up the lane, I remember from where we jumped off some vehicle, walked up the lane, and there was a big hospital there and there was some people shouting as we went by, you know, wounded soldiers. I’m not quite sure whether they were shouting cheers or shouting you know, not very favourable remarks. We stayed there, I stayed there then until the end of November, so I wasn’t there so long, I mean, as compared to the early struggles of the people who took up the absolute disposition against the war, people like Emrys Hughes and those you know who refused to do anything. Well, ours was just a case of us being treated by a war weary government and people really.

Egan, David: What effect did it have on you? On your life in retrospect, I mean this whole experience as you say of being, the hostility shown to you during the war in Aberdare because of your views and then eventually in fact being you know, imprisoned? Did it have an effect on you as a person?

Davies, D. J.: Only in the sense I think that I have become more sensitive to the, and more impatient towards the people who suggest you know, that the way to solve, shall we say the problems of offenders is you know, to push them into prison or something like that, because, you know I was young, it was an entirely new experience and even when they are not pleasant you know, you tend to examine them rather than you know, let them make an immediate effect upon you, the effect of going to prison I think, came much later with me than then. The only thing I can remember feeling, what impressed me most was the fact that I was put into my cell and given this sort of black suit, it wasn’t the convict suit you know, sort of first offenders suit, and given food that I didn’t eat because, you know, huge dollops of fat you know, bacon. Well at home, you know, Olive took the fat off for me I couldn’t, the only fat I can eat is butter. I can’t eat other fats, and that, mainly, in the main went back. And we had a sort of skilly you know, and then we had a reasonable sort of dinner I suppose, nothing like what I used to have at home then, because we were several of us working and as I told you well, we ate well in the later days when I was in the pit, and the other brothers were coming in to work in the pit with us. Well this food in prison was horrible. I didn’t eat it but before I'd been there long I was eating this fat, you know, because that’s part of the punishment then I think, was to deprive you of food.

Egan, David: Mark Starr and these boys from the West, were they in Wormwood Scrubs with you?

Davies, D. J.: Yes.

Egan, David: What sort of work were you doing in jail?

Davies, D. J.: Mailbags I did, yes. But this first month you did your work in the cell and, you know, you spent all your time in the cell except for going out on exercise, or going to Church as I did then, just in order to get company you see, because you spent 24 hours in a cell, you know, for a month, it's not a very a very pleasant experience.

Egan, David: Did they not allow you books?

Davies, D. J.: Well I had a Bible, and you could have an occasional book, and there was a silence rule which was worse than anything. I was caught, talking, well listening really, to some boy from G.C.G. you know, with all the exuberance that people from that area's got, and I tell him Bydd yn dawel, you know, to talk quietly, and there was one there who was looking for, you know, enjoy punishing you, you always get that kind in any sort of organisation or community, so I was sent back to the cell for another week after being out you know, in association as they called it. Well that week was worse for me than the previous four weeks. The only thing you had there was the Bible, I read that about three times!

Egan, David: Did you get a chance to talk to the, you know, to some of the prisoners in there, some of the people who weren’t in there because of their, you know …

Davies, D. J.: No, you never saw them.

Davies, Beatrice: you did in Chapel {unclear} didn't you

Davies, D. J.: I never saw them except in Chapel. But you couldn’t get, you couldn’t talk,

Davies, Beatrice: no, you talked in Chapel {unclear}

Davies, D. J.: see now they are allowed to talk I understand, and the worst thing was the fact that if you were to talk you were punished.

Davies, Beatrice: But you talked as you sang, didn't you, when you were singing hymns you'd talk

Davies, D. J.: Oh yes, you’d do that kind of thing, and Mark had a got a piece of pencil you know, without the wood, he wrote some messages to me on toilet paper, but they picked that up, and you had to go through this grill, well you might as well confess because he’s already said this. You know the usual police technique.

Egan, David: Did you feel that the authorities were being particularly hard on you, because yours was a sort of political imprisonment?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, well there was no, there was no, you might get some, one or two there who, one or two who’d been in the army and had had a wound, found those much kinder. And there are the inevitable person who will be kindly in any case.

Egan, David: How did your family react to your imprisonment?

Davies, D. J.: Well my mother was very worried of course.

Egan, David: Was there more support for you then in a sense, you know, that you were prepared to take your principles this far?

Davies, D. J.: Well yes, the position was, four years of war had made people a bit weary themselves you see, yes.

Egan, David: But didn’t you say your mother left the chapel, because of your …?

Davies, D. J.: Stayed away yes, yes. Well of course at the beginning, well I experienced some of this myself, when I was still in civil life as it were and going to Chapel. And the old I.L.P.'s in Aberdare, the outstanding thing I remember about the I.L.P., the leaders in in Aberdare, was their tremendous courage. You don’t see that kind of thing about today. I’m not saying that unkindly, because every generation can respond to situations like the old ones can, but, they were like lions on a {riot} , much braver than I was.

Egan, David: But courage in what way, that they were prepared to get up publicly and, you know …

Davies, D. J.: Yes, and even, you know, in the face of possible physical violence you know, not clinching at all, not quenching, not doing anything.

Egan, David: Who were these people then, who were they, their names?

Davies, D. J.: Just ordinary miners.

Egan, David: I mean, they're not, none of the sort of, I mean people like Edmund Stonelake in the I.L.P. in fact supported war didn’t he, and …?

Davies, D. J.: Stonelake? No, I don’t think so.

Egan, David: I thought he was Food Controller or something for Aberdare wasn't he, during the war?

Davies, D. J.: Oh he may have done that …

Egan, David: You know, war sort of work you know, in Aberdare

Davies, D. J.: Probably may have done that but he wasn’t in favour of the war, was he Ted.

Davies, Beatrice: Well I didn’t know him then of course, but I wouldn’t have thought so.

Egan, David: Was there a sort of split in the movement at all, I mean, you know, particularly after Stanton’s election, I mean, was there a definite split in the movement between pro-war and anti-war, you know, in the sort of I.L.P, the Trade Council, I mean in the wider movement? I mean you were saying that in the I.L.P. there was a definitely sort of anti-war feeling …

Davies, D. J.: Well yes and there was a branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship, you see. For example I remember G.H. Thomas coming to what was considered to be a Peace Meeting in the old Rink in Merthyr, and he came there as a speaker, but he was there as a supporter of the war, but he was against conscription. It's when they introduced conscription that he came to join the forces then, but he was all for war. Who told you that Ted Stonelake was a …?

Egan, David: Well no, I didn’t know that he was definitely pro-war but I knew that in fact he had done a lot of war work you know?

Davies, D. J.: Oh that's quite possible

Egan, David: That he'd sort of, spent a lot of his time during the period of the war sort of working very hard after being in the pit, and coming back and doing, serving on Committees, and in fact supporting the war effort?

Davies, D. J.: Oh yes, you mentioned food he may have done something in that direction because of the importance of getting food I suppose. But as I say, I’m probably a little hazy about those things, the men I remember, were men like Jack Bruton, the two brothers Davies living in {Carmel}

Davies, Beatrice: Idwal Thomas

Davies, D. J.: Idwal, yes, he was against it, Matt Lewis …

Egan, David: Apart from miners, was a …, a lot of teachers were conscientious objectors as well?

Davies, D. J.: Yes, well the two last ones I mentioned were teachers, Matt Lewis and …

Davies, Beatrice: Illtud Hopkins, would he have been?

Davies, D. J.: No, Illtud wouldn’t have been against it.

Egan, David: Was there any kind of …, the Unofficial Reform Committee seems to have collapsed doesn’t it during the war? You know, sort of Ablett and people like this, I mean, they were anti-war, but I mean, as a movement they didn’t seem to exist any longer?

Davies, D. J.: No, well, their work you see, went on in the sense that they…, between the South Wales Miners and the N.U.R. that they did get together to re-open the Labour College in London you see. It was the miners’ money that, mainly, the N.U.R gave some, that made it possible for it to re-open, you see, and the first students in the Labour College after it re-opened were, South Wales Miners’ Federation gave 8 scholarships, a number of the Districts gave scholarships, four or five or more, and then the N.U.R. had a number of scholarships there, so that the first students in 1919 were miners and railwaymen, with just one or two odd ones from other unions who had officers who were interested in what they call I.W.C.E., Independent Working Class Education you see.

Egan, David: When had you first started attending classes in Aberdare?

Davies, D. J.: Well you see that’s where my memory fails me, but it was during the war years.

Egan, David: Who was the tutor?

Davies, D. J.: Well John Edwards was Economics, and Mark was teaching Industrial History, Mark Starr.