Author: South Wales Miners Library, Swansea University

Provider: South Wales Miners' Library

Rights: Unknown

Interview of Davies, JohnDr by Egan, David on 9th May 1974.
The interview forms part of Swansea University’s South Wales Miners’ Library collection.

1 audio file (12 min.)



Egan, David: When there was the outbreak of the First World War, the I.L.P. was split in its attitude {nationally} and in South Wales. I wonder, your attitude was apparently a pacifist attitude…

Davies, JohnDr: Yes, yes, there was a split, the I.L.P. was led by many types of people. Keir Hardie was a Christian, he was a pacifist. He wanted nothing to do with war at all. And in fact, it really killed him, the split killed him. Well, MacDonald was a Christian pacifist of a kind, very much so. There were other rebels, who were quite different. But they were not for the war, not for the capitalist war. They were for the war against capitalism, they were for, you know, revolution. There were a good deal of left wing people there. Well, at that time, there’s so much struggle in building up the I.L.P., they didn’t pay that much attention to the critics on the side. The tried to carry on the movement, so as to keep the seats safe for Labour. And then one of my students, George Hall, put up as a candidate to follow, when Kier Hardie died, they wanted a candidate, and George Hall was chosen. Well, he was a middle of the way man, was George. George was a very big trade union man. He was a Labour councillor, and he was very, very moderate. Very moderate indeed. He was very friendly with me. I think that if you’d have pushed him, he’d have said, he was a pacifist, on that side. I forget what his religion, he was a religious chap, I couldn’t tell you what particular line he had. But Noel {Truemans} , another councillor, he was a bit to the left. Well he was in my classes, and many a time, we discussed all this, and the remarkable thing was, they all respected my view as a conscientious objector. They said, well that’s one of the facts, it can’t be altered and there you are. And they stuck by me throughout the whole of the contest with the military authorities.

Egan, David: When you adopted the attitudes that you did after all this in 1914, did you, was your work in the anti-war movement as a conscientious objector, was it within the I.L.P, or were you also members of a no conscription fellowship?

Davies, JohnDr: I was a member of the NCF. I was very prominent with them. I was member, I was very prominent with the Friends Peace, international peace organisation. And wherever I could legitimately join with people that wouldn’t interfere with the law, I was a member of. And that’s where the military got back at me, they said, but you’re doing this, you’re doing that, you wrapping your {W.E.A.} worker, international peace movements and you’re wrecking our efforts to get soldiers for recruits. I said, No I don’t. I’ve never stood on an anti-recruitment. If you want soldiers, I mean, as a matter of fact some of our W.E.A. students joined up, they're never bothered at all. But the military made that accusation. And they endorsed my exemption, given an exemption from military service on condition that he leaves, does not reside within 50 miles of his native home. I carried that to the end of the war. I forget what I did with that. I think I give it to some organisation as a memento. I wish I’d kept it now.

Egan, David: Who were the kind of people that you worked with in the No Conscription Fellowship locally? Were there any prominent miner’s leaders who would speak on the same platform for the N.C.F.?

Davies, JohnDr: Well no I couldn’t say, no, I think they were mainly Friends, of the Friends Quakers organisation. There were people from London.

Egan, David: Bertrand Russell used to come down?

Davies, JohnDr: Oh Bertrand Russell, yes, yes. I met him too. Oh I forget. I went to international conferences in London on peace. I went to Oxford and met them on peace organisations and in every possible way, I tried to put the peace point of view, international brotherhood of man, and I think I addressed one or two religious organisations, that if Christianity meant, it meant peace between all brothers, you see. And I did my best in that way. But I never interfered with the presentation of the {WEA} , when I left the {WEA} , they made me honorary secretary {unclear} , I shan’t interfere. If I want to carry on classes, I carry on, until they stopped me. And when I went to the Miner’s organisation, after coming down to Singleton. I mean, Singleton, here, on the farm, the farmer was very generous. Left me off at the end of my day and if there was a special afternoon or evening where there was a conference, he’d give me permission to go on condition I did all my work. And I did all my work. I was a very hard worker. I enjoyed working on the farm and I had a very good relationship with all the people and even, there was a camp on Singleton farm, where all the soldiers had training, and though they knew I was a conscientious objector, they never attacked me personally, the most cordial relationships, and I found no difficulty at all, and I had classes everywhere, summer schools, weekend schools, held in Mumbles with the {Co-op} Education Committee. Which was at one time, very strong here, they had a full time secretary, who lived down the way here, Sam, Sam Rees. And I was always a standby, and when they wanted to organise a conference with Professor Hall, Fred Hall, to come down, I arranged it and got the students there. Fred Hall gave one lecture, I gave another, and we carried on with our work. There was never any question about my being challenged as a conscientious objector.

Egan, David: The time you were in Swansea was, the anti-war activity in Swansea was centred around the bomb shop wasn’t it? Opposite the station?

Davies, JohnDr: Yes, right opposite the station, yes, I was well known in the bomb shop, and if there was any person that came there, I generally arranged to meet them, and met them on Sundays, and we arranged all kinds of meetings. The hall across the way, it’s demolished now.

Egan, David: {Elysium}

Davies, JohnDr: There was a hall there. There was a union that…

Egan, David: The {Elysium} , the docker's hall is it?

Davies, JohnDr: Yes, yes, down there, we had a meeting there. Well that’s where we went. And we were very very active and even though my farmer was not a pacifist, he was a Christian fellow, quite well. And well I said, if you’re a Christian fellow and believe in peace, you’ll let me have my point of view, you’ve got your conscience, if you want, join up. You haven’t joined up, you’re feeding the soldiers, you’re making money out of them. Alright. But the same, I’ve got the right to have my point of view, I’m doing my work on, if I’m not, you give me the sack. Oh no, I can’t have chaps like you. And he used to boast, when the harvest was on, someone would say, who do you think we’ve got working for us?, one farmer to another. Oh I’ve got a policeman helping me with the harvest. Have you?, said Mr Harris. Well now listen, who do you think I’ve got, not only helping with the harvest, but milking the cows every day? No I don’t know. I’ve got a B.A., I’ve got a chap from the University of Wales here. And he said, he’s a lecturer and the head of the W.E.A. at one time, he’s the chap I’m getting him to do my work. Well, what you pay him?, said this fellow. Do you pay him a salary? No I pay him what the government tells me, twelve bob a week and his keep. He never gave me a penny more. He died very rich, but never left me a penny. But I was quite happy because that personal relationship between us meant everything, you see.

Egan, David: What kind of people were you associated with then in the bomb shop? I mean, who were the people who were coming there, what were their {unclear} ?

Davies, JohnDr: Well there were people of all kinds, anything from a mild trade unionists, a mild Labour fellow, an I.L.P.'er, and we had some Marxists, some very left wing, that gave the name, bomb shop to it, you see. There were some revolutionary papers, the Plebs was on sale there, there was some Marxist literature, and there were pamphlets. I made a wonderful collection of those at one time. I intended studying the reaction of people to the war, but I didn’t get round to it. I left that pacifist side, and I’ve never had time to deal with it. If I ever come to write my name {unclear} sometimes, and link them up, I’ll do it. But I met {Nunn} Nicholas.

Egan, David: {Nunn} Nicholas was active there, was he?

Davies, JohnDr: {Nunn} was very active there. As I say, it was a gathering, it was a melting pot of all the people who were not prepared to accept the ordinary interpretation which was about, you see. They questioned militarism, they questioned the war, they questioned the Labour party, they questioned the whole condition of the thing. But they never once advocated a strike. I never heard the word strike during the war, from 1914 to 1918. That isn’t that they didn’t want to strike, but they couldn’t strike you see.

Egan, David: There was a strike in 1915 wasn’t there?

Davies, JohnDr: Um, well um…

Egan, David: For six days, and Lloyd George had to come down and {unclear} in Cardiff

Davies, JohnDr: Yes but, it wasn’t a strike, really a strike. It was really a protest against the military restrictions. There were terrible restrictions you see. We were on rations and all that. It wasn’t an industrial strike.

Egan, David: What was happening when the federation was on strike, because of the {Militia Acts} was fighting against the coal fuel, wasn’t it? Because the new conciliation board agreement in 1915…

Davies, JohnDr: Yes, yes, yes. Well the question of rationing and so on like that, they had to be very tight on wages. It was a very difficult time. It was a very difficult time to do negotiations during the war. And of course, the post war period was even worse, because, I mean, everything was tightened up and one had to plead, if people asked for a shilling, we were lucky to get a penny. Or perhaps tuppence. And then, we had to plead for everything. I mean, people don’t realise the difficulty we went through after the First World War. The period was a terrible period of, um, it wasn’t due to the social conditions of economics, it was the after effects of the war, which had been terrible. When you think of the devastation of the 1914/18 wars and what people had to do without. It’s a wonder to me that we came back on to an even keel. And that’s what did temper me very much throughout my negotiations from 1919 onwards to 1925. Was to try to get the miners to see the point of view, well, we’re all in this boat, we’ve got to get out of it. A post war condition, we’re not as badly off as the poor people in France and in Flanders and in the countries that had been robbed of its, but there are some war scars that we’ve got, and we’ve got to try to solve them. And using that spirit, that as I say, I never had a strike, at all in the {anthracite} that was in my charge. And I even got settlements that had been failed before. When I took over the anthracite, one of the anthracite coal fields that was very much out of peoples mind was Pembrokeshire coal field, and when the conciliation board made its wages settlement, they excluded Pembrokeshire miners, they weren’t in, they must battle themselves. Well when I took charge of it, I went down there, I saw they were working under terrible conditions, the seam was very narrow, instead of a four foot, or a five foot or a nine foot anthracite seam, they had a seam, four inches, and the men had to cut away all this top, you see, and sometimes all the bottom, before they could scrape this little bit, and when they scraped it, it didn’t come out as lumps, it came out in small little bits, like cockleshells and dust, you see. So I went to the South Wales Miners’ Federation and said, Can’t we get these chaps back to give them at least the 5% they’ve been denied for so many years, you see, all the others had 5% increase. But 5% increase on wages at that time, I mean, a very fine increase, well, they said, Go down, go through the colliers and see what you can recommend, so I told them, and I saw the employers. And do you know I made a report, and the South Wales Miners Federation executive met the coal owners and they all agreed very well, we’ll forgive the past. We’ll from now on, the wages of all the Pembrokeshire chaps will be raised by 5% automatically.