It is no lie that Wales has in abundance a rich and impressive history – sad and poignant, rebellious and resilient, defiant, dramatic and really rather remarkable.
History is made by people. It forms part of who they are. But sometimes stories escape us and need to be retold… so what are the must reads on modern Welsh history?
TRYWERYN: A NATION AWAKES – THE STORY OF A WELSH FREEDOM FIGHTER
by Owain Williams
Owain Williams hit the national headlines in the 1960s after he blew up the transformer that fed the Tryweryn valley site, a turning point in the Welsh national awakening of the Sixties. There followed a life in and out of jail and of marriages, periods in Germany and Ireland while on the run from the Special Branch and MI5.
His colourful story is set against an important, turbulent and exciting period in Welsh history and is as much a personal tale as a glimpse of Wales during the 1960s to the present day.
WHERE THE STREAM RAN RED
by Sam Adams
Part memoir and part history of the close-knit mining community of Gilfach Goch, Where the Stream Ran Red is a loving portrait of a community which has all but disappeared. The very fabric of Gilfach Goch as a mining town has since been ‘airbrushed’ out of existence with the ‘greening’ of the valley after the coal mines closed for good.
The memoir moves back and forward in time, from close-ups of family members to wider considerations of the impact of the coal industry on Gilfach Goch and its development and the effect of the two world wars on the town. But this is above all a story of striving to overcome, of making something of life, no matter what life might throw at you.
by Gaynor Madgwick
On 21 October 1966, thousands of tonnes of coal tip waste slid down a mountainside and devastated the mining village of Aberfan. The black mass crashed through the local school. 144 people were killed. 116 were schoolchildren.
Gaynor Madgwick was there. She was eight and severely injured. Gaynor tells her own story and interviews people affected by that day – from the bereaved and the rescuers, to the police and royalty. She explores the nature of courage, grief and faith, to create both a moving personal story of one family’s pain and a definitive account of the events that shook the nation and the world.
LAND OF MY FATHERS
by Gwynfor Evans
A uniquely comprehensive, illustrated history of Wales by a towering figure of twentieth-century Welsh politics. The book became an immediate best-seller when it was first published in Welsh.
Gwynfor’s telling of Wales is constructed in his own image. It is a ‘peace-loving’, decentralised Christian Wales and little thought is given to multiculturalism and academics may find much to contest.
But it was never intended as an academic volume. Gwynfor rebukes, inspires, chides and teaches his people but it is his love for them and their land down the ages that shines through on every page.
A HAVEN FROM HITLER
by Heini Gruffudd
This book recounts the life of Kate Bosse-Griffiths of German-Jewish descent during the Second World War, and the effects of the Nazi policy of genocide on her and her family. This is a poignant and moving story which relates the murder of her mother, the suicide of her aunt, and her father – a successful surgeon – being made redundant from his post, and the family’s persecution.
Kate Bosse-Griffiths fled the brutal regime of the Nazis and became one of Wales’ leading academic and literary figures. In Oxford she met fellow Classics scholar and Egyptologist J. Gwyn Griffiths and they soon settled as a married couple in Rhondda. Kate established the Cadwgan Literary Circle and the Griffiths family became at the centre of a literary circle which published in Welsh on a wide range of subjects in their own and other established periodicals.
The story is based on hundreds of letters, documents and first-hand accounts by members of the family. They tell of the Nazi-inspired attacks of Kristallnacht, life under their brutal regime, efforts to flee and periods of imprisonment, and the horror of life inside concentration camps.
Kate found in Wales a family, a land and a culture in which she could find great fulfilment and become an inspiration to others. Meanwhile her family, like hundreds of thousands of others of Jewish descent, suffered from Nazi persecution. In her poetry, Kate expresses the importance of maintaining civilised values through the storm of war:
‘Fe ddaeth y storm a derfydd,
Ti, fab y werin, clyw!
O cadw ac ymgeledda
Yr hyn a ddylai fyw …’
(‘Keep and treasure what should live on after the storm.’)
One could hardly find a clearer testimony to the barrenness of racist hatred and the fruitfulness of generous love.
Kate and Gwyn are the parents of Robat and Heini Gruffudd.