The period since the Second World War has been covered in recent years by a number of histories that have enjoyed both critical and popular success. Martin Johnes has provided a seven-
The art in writing history is that easy swing between high affairs of state and the telling details of real lives lived. From the perspective of 2012 it is difficult to conceive quite how far away is that world of just a handful of decades ago. Snobbery may be innate in human affairs but Johnes describes an age where it is rampant. The head of Swansea University objects to professors and lecturers featuring on the same radio programme. It is, he says, akin to the mixing of officers and men. He himself is naturally a socialist but his children are sent to Eton.
The films of the period are now a fascinating lens into the sheer greyness and drabness of the urban landscape. At the end of 1960’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning the young couple discuss where to live. Arthur says, ‘I wouldn’t mind living in an old house.’ To which Doreen replies, ‘I would. I want a bathroom and all that.’ In 1950 less than a half of Welsh homes has a bath. Two-
But inexorably the foundations of the world of the next century are being laid down. In 1960 Swansea possesses a single coffee and milk bar. The students at Aberystwyth go on strike at the refusal of the university to permit a student bar. This is 1964. The Archdruid is banning attempts to infiltrate skiffle into the Eisteddfod. Television is becoming near omnipresent. ‘An anti-
The deep changes of modernity are underway, even if D J Williams sees ‘moral turpitude and soul-
If history records broad underlying movements, it is ever untidy in its details. Economic vitality is always dependent on currents outside the borders of Wales. War material production may employ one hundred and thirty thousand, with thirty-
Social mobility sends post-
In 1958 the president of the governors of the National Museum of Wales writes an article declaring that Welsh is used to degrade scholarship, worsen public sector performance and ‘worst of all, to create enmity where none existed.’ Leo Abse speaks of ‘a packed gravy train’ with its first class carriages marked ‘For Welsh speakers only.’ Even so official attitudes as well as popular are ambivalent. In 1972 a Cardiff court gives absolute discharges to two protesting non-
Johnes opens with ‘the place called Wales and the idea called Wales were not always quite the same thing.’ He concludes of this great age of transition. ‘Wales was thus a curious mix of the confident and the insecure, although the scales were tipping in the direction of confidence.’ A good historian digs out the facts even if uncomfortable. Rancour breaks out over housing priority for the newcomers moving to factories built by centralised diktat. Tryweryn at the time is less of a universal rallying call than memory has it. Bala Town Council does not support protest. Merioneth does closely but only after a second vote. MPs abstain. Johnes cites at length the views of a farmer of fifty years’ experience.
The paradox of prosperity is that ‘Wales, like the rest of Britain, may have been better off, stable…but it was not content.’ In Rhyl forty-
He punctures any nostalgia. In 1952 a slate quarry manager has as much difficulty finding local employees as the fruit farmers of Herefordshire do today. A man who starts work at the Ebbw Vale plant records ‘the place was huge, shambling, spectacular, filthy and frightening. Only more filthy and more frightening than I had thought possible.’ The 1984 strike is given the same even-
The book has the finish, the notes and index that befit a university press. Ambrose Bebb may have publicly admired Action Francaise but the text includes, ‘One historian has claimed, rather dubiously, that Plaid Cymru sent an official delegation to Berlin to offer support for a Nazi England in return for an independent Wales.’ It seems unlikely, given the draconian powers that the war-
Trefechan Bridge is dated as taking place eleven days before the broadcast of ‘Tynged yr Iaith’, instead of in February the following year. These small points aside, open Wales Since 1939 at any page and rich detail jumps out. In the age of austerity NHS bandages, free and plentiful, are diverted for the making of curtains. At one time the War Office has an intention to use one-
George Thomas is here telling his Prime Minister that the citizens of Aberfan have ‘worked themselves into an irrational state of mind on this issue.’ A later prime minister, in a cabinet with three senior Welsh ministers, is of the opinion, ‘What dreadful people, we are really wasting our time – what is the point of all your efforts if they appreciate them so little.’
Histories of Wales are numerous. Read John Davies for breadth, Kenneth Morgan and Gwyn Alf Williams for fine accounts from a particular point in time. Martin Johnes should be the standard narrative for some time of the forces that have combined to make the Wales of the new century’s second decade.