Friday 7 December 2012

Welsh Blamed For World War

I recently commended A N Wilson's brilliant history The Elizabethans - see this post - and this led me to log onto Amazon (I know, I shouldn't because they aren't paying enough tax) to buy and read his substantial history of the first 50 years of the 20th century After The Victorians: The World Our Parents Knew .

Wilson famously annoys many people and he certainly enjoys being a bit naughty about iconic if not saintly people and institutions. Wilson doesn't ignore Wales and he must be the first historian to suggest that the Welsh Disestablishment movement was one cause of the First World War - in as much as the British Government saw it as one of a number of threats to the British Empire which might usefully be placed to one side if war was enjoined, notwithstanding the fact that Disestablishment was achieved under the Welsh Church Act in 1914.

My family is entirely innocent in this, I should say, as my grandfather was a leading proponent of Antidisestablishmentarianism. I had wondered uncharitably if he might have been motivated in part by the £800 a year plus elegant house which he enjoyed as vicar of Ammanford but it is good to know that he was actually attempting to prevent the satanic forces of Welsh Nonconformism from precipitating a holocaust on the fields of Northern France.

Conversely one might note (Wilson doesn't) that the only serious popular opposition in Britain to the war in 1914 came not from international labour solidarity (as some expected but in reality all those ties between workers evaporated instantaneously) but from...Welsh Nonconformism, the pacifist instincts of which were only with difficulty overwhelmed by the old goat Lloyd George himself.

Wilson also doesn't shy from mentioning the anti-Jewish riots in the Valleys in 1911, something not much discussed today because they upset the saccharine and false memory of an idyllic solidarity in those communities in the industrial age, a mythic fantasy according to which the only conflict was with capitalists. Sadly poverty and oppression don't necessarily make people nice to one another.

My picture shows a detail from Guildford Cathedral (1936) which I visited last weekend having read about it in Wilson's book.