23 May 2021

“The Welshman“ in Neuadd Ogwen (!)

My first night out since the start of the pandemic! I had seen on Facebook that Neuadd Ogwen would reopen, and that the first night would be a film. The film was "the Welshman". I have never heard of that, and I looked it up. It turned out it was a sort of documentary about a man who had opposed the flooding of a valley. They didn't specify which valley, but I assumed this would be Tryweryn. It sounded good! I booked a ticket. And then I alerted some local friends to this. By the time they had a look, though, it had sold out. I wasn't overly surprised; due to social distancing, they couldn't really sell an awful lot of tickets. And I suppose many people in the village would be excited that the place had opened up again!

On the day, I pocketed my glasses and went. I was escorted to my seat. They had put comfortable sofas and chairs on the floor! I had very nice leather chair. I could get used to this! And I had things to think about so I had no problem spending the time until the film would actually start. In the meantime, the manager was acting as a waiter and taking drinks orders. I decided I might as well get me a pint. It was a special occasion, and I figured the place could do with some bar money!

After some delay, Dilwyn (the manager) took the floor and welcomed us back. It was the first night the hall was open again, so worth a little speech and it was going to be the first time ever this film was being shown. Very momentous! There was a special atmosphere in the room. Then the film started. It basically was just footage of Owain Williams talking about the events of the time. The interviewer was pretty much entirely cut out of the film. And when he was talking, you sometimes saw some actors reenacting what he was talking about.

I knew there had been lots of protests against the flooding of the village, but I didn't know there had been sabotage. But now I did! Williams explained that he had been working in Canada at the time, but that he had come back when he realised what was going on in Wales. He said the Welsh were a resigned lot, used to putting up with whatever people threw at them, and that he thought that was wrong. He decided someone needed to raise their voice. And if not him, then who? So he came back, and founded the Mudiad Amddifyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales) with two mates. And they decided to take matters in their own hands. And in 1963, they blew up transformer associated with the opposed dam. One of them was arrested; Williams was not it.

The interview got quite emotional. It turned out that he was married at the time, and had small kids, and that his wife was pregnant. And in the night of the attack, his wife was rushed to hospital with obstetric problems. There were problems, and the child died young. The marriage didn't survive. And that some later point, Williams ended up in jail anyway, for about a year, on charges of which I have forgotten the details. He didn't enjoy that. Evidently…

A few years later, Charles would be crowned Prince of Wales in Caernarvon. And not all Welsh were happy with it. I can fully imagine! What does Charles have to do with the Wales? The whole crowning princes of Wales in Caernarvon thing was dreamed up by an English king with the intent of oppressing the Welsh. And I, of course, wasn't even born back then, but I expect to be alive (and even a Welsh resident) by the time William gets the same treatment. And I must say I am not keen myself. Charles has been Prince of Wales for over 50 years, and he still doesn't speak Welsh. William has known since childhood he was destined to become Prince of Wales one day. Does he speak Welsh? No. Are they making any attempt to forge a bond between them and the country they are supposed to be a prince of? Not that I have noticed. I think it is rather outrageous. I struggle to imagine, for instance, princess Amalia being Princess of Frisia, and not speaking Friesian. It does smell of the old English sense of superiority. You don't engage with the culture of the country you oppress; you force your culture onto them!

Anyway; I digress. The MAC planted a few more bombs. Williams explained he was arrested on suspicion of being involved with that, but that there was no evidence against him. And he claimed that evidence against him was forged. So when he was granted bail, he ran! He made it to Ireland, where he was welcomed by members of Sinn Fein, as they were kindred spirits. And he lived there for a while, some of the time in a tent on the beach, under a false name. He occasionally had contact with his solicitor, who was trying to get a case together. And at some point, he chanced it going back to Wales, and was promptly arrested. The case came to court, and he was acquitted, as the court figured the evidence against him had indeed been forged. He escaped a prison sentence of 10 to 15 years!

The valley was flooded anyway, of course. And there is an English Prince of Wales. But Williams said that in 1963, when all of this started, there was no politician in Westminster with special responsibility for Wales. And after the Tryweryn debacle, a Secretary of State for Wales was appointed. And decades later, devolution happened, and Wales got its own parliament. Williams figured he had played a role in that. And I suppose you won't be surprised to read that he is active in the Welsh independence movement.

In a way, this is a bit of a 60s Greta Thunberg story. I knew she was a schoolgirl and Owain Williams was a grown man, but they were both just one person. And both set things in motion that became a lot bigger then they were themselves. So in a way, this is one of those "nobody is too small to make a difference" stories. I don't think this man will live to see an independent Wales, but he has lived to see devolution, and I am sure that already gave him some satisfaction.

The film was rather short. After some 40 minutes, it was over! Both the audience and the organisation had expected it to be some one and a half hours. So the lights didn't come on. I hadn't even finished my beer. But there was an applause, and I stood up to leave. I had a small chat with the lady at the bar, and then with Dilwyn. And then I saw one of the daughters of my Welsh tutor and her partner. We had a little chat! That is one of the perks of going out again. You see people!

I hope more people will see this film! I had no idea about this man, and I am glad I do now. More people should.

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