16 - War Office Land Grabs
Here are two more boo-hooray stories from the 20th century which involve land grabs. War time brings with it certain conditions and requirements which would otherwise come under greater scrutiny. One of these was the need for land for training purposes. By the end of the War 10% of the Welsh land surface was under the control of the War Office.
In 1940 Mynydd Epynt and a smaller mountain to the west of it, Mynydd Bwlch-y-groes (near Brecon and now called Sennybridge) were selected by the War Office urgently needed extra land and facilities for training purposes. It was around 40,000 hectares. The area was occupied by a Welsh speaking community of farmers and their families.
In order to create the training area homes had to be vacated and 219 people were obliged to leave. The way in which they were forced out of the homes was crass and insensitive. One day an officer turned up at the school and informed the entire class that they had 6 months to leave their homes, leaving a dumbfounded teacher trying to console a class full of children in floods of tears.
Despite petitions and protest, the community never managed to muster enough political traction to reverse the decision. It was war time and their concerns apparently were not of importance. The national need was greater – but the land was never given back. We have some first hand accounts from this Iorwerth Peate passed the family from Hirllwyn "with their load of furniture on a cart coming through the mountain gate". He met a lady of eighty two who was expecting to leave later that day. "She had dragged an old chair to the furthest end of the yard and was sitting there motionless, gazing towards the mountain with tears streaming down her cheeks". Gofynnodd i Peate o le y daeth, ac atebodd yntau 'O Gaerdydd'. O glywed hyn. Ei hymateb hi oedd:'Machgen bach i, ewch yn eich ôl ar unwaith. Mae'n ddiwedd y byd fan hyn. The old woman asked Peate where he had come from, to which he anwered ‘From Cardiff’. On hearing this, her reply was – go home at once my son, it’s the end of the world here.
Brwydr Y Preselau (The Battle of the Preseli) 1946-1948 Soon after the Second World war, in November 1946, the War Office declared its intention to turn the Preselau into a permanent military training area.
That would have meant turning more than 200 farmers from their homes. However, under the leadership of Nonconformist ministers and local headmasters, a spirited campaign was organised to withstand the threat. A barrister was employed to represent the Prescelly Preservation Committee and it was made abundantly clear that not an inch of land would be surrendered.
“The battle was set on a strong foundation from the start and radical Nonconformism was an obvious factor as they set about to safeguard the highest values,” said Mr Wyn. “The choice of the word ‘preserve’ rather than ‘defence’ was significant since something that needs to be preserved is of more value than something that only needs to be defended.
Waldo Williams, one of Wales’ leading Welsh language poets of the 20th century, penned a poem that appeared on the front page of national weekly Y Faner (The Flag), describing the War Office as “y bwystfil” (the beast). “The religious connections of the mountains were emphasised as far back as pre-history as there were 38 ancient monuments on the slopes. It was noted that the bluestones were taken to Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain to form the cradle of English civilisation.
By spring 1948 the Government had give in to the determination of the people of Preselau. All present day farmers and walkers are indebted to those heroes of yesterday.
Performance piece Ye Men of Precelly