Recollections of Gareth Jones
By Nigel Linsan
On occasion, I have been asked questions about the
character behind Gareth, the man, along with ‘what was in his unique make-up to
stand up alone and be counted in his exposure of the Ukrainian famine
In the past couple of years, as a result of international
publicity for Gareth, our family has received two separate pieces of
correspondence, which to my mind helps towards answering the above questions.
There is no doubt that Gareth’s address book, read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the
international world of politics and business, but these following two pieces of
correspondence perhaps shed light upon his humility, but also show that he never
forgot his Welsh roots.
The first piece of correspondence refers to his time in the
‘wilderness’; the following 12-months after exposing the famine, when Gareth was
seemingly restricted to writing on solely the rural affairs of Wales rather than
international politics, which was his forte… Nevertheless, in a delightful
series of articles, he chronicles the dying days of many Welsh traditional art
and crafts. In one article in particular (printed in full below), he is
prophetically kidnapped by a gang of young mining children, then after
negotiating his escape with a ransom of chocolate, he tramped on into the hills
in search of Dorwen, the highest farmstead in the Black Mountains. There, he
knocked on the farmer’s door in order to secure permission to sleep in their
barn, but instead was offered true Welsh hospitality with a bed in the farm for
the night; and there began a warm friendship with farmer Moses and his family,
ending with an affectionate postcard from far-off Siam; just a few months before
his murder by alleged ‘bandits’ in Northern China; all of which recently we
became aware of through Elaine Edwards, a descendant of this hilltop farming
The second piece of correspondence followed a radio
interview I made on Canadian radio station CBC in late November 2006, when a
listener of Welsh origin, Janet Wright remembered that her aunt, Mrs. Morfydd
Davies (nee Williams) knew Gareth as a young girl and subsequently contacted her
back in Wales. Mrs. Davies then wrote two letters to my mother Siriol (Gareth’s
niece), relating some of her vivid memories of Gareth, as well as sharing with
us an amusing postcard, which evinced Gareth’s playfully wicked sense of
After having read both sets of correspondence, I sincerely
hope that you, the reader, will have a better understanding of Gareth, a young
man who dared stand up to Stalin, Hitler and also the Japanese, not simply
because of his devout Welch Non-Conformist upbringing, but beyond all, I believe
he saw and stood up for the goodness in the ‘everyday’ man; and no matter from
whence they came…
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The Western Mail
13th September, 1933
TRAMPING IN THREE WELSH COUNTIES
TOWN BRIMMING OVER WITH MUSIC
Carrying On a
Century-old Tradition in a Hill-side Farm
What is the national dish of Wales? It would be
difficult to find a rival to the ham and eggs served in the countryside, and of
all the dishes of ham and eggs offered me the tastiest was at Cwmgorse,
It had a richness of flavour which is all the more
appreciated when it is eaten in the open-air after tramping. Perhaps the air of
optimism and of work reigning in the anthracite areas, which contrasts
strikingly with the pessimism prevailing more towards the east of Wales, adds
zest and appetite.
I certainly found Gwaun-cae-Gurwen and the
surroundings a bright patch. There was a spirit of friendliness about the
district, although the winters there must be bleak and sullen, and the mountains
to the north are bare and lonely. Everyone gave a greeting which was warm and
As I was passing the East Gwaun-cae-Gurwen Colliery
several men waved, and we talked in Welsh for long [sic].
A Welsh Matador
On a farm near that colliery I came upon a character
whom I shall call the “Welsh Matador.” He was a short, wiry Cardi, with flushed
cheeks, who had came to the farm, Bryn Awel, for his health.
He told me calmly of his fight with a bull upon the
mountain. The animal had come rushing full speed upon him, and instead of
fleeing for his life the little man had stood his ground until the beast was
almost upon him. Then with his stick he struck the bull a crashing blow over
the eyes, blinding the savage enemy. He was quite unconcerned at the struggle.
“Were you not terrified?” I asked. The Cardi was
surprised at my question. “Oh, I’m quite used to it in Cardiganshire,” he
Leaving the matador to his work in the fields, I went
on to a little town which delighted me - Cwmllynfell. It was so thoroughly
Welsh and so thoroughly alive. The children played on the heath in Welsh and
shouted greetings to strangers.
It was here that I was for the first time in my life
taken prisoner by bandits and ransomed. They were Welsh bandits, varying in age
from seven to thirteen years, who seized me and took me to their tent. I have
no complaints to make about my treatment by these outlaws and they speedily
released me from my captivity when a supply of chocolate was forthcoming as
Cwmilynfell seemed to me to be brimming over with
music-lovers. The first person I met was a proud member of the Ystalyfera
Choir, which has won so often at the National Eisteddfod. In shop-windows there
were printed notices about rehearsals.
No sooner had I begun to sup at the Mountain Hare than
a torrent of brass instruments flooded the inn and I listened to cornets and
trombones vying with each other in a Niagara of melody.
The tuning in was like an attack on the Western Front,
but once they began to play order resolved itself out of chaos.
Nor was that an end to the flow of music at
Cwmllynfell, for as I passed the school a stream of song issued from the windows
and I stood listening to the “Ash Grove.” So attractive was the music that I
had to drag myself away, passing the memorial to Watcyn Wyn and the fine new
building which is being erected in the middle of the town.
I saw nothing of the cockfighting for which
Cwmllynfell was once famous, but I heard a story of those wild days. A cock
which had battled often and well and was renowned throughout the neighbourhood
for its savage vigour met at last its equal and had an eye scratched out. His
owner, a miner, took it to a town some distance away to sell it. A prospective
buyer came and was going to purchase the bird, when he noticed the blind eye.
“But it’s blind in that eye, man. I can’t buy that.”
“Blind in that eye, indeed,” replied the owner. “It’s
winking at me, he is not to let him go too cheap.”
Night was falling, but I was determined to find
shelter in the barn of a farm up in the mountains and leave the industrial
district for the countryside. Moreover, next day a stiff climb up to the top of
the Black Mountains, to Llyn y Fan, and down to the Usk Valley awaited me. I,
therefore, tramped along a beautiful gorge, through which flows the tempestuous
River Twrch (twrch is the Welsh for boar).
Good-bye to the
I seemed to be saying good-bye to the Wales of the
coal-mines and the steelworks and suddenly alighting upon the Wales which has
The last trace of industrialism was the gaunt relic of
Henllys Vale Colliery. How out of place it looked with the rocks and the river
and the trees all around. Below blazed a huge fire of bracken, throwing up
great flames. A derelict locomotive stood near the crumbling chimney of the
colliery. Two elderly colliers emerged from the semi-darkness and greeted me.
“I want to go to the furthest farm up the valley,” I
told them in Welsh. “Is this the way?
“It is,” they replied, and one of them said
dramatically, “But beware of Craig y Fran (the Raven’s Rock) on the way. The
path is narrow there and many have slipped to their death.”
I went on, rather regretting that I had not stayed the
night in Cwmllynfell, stepped warily as I went past Craig y Fran, descended to
the stream, crossed over to Breconshire - the Twrch is here the boundary between
Breconshire and Carmarthenshire - and rejoiced when I saw a light on the hill.
It was Dorwen, the highest farmhouse in the valley.
Would Welsh hospitality be as warm it is vaunted in
literature and song? I wondered as I tapped at the door. The farmwife, came.
“May I sleep in your barn?” I asked. She grinned.
“Sleep in the barn indeed! You can have a bedroom and you must have a good
supper and a nice cup of tea and make yourself quite at home. ‘Dewch I fewn!
Dewch I fewn!” My heart leapt up; a thin mist was beginning to fail; I could
hear children laughing inside and the sound of butter being churned; I could see
a blazing fire; but the greatest joy was to realise that hospitality in Wales
was as spontaneous and as warm as ever.
My host and hostess, Mr. and Mrs. Moses, farmers
up in the hills, were carrying on a century-old tradition of doing honour to
an unknown guest.
Correspondence relating to Dorwen
from the Moses' Family
In February 2004, Elaine Edwards, grand-daughter of Mr
and Mrs Moses of Dorwen Farm (above) wrote an email to Gareth's Archives:
first heard of your uncle when I was a young child (I am now 40) as my father
had in his possession a few short pieces of correspondence - namely a letter, a
postcard, a gift card and also a newspaper cutting confirming his death and a
printed thank you card from your family. My great-grandparents had kept these
after a brief acquaintance with your remarkable uncle. They met in 1933
(September, I think) as they took him and Dr. Wyn Davies in for the night at
Dorwen Farm. I remember hearing of how they had lost their bearings as the fog
descended suddenly on the mountain and that they somehow found their way to
Dorwen Farm in dangerous conditions (I don't know how accurate that account
It is probable that they never met
again but as a child I was intrigued by him - and struck by the fact that he
kept in touch with this working-class, hill farming couple whose lives were so
very different from his own. In the postcard from Siam - dated 30th April
1935 - he wrote about going on to China, Japan and America. Although there are
only three brief pieces of writing in all, he comes across as a truly kind and
I can remember being aware of his
story, wondering at his tragedy and feeling frustrated that there were no
answers about why he had to die. Years later I read two articles in the Western
Mail and his articles in "In Search of News" and realised how remarkable his
short life had been. I thought a great deal about the way two very different
families experienced the loss of a grown up child (Maggie, my father's mother
died of TB at 28, in 1934) and when your family heard of your great loss my
great grandparents were grieving for their daughter.
I started to write about my family
a few years ago and found that I couldn't write about Maggie's death. My
great-grandparents and Dorwen Farm without also thinking about Gareth Jones. It
Below are the postcards and correspondence
Gareth sent in Welsh (and kindly translated by Elaine Edwards) to Farmer Moses
and his family:
Letter to Mr & Mrs Moses from the Cardiff Western
Mail Offices from Gareth, dated 1st January 1934.
January 1st 1934
Dear Mr and Mrs Moses and
everybody at Dorwen,
Thank you very much for the
beautiful chicken you sent me. It was excellent and I had it for lunch on
Saturday. It reminded me of the splendid time I had at Dorwen when Dr Davies
and I came walking across the mountains.
How is little Bessie? Best
wishes to her.
With hearty wishes for 1934
and many many thanks,
Best wishes, Gareth Jones.
Gift Card to the Moses' from Gareth.
To the children of Mr. and
With best wishes; I often
think of your kindness to Dr. Davies and myself when we were walking across the
mountains. Dr. Wyn Davies is in Africa now.
A very happy Christmas,
[The children referred to are Elaine Edward's father ,
about 1-year old, and his sister Bessie - about 5-yreas old; their mother was
suffering from TB at the time and expecting her third child, so they were at
Dorwen with their grandparents; she died in June 1934 at 28-years old. All that
Elaine Edwards has of Maggie Edwards nee Moses are two photographs and one
letter to her brother.]
Postcard to Mr & Mrs Moses from Siam, April 30th 1935
April 30 1935
Best wishes from far away
Siam. I often think of your kindness to Mr. Davies and myself when we were
walking across the mountains. How are all the children? I hope you are all in
good health. I am soon to go on to China, Japan and America, Best wishes,
Second Series of Correspondence
from Mrs Morfydd Davies in 2007 – 1st Letter
Notes relating to the above letter:
Ianto was Gareth’s dog – pictured here below with my
mother, Dr Siriol Colley aged about 13 and her brother John, circa 1937-38.
Dr Reinhard Haferkorn was a close friend of Gareth’s and
was the Chairman of League of Nations High Commission in the Polish Corridor
(lecturing on the controversial League of Nations enclave at the prestigious
RIIA [Royal Institute for International Affairs] in London in late 1932), as
well as being a member of faculty of Technische Hochschule, Danzig teaching
N.B. Gareth stopped off in Danzig with Haferkorn (pictured
below) directly after leaving Moscow in March 1933 en route to his
famine-exposing press conference in Berlin on the 29th March (and met
him there again in May 1933 in the company of the German Consul to Kharkiv, who
personally expressed his concurrence that Gareth’s graphical published picture
of the city’s destitution painted a true picture of the conditions therein).
Second Series of Correspondence
from Mrs M. Davies in 2007 – 2nd Letter
The following postcard was one of those mentioned in the
first letter sent to the young Miss. Williams in 1934 from Germany and shows
Gareth’s ability to mock himself!
Finally as an aside, I happened to have an enchanting
telephone conversation with Mrs. Davies for over an hour on Saturday 17th
February, during which she remembered coming home from Barry Grammar school for
Girls to Llantwit Major; after alighting the train, the last leg of her journey
was by bus, where she happened by chance to have met Gareth, who happily paid
their fares, where the conductor mistakenly only charged them a penny… She
recalls that Gareth was just on his way to interview Randolph Hearst at his
Welsh castle retreat of St. Donats, outside Cardiff, which was an occasion that
would subsequently transform his life…
I subsequently mentioned that Gareth was later to be
offered a very lucrative job with a princely sum of £1500 per year by Hearst to
run his Berlin press bureau, destined to start when he was to have returned from
the Far East in 1935. Mrs. Davies then recalled a conversation he had with her
mother, when Gareth stated he could never work for Hearst on a full-time basis,
on account of his anti-British reporting of the Great War! At this revelation, I
was simply aghast by her statement regarding yet another unknown instance of his
moral fibre, but at the same time, not at all surprised! My primary reasoning
being, that if the Soviets were incapable of finding his Achilles heel in terms
of blackmailable vices and, in my opinion, ultimately resorted to having him
liquidated, then there were probably no vices to be readily found!
One further account Mrs. Davies recalled during our
conversation, relates to Gareth’s remarkable ear for language. On one occasion
at her home, she remembers Gareth purposely traipsing around her living room
with a notebook in one hand and his other hand thrust in his pocket, whilst
simultaneously mimicking perfectly the dulcet tones of his employer Lloyd
George… In fact, Gareth had the ability to impersonate virtually every
noteworthy person he met from Goebbels to Hearst; an after-dinner act he would
regularly perform for the amusement of his fellow diners! Coincidentally, one of
the other potential job offers he had prior his last fateful trip, was to set up
an office for the BBC in Wales, one which he did not relish, but nonetheless, he
would no doubt have been quite a performer!
2007. Nigel Linsan Colley. All rights reserved.