Caernarfon Ddoe/Caernarfon's Yesterdays header


Welsh people all over the world look forward to celebrating St. David's Day, year after year, but few will know of a protest that caused a stir on March 1st, 1932 in Caernarfon Castle and spread through the whole of Wales. The writer was too young at the time to remember the incident and was given the details some years later by his parents.

The Wales of the 1930's was very different to the Wales of today and especially so in a Garrison Town such as Caernarfon, where the vast majority regarded themselves as being British first, despite the fact that the language
The Eagle Tower before the second flagpole was erected. © T. M. Hughes
The Eagle Tower before the second flagpole was erected.
© T. M. Hughes
of the home, the street and the shops was predominantly Welsh and all of us children in the elementary schools celebrated our Patron Saint's Day with a concert in the morning and a half day's holiday in the afternoon. We wore a daffodil in our lapels and heard often the words "Cymru am Byth" (Wales for Ever), but our heroes were always the Englishmen and Americans of the large screen. My father used to say that many of our compatriots only regarded themselves as Welsh for two weeks of the year, one being the first week in March in honour of St. David and the other the first week in August when the National Eisteddfod was held. His name for them was "Cymry am Bythefnos" (Welsh for a fortnight).

This was typical of the era, but a Welsh awareness gradually emerged after the establishing of the Welsh Nationalist Party in 1925 in Pwllheli and opening an office in Caernarfon in 1930. In the beginning, although the membership was not large, these pioneers were instrumental in accomplishing invaluable work in instilling a sense of pride in their fellow countrymen in being Welsh and not to tolerate unfair treatment of their Nation.

It is this feeling of unfairness that was responsible for what happened on March 1st 1932. What reminded me of the protest was being given a very interesting photograph. It was a photo of the tallest tower in Caernarfon Castle, the Eagle Tower, showing two flagpoles side by side. This was when I remembered the story as I had heard it all those years ago from my parents. I then contacted Mrs. Angharad Williams of Caernarfon, as I knew that her father the late Mr. J.E. Jones,
Erecting the new flagpole. © K. Morris
Erecting the new flagpole. © K. Morris
former General Secretary of Plaid Cymru had taken part in the act of protest in the castle on St. David's Day, 1932. In her father's book "Tros Gymru" he relates the full history of the incident in a chapter called "Antur Twr yr Eryr" (The Eagle Tower Adventure).

On St. David's Day 1931, he noticed that it was only the Union Jack that was hoisted on the Eagle Tower. Members of the Caernarfon Branch of the Welsh Nationalist Party (later to be named "Plaid Cymru") felt strongly, as he did, that this was an insult to the Welsh Nation and that it be brought to the attention of the authority responsible for the castle.

As an organiser of the party, J.E. Jones wrote to the Member of Parliament for the constituency David Lloyd George, who was also Constable of the Castle and he forwarded the letter to the Minister for Buildings. Upon receiving a reply from an official of the Ministry, he sent it on to the Plaid Office. The reply was both unmannerly and insulting according to J.E. Jones and he published it in the press. Many members of Parliament from Wales asked questions on the matter in Westminster several times, seeking equal consideration be given to the hoisting of the Red Dragon. But "No" was the reply by the Minister, Mr. Ormesby-Gore, on each occasion, even to the last request on the day previous to St. David's Day 1932. This reply was also published in the press on March 1st, thus infuriating many Welsh people.

As a result four men decided on a course of direct action and at 10 am on the following morning J.E. Jones, dressed as a motor cyclist and carrying a rucksack, paid to go into the castle and he was followed by three others viz. E.V. Stanley Jones, a young Caernarfon solicitor who pretended to be showing two others around the castle. They were W.R.P. George, another solicitor and nephew of the famous David Lloyd George and Wil Roberts, a Civil Servant from Caernarfon. They went up the Eagle Tower, lowered the Union Jack and hoisted a very large Red Dragon. They then started to sing "The Land of my Fathers" and the people below in the town began to cheer on seeing the Red Dragon hoisted
J. E. Jones. © Mrs. A. Williams
J. E. Jones. © Mrs. A. Williams
on the tallest tower in the castle.

Eventually, the police were called and the four were escorted out of the castle. The Red Dragon was lowered and the Union Jack re hoisted. After taking the names and addresses of the four involved they were set free and no action was taken against them. In the minds of all who represented authority the protest was over. But.....there was more to come.

During the afternoon and without the knowledge of the morning's protesters, some twenty students from Bangor came to Caernarfon under the leadership of R.E. Jones, originally from Llangernyw, but remembered as a head teacher in Llanberis and a former Plaid Cymru Parliamentary Candidate for the Arfon Constituency. They also paid for admission to the castle and after taking a good look round they made for the Eagle Tower. They were surprised to find the main door to the tower locked, but fortunately they found a way in through an aperture in the wall and made their way up to the top. Once again the Union Jack was lowered and the Red Dragon re hoisted. The assistance of the police was again requested and after some considerable deliberation the students also were escorted from the castle. This time, however, one of them had succeeded to wrap the Union Jack around him under his clothes and took it straight to the Plaid Office.

Later R.E. Jones and others addressed a crowd that had gathered on Castle Square and some shouted for the Union Jack to be burned. It was fetched from the Plaid Office in haste and after unsuccessful attempts at burning it, it was decided that it be torn to pieces and many kept parts as souvenirs of the protest.

An exciting day! But it was not the end of the "Adventure of the Eagle Tower" by a long way.

The reaction to the protest caused embarrassment to the Government of the Day, both with pressure being put on it by Welsh Members of Parliament and the public at large throughout Wales. This must have resulted in a change of heart which can only be described as a U turn and shortly before St. David's Day 1933, it was announced that the Red Dragon would be allowed to be hoisted side by side with the Union Jack on two occasions during the year, which were St. David's Day and The Monarch's Birthday. This in effect meant that another flagpole had to be erected on the Eagle Tower.

It is not known what part the former premier David Lloyd George played in securing this concession, but it was he, as Constable, that was to the fore in the celebrations at the castle on March 1st 1933. In a special meeting of the Town Council J.E. Jones and Nefydd Jones had argued strongly that
Torn remnant of the Union flag. © T. M. Hughes
Torn remnant of the Union flag. © T. M. Hughes
a true Nationalist should have the honour of administrating in the ceremony, but this was opposed vehemently and in his book "Tros Gymru" J.E. states that E.P. Evans, County School Headmaster, an enthusiastic Liberal and elder of Engedi Chapel, intimated that Lloyd George had given instructions that no-one but himself was to hoist the Red Dragon in the presence of the multitude. But, as it turned out, this was not the case.

In a local English language newspaper, however, it was reported that the Mayor Mr. W.G. Williams, had the honour of hoisting the Red Dragon and the Deputy Constable of the Castle, Mr Charles A. Jones, a local solicitor and Magistrates Clerk hoisted the Union Jack at 8 o'clock on the morning of March 1st. Many thousands of Welsh people visited the castle during the morning and afternoon and they both sang and listened to local choirs singing patriotic songs. Lloyd George himself was said to have composed the words of one song and was very pleased with the rendering of it. It was three o'clock in the afternoon when he arrived at Caernarfon Station. There he was met and taken to the castle and dressed in his Constable's attire.

He then addressed a crowd of over a thousand people, which included a vast number of school children. "Unity" was the theme of the address by this silver-tongued statesman on a historic St. David's Day, and all listened intently to every word uttered. His first well chosen words were "Mayor and Mayoress of this ancient town of Caernarfon and fellow countrymen," thus electrifying his audience to a warm response and the children shouted "Hooray." He stated that he had not come to Caernarfon that day to give them a speech, but to join with them in a celebration within the walls of the castle that was built to suppress the Welsh Nation. On St. David's Day, however, that which splits us such as party politics and sectarianism is forgotten and we are once again a united Nation. He warmly welcomed this and compared it to the National Eisteddfod where all were of one accord and
The Eagle Tower after the new flagpole had been erected. J. E. Jones can be seen in the foreground. © Mrs. A. Williams
The Eagle Tower after the new flagpole had been erected.
J. E. Jones can be seen in the foreground. © Mrs. A. Williams
the differences on national matters such as education and religion were set aside for the duration of the festival. Such celebratory days were essential for the good of the Nation.

He mentioned the Welsh language and quoted statistics that, if somewhat misleading, were designed to appeal to his captive audience. There were seven times as many people in Wales speaking the language as compared to the days of Llewelyn Fawr and Owain Glyndwr and four times as many as in the days of Goronwy Owen. He then turned to the children and pointing to them said "and these will see to it that the language will be spoken for generations to come." He then referred to the English language by saying that it was spoken by a third of the population of the world and for that reason "You people in Wales in learning both languages are on safe ground."

He ended his address by stating how he had travelled from London to Caernarfon in seven hours that day and asked "What would the soldiers of Edward 1st., who guarded this castle, say if you were to tell them that? They would not believe it!" This was an attempt to explain how small the world had become in comparison with their day and he quoted an englyn by Robin Ddu Ddewin, an Angelsey poet, who lived six hundred years earlier and who had prophesised that the time would come when men would fly.

The only reference to the previous year's protest was mentioned at the beginning of the speech when Lloyd George stated that he was not against battling. He himself had taken part in many battles in the past and would probably take part in many others. The crowd laughed and he went on to stress the purpose of the day's celebration which was "Unity."

The Mayor thanked him for the address, was seconded by the Deputy Constable of the Castle, Mr. Charles A. Jones, and the meeting ended with the singing of both National Anthems God Save The King and Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.

In conclusion it would have been encouraging to state that the spirit of that particular St. David's Day had remained, but that was not so. Not all buildings of importance saw fit to fly the Red Dragon on the Day of our Patron Saint. Here is a translation of a quote from the Nationalist publication "Triban Rhyddid" in the year 1935:-

"Remember the Eagle Tower.....But, it was the Union Jack that was flown from the Liberal Club in Caernarfon, even on St. David's Day, although the Welsh Nationalist Party had specifically requested the hoisting of the Red Dragon."

© T. M. Hughes 2010