Sunday, May 21, 2006

John Jenkins - Welsh Terrorist

It's difficult to imagine explosive devices going off in the name of Welsh freedom but in the 1960s this was a common occurrence.

My favourite Welsh revolutionary bomber was John Barnard Jenkins, leader of MAC (Movement for the Defence of Wales) (1966-69), whose aim was to bring about a Welsh-speaking Socialist state. Until his arrest in 1969 he orchestrated a bombing campaign targeting amongst other things the Temple of Peace and the Tax Offices in Cardiff. These explosions were more symbolic than destructive but with Charles Windsor soon to be invested as Prince of Wales feelings were running high.

And with the flooding of Welsh valleys to slake the thirst of English industrial cities; and the failure of Labour politicians to secure financial compensation for the victims of the Aberfan disaster - there was a definite whiff of unrest in the air. Wales was now acutely tuned into the revolutionary zeitgeist of the Sixties.

But who was John Barnard Jenkins? Recently I managed to get hold of Prison Letters, a collection of correspondence written whilst he served 7 years of a 10 year sentence as a Category A prisoner at Albany maximum security prison on the Isle of Wight.

The foreword gives a useful biography: born in Cardiff (1933) of English-speaking parents. Brought up in Penybryn in the Rhymney Valley. Educated at Bargoed Grammar School. Joined the British Army in 1952. Stationed in Germany. Left army to work in a steelworks and coalmine. Hospitalised in motor-cycle accident. Rejoined army to be able to afford to get married. Stationed in Cyprus - witnessed the campaign for independence and the return of Archbishop Makarios. Stationed in Chester - lived in married quarters in Wrexham until his arrest in 1969.

The letters themselves provide an interesting insight into the life of a political prisoner as well as revealing some of his ideological and philosophical values. It turns out Jenkins was a model inmate - singing in the prison choir; learning Welsh; and creating Celto-Christian works of art. He also gained an Open University degree in Social Sciences.

His life after prison is less well documented. Special Branch kept him under surveillance particularly through the holiday-home arson campaign of the 1980s. The BBC banned a Welsh-language interview with him from being screened. And Swansea University prevented him from studying there. He remains an enigmatic figure.

Prison Letters was published by Y Lolfa in 1981. Along with other works notably The Welsh Extremist by Ned Thomas and To Dream of Freedom by Roy Clews it forms part of a small but highly interesting body of Welsh revolutionary literature.

*The above picture is the back cover of Prison Letters and features a striking photograph of John Barnard Jenkins at Capel Gwladys, taken by Robat Gruffudd.