The sensationally adventurous life of Welsh freedom-fighter John Barnard Jenkins, who died at the end of last year, had all the elements of a blockbuster thriller. He was the charismatic leader of MAC (Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru, Movement for the Defence of Wales), a handful of brave, dedicated idealists who, during the 1960s, confronted the oppression and persecution of Wales and took the fight to the rotten heart of the mighty, ruthless British State.
Against overwhelming odds, with few resources and armed with nothing but quick wits, native genius and righteous rebel hearts, MAC ran rings around the UK’s platoons of secret agents, hired thugs and Special Branch enforcers in an audacious bombing campaign that targeted the symbols of the subjugation of Wales: government buildings, anti-Welsh businesses and, especially, the pipes that carried water from the drowned valleys of Wales to the taps of England’s cities. Jenkins was the mastermind, creating from scratch a sophisticated cell-structure, networks of safe houses and advanced bomb-making techniques that became the how-to template for underground guerrilla operations around the world. And, deliciously, he did all this while a serving NCO in the British Army!
After four years of stunning strikes against various legitimate targets*, Jenkins and other MAC members were eventually arrested late in 1969. The Caernarfon investiture of Charles Windsor as ‘Prince of Wales’ earlier in the year was the turning point. Plans to disrupt this deeply offensive celebration of violent imperialism went very wrong: two MAC members, Alwyn Jones (1947-1969) and George Taylor (1932-1969), were killed when a bomb they were planting outside government offices in Abergele exploded, while other devices failed to detonate as planned. Getting close to the monarchy, the very foundation stone of the deference, nepotism, autocracy and class warfare that are British calling cards, meant MAC were getting too close for comfort. The full panoply of the State’s massive apparatus of surveillance, informers and dirty tricks was hurled at the MAC. David stood no chance; Goliath prevailed.
In 1970, following a show-trial at Flintshire Assizes in Mold, John Jenkins was found guilty of ‘high treason’ and sentenced to ten years. As a ‘Category A’ prisoner, he did most of his time in notoriously tough Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight before release in 1976. If he thought the British authorities had finished with him, he was soon disabused of that notion. The bastards had hardly begun. Repeatedly his attempts to develop a career in Wales as a social worker (he had obtained a social sciences degree from the Open University when in prison) were stymied by sinister forces making sure he was blacklisted, and repeatedly he was hauled off by the police whenever they wanted to bully and threaten known Welsh republicans in the 1980s – a period when Meibion Glyndŵr had taken over the mantle of militant Welsh resistance with an arson campaign against English-owned holiday homes. Ultimately he was imprisoned again, getting two years in Dartmoor on spurious charges of assisting a fugitive. When released in 1985 he was effectively compelled to leave his beloved Wales to escape the perpetual harassment and make some sort of a living.
He moved to London, worked on a housing project for disabled people, completed a diploma in counselling and set up his own counselling service. But even as late as 1995, he was being hounded out of a job with Barking & Dagenham Council after a police tip-off. Jenkins retired from the fray and came home to Wales. In 1996 he settled in Johnstown, near Wrecsam, and lived there for nearly 25 years until dying at the grand old age of 87.
Thanks to his high intelligence, deep self-taught knowledge of Welsh history and noble principles Jenkins slipped through the net of cradle-to-grave indoctrination that enmeshes most Welsh people to this day and kept the flickering flame of the long Welsh struggle alive for subsequent generations to kindle. A key factor in his radicalism was the fact that he was a pan-Wales Welshman, who knew the whole country inside out and could thus see the vast range and scope of the damage inflicted by centuries of atrocious British misrule. Born in Cardiff at Northlands Nursing Home* on North Road, Gabalfa (demolished 2013), he was a valleys’ boy intimately acquainted with Aberfan in the Taff valley and Nelson in the Taff Bargoed valley, the home towns of his mother and stepfather, as well as Treharris and Penybryn in the Rhymni valley where he grew up, and Bargoed, where he went to school. Then in his activist heyday years he extended that intimate knowledge to all parts of the rest of Wales. Not for him hyper-local parochialism or the divide-and-rule imaginary artificial boundaries of north and south; he viewed Wales as a whole entity. He was never crushed, he never sold out, he never betrayed Wales and he never wavered from his Welsh republican principles. John Jenkins was a true Welsh hero. Gorffwys mewn heddwch John bach, mae’r frwydr yn parhau.
In the capital, for instance, bombs went off outside Llanisien tax office, the Crown Buildings of the Welsh Office in Cathays Park and the Temple of Peace also in Cathays Park (the Temple of Peace was where the ‘Investiture Organising Committee’ held its meetings).
So, oddly enough, was I – there must have been something in the gripe water…