Waldo Williams


Waldo Williams (1921-1971) was a Welsh poet, activist and teacher.  Among his works were Dail Pren (Leaves of the Tree), Y Tangnefeddwyr (The Peacemakers) and Cerddi Waldo Williams (The Poems of Waldo Williams).  A life-long pacifist, Williams was a conscientious objector during World War Two, which led to his firing as a headmaster.   He also began refusing to pay war taxes because of the Korean War and conscription, a protest which he continued until 1963 and for which he was imprisoned twice and had his property seized. (He recalled that the high point of this experience was “the request of the bailiff … after he had tidily rolled up the linoleum …. for a piece of string to tie the roll!”).  To permit him to withhold his taxes, he resigned his position as a teacher and worked as a tutor, which forced him to live in poverty.  Williams was also a Welsh nationalist, who stood for Parliament as the Plaid Cymru candidate and who spoke and wrote in the Welsh language.  He taught at various schools in Wales and England, especially in his native Pembrokeshire.

Williams joined Milford Haven Friends Meeting in 1953.  (He had been raised a Baptist and continued also to attend their chapel throughout his life).  He was drawn to Quaker silent worship and by the belief in the Inner Light, peace and simplicity.  In 1956 Williams published the pamphlet Why I Am a Quaker.  Friends House in London has a room dedicated to him, and the Quaker Tapestry has a panel featuring him.

On a night in February 1941 Williams was walking in the Prescili Hills, outside of Swansea, Wales.  He saw the sky over Swansea glowing from fire.  It was the start of the “Three Nights’ Blitz”, a German bombing attack during which hundreds were killed, thousands were left homeless, and the city center was destroyed.  Afterward, recalling his parents, who were also pacifists, he wrote Y Tangnefeddwyr (The Peacemakers):


Rose-red sky above the snow/Where bombed Swansea is alight,/Full of my father and mother I go,/I walk home in the night./They are blest beyond hearing,/Peacemakers, children of God.

Neither, within their home, abuse/Nor slander could be found./Mam would look for an excuse/For the biggest scoundrels round./They are blest beyond hearing,/Peacemakers, children of God.

It was the angel of poor homes/Gave my father two rich pearls:/Brotherhood the mission of man,/God’s largesse the invisible world./They are blest beyond hearing,/Peacemakers, children of God.

Nation good or nation bad/(So they taught) is fantasy./In Christ’s light is freedom had/For any man that would be free./Blest, the day dawns that will hear them,/Peacemakers, children of God.

What is their estate tonight,/Tonight, with the world ablaze?/Truth is with my father yet,/Mother with forgiveness stays./The age will be blest that hears them,/Peacemakers, children of God.

Below is a link to the Welsh original:


Y Tangnefeddwyr (The Peacemakers) remains a great favorite of Welsh choirs.  Below is a link to a performance of the poem, set to music by Eric Jones and sung by the Morriston RFC Male Voice Choir and displaying photographs of the attack.

Williams was one of the foremost Welsh poets.  And he was an inspiration to peacemakers everywhere.

Gary Sandman

April 2024

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