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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 October, 2004, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Secrets of jailed rebel exposed
Guto Thomas
Guto Thomas
BBC Wales Correspondent

Nicholas of Glais
Nicholas always claimed he had been victimised
Preacher, poet, some-time pacifist and a leading communist.

Nicholas of Glais was one of the great rebels of Welsh political history.

But what was his link to the wartime leader of the British fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley?

New documents, released by the National Archive in Kew, reveal the full story of how Nicholas was arrested, and why he had to spend four months in Brixton prison, where Moseley and other fascists were imprisoned.

The reverend TE Nicholas (alias Nicholas of Glais) and his son Islwyn were arrested by Aberystwyth police on the evening of 11 July 1940.

They were detained under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Order, on the basis that there was reasonable cause to believe that they had been "concerned in acts prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the realm."

According to the Chief Constable of Cardiganshire, Captain JJ Lloyd-Williams, there were two specific allegations.

Firstly, that Nicholas had "been actively engaged in endeavouring to impede recruitment to HM Forces" and secondly, "was in possession of a number of sticky-backed swastikas."

Despite Nicholas' protests, that these were part of a war map which had come as an attachment to a copy of the Daily Telegraph, the Chief Constable was convinced that Nicholas was "a fascist."

Book of poetry
Nicholas wrote poetry on toilet paper while in prison
In his official report to the Home Secretary, the Chief Constable wrote: "Personally, I am of the opinion that Nicholas intended sticking these labels up, should certain circumstances arise, or alternatively, he intended putting them on peoples' windows or doors, with a view to intimidation."

On this basis, both Nicholas and his son were sent first to Swansea, and then to Brixton prison.

Here, they were in close daily proximity to Sir Oswald Mosley and his fellow fascists.

Nicholas passed much of his time in prison writing poetry.

With a wartime shortage of writing paper, the sonnets were actually composed on scraps of prison toilet paper, which were smuggled out of Brixton by visitors.

Remarkably, these documents have survived, and can be seen and read in the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth.


But this was not the first time Nicholas had attracted the wrath of the authorities.

During the First World War, he had used the pulpit to speak out loudly against the war.

As a member of the fledgling Labour party, and a close ally of Keir Hardy, he viewed the war as a folly of imperialism, which could only lead to the further exploitation of the working class.

This led many of his neighbours to write to the Home Office to complain about his anti-war sermons, and brought him close to internment.

He abandoned the Labour Party in disillusionment, and helped to found the Communist Party in Wales in the 1920s.

But in the 1930s, he used a column in the Welsh language weekly newspaper, Y Cymro, to voice his political beliefs.

And in it, he consistently attacked the policy of appeasement championed so tragically by Neville Chamberlain.

The documents show the reasons given for Nicholas' arrest
For him, the threat of Hitler's Nazi state had to be resisted - even by armed force. And so his arrest on the charge of being a fascist was all the more surreal.

The papers at the National Archive reveal that, in his police statement given on the night of his arrest, the Chief Constable shouted "Sit down. I've got you at last" ... "You call yourself a bloody Communist" ... "You are a fascist."

'Tissue of lies'

Nicholas claimed that he had also said that "he was not going to put me on trial, but that he was going to send me down to Swansea and to a camp and that he would put me against a wall and that when Hitler came I would be handed over to him."

In other words, that he would be put up against a wall and shot.

But the Chief Constable never got that opportunity - indeed, he insisted that this account was "a tissue of lies from start to finish."

Nevertheless, Nicholas appealed to the Home Office's Advisory Committee on the Internment and Repatriation of Enemy Aliens, who quickly came to the conclusion that there was no credible evidence against him, and that both Nicholas of Glais and his son should be released immediately.

Nicholas always maintained that he had been victimised by the Cardiganshire constabulary.

And 64 years after walking through the doors of Brixton prison, these files seem to support him.

Historical directories go online
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