Nicholas T E

T E Nicholas

T E Nicholas, poet, preacher, lecturer and dentist was born in Llanfyrnach, Pembrokeshire in 1878, and became a talented champion of Welsh language Communism. Known by his bardic name, Niclas y Glais, he was a prolific writer of poetry from 1900 to 1967. His English biographer, David W Howell of the University of Wales, Swansea, comments:

"T E Nicholas was one of the great ‘characters’ of twentieth-century Wales. From his boyhood days spent on the lovely Preseli hills of Pembrokeshire, down to the end of his life, he was a radical, a thorn in the flesh of the political and religious establishment, employing his considerable literary talents and oratorical gifts, expressed in his native Welsh tongue, in championing the downtrodden Welsh worker in both the industrial valleys of South Wales and the rural hamlets and villages of Cardiganshire and North Pembrokeshire."

Around the turn of the century, he decided to pursue a vocation as a minister of religion and he received his three-year training for this at the Gwynfryn Academy, College Street, Ammanford. He served as a Minister at Glais between 1904 and 1914, when he gained a reputation for speaking up for society’s disadvantaged. Although he moved away from Ammanford after his days at Gwynfryn he continued to return to the area for the purpose of public speaking engagements, including visits to the ‘White House’, a centre for young radical coal miners from 1913 to 1922 and `preached’ (his sermons always contained a moral and political lesson) right across Wales.

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T E Nicolas as a young man

He was a pacifist during the First World War and stood for the Independent Labour Party in the election of 1918 was a founder member of the Communist Party in 1920 and lectured tirelessly on the Soviet Union thereafter.

The Spanish Civil war, 1936-38 gave rise to his sonnets denouncing Fascism and these helped to rouse the sympathy of the Welsh people for the Spanish Republic. October 1938 saw him speak at a meeting in Glamorgan, chaired by the General Secretary of the South Wales miners, Dai Francis, commemorating the death of a south Wales miner who had been in the International Brigade. Back home in Aberystwyth, he wrote to Dai Francis enclosing a sonnet in memory of the ‘Welsh Comrade’ who fell in Spain and pledging that he would see to it that a memorial would later be set up for the gallant Welshmen who died in Spain. He was true to his word, for he – with others – organized a memorial tablet in the Stalingrad Hospital to the memory of those Welsh members of the International Brigade who fell in Spain.

His weekly articles to the Welsh newspaper ‘Y Cymro’ from 1937 impressed upon his readers the danger of a Second World War arising out of Fascist aggression and Britain’s policy of appeasement. In 1939, in line with Communist Party policy, Nicholas expressed support for the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and his opposition to Britain’s entry into war against Germany. Nicholas then fell victim to the witch-hunt against not only pro-German sympathisers but those on the political left and Welsh nationalists. The Cardiganshire police picked him up at Llanbrynmair on 11 July 1940 on charges supposedly justified on a ridiculous allegation that he was a Nazi sympathiser, on account of his having at home a war map published in the Daily Express with German flags pinned on it simply to show the course of the war!

Nicholas spent four months in prison from the 11th July 1940 and his son, Thomas Islwyn Nicholas (1903 – 1980), was also imprisoned for the same period. Both were sent first to Swansea prison and later transferred to Brixton. While behind bars, he wrote some one hundred and fifty sonnets of profound humanity. A small incident would supply inspiration. Denied writing paper, he scribbled the sonnets on the slate in his cell and then wrote them out in ink on toilet paper, some of which were smuggled out of Swansea prison by a friendly prison officer. It was thanks to a protest raised by the Labour movement and the chapels on their behalf that both men were released early. On 22 June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union, bringing Nicholas and the Communist movement into a position of support for the war. The prison sonnets were later published to great acclaim.

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T E Nicholas in old age

In his old age, Nicholas continued to contributed articles to the Welsh language press and wrote poetry and political articles supportive of socialism. Nicholas died in 1971 at the age of 91.

See also:
David W Howell, `Nicholas of Glais: The People’s Champion� Clydach Historical Society (1991)
John Roose Williams, `T. E. Nicholas: proffwyd Sosialaeth a bardd gwrthryfel’ (1971)

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