Welsh chapels apologise for backing WW1 recruitment

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Media captionThe Union of Welsh Independent Churches said many chapels shamed men into fighting

Independent church leaders in Wales have apologised for the role of ministers and their members in actively supporting recruitment campaigns during World War One.

The Union of Welsh Independent Churches said many chapels shamed men into fighting in the "travesty" of the war.

In pledging not to forget those that died, the union agreed to renew its efforts to work for peace today.

The union represents a group of 430 chapels.

The motion to the union's AGM in Bridgend asked members to apologise for chapels' role in banging the drum for recruitment during World War One and was passed unanimously.

'Acknowledge guilt'

It was proposed by The Reverend Aled Jones, of the West Carmarthen Association of Independents, who said chapels were involved in recruitment meetings, with ministers urging young men to fight on the Western Front.

He told BBC Radio Wales: "At the time the Christians were often the greatest proponents of the war. The recruitment campaign was very strong within the chapels.

"There are contemporary accounts in newspapers of full chapels being addressed by politicians and by ministers encouraging people to go out and fight."

"And [there was] an unwillingness to go against the general tide of feeling at the time, which was obviously pro war," he added.

Mr Jones said he wanted his members to "acknowledge our own guilt, as Christians, for the participation of the churches at that time".

'Too simplistic'

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Media captionRev Aled Jones believes chapels should work for peace

"Of course, we shouldn't forget the people who fell in World War One, but acknowledge from the great travesty of that period that we have now an opportunity to build for peace.

"What we want to see happen is an alternative be established - that peaceful means of resolving international conflict be put to the fore today as we remember that terrible conflict 100 years ago."

But Swansea University history and classics lecturer Dr Gethin Matthews said he did not think the apology was necessary.

He said: "It's much too simplistic to suggest that the union had a policy of encouraging young men to enlist.

"Different chapels responded in different ways and there was a debate about the right course of action. Most of the words were quite moderate. There were extremely challenging times so there was a sense that some response had to be made."

In its 2011 Christmas message, the union condemned the testing of unmanned aircraft over parts of Wales, saying "the spirit of Herod is still at work" in drone attacks in Pakistan and Gaza that killed children.

The union also backed the stand by pacifists who sometimes suffered harrowing and brutal treatment for refusing to go to war.

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