Various Artists - Caneuon Heddwch
The years 2014 to 2018 will naturally be a period of recalling one of the worst disasters in modern history, known as The Great War, with the loss of over 10 million lives. And despite being called ‘the war to end all wars’, it led eventually to World War II, and the loss of a further 55 million human lives. Recalling such a tragedy will inevitably be seen by many as a cause for celebrating military prowess, bravery and glorious victory. But to most people, it will be a time of remembering lost relatives, families torn asunder and homes destroyed. And for some a time of remembering those who refused to join the war, and who suffered scorn and imprisonment as ‘conshies’.
The pain and tragedy of war, and the bravery and suffering of those who fought and of those who stood as conscientious objectors, has been the stuff of songs throughout the ages. This compilation records the reaction of the poets and singer/songwriters of Wales to war. And just as those who die on the field of battle are mostly young men and women, so most of these songs – though not all – are also the work of young men and women. Songs of peace written
and sung by young people who live in a world full of violence and military conflict, but aspiring to a world of peaceful coexistence.
The recurring theme of most of these songs is not an idealised, sentimental concept of peace, but the human tragedy of young soldiers living with death, surrounded by suffering, bravery and fear. War is seen not as an epic film with a cast of thousands, but more often than not, through the eyes of a single soldier. And it is not surprising in a Welsh language compilation that the figure of Ellis Humphrey Evans (aka the poet Hedd Wyn) is the subject of three of the tracks.
One of the best anti-war songs ever written is Eric Bogle’s Green Fields of France, and it is heard here in two versions, by Leah Owen and Plethyn, and the Welsh adaptations, by Eifion Lloyd Jones and Myrddin ap Dafydd, are excellent examples of how to adapt songs from one language to another without losing any of the original’s power.
The stark, ugly reality of war is here in abundance, be it through the eyes of the young man who writes to explain why he cannot kill another human being, or the injured soldier who has seen his friend blown to pieces in Iraq, or the young
man killed in Northern Ireland in Huw Chiswell’s Rhywbeth o’i le, or Meic Stevens’ sailor uncle in Cân Walter, but also there is beauty. The beauty of united voices singing the famous ‘englynion’ composed by R. Williams Parry to Hedd
Wyn and Waldo Williams’ pacifist ode Y Tangnefeddwyr in the powerful setting by Eric Jones, and the soulful beauty of Karl Jenkins’ Benedictus from his Mass for Peace.
Dafydd Iwan, 2014