The Clearing of the Epynt
Many of my father’s and grandfather’s generation had first-hand memories of the “clearing of the Epynt” - the 12,000 hectare range of rolling hills and former farmland that was requisitioned by the government in 1940 for use by the Ministry of Defence as a firing range - and never returned!
Let alone the fact that this was one of the last remaining Welsh-speaking areas of the old county of Breconshire; or that very little public attention was drawn to the plight of the close-knit community, even by the local newspaper, - the greatest tragedy was the way in which these fifty four families were turned out of their homes, school, public house, and chapels - with just four months notice.
There was some financial compensation - but it was paid at a pro-rata rate that was decided by HM Treasury alone, regardless of the level of investment the families had put into their land. Furthermore, much of the land was in the hands of private landlords such as Lord Glanusk, Viscount Tredegar, Duke of Beaufort or the Pryce- Rice family (all of whom had been made rich from iron works or mine-owning a century or so earlier) and it was they, and not the tenant farmers or the labourers who lived there and worked the land, who were compensated. The clearing of the Epynt remains as sore and as festering with local people as it was ignored at the time and continues to be forgotten now.
Not the flag of a community
That was forced to leave their farms.
This is not the flag of a nation,
Nor an heraldic coat of arms.
This is not the red of the passion
That enflamed the preacher’s brow;
Nor the red of the primary school -
For they’re both a memory now.
This is not a cloth of comfort
That warmed the children’s beds,
Nor the fabric of society,
Because that was torn to shreds.
This is not a symbol of welcome;
That shone from the old inn’s hearth.
That was not the snap of laughter
Nor a wave from a neighbour’s path.
This is instead a warning -
“This land is now not yours.”
“Keep out. Be gone!” Uprooted.
The native song is paused.
Where once men toiled on their land
There now, they just sow war.
This flag flies inviting death,
The cape of the matador.
Thomas Morgan was evicted from his family home, Glan-dŵr, on the Epynt in early 1940 to make way for a military training ground. He returned regularly to light a fire in the hearth to prevent the empty property succumbing to damp in the hope and belief that he and his family would return to the house once the war was over. On one such occasion, on the way there, he was approached by a military officer who told him that he wouldn’t need to go there again. When he arrived, he found that the house and buildings and been blown-up.
On a plaque at the site of the similarly demolished Capel y Babel is an inscription which includes the following passage from Isiah 2:4:
“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
You won’t need to come here any more.
Are your swords still not turned to ploughshares?
Are your pruning hooks not from spears?
Have your nations not yet all been judged,
so that we may now dry our tears?
May we find the stones that were scattered?
May we replace the beams and hearth?
Can we rebuild our school and chapel,
so to revive our broken heart?
Can we now graze our sheep and cattle?
Can we sow our barley and corn?
When will the Recall be sounded,
so that our lives can be reborn?
Is our sacrifice not sufficient?
Is our exile not yet complete?
Why do you occupy our homeland?
Was it us you chose to defeat?
Does the wind not scream of our protests?
Does the ground not echo our pain?
Can skylarks not drown out the gunfire?
Will our voices be heard again?
Do you still teach war to each other?
Do your nations still lift their swords?
Or do you still call to us, smirking,
“You won’t need to come here any more.”?