Review: ‘Wales on this Day: 366 facts you probably didn’t know’ by Huw Rees and Sian Kilcoyne
Did you know that on the 12th of November 1983, Mark Brown became the first black person to play Rugby Union for Wales?
I have to hold my hands up here and admit that I didn’t. But then, that goes to show that Huw Rees and Sian Kilcoyne, the authors of Wales on this Day: 366 facts you probably didn’t know, have ensured that there will be something of an eyeopener for every reader. Quite possibly on every page.
A question I quite often hear, or see asked on social media, is “Why weren’t we taught about (a certain historical event) in school?” I must admit to having learned a fair bit about Wales’ history at both primary and secondary school.
Our last war of independence, led by Glyndwr, the journey of Mary Jones from Llanfihangel y Pennant to Bala to purchase a Bible, the Rebecca Riots (though I’m not sure Rebecca’s daughters got quite as far north as Harlech) the Welsh colonisation of Patagonia and the drowning of Capel Celyn to supply Liverpool with water spring to mind.
It’s only as I’ve got older, and met people from other parts of Wales, that I realise I have been very lucky.
Indeed, the history of Wales seems to have had a spotlight shone upon it in recent years, with various books having been published to “fill the gaps”, as it were. The gaps Wales on this Day seeks to fill, are those “intriguing facts that most history books leave out”.
As a keen follower of “The History of Wales” Facebook page run by the authors, and upon which this book is based, I must admit to having very much looked forward to reading and reviewing Wales on this Day.
Warts and all
For each day of the year, Rees and Kilcoyne take us on a whistlestop tour of our country’s history, warts and all. The various historical facts are presented in such a way that they almost look like diary entries. Some entries even include an additional “Did you know” section, to supplement the information presented for that particular date.
For example, the entry for the 28th of July informs the reader that the slate landscape of north west Wales had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site on that date in 2021.
The “Did you know” addition for that date tells us which are Wales’ other UNESCO World Heritage sites.
This format makes it a very accessible read, that I’d suggest readers could almost pick up on any given day and look up the historical fact for that date.
As approachable a book as this is, there’s no hand holding or rose tinted specs. As hinted above, the good bad and ugly of our nation’s history is covered here, and rightly so. Every nation has its skeletons after all, and Wales is no exception.
For example, the chairman of the boundary committee responsible for the partition of India and Pakistan and the resulting mass migration and violence both sides of the new border, was Sir Cyril Radcliffe, from Llanychan, Denbighshire.
The relevant entry tells us Radcliffe refused his salary of 40,000 rupees (£3,000 at the time) after “seeing the mayhem occurring on both sides of the new boundary that was created by him”.
But the authors then tell us that Radcliffe did accept a knighthood in 1948. I daresay, his conscience couldn’t have been bothering him that much.
Something that has struck me whilst reading Wales on this Day, is how certain historical issues are repeating themselves.
For example, I couldn’t help but think about the train drivers, or more recently, the nurses who took the decision to strike when reading the entry for the 1926 general strike.
Likewise, reading about how 300,000 Welsh people took to the streets on the 3rd of February 1935 “to protest about low incomes, poor health, substandard housing and a reduction in unemployment benefit” made me think about the current cost of living crisis.
The historical periods covered here range from prehistory to 2022. The way the authors managed to balance the events and timescales included here, and thus avoiding a bias towards one historical period in particular, impressed me.
Short of looking ahead to the next day, there was no telling which year you were going to find yourself reading about. I found myself reading about an event in 1936 one day, before being transported back to 1843 the next day.
This variety held my attention and made me want to carry on reading, even if there were other tasks demanding my attention!
The most difficult thing about this book was figuring out which events I was going to mention in this review. I found myself wanting to talk about just about everything, which would have been a book in itself, no doubt.
So, who’s this book for then? The authors themselves mention “anyone interested in Wales” and I completely agree.
Whether you’re from Wales, or not. Whether you’re fascinated by history, like myself, or just have a passing interest.
Even if you’re just after some Welsh trivia for pub quizzes, this book is absolutely for you all and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It would certainly make an ideal Christmas gift.
Yes, I know I’ve mentioned in a previous review that I’m a bit of a grinch prior to the 1st of December. But the suggestion’s there for anybody looking for ideas.
I mentioned in the beginning that I was lucky to learn a fair bit about Welsh history growing up. In Wales on this Day, I found myself learning both new things and finding out more about what I already knew.
The reader is informed upon finishing the book that this is the first the authors have had published. The first of many, I hope.
Wales on this Day: 366 facts you probably didn’t know, is published by Calon, the University of Wales Press’s non-fiction imprint. It is available from all good bookshops.
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