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Welsh National Heroes


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Success Stories

by Alun Roberts

nationalheroes.jpg

ISBN 0 86243 610 9  
Published by Y Lolfa, 2002
147pp, illustrated paperback  
Retail price 4.95

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The inspiration for this book comes from a series of statues that stand in Cardiff's City Hall, depicting national  heroes of Wales.  "National Heroes", to the author of this book, is a restrictive term, but, even in his introduction, he never offers a definition of heroism.  Henry Tudor, for example, is omitted from the compilation because "he feels somewhat out of place".  Thomas Picton, the general who met his death at Waterloo, fails to merit a chapter for reasons which are never specified.  This criticism apart, it is another interesting addition to the growing list of Welsh interest books which can be picked up these days at very moderate prices.  It is one of the few areas where regional publishing, with its subsidies and almost captive audience, can score over the major commercial ventures - imagine trying to interest a publisher in a book about English national heroes  ...

Despite what I said in the first paragraph, I don't have many bones to pick with Alun Roberts in terms of his selection of heroes.  He has, thankfully, included some women: Jemima Nicholas, the Pembrokeshire peasant who drove off would-be French invaders with a pitchfork during the Napoleonic Wars; Lady Charlotte Guest, the Englishwoman who set herself to learning the Welsh language so that she could translate the Mabinogion; and Beti Cadwaladr, who emulated the exploits of Florence Nightingale in the Crimea.  He has listed princes, politicians and poets.  Yet there is a certain inconsistency.  It was disappointing to see Mary Jones, the teenager whose act of devotion in walking twenty-five miles in order to buy a Bible in her native language has made her a household name in Wales, relegated to a paragraph in the entry on the man from whom she bought it, Thomas Charles.

What I also feel is that the entries themselves are rather lacking in depth and interest.  There is a lot of white space, and only a few salient facts about each of the sixty-odd nominees are listed.  As the author admits, these have simply been gleaned and gathered together from other books.   Nothing wrong with that; but it would have been nice if this book could have given us something extra, even if it was only an explanation of why Alun Roberts feels each one merits the description of hero.  The Morris brothers of Anglesey, for instance - talented and versatile, yes; major contributors to Welsh culture, yes; but heroes?  There is barely room to list the brothers' achievements in the five hundred words (about the length of this review) he allows them.  By the time he has told us their names and dates, it's time to start winding up the chapter.

Nevertheless, if all you need are the basic facts about a person's life, it's a useful little book to have to hand.  The black-and-white illustrations are helpful in giving the reader a feel for each subject, and are vastly superior to the horrible drawings in a similar, more in-depth book I could name. (I won't name it because it was written by one of the national heroes who deserves, and gets, a chapter in Alun Roberts' book.)  This is another to add to my collection of biographical dictionaries; what I can't find in one, I will no doubt be able to obtain from another.

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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