|Birth Day:||October 15, 1893|
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He studied at Liverpool University and served in the Welsh military during World War I.
John Saunders Lewis was born into a Welsh family living in Wallasey, England, on 15 October 1893. He was the second of three sons of Lodwig Lewis (1859–1933), a Calvinistic Methodist minister, and his wife Mary Margaret (née Thomas, 1862–1900). Lewis attended Liscard High School for Boys and went on to study English and French at Liverpool University.
When the First World War broke out, Lewis enlisted as a volunteer with the King's Liverpool Regiment in September 1914, and in April 1915 applied for a commission with the South Wales Borderers and was promoted to full lieutenant in February 1916. He served in France and was wounded in the Battle of Cambrai.
In 1922, he was appointed as a lecturer in Welsh at the University College of Wales, Swansea. During his time at Swansea he produced some of his most significant works of literary criticism: A School of Welsh Augustans (1924), Williams Pantycelyn (1927), and Braslun o hanes llenyddiaeth Gymraeg [cy] (An outline history of Welsh literature) (1932).
In 1924, Lewis founded Y Mudiad Cymreig ("The Welsh Movement") with a small group of fellow nationalists. The group met secretly for the first time in Penarth on 7 January 1924. The group continued to meet in secret throughout 1924 and began drawing up a set of aims and policies intended to "rescue Wales from political and cultural oblivion."
At around the same time as Lewis formed Y Mudiad Cymreig, another group of nationalists formed Byddin Ymreolwyr Cymru ("The Welsh Home Rule Army") in Caernarfon. The group was led by Huw Robert Jones, who made contact with Lewis in early 1925 and proposed to form a new political party.
Lewis met with Jones, Lewis Valentine, Moses Griffith, Fred Jones and D. Edmund Williams in a café called Maes Gwyn during the 1925 National Eisteddfod in Pwllheli, Gwynedd, with the aim of establishing a "Welsh party". They founded Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru ("National Party of Wales"), on 5 August 1925. The principal aim of the party would be to foster a Welsh speaking Wales. To this end it was agreed that party business be conducted in Welsh, and that members sever all links with other British parties. Lewis insisted on these principles before he would agree to the Pwllheli conference.
Saunders Lewis perceived the early development of BBC radio broadcasting in Wales (which was almost entirely in English) as serious threat to his aim of arresting the decline of the Welsh language (then down to 36%) and turning Wales back into a 100% Welsh-speaking nation. At the same time he also recognised that if he could exert influence and pressure on the BBC, the Corporation could become a useful tool to serve Plaid Cymru's political ends. In 1929 he declared it would soon be necessary to arrange for "thousands of Welshmen to be prosecuted for refusing to pay for English programmes". The following year Lewis was commissioned by E.R. Appleton, Director of the BBC's Cardiff radio station, (who had banned broadcasting in Welsh) to broadcast a talk which would "explain Welsh Nationalism". On vetting the script, which advocated political nationalism in preference to "cultural nationalism", Appleton decided it was too controversial and inflammatory to be broadcast. In October 1933 the University of Wales Council, which had been lobbying for more Welsh-language broadcasting, appointed a ten-man council to press the case with the BBC. It included David Lloyd George, William George, W. J. Gruffydd and Saunders Lewis – who was continuing to incense the BBC by publicly alleging it was "seeking the destruction of the Welsh language". The University Committee, which was described by BBC Director General John Reith as "the most unpleasant and unreliable people with whom it has been my misfortune to deal" gained ever more influence on the BBC in Wales not least in the selection of BBC staff – a function delegated to the Committee by the Corporation. As newspapers of the time noted, appointees seemed primarily drawn from the families of the Welsh-speaking elite including "the son of a professor of Welsh and the offspring of three archdruids". Saunders Lewis's assiduous campaigning over the years was to succeed in cementing an ongoing Plaid Cymru influence within the BBC. When the BBC's Welsh Advisory Council was eventually established in 1946, although half its members were Labour, several Plaid Cymru supporters were appointed including Saunders Lewis's successor as Plaid Cymru president, Gwynfor Evans.
Lewis's radio speech was in response to the 1961 census, which showed a decrease in the percentage of Welsh speakers from 36% in 1931 to 26%, of the population of about 2.5 million. In the census the counties of Meirionnydd (Merionethshire), Ynys Môn (Anglesey), Caerfyrddin (Carmarthenshire), and Caernarfon (Caernarvonshire) averaged a 75% proportion of Welsh speakers, with the most significant decreases in the counties of Glamorgan, Flint, and Pembroke.
Lewis was the son and grandson of prominent Welsh Calvinistic Methodist ministers. In 1932, he had converted to Roman Catholicism.
Welsh nationalism was ignited in 1936 when the UK Government settled on establishing an RAF training camp and aerodrome at Penyberth on the Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynedd. The events surrounding the protest, known as Tân yn Llŷn ("Fire in Llŷn"), helped define Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru. The UK Government settled on Llŷn as the site for its training camp after similar proposed sites in Northumberland and Dorset met with protests.
On 8 September 1936, the building was set on fire and in the investigations which followed Saunders Lewis, Lewis Valentine, and D. J. Williams claimed responsibility. They were tried at Caernarfon, where the jury failed to agree on a verdict. The case was then sent to be retried at the Old Bailey in London, where the "Three" were convicted, and sentenced to nine months imprisonment. On their release from Wormwood Scrubs, they were greeted as heroes by 15,000 Welsh people at a pavilion in Caernarfon.
In 1936, in the midst of the turmoil of Tân yn Llŷn, Lewis praised Adolf Hitler when he said "At once he fulfilled his promise — a promise which was greatly mocked by the London papers months before that — to completely abolish the financial strength of the Jews in the economic life of Germany." However, in the 1930s other British politicians also made favourable comments about fascist leaders.
However, despite the acclaim the events of Tân yn Llŷn generated, by 1938 Lewis's concept of perchentyaeth ("home ownership") had been firmly rejected as not a fundamental tenet of the party. In 1939 Lewis resigned as Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru president, saying that Wales was not ready to accept the leadership of a Roman Catholic.
Prior to 1950, universities could elect and return representatives to the House of Commons. The University of Wales seat had become vacant when the constituency's Liberal Member of Parliament, Ernest Evans, had been appointed a county court judge in 1942. Lewis was selected to contest the seat for Plaid Cymru in the ensuing 1943 University of Wales by-election.
In 1962 Lewis gave a radio speech entitled Tynged yr iaith ("The Fate of the Language") in which he predicted the extinction of the Welsh language unless action was taken. Lewis's intention was to motivate Plaid Cymru into more direct action promoting the language; however it led to the formation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) later that year at a Plaid Cymru summer school held in Pontardawe in Glamorgan. The foundation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg allowed Plaid Cymru to focus on electoral politics, while the Cymdeithas focused on promoting the language.
Responding to calls for Welsh devolution, in 1964 the Labour Government established the Welsh Office (Welsh: Swyddfa Gymreig) and Secretary of State for Wales.
In 1970, Lewis was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His literary works include plays, poetry, novels and essays. He wrote mostly in Welsh, but he also wrote some works in English. By the time of his death in 1985 some rated him as amongst the most celebrated of Welsh writers.
In March 1983, at the age of 89, Saunders Lewis was made an honorary Doctor of Letters of the University of Wales at a ceremony specially conducted at his home in Penarth. The Catholic Herald, reporting the honour, noted that in the previous year Lewis had made a plea for Mass to be said in Latin in Wales rather than in the "foreign language of English", which he pointed out was "a later arrival".
In 2001 Dafydd Elis-Thomas, himself a former Plaid Cymru President, declared in a television documentary on Lewis that he was "lousy as a politician, lousy as a writer, but a good Catholic".
Saunders was born into a Welsh family in England and spent most of his youth in Merseyside.
Currently, Saunders Lewis is 129 years, 3 months and 23 days old. Saunders Lewis will celebrate 130th birthday on a Sunday 15th of October 2023. Below we countdown to Saunders Lewis upcoming birthday.