Welsh language used ‘covertly’ by British Army

When I was young – perhaps 9 or 10, in the mid 1970s, on family vacation in Canada – I distinctly remember my Dad telling me a story, I believe he said from WW1, where a message had to be passed rapidly from the front, back to London, over phone lines that were certainly tapped by the enemy.

The OIC at the front thought for a moment, and demanded that some particular MP be fetched from the House of Commons to convey the message; on being told that he would be breaking security restrictions the officer replied: Don’t worry about that, we’ll be talking Welsh.

The story stuck in my mind, but alas now that nearly 30 years have passed, my 86yo Dad no longer can place it; further since the growth of my interest in security, cryptography, and history, I have learned about the Navajo Code Talkers in WW2, I have a deeper interest in tracing whether the story is true.

Now: I am sure that I have written about this elsewhere.

I am positive that I have.

However: I suspect that my writing predates this ‘blog since I cannot find a citation of my previous posting anywhere in the pertinent subdirectory, and Google is turning up nothing. It might have been in a Slashdot posting or something like that.

Someone else’s blog-comments, perhaps?

My inability to find what prompted this, aside: today, just now, this dropped into my inbox:

From: <…@…>
Subject: Welsh language used ‘covertly’ by British army

Dear Alec

It has long been a rumour that members of 100 Field Squadron used Welsh whilst communicating with their fellow colleagues over the radio within their unit, during world war two to foil the Germans.

The Squadron, based at Cwmbran in south Wales had amongst it’s members many rich characters from the pits of the Welsh mining community. The unit, served with distinction fighting as a ‘rear guard’ at Dunkirk and have recently returned from the Gulf where they were mobilsed for the Iraq crisis.

100 Field Squadron are one of four units which form the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (M). and has a History of being the second oldest regiment in the British army.


8 Replies to “Welsh language used ‘covertly’ by British Army”

  1. re: Welsh language used ‘covertly’ by British Army

    I once read somewhere that the British Army has a long-standing practice of hiring Welsh-speaking radio operators, and in fact used Welsh to communicate when serving in Bosnia in the 1990s. (And presumably in Iraq as well.)

    When I was in Aberystwyth in 2002, I saw an ad on the side of a bus, in Welsh, seemingly recruiting radio operators, which suggests that there is some truth to this.

  2. re:

    Cilve: Re-parse my third paragraph. You’ll see that I am questioning whether the Welsh WW1 story is true, not the Navajo code-talkers.

  3. re: Welsh language used ‘covertly’ by British Army

    I’m sure I heard the BBC report that about Welsh in Bosnia too, but for the life of me I can’t Google it anywhere. 🙁

    Pob hywl! Chris

  4. re: Welsh language used ‘covertly’ by British Army

    Navajo code talkers totally for real. The rest of this reminds me of the tiny railway station in Beddgelert where we spent a weeks’ holiday a couple of years ago. Fully equipped with mini satellite dish. Turned on television, and thought “oh boy, it’s just like home, no matter what time/day it is, somewhere, there is an episode of Star Trek on one of the channels.” Finally realized where we were, and that these were not Klingons, merely the local news or some such thing . . .

  5. Eyes Rab-k’s link suspiciously: I am wary of articles by anyone quoting Dr Tim Williams. I am still slightly regretful that I missed the tv debate where he apparently got utterly and completely skewered by a very cross schoolgirl who was rather irate at, if I remember rightly, what she saw as his rather underhand way of getting schoolkids to back up his agenda by asking them leading questions.

    Weez – the old jokes don’t actually get any better with time.

    Alec – I’ve never heard the “MP must be fetched” story, but the “WW1 used Welsh speakers to pass radio messages” was a sufficiently common meme when I was growing up in the Valleys that I really don’t even know where I heard it first.

    There’s also this:
    which suggests Lloyd George and the Aussie PM communicated in Welsh.

    As for ads on buses in Aberystwyth – unfortunately I have to debunk that one. Yes, I have seen recruitment ads in Welsh, on buses, in Aberystwyth. But they’re for all sorts of posts in the armed services, not just radio ops. So the fact that you just saw a radio operator one is just coincidence. The ads are just bilingual anyway. (Let’s face it, Ceredigion is one of the poorest counties and those are always good recruiting areas for the armed forces). I don’t think that just speaking in Welsh is really up to snuff security-wise these days.

  6. I recall being told that Lloyd George talked to Australian Prime Minister (Billy Hughes) in Welsh during WWI.

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