Dennis Coslett

Dashing commandant of the Free Wales Army

The free Wales Army enjoyed a brief notoriety between 1963, when it began to attract attention with its marches and press releases, to 1969, when some of its members were sentenced at the end of a 53-day trial which culminated (too neatly to be a coincidence, some observers thought) on the very day of the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon. Dennis Coslett was among the nine men charged under the Public Order Act with a variety of offences that included membership of a paramilitary organisation and the handling of firearms and explosives.



Dennis Coslett, political activist: born Carmarthen 12 September 1939; married Averil Webb (one daughter, and two sons deceased); died Llanelli, Carmarthenshire 20 May 2004.



The free Wales Army enjoyed a brief notoriety between 1963, when it began to attract attention with its marches and press releases, to 1969, when some of its members were sentenced at the end of a 53-day trial which culminated (too neatly to be a coincidence, some observers thought) on the very day of the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon. Dennis Coslett was among the nine men charged under the Public Order Act with a variety of offences that included membership of a paramilitary organisation and the handling of firearms and explosives.

The FWA's declared aim was to do for Wales what the IRA had done for Ireland: to initiate a revolution that would lead to independence. The group, including Coslett, carried the Red Dragon flag through the streets of Dublin in 1966 in the ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Its leader was a charismatic young man named Julian Cayo Evans, a breeder of Palomino horses and an accomplished accordionist, who had a flair for publicity and, in particular, for hoodwinking the more gullible among the reporters who flocked to west Wales to cover a story about "insurrection in the hills".

He and Coslett came to wider notice when they were interviewed by a facetious David Frost on a late-night television programme in 1967. It was this thirst for publicity that was to prove fatal for the FWA: the case against them rested largely on the evidence provided by journalists who had witnessed their drills and rifle practice, though all agreed that, in fact, these idealistic young men were, if a little naïve, quite harmless.

Dennis Coslett, a dashing figure who, like Moshe Dayan, the Israeli general, sometimes wore a black patch over his glass eye, was often to be seen at the head of the marches staged by the FWA. He was usually accompanied by his beloved dog Gelert, an impeccably well-behaved Alsatian, and dressed in the homemade uniform, complete with bandolier, pistol and insignia fashioned from the White Eagle of Snowdonia, in which the rebels liked to parade.

On one occasion, for the benefit of a reporter, he fitted a harness to Gelert's back which he said would take sticks of gelignite, thus making the animal a lethal missile. He had, he said, dozens more dogs hidden in the Black Mountains of Carmarthenshire, all trained to carry magnetic devices under the vehicles of the British army which would be sent to put down the Welsh rising. The story about these "kamikaze dogs" duly appeared in The Herald of Wales and was then taken up by the colour supplement of The Daily Telegraph, after which Coslett received hundreds of angry letters from dog-lovers.

The FWA, never more than 20 in number (to say nothing of the dog), made extravagant claims about their strength and firepower, and put on manoeuvres in which explosives and small arms were used. They were wont to claim responsibility whenever there was an attack on a reservoir or public building in Wales, though it subsequently transpired that these acts of arson, which caused a good deal of damage, were the work of a much more shadowy group calling itself Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru ("Movement for the Defence of Wales"), known as Mac.

For all the FWA's shenanigans, there was a more serious side to their activities in the fraught atmosphere of the 1960s when Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh language society) and other militant groups on the fringes of the nationalist movement were taking direct action against symbols of the British state. They no doubt drew attention to some genuine grievances but they also divided nationalist opinion and had an adverse effect on the electoral fortunes of Plaid Cymru, whose president Gwynfor Evans won the Carmarthen by-election of July 1966, only to lose it four years later.

The party was inevitably tarred by its opponents, cynically enough, with the same brush as the one used against the FWA, and Evans believed it was largely responsible for slowing up Plaid's advance in parliamentary terms. The veteran nationalist Saunders Lewis, on the other hand, who had served in the First World War and was no pacifist, regarded the FWA as soldiers fighting for Wales and made a point of attending their trial, while many others showed sympathy for the accused men.

Dennis Coslett was born in Carmarthen in 1939. Short, dark-haired, lean and hard-bodied, he seemed the archetypal Welshman, or at least the physical type that passes as such in the world's view. He had considerable reserves of nervous energy and his speech, in both Welsh and English, was fluent and excitable.

He always maintained that he was anti-English only in so far as England ruled Wales, and wanted total separation for his country, a republic no less. Having been conscripted at the age of 18, he did his military service as an infantryman with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and later sailed the world as a merchant seaman. Returning to Wales, he worked as a shot-firer in the small private mines that proliferated in the anthracite coalfield of west Wales after nationalisation of the industry in 1947. It was an accident underground that had cost him the sight in his left eye.

The path that led him to the dock in Swansea in 1969 had begun in the late 1950s when it became clear that, despite united opposition in Wales to the flooding of the Tryweryn Valley in Merioneth, Liverpool Corporation was nevertheless able to turn it into a reservoir, with the loss of a Welsh-speaking community. The sense of injustice which thousands felt at this brazen trampling on the sensibilities of the Welsh people was exacerbated, in Coslett's view, by the ceremony at Caernarfon Castle in which the young Englishman whom he called Charles Windsor was invested as Prince of Wales.

Coslett and Cayo Evans also offered their services to the stricken villagers of Aberfan near Merthyr Tydfil where, in October 1966, a coaltip slid into the valley, killing 116 schoolchildren; it is not clear what they did, but Coslett considered the gold watch with which he was presented as his most treasured possession.

Exasperated by Plaid Cymru's steadfast refusal to take a tougher line on such issues as Tryweryn, the investiture and Aberfan, he sought other means of promoting the nationalist cause. He had formed a cell of five friends who styled themselves the Welsh Republican Army which, after drilling by their commandant, soon merged with Cayo Evans's FWA.

Coslett believed an independent Wales would never be won by constitutional means alone because the only language understood by the British state was one backed up by violence. "Force is to diplomacy what bullion is to banknotes," he said, quoting John Jenkins, a sergeant in the British army who was subsequently sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for his part in carrying out explosions in the name of Mac.

Having set his face against the non-violent methods of Plaid Cymru, Coslett was to remain outside mainstream politics for the rest of his days. His last years were spent in practising the martial arts at which he was adept and writing Rebel Heart (2000) and Patriots and Scoundrels (2004), in which he collected his poems and speeches and gave his own defiant account of the turbulent events in which he had played a part. His books are full of the high rhetoric, heavily influenced by Patrick Pearse and Michael Collins, which he habitually employed to express his views.

Of the nine members of the FWA who were arrested in dawn raids, roughly handled by the police and brought to trial at Swansea on 1 July 1969, one was dismissed, two were found not guilty and six sentenced to terms of imprisonment, with three sentences suspended. Cayo Evans and Coslett, rightly deemed to be the ringleaders, were each given 15 months.

In the latter's speech from the dock, which he delivered in Welsh before sentence was passed, he reminded the judge, Mr Justice Thompson, that he had learned violence in the British army, ending with a typical flourish: "I sought to serve Wales and now I am prepared to suffer for Wales. I am ready for your sentence. Free Wales!"

Meic Stephens

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies