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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz