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

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
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

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution