Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Remember When . . . The Davies Sisters


If one researches art in Wales, one will come across two sisters--a lot. If one researches music in Wales during World War I, one will come across them again. If one researches how soldiers adjusted to life back at home after the war . . . you get the idea. You'll yet again end up reading about the Davies sisters, Margaret (called Daisy) and Gwendoline (Gwen).

So naturally, they have to be in my Welsh-set A Song Unheard.

Actually, they're what inspired it. When I was doing my initial research for how the arts were put to use during WWI, I ran across part of their story, and it intrigued me. It inspired my entire plot.

You see, in the first weeks of the war, Germany invaded Belgium--a country who only existed because it had sworn to neutrality. To violate those terms wasn't just a blow to the Belgians, it was a blow to civilization. No one could quite believe that the German leadership had so blatantly scorned an agreement made and signed. It wasn't how gentlemen behaved--it wasn't how war was waged.

The invasion of Belgium proved to Europe that Germany had no respect for the heretofore "civilized" way of doing things. It horrified the world when the troops marched in and began burning villages, beating priests, and killing innocent civilians. Refugees flooded into friendly nations like England.

And in Wales, these two sisters didn't just wait for refugees to come to them. They sought them out. Within a few months of the invasion of Belgium, Daisy and Gwen had sent friends into that devastated country to recruit Belgium's top musicians to come to Wales.

Musicians? you might say. Why??

The answer is two-fold. First, the Davieses were first and foremost always looking to better their "dear principality." They loved Wales and wanted to better it. They wanted to bring culture to the area often deemed a bit too rural. But that wasn't their only reasoning.

They also wanted to help. You see, everyone knew from the start that if Germany didn't relinquish its hold on Belgium, it would soon spell utter disaster for the small nation. Their food supplies wouldn't last beyond a few months. And with all trade cut off, its citizens would soon be starving. Aid was being organized within weeks of the invasion, much of it spearheaded by Americans (who were thus far otherwise staying as far from the war as possible).

Well, Gwen and Daisy wanted to help with the relief effort. So they put together a symphony orchestra of Belgian refugees and toured Wales, raising money for the Belgian Relief Fund.

This, of course, is where A Song Unheard was born. My hero is a violinist previously with the Brussels Conservatoire, now part of this orchestra touring Wales.

Gregynog
But even after organizing this, the sisters were by no means ready to sit back and say they'd done their duty. A few years later they moved to France, not far from the front, to run a cantina for the soldiers. And a few years after the war, they purchased and opened an estate called Gregynog, whose primary purpose was to rehabilitate soldiers returning from the war, to teach them art and crafts and music to help soothe the ragged edges wrought by violence.

These were sisters described by all who knew them as devout, faithful, focused always on the Lord--and on helping their fellow man. Today, the largest collection of art in Wales is on display because the sisters donated them to the university museum upon their deaths. Theirs is a legacy known far and wide in their dear principality.

Here's hoping my fictionalized versions of them can do them justice!

3 comments:

  1. Wow that's incredible! Amazing what a little research can find.

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  2. This is fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Wow. Great background. I wish my Welsh ancestry made me a better singer. Ha! But oh my...that house!

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