The life of one of Wales and journalism’s finest sons is to be celebrated at a special event at the Senedd today (May 12). 

Gareth Jones was the first western journalist to report on the Holodomor famine in Ukraine of 1932-33. Stalin’s regime starved several million Ukrainians to death and the story would have gone unreported had it not been for the bravery and determination of Gareth Jones in telling the story to the wider world. 

The purpose of the Senedd event is to honour the contribution made by Jones to journalism and international affairs, and also to celebrate the completion of work to digitise much of his archive, which is held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

The National Wales: Gareth Jones reading a copy of The New Yorker. Photo courtesy of the estate of Margaret Siriol ColleyGareth Jones reading a copy of The New Yorker. Photo courtesy of the estate of Margaret Siriol Colley

Born in Barry in 1905 to a Welsh speaking family, Jones excelled at languages from an early age. His mother, Annie, had previously worked in Russia as a tutor to the children of Arthur Hughes - the son of Welsh steel industrialist John Hughes, who founded the town of Hughesovka, modern-day Donetsk, in Ukraine.

Jones graduated from the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth in 1926 with a first-class honours degree in French and also studied at the University of Strasbourg. He then graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1929 with another first-class honours in French, German and Russian.

Not long after, he was hired as a Foreign Affairs Adviser to the former prime minister David Lloyd George, and then began working as a freelance reporter. 

In early 1933, he covered the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany, and became one of the first foreign journalists to fly with Hitler as he travelled with him and Joseph Goebbels to Frankfurt.

Weeks later he had travelled to the Soviet Union where he kept diaries of the man-made starvation and suffering he witnessed in Ukraine. His exposé was eventually published across the globe. 

After being banned from re-entering the Soviet Union, Jones was kidnapped and murdered in August 1935 while reporting in Inner Mongolia. It is widely believed that his murder was committed by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD.

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Vale of Glamorgan Councillor, Ian Johnson, told our sister title, Barry and District News in 2020: “Many people believe that he was murdered because he spoke out against the Soviet regime.

"Journalists who tried to dis-credit him by declaring it ‘fake news’ were later found out to be in the pay of the KGB."

Jones' extraordinary achievements have earned him a posthumous Ukrainian Order of Merit, a plaque at his alma mater, Aberystwyth University, and an exhibition of his diaries at Cambridge University.

Meanwhile, a street in Kyiv was also named after him in 2020.

The National Wales: The blue plaque which marks where Gareth Jones used to live on Romilly Road in Barry. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe blue plaque which marks where Gareth Jones used to live on Romilly Road in Barry. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

In 2009, a plaque was placed on his former home in Romilly Road, Barry, to recognise his contribution to international journalism.

And last year, a commemorative plaque was erected by Barry Town Council at Merthyr Dyfan cemetery next to his family’s gravestone. It gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about his life and achievements. 

The National Wales: The plaque commemorating the life of Gareth Jones at Merthyr Dyfan Cemetary in Barry. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe plaque commemorating the life of Gareth Jones at Merthyr Dyfan Cemetary in Barry. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

Nic Hodges is the Chair of the Cemetery Committee for Barry Town Council. 

"Gareth Jones was and remains an inspiration to the town of Barry, " he told The National.

"Using the family experiences gained by his mother in Ukraine and the importance of education instilled by his parents gave him the language skills and attributes to become an investigive reporter. The truth was everything to him and he actively sought it out. This made powerful enemies who wanted to shut him down and led to his untimely death. 

"We are proud in Barry to have raised him and given him to the world. We will continue to spread his views and exploits and honour his memory in Merthyr Dyfan Cemetery in Barry where his ashes lay buried amongst his family." 

The National Wales: The grave of Gareth Jones in Merthyr Dyfan cemetery where his ashes are interred with his family. Photo: Siriol GriffithsThe grave of Gareth Jones in Merthyr Dyfan cemetery where his ashes are interred with his family. Photo: Siriol Griffiths

Today's Senedd event will see Western Mail journalist, Martin Shipton, give a special presentation about the life and work of Gareth Jones. He has penned a biography of the man whom he describes as a personal hero, entitled 'The Man Who Knew Too Much', which will be published later this month. 

Martin Shipton told The National: "Gareth Jones was a courageous Welsh journalist who stood against the crowd and revealed the truth about the Holodomor when others were playing it down to appease Stalin.

"He is regarded in Ukraine as a national hero and deserves to be seen in that light in Wales too. He was murdered in mysterious circumstances two years after his expose, which levelled the blame for the famine squarely on Stalin.

"There is plausible circumstantial evidence which suggests he was murdered on Stalin’s orders. Working as a foreign affairs adviser to former Prime Minister David Lloyd George brought him into the company of many leading figures of the day and helped him broaden his range of contacts as a reporter.

"Throughout his short life - he was killed on the eve of his 30th birthday - he displayed an admirable love for history, for telling the truth through his journalism and for Wales.”

The National Wales:

The event at the Senedd later is sponsored by Mick Antoniw MS. Several presentations will be taking place together with readings of extracts from Gareth Jones’ diaries and letters by the actor Julian Lewis Jones.

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