Just before the first world war, Generals Beyers, de la Rey, Maritz and others had gone into rebellion, and General Louis Botha the Prime Minister of the Union had declared Martial Law. A young constable of the South African Police, newly posted to Pilgrim’s Rest, had made a careful study of what was, and what was not permitted, under Martial Law.
One Saturday night he was patrolling in the village’s main street, when three miners emerged from the bar, talking to one another rather loudly in Welsh. The constable stepped forward and barred their way.
“It is my duty to inform you that under the provisions of the Martial Law proclamation, you are not permitted to speak a foreign language,” he said.
There was a shocked silence.
“What was it I am thinking I heard you say young man?” asked the senior member of the party.
“ I said you are not allowed to speak a foreign language….”
A foreign language! This whippersnapper had the impertinence to call the tongue of Welshmen, the time honoured language of Wales, known throughout the world, and indeed to goodness all Englishmen, who would speak it, if they could only learn it…. He called it foreign !
They fell upon that constable, and, for the honour of Wales, beat him up soundly. They then delivered him at the police station, his uniform in shreds, and told the sergeant-in-charge that they wanted to lay charges of high treason against him, and a further charge for gravely insulting the Prince of Wales.
But instead they were charged with assaulting and obstructing a policeman in the course of his duty, and of damaging his uniform.
It would have been quite a case if it had come to court. However the sergeant was a tactful man, and there was a conference between the police and the accused, during which it was explained that the constable had never heard anyone speaking Welsh before. Besides which, how was he to know that it was the second language of Great Britain? To him it sounded like a foreign tongue.
The Welshmen, on their part, described how deeply insulted they felt, and how sensitive the Welsh were about their language. They decided to offer to buy the constable two new uniforms as a compromise – and the matter rested there.
A Snippet from “The Valley of Gold” by A.P. Cartwright.
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