Wynford Vaughan-Thomas (1908-1987)

Wynford Vaughan-Thomas in front of Caernarfon Castle, [1985]
NLW Photo Book 3833B: 0200207774/189
Wynford Vaughan-Thomas Collection
Image courtesy of ITV

Author, broadcaster and war correspondent for the BBC during the Second World War


 

Famous for: Broadcasting live from a Lancaster bomber during a bombing raid over Berlin


Greatest Achievement: Broadcasting from Lord Haw-Haw’s studio, German concentration camps, and being awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1945

 

Wynford Vaughan-Thomas was born at 9 Calvert Terrace, Swansea, the second son of Dr David Vaughan-Thomas, a music teacher, and his wife Morfydd Lewis.  He attended Swansea Grammar School at the same time as Dylan Thomas.  He went on to study History at Exeter College, Oxford, and gained second class honours in Modern History in 1930.

 

After graduating, he lectured for a while before being employed by the National Library of Wales in 1933 as curator of manuscripts and records.  In 1934, he became South Wales Regional Officer for the Social Services Council.  Then in 1937, he went to work for the BBC, joining the Outside Broadcast Department in Cardiff, so that he could be near his fiancé, Charlotte Rowlands, whom he married in 1946.

 

One of his first commentaries was during the coronation of King George VI in May 1937, delivered completely in Welsh.  His work as an outside broadcaster could be difficult, because he had to convey what was happening around him in a vibrant way, without a script or agenda of any sort, and often bilingually.

 

When the Second World War started, he moved to London and took up a post as a home front correspondent.  In 1942, following his report on the Blitz, he accepted a post as a War Correspondent.

 

His most memorable report was on 14 September 1943.  He broadcasted from a Lancaster bomber during a bombing raid on Berlin.  Wynford Vaughan-Thomas gave an excellent description of the event and the people of Britain were entranced by his description of the plane flying through the searchlights of Berlin and the terrifying moment when the Lancaster was caught in one of the searchlights!  He managed to convey to the listeners the dangers faced daily by RAF crews, and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s popularity grew.

 

He spent the wartime period either in Britain, France, Italy or Germany, reporting on various events.  On 22 January 1944, he landed on the beaches of Anzio in Italy with British and American soldiers during the assault on Rome, reporting on the landing and the liberation of Rome.  On 14 August in the same year, he landed with the French army in southern France.

 

He was awarded the ‘Croix de Guerre’ in 1945 for being with the soldiers who liberated the Burgundy vineyards.  This is how he described his time in Burgundy - “We had three marvellous days in a cellar and I emerged with the Croix de Guerre!”

 

By the end of the war he’d reached Hamburg.  On 4 May 1945 he broadcasted a report from the studio where the traitor, Lord Haw-Haw or William Joyce, broadcasted his Nazi propaganda to Britain.  He was also the first to broadcast from the Belsen concentration camp, describing the horrors that surrounded him.

 

At the end of the war he returned to London to work for the BBC.  He reported on a number of state occasions, such as the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to the Duke of Edinburgh, and other important events, such as the Indian Independence celebrations in 1947.  He was the Royal Family correspondent for 30 years, and travelled abroad with them, including a royal tour to South Africa in 1947.

 

In 1967 he became one of the founders of the commercial television company Wales and the West (TWW) and became the first director of programmes for Harlech Television (HTV), in Cardiff.  Three years later, in 1970, he took up a post as the company’s acting director.

 

During the following years, on returning to Wales, he was actively involved with a number of Welsh organisations.  He became director of the Welsh National Opera company, President of the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales and an honorary Druid in 1974.  He was also a governor of the British Film Institute between 1977 and 1980.

 

He was a gifted writer and wrote a number of books as well as radio and TV scripts.  Some of his books describe his experiences during the war, such as Madly in All Directions (1967) and Anzio (1962) whilst others concentrate on history - Wales: A History (1985).  He also wrote about Wales and the Welsh landscape, including The Shell guide to Wales (1969) and Portrait of Gower (1976).  He co-presented a television series with Gwyn Alfred Williams on the history of Wales called - The Dragon Has Two Tongues.

 

During his lifetime he received a number of honours in addition to the ‘Croix de Guerre’.  He was awarded the OBE in 1974, the CBE in 1986 and an Open University honorary MA degree in 1982.

 

Wynford Vaughan-Thomas died on 4 February 1987 at his home in Fishguard, Pembrokeshire.  Two memorials have been erected for him, one at Ceibwr Bay near Cardigan, and one at Dylife, on the mountain road between Machynlleth and Llanidloes.

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Bibliography

  • Trevor Fishlock, ‘Wynford’, Wales in Vision, The People & Politics of Television (Llandysul, 1990), pp.54-62.
  • W. Vaughan-Thomas, Trust to Talk (London, 1980).
  • W. Vaughan-Thomas, Madly in All Directions (Carmarthen, 1988).
  • Wynford Vaughan-Thomas papers, National Library of Wales Cymru.

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