St David’s Day 1915, Buckingham Palace

In March 1915, Guardsman David ‘Dai’ Luker sent a letter to Edward and Amy Lewis, a married couple who at the time were working tirelessly at Cardiff University Settlement. Written on Y.M.C.A stationary, Luker began by sending his ‘thanks for [the] letter which I received this morning’. In a chirpy and lively tone, he went on to inform the Lewises that he had just moved regiments. He told them what he had got up to on St. David’s Day and about life in the Army more generally. He closed in a formal tone, ‘I remain Dai Luker’, and added a postscript: ‘Remember me to all of the Club members’. Why did Luker write to the Lewises? The postscript offers us the vital clues. Luker had attended the Lads’ Club at Cardiff University Settlement.1

The university settlement movement was founded in the 1880s to reconnect rich university graduates with the urban poor. In Cardiff, there was a desire for the University of Wales to turn its attention to the needs of East Moors, an area recently transformed by rapid urbanisation and industrialisation and with a high density of poor residents. The relative success of Cardiff University Settlement rested not only with University of Wales graduates, but also with ordinary middle-class Cardiffians prepared to give up their time to work for the settlement’s various social and educational endeavours.2

Edward and Amy Lewis both played an instrument role at Cardiff University Settlement. Edward was the settlement’s arithmetic tutor and summer camp worker. Amy was the leader of the Girls’ and the Lads’ Clubs. Edward was a Cardiff solicitor in his thirties and had moved to Splott when he married Amy (née Hughes) in 1913. It is likely that they met and fell in love at the settlement. Luker’s envelope shows that as a married couple, the Lewises chose to reside with their baby daughter Amelia not only in Splott, but at 2 University Place, a stone’s throw from Settlement Hall which backed onto this cul-de-sac.

Luker, a working-class Splott lad, initially enlisted in the King’s Guards, but subsequently transferred to the Welsh Guard when it was formed at the end of February 1915. He would spend the rest of the war in this regiment, eventually winning a military medal. At the time Luker wrote the aforementioned letter to the Lewises, he had yet to experience active combat in France. Earlier correspondence suggests that he was enjoying military life, boasting to the Lewises that his had won his swimming badge, was keeping himself clean, and that he was about to take his rifle certificate.3 In his March 1915 letter he reported to the Lewises that ‘We are getting looked after alright here[.] plenty of food (but) I don’t know how long it will last, its just like a new sweeping brush’. He also reported to the Lewises that he had recently returned back from a visit to Hastings with two fellow former Cardiff Settlement Lads’ Club members.

DCE-1-20 p1

DCE-1-20 p2

The real excitement of the March 1915 letter, however, lies in his first-hand account of St. David’s Day. Written almost 100 years to the day, it described to the Lewises his experience of being on parade for his new regiment. After niceties, Luker quickly reported that ‘I was one of the first Kings Guards at Buckingham Palace on Saint David’s Day for the new Reg’. By referring to 1st March as ‘Saint David’s Day’, Luker acknowledged the relationship he had with his readers. The Cardiff University Settlement appears to have celebrated St. David’s Day not so much as an exclusively Welsh festival but as one that incorporated Wales into a four nations vision.4 St David’s Day celebrations included Welsh and English songs. There was also Morris dancing. Ronald Burrows, the Scottish Settlement warden and Cardiff College Professor of Greek, would give a speech that sought to incorporate the Welshman, Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman together.5

Celebrating St. David’s Day clearly helped Luker to feel at home in London. He wrote:

their was Thousands of people their most of them wore the Leek they were taking our Photos all the time[.] Lloyd George was their the King watched us mount through the window[.] we had a nice dinner sent to us and a nice tea…all those who mounted guard on Saint David’s Day are to belong to the Prince of Wales Company.

It was not unusual for Luker to write without full stops. But in neat handwriting, he conveyed the centrality of his St. David’s Day experience to the transition he was making between Settlement House life and army life. He was proud that the parade was watched by the King and that Lloyd George joined them in marking the foundation of the Welsh Guard. This pride was evidently shared by the crowd, who wore St David’s personal symbol, the leek. Alternatively, the crowd could have been expressing its support for the new Prince of Wales’s company. Sadly, Luker’s letter does not mention if his nice dinner or tea consisted of eating a raw leek. In nodding to the leek in his letter, though, he revealed how St. David’s Day was not confined to Wales in 1915, but was also to be found behind the gilded railings and gates of Buckingham Palace.6

Lucinda Matthews-Jones is a lecturer based at Liverpool John Moores University. She is currently writing a book on the British university settlement movement. It was over the summer that she discovered and read letters sent from a group of Splott soldiers to Edwards and Amy Lewis. This post emerges from this research.


1. For a brief introduction to these letters please see Philip Gale, ‘The University Settlement, Cardiff’, Annual Report of the Glamorgan Archivist (1987), pp.17-19

2. For a history of Cardiff University Settlement see B. M. Bull, The University Settlement in Cardiff, (Cardiff; Cardiff College of Art, 1965). The early years of the settlement are also covered in George Glasgow’s Ronald Burrows: A Memoir (London; Nisbet & Co. Ltd, 1924)

3. David Luker to Mr and Mrs Lewis, 26 January 1915, GA, DCE1/18

4. For a discussion of Victorian St. David’s Day see Mike Benbough-Jackson, ‘Victorians Meet St. David’, Journal of Victorian Culture Online, [accessed 23/02/2015]

5. See, for instance, ‘Speech by Professor Burrows’, (May; 1906), Cap and Gown, pp.111-112

6. For a broader discussion to the leek significance on St. David’s Day see Mike Benbough-Jackson, ‘Celebrating a Saint on His Home Ground: St. David’s Day in St. David’s diocese during the nineteenth century’, in Bill Gibson and John Morgan-Guy (eds), Religion and Society in the Diocese of St. David’s 1485-2011 (Ashgate; 2015), pp. 157-178

A small glimpse into Llanishen during the Great War

Sitting in a recent service at St Isan’s Church in Llanishen brought sharply into focus the men of Llanishen who sat in those same pews 100 years ago. They had no idea what the coming years would bring where so many would fight and some give their lives for their country.

The Parish Magazines held at Glamorgan Archives provide an insight into the families and attitudes towards the war on the home front. The first issue in the collection, June 1915, reports that:

‘No official news of Norman Ayliffe has been received; we deeply sympathise with Mr and Mrs Ayliffe’.

We know that he had in fact been killed on May 9th at the 2nd battle of Ypres. He was 21.

Collections were made for the Belgian Soldiers’ Fund, Field Kitchens and Water Carriers. Llanishen collected £177 14s 3d which paid for three water carriers.

The July issue listed 85 men in the armed forces, although only 16 were serving abroad and Private W.J.Harp was already a prisoner of war. Further online research revealed that he was a gardener, living in Wyndham Terrace, with a wife and four children, had joined the Royal Irish Regiment and been captured at the Battle of La Bassée on 20th October 1914. He was interned at Hameln Prisoner of War camp where he remained until repatriated in October 1918.

Those at home were exhorted to follow the appeal from the Insurance Commissioners to:

Eat less meat

An appeal for subscribers to the National Egg Collection Fund, which supplied eggs to wounded soldiers and sailors, was a continual occurrence. They were initially sent to the main collecting depot at Harrods in London. As well as eggs, sums from as little as a penny a week were requested and by the beginning of 1916 six dozen eggs were being sent to the Welsh Hospital at Netley. A letter of thanks was later received from the War Office:

‘for the very excellent eggs that have been received in Bolougne… they have been the greatest possible boon to the sick and wounded.’

Later that year there was an ‘Egg service’ where children were invited to bring eggs; 234 were collected, and the 1917 service collected 304. Some time later the following letter was received by one of the egg senders:

Egg letter part 1

Egg letter part 2

The Girls Friendly Society attended their Annual Festival, held in 1916 at St Fagan’s:

our party journeyed thither by motor bus…. The Preacher appealed earnestly to us women and girls to guard well the shield of our faith that we might be a help to others in this time of trial. Tea was most kindly given to the whole party in the Castle grounds by Lady Plymouth….The gardens and grounds were most beautiful and, after strolling about them, sports were indulged in until it was time for us to start our return journey at 8’o clock and it was a very contented party that returned home.’

 A small glimpse into Llanishen during the Great War.

Ann Konsbruck, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Lord Mayor’s Ambulance

On the evening of the 17th of May 1915 children from Dowlais Central, Gellifaelog and Pant Schools were gathered at the Oddfellows’ Hall, Dowlais for what was billed as a United Schools Concert. A programme of 16 sketches and songs was provided including ‘The Soldiers’ Chorus’ performed by the Dowlais Boys’ School, ‘The Saucy Sailor Boy’ by Gellifaelog Infant School, an action song ‘Knit Knit’ by Pant School and the ‘Gypsy Chorus’ performed by the Dowlais Girls School. The evening concluded with the singing of God Save the King. The concert was a great success and it was repeated on the following two nights. As the Head teacher of Dowlais Infant school recorded in the school log book on 20 May, ‘the concerts were very well attended and the four items from this school were very well done’.

The Dowlais concert was just one of a number of United Schools Concerts organised across the Merthyr Tydfil Borough in May 1915. Teachers and pupils also ran a range of additional fundraising events including a ‘soiree’ – a whist drive and dance – held by the Abercanaid and Pentrebach schools at the New Hall, Pentrebach on 15 May. The aim was to raise funds to buy an ambulance for use at the Front in France. Britain had gone to war in August 1914 with ambulance services provided mostly by horse drawn vehicles supplemented by lorries. It was soon realised that a large number of specialist motor ambulances would be needed. The Red Cross took the lead in organising appeals, including The Times appeal launched in October 1914, to raise money to purchase and equip a fleet of ambulances for use in France and Belgium.

The Lord Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Councillor John Davies, took up this challenge and asked schools to help raise enough money for Merthyr to purchase and equip an ambulance. Many individuals and organisations made contributions including the Oddfellows’ Hall with the agreement that 30% of all takings for the performances on the 3 days following the Schools Concerts would also go to the Mayor’s Ambulance Fund. As with many fundraising activities during the War, including provision of ‘comforts’ for troops and help for Belgian refugees, schools took a leading role in raising the money.

The Lord Mayor’s Appeal was a great success. The money raised was forwarded to the Red Cross. Charles Russell, on behalf of the Red Cross Society and the order of St John of Jerusalem, wrote to the Lord Mayor in September thanking the teachers and school children for their ‘magnificent efforts’. It was agreed that the Ambulance would be sent to Merthyr Tydfil in October 1915 once it had been prepared and equipped for use in France. In recognition of their enthusiastic contributions the Lord Mayor granted a special holiday for all schools in the borough on 18 June.

A copy of the original handbill for the United Schools Concert held at the Oddfellows’ Hall in May 1915 can be seen at the Glamorgan Archives.

If you want to find out more about how schools supported the war effort in your area and across Glamorgan you can access summaries for each local authority area (e.g. Merthyr Tydfil) and transcriptions of excerpts from the log books completed by head teachers for individual schools in 1914-18 on the Glamorgan Archives website,

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Peterston schoolboys doing their bit

Although rationing was not introduced until 1918, food shortages were a feature of everyday life in many parts of Britain by 1916. The German naval blockade and the need for men and horses in France resulted in falling agricultural production and reduced grain imports from Canada and the United States. The formation of the Women’s Land Army in 1915 was a direct response to the need to address labour shortages on farms. In addition, smallholders were encouraged to use cottage gardens and allotments to grow food.

The schoolboys of Peterston Super Ely Voluntary School were determined to ‘do their bit’ and on 5 May 1916 the Head teacher, Robert Bailey, noted in the school log book: ‘I am also proud to record the fact that the schoolboys have volunteered to dig and plant the gardens of those wives whose husbands are serving their King and Country and also those widows whose sons have enlisted. Seed potatoes have been provided for the above mentioned wives and widows by Mr James James, Sheep Court Farm’ (ESE 47/2 p195).

The Glamorgan Gazette on 16 May 1916 commended the efforts of the schoolboys in helping the families of men ‘serving their King and Country’. The article also noted that the school was well known for the attention that it gave to gardening.   As early at 11 September 1902 Robert Bailey recorded in the school log book: ‘Messrs Linton, gardener to John Cory Esq., Duffryn and J Banting, gardener to Lady Price, Hensol Castle, kindly judged the plots before the school closed for the midsummer vacation. In their reports the quality of the vegetables and general tidiness of the gardens received special praise. The donor of the prizes has expressed a hope that a few flowers may be added another year’ (ESE 47/2 p5).

The donor referred to was Reginald Cory, son of John Cory of Dyffryn Gardens who provided one guinea each year for the prizes awarded for the best kept allotments at the school. By 1902 Reginald Cory was already beginning to make a name for himself in the horticultural world. References in the school log book to examples of the vegetables grown at the school being sent to the Nature Study Exhibitions in London organised by the Royal Botanical Society in 1902 and 1904 were probably a result of Reginald Cory’s involvement with the Royal Horticultural Society (ESE 47/2 pp. 3, 52).

The praise for their work was quite a feather in the cap of a small school with less than 90 pupils. In May 1905 the Chief Inspector had ‘…taken a copy of Mr Bailey’s report on Cottage Gardening and one of the school’s notebooks for submission to the Education Committee when they consider the CEO’s report on the teaching of horticulture in the County of Glamorgan’ (ESE 47/2 p72).

When food shortages became commonplace during the First World War, Robert Bailey and his pupils were determined to do what they could to help local families. By April 1916 the pupils were busy extending the land under cultivation at the school. The school log books notes: ‘On Monday April 10th my gardening pupils commenced work on a neglected cottage garden called Green Vach and a derelict plot of ground adjoining. The latter was in a very bad state being overgrown with couch grass and horse radish, while the former contained a host of weeds chiefly dock and nettle. The work of reclaiming meant much perseverance and energy on the part of the lads but I am proud to be able to state that by trenching, hand weeding and hoeing the two plots are now getting well under our hands’ (ESE47/2 p194).

The efforts of the school were also noted and supported by a number of local farmers. By the end of May Robert Bailey recorded: ‘Potatoes of several kinds have been planted in the field section, while the sad looking garden of some 6 weeks ago now contains nice rows of carrots, parsnips, onions (spring and autumn) cabbages (green and red), radish, turnips, lettuce and various varieties of winter greens such as broccoli, savoys, brussels sprouts, kale and kohlrabi’ (ESE 47/2 p 195).

The promise to dig and plant local gardens was just one element of the contribution made by pupils at Peterston to the war effort. By September the school ‘was sending vegetables from the school garden … to the 3rd Western General Hospital for Wounded soldiers at Howard Gardens, Cardiff’ (ESE 47/2 p197).

It is likely that this continued during the last two years of the war, although it would have been interrupted in April1917 when, as a result of the shortage of labour, ‘the bigger and older boys have been temporarily exempted [from attendance at school] for work on farms and in gardens…’ (ESE 47/2 p 198).

However, the visits paid to the school by HMI and the Chief Education Official to the Glamorgan County Council, Dr John James, confirm that Peterston Super Ely continued to be seen as an excellent example of good practice and a model for other schools.

It’s perhaps surprising, given the example set by the Women’s Land Army, that girls were not allowed to join the boys in producing vegetables for local military hospitals. The school did take up the recommendation made by Inspectors that the girls be encouraged to grow flowers. In addition, girls entered and won competitions for produce from their own gardens. However, beyond this, it was very much gardening for boys and needlework for girls throughout the war.

The above material has been taken from the log books of Peterston Super Ely Voluntary School for 1902 to 1934 held at the Glamorgan Archives (ESE 47/2). It is just one example of how schools and pupils supported the war effort. Similar accounts can be found in the school records across Glamorgan for 1914-18. If you want to find out more about the impact of the war on school life in your area and across Glamorgan you can access summaries for each local authority area (e.g. Merthyr Tydfil) and transcriptions of excerpts from the log books completed by head teachers for individual schools on the Glamorgan Archives website,

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer