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, http://www.glamarchives.gov.uk
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer