The Bridgend Boys and the Machine Gun

On 25 July 1919, the pupils of Penybont Council Boys’ School attended a meeting held at the Bridgend Town Hall to commemorate the ending of the First World War. Centre stage was a captured German Maxim Gun and one of the Penybont pupils, Edwin James Cuming, aged 9, delivered the following speech:

Dear Friends and citizens of the town of Bridgend, – This is a happy day for us and I have been chosen to tell you about this gun. Penybont Boys’ is the only school in the district, and I believe in South Wales that had been given a gun by His Majesty’s Government. In this we are greatly honoured. The gun is a light German Maxim gun and was captured from the Bosches. It has been presented to our school as a reward for the work of the scholars during Tank Week, and also in connection with the War Savings Campaign. We are proud that we have been able to bring this additional honour to the town of Bridgend, and that the boys of Penybont Boys’ School are showing themselves worthy sons of the Empire (Glamorgan Gazette, 1 Aug 1919)

The log book for Penybont Boys’ school, kept by the Headmaster, John G Jenkins, provides further detail:

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This afternoon the School had a Victory and Peace Celebration of its own in order to show the people the captured German Machine Gun which had been presented to the School by the Government for the meritorious work which had been done by the school in collecting over £4000 in War Savings Cert during the Bridgend Tank Week. Many of the boys dressed in fancy costumes. They paraded the town and dismissed in front of the Town Hall after the delivery of two or three speeches and singing of several patriotic songs (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 25 Jul 1919, EM10/11 p.499)

The raising of £4000 amounted to approximately £12 per pupil – a massive sum in 1919. In addition, the money raised for Tank Week was just one element of the work undertaken by the Penybont Boys during the war years. John Jenkins’ log book, held at the Glamorgan Archives, records the remarkable effort made by the boys and staff of the Penybont Boys’ School from August 1914 onwards to raise money and support the war effort.

In August 1914 Penybont Boys’ School had 330 pupils. The school was run by the Headmaster supported by only 6 assistants. Each of the teachers, including the Headmaster, would have led classes of at least 40 pupils and often more when staff were absent. In addition, the fabric of the school was not in good repair. A School Inspection report from earlier in the 1914 tells us:

The recommendations of the 1909 report with regard to classroom accommodation, direct access to the playground, heating and the provision of hoppers for the lower sections of the windows have still to be carried out… The two small classrooms are still habitually overcrowded. Several windows panes were broken at the time of the visit (Penybont Boys’ School,, log book, 24 Apr 1914, EM10/11 pp.365-68).

Yet Penybont Boys’ School was clearly a very well run school. Average attendance was 90% and the Inspection report for 1914 noted:

The Department is staffed with energetic teachersA very good scheme of work has been planned and under the able supervision of the Master, who himself takes a full share in teaching, is soundly carried out (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 24 Apr 1914, EM10/11 pp.365).

John Jenkins was a very experienced Headmaster. Born in Maesteg, he was 57 in 1914 and had been Headmaster of Bridgend Boys’ School for over 30 years. He was also a noted figure in the local community as Chair of the Bridgend Urban District Council and a deacon of the English Congregational Church in Bridgend. At the outbreak of war there is no doubt that he decided that his school would play its full part in supporting in the local war effort and the boys of Penybont School certainly rose to the challenge.

One of the earliest appeals was launched by the Prince of Wales to provide relief for the families of servicemen. In August 1914 Penybont was already struggling to cope with the immediate impact of the war on staffing:

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We resumed duties after the summer holidays under the shadow of the terrible war which has broken out between Germany and Austria on one side and England, France and Russia on the other. This has already disorganised my staff as Mr. Brown has rejoined the colours and Mr B J Jones who had been appointed to succeed Mr Morgan has failed to take up his engagement. We had only four teachers this morning to teach seven classes… (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 31 Aug 1914, EM10/11 p.379)

Although in some instances teachers had to cope with classes of 70, the school responded magnificently to the call to raise money for the Prince of Wales’ Fund. The Glamorgan Gazette listed every week the donations made by the school from September 1914 onwards. Several months later John Jenkins noted:

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Ever since the week ending Sept 4th   my boys have subscribed weekly to some military fund or other. Up to Nov. 13th the school, including the staff, had collected a sum of £7 19s 8d and sent it to the Prince of Wales Fund. From then on to Dec 17th another sum of £2 7s 2d has been subscribed. With this money we purchased 50 shilling boxes of cigarettes and sent them to our Old Boys stationed in Scotland with the Welsh Cyclist Corps. Besides cigarettes we sent a parcel of splendid woollen mufflers and chocolates. Serg. Major Miles, to whom we sent the goods, sent a very warm letter of thanks from himself and the Old Boys for their happy Christmas box (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 26 Feb 1915, EM10/11 p.387).

The good work undertaken by the boys was not limited to raising money. To cope with the number of wounded from France and further afield, the Red Cross set up hospitals across Glamorgan. Penybont Boys’ School immediately adopted the Red Cross Hospital established at Merthyrmawr Road and from 1915 onwards sent regular deliveries of food and supplies for the servicemen.

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This week we have sent our second consignment of gifts to the Red Cross Military Hospital in Merthyrmawr Road. The boys were asked to bring eggs and fruit and they responded very well. Over 100 eggs were sent to the Hospital besides a large quantity of apples, oranges, bananas, chocolates and cigarettes. About 20 eggs were also sent to the Cottage Hospital. Cordial letters of thanks were sent to the boys by the two matrons of the respective hospitals. Last week we sent nearly 40 eggs and a large basket of fruit (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 1 Apr 1915, EM10/11 p.389-90)

John Jenkins, as a former member of the famous Cor Caradoc, was also well known for his love of music. Under his leadership the Penybont Boys’ school choir took a leading role in local concerts organised to raise money throughout the war.

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My boys took part in a Concert last Wednesday night in the Town Hall. A section of the St I and II sang ‘Till the boys come home’ and a large section of St V, VI, VII sang Sullivan’s ‘Lost Chord’. There will be a repeat performance tonight. The proceeds of the two concerts will be devoted to the support of Queen Mary’s Guild (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 21 Jan 1916, EM10/11 p.415)

Performances were not limited to choral works. As the Glamorgan Gazette recorded, the Penybont boys often included a dramatic rendition of the scene before Agincourt from Shakespeare’s Henry V. The scene was obviously a great favourite and was repeated on St David’s Day when the boys marched through the streets of Bridgend and performed for parents and the townspeople on the steps of the Town Hall.

In fact there were very few fund raising activities where the Penybont boys did not shine, including their contribution to the many Flag Days held in Bridgend. The Glamorgan Gazette reported on 5 March 1915 that the Penybont boys had raised £2 5s 9d and …scarcely a person passed through any of the main thoroughfares without having a flag pinned on them.

From 1917 onwards schools were asked to set up a War Savings Society to promote the purchase of War Bonds. In 1918 a number of Tanks toured South Wales as part of a national campaign to encourage local communities to purchase bonds. The arrival of the Tank, Egbert, in Bridgend, in June 1918 was possibly the boys’ finest hour.

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The tank ‘Egbert’ paid a visit to our town on Tuesday and Wednesday, 18th and 19th inst. The huge sum of £230,500 was invested in the tank by the people of Bridgend and the surrounding district. As the population of the town is now only about 7,500 the above sum represents a sum per head of head of over £30 one of the best contributions in the Kingdom. The proceedings in front of the Town Hall where the tank was stationed were characterised by great enthusiasm and patriotic fervour. The Choir of our school occupied the stage in front of the tank on two occasions and sang numerous patriotic and national songs, to the evident pleasure of the great assemblage, which completely filled the square. Our School Assoc’, The Penybont Boys’ War Savings Association invested in the tank on Wed afternoon the comparatively large sum of £2,100, representing a sum of £2,800 in War Certificates. This placed our school easily on top of all the schools in the town and district whether elementary or secondary and had I believe made a record for the schools of the whole County of Glamorgan (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 21 Jun 1918, EM10/11 pp.473-4)

The Penybont School also had its share of ‘war heroes’. In July 1917 John Jenkins recorded:

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The father of one of my old boys who is at the front visited me today and gave me the gratifying news that his son – Charlie Lawrence of Newcastle has been awarded the D.C.M for distinguished conduct ‘In the Field’. The other day the townspeople presented another of my Old Boys with a gold watch for winning the Military Medal. The presentation meeting was held in the Town Hall Square and I had the honour of presiding over the meeting and of presenting the hero with the watch. The Old Boy’s name is Corporal Fred Quinlan of South Street. Another of my Old Boys who has won a Military Medal is Harry Bushnell, now living in Treorchy; and yet another is Frank Howells, Nolton St, who has been awarded the Military Medal, and it is rumoured that he has been recommended for a VC. My own son also, T Steve Jenkins has recently received a Commission at the Front ‘for meritorious Service in the Field’ (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 20 Jul 1917, EM10/11 pp.451-2)

However, there was also news of losses from the Front in France:

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News has been received, that unfortunately it is officially confirmed of the death of two of my old scholars in the field of battle viz Willie Davis, Oldcastle and Edwin Thomas …. Other Old Boys who have fallen were Fred Thomas, Arthur Palmer and John Fitzgerald (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 29 May 1916, EM10/11 p.422).

It is not surprising, therefore, that John Jenkins and the boys threw themselves into the celebrations at the end of the war with gusto.

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News of the Great Armistice with the belligerent nations in the Great War came this morning about 11 o’clock. I immediately organised a procession of the boys thro’ the principal streets of the town, headed by their school banner. We cheered the King, Lloyd George, Foch, Haig and Beatty, and sang ‘God Save the King’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ in front of the Town Hall, and then returned to school. Half holiday in the afternoon. Staff and children and most of the townspeople half delirious with joy (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 11 Nov 1918, EM10/11 pp.481-2)

The school was reopened he following day …with a very poor attendance. It might have been expected that this drew the boys’ war time work to an end. However, there was still much to be done not just in welcoming the troops home but also in continuing to raise money, through Bonds, to pay for the war. The War Savings campaign, therefore, continued without a break in the immediate post war years. The schools that sold the most Bonds in Bridgend were promised additional holidays. In January 1919 the John Jenkins noted.

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Mr Preece, the Manager’s Clerk has written to tell me that my school has won a half holiday for collecting the next highest amount per head in war Savings Certificates during the month of December. The holiday will be taken next Friday afternoon the 31 inst. (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 24 Jan 1919, EM10/11 p.488).

The boys also continued to support a range of local events. For example, on 27 December 1918, the Glamorgan Gazette reported on a concert held at the cinema in Bridgend to raise money for the Bridgend Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Reception Fund. Amongst a number of performers:

The Penybont Boys’ Choir (conducted by Mr J G Jenkins) again created a very favourable impression, singing in perfect time and with clear enunciation and the sweetest harmony – quite suggestive of a trained cathedral choir (Glamorgan Gazette, 27 Dec 1918)

It was probably this ongoing work that led to the ‘queer request’ noted in John Jenkins’ log book from the Education Department …for particulars of any special work done by the school during the period of the war (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 27 Mar 1919, EM10/11 p.493). This request was the springboard for the War Office’s decision to present the school with the Maxim gun as a reward for its efforts.

The log book tells the story of a remarkable school and a remarkable Headmaster. Penybont Boys’ School operated in difficult circumstances. Throughout the War, the Headmaster continued to make regular appeals for contributions to his ‘Boot Fund’ so that there poorest pupils could be provided with shoes (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 22 Feb 1918, EM10/11 p465). Yet those who had so little gave an enormous amount to support the war effort . Dr Abel Jones on behalf of the National War Savings Committee for the County of Glamorgan wrote to John Jenkins in June 1918:

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I must congratulate you and your staff and children very heartily upon the excellent contribution you made to the Tank visit last week. I shall be very glad if you will convey to them my congratulations. I have not heard of any other school in the County doing so well (Penybont Boys’ School, log book, 28 Jun 1918, EM10/11 p.475)

The log book does not tell us what became of the Maxim gun. If you know what happened to it please let us know so that we can add it to the above account.

The above material has been taken from the log book of a school in the Bridgend District. Similar stories can be found in the records of schools 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 of the school log books for each local authority area on the Glamorgan Archives website You can also access many of the newspapers produced in Wales in 1914-18, including the material from the Glamorgan Gazette quoted above, at This website from the National Library of Wales provides free online access to newspapers produced in Wales.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Aberdare Grandpa’s Regiment

On the 5 November 1917 Thomas Davies, headmaster of Abernant Boys’ School, noted in the school log book:

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‘I am leaving at 3.00 this afternoon and will not be present tomorrow morning – ‘Guard Duty’ at Cardiff Docks’ (Abernant Boys’ School, log book, 5 Nov. 1917, EA11/4, p.135).

For many people mention of the Home Guard or ‘Dad’s Army’ immediately conjures up thoughts of Walmington on Sea and the antics of Captain Mainwaring and Private Pike as they prepared to ‘do their bit’ to repulse a possible German invasion in 1940. However, it is less well known that the Home Front was also defended in the First World War by an earlier Dad’s Army known as the Volunteer Training Corps (VTC). The log books of the Aberdare schools for 1914-18 provide a useful insight into the lives of some of the men from the Aberdare area who joined the local VTC.

In the months following the outbreak of war in August 1914, there was a very real prospect of invasion. As a result civilians in many areas of the country came together to establish local defence groups often organised by former servicemen. Aberdare was no exception and on 31 August 1914, William Roberts, the Headmaster of Aberdare Park Council Boys’ School, reported:

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‘A teachers’ corps has been set up due to the war. The head teacher attended a drill session at 6.30 on Thursday and also on the evening of this particular day. All the other male teachers attend except for Mr H. Williams who suffers from eczema on his feet’ (Aberdare Park Council Boys’ School, log book, 31 Aug. 1914, EA23/5, pp.496-7)

The War Office was well aware that there was a need to take urgent action to draw local groups into an organised body under military control. By the end of 1914 the local militia had been absorbed into county regiments under the control of a new body promoted by the War Office, the Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps. Along with other headteachers across the county, in January 1915, William Roberts received two circulars from the Board of Education and the War Office setting out the framework for local Volunteer Training Corps. The first, No 1/15, stated that:

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‘The Army Council consider that all men of military age who can be spared should join the Regular Forces either as Officers or Privates and they hope that no one who is able and willing to join the Forces will be deterred from doing so by the arrangements now made for the recognition of Volunteer Training Corps. They realise however, that teachers in public schools are already performing public service and are prepared, if such teachers cannot be spared from their posts, without substantial detriment to that service to regard them as having a genuine reason within the meaning of Rule 1 for not now enlisting in the Regular or Territorial Army. Any teacher, however, who being of military age enrols himself in a Volunteer Training Corps, will be subject to the condition in Rule 1 that he could subsequently enlist if he is specially called upon by the War Office to do so’ (Aberdare Park Council Boys’ School, log book, 11-15 Jan. 1915, EA23/6, pp.25-6).

The second Circular, No. 2/15, outlined the far from glamorous terms that local groups were required to operate under.

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‘1) No arms, ammunition or clothing will be supplied from public sources nor will financial assistance be given. 2) There may be uniformity of dress among members of individual organisations provided no badge or rank are worn and provided that the dress is distinguishable from that of Regular and Territorial units. 3) Members of recognised organisations will be allowed to wear as a distinctive badge a red armlet of a breadth of three inches with the letter GR inscribed thereon. The badge will be worn on the left arm above the elbow. 4) The accepted military ranks and title will not be used or recognised and no uniform is to be worn except when necessary for training. 5) No form of attestation involving an oath is permitted. 6) It will be open to Army recruitment officers to visit the Corps at any time and to recruit any members found eligible for service with the Regular Army whose presence in the Corps is not accounted for by some good and sufficient reason’ (Aberdare Park Boys’ School, log book, 11-15 Jan. 1915, EA23/6, pp.27-28).

The log books do not reveal what happened to the original group of volunteers from Aberdare. We do know, however, from regular accounts in the local newspapers that, by June 1915, Aberdare had established its own Volunteer Training Corps. The Aberdare VTC was formed following an appeal for men to come forward made at a meeting held at the Aberdare Town Hall on 24 May. It was suggested that drill be held on Wednesday evening at the Drill Hall, Cwmbach Road between 7 and 9pm. However, ‘if Wednesday night is considered inconvenient for drill purposes some other night may be arranged. All men over the military age limit are eligible to attend’ (Aberdare Leader, 5 June 1915).

On the one hand the VTC was not the most enticing prospect. As set out in the January Circular, volunteers were not provided with uniforms or weapons. The only emblem that denoted membership of the Corps would have been a red arm band with the letters GR. In addition, each volunteer had to pay a subscription fee of 2s 6d a month to meet the costs of equipping and training the Corps. The volunteers were also the butt of many jokes including the jibe that GR stood for ‘Grandpa’s Regiment’.

Despite the lack of central support, within a month the Aberdare VTC, soon to become B Company of the 2nd Battalion (Merthyr Battalion) of the Glamorgan Volunteer Training Corps, had recruited over 70 men. Initially the volunteers attended two training sessions each week held at the Drill Hall and the school playground of Aberdare County Girls’ School. The training schedule was published each week in the Aberdare Leader and within a year the VTC was meeting 5 nights a week.

Thomas Davies, Headmaster of Abernant School, and A T Jenkins, Head of Cwmbach Junior School, were just two of many teachers in the Aberdare area who joined the Volunteer Training Corps. The log books for their respective schools make several references to their membership of the VTC. For example, in December 1916 Thomas Davies was not in school having:

‘… received permission to be absent tomorrow in order to be present at the Inspection by Viscount French at Cardiff. The Aberdare Corps, of which I am a member, will travel …on the 10.30 TVR train’ (Abernant Boys’ School, log book, 13 Dec. 1916, EA11/4, p.119).

The experience of A T Jenkins was perhaps more typical of life in the VTC with the Head having ‘…arrived in school at 10.15 having returned by the morning train’ from ‘guard duty in Cardiff’ (Cwmbach Junior Mixed School, log book, 1-2 Oct. 1918, EA19/6, p.2, 1-2).

In a similar vein Thomas Davies, in June 1917, noted ‘I was absent from school this morning being on duty at Cardiff last night in company with other men of the 2nd Battn, Vol Regt, viz ‘Guard Duty’ at Roath Dock’ (Abernant Boys’ School, log book, 18 Jun. 1917, EA11/4, p.130).

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By the end of 1916 the Aberdare VTC would have been a very different proposition to the group formed in June 1915. The Aberdare Leader recorded on 25 December 1915 that ‘…six dozen rifles had been ordered for the use of the Corps, and also that the uniforms were expected shortly’. It is possible that the initial uniforms would have been lovat green given the War Office’s decision to ensure that the VTC was clearly distinguishable from the regular troops. However, we know from the Aberdare Leader that, by the end of 1917, the Company had received a new set of khaki uniforms and had been provided with the standard British infantry rifle, the 303 Lee Enfield. In addition, as Thomas Davies recorded, training was no longer limited to evening drill and rifle practice sessions:

‘I was absent from school duties yesterday – Sept 24th – being in training in the Military Camp at Porthcawl since 22nd inst. I did not receive intimation of same till late Friday evening’ (Abernant Boys’ School, log book, 25 Sep. 1917, EA11/4, p.134).

The changes were probably a result of the decision made by the War Office, in August 1916, to take over the running of the VTC and absorb it within the armed forces as the ‘Volunteer Force’.

At the same time an appeal had been made by the Earl of Plymouth in the Western Mail for £10,000 to equip the Glamorgan Volunteer Regiment. Initially, it was envisaged that the VTC would be primarily for those over the age of enlistment in the armed forces. However, the age profile of the Aberdare Company would have changed significantly by the latter half of 1916 with the introduction of conscription. Younger men, exempt from military service, were often directed by local Military Tribunals to join the VTC for either the period of the war or until they were required for military service. By end of 1918 one in three members had been directed to the VTC by the Tribunals.

There is no doubt that the Aberdare VTC performed valuable work throughout the war, including taking the strain off regular forces and the police by providing guards for key installations. The activities of the VTC did not, however, always meet with universal approval. In October 1915, the practice of holding parades on a Sunday was condemned by the Hirwaun Welsh Free Church Council, with letters sent to nonconformist members of the VTC asking them not to attend such events. (Aberdare Leader, 9 Oct. 1915). Later in the war the suggestion that that the VTC might have a role in the training of a cadet corps providing military drill for boys over the age of 12 years resulted in the Aberdare Trades and Labour Council issuing a letter outlining its ‘…uncompromising opposition to any attempt to militarise education…’ (Aberdare Leader, 20 Apr. 1918).

Towards the end of 1917 the Aberdare Leader published a series of articles by someone using the pseudonym ‘303’. 303 was a member of the Aberdare Company who preferred to remain anonymous. Under the heading ‘Volunteer Notes’ he provided a very good flavour of life in the VTC, including the intense rivalry between local companies:

‘I hear that Hirwaun is bold enough to say that they have a team of 8 willing to compete against any 8 Aberdare or Mountain Ash can turn out against them and they are willing to put up a nice stake. What says the old ‘uns of ‘Berdare and the Mount? Anything doing?’ (Aberdare Leader, 3 Nov. 1917).

‘Look out for the Battalion Parade at Cardiff shortly and attend the next drills of special arms drill so as to maintain B Company’s stand as the Cock Company of Battalion Two’ (Aberdare Leader, 3 Nov. 1917).

‘Who is going to buy the first pair of War Office boots 23s 9d and only to be worn on duty. And on the instalment plan too. My word!’ (Aberdare Leader, 10 Nov. 1917).

‘The sneer is sometimes heard that our volunteers are ‘fair weather soldiers’. That is utterly uninformed as amply authenticated by various reports issued by the CAVR…’ (Aberdare Leader, 10 Nov. 1917).

‘Night duty on guard is not the pleasantest of work, but when a guard is able to get back home in time for bed and secure the marks for drill it becomes a real pleasure’ (Aberdare Leader, 24 Nov. 1917).

‘The new equipment is arriving and some of the men ‘don’t half fancy themselves’, not half… Not a few approached the irreproachable Instructor to be excused class so that they could get home quickly to show their wives the ‘get up’. I wonder if they all said ‘wives’ (Aberdare Leader, 1 Dec. 1917)

‘Congratulations to our new Captain and may he be a good Cox to the Company. They want a bit of steering at present’ (Aberdare Leader, 1 Dec. 1917).

303 was not above a few gentle jibes at the Aberdare VTC officers and NCOs. In one edition of ‘Volunteer Notes’ he set out the following challenge: ‘No Sergeant, you have not solved the identity of 303 yet. Try again’ (Aberdare Leader, 24 Nov. 1917). The following edition was the last time that ‘Volunteer Notes’ appeared in the Leader. It is just possible that 303’s identity was uncovered or, wisely, he decided that it was time to keep a low profile.

We will never know whether 303 was one of the volunteers drawn from teachers at the Aberdare schools. However, we do know that several of the volunteers were keen to use their military skills back at school and with mixed results:

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‘Tues am. Hd Teacher took 25 boys, St IV, to the baths and on the way through the park tested them in drill – marching, changing step, turning, wheeling. Hardly satisfactory as some of the boys continually wrong in the turning and some do not exercise any thought, they simply do what others do whether right or wrong – a few cannot change step’ (Aberdare Park Council Boy’s School, log book, 3-7 Jul. 1916, EA23/6, pp.195-96).

The Volunteer Training Corps was just one of the many ways that teachers supported the war. For example, teachers were frequently asked to help with fundraising, registration at army recruitment offices and, later in the war, they played an important role in the rollout of food rationing arrangements. In addition, along with many others, they were asked to volunteer for work during the summer holidays, including farm work to make up for the shortage of labour on the land. However, their time in the VTC was probably the most memorable experience for many. Despite the jibes and teasing there was an intense pride in the achievements of local companies and the role that they were playing in winning the war. It is estimated that approximately 300,000 men served in the Volunteer Training Corps during the First World War. The Corps was suspended after the signing of the Armistice in 1918 and formally disbanded in January 1920.

The above material has been taken from the log books of schools in the Aberdare area. Similar stories can be found in the records of schools 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 of the school log books for each local authority area on the Glamorgan Archives website You can also access many of the newspapers produced in Wales in 1914-18, including the material from the Aberdare Leader quoted above, at The website has been set up by the National Library of Wales to provide a free online resource to access newspapers produced in Wales.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Allotments during the First World War

Allotments have been with us for many hundreds of years, possibly as far back as Anglo-Saxon times. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that they began to be used in the way we recognise today. At this point land was allotted to the working poor in the countryside so that they could grow food, while in urban areas the relatively well-off used allotments as a way to escape city life. In the late-1900s the Small Holdings and Allotments Act came into force, making local authorities responsible for provision of allotments according to demand.

As the First World War progressed, it became apparent that Britain could no longer reply on imports of food from other countries, as the ships transporting them became frequent torpedo targets for German ships and u-boats. This led to a rise in the number of allotments, as local authorities allowed derelict land to be used for growing food.

The Board of Agriculture and the War Agricultural Committee were involved in helping to acquire land, although the final decision laid with the parish councils. As early as September 1914, parish council minutes show that the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries was encouraging the residents of Pencoed to cultivate gardens and allotments (Pencoed Parish Council, minute book, P131/1/2). One option favoured by the Board was the use of land near roads and railways for allotments. At Llandaff railway station, for example, land was acquired near the station and the station’s hotel (Whitchurch Parish Council, minute book, P6/64). By 1917 even this was not considered enough. In Pontyclun and Talygarn, it was recommended that the church ground be used as gardens (Pontyclun and Talygarn Parish, vestry minute book, P205CW/33).

Pontyclun church-ground

One problem the local authorities faced was that not everyone who had land that could be cultivated would willingly give it up for use as allotments. In Newcastle Parish, Bridgend, the parish council reported that a Mr Thomas repeatedly refused to give up his land, despite the local authorities pointing out to him that they had the right to purchase his land in a compulsory manner if necessary (Newcastle Parish Council, minute book, P84/15).



Another issue that surfaced was the unsuitability of some land for crop growing. In Tythegston the parish council made it clear that ‘unless the allotments were allowed to be where the Surveyor had pegged out the ground that they would have nothing to do with them’ (Tythegston Parish Council, minute book, P88/2). It would appear that the processing of applications to Glamorgan County Council by the parish councils for use of land as allotments took some time. In one instance, this led the Ynysawdre parish to contact the Dunraven estate to see if they could offer land instead (Ynysawdre Parish Council, minute book, P129/2/3). But even the Estates were not always willing for their land to be used, as the parish of Laleston discovered (Laleston Parish Council, minute book, P81/7/1).



The local authorities tried to help those who had allotments, giving advice on a variety of issues. Llanishen parish council advised gardeners to put fruit and vegetables in Kilner jars, as this would mean they would not have to use sugar to preserve them (Llanishen Parish, parish magazine, P55CW/61/31).


In Llancarfan the War Agricultural Committee asked the parish council to secure seed potatoes for allotment farmers (Llancarfan Parish Council, minute book, P36/11), although in Rhigos the Glamorgan County Council Agricultural Committee canvassed allotment farmers to invest in the potato seeds (Rhigos Parish Council, minute book, P241/2/1). Those who grew potatoes were encouraged to spray them to prevent disease (Newcastle Parish Council, minute book, P84/20).

Once the war was over, interest in allotments declined. Some land returned to its previous state, or was put to other use. But one problem remained. Some of the fields used for cricket had been converted to allotments during the war, such as the one at St Fagans Road, Ely (Llandaff Parish Council, minute book, P53/30/5). When the cricketers returned ho me after the war and wished to play again, they found that some of their playing grounds were out of use.


Many of the remaining fields were in demand, which meant that finding a vacant field for a game was very near impossible (Roath Parish, parish magazine, P57CW/72/10).

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant


Some years ago Glamorgan Archives acquired a vacuum press, which has been put to good use recently to package degrading cellulose nitrate and acetate negatives for safe handling before freezing. Conservation staff were just wondering what else the press could be used for when the November issue of the ICON Journal appeared. It featured an article by Hiromi Tanimura on squelch drying books damaged by tsunami water. The squelch method had been developed by Stuart Welch, and was first used to great effect in 2002 when dealing with the aftermath of the Prague floods at the National Library of the Czech Republic.

Squelch sounded like fun! So we decided to research the method further and try it out ourselves. Initial trials were on two modern hard back volumes, library deaccessions. They were put into a bucket which was filled with water and left overnight. The pages of the volumes had been splayed out for the first trial as we wanted the volumes to be as wet as possible.


The next morning the volumes were taken out of the water and as much of the water as was safely possible gently squeezed out by hand. They were then wrapped in bondina (a non-woven polyester fabric), which acts as a release and prevents the volume sticking to the newsprint in which it is wrapped before being bagged and vacuum packed in the machine.

Packing in newspaper

Wrapping in bondina reduces cost as it also prevents any off setting from inks. Any kind of absorbent paper can be used, including printed newspaper, reducing costs as expensive blotting paper is not needed in large quantities.

Vacuum packed

Once the volume and its wrappings have been sealed and vac packed into its bag it compacts into a solid block. Because the volume has become so compact the water is forced out of the boards and text block into the news print. Once the news print is wet the process is repeated with paper or blotters placed between pages as the volume dries. After the initial 4 or 5 changes the paper wrappings and interleavings need changing only once every 24 hours.

The major advantages of this process are that once the volume is dry it still resembles a volume, opening and closing as it should, unlike an air dried volume which will be splayed and thickened. Removing the air removes the risk of mould growth so the volume can stay bagged in its wrappings for a considerable length of time. Compacted volumes are easily stacked for storage taking up much less space. This, along with the length of time they can be left before changing the wrappings, is especially useful in managing a large scale disaster, or if items need to be moved from one location to another.

The only problem we found with this method is that the spines of the volumes are pushed inwards distorting the volume slightly, so that the fore edge of the text block protrudes from the boards. But this may have been because we were using very modern, cheaply bound books. We are currently experimenting with using a former to support the edge in the bag and with older and more sturdy bindings to see if the spine still distorts. Mostly we are enjoying playing with the machine and telling visitors that we are squelching!