The Great War Commemorative Mug

On 18th July 1919, 455 pupils from the Caerphilly Girls’ School were presented with commemorative mugs to mark the end of the Great War with the signing at Versailles of the Peace Treaty.  The mugs were also a reward for the sterling work undertaken by staff and pupils at the school over the preceding 5 years to support the war effort.

In the first weeks of the First World War schools across Wales looked for ways and means of supporting the war effort. The initial response often came from the girls’ schools with very practical proposals to provide additional clothing for the troops in France. Caerphilly Girls’ school was one of the first to recognise how it could help. Just four weeks after the beginning of the war the Headmistress, Miss Morgan, reported in the school log book:

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In consequence of a great European War in which our country is engaged as Protector of Belgium, a Neutral State, & eventually to carry out her obligations to France, as per agreement against Prussian Militarism, the girls in the three upper classes have been anxious to do something for our gallant soldiers. In order to minister somewhat to their comfort, they have decided each, to knit a pair of socks or comforter. They have therefore undertaken to collect the money to pay for the wool, and as a result of their efforts, the sum realised is £7-14-0 [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 4 Sep 1914, ECG13/3 p.35]

In October the first batch of woollen socks and mufflers was ready and on its way to London:

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The first parcel of socks and mufflers knitted by the girls, viz:- 32 pairs of socks and 23 mufflers were sent to-day to the Lady-in- Waiting to the Queen, Devonshire House. They had been washed and pressed, gratis, at the local laundries [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 29 Oct 1914, ECG13/3 p.38]

It was a small but very welcome contribution to the welfare of the troops. Three years later with the war entering its fourth year, the Caerphilly girls were still receiving and responding to requests for extra clothing for soldiers and sailors:

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We have been asked to begin work afresh for the soldiers & sailors again. The Hon. Sec. of the Cardiff Branch, Women’s Advisory Com. War Work Mrs J. Price Williams has sent on 24lbs of wool to make up, & the senior class has commenced in earnest this afternoon [Caerphilly Girls School, 21 Sep 1917, ECG13/3 p.106]

It may well be that the donation of wool in 1917 recognised that, as the war progressed, local families were hard pressed to spare money for the numerous appeals made for the soldiers, sailors and their dependants. Miss Morgan’s log book highlighted the difficulties faced by local people in Caerphilly as the war led to shortages of food and fuel and forced up the price of many basic commodities. In December 1916 the Headmistress noted:

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The weather is still very miserable and there is much sickness, many girls being very badly shod owing to the great increase in the price of boots, and other commodities which are the dire results of disastrous war which has raged during the past twenty –nine months [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 15 Dec 1916, ECG13/3 pp.89-90]

Twelve months later the story was very similar:

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The attendance is still going down, sickness the chief reason. Owing to the strenuous circumstances arising out of the war, many are unable to attend owing to bad boots etc. [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 16 Nov 1917, ECG13/3 p.108]

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Owing to the shortage of butter etc. a large number of girls are kept at home for the purpose of taking their turns at the local grocers [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 13 Dec 1917, ECG13/3 p.109]

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The attendance for the week is exceptionally poor, bad weather, sickness, together with the difficulty to procure the bare necessaries; consequence on the war conditions is responsible for this…. [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 21 Dec 1917, ECG13/3 p.110]

Yet despite the difficulties the school never missed an opportunity to help the war effort. For example, every St David’s Day an ‘entertainment’ was provided by the staff and pupils at the Castle Cinema, with the premises provided free of charge by the proprietor, Mr Gibbon. Parents and family were invited to attend and a collection was taken. In 1916 Miss Morgan recorded:

In addition to a short address on the Patron Saint, Welsh Airs and Recitations, short playlets illustrative of early periods in the history of our people have been got up in character by the various standards a) A Pageant of Welsh heroes, 2) A Legend of the Leek, 3) A Scene from Henry V after the Battle of Agincourt, 4) The opening Episode of the Welsh National Pageant.

The school will line up at 9.30 and they will march in procession to the above named hall. Mr Barker ex schoolmaster and famous harpist has promised to be present to give some selections on the harp and the members of the 2nd and 3rd Std on their own request are presenting him with a bouquet of spring flowers this being his birthday [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 1 Mar 1916, ECG13/3 pp.71-72]

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A silver collection was taken from the balcony which amounted to 26s which is to be sent on to Brigadier General Owen Thomas in aid of the Welsh Fund for Disabled Soldiers after the War [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 2 Mar 1916, ECG13/3 p.72]

The following year Miss Morgan noted:

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St. David’s Day celebration at Castle Cinema. A collection, which amounted to 13/2d was made in the audience, and this will be duly handed over to Hon. Mrs Lloyd George, wife of the Prime Minister, towards the National Fund for Welsh Troops [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 1 Mar 1917, ECG13/3 p.93]

It seems that no opportunity was lost to raise money. In the week before the Christmas holidays Miss Morgan again noted in her log book:

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An entertainment has been arranged….Each class contributes one or more items for the programme and the senior girls are ready with a small play -The Sleeping Beauty. It has been suggested that where possible the scholars will bring a copper, and the full amount expended on wool, that the senior girls can be set on comforts for our brave soldiers and sailors, upon the opening of school after the recess [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 15 Dec 1916, ECG13/3 pp.89-90]

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The entertainment mentioned above was carried out and was heartily enjoyed by the scholars and staff. Sum Collected £3-2-7.The wool will be purchased and the record of work handed in to the Education Committee [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 22 Dec 1916, ECG13/3 p.90]

It may well have been that the girls were inspired by one of their own teachers, Miss Hughes, who in 1915 trained and volunteered for service overseas as a nurse:

Miss Hughes has taken the St. John’s Nursing course as a preparation for hospital work, and has got her certificate. The Education Committee has sanctioned her application, that of allowing her to take the month’s probation course on the understanding that the War Office appoint her afterwards for the duration of the “War” or at least for 12 months [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 2 Jun 1915, ECG13/3 p.53]

The school log records that she embarked at Gravesend in September 1915 for Egypt. There is no record of Miss Hughes returning to visit Caerphilly Girls’ School but she must have created quite a sensation when she left for war service overseas. In addition, with the decision to allow married women teachers to remain in post until the end of the war, several teachers at the school had husbands serving at the front. At least one of the Caerphilly teachers, Mrs Foxall, received the sad news that her husband had …fallen in action In France… [Caerphilly Girls’ School, ECG13/3 p.123].

By 1917 the Government had recognised the potential to raise money for the war effort by harnessing the enthusiasm and resources of schools. All schools were asked to set up systems to sell War Bonds:

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Received notification from the Chief Education Official that the Caerphilly Group of schools will be closed on Tuesday 22nd inst, in order that head teachers and their staff may attend a meeting, convened by the Secretary of the National War Savings Committee, Salisbury Square EC4…

The dire need of enlisting the full sympathy of the parents through the scholars in straining to the uttermost, the means of saving methodically & taking the advantage of the facilities now offered by the Government for small investors, & thereby helping to bring this gruesome war to an honourable end, is the object of calling the teachers together [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 15 May 1917, ECG13/3 pp.97-98]

When the tanks visited Caerphilly and other towns in South Wales, in June 1918, as part of a national campaign to promote the sale of War Savings Certificates the school once again rose to the challenge:

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Visit of the tank Egbert to Caerphilly with the object of raising £100,000 for the purposes of the Great World War. The schools of the town were closed yesterday afternoon to celebrate the event [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 22 Jun 1918, ECG13/3 p.117]

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…As a result of special effort mentioned above 104 War Savings Certificates 15/6 each were purchased at the Tank on Saturday 22nd in connection with this department [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 26 Jun 1918, ECG13/3 p.117]

The signing of the Armistice in November 1918 did not bring the school’s work to an end. The school log records that the pupils continued to sell War Bonds and put on entertainments to raise money for war charities well into the following year. The souvenir mugs presented to all pupils on 18 July 1919 were, therefore, well earned. From the record in the Headmistress’ log there is no doubt that the pupils of Caerphilly Girls’ School – all 455 girls – were determined to celebrate both the formal ending of the war and their contribution during the war:

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Children of school age are entertained today to tea at their respective school and when this is over the three departments of the school will march in procession through the town to the several fields kindly lent for their occasion where an interesting programme of events – sportive, will take place. The school that is, the class rooms are very tastefully decorated and all is now ready to make the happy event, forever remembered by the scholars. Number catered for 455 [Caerphilly Girls’ School, 18 Jul 1919, ECG13/3 p.141]

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Boy Signallers: Leslie Evans and Philip Adams

In 1914 the school leaving age was 14 years. As the war progressed in response to labour shortages it was not uncommon for local education authorities to allow pupils to leave school before the normal leaving age. The school log books for this period held at the Glamorgan Archives contain numerous examples of young children being allowed to leave school before the age of 14 to work on local farms. However, perhaps one of the strangest entries in the school log books was the release of two young boys from Barry High School in November 1914. On the 3 November 1914 the Head teacher recorded in the school log book:

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Two boys Leslie Evans (Add. No: 1320) and Philip Adams (Ass. No: 1385) both of school age were removed from the registers this morning. They have gone to sea as signallers in connection with the coaling of the Fleet and have been granted leave by the Education Committee for that purpose [Barry High School for Boys, 3 Nov 1914, ESE3/5 p.48]

At the time Philip Adams was just 13 years of age. His father, also Philip Adams, was originally from Kent and the family had moved from the Medway area to secure work in the Barry docks where Philip senior was a dockside labourer. They lived at 21 Trinity Street, Barry and young Philip had 2 sisters and 2 brothers. Leslie Evans was a local boy and although older than Philip he was still only 13 years of age. His father, James worked on the railway as a coal tipper and the family lived at 108 Porthkerry Road, Barry.

It must have been quite a sensation for such young boys to be suddenly caught up in the hustle and bustle of war. The local newspaper, the Barry Dock News, provided a number of clues as to the background to this decision. On 28 August 1914, three weeks after the outbreak of war, the newspaper printed a letter from the District Scoutmaster, E Davies:

I would like to ask all lads who are ex-Scouts to rejoin again at once and also to ask all lads between the ages of 12 and 19 to join one or other of the Troops in the district. The Scouts throughout the country are doing excellent work and in our own town. We have Scouts employed in watching bridges, the reservoir, the viaduct and tunnel, assisting as messengers and orderlies at the hospitals and for the military, gathering money for the Prince of Wales Fund, collecting up old newspapers etc. [Barry Dock News, 28 Aug 1914]

As in other parts of Britain, the scouts moved quickly to help the war effort. In the early months of the war there was a fear of invasion and numerous spy scares. Before national arrangements were put in place in 1915 for the Volunteer Training Corps – effectively the local Home Guard – the Scouts provided a valuable resource to help guard key installations and communication routes. The next section of Mr Davies’ letter, however, added a new dimension to the contribution being made in Barry:

We have also been able to send away lads as Signallers in connection with our naval coaling and I have a large class under instruction now [Barry Dock News, 28 Aug 1914]

It was recognised that the coal from South Wales was of exceptional quality. The large fleet of small coaling ships based at Barry, therefore, had a vital role to play in keeping the fleet supplied with fuel. The local newspaper, in an article published just after the end of the war, explained why there was a need to enlist the help of the Scouts.

Officers in the Mercantile Marine had great difficulty in reading the signals given by the Royal Navy and the Shipping Federation approached the scout authorities at Barry asking for help by supplying signallers as a temporary measure. A class of thirteen boys was formed and trained by Mr E E Davies, assistant commissioner to the Land Scouts afterwards going to sea. Their ages varies between 13 and 18 [Barry Dock News, 5 Dec 1919]

Philip Adams and Leslie Evans were almost certainly part of the group of local scouts being trained as Signallers. Despite the pressing need for Signallers there were inevitably doubts about sending such young boys to sea and the decision to release them from school had to be taken by the Barry School Management Committee. The Barry Dock Times recorded the outcome of the meeting held in October 1914 when the case for releasing three boys under the age of 14 for service at sea was considered:

Colonel J A Hughes CB wrote stating that twelve boys from Barry were prepared to go to sea as signallers on the Admiralty coaling ships. Three of the lads were attending the elementary schools. ‘We are employing older boys as far as possible’ the letter added ‘but it is absolutely necessary that these boys should be granted leave. The work they are doing is very important and they are doing it well. They are of very great service to the country and their work entails some danger’ [Barry Dock News, 30 Oct 1914]

The newspaper reported that Colonel Hughes’ request was ‘unanimously granted’ and four days later the Head Teacher of Barry High School for Boys confirmed that the two 13 year olds at his school had left.

The warning that service on the colliers was not without risk was well founded. German submarines took a heavy toll of the small coal ships from the ports of south Wales, often sailing alone and unarmed before the introduction of convoys protected by the Royal Navy.

It is likely that 13 year olds being pressed into service was a temporary measure and that Philip and Leslie were back in Barry within a year. However, we do know from the Barry Dock News that:

Of these thirteen gallant lads, two paid the supreme sacrifice, while war medals are to be awarded to the other scouts [Barry Dock News, 5 Dec 1919]

Our best guess from the records available is that both Philip Adams and Leslie Evans came through the experience unscathed.

Barry High School had its share of war heroes. For example, the Headmaster’s logbook records several occasions when medals were presented to ‘old boys’ of the school:

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School closed this afternoon in celebration of the award of the Military Cross to 2nd Lieut. Reg Phillips, one of the old boys of this school.  A general assembly was held at the end of the morning session; and a wristwatch and fountain pen were presented to him [Barry High School for Boys, 2 Nov 1917, ESE3/5 p.90]

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This afternoon a presentation was made to Albert Sylvester, one of the old boys of the school, who was also decorated with the Military Medal by the Chairman of the District Council [Barry High School for Boys, 31 May 1918, ESE3/5 p.99]

There is no mention of Philip Adams or Leslie Evans returning to the school. Nevertheless, their contribution, along with others in the Barry Scouts, was celebrated in the local press. As Colonel Hughes, who had put the case for the boys release from school in 1914, said some 5 year later – the young Signallers were …gallant lads… and …the war record of the Barry Boy Scouts is one that the public will rightly be proud of [Barry Dock News, 5 Dec 1919]

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

“A brave and cheerful soldier”: The first Glamorgan school teacher to die on active service in France

Over fifteen thousand teachers joined the armed forces and fought in the First World War. Head teachers were required to keep a log of activity at the school and the log books for the Caerphilly schools, held at the Glamorgan Archives, tell the stories of many teachers who fought in the war. The log book for Cwmaber Boys’ School has a particularly poignant story in that it records the death of the first teacher from the Glamorgan area to die on active service, William Clifford Harris.

Cwmaber Boys’ School, with their motto ‘Better brains than brawn’, opened in 1909 and provided education for up to 250 boys from the Abertridwr and Senghenydd areas. From the autumn of 1914 onwards the school log book, kept by the Head Teacher, George Davies, made frequent reference to staff leaving to join the Forces.

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During the holidays Mr W C Harris (U.T) joined the New Army and the staff is therefore short of one teacher [Cwmaber Boys’ School, 4 Jan 1915, ECG18/1 p.94]

Mr John A Roberts terminated his duties as Certificated Assistant here today. He has enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and proceeds to Farnborough tomorrow [Cwmaber Boys’ School, 27 Sep 1915, ECG18/1 p.109]

Mr W S Trigg left school today. He has been granted a Commission in the 23rd Pioneer Batt’ and will commence his new duties tomorrow [Cwmaber Boys’ School, 31 Oct 1915, ECG18/1 p.111]

Mr Jno Ellis Williams returned to school today. He terminates his engagement at this school today and enters an O.T.C on 16th inst, after which he is taking a Commission offered him in the Welsh Guards [Cwmaber Boys’ School, 14 Dec 1915, ECG18/1 p.112]

Mr Haydn P Williams terminated his duties as Student Teacher at this school having been today called up for military service [Cwmaber Boys’ School, 14 Jan 1916, ECG18/1 p.130]

Mr Herbert H Beddow (Student teacher) left on Military Service this morning [Cwmaber Boys’ School, 5 March 1917, ECG18/1 p.133]

From the log book and other records at the Glamorgan Archives we can build up a picture of William Clifford Harris. In addition to the Cwmaber school log, he had been a pupil at Lewis School for Boys, Pengam and the Glamorgan Archives also holds detailed records for the school for this period.

William Clifford Harris was a local boy born at Rudry in January 1895. His father was William Harris and, therefore, to distinguish the two, William junior was referred to by his middle name Clifford. He lived for most of his life at the Post Office, 16 Garth Place, Rudry. His father was a grocer, born in Rudry and his mother, Ida, was from Stoke St Mary in Somerset. He had a brother, Harold, and 4 sisters and was educated, initially, at Rudry Council School. In October 1907 he applied to and was accepted at Lewis School for Boys. He finished his education at the school before moving to take up a post as a student teacher at Rudry Council School in October 1912, aged 17. He subsequently moved to Cwmaber Boys’ School as an Uncertified Assistant Teacher on 17 September 1913.

Four months after the outbreak of war, on 31 December 1914, he enlisted with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Caerphilly. Conscription was not introduced until 1916 so Clifford, aged 19 at the time, was one of the many young men from South Wales who volunteered for active service. Along with other recruits to the 16th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Clifford completed his initial training in North Wales, probably at Llandudno, and then moved with the Battalion to Winchester in September 1915 to complete his training before embarking for France. The school log book records that before leaving for Winchester he returned on leave to South Wales and called at the school to catch up with colleagues and pupils [Cwmaber Boys School, 26 Jul 1915, ECG18/1 p.107].

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Sadly six months later and just days after Clifford’s 21st birthday, George Davies recorded in the school log book:

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News reached the school today that one of our staff, Pte W C Harris, 16th Batt’ Royal Welsh Fusiliers, had been killed in action on Sunday, Jan 30th 1916.  He was shot by a German sniper in the chest, but continued firing until he was again shot in the head [Cwmaber Boys School, 7 Feb 1916, ECG18/1 p.114]

The 16th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, part of Kitchener’s New Army, had landed in France in December 1915 and moved into the frontline near Neuve Chapelle on 6 January. The Battalion then moved to the St Vaast area on 27 January and Clifford died 3 days later. On 16 February the following press cutting was pasted into the log book:

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Caerphilly Teacher Killed

At a meeting of the Caerphilly school managers yesterday (Councillor Joseph Howells presiding) a letter was read from Dr J. James, Chief Education official, stating that he had been informed that a teacher in the Caerphilly group – Mr W C Harris – had been killed in action. He was attached to the 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers.  The Headmaster of the school had sought permission to affix a brass tablet to the wall in the school, on which would be engraved the names of any old scholars and teachers who gave their lives for their country.  The letter also stated that Mr Harris was the first teacher under the Glamorgan Authority who had made the great sacrifice in defence of his country. Votes of sympathy were passed with the relatives of both families, and it was decided to recommend that permission be given for the tablet to be placed in the school as requested [Cwmaber Boys’ School, 16 Feb 1916, ECG18/1 p.115]

There is no further reference to the brass tablet in the Cwmaber School log book and it is possible that it was lost when the school closed in 1973. Clifford Harris was not the only teacher from the Cwmaber School to lose his life in the war. On June 4 1917 an entry in the school log recorded:

News has been received that L Corp JJ Wibley (a former teacher at this school) has died from the effect of wounds received in action in France [Cwmaber Boys’ School, 4 Jun 1917, ECG18/1 p.136]

However, Clifford’s death, the first of many young teachers from the Glamorgan area in the First World War, must have been particularly poignant and he is remembered, along with 12 other local men, on the parish memorial at St James’ Church, Rudry. There is also a memorial at the Ebenezer Congregational Chapel.

Sacred to the memory of Pte W Clifford Harris (16th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers). Aged 21 years who was killed in action at St Vaast, France, January 30 1916. He died as he had lived. A brave and cheerful soldier.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer