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:

ECG13_3 p35

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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:

ECG13_3 p38

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:

ECG13_3 p106

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

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