News from the Front

With the outbreak of the First World War, many men signed up to serve their country, either voluntarily or because they were called up by the military. Local authorities were affected by this as much as any other field of work. Naturally those who had stayed behind and continued to work with the local authorities were keen to find out how those who were at the Front were getting on.

Good news came from the Front in the form of awards bestowed on soldiers for their actions in combat. In September 1915, Gelligaer Urban District Council noted that James Green had been recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal. In December 1917 Private Tudor Lewis received the Military Medal. And on New Year’s Day 1918, it was announced that Sergeant Ivor Jones had won both the Distinguished Conduct and Military Medals.

Ivor Jones

Several other employees were recognised for their distinguished service and bravery.

In January 1917, Porthcawl Urban District Council heartily congratulated Lieutenant Tamblyn and Corporal Nicholls who had both been awarded for conspicuous bravery while on active duty. And in July of that year Maesteg Urban District Council congratulated Sergeant Fred Davies who had received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).

In June 1917 Bridgend Urban District Council passed on their congratulations to the parents of Oscar Powell and Frank Howells who had both received the Military Medal. In December of that year Second Lieutenant Steve Jenkins, son of one of the council members was also awarded the Military Medal. In January of 1918 Ogmore and Garw Urban District Council reported that Mr King, a former Captain of the Nantymoel fire brigade had received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

At the end of the War in November 1918, Aberdare Urban District Council revealed that Major R D Williams, the son of a councillor, had won the Distinguished Service Order.

Another source of good news would be when servicemen were promoted. In June 1916 Bridgend Urban District Council congratulated Lieutenant Colonel F W Smith on his promotion to the Command of the 16th Welsh (Cardiff City) Battalion. In May 1917 Gelligaer Urban District Council reported on the rapid rise of Mr Emlyn Evans. Starting as a Private in September of 1915, he became a Lance Corporal in November of that year, then a full Corporal a month later. Six months after that he became a Sergeant before becoming a Company Sergeant Major in December of 1916. The following month he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and became a Flight Sergeant and then in April of 1917 he became a Sergeant Major.

Sometimes just hearing the news that someone at the Front was alive and well was enough cause for celebration. In September 1914 Penybont Rural District Council congratulated Colonel Turbervill on the news that his son Captain Turberville was in good health. However sadly, in May of 1915, Colonel Turbervill’s grandson was killed in action.

Along with the joy of hearing of colleagues receiving awards for valour, there was also the despair of hearing the news of the death or wounding of those serving at the Front. In September 1914 the Earl and Countess of Plymouth lost a relative, Archer Windsor Clive. Several local authorities voted to pass their condolences, which were followed up by replies of thanks in kind from the Plymouth Estate.

In November 1914 Penybont Rural District Council conveyed their sympathy to Colonel Nicholl on the death of his son Lieutenant Nicholl. In December, Mountain Ash Urban District Council expressed their condolences to the family of Lord Aberdare, whose eldest son had been killed. In October 1915, Porthcawl Urban District Council proposed a vote of condolence for the families of Lieutenant Sydney Randall Jenkins and Sergeant Evan Rogers.

In November 1916 Dr M J Rees, who had been for many years the medical officer of health for Aberdare Rural District Council, was reported killed in action. In July of 1917 three former employees, Motorman Amos, Motorman E Wiltshire and Conductor AC Sims, were killed in action.

In December 1917 Maesteg Urban District Council experienced a triple loss, with the deaths of Second Lieutenant Hugh Grade, Private Harold Edwards and Private Charles Corbett. Another triple loss was announced at the end of the war, with the deaths of Privates Ivor Evans, A Meldrum and Hillman.

Not all losses occurred at what most people would view as the ‘Front’, namely France and Belgium. Some of the above losses may have occurred in other parts of the world. The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 saw British Empire troops serving in modern day Turkey, while several campaigns took place in both Africa and the Middle East. It is also worth noting that not all losses occurred on the ground. There were those who served in the air with the Royal Flying Corps (later Royal Air Force) and Royal Naval Air Service (later Fleet Air Arm), and there were those who served with either the Marines or the Navy. One loss at sea was in October of 1914 when Gelligaer Urban District Council reported the death of Lieutenant Commander McGregor when HMS Hawke was sunk by a German U boat in October of 1914.

McGregor

The local authority minutes at Glamorgan Archives show us that news from the front was highly sought after by councillors and employees. Although good reports were hoped for sadly it was often bad news that was received.

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant

Supporting the War Effort

As the First World War continued, local authorities across the country co-ordinated attempts to support the war effort.

At the start of the war one option many authorities discussed was using elementary schools as makeshift field hospitals for those who had been wounded in combat. Voluntary Aid Detachments were set up to help assist professional nurses both at the front (although this was initially discouraged) and at the hospitals at home. There was also the issue of where new recruits would stay prior to being posted abroad or elsewhere in the UK. In Cardiff it was decided that in emergency situations public buildings be used as accommodation (RD/C/1/9).

Many employees who continued to work for the local authorities were offered War Bonuses. These were incentives to encourage them to work overtime, often compensating for holidays lost and for the rising cost of living essentials. Those who did not serve in the armed forces either abroad or at home were encouraged to work in factories that produced munitions and other materials for aircraft, ships and tanks. Those men who had joined the colours would be replaced by older men or women.

Once the possibility of air raids by German bombers and zeppelins had emerged, the local authorities were instructed to dim or extinguish street lights and arrange for the sounding of alert sirens.

Charities were set up to support those who served in the armed forces and their relatives and loved ones. In Aberdare, the National Fund for Comforts of Troops suggested that St David’s Day should be marked as a Flag Day, and that street collections be made for the benefit of the Fund (UDAB/C/1/9).

Aberdare UD flag day

In addition to charities, local authorities encouraged some facilities such as schools to put money towards a War Savings account. Towards the end of the war tanks that had already seen service were sent around the UK, where the public could see and sometimes ride a tank provided that they pledged money towards War Savings. At the same time the national government was offering War Loans, encouraging people to invest money towards the war effort.

During the later years of the war some materials were rationed, either because it became harder to obtain them, or because they were needed for military purposes. In Barry the authorities decided not to use crude tar for the purpose of road maintenance as some of its by-products were to be used in the production of explosives (BB/C/1/20). As it became more difficult to import or manufacture food, the authorities encouraged residents and landowners to grow food in allotments. As well as people and buildings, the armed forces also took civilian vehicles and used them, mostly in transport roles. In Caerphilly the South Wales Transport Company informed the local authorities that their vehicles had been commandeered by the War Office, but were still hoping to commence services in the Caerphilly area (UDCAE/C/1/18). In Gelligaer the hire of a steam roller was discussed (UDG/C/1/11), although it would appear no action was taken.

The local authority minutes held at Glamorgan Archives reveal the breadth of involvement by local councils in support of the war from the home front.

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant

Food Control during the First World War

Food shortages during the First World War were considerable, with wholesalers and retailers becoming bound by numerous regulations and the whole population seeing the beginning of rationing.  The first attempt at rationing was made with an order restricting meals in hotels and restaurants in December 1916, and by 1917 food prices has doubled with only two or three months supplies in the country. In January of that year new powers were conferred on Lord Rhondda, the Food Controller, who initially appealed to patriotism asking for voluntary rationing in bread, meat and sugar.

Strict rationing slowly came into force and in September 1917 Lord Rhondda wrote in the first issue of a fortnightly National Food Journal that it would give …detailed and official information in respect to the action taken by the Ministry of Food.

Cover

Many pages are filled with statutory rules and regulations, parliamentary proceeding and lists of official maximum prices, but it also provides a real insight into the difficulties that both the food producers and consumers experienced.

Attempts were made by restaurants to evade the Cakes and Pastries Order, which included the prohibition on using sugar in scones, This was particularly so where a tea-shop was attached to a confectioner, customers in the tea-shop being allowed to supply themselves with cakes from the confectioners, which was not permitted.  Prosecutions followed.

Animal foodstuffs were also restricted and featured in an article in the National Food Journal on The Rationing of Horses:

Horses allowed hunting rations will in reality be part of the Army Remount Establishment, kept and fed at the expense of the present owners but liable to be called up at any time.

Surprisingly, among all the official information are a number of recipes, including those for barley cheese, savoury maize pudding, carrot marmalade, home-made bread with potatoes and chocolate potato biscuits (made with cocoa-butter).  A list of suggested war time Christmas dinners comprised:

  1. Potage Parmentier, stuffed shoulder of mutton, braised celery, baked potatoes, fruit pie and custard. Cost 4s 5d.
  2. Celery cream soup, braised beef a la bourgeoise, brussel sprouts, duchess potatoes, orange pudding. Cost 5s 9¾d.
  3. Herring fillets a la juive, braised fowl en casserole, stuffed tomatoes, orange and apple mould mince pies. Cost 9s 3¾d.

Christmas parties where entertainment was the main consideration were instructed to dispense with food as far as possible, and where ‘a good meal for the poor’ was the main object then again, as far as possible, non-essential foodstuffs should be supplied.

The Journal also contains list of prosecutions, and in the first issue:

Cowley 1

Cowley 2

At Cardiff, Henry Cowley, greengrocer, 36 Union Street, was fined £100 for selling potatoes at a price above the fixed maximum, and £5 for using an unjust scale

Later prosecutions included:

Merthyr Tydfil – Fines amounting to £175 were imposed on grocers and their assistants for overcharging on jam, butter, tea and other commodities.  The magistrate threatened drastic measures against future offenders.

Ernest Jenkins, grocer, Crwys Road, was fined £10 for refusing to sell a tin of condensed milk ‘by itself’.

Cardiff – Joseph Edward Townsend, Corporation Road, 40s or 1 months imprisonment for selling bread less than 12 hours old.

Cardiff – Domingos Gavincho, master of a Brazilian steamer, was fined £100 and Virgilio dos Santos, steward, £50, while a donkeyman and fireman, Antonio dos Santos and Joas de Campos, were sentenced to six months hard labour.  Too much bread being supplied to the crew, 28 loaves had been thrown into the furnaces.

Most prosecutions in Wales were comparatively minor and ignorance was not accepted as an excuse.

The Journal was not completely inward looking as it contained articles on propaganda in Italy, food restrictions in France, Canadian food regulations, compulsory rationing in Germany and the methods adopted in allied and neutral countries.

The state of the war is not forgotten and an article on ‘The Civilian and the Submarine’ states that:

It is long since Germany gave up the idea of winning the war….the most that the Germans are now asked to do is to ‘hold on’… The powers now build their hopes not upon the army but upon two new services.

It then details the air service, and on the submarine it notes:

People are to be starved and the nation reduced to conditions of famine by indiscriminate murder at sea and the sinking of valuable cargoes of food.

The article goes on to outline food supply and distribution difficulties.  The severe shortages in Germany were highlighted as was the fact that although Britain was suffering the German population was starving:

What greedy grousers in this country speak of as famine the hungry German would look upon as luxury.

A deputation of South Wales Miners went to see Lord Rhondda about the food situation and in February 1918 a parliamentary question was asked as to whether the Parliamentary Secretary was aware of the food famine in the South Wales mining centres, of the fact that the miners and other workers cannot get food to take during their working hours, and would some better system of rationing be at once put into force? In reply it was stated that the Food Controller was aware that there had lately been serious shortages of certain foods in the South Wales mining centres.  Full details having been laid before him by a deputation from the South Wales Miners’ Federation, and he was taking measures to accelerate the introduction of a local rationing scheme which it was hoped would go far to remove the difficulties in question.

National Kitchens were making their appearance by 1918 and pithead cook-houses were suggested:

…where the meal or ‘tommy’ boxes of the men could be filled with good substantial food, prepared by expert cooks and suited to the conditions under which miners have to work.  These boxes of could be easily handed out to the workmen when they go down the pit as are the safety lamps.

The food would be purchased in bulk and the cost would be compared favourably with that of providing it at home.

The Journal continued into the 1920s, recording the slow removal of restrictions, although prosecutions continued for excessive pricing and it became a summary offence to waste any foodstuffs. The problems of waste continue to this day.

Ann Konsbruck, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

St Dunstan’s Hostel for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors

As the Great War progressed South Wales received increasing numbers of wounded servicemen, primarily from France and Belgium but, in some instances, from fighting as far away as the Dardanelles. The most urgent and serious cases were dealt with at the large military hospitals set up in centres such as Cardiff. In addition, the Red Cross established over 40 hospitals across Glamorgan, often in country houses and used primarily as centres for rest and recuperation before troops were ready to return to active service.

Schools across Glamorgan set up links with their local hospitals and helped in very practical ways, for example, through collections of fruit and vegetables to supplement the hospital food. The ties with local hospitals also brought many young children in contact with wounded servicemen and, therefore, with the grim reality of the carnage reaped by modern warfare in France and elsewhere:

This afternoon four wounded soldiers from Caerphilly Hospital visited the school from 3.20 to 4pm. They visited the various classes in pairs and showed much interest in a Welsh school. The pupils were equally delighted with the visitors who hailed from Liverpool, Norfolk, Cornwall and London respectively.  The soldiers were the guests of the Red Cross Nurses for the afternoon [Cwmaber Girls School, 27 Jul 1918, ECG18/2 p.133]

Permission has been granted by the Local Managers to take the Scholars to the Palace Theatre, this afternoon, when an interesting programme has been prepared to celebrate Empire Day. An invitation has been tendered to the wounded soldiers, now at Caerphilly Red Cross Hospital [Caerphilly Girls School, 24 May 1917, ECG13/3 p.99]

The use of mustard gas in trench warfare from 1916 onwards resulted in thousands of young men losing their sight temporarily and in many cases permanently. The school log books record the visits made by blind servicemen to local schools and also the efforts made by the schools to help provide rehabilitation facilities for the servicemen. This entry in the Cwmaber Girls’ School records for July 1917 was typical of many in the period:

Two visitors came here this afternoon to hear the girls singing – two blind soldiers who were on a visit to Abertridwr – one from London and one from Australia. They expressed great pleasure at the singing, especially the Welsh songs. The children keenly felt the presence of the visitors and their sacrifice appealed to them greatly.  Needless to say they received a very hearty welcome [Cwmaber Girls School, 27 Jul 1917, ECG18/2, p.118]

The visits made a very deep impression on staff and pupils. As a result, schools gave particular attention to charities that worked with those that had lost their sight. The best known was St Dunstan’s Hostel established at Regents Park Lodge, London. St Dunstan’s Hostel for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors was a charity supported by the National Institute for the Blind, The Red Cross Society and Order of St John of Jerusalem. The leading figure behind the hostel was Arthur Pearson the newspaper proprietor who, on losing his sight, threw himself into work for the National Institute for the Blind.  Recognising the need for specialist care for the large numbers of servicemen blinded in the war, he set up St Dunstan’s Hostel in February 1915 as a centre where men could be taught a trade and helped with making a return to everyday life. The skills taught included typing, telephony, joinery and market gardening. Very little was considered to be out of bounds and St Dunstan’s encouraged the men to take up a range of sports and also to learn to play a musical instrument.

St Dunstan’s was a symbol of the tragedy of war but also of what could be done to help servicemen to rebuild their lives. It was, therefore, a very popular and well supported charity and the South Wales schools, with others across the country, made a special effort to support its work.

One of the key sources of income for St Dunstan’s was provided by the musical concerts put on by the ‘The Blind Musicians’ as part of national tours. In June 1917 the Blind Musicians visited South Wales. From newspaper reports we know that concerts were held at Bridgend Town Hall where £50 was raised. The Blind Musicians were also the guests of the Rhymney Male Voice Party at St David’s Parish Hall, Rhymney in the same month.  On 15 June 1917 the local newspaper reported:

The true patriotism of the public of Rhymney and its readiness to appreciate first class music were again strikingly demonstrated on Wednesday evening when a grand concert was given at St David’s Parish Hall… by the Blind Musicians of the National Institute for the Blind, London, the proceeds being devoted to the St Dunstan’s Hostel for our Blinded Soldiers and Sailors, Regents Park, London.

The artistic efforts of the performers revealed the fact that there are amongst the blind some splendid musicians and encores were quite numerous during the evening.

During the interval Mr Avalon Collard the representative of the National Institute for the Blind delivered a most interesting address on the splendid work of our Blinded Soldiers and Sailors at St Dunstan’s.

St Dunstan’s could be described as a workshop of darkness, a training ground for those who living in a world entirely different from ours must get their living in competition with us for whom the sun still shines and night is a visible beauty [Bargoed and Caerphilly Observer, 15 Jun 1917]

By June 1917 the hostel had helped over 200 men, with a further 380 receiving training and support. However, the object of the tour was to raise money for the 110 men in military hospitals waiting to be admitted to St Dunstan’s. The mark of just how popular St Dunstan’s was with schools can be seen in the decision, on 7 June, to close the schools in Caerphilly so that pupils could play a full part in supporting the concerts to be given by The Blind Musicians at Caerphilly Castle:

ECG12_3 p51

Received instruction to close school this afternoon as there is a great function in the Castle on behalf of the Blinded Soldiers from St. Dunstan’s. The Blind men will give two Concerts [Caerphilly Boys’ School, 7 Jun 1917, ECG12/3 p.51]

Schools also organised their own events to raise money for St Dunstan’s. In the same month the Head Teacher of Mardy Boys School noted in the school log book:

ER23_5 p125

A charity concert, organised chiefly by the teachers, was held on the 9th June at the Workmen’s Hall, Ferndale, the proceeds being devoted to the St Dunstan’s Hostel for Blinded Soldiers and Sailors. Mardy’s contribution towards this was £28.11.0 [Mardy Boys School, 20 Jun 1917, ER23/5 p.125]

It was also recognised that the families of service men who had lost their sight faced very real financial difficulties. In 1917 the education authority in the Rhondda area decided to support a national appeal to raise money for the Blinded Soldiers’ Children Fund. In November 1917 the Head teacher of Trealaw Boys’ School received the following circular from the Education Authority:

I write to ask for the benefit of your co-operation in my Xmas appeal to the British Isles on behalf of the children of our Blinded Soldiers and Sailors. Briefly the aim is to collect a sum of not less than £250,000 to provide a weekly payment of 5/- for each child of every blind soldier and sailor until such child reaches the age of 16. At present the married men and children receive from the Government a weekly allowance for each child they may have and for every child born nine months after their discharge, but there is no allowance for children born after the blinded man has left the army nor any allowance for the children of men who marry after their disablement. Christmas envelopes containing an appeal will be given to each child and these will be collected after the vacation [Trealaw Boys School, 9 Nov 1917, ER41/2 pp.294-5]

Although with the introduction of rationing it was a difficult time for families across South Wales, the appeal struck a particular chord with the children. In January Trealaw reported that £12 5s had been raised and other schools in the area made similar contributions. For example, Penygraig Infants School raised £3 8s 6d [Trealaw Boys School, 4 Jan 1918, ER41/2 p.298 and Penygraig Infants School, 23 Jan 1918, ER28/2 p.157].  In recognition of their contribution the Trealaw School received a letter of thanks from Arthur Pearson:

ER41_2 p307

Will you please convey to your scholars my sincere thanks for their subscription to the Blinded Soldiers’ Children Fund – £12 5s. 1d. I need not tell you how keenly I appreciate this evidence of their sympathy and interest and in the effort to make as happy as possible the home lives of the men who have made so great a sacrifice for their country and whose bravery has been shown not only while they were serving in the Army, but in a most remarkable manner since. In thanking in my own name all who have so kindly assisted in this collection, I am thanking them on behalf of those blinded soldiers for whom the fund is being raised [Trealaw Boys School, 11 Mar 1918, ER41/2 p.307]

By the signing of the Armistice in November 1918 St Dunstan’s had helped over 600 veterans, but its work was far from over. There were still 900 men learning new skills at Regent’s Park and other centres opened around the country. To their credit, four months later, schools were still collecting money for St Dunstan’s.

ECG13_3 p131

Celebrations of St David’s Day. Programme – A Welsh drama composed by Mrs John CA now a member on the staff and previously Head Mistress of Senghenydd Infants’ School – ‘Plant y Pentre’. As usual the entertainment will be held in the Palace kindly lent for the occasion. A nominal charge will be made for adults, the proceeds to be handed over to St Dunstan’s Institute for our blinded heroes of the war [Caerphilly Girls School, 28 Feb 1919, ECG13/3 p.131]

Although Arthur Pearson died in 1921, St Dunstan’s continued to provide support for blind veterans after the war and during the Second World War. Known today as Blind Veterans UK, the charity is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary. Its original vision is still very much the same as that which inspired the school children of South Wales and across Britain in 1915 – that no one who has served our country should have to battle blindness alone.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer