School Treats and Souvenirs: The Peace Day Celebrations, Monday 21 July 1919

Monday 21 July 1919 was a red letter day as an estimated 40,000 school children in Cardiff were treated to a celebration tea as part of the Peace Celebrations held across the county over a 4 day period. Although the Armistice had been signed in November 1918, the Treaty of Versailles, formally ending the war, was not concluded until June 1919. To mark this event it was determined that a bank holiday be granted on 19 July and local authorities be asked to organise a series of celebrations across the country.

 

It might have been thought that the celebrations at the Ninian Park Schools were a little special in that they were attended by Sir J Herbert Cory, a local MP and son of one of Cardiff’s coal and shipping barons, John Cory of John Cory and Sons. However, the staff and pupils had much more to celebrate for 21st July marked the first day that they had returned to their school since May 1915. The story of the Ninian Park Boys’ and Girl’s Schools and their four year exile from their school during the Great War can be traced through records held at Glamorgan Archives, in particular the records of the City of Cardiff Education Committee and the log books kept by the head teachers of both schools.

 

The story starts in 13 May 1915 when W H Nettleton, the head teacher of Ninian Park Boys’ school, recorded in the school log book:

 

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Holiday in the afternoon, Thursday and Friday 14th to enable the men to remove the furniture and stock to Court Road School as this school, Ninian Park, has been requisitioned by the War Office for a temporary Military Hospital during the War [EC42/1/1, 13 May 1915, p 122].

 

With the establishment of the 3rd Western General Hospital in Cardiff to receive wounded from France there was a desperate need for suitable hospital accommodation. Ninian Park School, occupied by both the Girls’ School and the Boys’ School, was one of seven school buildings pressed into service as a hospital for the duration of the war under the control of the military. Both schools were relocated to Court Road School. It would have been no simple matter for the two schools, each with approximately 10 staff and 350 pupils, to make the move. Yet remarkably the schools were up and running the following Monday, 17 May. For the next 4 years the Ninian Park Schools shared premises with Court Road School with each school operating a one session timetable. As Margaret Ferguson, the head teacher of the Ninian Park Girls’ School noted, this meant that one week the Ninian Park Schools had the premises from the 8.45 to 12.30 and Court Road from 1.30 to 5.15. The following week the arrangement was reversed with Court Road taking the morning session (ref. ED42/3/1, 17 May 1915, p277).

 

In the meantime the military had set about converting Ninian Park School into a hospital. This required significant alterations to the interior to provide hospital wards and operating theatres along with improvements to the water supply, lighting and heating. We are fortunate in having two photographs of Ninian Park military hospital taken in 1917 in the records of Glamorgan Archives. One shows a converted classroom being used as hospital ward (ref.: DX486/1/1). The second is a photograph of the operating theatre (ref.: DX486/1/2).

 

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It would have been a difficult time for staff and pupils but they would have accepted that, along with others, there was a need to make war time sacrifices. However, it might have been expected that, with the signing of Armistice on 11 November 1918, they would soon return to their school. As the records of the City of Cardiff Education Committee show it was a long time before the military was able to pass the schools back to the local authority. There were still a significant number of wounded in Cardiff to be cared for and it was not until 11 May 1919 – six months after the signing of the Armistice – that Colonel Hepburn, Commanding Officer of the 3rd Western General Hospital, was able to return Ninian Park School to the local authority. Ninian Park was the third of the hospital schools to be returned to the education authority. No time was lost in setting work in hand so that it could be used as a school again with a start being made on 19 May.

 

The list of work required to make the building fit for use as a school was formidable. The records of the Building and Sites Sub Committee confirm that a complete overhaul was required of the heating, lighting and water systems. In addition it was ordered that the schools be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. In some cases the changes made by the military were welcomed. For example, the improvements to the water supply were retained. However, there was significant debate as to whether to keep the temporary electrical lighting and the changes made to the school’s heating system.  At Ninian Park a low pressure steam heating system had been installed in September 1915 running pipes and radiators to each room.  The committee minutes noted that the heating system (in Ninian Park and Lansdowne Road Schools):

 

…is not one that we would have advocated for schools but as both installations have to be completed with all possible speed and all necessary structural damage avoided, it was the only system which could have been used (BC/E/1/19, 13 May 1919, page 165).

 

It was therefore recommended that it be kept subject to adding radiators where required to all class rooms and dismantling and servicing the boiler.  The electric lighting system, however, was not retained, with the local authority electing to refurbish the existing gas lighting in the school (ref.: BC/E/1/19, 17 June 1919, page 203).

 

The exterior was evidently in poor condition with a need to repair and paint the windows and resurface the playground. Finally, the furniture had to be returned. Again this was no easy matter and the committee minutes record that:

 

The whole of the furniture has been returned after some difficulty as it was scattered in various part of the City, it having been loaned to other schools during the war period.

 

The work on Ninian Park and Lansdowne Road schools proceeded almost in tandem, drawing on a pool of 80 men hired by the Council for reconversion work, including 25 former soldiers. The cost for both schools was estimated at £4000 to be met by the military, with allowance made for equipment taken over for use by the schools. For example, the steam heating system at Ninian Park was valued at £315 with this sum deducted from the bill sent to the military. On the other side of the equation it was clear that the local authority was keen to cover its costs and the final bill included not just structural work but costs for clearing unwanted military material from the schools and the repair of equipment, including pianos, left at the schools and found to be damaged.

 

21 July 1919 was, therefore, a very special day. Although the school was not due to reopen until the beginning of the autumn term, the head teachers of both the girls’ and boys’ schools decided that the celebratory tea be held not at Court Road but at Ninian Park. The planning for the day had been ongoing for some time with the Education Committee allocating 1 shilling and 3 pence per pupil for schools to provide a tea and a sports afternoon. Where schools did not have facilities to make tea the authority hired and distributed 50 water boilers (ref.: BC/E/1/19, 3 July 1919, page 211).

 

As early as 23 May 1918 Margaret Ferguson noted in her log book:

 

I sent my numbers to Ed Office for which tea was to be provided for Peace celebration – 360+12=372 [EC42/3/2, 13 May 1919, p32].

 

It is not clear when the decision was made to provide the tea at Ninian Park but there is no doubt that the Education Committee was keen to show case its refurbished schools. Managing the celebration alongside the move must have been quite a feat of organisation. On 16 July Margaret Ferguson noted:

 

School closes today in order to have Thursday 17th and 18th inst for removal of all stock to Ninian Park School. On Monday 21st inst the Peace tea will be given to the scholars in Ninian Park School. The building is not quite ready but we can have the tea in the hall. After the Peace Tea our summer vacation begins [Ninian Park Girls’ School, log book, EC/42/3/2, 16 July 1919, p34].

 

Although on the day rain curtailed many of the outdoor festivities nothing could dampen the pupils’ enthusiasm and Margaret Ferguson recorded:

 

Log book 2

 

The Peace Tea given to the scholars on 21 July passed off very successfully; sports could not be held owing to the rain; but there were games in the central hall. They all enjoyed themselves very much and I had some difficulty to get them home. Sir Herbert and Lady Cory visited this Department and each of them addressed the children who thanked them for their liberality [EC42/3/2, 29 August 1919, p36].

 

Photographs of the celebrations across Cardiff show children in costume for the occasion as soldiers, sailors and nurses. Some schools staged a ‘Peace Tableau’ with pupils dressed as patriotic figures including Britannia.  There was clearly plenty of everything and it was reported that most opted for ginger beer rather than tea. Margaret Ferguson noted in the school log on 12 September that she was still distributing …sweets left over from Peace Tea… (ref.: EC42/3/2, 12 Sep 1919, p36).

As one final treat, at the beginning of the new term in August, the pupils received:

 

…mugs given by Councillor J C Gould MP in commemoration of the signing of the Armistice between the Allies and the Central Powers, 11 November 1918… [EC42/3/2, 26 August 1919, p35].

 

School was once more in session at Ninian Park. The war and the four year exile were over.

 

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

 

Records of Ninian Park Boys’ School and Ninian Park Girls’ School for this period can be viewed at Glamorgan Archive, ref. EC/42/1/1 and EC/42/3/1-2. The photographs of Ninian Park hospital in 1917 can be found at DX486/1/1-2. The records of the City of Cardiff Education Committee and its subcommittees are at BC/E/1/19.

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All we need to do is ‘Keep smiling’: Bert Turnbull’s Story

It might be thought that, with the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, servicemen and women across the world could look forward to an early return to their homeland. However, the reality for many men from Wales was that it would be months, and sometimes up to a year, before they landed back in Britain. The Roath Road Roamer, the parish magazine of the Roath Road Methodist Church, tracked the fortunes of 460 servicemen from the parish throughout the war and told their stories through a series of letters, photographs and reports.

 

Possibly one of the most celebrated characters in the Roamer was Bert Turnbull.

 

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The Roamer estimated that, during the course of the war, Bert served on more fronts and travelled more miles than any of his fellow ‘Roamers’.  Born in Middlesbrough, he had lived most of his life in Cardiff with his mother who was originally from Tredegar.  At the outbreak of war he was 19 years of age and was working as a gas fitter’s lad. As a member of the Territorial Army, Bert was called up in the days leading up to the conflict. It is difficult to believe that, in July 1914, just 12 days before the outbreak of the war, he could have had any idea what the next five years had in store for him as he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) as a Private.

 

The Roamer aimed to provide a photograph of every one of the service men and women featured in the magazine. Bert Turnbull appears in the November 1917 edition with a photograph taken in Cairo. In just three years he had risen through the ranks and was now Staff Sergeant Bert Turnbull RAMC serving at the 45th Stationary Hospital, Egyptian Expeditionary Force.  Although Bert was posted to many fronts he did not serve in France or Belgium. Instead, in 1915, he sailed with his Field Ambulance Unit through the Mediterranean to Egypt where he joined the forces being assembled for the assault on the Dardanelles. Field Ambulance Units operated immediately behind the front line and often only a matter of a few hundred yards from the fighting. Their task was to set up a network of Dressing Stations to treat the wounded before they were moved on to the larger Casualty Clearing Stations. It was a dangerous and difficult task working unarmed under gun and shell fire and dealing with badly wounded men. Bert Turnbull would, therefore, have had a baptism of fire at Gallipoli. It was a short and bloody campaign with the Allied armies sustaining over 50,000 casualties and Bert was one of the wounded shipped back to Egypt to recover.

 

In the following years Bert Turnbull served with the RAMC in both Egypt and Palestine before being transferred to Salonika in the autumn of 1918. Although it was only months before the Armistice was signed, the army in Salonika was involved in a series of desperate and costly battles as they attempted to prevent German and Bulgarian forces being transferred to the western front.  In a rare break from the front line Bert was home in Cardiff on leave in October 1918, just weeks before the end of the war. After three years away from Cardiff it might have been hoped that the fates had intervened to end Bert’s days on active service. However, this was not to be the case.

 

On 11 November 1918, as crowds celebrated the armistice in Cardiff and across the world, Bert was on a troop ship in the Mediterranean Sea heading for Turkey. He landed on 13 November and the Roath Road Roamer published a letter from Bert from Constantinople dated 16 December 1918:

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I received your letter at the above address. Just fancy it arriving in such a place! I wonder if the Roamer has reached Berlin yet? Rather strange that you should have written your letter on 13th November as that was the very day on which we landed at Constantinople. My word what a reception we had. I think that the only people who were not pleased to see us were the Germans who were there in occupation but have all run home to Germany since. The people of England are grumbling about the price of things at home. But they would not believe the high price of things her. When I first arrived I was speaking to an Englishman who was interned here at the outbreak of war. He was liberated on our arrival and went to fit himself out with clothes. He paid £11/10/- for a pair of shoes!! A loaf of bread weighing 12 oz costs 1/8. Sugar is 12/6 a Ib. The electric cars are unable to run owing to a shortage of coal. The water supply is turned on from 2pm to 4 pm daily at present but the first fortnight we were here it was only turned on every third day. It is a pitiful sight to see the very poor people begging in the streets [DAWES6, edition 51, page 4].

 

He also added, enigmatically:

 

The next time I write it will be from another country, sorry I cannot tell you as the Censor is still employed here.

 

Sure enough Bert’s war service was far from over. In April 1919 the Roamer reported on a celebratory reception held at the Church for returning servicemen where the …refreshments were abundant… and …the smokes were greatly appreciated… Electric lighting had been installed in the Sunday school class rooms especially for the occasion.  Those attending were asked to sign a register as a record of ‘Roamers’ back in Cardiff. Jokingly, some said that they were reluctant to put pen to paper in case they were signing up for further service in the Army, currently mounting a campaign in support of the White Armies in Russia.

 

The Russia campaign, however, was no joke for Bert Turnbull. The same edition of the Roamer also contained a further letter from Bert and this time it was from even further afield:

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Many thanks for the January Roamer which I received a few days ago. I noticed my letter which I wrote from Constantinople was in it. Well, here is letter from a few hundred miles up the Black Sea. So you have had some of the boys back once more. Good luck to them! I hope my turn will come soon. Don’t you think it is about time that I stopped ‘Roaming’? In khaki 12 days before war was declared. Served in Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine, Egypt (second time) Salonika, Turkey (Constantinople) and Russia. I was a time expired man in 1916 but still have to ‘carry on’. Never mind the day will soon come now. All we need to do is ‘keep smiling’ [DAWES6, edition 54, page 4].

 

The British Army in Salonika had been deployed to the Caucasus. The campaign was mounted, in part, to occupy territory formerly controlled by Turkey but also to support the White Russian Armies. Bert, therefore, found himself based at Batoum in Georgia. Fortunately, it was a short lived campaign and the next time we hear from Bert it is good news – at last.  In June 1919 the Roamer reported:

 

I am sure you will be glad to hear that one of your Roamers will soon be home. I am leaving this place for Blighty. What a journey! I dread it! [DAWES6, edition 55, page 6].

 

By August 1918, some 9 months after the signing of the Armistice and sporting the Riband of the Territorial Long Service Medal, Bert Turnbull was back in Cardiff and on ‘Civvy Street’.

 

Two months later Bert’s story had a happy ending when the Roamer reported in October 1919:

 

Our ‘Roamers’ are still getting married and we offer out hearty good wishes. Staff Sergeant Bert Turnbull, who holds the ‘Roamer’ record for seeing active service in the greatest number of countries, was married to Miss Irene C James on 7 September [DAWES6, edition 57, page 3].

 

This was the last edition of the Roath Road Roamer. Of the 460 servicemen tracked in the Roath Roamer, 42 died during the war. At the end of October 1919, 30 were still waiting to be demobbed. For Bert and many others, the end of the war, while celebrated wildly in November 1918, was a long time coming.

 

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

 

A copy of the Roath Road Roamer is held at Glamorgan Archives. Roath Road Methodist Church was situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road (known at Roath Road until 1874). Built around 1860 and modified in 1871, it was a substantial building reputedly able to seat 1000. It was severely damaged during an air raid on Cardiff on 3 March 1941 and demolished in 1953.

Celebrating the Peace in ‘a right worthy fashion’, 11 November 1918

As we commemorate Armistice Day and the centenary of the end of the Great War, records held at Glamorgan Archives throw light on celebrations in South Wales in November 1918 and, in particular, the joy and relief that marked the end of a bloody and brutal war. Headteachers in schools across Wales were required to keep a regular record of events. Summaries of the school log books for 1914-18 can be accessed on the Glamorgan Archives website. They provide an insight into the tumultuous celebrations that erupted across South Wales on 11 November 1918, none more so than as recorded by Mr W S Jones at Whitchurch Boys’ School. William Jones had been Headmaster at the school for over 4 years. On 11 November he made the following entry in the school log book:

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Log book 2

Great excitement prevailed at school this morning. The Church bells chimed and the boys soon came to the conclusion that the Armistice had been signed by the German representatives. As we had been misled by a false report of the signature of the Armistice on Thursday evening – 7th I sent a message to the local postmaster who confirmed the signing of the Armistice as official.  

The boys were informed of the good news which brings the actual fighting of the Great European War to a close and great enthusiasm was shown. We did not try to restrain their energies for the last half hour and about 5 minutes to 12 the whole school was assembled in the yard when the Doxology and the National Anthem were sung. Cheer after cheer was given for such glorious news and the boys dispersed.

School reassembled after dinner. The Chief Education Official was telephoned to, but no holiday could be granted. The matter would be referred to the Education Committee which was expected to meet on the morrow (Tuesday). The boys were reassembled on the yard in the afternoon and led by a scout with a small drum marched around the yard waving flags and singing various popular songs. The significance of the act of the signature of the Armistice was explained to the boys [Whitchurch Boys’ School, log book, ESE64/1/4]

The log book draws a veil over what happened next but no doubt many of the boys, with their families, joined the crowds that flooded into central Cardiff. The signing of the Armistice was announced across the city by the sounding of the ‘Western Mail’ siren soon followed by hooters and horns from factories across the city and ships in the docks. A ‘wildly enthusiastic’ crowd gathered in Cathays Park with the newspapers reporting that:

Everybody felt that the hour had come for the abandonment of restraint and for the expression of a long pent up enthusiasm….others arrived with the announcement that the Docks was on stop. Everyone there had downed tools, and there was not a murmur of dissent. All the workshops and yards, schools and business premises let loose their jubilant occupants and after a riot of abandonment they gradually gravitated to the City Hall, where the flags of the Allies proudly fly.

Many dock workers marched directly into City Hall and could be seen waving to the crowds from the windows on the upper floor. By midday a semblance of order had been restored with the Lord Mayor, standing on the roof of the porte cochere over the doorway to the City Hall, reading a message from the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, confirming the signing of the Armistice. This was met with ‘thunderous applause’ and was followed by a march past by the Welsh Regiment and the singing of the national anthems of the allied nations including the Marseillaise and the Star Spangled Banner. Sensing the mood of the crowd the Lord Mayor …appealed to the citizens to celebrate the day with joy and thanks but also with restraint and dignity. It was a plea echoed by Sir William Seager – In this hour of victory let us be sober. Perhaps it is not surprising that this was met …with loud cries of no, no and laughter.

By early afternoon the city centre was awash with cheering crowds including St Mary Street and High Street, where people were crammed at windows in the buildings along the street to gain a view of the crowds and join in the celebrations. Whenever they were spotted there was a special cheer for members of the Armed Forces including a number of American servicemen. The cheers, however, were not just for the ‘boys back from the Front’. Recognising that the war had seen major changes in roles and responsibilities the newspapers reported that:

A brewery wagon carried not supplies of Government beer but something incredibly livelier a bevy of land girls in uniform who sang all the popular ditties with great gusto.

In addition, during the war years the male conductors on the city’s tram service had been replaced by women and the newspapers reported that:

The tramway girls got off the cars, they must, they said, join in the processions.

The following day the Western Mail concluded:

South Wales came perilously near the Mafficking type of jubilation. In most places there was an absolute stoppage of work. Shortly after the dinner-hour shops were closed – the staffs would not brook restraint and the employers readily relaxed the rules and regulations [Western Mail, 12 November 1918].

Many schools, including Gabalfa, Hawthorne and Maindy, had been closed for all or part of October and the first week of November as a result of the influenza epidemic that had swept south Wales. Whitchurch Boys’ School, however, had escaped relatively lightly with 15-20 cases of influenza at any one time out of a school complement of just over 200 pupils. The Whitchurch boys were very likely to have been amongst the bevy of small boys reported as adding to the clamour in Cathays Park with improvised ‘tom-toms’ made from old kettles, pans and sheets of tin. They would also have cheered the Lord Mayor’s announcement of a seven day holiday for all schools.

The war years had been a difficult time for schools with shortages of basic supplies and food. In addition, shortages of coal had meant that schools had found it difficult to heat the classrooms during the winter months. The school had ‘done its bit’ with the establishment of a garden of some 20 perches cultivated by the boys two days a week to grow vegetables as part of the national campaign to increase food production. The school had also been in the forefront of campaigns to raise money for the War Savings Association and with some success, being rewarded with an extra day of holiday for their efforts.

Like many schools Whitchurch had seen several of its teachers enlist in the armed forces. Of the three male staff at Whitchurch who had joined up, two came though unscathed but sadly one, Ivor Drinkwater, had been killed on active service with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, in France, in the last week of November 1917.  As in many other areas of employment women had come forward to fill the gaps and a school staffed by male teachers in 1914 had, by November 1918, three female teachers. In many instances male teachers leaving the armed forces returned to their posts. However, the barriers to women working in boys’ schools had been broken down and the Whitchurch school log book confirms that, from that point onwards, the school always had a number of women teachers.

Monday 11 November 1918 was, however, a day to celebrate and the following day the Western Mail reported:

It was great day of rejoicing and abandon, and most people went to sleep at a late hour, satisfied that they had done the celebration of peace in a right worthy fashion.

It must have been an unpleasant surprise for the Whitchurch boys the next morning to find that the holiday only applied to schools in the Cardiff Education authority area. Whitchurch Boy’s school was open on Tuesday 12 November and on the morning of Wednesday 13th before it was announced that the rest of the week could be taken as a holiday.

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The Headmaster, William Jones, simply noted in the school log that …the school was dismissed after assembling on yard. Perhaps diplomatically, he made no comment on the attendance.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer