The Diary of Joan Mark of Cardiff, Nurse, 1939

Glamorgan Archives recently received a diary written by Joan Mark of Cardiff for the year 1939, the year Glamorgan Record Office – now Glamorgan Archives – was established.

Joan as nurse

Joan Mark in her nursing uniform

Joan was born in 1921, was educated at Howell’s School and was only 17 when she started to write her diary, recording her work as a trainee nurse at the Prince of Wales Orthopaedic Hospital in Cardiff. The Boots Scribbling Diary came complete with coupons for free gifts such as lemon barley crystals, indigestion mixture and Devonshire violets talcum powder.

Joan gives us a fascinating insight into her working life, set against the background of the impending War which broke out in the September of that year.  She records being on her feet all day, …was nearly sleeping on my feet is one of her entries.  She had to live in rooms in the hospital when she was on duty, and the constant sound of patients ringing their bells is noted many times; bells, bells, bells she writes.


Joan enjoyed working on the children’s ward.

Prince of Wales Hospital

Staff and patients at the Prince of Wales Hospital, 1930s – Joan is standing 3rd from left

Diseases such as scarlet fever, chicken pox and diphtheria are mentioned.  When helping at the babies’ clinic she records:

All sorts of babies came. We had to scrape the dirt off some before we could see their little faces.

Babies clinic

She also had to check for head lice and on one occasion found that several children were ‘alive’ with lice and had to try and get rid of them using Derbac soap and Dettol before the Ward Sister returned.

Joan was also expected to help out with the laundry, darn serviettes and cut miles and miles of gauze and wool for bandages.  On her days off she also had to attend lectures and take tests.  On one occasion she tried to swot for a test …but fell asleep.

One constant worry was the shortage of staff in the hospital. I hope we shall get some more staff soon, she writes, and that on one day the other staff were …all shouting and bawling at me.  They seem to think I can produce mattresses, plaster knives and clean counterpaynes out of the air.

The Matron and Sister ruled with a rod of iron and nurses could have their days off cancelled for misdemeanors such as not reporting a broken light or an untidy bedroom. In March they were given new nursing caps to wear:

New caps

We all had new caps given us this morning. They are all terrible and show all our hair at the back.  Matron told me to put mine in curlers, but I shan’t even if I’m the only one left with straight hair.

It wasn’t all work for Joan and she records visits to her family and her social life: trips to Barry Island, shopping at Woolworths, listening to the wireless, regular trips to the cinema, walks in Roath Park and visits to Star Street Chapel and Roath Methodist Chapel on a Sunday. In January 1939 the hospital maids had their annual dance, when the nurses had to wait on them and washed up afterwards; we were allowed to dance with each other as well at the end, but were told not to take the maids’ men.  Joan couldn’t go to the dinner and dance that had been organised for the nurses:

…so we held a dance on our own in the bedroom with the wireless and gas-fire in full blast and lemonade and biscuits as refreshments.

Staff dance

She was on duty on Christmas Day and was given presents from the Matron and other nurses. A band came at 7.30am and most of the nurses were dancing. Joan played with the children on the ward and a choir came to sing carols, followed by Christmas dinner at 7pm.

From August onwards the talk of War clouds her diary. On 24 August Joan writes:

Everyone seems to think there is going to be a war

War 24 Aug

Two days later she says:

They are making our Out Patients Department into a Decontamination Centre and pasting black paper over the windows of the Hospital. The International Situation seems pretty serious but I don’t think there will be a war.

Joan was due to take her holidays:

Sister Blake says I may have my holidays but must come back if War is Declared.

On 1 September she records that Germany had started bombing Poland and that she had gone on a trip to the beach where she …met two sweet little German exile children. Joan was on leave when War was declared on 3 September and on that day she records that the Germans had torpedoed a British liner (this was the SS Athena). A few days later Joan travels to Nottingham to visit relatives and she helps her Uncle to black out the windows.  She had difficulties travelling back to Cardiff as all the trains had been stopped and were being used to transport troops.

Preparations were in full swing when she went back to work the following week.  They only had eight patients and from then on were only going to admit 50% of their capacity so that the Hospital would be ready to receive any wounded troops.  On one day Joan had to strip and remake 48 beds in readiness. The Sister gave the nurses some advice:


If a bomb falls on the Hospital – don’t rush into the flames or make martyrs of yourselves. Get under the beds and the quicker the better.

The Matron was worried …because the Russians have entered Poland.

The Sister said, What does it matter as long as they don’t enter the Prince of Wales Hospital.


As the diary comes to an end there are glimpses of the day to day changes that War has brought to the country: being warned for having too much light showing in a window, the issue of National Registration cards, visits to air raid shelters, a colleague learning to knit socks for the troops and the evacuation of a family member.


Joan Mark of Cardiff

Joan went on to qualify as a registered nurse in 1943, but tragically died in a car accident in 1951, aged 29.

The National Pageant of Wales, July-August 1909

The photographs below, taken 110 years ago, show members of prominent Welsh families dressed in full medieval costume for the National Pageant of Wales.

Marchioness of Bute as Dame Wales

The Marchioness of Bute as Dame Wales

Lord Mayor of Cardiff Alderman Lewis Morgan as Hywel Dda

Lord Mayor of Cardiff Alderman Lewis Morgan as Hywel Dda

Mrs Marie Augusta Hester Crawshay

Mrs Maria Augusta Hester Crawshay

Mr Victor Wiltshire at King Henry V

Mr Victor Wiltshire as King Henry V

Mr Ernest George Cove as The Scout

Mr Ernest George Cove as The Scout

Held in Cardiff over two weeks in July and August of 1909, the pageant celebrated Welsh history through the re-enactment of famous events from history and folklore. With a total cast of 5,000 the scenes ran from the arrival of the Romans in Wales through to the crowning of Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Seen by many as a sign of Cardiff’s growing importance, following the award of city status in 1905, the pageant was watched by crowds seated in temporary stands in Sophia Gardens. The event was hailed by the Western Mail as …the event of a lifetime [that] will certainly rank as one of the chief Welsh events of the twentieth century.

Scene from the Pageant

Scene from the Pageant


The Finale

However, although the three hour performances included an appearance by the Marchioness of Bute as ‘Dame Wales’, a firework display by Brocks of Crystal Palace and an array of rugby internationals dressed as Ivor Bach’s men storming Cardiff Castle, the public were far from convinced. Poor attendances led to a significant financial loss. Perhaps unkindly, critics labelled the pageant as ‘an overblown Edwardian fantasy’ and the event was never repeated.

Glamorgan Archives holds a number of photographs of the cast in costume and a copy of the programme produced for the pageant that sets the scene and lists those taking in part. There is also a copy of an edition of the Western Mail, produced on 27 July 1909, with photographs and reports of the performances.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Walking on the Moon: 50 years ago this month, July 1969

We are familiar these days with the phrase ‘One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind’. However, it is actually 50 years ago this month that it was first used by Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the surface of the moon. In 1961 John F Kennedy had predicted that, within a decade, a man would land on the moon but few believed that such a feat was possible. Diaries held at Glamorgan Archives capture the excitement as the lunar landing module Eagle left the command module, Columbia, late on July 20 1969 to descend to the moon’s surface.

In 1969 Elwyn Llewellyn Evans from Tonyrefail was an adviser on scientific matters to the Department of Education. As recorded in his diary he watched throughout the night, with millions around the globe, as television pictures tracked the landing in the Sea of Tranquility and the first moon walk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.


Man’s first landing on the moon. Heard at 11.30 that they expected to walk at 2.30, so slept in sitting room with alarm clock.

Emergence from lunar module slower than expected but Armstrong ‘landed’ at about 3.50. Watched Aldrin follow and watched activities to about 5am.

Three days later Columbia splashed down in the Pacific Ocean and the Apollo 11 mission was safely concluded. For Elwyn and the millions who had witnessed the two hour moon walk, it was an event never to be forgotten.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

A force to be reckoned with: South Wales Police 21 – 12 Cardiff, Waterton Cross Park, 8 October 1969

One of the by-products of the establishment of the South Wales Constabulary, 50 years ago, was the creation of a rugby team that drew together talented players from the four police forces that merged on 1 June 1969. In the first full edition of the South Wales Police Magazine the opportunity to establish a team that would make its mark on Welsh rugby was recognised.

Amalgamation brought with it the possibility of a Police side creating a real impact on Welsh football. The range of talent available could, it was thought, produce a South Wales Police Team capable of providing a surprise for many of the established Welsh Clubs.  (South Wales Police Magazine, ref.: DSWP/50/1)

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The South Wales Police Rugby squad, 1969-70

The optimism was not misplaced.  Taking to field for the first time on a late summer’s evening in 1969 against Pontypridd at Ynysangharad Park, the Police gained a narrow victory. Further victories were secured against Swansea as St Helens by 15 points to 14 points, Penarth by 15 points to 11 and a Pembrokeshire County team at Neyland by 32 points to 8. By now the power of the new combination was being recognised with 9 members of the team selected for the British Police team to tour the West Country.

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Programme cover, 8 October 1969

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Programme notes, 8 October 1969

Arguably the biggest test came on the evening of Wednesday 8 October when the first visitors to the Waterton Cross Ground were the renowned Cardiff RFC. Attended by a bevy of officials from the WRU, including the Union’s President, Secretary and Chairman of Selectors, the game was organised to mark the formation of the South Wales Constabulary and to recognise the support that the Cardiff Club had provided to the Police Dependents’ Trust. From the outset the match was accompanied by a degree of controversy. In the days before league rugby many police officers played for senior clubs across Wales. However, it was expected that priority would always be given to fixtures where they were required to represent South Wales Police.

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The South Wales Police Team, 8 October 1969

The police team on 8 October, therefore, included players from an array of clubs including Swansea, Aberavon, Neath, Llanelli, Bridgend and Maesteg. It also included two players who had been selected to turn out that day for Cardiff. The Western Mail headline on the day of the match summed it up: Police nab Finlayson. To their dismay, a mid-week Cardiff side, already shorn of several stars, found two of its key players, centre Alex Finlayson and prop forward Mike Knill, lining up in the red shirts of the opposition.

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Team sheet, 8 October 1969

Watched by a crowd of 2,000 the Police set a hot pace when Ian Hall, capped for Wales at centre, crossed for an early try. However, Cardiff must have fancied their chances when, after only 15 minutes, the Police scrum half, Huw Jenkins, had to leave the field with a torn cartilage. In the era prior to the introduction of replacements, the Police team had to play the remaining 65 minutes with 14 players. The hero of the hour was flank forward Omri Jones who moved to scrum half, leaving the remaining 7 forwards to continue the battle with the Cardiff pack. It was testimony to the strength and resolve of the South Wales Police team, led by Ron Evans, that they not only hung on to but increased their lead to win by 21 points to 12 points. Further tries were scored by Terry Stephenson, also a Cardiff player when not ‘on duty’ for the Police, and hooker Alan Mages. The remaining points were added by full back Jerrard Protheroe. As the Western Mail reported the next day, the victory was by no means a fluke.

Cardiff in the second half attacked solidly for 15 minutes but were never able to cross the Police line and but for the accurate kicking of Ray Cheney with four penalty goals in six attempts the final score could have been an embarrassment to the renowned club. (Western Mail, 9 October 1969)

It was a victory that the Police celebrated in style, as the South Wales Police magazine recorded:

Members of the force will reflect on this victory with justifiable pride, while Cardiff, accepting this defeat in the true spirit of sportsmanship exemplified by this great Club will not, I am sure, ever again underestimate the strength and quality of the Force Team. (South Wales Police Magazine, Autumn 1970, page 87, ref.: DSWP/50/1)

The president of the WRU and the Chairman of the SeIectors could not fail to have been impressed. Ian Hall was already capped for Wales and two further members of the South Wales Police Team that faced Cardiff went on to play for Wales – Alex Finlayson and Mike Knill. They were followed by many more in later years, including Bleddyn Bowen, Richie Collins, Steve Sutton and Rowland Phillips. After the 8th October 1969 there was no doubt that the South Wales Police team were a force to be reckoned with.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Glamorgan Archives holds a match programme (DSWP/PH/SPO/198) and the report of the game set out in the South Wales Police Magazine for Autumn 1970 (DSWP/50/1). There are also photographs of the South Wales Police Team prior to the match against Cardiff (DSWP/PH/SPO/75) and the full squad fielded in the 1969-70 season (DSWP/PH/SPO/76).