Much of the material held at Glamorgan Archives tells a story well beyond initial impressions of the item in question. Take catalogue reference D1045/7/2 – a card, 12cm by 8cm, with the words ‘Admit bearer to Band Enclosure Cardiff Arms Park’ and stamped 26 July 1958. Closer inspection reveals that ‘bearer’ has been crossed out and replaced with ‘NCO and 10 Guardsmen’ and, in the top left hand corner, there is a heading ‘VIth British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Cardiff, 1958, Wales’.
A little investigation reveals that this was a ticket to the biggest event in town – the athletics finals and the closing ceremony of the Empire and Commonwealth Games. While a capacity crowd of 34,000 had crammed into Cardiff Arms Park for the opening ceremony earlier in the month, it was estimated that up to 43,000 had been shoe-horned into the ground on the last day. The guardsmen were members of the Welsh Guards and, along with their instruments, they would have been carrying the music scheduled for the ceremony including ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘We’ll keep a welcome in the hillsides’. In addition, they were due to play the national anthem, given that the Queen was the guest of honour.
There was disappointment during the afternoon when medal hopes for the Welsh women’s 4x100yd relay team were dashed after they were disqualified in the semi-final for a faulty baton change. However, by the end of the afternoon spirits were high as the crowd had witnessed a wonderful battle for the Gold medal in the mile, won eventually by the legendary Australian runner Herb Elliott.
Late afternoon, after the last medal presentation, it was time for the Band of the Welsh Guards to take centre stage as it led the teams into the Arms Park. In no time at all the stadium was a riot of colour and noise as the teams and their flag bearers filled the ground and aircraft from the RAF flew overhead. There was some disappointment when it was announced that the Queen was not well enough to attend and had, instead, sent a recorded message to be relayed over the stadium’s tannoy system. However, the speech contained a closely guarded secret with the Queen’s announcement that, to mark the success of the Games, her son, Charles, was to be made Prince of Wales. The papers the next day reported that the news was greeted with …a mighty roar of pleasure that lasted nearly two minutes. Although, no doubt, the bandsmen were prepared for most things they may well have been surprised by what happened next, as the crowd broke into a spontaneous rendition of ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’.
In comparison to the formality of the opening ceremony, spirits were high and one team member Bill Young, an Australian coach, had broken ranks to shake hands with the Duke of Edinburgh as he moved through the competitors. The hero of the week for Wales in the athletics had been John Merriman who had won the silver medal in the 6 mile race. Now, as the teams left the stadium, many linking arms as they sang ‘Auld Land Syne’, it was John who ran to the north stand and threw his Panama hat into the crowd. This started a wave of hat throwing reciprocated by several brown trilbies travelling in the opposite direction. All too soon the ceremony was over and with it a week that had also seen Cardiff host a festival of music, song, drama and dance. It had not been golden week for the Welsh team, although a respectable haul of 11 medals had been won. Yet there was no doubt that the Games had been a major success, with the national papers referring to Cardiff as a ‘Mississippi of pleasant sound and colour’ and labelling the Games ‘a festival of sport and more – a community of good fellowship’.
For Cardiff Arms Park, the scene of much of the action, it was back to business with workmen moving in immediately after the closing ceremony to prepare the ground for the next set of rugby fixtures. Their target was the red ash running track on which so many records had been created during the course of the Games, and within 24 hours it had been ripped up and removed. In addition, soldiers from the Royal Engineers were busy dismantling the temporary bridge built across the Taff to the carry the thousands of visitors to the Arms Park. The Games, though, did leave an immediate legacy with the inauguration, the following year, of the Welsh Games designed to provide the platform for an annual festival of sport.
As for the Bandsmen of the Welsh Guards, they had acquitted themselves well amongst all of the excitement of the day. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were ready for the rendition of ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’. But how would you have fared? For future reference, here are the words.
Among our ancient mountains
And from our lovely vales
Oh, let the pray’r re-echo
God Bless the Prince of Wales
The ticket for the closing ceremony used by the NCO and the 10 bandsmen of the Welsh Guards can be found at Glamorgan Archives (ref.: D1045/7/2), along with other material relating to the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Wales in July 1958.
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer