The Llandaff Knuts: The first hospital at Rookwood, 1918

Previous material on the history of Rookwood dealt with the preparations for the sale of the house in July 1917 using the prospectus prepared by Stephenson and Alexander, Auctioneers and Chartered Surveyors of High Street, Cardiff. In this article we pick up the threads of what happened next and celebrate the establishment of the first hospital at Rookwood in 1918, 100 years ago.


The records for Stephenson and Alexander held at Glamorgan Archives confirm that strenuous efforts were made to sell the house and the estate in the summer of 1917. On two occasions a sale was close, with well-known figures in the local business world showing interest. However, in each case, they were deterred by the valuation of £20,000 placed on the house and the estate by the Hill family. The sale may not have been helped by the fact that Rookwood had been unoccupied for some time. Sir Edward Stock Hill had died in 1902 and, by 1917, Lady Hill and her eldest daughter Mabel were living in Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire. Mabel’s siblings were mostly married and also living in England with the sale being handled, primarily, by her brothers Eustace and Vernon, both living in the Bristol area.  The Rookwood estate had, therefore, been mothballed, with much of the furniture moved to family homes in England. Records suggest that two members of staff were employed to care for the house. In addition, the gardens were tended by the head gardener, Duncan McIntyre, with one assistant. It may have been a ruse to beat down the price, but several interested parties complained that the house and gardens needed attention and that the price did not take account of …the outlay which would have to be made in improving the residence.

It was at this point that Maud Purnell first appeared in the records. In the latter months of 1917 Stephenson and Alexander were commissioned by the Hill family to begin to sell the remaining contents of the house. After the sale, Lady Hill wrote to the auctioneers expressing her disappointment with the £355 raised and the ongoing failure to find a buyer. It must have been a relief to all concerned when, in February 1918, a letter was received from Maud Purnell of Weybridge, Surrey enquiring whether the house could be leased for use as a hospital for the duration of the War.

Maud Alice Purnell was a force to be reckoned with. Although living in Surrey with her husband, Ivor Purnell, an architect, she was the eldest daughter of Philip Morel. With his brother, Thomas, and brother in law, John Gibbs, Philip Morel was the founder of the Morel shipping line, one the biggest and most valuable fleets operating from Cardiff in the latter half of the 1800s. The Morel family lived primarily in the Penarth area and, with her first husband, Francis Hibbert, a Corn Merchant, Maud was a well-known figure in south Wales. She figured regularly in local newspaper reports in connection with her church and charity work, including the provision of £1000 in 1908 for a bed at the Royal Hamadryad Seamen’s Hospital in memory of her father who had died that year.

Maud had married Ivor Purnell in 1913 after the death of her first husband and, on the outbreak of war, she had thrown herself into work for the Red Cross. With the siting of the 3rd Western General Hospital in Howard Gardens, Cardiff was a major centre for the receipt of wounded brought by boat and rail from France and Belgium. As a result there was a need for satellite auxiliary hospitals where those discharged from the military hospitals could be cared for while they convalesced. This was a role taken on board by the Red Cross using local volunteers referred to as VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments). In Glamorgan alone during the course of the war there were 48 Red Cross Hospitals.

On marrying Ivor Purnell, Maud had given her address as Lavernock House, Penarth. Many of the auxiliary hospitals were large houses loaned or rented to the Red Cross and Maud Purnell was certainly involved with, and probably ran, the Red Cross hospital at Lavernock House that catered for non-commissioned officers and other ranks. However, by 1918 Lavernock House was required by the authorities to provide extra beds for patients at the King Edward VII Hospital in Cardiff. Mrs Purnell, therefore, was looking for suitable premises to establish a new hospital. In a letter to Stephenson and Alexander, dated 15 February 1918, she demanded a quick decision on her application for a lease. She also side stepped the usual conventions by asking that a second letter be passed direct to Lady Hill setting out her request.

Of course I am leaving it to Mr Alexander to arrange any reasonable rent but I am writing this to assure you that in the event of our coming to terms I should be living in the house in entire charge myself and am bearing all the expenses, except the Army grant per Officer. I will be responsible that no damage shall be done at all to your very beautiful property [letter of 15 February, ref.: DSA/12/2933].

The letter was signed Maud A Purnell, Hon Commandant. The very first Hospital at Rookwood was, therefore, to be a Red Cross hospital but reserved exclusively for the care of officers. Although the Hill family hoped for a sale, when told that Mrs Purnell would not buy ‘at any price’ they relented. By 8 April the terms were concluded with Mrs Purnell securing the lease for her hospital for £500 a year for an initial 12 month period, and with an agreement that the lease would end 6 months after the end of the war.

As the tenant, Mrs Purnell took responsibility for the maintenance of the interior of the house and also for the surrounding grounds, kitchen gardens, stables and lodges. She also inherited the services of Duncan MacIntyre, the head gardener, who lived on the estate at Rookwood Lodge. This was probably something of a coup, for Duncan, originally from Kilmartin in Argyle, and his wife Lizzie had worked for the Hill family for nearly 20 years. As Head Gardener at Rookwood he was a respected local figure who often acted as a judge at horticultural shows in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. Although stripped of many of the staff that Rookwood would have employed to tend the gardens in their prime, no one was better placed to maintain the estate.

Mrs Purnell’s plans for Rookwood were announced in the local papers in April 1918:

Mrs Ivor Purnell of Penarth has rented Rookwood, Llandaff formerly the residence of Lady Hill for the period of the war and it will shortly be opened as a hospital for officers….Rookwood contains something like twenty bedrooms and if all the accommodation that it provides be utilised it will afford room for not far short of 100 beds [Western Mail, 30 April 1918].

It has to be remembered that, until the autumn of 1918, the war was still very much in the balance. The German assault in France and Belgium in March and April had thrown the Allied forces back in disarray and casualties were high on both sides. The wounded, therefore, were still streaming into Cardiff. As to the decision to set up a hospital exclusively for officers, it was accepted practice to care for officers separately and, no doubt, the arrangement helped to smooth the negotiations with the Hill family. In addition, the extra weekly premium paid for the care of officers would have helped to balance the books.

The Red Cross Society Museum and Archive in London does not hold specific records for Rookwood. However, the Stephenson and Alexander records come to the rescue, in that work on the house had to be agreed with the Hill family. The house was evidently in a poor state of repair. In a letter to Stephenson and Alexander, Ivor Purnell noted …a considerable amount of the wall papering is in very bad condition… and it was proposed …to strip or distemper over where necessary for cleanliness. In addition, changes were made to the first floor with new bathroom accommodation put in place and additional toilets added on the ground floor [Letter from Ivor Purnell to Stephenson and Alexander, 30 March 1918, ref.: DSA/12/2933]. Beyond this, the house remained essentially intact with boarding put over a number of items of value, including the mantelpiece in the drawing room. In addition, the electric chandelier, the brass framed mirrors, the marble statue of Clytie and the brass fire curb in the drawing room remained, at the owner’s risk, until they could be sold or removed.


Mrs Purnell’s lease ran from 8 April 1918 and it is likely that the hospital was up and running by late April. Anyone visiting would have been confronted with the formidable figure of Mrs Purnell in her red Commandant’s uniform supported by a quartermaster, matron and cook. The hospital would have been staffed, primarily, by volunteer Red Cross Nurses trained in first aid and home nursing. Beneath their starched white aprons, marked with the Red Cross, they would have worn blue dresses with starched white collars and linen oversleeves. By 1918 styles were changing and it was agreed that the hem of the skirt could be as much as 6 inches above the ground. Many would have been recent recruits from the locality but those with previous experience in military or naval hospitals would have been recognised by stripes worn on their right sleeve. Transport and stretcher work was generally carried out by male volunteers again dressed in blue military style uniforms.

Not everything, however, went smoothly. On 16 May 1918 the Western Mail reported that Mrs Purnell and Ruth Hibbert …were summoned at Cardiff on Wednesday for using a car in Cardiff in contravention of the Petrol Restriction Order. In her defence, Mrs Purnell claimed that she was on official business taking one her nurses, Miss Ruth Hibbert, home. However, Ruth was no ordinary nurse. She was Mrs Purnell’s daughter by her first marriage. The authorities were not convinced by her story and Maud Purnell was fined £10 while Ruth Hibbert was cautioned [Western Mail, 16 May 1918].

What then of the ‘Llandaff Knuts’ mentioned earlier? There is a photograph held at the Glamorgan Archives that may well be the only photographic record of the Rookwood Red Cross Hospital. It shows five servicemen facing the camera and the picture is captioned the ‘Llandaff Knuts, April 1918’ [ref.: DX308/2].


The five men are in the standard issue uniforms worn by soldiers when in hospital – blue jackets with white lapels and lining, white shirt, red tie and regimental caps. Only one of the men is identified, John Swallow, sitting on the left at the front. The evidence is not conclusive but it is likely that the five were part of the first batch of officers cared for at Rookwood. The term ‘knut’ came from a well-known song at the time ‘Gilbert the Filbert’. It had been ‘amended’ and adopted by soldiers as a marching song and the term ‘knut’ was used for ‘young men about town’ – dandies.  It sounds, therefore, that the men were in good spirits as they took up residence at Rookwood.

There were, however, others taking an interest in acquiring Rookwood and the Commandant was clearly aware of this. On 1st September 1918 Maud Purnell wrote to Stephenson and Alexander:

Will you kindly remember that I am tenant of this property.

By mid-October Rookwood had been sold for a price close to the Hill family’s initial valuation. The sale, however, was required to take account of Maud Purnell’s lease. We have to assume, therefore, that the Rookwood Red Cross Hospital for Officers remained in place until April 1919.  This may have suited all parties for, following the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the need for auxiliary hospitals was reduced. However, while the Red Cross Hospital was being wound down, the next phase of Rookwood’s life, also as a hospital, was already in the planning with the sale of the Rookwood estate to Sir Laurence Philipps.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

This is one of a series of articles about events at Rookwood from when it was built in 1866 through to modern times using records held at the Glamorgan Archives. The information used for the Rookwood Red Cross Hospital draws primarily on the records of Stephenson and Alexander, Auctioneers and Chartered Surveyors, ref.: DSA/12/2933.

A Fine Romance

Hail! genial season of the year

To faithful lovers ever dear

Devoted be this day to praise

My Anna’s charms in rustic lays

Now billing sparrows, cooing doves

Remind each youth of her he loves

My heart and head are both on flame

Whene’er I breath my Anna’s name

These lines were penned by a Captain Bennett in a Valentine poem written in 1818 to Mrs Wyndham, also named as ‘Anna’.  The poem can be found in our Fonmon Castle collection (ref. DF/V/133) and runs to 78 lines of rhyming couplets, far weightier than the snappy valentine messages found in cards today.  In the poem Captain Bennett gives full vent to his romantic side, evoking images of Cinderella and her Prince, praising Anna, including her ‘fairy feet’, as well as casting doubt on the suitability of her other suitors, one of whom he names as ‘Tredegar’s Lord’.  He also describes writing Anna’s initials or ‘cypher’ in the sand with a walking stick, which although the waves may wash away ‘the darling name’ could not ‘blot that cypher from my heart!’


So who were Captain Bennett and Anna, and did their story have a happy ending?  Although the poem is part of the Fonmon Castle collection it also has references to Dunraven, an estate near Southerndown owned by the Wyndham family.  A little detective work has revealed that Anna was the daughter of Thomas Ashby of Isleworth, London and Charlotte, daughter of Robert Jones of Fonmon (hence the Fonmon connection).



Anna was first married to Thomas Wyndham of Dunraven and Clearwell Court in the Forest of Dean (MP for Glamorgan), but he died in 1814.  However, Anna remarried in July 1818, only months after the poem was written.  Her new husband was a John Wick Bennett of Laleston, presumably ‘Captain Bennett’ the sender of her Valentine.  It appears his poetic efforts had not been in vain and perhaps helped sway her towards accepting his proposal!

Finding references to ‘love’ and ‘romance’ in the archives can be a difficult task as they are not terms usually found in catalogue descriptions!  However, there are many stories of romance to be found, whether hidden in private diaries or in letters, especially those written when lovers were parted and they were the only means of contact between them. Wartime, especially, led to the separation of many and we have several stories of romance which blossomed during difficult times.

Sister Isabel Robinson found love when she worked at the Red Cross Hospital in Cardiff in 1916.


Whilst she was nursing there she met and married Daniel James Dwyer of the Australian army. He was recovering in the hospital from a head wound he suffered in action in France.



The couple later settled in Australia at St. Kilda, Victoria but returned to England where Isabel died in 1965.  Isabel’s photograph album is held at the Archives and includes photographs of staff and patients at military hospitals in Bridgend and Cardiff (ref. D501).

One of our most important collections relating to the Second World War are the many letters written by Pat Cox of Cardiff to her fiancé, Jack Leversuch, who was serving overseas in the forces (ref. DXGC263/2-32). Throughout the war Pat sent regular letters to Jack giving him her news.  Jack kept all the letters he received from Pat and brought them home with him when he finished serving overseas.



The letters give personal details of the couple’s courtship as well as describing how Cardiff was dealing with air raids, the black out, evacuation and rationing.

Valentine cards also appear in our collections.  Many nineteenth century cards were handmade and beautifully coloured, sometimes decorated with intricate cut outs.  During the latter part of the century commercially printed cards appeared, although to our modern eyes these are also beautifully decorative.  Here are two examples of Victorian valentines (ref. DX554/18/3,9), both edged with feathers.




Do you have any old documents, photographs or valentine cards?  Please let us know as we would love to add them to our collection.



St Fagans Castle during the First World War

A guest blog by Elen Phillips – Principal Curator: Contemporary & Community History at St Fagans National History Museum. With her colleague, Sioned Williams, she is currently researching the history of St Fagans Castle during the First World War for a book to be published later this year.

Over 3,000 auxiliary hospitals opened in Britain during the First World War. Staffed for the most part by volunteers, they provided nursing care to soldiers with non-life threatening injuries. Forty-nine of these temporary medical facilities opened in Glamorgan, with the accommodation ranging from workmen’s institutes to stately homes.

In March 1916, the Red Cross opened an auxiliary hospital in a banqueting hall in the grounds of St Fagans Castle – the site of the present-day National History Museum. During the First World War, the Castle was home to the Earl and Countess of Plymouth. Along with the Bute family of Cardiff Castle, the Plymouths were the most prominent landowners in the area.

As Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan, the Earl played an active role in drumming up support for the war effort in south-east Wales. In September 1914, he came to national prominence as chair of the influential Welsh Army Corps committee, tasked with delivering Lloyd George’s vision for a ‘Welsh Army in the field’.

While her husband focused on military affairs, the Countess of Plymouth devoted much of her time to charitable causes. During the war, she was President of the Glamorgan Branch of the Red Cross and, in the years leading-up to 1914, hosted several meetings and fundraising activities in support of the movement. At one such meeting at St Fagans Castle in November 1909, the first Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) unit in Wales was formed – a move which would subsequently ease the recruitment of volunteer nurses for the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital.

The VAD scheme was launched in 1909 by the Red Cross and the Order of St John, under the auspices of the War Office, to provide supplementary nursing services in the event of war. Detachments (or units) were organised at county level, with each volunteer member receiving tuition in first aid and basic nursing skills. In 1910, about 200 VAD members from Glamorgan gathered at St Fagans Castle for a training day. A reporter from the Cardiff Times witnessed the action:

An interesting demonstration was given in a field, showing how the wounded can be carried to the rear for treatment at hospital bases. Dr Sparrow explaining how first aid can be given without special provision of splints, bandages etc. A feature of the demonstration was a spring cart, lent by James Howells and Co Cardiff, which in less than seven minutes can be improvised for twenty-four wounded soldiers under cover. Cardiff Times, 24 September 1910.

Many of the nurses who volunteered at the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital from March 1916 until it closed in March 1919 joined the VAD scheme at this early stage. One of whom was Mary Ann Dodd – known as Polly to her colleagues. She worked as a housemaid for the Plymouth family, but also did turns of duty at the hospital, as she recalled some 40 years later in an essay now archived at the Museum:

I was trained as one of her Ladyship’s VADs and very proud she was of us. I wore a cap and a white apron with a red cross on it… The Banqueting Hall was given over to 40 soldiers; the War went on, so a room was added for 30 more men… I used to cook and clean and one day a week I did the washing. Those soldiers’ socks were in a state, many had no heels in them at all. The soldiers only laughed and teased us, and when they got better, they tried to help us. NMW, MS 1293.

Soldiers and VAD nurses in the Italian Garden, St Fagans Castle, 1916 (NMW, DF003643)

Soldiers and VAD nurses in the Italian Garden, St Fagans Castle, 1916 (NMW, DF003643)

Apart from Mary Ann Dodd’s recollections and three photographs of convalescing soldiers in their hospital blue pyjamas, the Museum’s archive collection lacks primary sources directly associated with the hospital. In addition, very few traces of the building remain on-site. The Banqueting Hall is long gone – a fire in the 1950s razed the pavilion-like structure to the ground – and private homes now occupy the land where the hospital once stood. In our quest to piece together its hidden history, my colleague Sioned Williams and I have been reliant on evidence preserved at other institutions, in particular the Plymouth Estate records at Glamorgan Archives.

The Plymouth Estate records include the only known plans of the hospital in existence. The first plan was probably drawn in haste in preparation for its opening in March 1916 (GA, DPL/X/0). This clearly shows the adaptation of the Banqueting Hall into a medical facility, complete with a matron’s room and dispensary. The second plan corroborates Mary Ann Dodd’s recollections as it shows a proposed 30 bed extension to the existing 40 bed ward (GA, DPL/X/30).

Plan of the hospital, about March 1916 (GA, DPL/X/0)

Plan of the hospital, about March 1916 (GA, DPL/X/30)

St Fagans 3

Plan showing extension to the hospital, 1917 (GA, DPL/X/30)

Although Mary Ann Dodd failed to mention a date for the extension, evidence from the Plymouth Estate Cash Book 1914-17 at Glamorgan Archives (GA, DPL/977/1) suggest that these alterations were made in early 1917. On 27 March 1917, the Cash Book lists a payment to Humphreys Ltd in respect of addition to VAD Hospital St Fagans £82.8.0. The ever-useful Welsh Newspapers Online website yields over 180 references to this Knightsbridge-based contractor – mostly advertisements such as this one from the County Observer, 19 April 1902:

HUMPHREYS’ ISOLATION HOSPITALS and SANATORIUMS, complete with administrative blocks, on view. Delivery from stock. Skilled workmen. Addresses of 500 districts where our hospitals have been erected during past 20 years.

The 1914-17 Cash Book also gives a flavour of the homely atmosphere in the hospital. In June 1916, payments were made for a new piano and repairs to a gramophone – presumably to keep the convalescing soldiers entertained. The same Cash Book also highlights a number of charitable donations made by the Earl and Countess of Plymouth. These include £13.19.2 to Marshall & Snelgrove Ltd for socks & gloves for men from St Fagans District who have enlisted; £2.5.3 to A. McLay & Co for cardboard boxes for packing presents to recruits and £12.4.5 to Hobson & Sons for Red Cross uniforms.

Charitable donations are also noted in the 1917-19 Cash Book (GA, DPL/977/2), although payments for hospital fixtures and fittings appear less frequent in this document. In early 1919, the Estate made several payments to charities supporting demobilised soldiers and to memorial funds. These included contributions to the late Col. Bruce Vaughan’s Peace Memorial Fund and to a victory carnival in aid of demobilised soldiers. Interestingly, both Cash Books contain payments on behalf of the hospital to the Plymouth Arms Hotel – the village public house. Although alcohol was discouraged during the war, the temptation was evidently too much for some!

The story of the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital features prominently in the Museum’s First World War centenary programme. In many ways, the Castle can be read as a microcosm of Wales at war. Here we have a site-specific story which mirrors the fate of wider society. Some of the most enduring cultural shifts witnessed during the First World War – such as the employment of women and mass voluntary action – are reflected in the wartime experiences of St Fagans Castle and its people. Thanks in part to the collections carefully preserved at Glamorgan Archives, this hidden history will no longer be lost in the landscape.

Elen Phillips; Principal Curator: Contemporary & Community History, St Fagans National History Museum

Roath Women and the War: Part 1

Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road . Built around 1860 it was a substantial building reputedly able to seat 1000. The Roath Road Magazine was originally established as the magazine of the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School (DX320/3/2/i-iii). From November 1914 it was published monthly as the ‘Roath Road Roamer’ (RRR) to provide news on the war and, in particular, the fortunes of service men and women associated with the Roath Road Wesleyan Church, School and Congregation serving in the armed forces (DAWES6). It was distributed throughout the area and sent overseas to provide soldiers, families and friends with news from home and updates on colleagues serving in the forces. In particular, it featured photographs and letters from soldiers serving overseas.

From the outset the intention was that the magazine should feature the contribution made by the women of the parish and, in particular, those ‘in uniform’. Altogether, the magazine included details of 19 women from the Roath area. Many were sisters of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the magazine included photographs of 17 of the 19 and several letters. Referred to in the magazine as ‘our Lady Roamers’ the short pen pictures featured over the coming weeks provide an insight into how the war resulted in women moving into roles and occupations previously dominated by men.

At the outset of the war possibly the most obvious route for women looking to contribute to the war effort was to take up the call for volunteers made by both local charities and national bodies such as the Red Cross. Seven of the women featured in the magazine took this route. However, later in the War, as a result of the shortage of manpower following the introduction of conscription in 1916, opportunities opened up for women in many new areas of work. By 1918 Lady Roamers were also to be found in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Royal Air Force, the Land Army and local services including the railways and the post. Furthermore, from their letters we know that several served overseas.

The Nurses – Alice Williams, Lilian Dove, Rose Crowther, Beatrice James, Harriet Thomas and Florrie Pearce

During the course of the War over 90,000 men and women responded to the call by the Red Cross for volunteers. Each county set up Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADS) made up of volunteers. The VADs undertook a range of work including nursing, transport and organisation of rest stations. Six of the Lady Roamers volunteered for the Red Cross. The most dramatic stories were provided by Alice Williams and Lilian Dove both of whom served overseas as nurses.

Alice Williams joined the Red Cross is 1915 and was one of the first Lady Roamers. In November 1915 the Roamer included a photograph of Alice with the following caption:

‘Miss Alice Williams, who has a lifelong connection with Roath Road, is a Red Cross Nurse in a French Field Hospital, where the wounded are brought in straight from the trenches for immediate attention. Our only lady at the Front!’ (Vol.13, p.6).

Alice Williams

Two years later, in June 1917, it was reported:

‘Miss Williams has been in the thick of things – as a nurse for two years, and this is the first time she has left France. Much of her time she has spent within three miles of the German trenches so she knows something about things and has an interesting story to tell. She kindly showed us a bit of a Zeppelin that she saw brought down outside Paris. We believe that she is going back and wish her every success in the splendid bit of work she is doing’ (Vol.32, p.6).

Like Alice, Lilian Dove had quite a story to tell. Lilian, from Richmond Road, Cardiff was 25 at the start of the War. In Vol. 41 the Roamer reported:

‘The many ‘Roamers’ by whom our former Minister, The Rev C Nelson Dove, is still held in such affectionate regard, will be thankful to hear that his daughter, Nurse Lilian Dove, who was ‘mined’ off Alexandria on 31st December last, was rescued and is apparently none the worse for her unsought adventure and the exposure, shock and explosion, except that she unfortunately lost all her belongings’ (Vol.41, p.8).

Nine months later the Roamer reported that she was still in Alexandria. The information was provided by Driver George Notley, a fellow Roath Roamer, who was also in Egypt. He had sent Lilian a card signed ‘Notley one of the RRRs. She recognised the ‘Freemason’s sign’ and they had a cheery interview’ (Vol.47, p.2).

Rose Crowther

Photographs of two other Lady Roamers, Rose Crowther and Beatrice James, were provided in their Red Cross nurses uniforms. It is likely that Rose was the sister of Charles Crowther who was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers. We know from Red Cross records that Rose joined the Red Cross on 3 June 1916 but no details were provided of where she and Beatrice were stationed.

Beatrice James

Two others, Harriet Thomas and Florrie Pearce, are pictured in overcoats and caps.

Harriet Thomas

It could well be that when the photographs were taken they were working at one or more of the Auxiliary hospitals set up by the Red Cross during the war.

Florrie Pearce

In total the Red Cross set up 49 Auxiliary hospitals in Glamorgan alone. Often using large houses made available by their owners, the hospitals provided rest and recuperation for servicemen recently discharged from the large military hospitals. However, as with Alice Williams and Lilian Dove, service was not limited to the Home Front and Florrie Pearce certainly served with the Red Cross overseas and probably in France.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Lord Mayor’s Ambulance

On the evening of the 17th of May 1915 children from Dowlais Central, Gellifaelog and Pant Schools were gathered at the Oddfellows’ Hall, Dowlais for what was billed as a United Schools Concert. A programme of 16 sketches and songs was provided including ‘The Soldiers’ Chorus’ performed by the Dowlais Boys’ School, ‘The Saucy Sailor Boy’ by Gellifaelog Infant School, an action song ‘Knit Knit’ by Pant School and the ‘Gypsy Chorus’ performed by the Dowlais Girls School. The evening concluded with the singing of God Save the King. The concert was a great success and it was repeated on the following two nights. As the Head teacher of Dowlais Infant school recorded in the school log book on 20 May, ‘the concerts were very well attended and the four items from this school were very well done’.

The Dowlais concert was just one of a number of United Schools Concerts organised across the Merthyr Tydfil Borough in May 1915. Teachers and pupils also ran a range of additional fundraising events including a ‘soiree’ – a whist drive and dance – held by the Abercanaid and Pentrebach schools at the New Hall, Pentrebach on 15 May. The aim was to raise funds to buy an ambulance for use at the Front in France. Britain had gone to war in August 1914 with ambulance services provided mostly by horse drawn vehicles supplemented by lorries. It was soon realised that a large number of specialist motor ambulances would be needed. The Red Cross took the lead in organising appeals, including The Times appeal launched in October 1914, to raise money to purchase and equip a fleet of ambulances for use in France and Belgium.

The Lord Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil, Councillor John Davies, took up this challenge and asked schools to help raise enough money for Merthyr to purchase and equip an ambulance. Many individuals and organisations made contributions including the Oddfellows’ Hall with the agreement that 30% of all takings for the performances on the 3 days following the Schools Concerts would also go to the Mayor’s Ambulance Fund. As with many fundraising activities during the War, including provision of ‘comforts’ for troops and help for Belgian refugees, schools took a leading role in raising the money.

The Lord Mayor’s Appeal was a great success. The money raised was forwarded to the Red Cross. Charles Russell, on behalf of the Red Cross Society and the order of St John of Jerusalem, wrote to the Lord Mayor in September thanking the teachers and school children for their ‘magnificent efforts’. It was agreed that the Ambulance would be sent to Merthyr Tydfil in October 1915 once it had been prepared and equipped for use in France. In recognition of their enthusiastic contributions the Lord Mayor granted a special holiday for all schools in the borough on 18 June.

A copy of the original handbill for the United Schools Concert held at the Oddfellows’ Hall in May 1915 can be seen at the Glamorgan Archives.

If you want to find out more about how schools supported the war effort in your area and across Glamorgan you can access summaries for each local authority area (e.g. Merthyr Tydfil) and transcriptions of excerpts from the log books completed by head teachers for individual schools in 1914-18 on the Glamorgan Archives website,

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer