The Ocean and National Magazine, 1936: Reminiscences through a Time-book at Bute Merthyr

The Ocean and National Magazine collection is an amazing resource for discovering what life was like for people living in the south Wales coalfield in the 1920s and 1930s. Published by the Ocean Coal Company Ltd and United National Collieries Ltd, with contributions by and for the workforce, this magazine series contains a wide variety of articles on the coal industry and its history, including industrial relations, employees, technology, culture and sporting events. Andrew Booth, one of our volunteers has recently completed the indexing of this fantastic collection. This is the final article in a series of blog posts in which Andrew highlights stories from the Ocean and National Magazines.

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D1400-9-9-3 Cover

Cover of Vol 9, No.3, March 1936, D1400/9/9/3

Stories from individual collieries also feature within the Ocean and National Magazines. In 1936 a series of articles attributed to ‘I.B.’ discuss the contents of an historical time-book found at Bute-Merthyr Colliery. The author describes:

…wiping away the quarter inch of grime that encased its front cover…an accumulation of 20 years… [and opening] up a field of reminiscences.

D1400-9-9-3 page 93

Reminiscences through a time-book at Bute Merthyr, D1400/9/9/3, p.93

The articles talk about people whose names appear in the time-book, including some men who were still alive at the time of writing. He first notices the name of David Timothy, who was a Tipper, and tells us that Mr Timothy …is still alive and well at 93… and that he was still working at Bute-Merthyr at the age of 79, drawing the dole in the 1921 strike. Long service is also commended in the case of Thomas Griffiths, a Pumpsman whom the author recalls being told had the longest record of service at Bute-Merthyr, followed by his brother Dai Griffiths. Mr W.D. Jones, otherwise known as ‘Billy Jones, Reading Room’, is also mentioned for long service, working at Bute-Merthyr for over 50 years.

D1400-9-9-7 page 236

W D Jones, long serving Bute Merthyr employee, D1400/9/9/7, p.236

The author also uses the time-book to draw attention to the role of the Bute-Merthyr workforce in the First World War, noting that 157 joined His Majesty’s Forces during 1914-16. In the May edition, a focus was put on those who had served in the First World War. The author recalls a number of men who went to serve, including John Candy. At 18 years of age, Candy, who had lost an eye and had a bullet track in his left arm, came back from the War and in October 1916 was registered as a weigher. The author then observes the names Peitre Arents and Louis Popilier within the time-book, commenting that these were …hardly names one could expect to see on a Time-Book associated with Welsh Collieries. This prompted a reminder that Belgian refugees lived in the area during the War.

In the April edition the time-book also prompts memories of deaths and accidents.  Seeing the name of Walter Durrant, a Pumpsman, revives memories of his death as a result of a snowstorm in 1925. Another name found is that of Thomas Llewellyn, who had been a drift workman, and the author is reminded of a tragic accident that befell Mr Llewellyn in 1896. A group of people had obtained detonators and powder which exploded, which cost Mr Llewellyn two fingers from his right hand.

D1411-2-1-16-1---Web

An example of a Pay Book from Bute Merthyr Colliery within the Glamorgan Archives collection, Jan-Nov 1926, D1411/2/1/16/1

These articles offer an interesting look at how historical documents can be used to prompt memories and tell the stories of those featured within them. The time-book that is referred to in this article does not survive at Glamorgan Archives, however other pay books from Bute Merthyr Colliery and other collieries can be found in the collection and are available to consult in our search room.

Andrew Booth, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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The Ocean and National Magazine, 1935: Why Doesn’t Someone Localise our ‘Snakes and Ladders’ Board?

The Ocean and National Magazine collection is an amazing resource for discovering what life was like for people living in the south Wales coalfield in the 1920s and 1930s. Published by the Ocean Coal Company Ltd and United National Collieries Ltd, with contributions by and for the workforce, this magazine series contains a wide variety of articles on the coal industry and its history, including industrial relations, employees, technology, culture and sporting events. Andrew Booth, one of our volunteers has recently completed the indexing of this fantastic collection. This is the eighth of a series of blog posts in which Andrew highlights stories from the Ocean and National Magazines.

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In 1935 The Ocean and National Magazine printed a series of articles with the question ‘Why doesn’t someone…?’ In August the subject of this article was the idea of a localised version of the board game Snakes and Ladders. A plan of the board is shown on one of the pages, and there were also 20 locations with instructions as to what to do when they arrived there. Anyone who knows the area around the Rhondda valleys might find the locations and their instructions quite amusing.

Snakes and Ladders_edited 

  1. Stag Hotel – Hard to Start. Must score six or ask for a glass of water. Otherwise miss two turns.

 

  1. Red Cow – Meet a friend and stop. Miss one turn and go back to 1.

 

  1. Swamp – Save sheep’s life but run over goose. Jump over one (number).

 

  1. Lungi’s Ice Cream – Forget the game, discuss Abyssinia and have a cornet. Miss two turns.

 

  1. Pentre Police – Absent-mindedly wish the Sergeant ‘A Merry Xmas’. Go back two.

 

  1. Prudential Office – Arrested by agent who pushes you back three steps – for life.

 

  1. Bridgend Hotel – Meet old friend who tells you about his operation. Miss four turns.

 

  1. Ystrad Station Exit – You are run over by an ‘Echo’ boy. Go back six to get your breath.

 

  1. Estate Office – You pay your ground rent before time. Leap 4 for joy.

 

  1. Ton Co-op – Mistaken for football coupon-seller. Arrested for three turns. Move back to No.5.

 

  1. Windsor Hotel – Stop to recover. Withstand temptation to have a ‘Corona’ and move forward three steps.
  2. Ton Police Station – Miss three turns through forcible attendance at court. Details censored. Go back two, and watch your step.

 

  1. Ton West End – Invigorated by odour of river. Move forward three – quickly.

 

  1. Pentwyn Hospital – Make detour down the marble steps. Meet young probationer. Lose twelve turns, but take short cut to No.3.

 

  1. Nantymoel Junction – Withstand temptation to take a girl-friend along new road. Skip six.

 

  1. Cwmparc Junction – Invited to a pithead bath. Shock entails loss of four turns.

 

  1. Ocean Offices – Mistake it for a Salvation Army headquarters and miss two turns reviving.

 

  1. Pengelli Hotel – Enter in error. Fall in river (hidden trap) and go back to 14.

 

  1. Surgery – Having plenty of time you sit to wait for your next bottle of medicine. You are taken back to 12 feeling better.

 

  1. Park & Dare Institute – Home at last! Fall asleep. See Mae West and call and see her some time.

 

Andrew Booth, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Miners’ Strike of 1926: Maerdy Boys’ School Log Book 1908-1930

The nine days of the General Strike in May 1926 shook the foundations of British society as over 1.5 million workers across the country downed tools. For many in the trade union movement it was a simple act of solidarity with the miners who had seen their wages and terms and conditions progressively driven down in the years following the end of the First World War. It is estimated that, by 1926, miners’ pay had fallen by a third from the 1919 levels. Proposals to further reduce wages and extend the working day produced the famous response from the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, ‘Not a penny off the wages and not a minute on the day’. The decision by the TUC, in May 1926, to call out the transport workers, printers and iron and steel workers in sympathy with the miners met with almost total support from the unions and their members across the country.

In other quarters the TUC’s decision was seen as a General Strike and a challenge to constitutional government. With the shock waves from the Bolshevik revolution in Russia still fresh in the memory, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, called the Strike ‘a challenge to Parliament’ and ‘the road to anarchy and ruin’ [The British Gazette, 6 May 1926]. Well before the strike was announced, the Government had preparations in hand to maintain key services across the country to be run in each area by a centrally appointed Civil Commissioner. In South Wales, the Earl of Clarendon was installed on May 2 1926 in Dominions Building in Cardiff to work with the local authorities to maintain law and order, transport and food supplies. He also had at his disposal the local arm of the Volunteer Service Committee established to recruit local men and women to keep the docks and local transport services operating and, if needed, bolster the police force. In all, the local Volunteer Service Committees recruited over 12,000 volunteers in South Wales. Small numbers of men were used to provide a skeleton service on the railways and in the docks . The impact of the volunteers was perhaps most evident in urban areas and, in particular, in Cardiff, where they were used to run tram and bus services. Although the TUC urged its members to avoid confrontation, the Government was determined to maintain essential services and stationed troops in most cities and towns along with naval vessels in key ports.

Glamorgan Archives holds material that tells the story of the General Strike in south Wales from the perspective of the unions, local volunteers and those running the Volunteer Service Committees. Records, such as the school log books, also trace the impact on local communities.

Over the past month we’ve explored the stories of a railwayman and trade union official from Aberdare, an officer of the Volunteer Service Committee, and the volunteers themselves. Today we look at the impact of the Strike on the communities of south Wales.

The school log books for south Wales provide a further and very different perspective on the General Strike of 1926 and its aftermath. The story of the strike is often see through the graphic accounts of clashes between those on strike and those who rallied to the Government’s call for volunteers to maintain essential services. The focus of such accounts is naturally on the dramatic events of the nine days of the strike. However, for many in the mining communities of south Wales the General Strike was just one episode in a long running dispute with the mine owners that led to years of hardship and poverty. The log books for schools in the south Wales valleys tell of the hardships endured by local people during this period and how local communities came together to combat the shortages faced by most families. An excellent example is provided by the records kept during this period by the Headteacher of the Maerdy Boys’ School held at the Glamorgan Archives.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Maerdy records is just how little comment there was on the nine days of the General Strike. In the lead up to the strike, declared on 3 May 1926, it was business as usual at the school:

ER23_5 p246 entry1

May 3 1926. The schools were closed to celebrate Labour Day which fell on Sat. the first of May. The children were entertained to tea at the Workmen’s Hall and free Pictures. The projected excursion to Penrhys mountain was abandoned because of the rain [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p246].

Two days later, on 5 May, there was the one and only reference, during the nine days of the General Strike, to wider developments:

ER23_5 p246 entry2

May 5 1926. This is the first week of a General Strike affecting the whole country. Trains have ceased running here and newspapers have been banned [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p246].

A strike that aimed to paralyse local and national transport systems was a new and dramatic event for the major towns of south Wales. Strike action and lock outs, however, were nothing new for the mining communities of south Wales given that the unions had been in dispute with the mine owners over terms and conditions since the end of the First World War. Nevertheless, the collapse of the General Strike, called in support of the miners’ resistance to the coal owners’ demands for a reduction in pay and an increase in hours, must have been a hammer blow to communities such as Maerdy.

If the collapse of the strike was the end of the matter for many people, for those in the mining communities it signalled a new and more difficult phase as the miners were left to continue their dispute with the owners without support. Pits across south Wales were closed as the owners insisted on agreement to reduced terms and conditions as a precondition for a return to work. Often denied access to unemployment benefit, families had to fall back on poor relief along with money and food provided by local distress funds. The most immediate problem was the provision of food for the children of local families. As with other areas of south Wales, the school in Maerdy and its staff were at the centre of measures put in place 5 days after the collapse of the General Strike to help local families.

ER23_5 p247 entry1

May 17 1926. A school Canteen had been opened under the Necessitous Children’s Act for the feeding of the children during the present stoppage of the pits. Two vestries are used – Ebenezer for the Boys and Infants, Siloa for the Girls. Two meals a day, dinner and tea are provided [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p247].

ER23_5 p247 entry2

24 May 1926. The numbers fed on Mon last were 106 boys, 104 girls, and 78 infants. This gradually increases up to Friday when 287 boys, 258 girls and 229 infants were fed. Sat and Sn were days of lower attendance [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p247].

ER23_5 p247 entry3

25 May 1926. Because of the large numbers fed in relays it is found impossible to get the children back in time for the afternoon session and on several occasions less than half the boys of the middle school have been on time [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p247].

The local authority in the Rhondda made funding available to schools across the district to set up canteens to provide at least two meals a day, seven days a week, for children identified by head teachers as in need. At the height of the strike it is estimated that approximately 18,000 children were fed each day in the Rhondda.

Not surprisingly the provision of meals significantly improved school attendance, in part due of the quality of the food but also because the canteens reduced the need for children to miss school to help parents in the search for food and fuel.

ER23_5 p248 entry1

7 June 1926. The AO called today. His list is short once more for the attendance has improved lately – due to good weather and the opening of the Food Canteens [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p248].

ER23_5 p248 entry2

June 8. Mr A Taylor and Mr T Jones, two School Inspectors, visited the Canteens this morning, tested the Bread Pudding, and Blanc Mange and Red Jelly and expressed their satisfaction of the good fare provided. The week’s menus are varied and include meat, sausage, potatoes, bread, cake, jam, rice, jellies, bananas, buns, scones, salad (veg) [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p248].

The schools were just one element of the efforts made across the community to provide for local families. A network of canteens and soup kitchens was established in the mining towns and villages of south Wales to provide meals each day for the men locked out of the pits. Unlike the schools, the kitchens relied heavily on local contributions. Funds such as the Maerdy Distress Fund were vital in drawing together local partners, often under the umbrella of the local Trades Councils and working with the Miners’ Lodges, to raise money. In most areas, however, only union members and, therefore, men were fed with women being expected to manage on the home front drawing, where available, on poor relief.

ER23_5 p248 entry3

July 1 1926. An attendance half holiday was granted today when the carnival and sports were held in aid for the Maerdy Distress Fund [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p248].

By the end of July, with no sign of a solution to the dispute, it was decided that the canteens would have to be kept open during the summer holidays. It is difficult to image the pressure that this decision must have placed on the school, with teachers expected to supervise the canteens seven days a week throughout the holiday period. To an extent, this was achieved through the use of rota systems and promises of time off after the end of the dispute. For many, however, the connections with the mining communities were so strong that there was no question of not helping out.

ER23_5 p249 entry1

July 22. Closed at 4pm for the Midsummer Vacation. This is a week earlier than usual, five weeks have been granted to cover the Whitsun week which was not given this year because of the ‘Feeding’ and the usual four weeks of the summer holidays. The Feeding will be carried on through the holidays, the teachers taking charge in turn [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p249].

As the new school year began in September there were signs of new and more radical measures, with the decision being taken to send children to live with families willing to care for them until the end of the strike. As the entry below indicated, this must have been quite a challenge for all parties, given the distances involved in some cases.

ER23_5 p249 entry2

Sept 3 1926. A few boys have been sent to London for the period of the Strike. They are being adopted by different families [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p249].

With winter approaching, the problems presented in keeping children warm and dry came increasingly to the fore. In particular, providing sound boots for children was a major issue for families across the mining communities.

ER23_5 p250 entry1

Sept 9 1926. A boot repairing establishment has been set up in the Workmen’s Hall. The leather is supplied free by the Society of Friends and a dozen men under the supervision of a skilled bootmaker are engaged in repairing the children’s boots. [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p250].

ER23_5 p250 entry2

ER23_5 p251 entry1

Oct 1 1926. Two ladies representing the Liverpool Society of Friends visited the school this afternoon and brought a dozen pairs of trouser for distribution. Moneys have also been received from the Council Chairman’s Fund and London NUT Association (Lambeth?) including Battersea Grammar School towards boots for the children. Over 50 children in the three departments have been supplied with new boots [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 pp250-1].

ER23_5 p251 entry2

ER23_5 p252 entry1

Nov 3 1926. The AO called this morning. The wet weather tells upon the attendance now for many boots are quite unfit and some sixty to seventy boys are wearing boots which are beyond repair. Another small sum of three pounds has been received from the Chairman’s Fund [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 pp251-2].

ER23_5 p252 entry2

Nov 17 1926. The weather has been very wet during the past three weeks but the attendance has not suffered greatly. The Canteens undoubtedly help a good attendance. The boots of many – 70 or 80 at least – are in a bad condition in spite of the free repairs and new supplies that are occasionally received. The Head Mistress of the Girls’, after a recent visit to her home, brought a number of good boots and children’s garment which were a boon to several [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p252].

The schools and local chapels providing the canteen facilities were by no means immune to the shortages of food and fuel and recorded frequently the problems presented by lack of coal.

ER23_5 p252 entry3

Nov 18 1926. The Vestry had no fire today the coal being used up [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p252].

ER23_5 p253 entry1

Dec 3 1926. Fortunately the neighbouring pits are being re-opened and better supply of coal and coke is received but our own pits have not been entered [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p253].

ER23_5 p253 entry2

Dec 6 1926. Steam has been raised in the Collieries today for the first time for many months for the Safety Men have not been working here. Preparations are being made for a resumption of work [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p253].

The reference to the pits being reopened followed the decision by the Miners’ Federation, at the national level, to recommend a return to work on the 19 November 1926. It was an admission of defeat and although the South Wales Miners’ Federation, as in other areas, attempted to negotiate an orderly return to work with the re-employment of union men, it was clear that the owners had the upper hand. As a result, alongside the reduction in wages and the lengthening of the working day, thousands of union men lost their jobs as employers took the opportunity to reduce numbers and retain men who had worked throughout the strike.

It is estimated that in the following 12 months the number of miners employed in the south Wales collieries fell by over 20,000.

As might be expected, the school records suggested that the return to work in Maerdy was protracted and fractious. The local authority, under pressure from central government and local ratepayers, saw no option other than to close the canteens from the end of the year now that the national strike had ended. As the school records indicated this caused enormous hardship for local families in areas such as Maerdy where the union was still attempting to negotiate with the mine owners.

ER23_5 p253 entry3

Dec 23 1926. The school was closed this afternoon at 4 for the Christmas holidays but the canteens are being kept open until Thurs the 31st inst. [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p253].

ER23_5 p254 entry1

Jan 10 1927. Reopened after the Christmas Holiday. A number of women – about 15 – called here today to protest against the smallness of the amount of money paid out for the feeding of their children [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p254].

ER23_5 p254 entry2

Jan 18 1927. The AO called today. The majority of the absentees complain of bad boots. The local pits have been open for some time but few have returned to work as the local Miners’ Lodge rules that no man was to take another mans’ place or another mans’ job. This ban was removed on the 14th inst. The children are being provided for either from the Unemployment Fund or by Parish Relief [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p254].

As in other areas, the miners were eventually forced to return, where employment was still offered, on reduced terms and conditions.

To some extent the log books for 1927 suggested a return to something more akin to normality for the pupils, including a number of visits organised for the boys.

ER23_5 p260 entry1

July 5. A considerable number of boys from the sixth and seventh standards have undertaken an educational journey today to Castell Coch and Cardiff for the Castell and National Museum [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p260].

ER23_5 p261 entry1

July 25 1926. Pupils of the upper standards had a charabanc outing to the Wye Valley going to Maesycwmmer, Pontypool, Usk and Monmouth where the old bridge gate, Church, monuments of Henry V and the C S Rolls, the airman, were visited. Then to Tintern for the Abbey and home through the Wye Valley. A charge, quite moderate was made for visiting the Abbey but this, so it is said, could have been avoided if application were made to the First Commissioner of Works [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p261].

It has to be noted, however, that the problems presented by the ongoing run down of the coal industry were never far away.

ER23_5 p262 entry1

Sep 9 1927. The attendance has been fairly good during the past fortnight. All the pits have been closed here for many weeks and boys occasionally go to the tips during school hours to carry coal home. There are others who absent themselves on wet days for their boots are very poor [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p262].

During this period there was a particular interest in the impact on the health of the children.

Apr 29 1927. Maerdy is more liable to epidemics than many places in the Rhondda Valley. The School Medical Officer is not certain as to the reason for this unfortunate condition [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 p257].

ER23_5 p263 entry1

ER23_5 p264 entry1

Oct 3 1927. The Attendance Officer called today in a Special Mission. He wanted to inquire into the physical condition of the children. Every teacher was questioned as to whether he ascertained that each child received food regularly or not. The answer in each case was to the effect that inquiries – direct and indirect – were occasionally made and that so far no child came foodless unless it were due to a rare case of lateness. This testimony is supported by my own inquiries and that of the mothers who sometimes call here. They complain of the inadequacy of the dole which they spend almost entirely on food and their inability to provide boots. ‘No boots’ is the prevailing reply on the absentee notes [Maerdy Boys’ School, log book, ER23/5 pp263-4].

The response was similar to that provided by other schools in south Wales. During the 1920s poverty and hardship were constant factors in the lives of the south Wales mining communities. Due to the efforts of the schools, the local authorities and the wider community it was perhaps ironic that during the 1926 lockout many children had been provided with a better and more varied diet than in other periods. This was very much a testimony to the strength and resilience of the local communities. It was resilience, however, that was to be tested time and time again with the ongoing changes in the mining industry in the interwar era.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

 

The Rhondda Hut

In December 1915 the Rhondda Leader published the following appeal:

The YMCA and the Troops

By kind permission of the Rhondda Council the school-children throughout the district are this week selling stamps for the YMCA. It is hoped that by their efforts the sum of £300 will be made up for the purpose of purchasing a YMCA Hut, to be known as the “Rhondda hut”. The YMCA deserve very support. They have over 1000 centres with the troops. The YMCA spend over £1,000 weekly for free stationery for the boys in khaki, and the daily cost of carrying on the work is over £500. The Rhondda people will doubtless support the YMCA in the same generous spirit that they always patronise deserving causes. This will be the Rhondda children’s gift to our brave boys in khaki [Rhondda Leader, 4 Dec 1915].

During the course of the First World War the YMCA undertook a range of work to support the war effort. One of the Association’s best known and most successful contributions was the provision of YMCA Huts, initially in Britain and, as the war progressed, near the front line in France and Belgium. The Huts provided shelter for troops with access to hot drinks, food, newspapers and writing materials. In Britain the Huts were to be found in major cities, often close to railway stations, for use by troops as they travelled across the country. In some centres this included the provision of overnight accommodation. In France and Belgium they were situated behind the front line so that troops moving up to and away from the front could have a brief respite from the fighting.

The Rhondda Hut was to be situated at the main station in Cardiff to cater for the thousands of troops passing through the city. Raising the money for the Hut was no easy matter. Although the initial appeal by the YMCA was made in 1915 it was another 18 months before the money was secured and the Hut opened. The campaign had a less than auspicious start. At a meeting in November 1915 the Rhondda Urban District Council declined the YMCA’s suggestion that the Council ask schools to raise money for the Hut. There was clearly a feeling that teachers and pupils were already overburdened with raising money for good causes. However, as a compromise it was eventually decided that the matter be referred to ward members and teachers [Rhondda Leader, 20 Nov 1915].

From the above account in the Rhondda Leader on 4 December we know that, as on countless occasions during the war, the schools in Rhondda took up the challenge to raise money for the war effort. Only four days after the article appeared in the Leader the Head Teacher of the Ton Boys’ School reported:

ER36_2 p481

A cheque for £7.10.0d was sent to the Secretary of the YMCA at Cardiff, this sum having been collected by the boys and girls of Ton Schools towards the erection of a ‘Rhondda Hut’ for our Soldiers at the Front [Ton British Boys School, log book, 8 Dec 1915, ER36/2 p.481].

Two months later Frank Higman, the general secretary of the YMCA in Cardiff, wrote to the Rhondda Education Committee:

Will you kindly convey to Mr Berry and the head teachers and the staffs our warmest thanks for their splendid co-operation in securing such a substantial sum towards the cost of a hut which we shall have pleasure in christening the “Rhondda Hut” [Rhondda Leader, 12 Feb 1916].

The Rhondda schools, in less than 2 months, had raised £150 with a further £50 to be passed to the YMCA. The total, however, was still well short of the £300 required as a contribution by the schools to the overall costs. It was a further 15 months before the Rhondda Hut finally opened on 5 May 1917. A full account of the opening was given in the Rhondda Leader:

On Saturday afternoon the 5th inst, the YMCA Rhondda Hut for Soldiers which has been erected opposite No 1 Platform of the Great Western Railway Station Cardiff was opened. Mr H E Maltby, chairman of the Rhondda Urban District Council presided….

The premises occupy a peculiarly convenient position for the purposes they are intended to serve. There is a spacious central hall for light refreshments, furnished with a piano, a billiard table and various other forms of games and replete with facilities for reading and writing. The room is brightly decorated. In a building immediately adjoining there is sleeping accommodation for about 80 men, with bathing facilities. The institution will be kept open day and night until the end of the war. The hut owes its establishment to the generosity of the inhabitants of the Rhondda, who have raised a sum of £1,160 for helping on the war work of the YMCA. It is gratifying to note that with the exception of about £250 the whole of the money has been subscribed by the working class portion of the community [Rhondda Leader, 12 May 1917].

Although the Hut was open there was still a need for further money to meet running costs. Yet again the Rhondda schools threw themselves into fund raising:

For the purpose of aiding the funds of the Rhondda Hut of the YMCA and the Auxiliary Military Hospital, Llwynypia, a successful miscellaneous concert was given by the pupils of the Pentre Secondary School at the Park and Dare Hall, Treorchy, on Friday evening, the 18th inst. The performers who acquitted themselves remarkably well were under the direction of Mr W A Morris, LCP [Rhondda Leader, 26 May 1917].

Other schools, including Mardy and Trealaw, also pitched in:

ER23_5 p125

Other recent “War Activities” in which the teachers were the principle workers, were the YMCA Hut Campaign, held in March, and the Russian Flag Day, held in April. The results were – YMCA £85.4.9d, Russian Flag Day £23.4.7d [Mardy Boys School, log book, 20 Jun 1917, ER23/5 p.125]

ER41_2 p279

The collection towards the YMCA Huts amounted to over £20 – collected by H T Staff & a few helpers [Trealaw Boys School, log book, Feb 1917, ER41/2 p.279]

In November 1919, one year after the signing of the Armistice, an article in the Rhondda Leader underlined just how well the Hut had been used:

This Hut in connection with the YMCA was opened in May 1917, opposite the Great Western Approach, Cardiff and was christened the “Rhondda Hut” because a large proportion of the money necessary for it came from the Rhondda district.

Our readers may be interested to know that nearly 400,000 travelling troops have been entertained free….In addition, 55,897 have been provided with sleeping accommodation during that period.

These figures have justified the erection and maintenance of the Hut, and through the kindness of the Rhondda people much comfort has been given to the men who serve in the Forces and have had to use the Cardiff Station as an important junction [Rhondda Leader, 1 Nov 1919].

There is little to tell us why the YMCA turned primarily to the Rhondda for the funding for the Hut. It is possible that, with the Hut being provided primarily for service personnel in transit though Cardiff, many of the soldiers and sailors would have been from the valleys of South Wales. The cause, therefore, would have struck a particular chord with communities in those areas. There was, however, an interesting comment made Sir John Courtis at the opening of the hut in 1917 and reported in the Western Mail:

Although splendid work for soldiers had been done by another agency in the city there was ample scope for supplementation [Western Mail, 7 May 1917].

This was probably a reference to the Cardiff Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Rest. This was a significant facility and the Western Mail records the programme provided at the Rest on Christmas Day 1917:

Every effort was made at the Cardiff Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Rest, St Mary Street, to give men of the Army and Navy a good time. Between 10am and 7am on Sunday night and Monday morning over 800 men were entertained at the Rest. On Christmas day tea was served and afterwards Mr F E Andrew lent the Central Cinema, the Hayes, for a private exhibition of pictures free of charge to all men in uniform. In the evening there was an entertainment at the Rest [Western Mail, 26 Dec 1917].

It is possible, therefore, that there may have been a degree of scepticism, in some circles in Cardiff, as to the need for a further centre along the lines proposed by the YMCA. Yet at the same time as 800 were being entertained at The Rest, the Western Mail noted that close by, at the Rhondda Hut, …200 men, including a party of Americans were given a capital dinner. The fact that over 400,000 used the Rhondda Hut in just over two years suggests that the YMCA was right in its estimation that a further centre was needed.

There were certainly many weary soldiers and sailors who had good cause to thank the people of Rhondda and, in particular, the school children of Rhondda, for the food, comforts and the warm welcome that they received at the Rhondda Hut when travelling through Cardiff.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Blaenclydach Boys and the Chocolate Potato Biscuits

The pupils of Blaenclydach Boys’ School were no strangers to coping with the food shortages during the First Wold War.

ER3_2 p117

After all, they had received lessons on how to supplement the family diet by growing their own potatoes (ER3/2, p.117) and how to cut back on foods in short supply including bread, sugar and meat (ER3/2, p.120).

ER3_2 p120

The school had even used Food Production Pamphlets on the storage of potatoes for reading practice! (ER3/2, p.123).

ER3_2 p123

The boys were also very aware of how the shortages impacted on the local Red Cross hospital, and they had collected food to supplement the diet of the servicemen who were patients there. On the 22nd March 1917 the Head Teacher, John Lewis, recorded:

ER3_2 p118

A collection of fruit and eggs was made by the scholars for the wounded soldiers at the local Red Cross Hospital. The collection consisted of 59 eggs, 143 oranges, 26 apples, 31 bananas, 1lb rice, nuts, chocolate and 2/7 in money.  Blaenclydach Boys School, log book (ER3/2 p.118)

Leaflets and pamphlets to be taken home to parents extolling the virtues of potatoes and the need for food economy were, therefore, nothing new. However, there must have been a slight air of disbelief and amusement at the three leaflets distributed to the boys on 21st February 1918:

ER3_2 p128

Leaflets from the Food Economy Department distributed for school children throughout the school area. These leaflets were (1) Thirty Four Ways of cooking potatoes (2) Delicious Soups (3) All About Stews.  Blaenclydach Boys School, log book (ER3/2 p.128)

Produced by the Food Economy Department of the Ministry of Food established in 1916, the leaflets were seen as a practical guide to help families circumvent the ever increasing shortages resulting from the sinking of allied merchant ships and the shortage of labour on the land. A copy of ‘Thirty Four Ways of Using Potatoes’ still exists, and can be found on line at the Manchester Archive Plus website www.manchesterarchiveplus.com (ref.: FE40).  The advice within, even in wartime, must have raised a few eyebrows. The leaflet began with a rallying call to families to make the best use of the ‘unprecedented surplus of potatoes’:

This is the immediate duty of everyone – to learn how to make potato-foods to take the place of bread-foods and to use them now instead of bread and butter, toast, rolls and all cakes and puddings which require flour.

The advice on how to prepare the potatoes may well have come as an unpleasant surprise to many:

.. a potato should never be peeled before it is cooked. People who cut the peel from a potato before they cook it actually throw away 85 per cent of its flesh forming and vital elements.

It is also difficult to believe that the Blaenclydach boys would have been convinced by the bold statement that ‘People who have once used potato bread, for instance, never wish to return to bread which is made solely from flour’.

It is generally accepted that ‘the proof is in the pudding’. For the boys of Blaenclydach this probably meant ‘Potato and Fruit Pudding’ ‘Treacle and Potato Pudding’ and ‘Congregation Pudding’, as recommended in the pamphlet. They might also have sampled the Chocolate Potato Biscuits – possibly as part of the school’s St David’s Day celebrations in the week following the arrival of the leaflets.

Chocolate Potato Biscuits

4oz potatoes (washed, cooked, peeled and sieved), 1oz flour, 4oz ground rice, half a teaspoon of cocoa, one and a half oz. fat, half an egg (dried can be used), a little vanilla essence, 1 tablespoon of treacle, half a teaspoon of baking powder.

Mix the flour and ground rice and rub in the fat. Add the potatoes and cocoa and stir the dry ingredients together; then put in the half egg and treacle and flavouring and beat thoroughly. Finally add the baking powder and mix well. Turn the mixture on to a floured board, roll out (half inch) and cut into rounds and bake in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

The Blaenclydach Boys School log book does not record the response to the recipes either from the boys or their parents. Along with other initiatives such as the ‘Win the War Cookery Book’ the three pamphlets were just one part of an ongoing campaign to combat food shortages. However, if you want to gauge their reaction we will be happy to provide details of any of the recipes mentioned above in exchange for a review of the end product!  Similarly, if you have a copy of ‘All About Soups’ (MF 38) and ‘Delicious Stews’ (MF 39) let us know and we will add the details to our collection of wartime fare.

The Blaenclydach Boys’ School log book (ER3/2) is just one of a series of school log books for the Rhondda area held at the Glamorgan Archives. If you want to know more about life in school and the Rhondda in 1914-18 you can read summaries of the log books on line or the original copies can be accessed at the Glamorgan Archives

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer