As we commemorate Armistice Day and the centenary of the end of the Great War, records held at Glamorgan Archives throw light on celebrations in South Wales in November 1918 and, in particular, the joy and relief that marked the end of a bloody and brutal war. Headteachers in schools across Wales were required to keep a regular record of events. Summaries of the school log books for 1914-18 can be accessed on the Glamorgan Archives website. They provide an insight into the tumultuous celebrations that erupted across South Wales on 11 November 1918, none more so than as recorded by Mr W S Jones at Whitchurch Boys’ School. William Jones had been Headmaster at the school for over 4 years. On 11 November he made the following entry in the school log book:
Great excitement prevailed at school this morning. The Church bells chimed and the boys soon came to the conclusion that the Armistice had been signed by the German representatives. As we had been misled by a false report of the signature of the Armistice on Thursday evening – 7th I sent a message to the local postmaster who confirmed the signing of the Armistice as official.
The boys were informed of the good news which brings the actual fighting of the Great European War to a close and great enthusiasm was shown. We did not try to restrain their energies for the last half hour and about 5 minutes to 12 the whole school was assembled in the yard when the Doxology and the National Anthem were sung. Cheer after cheer was given for such glorious news and the boys dispersed.
School reassembled after dinner. The Chief Education Official was telephoned to, but no holiday could be granted. The matter would be referred to the Education Committee which was expected to meet on the morrow (Tuesday). The boys were reassembled on the yard in the afternoon and led by a scout with a small drum marched around the yard waving flags and singing various popular songs. The significance of the act of the signature of the Armistice was explained to the boys [Whitchurch Boys’ School, log book, ESE64/1/4]
The log book draws a veil over what happened next but no doubt many of the boys, with their families, joined the crowds that flooded into central Cardiff. The signing of the Armistice was announced across the city by the sounding of the ‘Western Mail’ siren soon followed by hooters and horns from factories across the city and ships in the docks. A ‘wildly enthusiastic’ crowd gathered in Cathays Park with the newspapers reporting that:
Everybody felt that the hour had come for the abandonment of restraint and for the expression of a long pent up enthusiasm….others arrived with the announcement that the Docks was on stop. Everyone there had downed tools, and there was not a murmur of dissent. All the workshops and yards, schools and business premises let loose their jubilant occupants and after a riot of abandonment they gradually gravitated to the City Hall, where the flags of the Allies proudly fly.
Many dock workers marched directly into City Hall and could be seen waving to the crowds from the windows on the upper floor. By midday a semblance of order had been restored with the Lord Mayor, standing on the roof of the porte cochere over the doorway to the City Hall, reading a message from the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, confirming the signing of the Armistice. This was met with ‘thunderous applause’ and was followed by a march past by the Welsh Regiment and the singing of the national anthems of the allied nations including the Marseillaise and the Star Spangled Banner. Sensing the mood of the crowd the Lord Mayor …appealed to the citizens to celebrate the day with joy and thanks but also with restraint and dignity. It was a plea echoed by Sir William Seager – In this hour of victory let us be sober. Perhaps it is not surprising that this was met …with loud cries of no, no and laughter.
By early afternoon the city centre was awash with cheering crowds including St Mary Street and High Street, where people were crammed at windows in the buildings along the street to gain a view of the crowds and join in the celebrations. Whenever they were spotted there was a special cheer for members of the Armed Forces including a number of American servicemen. The cheers, however, were not just for the ‘boys back from the Front’. Recognising that the war had seen major changes in roles and responsibilities the newspapers reported that:
A brewery wagon carried not supplies of Government beer but something incredibly livelier a bevy of land girls in uniform who sang all the popular ditties with great gusto.
In addition, during the war years the male conductors on the city’s tram service had been replaced by women and the newspapers reported that:
The tramway girls got off the cars, they must, they said, join in the processions.
The following day the Western Mail concluded:
South Wales came perilously near the Mafficking type of jubilation. In most places there was an absolute stoppage of work. Shortly after the dinner-hour shops were closed – the staffs would not brook restraint and the employers readily relaxed the rules and regulations [Western Mail, 12 November 1918].
Many schools, including Gabalfa, Hawthorne and Maindy, had been closed for all or part of October and the first week of November as a result of the influenza epidemic that had swept south Wales. Whitchurch Boys’ School, however, had escaped relatively lightly with 15-20 cases of influenza at any one time out of a school complement of just over 200 pupils. The Whitchurch boys were very likely to have been amongst the bevy of small boys reported as adding to the clamour in Cathays Park with improvised ‘tom-toms’ made from old kettles, pans and sheets of tin. They would also have cheered the Lord Mayor’s announcement of a seven day holiday for all schools.
The war years had been a difficult time for schools with shortages of basic supplies and food. In addition, shortages of coal had meant that schools had found it difficult to heat the classrooms during the winter months. The school had ‘done its bit’ with the establishment of a garden of some 20 perches cultivated by the boys two days a week to grow vegetables as part of the national campaign to increase food production. The school had also been in the forefront of campaigns to raise money for the War Savings Association and with some success, being rewarded with an extra day of holiday for their efforts.
Like many schools Whitchurch had seen several of its teachers enlist in the armed forces. Of the three male staff at Whitchurch who had joined up, two came though unscathed but sadly one, Ivor Drinkwater, had been killed on active service with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, in France, in the last week of November 1917. As in many other areas of employment women had come forward to fill the gaps and a school staffed by male teachers in 1914 had, by November 1918, three female teachers. In many instances male teachers leaving the armed forces returned to their posts. However, the barriers to women working in boys’ schools had been broken down and the Whitchurch school log book confirms that, from that point onwards, the school always had a number of women teachers.
Monday 11 November 1918 was, however, a day to celebrate and the following day the Western Mail reported:
It was great day of rejoicing and abandon, and most people went to sleep at a late hour, satisfied that they had done the celebration of peace in a right worthy fashion.
It must have been an unpleasant surprise for the Whitchurch boys the next morning to find that the holiday only applied to schools in the Cardiff Education authority area. Whitchurch Boy’s school was open on Tuesday 12 November and on the morning of Wednesday 13th before it was announced that the rest of the week could be taken as a holiday.
The Headmaster, William Jones, simply noted in the school log that …the school was dismissed after assembling on yard. Perhaps diplomatically, he made no comment on the attendance.
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer