We are indebted to Mrs Celia Thomas for providing the photograph of her husband as well as the extensive details about his career.
Noël Thomas 1931-2003
Noël Thomas was the youngest of six children born to Edith and David Thomas. He uttered his first cry at 6 p.m. on Christmas Day, 1931. His father hailed from Cardiganshire and spoke only Welsh until his family moved to Aberdare where there was better-paid work to be had in the coal mines and other industries
David Thomas learned English as a second language in which he became very proficient, and I think that Noel’s love of English began at his father’s knee. He certainly inherited his keen intelligence, an ability to learn quickly and to retain what he’d learned.
Noël’s mother, Edith, was an Aberdare person who spoke only English so the six children were monolingual. David confined his Welsh to speaking to his cats.
The Thomas family lived in a small house in Wind Street where Noël was born.
Later they moved to a larger house nearby in Bond Street. Noël attended in the
Infants’ Department of Town Church School, then called The National School.
However, when the family fortunes improved, a larger house was rented at 54, Broniestyn
Terrace in Trecynon.
Noël was then transferred to Comin Junior School (then called Park School) where he was placed in a higher class than his age warranted because he was such a precocious boy. These were the days of the Scholarship when boys and girls had to sit the exam in March in order to secure a place at the Grammar Schools. Noël passed with flying colours though only ten years old.
He entered the Boys’ Grammar School in September 1942, a time of war, a time of food rationing, the black-out and shortages of so many essential things. Ilford evacuees had been sharing the school and conditions were very cramped and difficult, but the education was first class and Noël was a quick learner. He was equally good in the arts and sciences but, by the time he reached Form IV, the year of the C.W.B. (Central Welsh Board) examination, he realised that he preferred the arts.
He matriculated at fourteen then proceeded to Form VI where he chose Latin, French and English as his three subjects for the Higher School Certificate (A-level). Here he was fortunate to have three excellent teachers:- Mr. Ceredig Jones (Caesar) for Latin, Mr. P.E. Phillips (PEP) for French and Mr. Louis Thomas for English.
Noël developed a passion for music early in life and he learned to play the violin. He loved singing and enjoyed being in the school concerts conducted usually by Mr. P.E. Phillips or Mr. T.R. James.
The school choir gave annual concerts and were broadcast twice. In 1943, the boys sang under the baton of Sir Adrian Boult and in 1946, they joined the girls’ choir to perform at the National Eisteddfod.
There was also a Debating Society where Noël honed his speaking skills which he would use to great effect in his professional life and in his political activities. He was very self-confident from an early age and had a forceful personality.
Noël could always find time to do what he liked and he loved writing. In May 1948, he won second prize for his essay in the Aberdare and District Juvenile Eisteddfod and in May 1949, he won first prize in the same category.
While he was in Form VI, Noël was encouraged to try for a scholarship to Aberystwyth University by his headmaster, Mr. Brinley Reynolds. He was successful in winning the Sir Alfred Jones Open Scholarship, awarded in May 1949. Then in August 1949, he was awarded a reserve State Scholarship based on the results of his Higher School Certificate. But more was to come. In September 1949, he was awarded the Price Davies Scholarship.
Noël then proceeded to Aberystwyth University in October 1949, where he enjoyed three wonderful years. He distinguished himself particularly in Latin and English. His Latin professor wanted him to take Latin for honours but he chose English and studied under Professor Gwyn Jones, a celebrated writer as well as academic.
In his honours examination, Noël was awarded a 2I or 2A in English. He had been tipped for a first and Professor Gwyn Jones always regarded him as a student with a first-class mind.
Noël was intended for the Civil Service but he had to wait six months to try the examination. In the meantime, Professor Jones, who had taken a great interest in Noël, suggested that he might try teaching. He even secured a job for him in Sharrow Private School in Sussex where he taught for two terms.
By this time, Noël and I were about to be married so he secured a post as English Teacher in Park Secondary School in Dagenham in the summer term of 1952. You can imagine the difference between a small, select private school and a large secondary modern school in the heart of a very big council estate.
The culture shock must have been considerable but, as Noël often told me later, that’s where he learned how to keep discipline. He liked the school, the teachers and the headmaster. He stayed there until Easter 1955 when he returned to Aberdare.
I had already secured a teaching post which was difficult to obtain in those days if you were not Welsh-speaking. Noël took a supply job in Aberdare. He taught in Gadlys Boys’ School then at Abertaf in Abercynon. As these were temporary posts, he cast his net further afield and was offered a job in Pontllanfraith Technical School.
The year was 1957. Certainly, he stayed there while the school was amalgamated with another school with a Grammar stream (I think). Again, Noël liked the school and he had long given up the idea of the Civil Service.
In 1965, Noël was appointed Head of English at the Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School, replacing Mr. Garfield Griffiths who had emigrated to Canada. Mr. Jesse Warren was then headmaster with Mr. Gwilym Williams as his deputy. Some of the teachers who were there had either taught Noël when he was in the school or had been there at the same time. I refer to Gwilym Williams and Tom Evans in particular.
By this time, a new school had been built at the bottom of Cwmdare Hill so Noël missed the Old Boys’ Grammar School by a term. However, he soon settled down and in September 1976, he became deputy head when Gwilym Williams was appointed headmaster on the retirement of Mr. Jesse Warren.
As you are probably aware, Mr Gwilym Williams died very suddenly in the Christmas Holidays and Noël was made acting-head from January, 1977; then Head Teacher Designate from April of the same year. At that time, Aberdare Boys was still a Grammar School. Only a year later it became a Comprehensive with all the reorganising that this required.
Noël was a socialist because he believed in social justice. This fair-mindedness permeated his professional life and that is why he advocated and supported the Comprehensive system.
The disastrous fire at Rhydywaun School after Christmas 1978 could not have come at a worse time. The school had to be housed on five sites which required the staff to shuttle from building to building and this they did selflessly.
Noël knew that the success of Aberdare Boys’ School during his tenure was the result of co-operation between management and staff. Many difficulties ensued but most were overcome, and under his aegis the school went from strength to strength.
Noël loved teaching and in his heart he never left the classroom. He fostered excellence in the Arts, the Sciences and in Sport, and he believed that every boy had a talent that could be developed.
If he has left a monument, it is in the minds of pupils whom he taught and the teachers with whom he worked.
Celia G. Thomas
Shortly after receiving the account of her husband’s career, I asked Celia to say something about Mr Thomas’s retirement. This is what she told me (CR):
"He had always been very active in local politics since his student days at Aberystwyth and his interest in and adherence to socialism never wavered.
Right up to his last days, he attended meetings, rallies, demonstrations and took an active part in national elections. He delivered leaflets, knocked on doors and spoke in the loudspeaker just as he’d done when he was young.
An avid reader all his life, he read voraciously about all sorts of topics not just economics and civics. He loved books on the Second World War, which, of course, he had lived through as a boy. He liked biographies of great men especially inventors like Thomas Edison whose laboratory we had visited in Florida in the 1990s.
He was very keen on art, and it was a particular treat for him to visit art galleries, one of his favourites being the Prado in Madrid which has so many of Goya’s paintings. He also admired the works of El Greco, Velásquez and Zurbaran.
But his greatest joy was music. He collected records, tapes and later CDs of most of the great classical composers. Mozart was his favourite and he would sit for hours listening to "The Magic Flute" and the lovely concertos that he wrote. I think, indeed I know, that although Noël loved literature, he loved music more.
Of course, we spent much of our time in travelling and Noël loved every moment of it. I was afraid in 1995, after he’d had his first heart attack, that he would not be allowed to travel far, but he made such a remarkable recovery that he was able to continue his globetrotting right up to the end."