Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School
Memories & Memorabilia
Ilford County High School
School Magazine, Autumn 1941
In early 1940 the boys of Ilford County High School, ICHS, were evacuated to Aberdare to escape the dangers of bombing in the London area. The Ilford boys shared the accommodation of the Trecynon School with the Aberdare boys, but morning and afternoon separate shifts were in place for the two schools which remained separate. Local chapel vestries were also used to increase the space available for the visitors. In Plasdraw, a similar arrangement was in place for the pupils of Ilford County High School for Girls and the Aberdare Intermediate School for Girls. Indeed, the author Nina Bawden, herself an evacuee to Aberdare, devoted a section of her autobiography, ‘In My Own Time: Almost an Autobiography,’ to her experiences in Aberdare, and also drew upon those experiences in her novel Carrie’s War, which has been twice adapted for television, in 1974 and 2004.
The pupils from Ilford were not in Aberdare until the end of the war; most had returned home by the end of 1942, though a small number for various reasons did stay longer. Whilst in Aberdare, the Ilford School sought to maintain school spirit by keeping a separate identity for the itself, with lessons and sport being conducted separately from the home pupils, although the school teams did compete against each other in various sports. However, there was at least one liaison between pupils from Aberdare and Ilford — it resulted eventually in marriage. The two people involved were Henry Greatorex from Ilford and Patricia Thomas of Aberdare. Henry had returned to Ilford for quite some time, but such was his interest in Patricia that he cycled all the way from Ilford to Aberdare to see her, but when he arrived at Aberdare he found that she was on holiday at Port Eynon! So he cycled there the next day — where at last he found her. It took some time for the friendship to develop — they married August 1953.
Below are a few extracts from the ICHS magazine of Autumn 1941. The school by this time was operating in both Aberdare and Ilford, so the magazine had plenty of activities to report from both locations. Here are some of the accounts which mention Aberdare and elsewhere in Wales.
For a year and a half the School has been located in Aberdare. When we came here, it was the first time that most of us had been to a mining town. At that point one life had ended and another began; no longer did we live in the atmosphere of suburban life. We came into contact with the simple, real life of the valleys and the mountains; of the earth, of nature.
It is natural for a child to marvel at the mystery of the elements; as he grows into manhood he ceases to be astonished at the basic wonder of life and becomes more interested in what is superficial and vain, merely because he is cut off from the influences of nature. If the child is father of the man, if what he sees and does in youth has its outcome in the life that he leads as an adult, then we may truly feel that the future holds for us a rich field of usefulness.
What we see and do now in Aberdare may appear to be little different essentially from what we would have done in Ilford. That is not so. We came here in complete ignorance of the employment in which a large proportion of the industrial workers of England and Wales is engaged; we shall go away with some knowledge of what industrial life means. We shall know about the hazards of unemployment, the toil of the mine, the injustice of life. We shall go away with deeper understanding and wider sympathies than we had before we came here. Moreover, not only shall we take away a knowledge of life in Aberdare, but we hope we shall leave behind, in some small degree, an understanding of the life we should normally have led in Ilford. The two communities were thrust together, and it is our hope that we have made, and are making, stronger the link between them. In many respects Aberdare and Ilford have become one—parents have often visited Aberdare—and it is our hope that, when the war is over, we shall be able in our home town to offer hospitality to our Welsh friends in the same spirit as that in which it has been offered to us.
It is after the war that the best results of our stay in Aberdare will become apparent. Then we who are now at School will be the new generation; it will be for us to play our part in the new world. In the most practical way we shall be able to show the value of democracy. We say now to Aberdare: “Your problems are ours, and our problems are yours.” If only we remember that in the years to come, we shall be making a great contribution towards a better and happier social order. We, youth, hold this as true. In our enthusiasm the difficulties that lie in our path do not show themselves. When, one after another, they rear their ugly heads in the future, we must strive to preserve our enthusiasm, our understanding, and our good-will, and faithfully hold our course in the forward march of mankind.
A. H. A.
[A.H.A. was Alan Harold Aldous. He was Head Prefect as well as Chairman of the Magazine Council.]
DRAMA — The School for Scandal
Under the inspiration of Mr. Lowe, the School this summer produced Sheridan’s well-known comedy. It was an innovation in that it was produced in conjunction with the Girls’ County School and that it broke our traditional adherence to Shakespeare.
We were forced to alter somewhat the original text as time did not allow us to present the full version, and one or two scenes were reduced in length. However, in spite of these slight modifications we were able to preserve the true Sheridan spirit of wit and comedy. The lines were spoken clearly, and did not appear to be forced, while our movements gradually became better adapted to the lay-out of the stage, and the furniture became more comfortable with each scene. Few words were forgotten, and they were often cleverly replaced impromptu, with the result that the prompter was probably the person least employed.
The success of the ‘first three performances, and the general enthusiasm of the whole company, prompted a much more ambitious programme, consisting of no fewer than six almost consecutive presentations. Beginning on Thursday, 17th August, in a school at Abercynon, we proceeded to Abercwmboi on Friday, and ended the week with our most important engagement, that at the Coliseum Theatre in Trecynon. The variety of stages in these three places was as wide as it possibly could be; at Abercynon we experienced some difficulty owing to the small stage and limited accommodation, whereas at the Coliseum we had at first some doubts as to our ability to cope with the large stage and impressive lighting effects. Without undue boasting, we feel that our doubts were unfounded. The play went without a hitch on Saturday, but on the following Monday and Tuesday we had an even more exacting task, the open air productions in the beautiful grounds of Mountain Ash Secondary School, on a lawn with a background of tall, green trees. Here, of course, the facilities for scene-changing were of the simplest, being in full view of the whole audience. Furthermore, our voices had to be raised to carry well in such open surroundings. In spite of all, we were as well received as in the more usual environment.
This last performance at Mountain Ash School on Tuesday, 22nd of July, brought our successful and enjoyable tour to a close, and it was not without some sighs and regret that we finally packed up the costumes to which we had become accustomed.
[ J.A.C. was J.A. Coker, Deputy Head Prefect and a member of the Magazine Council.]
ABERDARE A.T.C. SQUADRON No. 254.
It is fitting that the part played by Ilford boys in this Squadron during the last nine months should be placed on record.
In February last, when the Squadron was formed, many boys joined — mainly from the Fifth Forms — and at a time when there were some 120 cadets in the Squadron, 25 of them were Ilford boys, of whom four, viz., Sgt. Horne, Cpls. Newton, Gibbs, and Kelsey, were promoted before they left Aberdare. Moreover, the majority of these 25 boys attended with commendable regularity their classes and parades.
Most of these cadets have left Aberdare, and the School is not so well represented in the Squadron, partly on account of the dwindling of our numbers, but it would be a fine thing if more recruits came forward to replace those boys who have left, if only to continue support to a movement which well deserves it.
ALL IN A HOLIDAY’S WORK.
North Wales, the country of peaks and moors, barren hill-sides and beautiful lakes, has always appealed to me. This year I decided to attempt a cycling tour of the district, so I joined the Youth Hostels Association, and set aside a fortnight of the summer holiday for the purpose—including one week at Aberystwyth. I was unable to procure maps of the whole route, but in spite of the removal of sign-posts I only once missed my way. My equipment was not really suitable; in wet weather I was forced to wear a rather heavy rain-coat and I had to ride in trousers instead of the more comfortable shorts. Nevertheless, by carefully planning each day in advance I was able to enjoy a most interesting holiday.
I started out on Sunday, 17th August, a day of intermittent rain; incidentally, an accurate forecast of weather conditions in store. I was lucky in keeping fairly dry until just over the Beacons, when I was drenched by a ‘sudden heavy shower. My first day took me only as far as Erwood, between Builth Wells and Brecon, where the most convenient hostel was situated. At this point I must make my only complaint against the Y.H.A. The Erwood hostel was distant three miles from that village and a mile from anywhere—I believe a common characteristic of the hostels. However, I arrived after several mis-directions, having followed what was euphemistically termed a road. I soon recovered after a meal from my own supply of food, and proceeded to inspect my bed. I was agreeably surprised at both appearance and comfort of the hostel beds, but I could have slept on the floor after some of the days to follow. The company soon brightened up, comprising large, hairy young men in shorts, with massive leg muscles, bearing rucksacks of incredible size, and determined young women with even larger rucksacks, and boots evidently consisting more of nails than of leather. The society at the hostel was not, judging from later experience, as lively as it might have been, but perhaps this was just as well on my first introduction.
After sweeping out the dormitory—my allotted task—I departed on Monday in rather threatening weather, passing through Builth and Llandrindod Wells where I renewed an acquaintance of eight years ago. I cycled easily with frequent rests, as I was uncertain of my capabilities. The mid-Wales scenery was exceptionally pretty, especially the Ithon Valley, followed by the road to Newtown; here I frequently travelled miles without meeting anyone. After Newtown I went on to Welshpool and pushed to the summit of Long Mountain, where the hostel was located. Only four other persons were present.
On Tuesday morning I was hindered by an accident which taught me a lesson. In my hurry to start early I omitted to recover my hostel card from the warden and did not realise my mistake till six miles on towards Oswestry. With a sinking heart I hurried back to Newtown and up the four miles of track to the hostel. I eventually left at 11 a.m., two hours late and some eighty-four miles to bed! However, again traversing beautiful country through Oswestry, the Vale of Llangollen, and Corwen, I finally reached Llanrwst hostel, mercifully placed near the road. I managed to explore the famous glen of Bettws-y-Coed, which in my opinion is not as fine as Ystradfellte. Llanrwst hostel was on a larger scale than the previous two. On entering I received the impression of hurried preparations. There was slamming of doors and opening of haversacks, mezzo-forte, accelerando, crescendo, fortissimo as the supper-bell rang, and diminuendo as the hostel collectively satisfied its inner man. After supper the company assembled in the common-room, at first occupied in reading and conversation, but growing more jovial as the evening advanced. For a pleasant hour before bed-time we indulged in community-singing. Here, I thought, is the true hostel spirit. Foolishly attempting to turn in early after my long day I was awakened when the rest of the hostellers retired at about 11 p.m.
Three events stand out in my memory of Wednesday. First, unutterable gloom rose like a hideous veil to meet me in the solitary waste of the Nant Ffrancon Pass. Not one living creature did I see for five miles. Followed a terrifying half-hour, while the black storm clouds, at times indistinguishable from the surrounding peaks, eventually burst in all their fury upon me. Through the sheets of rain I caught a frightening view of rocky Tryfan with its giddy precipitous sides. By Bangor and Caernarvon I passed on to Llanberis, where I received a second lasting impression: the lake, blue and green in the twilight; the terraces of the slate quarries with multi-coloured slate; the village perched on the purple mountains; towering above all, the mighty motionless mass of Snowdon, reflecting to the last the dying rays of the sun. My third experience was meeting in the hostel a valuable friend and guide, with whom I spent the next day.
Thursday was perhaps my happiest and yet most miserable day. In the first place, I satisfied myself by climbing to the summit of Snowdon with Mr. Thurlow; secondly, I had never been so wet in all my life before. I rose early and at seven, before breakfast, stood the streets of Llanberis as the slate workers went to work. Here, when the light cloud lifted, I caught my only glimpse of the summit of Snowdon, as thenceforward the clouds gradually covered the whole sky. We climbed from the Pen-y-Pass hotel up the Pyg track—the steepest but most beautiful climb, passing the twin lakes of Llyn Llydaw and Glaslyn. Looking back on them from about 2,300 feet, the former deep-blue and the other green, while the sun shone on the steep slope, was an unforgettable delight. We reached the summit in heavy cloud, and after vainly waiting for a break, we descended. Now rain was falling heavily; it ran down our necks and into our shoes; it penetrated our coats until even our underclothes were soaked, and we eventually arrived at the hostel oozing water. Here we parted. I reached Cae Dafydd hostel, tired and dispirited, but the next day, forgetting my toils, I cycled to Aberystwyth some 80 miles away.
After a happy week there I returned to Aberdare on September 1st, through Lampeter, Llandilo, and Neath, growing wetter every mile, until my sodden clothes became a clammy skin. However, I accomplished in 9½ hours the journey of one hundred and ten miles. Never was a good bath more welcome.
J. A. COKER, VI.
Images of the original magazine pages are at the following links:
The Cycling Holiday in North Wales