Memories of Tonypandy – by Margaret Walker

Earliest Recollections

Written in 1983

Mother and Father (Hannah and Fred Meyrick)

Mother is 90 years old this year. She left school at 13 and started to help older sister in a tailoring workshop but didn’t like the work and found a job as cashier in the local Co-op. She was good at this job – they called her “Godwin’s Angel” (manager was called Godwin). It was in this branch that she met my father, an assistant grocer.

Married in Nov.1915 (?) They kept it a secret – Mam carried on working. Lived with her mother. Dad was orphaned before he was 12. He was the oldest of three children – a brother and sister. Brought up by relatives and then became apprenticed in the grocery trade. Looked after well in this trade but very long hours. His brother Will was also in this trade – got on quicker than Dad. He married a woman 20 years older than himself, then met Megan. Divorced wife and went off to America. The sister, Evelyn, we didn’t know. She died when she was 28 (in Christchurch). She left Bessie and Gwyn, who lived with the father’s family and Mam and Dad were not welcomed.

My Earliest Recollections

Date and place of birth: 18th October, 1917. Llanhilleth.

I can only remember living in Tonypandy, Rhondda, but must have spent my earliest years in Llanhilleth. My father must have obtained a transfer from Llanhilleth Co-op to the Mid-Rhondda society and he was at first an assistant in the Tonypandy branch and then promoted as manager of the Trealaw branch – about a mile away.

A very dirty River Taff flowed through the town which rose steeply up the mountain. There were awful houses called “The Terraces” which were built in rows one behind the other for the miners and their families. Quite a lot of the children at school lived there. They had a stand-pipe for water in the middle of each row, the lavatory was outside the house but not at the bottom of the garden, which would have afforded some privacy. Instead they were opposite the entrance to the house but across an unmade road and then on a small ‘plateau.’ Anyone in the street would know exactly where you were going and I remember how this used to embarrass the young teenagers.

Ours wasn’t a very distinguished house, but we did have a more private lavatory, though it was outside in the back yard. We had a back entrance but our garden was all in the front. When I was small remember my mother dressing herself up in one of my father’s suits and coming along to the lav. when I was there – what would ‘child welfare’ say about that nowadays?

Another occasion when I had a terrible shock was when a neighbour of my gran’s put on a false nose, protruding teeth and glasses with cross eyes painted on them. He knocked at the door and I answered it. My heart jumped right up to my throat, I said “Oh my God!” and collapsed! It was their turn to be frightened, but I soon recovered.

Anyway, 119 Thomas Street, Tonypandy, was the address I first learnt to write as my own home. It had three bedrooms but no bathroom, a “back kitchen” a “middle room” and a “front room”. There was a long passage and the front room was the first door on the right. It was sunny and looked out over the garden and also across to a very desolate mountain opposite. The next door led into the middle room and from this you entered the back kitchen.

There was no electricity for much of my childhood. Cooking was by means of an oven by the fire. There was also an oven in the middle room but the cooking was very much affected by the weather. Strong winds in one direction often meant that the oven got too hot and the food burnt. The opposite also occurred. We had nice furniture but it was much too big for the small rooms. My father had a roll top desk and a swivel armchair in the front room – there was also a large square dining table, two armchairs and a tall bookcase, and four dining chairs. There was only about 4 square yards of open space.

Dad, who worked very long shop hours, used to spend his Sundays when we were young studying for book-keeping qualifications. He passed the R.S.A exams to advanced level and the certificates were framed and hung on the walls. Oil lamps lit our house and I can remember one frightening occasion when my sister and I were alone in the h house – I was probably about ten – when I decided to light the lamp and then move it. I don’t know what happened, but it was dropped and the oil ran over the oilcloth (material used before linoleum). I remember rushing for a bowl of water and putting out the fire but we could easily have been burnt to death.

My earliest recollections must have been when I was about three. I started school then and can always remember wanting to go on the rocking horse, but not actually sitting on it, but I dare say I had my turn. Also writing on slates and playing with sand. Another event of that period was when I was taken to the fever hospital at three, having caught scarlet fever. I don’t remember anything about the hospital but I can remember being in my other’s big bed when the ambulance men came into the room, rushing to the bottom of the bed and hanging onto the mahogany end and refusing to budge. I can also remember screaming very loudly. No doubt I was very frightened.

A little later – perhaps a year – a photograph was taken of my mother, my sister as a new baby, and myself on the steps of my Uncle Jim’s house in Aberbeeg. I am making a sulky face as I didn’t want my picture took. I think I was about six when I had a professional photo taken in sepia by Ladd – a good photographer in the town – and I was dressed in Welsh traditional costume which my mother made me for a St. David’s Day concert at the school – always celebrated with song and dance in those days. It was a photo my mother didn’t have in her album and when I saw it at my Aunt Mary’s house she promised to let me have it, but it must have been thrown out when she died.

Another early recollection at this time was being in my Grandma’s charge – I think my mother was in bed after having my sister, and I climbed onto some boxes in her backyard which gave way, and I had a deep cut near my eye, which no doubt put the wind up her as I can remember it bleeding profusely.

Another event which I associate particularly with Sunday mornings were the unexpected visits of my Great-Aunt Leah – a spinster dressmaker who was my father’s aunt. She was very precise and my mother was a rather slap-happy housewife so there was always a t terrible rush and panic to get the house and us “straight and tidy” if we happened to see her coming in the distance. She made us some white silk dresses for Sunday best – I can remember how the silk rustled. She was an agent for Spirella corsets and tried to make me, at about 10 years, wear one of the small samples which she had. I refused to wear it and can remember it popping out of a deep drawer in the sideboard whenever it was opened. I didn’t like Aunt Leah very much as she seemed to look down on us. I always thought it would have been kinder to my mother if she wrote and told her she was coming – she came from Whitchurch, near Cardiff.

There was one riotous Sunday when my mother invited all the children she had in her Sunday school class to tea – we squeezed round a circular mahogany table and ate things like jelly, blancmange, bread and jam, bakestone cakes (Welsh cakes) and some biscuits called ‘Devon Fingers’ which are now extinct.

The children’s fathers were mostly miners and they were paid very badly in those days. We were comparatively well off as my father earned £5 a week. Quite important people in the mines who were responsible for many lives only earned £3.50 and those who dug out the coal and risked their own lives and health earned quite a bit less than that. Our rent was only 8/9d a week so, of course, no repairs were ever done as the landlord couldn’t afford it. His wife used to come up to collect the rents and I think they lived in Cardiff (their surname was OLD).

I was given a lot of responsibility at an early age – my mother would send me to the Co-op to get shopping when I was very young. I remember this as on one occasion I had a 10/- note for the goods and inadvertently dropped it on the sawdust floor of the shop. The manager picked it up without my knowledge and I remember the feeling of terror when I thought I had lost ten shillings – quite a sum in those days (a tenth of my father’s weekly wage!). The manager produced the money and said I must be more careful in future and as I went I did hear him telling his assistant that it was foolish to trust such a little child with so much money. It probably did make me more
careful as I don’t remember losing anything else.

When I was five I started to have music lessons and had a really long walk, on my own, to the teacher’s house. I liked my first teacher but she emigrated to Canada, so I started anew when I was 8 with ‘Madam Benson Thomas.’ I think I went on for about another 5 years, passing the Associated Board’s exams to Advanced level, but I was certainly not a born pianist. Certain things I played well, and often had to play in the Sunday school anniversaries, where recitations, solos and musical instrumentalists abounded, but I was always terrified when I had to play. I didn’t mind reciting, or singing duets, but was always, and still am, panic stricken if I have to play the piano in public. My sister and I played a duet for one anniversary. I think the first performance in the afternoon was very good and we were asked to repeat it in the evening when, unfortunately, Bron played the bottom part too fast, and as I had a lot of quick runs in my part I could hardly keep up. It must have sounded awful.

On another occasion I remember playing a piano solo at the Baths Hall at a concert with wellknown local performers. I don’t know why I was chosen but, when under 10, I was fairly advanced for my age at school and probably at piano playing, though I now realise that there was much to be desired in the way I was taught – especially in the choice of the music. The area couldn’t support many full-time music teachers but ‘Madam Benson Thomas’ as she was known had a plate on the door showing that she was “L.R.A.M”. I believe that she herself was a very good performer but she didn’t inspire me as a teacher.

Compared with many we were quite comfortably off for very hard times were on the way as I grew up. We had holidays every year at the seaside in August, and at Christmas, Easter and Whitsun went over to stay with my grandparents at Aberbeeg. In the Monmouthshire area the Sunday Schools used to have “walk-out.”

We had lovely Christmases at ‘Glendale’ – my Gran’s house. There were lots of cousins – Ella and Gilbert, Herber, Harry Janet (Alice) and as my mother was one of eight, numerous aunts and uncles who all lived roundabout. The King-pin of Christmas was our Aunty Mary, a school teacher, who laid on all the trimmings – lovely decorations, Christmas tablecloths with reindeer running round the border, and Christmas tree dug out of the garden and lit with fairy lights. As we had no electricity at home ourselves, this was a wondrous sight. Also one of the uncles always went surreptitiously to the top of the house with some bells and, no doubt, having arranged it with Mary, she would say to us on Christmas Eve, ‘If you are very quiet you will hear Father Christmas’ sleigh bells in about 5 minutes’ and, of course, we did! The most miserable experience in my childhood was being told there was no Santa Claus.

My chief recollection of holidays at Aberbeeg was of rain. However, I can recall many August holidays when it was really hot. One year we went for a month to Sully, hiring a caravan. At the time we had two dogs and my mother left them in the caravan one afternoon when she went out with us. When we came back the place was an absolute shambles. The curtains had been torn from the windows, china smashed and the dogs had created such a row and were obviously causing damage so that someone wrote to the owners. They came down and terminated our holiday there so we had to transfer to another caravan. I remember my mother spending days repairing the curtains and replacing everything which had been broken. Before we left she cleaned the place so that it gleamed.

The dogs were ‘Trixie’ and ‘Bob’ her son. Trixie had been given to us by Uncle Jim, who bred cocker-spaniels, hoping one day to have a dog who was a winner at dog shows. Trixie was a small bitch and not thought to be a potential winner: strangely enough she was the only spaniel of his brood who attained these heights. She was often Best Dog in Show” at the local competitions and we were offered quite a large sum of money (for those days – £80) if we would sell her for training as a gun dog, but my parents declined as she had been given to us.

One night we were walking over the local mountain with my mother when the dog fell into a deep, narrow split in the mountain (caused by the removal of coal – subsidence?) and fortunately for us two men passed by and were really quite brave. We could hear Trixie deep down but could hardly see her. One man held the other by his feet and lowered him into the crevasse. He said that the one thing which saved Trixie was the fact that she had long ears. He just managed to reach that far, caught hold of her ears and hauled her up. The mountain side was full of these deep cracks but they weren’t generally wide enough for children to fall in a disappear.

Other summer holidays were spent at Porthcawl and Barry, and I can faintly remember staying with a lady called Mrs Stritch at Weston-super-Mare, where there were fruit trees growing in the orchard. I don’t think I ever saw fruit trees in Tonypandy though soft fruit, especially gooseberries and blackcurrants, were grown.

We sometimes just rented rooms in other people’s seaside houses and bought our food and cooked it, but at other times we went ‘full board.’ Other outings were day trips to Barry Island by charabanc – I think the charge was 2/- or 2/6d. Every year we had a Sunday School outing by charabanc and I can remember an outing to Cheddar when I was about 9 years. On a visit to Cheddar caves recently it didn’t seem anything like as extensive as when I saw it as a child – then we seemed to go through vast caves.

During the school holidays we also exchanged visits with cousins. Janet (Alice) and Ella were regular visitors. Herber came occasionally – he was learning the violin and I used to try to accompany him. I also used to visit Ella and can remember the morning when we were jumping about on the bed and kicking up a rumpus. Ella’s father, after yelling at us to be quiet, got fed up with the din and came in to smack his daughter. However, he mistook me for Ella and, in the middle of ‘tanning my behind’ looked up and saw Ella grinning away. He was a very severe man (sadly he died young) who rarely smiled, but even he saw the funny side of it. It was quite a joke in the family for many years.

We also had a holiday in London, staying with my Uncle Bob (Mam’s brother) and Auntie Nell when they lived in Tatnell Road, Forest Hill. I was still at the junior school but remember going down to a shop called ‘Olives’ all on my own to buy a pair of red leather sandals for the journey. It was unusual to buy anything outside the Co-op, so that’s probably why I remember it so well, but it has struck me a lot how much freedom I was given as a young child to buy my own clothing, etc.

Of the London holiday I remember Uncle Bob initiating us into taking “2nd all the way” tickets on the trams. Between 10am and 4pm you could travel from the Embankment right out to the terminus (or vice versa) for 2d. There was also a 1/- all day ticket where you had unlimited travel on the trams and a 6d evening tourist ticket where unlimited travel was allowed after 6 o’clock. We were taken to see the Crystal Palace which seemed a very stuffy place in August, but even so I saw it go up in flames when we lived at 429 High Road, Streatham, with quite a sad sense of loss as it was such a landmark.

I don’t remember ever seeing my father helping about the house when I was a child. He worked very long shop hours and on Sundays spent a long time studying so I suppose the half-day closing was the only spare time he had. He got into trouble once, I know, when we went on a Sunday School outing to Barry island and my mother asked him to help out and cut the sandwiches as she was rather pushed for time. When we ate our lunch she discovered that our sandwiches were bread and meat – he hadn’t put any butter on. She was furious and we cried because they tasted so awful!

I daresay many a child in the Rhondda had to be content with bread and dripping! The first time I saw bluebells was when we went to Llantrisant – also a Sunday School treat. We had tea in a field around a long table, ate buns, etc. and had lots of races. I was a good runner and won some pennies – to be spent on sweets and ice-cream. There was a very good trade in cut-price home-made ice-cream but it tasted just like frozen custard. In the town there was an Italian coffee shop (and ices) called Bracchi’s, where the ice-cream was very good.

English Congregational Chapel,Tonypandy

My early life is full of recollections of the Chapel (English Congregational) and the cinema. I think there were seven churches in Tonypandy (combined total of English and Welsh) and somewhere on the fringe there must have been a Catholic church as I once remembered seeing something called ‘Corpus Christi’ – where the Catholics walked the streets dressed in white. It rather frightened me – why I can’t tell as it was always quite a treat to join the Whitsun Walk-Out in Monmouthshire.

Our chapel was not well attended. It was a fairly large one and must have had difficulty in raising the costs to run it. We had socials quite often – the children played musical chairs and postman’s knock and we consumed jellies and blancmanges. We had a Band of Hope and Christian Endeavour.

I once had to represent the church by singing in another chapel in Treorchy, and can remember the agony of standing on the platform while the organist played the introduction of the wrong tune. At one time there was “ The Split”. This was a strong difference of opinion in the church so that a splinter-group started a little church of their own, which they called ‘Horeb.’ It was held in a dancehall and my mother was one of the splinters so we had to go to Horeb for Sunday School and had great fun sliding all over the slippery floor – treated with French chalk for the dancers. At this time, to my father’s disgust, Prayer Meetings were held in various members’ houses – we hated it when it was our turn as we had to make ourselves scarce and go to bed early. I don’t think Dad knew what to do with himself either as he was a non-chapel man. The only time he crept into the building (when he usually stood at the back) was on the Sunday School Anniversaries when we performed.

Dad was fond of music, especially brass bands. On holiday it was always a treat for him to sit around the bandstand and listen to the performance. He brought home, with great joy, our first portable wind-up gramophone, complete with ten “Piccadilly” records. The one which was worn out first was “La Donne Mobile”. We also had “Cwm Rhondda”. Other makes of records were “Broadcast” – 6d in Woolworths, “Rex” which supplied Gracie Fields’ songs; also HMV. A programme on the wireless gave all the latest hits, and it was presented by Christopher Stone, who told you the make and number of the record.  On the “wireless”, which at first was a crystal set with earphones for all, Dad enjoyed listening to Vaudeville and he was always very amused by Gilly Potter and Harry Lauder.

In our childhood we heard the Children’s Hour, but what I most remember were the Dance Bands. Most young people went to dances – there were school dance, tennis club dances, etc. and there was a wealth of popular music. This was broadcast nightly by such bands as Ambrose, Geraldo, Jack Payne, Jack Hylton, Sidney Lipton and Carroll Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans. I can remember their signature tune was called ‘On the Air – If you have a little time to spare,’ etc. Dance music was so popular that they made Henry Hall leader of the resident BBC Dance Band which also played in the late afternoon, finishing just before the six o’clock news. Everyone knew the words of the hit songs – they were always very clearly sung.

In late childhood I was mad on reading and devoured books by Edgar Wallace and Sexton Blake. I had the weekly magazine, “Schoolgirls’ Weekly” and “Schoolgirls’ Own” and found it almost unbearable to wait for the next weekly instalment of the serials. Although people were very poor, we all tried to keep up with the fashion. I remember wearing Russian boots with a summer dress and my hair was cut into an Eton crop. Becoming clothes-conscious in my teens, I wasn’t always too keen on my mother’s dressmaking (although she made some things very well) and used to have a go myself. We all went to the cinema regularly and tried to ape the film stars in dress and hair styles. For coats, we had a very good dressmaker indeed and she also made me two dance dresses.

I had a friend, Marie Owen – whose mother was a friend of this dressmaker. Somehow she always managed to make Marie’s coats look a bit extra-special. However, she quarrelled with Mrs Owen and I well remember the effort she put into making a beautiful dance dress for me. It was flowered chiffon with a red background, double frills over the armholes and V-shaped frills around the skirt.

A real work of art. Alas! Marie’s mother was determined that her girl should be ‘belle of the ball.’ Marie arrived at school with her dress in a big paper bag. When she slipped it on over her long slip we all went “Ooh!” It was white organdie with sleeves sticking up like angels wings and a deep frill round the hem and a velvet sash. Very filmstar-ish it suited her auburn hair and brown eyes. She was a bit like Janet Gaynor, though she had a funny snub nose and not very good teeth. However, she really was the “Belle” and Mrs Griffiths the dressmaker (whom I remember quizzing me afterwards) was very annoyed.

The very first dance dress I had was second-hand in orange satin. It was originally made for my friend Mabel’s aunt. I stayed at Mabel’s house one weekend and to her mother’s disgust this aunt, who lived next door, asked me if I would be interested in buying her old dance dresses. Mabel’s mother thought she had a terrible cheek, but when I took them home my mother thought the orange one looked lovely and also sold the blue one, with an elaborate beaded front, to one of her friends. It was a mistake. I went to a dance with Mabel and her parents who belonged to the “Buffaloes.”

Mabel looked very elegant in pink satin with a short-sleeved bolero The sleeves were edged with wide bands of white swans-down. Her dress was ankle-length whereas mine was unfashionably mid-calf, as the Auntie was much shorter than I was.

Mabel was a very good runner and we met when practising for the secondary school sports. She was a very nice girl and so were her parents. She became a hairdresser and they bought her a shop. The last I heard of her was that they had moved to Port Talbot and she had married and her first baby was stillborn.

Another friend was Clara, also in the sports team,and an exceptionally high jumper. She and I went in for jumping and running. Clara was the better high-jumper but was always very nervous and preferred to run. I would have loved to run in the relay, but had to do long and high jump. My first year was very good – 1st in Long Jump and 2nd High, but the next years I only managed 3rd place. We used to compete against all the secondary and technical schools in the Valley. We were Tonypandy Sunday School. Others were Porth Secondary and Porth County, Ferndale, Pentre Technical, but I think there must have been others I can’t remember.

After the Sports the winners were marched shoulder-high by the 6th form boys and treated to lemonade at Bracchi’s, which we drank out of the silver cups we’d won. Next day all the successful ones were acclaimed and were asked to choose prizes to the value of what we’d won. I had a “Swan” fountain pen on one occasion. But, if you didn’t win, they were very quick to jeer at you. Clara was down for the high jump one year and at the last minute had cold feet so I had to substitute. Being untrained, for I was doing long jump and reserve for the relay, I only came 3rd and was grumbled at because we just lost the Shield. Little did they know that I was just as nervous as Clara.

Another friend was Isobel – definitely not a sportswoman. She had great difficulty walking on the bean in gym lessons and simply couldn’t climb up the ropes. Her mother had 4 children. Life was alright when it was just “Darling Ibby” and “Dear Shirley”, but when boy and girl twins arrived everything turned sour. She was an ex-schoolteacher married to a fireman in the Pit and considered to have married beneath herself. They had been very ambitious for the two older girls but it didn’t work out too well for Isobel. A very clever girl with a real gift for original writing she missed a lot of her schooling because she was really at home looking after the twins. Her mother always seemed poorly but I think it must have been depression. The father was fond of the bottle and also liked to go out dancing, leaving her mother – who must have been quite a beauty when young – bored to death at home.

Eventually Isobel passed the Civil Service Typist’s Exam and did me a good turn by telling me what was involved. I also passed but was fairly low on the list. Isobel was in the top 30. She was also able to write 140 w.p.m shorthand. She lived with us when she came up to London for the job in the Office of Works, Whitehall, until she married, just before the war, a ‘regular’ Air Force man called Laine Bartlett. We kept in touch until the time Robert was born but they moved a lot, went to India with the R.A.F, but her daughter attended Streatham High School at one time. Clara Howell went to work at Chelmsford Town Hall for her first job, but she suffered terribly from home-sickness although her sister May also worked in Chelmsford. I believe she had neurasthenia and was sent home to recuperate for some while. I did hear from her during the War when Vivien was born, but not since.

Clara was also my tennis friend. We belonged to the Llwynypia Tennis Club together. The fee for the season was 10/- which was quite a lot to find all at once if you had a lot of children. I think my parents could have paid it all at once, but Clara said her Dad had been told that, the year we joined, they were trying out 4 instalments of 2/6d. So we paid our first instalment and went along only to find that Super-Sportswoman Beryl Thomas, who used to win all the races in the Sports, was also a member. She belonged to the local Llwynypia ‘gentry’ and had ballet lessons and was not one of our favourite people.

Suspecting that we, the ‘plebs’, were paying by instalments, she got one of her many boyfriends to ask us if we could show our membership cards. As we only had those when the fee was fully paid we just stalled and said we didn’t carry them around. Almost every time we went there one or other of her boy friends was ordered to quiz us. We were made to feel quite uncomfortable and didn’t finish the season, so I guess she won.

She must have been a bit horrible for, when I attended a Christmas Dance there on one of my return visits home from London, she got one of her minions to ask me for a dance, the only reason being to enquire if I were the girl with the “beautiful back.” At the time my back was absolutely plastered with acne. It made me feel awful but I happened to sit next to a kind lad who knew what was going on, and he made sure I had plenty of partners that evening. I had a really good time and it was the very last function I attended, for my parents came up to London to live soon afterwards.

So many of the young people had to move away to get work that when you did return to the area you were always welcomed back by your contemporaries. It must have been a very dead area to live in when about 90% of those you were at school with only came back to the area for holidays at their parents’ homes. Incidentally, I did hear that Beryl Thomas, despite the high opinion she had of herself, married an insurance agent. Not even a schoolteacher! Clara and I hoped she would grow up fat and ugly!

We had a lot of cinemas in Tonypandy – four – so it was possible to see a lot of films in one week as there was a change of programme mid-week. “Ben Hur” (1925) stands out, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, and I can even remember Lillian Gish in “Way Down East.” (1920). I think there was a scene where she was jumping from one ice-floe to another. Clara Bow, Keystone Kops, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Chester Conklin all made us laugh. I liked Harold Lloyd best. Then there was “The Ten Commandments” and, of course, Garbo.

Just before I went to London Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers came on the scene. At the back of the Picturedrome, which was our nearest cinema, there was some waste ground where, each year, we had a Fair, with swingboats, a merry-go-round of horses and various stalls, coconut shies, etc. They must have had a pretty thin time as there was little money around then.

Sometimes we would have a circus on this ground. I was never very keen on the Circus. As a child I used to think that the performers’ faces looked very hard and unsmiling underneath their paint and most of the animals looked dirty and ill-kept. Sometimes instead of a programme of films, we had Pantomime at the Picturedrome, and I used to really enjoy the live performances.

My Uncle Tom – the youngest in my mother’s family, made one evening at the Picturedrome memorable. He had come over to see Mam from Aberbeeg. He spent all his money taking us to the pictures and buying us such a lot to eat there. He came in loaded with fruit and chocolates and the next day didn’t have enough money to go back home. Mam didn’t have enough for his fare son suggested he borrowed her bike. He got as far as Pontypridd and got caught in the tram lines and buckled the wheel. Mam never did see that bike again! Dad kept on about it for years afterwards.

My secondary school years were not happy ones. I had always been at the top of the class in the Primary school but, due to Aunt Mary’s influence, my parents made the wrong choice when asked to put me into the French or Welsh class. We all started with Latin, but to choose one other and Mary suggested that it would be better if I did Welsh as it would stand me in good stead if I wanted a teaching job in Wales.

However, in that area there were quite a number from Welsh-speaking homes, so that they chose Welsh because they were already bi-lingual. Anyone starting from scratch was at a big disadvantage – the teacher didn’t want us in the class, but at no stage do I remember being asked to change. I couldn’t grasp it at all and had, sometimes, 5% in exams. This brought me down the class list so that I was put into the ‘B’ stream.

There were some subjects, such as English and Maths, where I could have held my own in the ‘A’ stream, but I went thro’ school feeling that the Welsh language was over my head like the Sword of Damocles. I couldn’t get Matric. Unless I had 40% in a language and this I knew was impossible. So it was a wonderful relief to me when they made our school into the Commercial Centre for the area and I was able to change to Shorthand, Typing and Bookkeeping with some of the main curriculum subjects. In this I did well, passing R.S.A exams for all three, and was quite wellqualified for an office job. Dad bought me a second-hand Underwood typewriter and I remember how my circle of friends suddenly grew. They all wanted a bit of extra typing practice!

Had this opportunity of changing to commercial subjects not occurred, I think the only other opening available to me would have been Nursing. Altho’ it would have been a very hard life in those days, I sometimes feel I would have been very interested in working with the sick.


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