School days

(From the memoirs of Horace Drake)

I never let my schooling interfere with my education


Mark Twain

I attended the nearby Pandy School from the age of five. The Headteacher Miss Hurley lived in the croft near Llansantffraid Church. After five years learning the basics from Miss Martin and Miss Curtis it was time to move on to Tondu School. I really loved my school days: my hard work led to my competing for top place in Standard Four with a boy called Tony Jones, who went on to Bridgend County School.

 

The reason I did not accompany Tony to the County School was that the school doctor announced during a routine check-up that I had ‘valvular disease’ of the heart. “Do not go to school; if you bump into anyone you could drop dead!” I was not at all pleased with this as I greatly enjoyed school! It was like a punishment to me and it hurt me more than the cane I had received from Mr Richards who had been talking about “cause and effect”. I must have tickled the boy in front and he called me out, “Now” he said “You are the cause, here’s the effect!” It hurt, but he was a good teacher. As a result of the doctor’s prognosis, I was compelled to lie on my back on a hard board for at least a month – the least comfortable period of my entire life!

I hated being home and I really wanted to go back to school – so back I went and soon I was in the school rugby team and taking part in school games running the 100 yards. Perhaps such events contributed to my rather sanguine outlook on life. I am now 91 years of age but I can still clearly remember, as if it was yesterday, the words of that school doctor “You could drop dead!” It is with great humility I have to report that, despite the alarmist diagnosis from the school doctor, I have been blessed with good health all my life, while sadly Tony Jones was killed in WWII.

My sisters Bettie (left) and Lydia as young ladies. I feel lucky that my sisters have been close by. We have spent many happy times together and have supported each other through good times and sad ones

My sisters and I on the Stepping Stones at Ogmore in the early 30’s

My father, my siblings and I at Ogmore at the same time as the above photo

Pandy School today

After my death threat from the School Doctor, as well as playing rugby for the school, I would go around to different sporting events and run in the hundred yards. Although I was not always successful, I enjoyed it! On one occasion it came to my notice that a fete was to be held at Ffordd-y-Gyfraith, a small hamlet near Cefn, about four miles from Aberkenfig. I set off in my only pair of crepe sandals which I usually wore to school. My parents could not afford running spiked shoes, nor even a pair of running shorts. After a long walk I finally arrived at the fete. I had a look around and I noticed a boy sitting on the bank having a rub-down with his fancy spiked shoes next to him. At that moment it sunk in that I had no chance of winning with only my pair of crepe sandals and so it was with great trepidation that I lined up at the start. ‘On your marks, get set’ and off we went. About ten seconds later I broke the tape – to my amazement and my adversary’s disgust! As I went to collect my two shillings and sixpence, he picked up a big mallet and threw it at me! Not the most gracious loser I ever met! I ignored the incident and walked back home with my self-esteem restored. Years after I found out who this boy was from my wife’s Uncle. He said “If you beat Isaiah Morgan, you must have been fast!” He said his brother Arthur won the Welsh Powderhall which was held periodically in Scotland. Perhaps after our encounter he changed his name to ‘I Slower Morgan’!

Beating Isaiah over 100 yards

Mr Len Evans was the woodwork teacher and also trained and coached the rugby team. We would be taken to Pandy Park rugby ground and he would put us through our paces. When he thought we were good enough, we started playing different school teams. His favourite saying was “they cannot run without legs, if you tackle them by the legs, you are less likely to harm yourself, especially if you tackle around the fleshy part”. I loved my rugby, and still recall vividly the tamp of the leather on the short grass and the sight of the ball curling up into the blue sky only to descend in a low trajectory into the grateful arms of the full back. Of course, my job as a kicker was to run like the wind and tackle the full back; the greatest joy came from leaving him in a crumpled heap on the floor while confiscating and delivering the ball to my outside half.

School rugby team

The highlight of our school success was when our captain, Sedley Davies was chosen to play for Wales against England at Plymouth. When the day of the match arrived Mr Evans took a few of us, including Sedley’s father, to Plymouth to see our very own Sedley play at lock forward (he later wore the No. 5 shirt against France in the first post-War international, in Swansea). This was my first visit to a place where I would spend the happiest years of my life and on the way home we all tried his Welsh cap on. The next season there was another honour for Tondu School and Mr Len Evans, when Ron Burgess got his first Welsh cap.

If my brothers and I were kicking the rugby ball around in the local field, other boys from Sarn would want to join in. We would welcome them and dream about playing for Wales alongside Jerry Shea, Ivor Jones, Jack Bassett and Wilf Wooller. It was not the greatest era of Welsh rugby; in fact our neighbour Desmond Fitzgerald recalls overhearing two miners discussing the dearth of genius in the Welsh back line, one concluding “I have seen better Centres in a box of Cadbury’s chocolates!” At least we could celebrate our first win at the new home of English rugby, Twickenham, in 1933 after 23 years of trying and a second (13-12) win over the mighty “All Blacks” in Cardiff in 1935.

 

During school woodwork lessons Mr Evans had an idea of how to make a pair of twisted candlesticks out of a solid piece of oak. We were each given a piece of oak and it had to be tapered from top to bottom. It would be nine inches long and the wider end at the bottom. On each side you would draw with your pencil the shape of the twist which would eventually appear after you had removed all the excess wood. This was the hardest part of the work. The next part was to fit a block at the bottom by screwing it on from the bottom. Now for the top; a piece of copper about four inches square was cut into a circle and which would be shaped like a saucer. Another piece of copper would be cut and shaped like a proverbial four-leafed clover, these were then squeezed up to provide the holder for the candle and then screwed on to the top of the wood.

 

My most abiding memory of school though is of Mr James, my Maths teacher, trying hard to instil algebra into our grey matter, but to no avail! I could not get my head around it. Geometry I could manage – and hence enjoyed it. I also fondly remember the English teacher Mr Anthony, who used to walk down to school from Cefn and always seemed at ease with himself. He never, as far as I can remember, raised his voice. I can see him now reading the Ancient Mariner to us:

“Day after day, day after day
We stuck nor breath nor motion
As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean
Water, water everywhere and
All the boards did shrink
Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink”

Mr Anthony reading the Ancient Mariner

The advantage of living near a railway junction like Tondu was that we could escape to the seaside. These included cheap day-excursions to Porthcawl or Weston-super-Mare in trains that were always packed solid with (mainly) women and children making an incredible noise. At Weston you could hire a charabanc, a long, high, petroldriven contraption, in which the passengers sat 3 or 4 in a row, facing the driver to take you to places like Cheddar. When it rained, you passed the canvas top, hand-over-hand, along the seats.

Tondu station with its four platforms – signifying its importance as a valley junction. The house on the left leads into Llynfi Street where I was born

School-leaving testimonial

Character reference