Headmaster Evans looked out of the classroom window pensively. He wondered just how many children would arrive at the school gate this miserable, cold January morning. He wouldn’t blame the young ones if they stayed at home in the warm. But then he knew that, in some cases, they would be warmer in school than they would in their homes, so he had ignited the fires in the classrooms very early that day in an effort to remove the chill.
He knew from previous years that the numbers would be lower than they should be as some children may have no coats, some no boots- some lacking in both, poor little souls. Even in the finer weather the older children were often missing from class, the girls being kept at home to look after their younger siblings while their parents were both working in the fields or farms, and the boys working alongside their parents – all to earn a few more shillings.
According to the law, if children did not attend school for any reason bar illness, he was supposed to inform the attendance officer, Mr John Page. But he knew in his heart that he wouldn’t do that – times were so difficult for families in the valley at the moment he had no intention of causing them more problems.
John Henry Evans had been teaching at the St Mary Bourne elementary school since 1896 when, at the tender age of 33, he arrived with his widowed mother Anne. He had been born in Bridgend, Glamorgan to Anne and her husband David, a blacksmith in the town.
In October 1905 he had married his wife Victoria in Pontypridd, Glamorgan, and brought her to live at the school house. She was a Somerset lass 7 years younger than him and in 1910 they had a lovely son called Owen.
As he stood at the classroom window, John reflected on his past years at the school, remembering some of the pupil’s faces as they had first appeared. The Sellwoods, the Randalls, the Bunces, the Allens and many many more – all had sat cross-legged in rows on the classroom floor- some in the old school across the road – singing their alphabets and chanting their times tables.
As the terms progressed the children had grown in stature, as well as in their knowledge. Some had thrilled him with their academic capabilities, or their musicality, while others were totally non-academic and couldn’t wait to attain the age that they could leave school and start earning a living.
Years later – he remembered with a smile – he had been walking along the street towards St Peter’s Church with his wife and son, when a confident young man, driving a horse and cart, greeted him with a huge smile and said “Morning Sir, Ma’am” as he tipped his cap to them and he had recognised the lad as being one of his old pupils.
He remembered standing at Summerhaugh and listening to the Salvation Army band playing. The young girls among the crowd were singing along with the band, while the lads stayed self-consciously yet nonchalantly at the back by the George Inn. As the boys tapped their toes to the songs, he recognised that they were similar to the tunes that he had taught most of them himself at the Sunday school when they were small.
Still in a reflective mood, he reminisced another, more recent occasion, when, once again at Summerhaugh, he had observed Lt Col Cooper speechifying to the lads, encouraging them to “Take the King’s shilling and answer the call to arms”.
Suddenly, coming to his senses and the reality of this cold January morning, he realised that the classroom was filling up with steaming, thawing, small children. He looked at his watch and said to himself “Oh well, I’d better get outside and ring the school bell or some of the stragglers will be late for assembly”
“No Mr Page,” he thought to himself ” you can stay in the warm behind your shop counter – you’ll get no call from me this morning.”