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Back to school for Brynnau's oldest pupil

Back to school for Brynnau's oldest pupil

Ted and Holly
Mr Ted Thomas with Brynnau Primary School's youngest pupil, Holly Bater

Brynnau Primary School has celebrated its 110th anniversary – and staff and pupils were delighted to welcome the school’s oldest surviving pupil to mark the occasion.

Edward (Ted) Thomas of Bryncae, Llanharan, who celebrated his hundredth birthday this month, met the school’s youngest pupil, Holly Bater, aged three, during his visit to the school, which he attended from 1919-1928.

He also had an opportunity to recall his childhood memories during his visit.

Born on June 5, 1914, in William Street, Brynna, Ted was one of eight children.

“We had five girls and I was the oldest of three boys. My mother told me I was brought up on milk and flour – there was nothing else available,” he said.

Ted remembers discipline at his old primary school being of the highest order and even though pupils were only five or six, they had to stand to attention when headteacher Mr D Emlyn Davies passed by.

“I am sure this was the best school in Wales for discipline,” said Ted.

“If we were in the main corridor and the headmaster came down, we stood to attention. It was that kind of school... we weren’t here long before we were careful about what we said and what we did.

“We started our day at 9am in line and everybody went home at midday for food. There was no food provided then.

“There wasn’t such a thing as homework then and there were no subjects taught, as such. When I left school I knew my 12 times table and not much more. It was as though we were being trained for work and not for further education. I can only remember two children going to county school – one girl and one boy.”

Ted left the school in 1928 aged 14, when boys were expected to go out to work. His first job was at Brynna Wood Drift Mine, where he worked 47 hours a week underground and brought home 14 shillings and sixpence.

“Everybody was so poor that the couple of shillings that a boy brought in was a help to the family,” he recalled.

He went on to work at Llanharan Colliery, progressing to safety officer and later on became colliery overman. At the age of around 20, he studied Mathematics and Engineering Drawing at the technical college in Bridgend.

Ted, who served in the Home Guard during World War II, moved to Bryncae, Llanharan, in 1946 and has lived there ever since. He was married to Jenny and they had a son, Michael, who has sadly passed away, and a daughter, Norma, who lives near her father.

Ted retired from Llanharan Colliery a few months before his 60th birthday. He said many of his contemporaries suffered with pneumoconiosis, the lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust in the mines. Ted was tested for the disease a number of times but, fortunately, escaped it.

“That’s why I’ve lived so long,” he said.

During his visit to Brynnau Primary, Ted also met pupil Halle Matthews, whose great grandmother Betty Matthews was a caretaker at the school.

View images from Mr Ted Thomas's visit to the school

He was also a special guest at the school’s 110th anniversary celebration event, a dinner and dance held in the school hall.

Rhondda Cynon Taf’ Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning, Cllr Eudine Hanagan, said: “Ted is truly an inspiration and the children talked about his visit throughout their day. It is wonderful that they were able to learn how different life at their school was around 90 years ago, from someone who was a schoolboy then.”

Local Ward Member for Brynna, Cllr Roger Turner said: “It was a wonderful event - and it was great to have Ted as a special guest.

“Staff and children at the school were delighted to meet him when he visited. Brynnau Primary is such a bright, happy and welcoming place - and certainly very different from the establishment Ted attended as a child!”

Rhondda Cynon Taf’s Mayor, Cllr John Watts, also visited Ted at home when he celebrated his 100th birthday with his family.

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