What follows is my late grandfather in Wales account of seeing an eclipse at his school in Wales when he was just 12 years old as a Â child. The school that he attended was Abercregan School in the Welsh valleys.
In The Wake Of The Druids
We always knew when our teacher had something up his sleeve, and this certain day was no exception. We watched as he opened one of the classroom windows and looked at the sun through a piece of smoked glass. I turned around and said to my desk mate, “He’s up to something Dick!” Then it was only a matter of time before he would spring his surprise upon us. I say this because Hopkins, our teacher, knew the art of bringing a subject to the boil and then looking for a reaction on our part, and he was succeeding Â as usual, hence our curiosity.
Not long after this took place we had a lesson on the eclipse of the sun, and great emphasis was placed on the fact that this unique event took place only every 100 years. It was extremely unlikely that any of us in our class would have the chance to see this again, so we agreed with our teacher that it would be well worth the effort to witness the event.
Now to the scope of that effort . . . by the time Hopkins had finished with us, nothing was impossible, even rising very early indeed and climbing a 1000 ft mountain to view this great event. So then came the last command . . . “I want you all to assemble on top of Cafn Afan mountain, tomorrow morning Â at 6.30 am promptly.”
The sun seemed to take on a different look that afternoon. Hopkins had done his preliminary work for which his efforts were second to none. We each had our bit of smoked glass, done over a candle, so as not to harm our eyes, and the authenticity of this once in a lifetime eclipse was well embedded in our 12 year old minds.
Next morning we were up with the lark as the saying goes and made sure we washed our eyes out, as we did not want to miss anything, especially after the grilling we had received from Hopkins.
Although Hopkins was not a Patrick Moore, he was nevertheless, very good on this subject. After a spot of breakfast, I called on my pal who was still a bit bleary-eyed and off we went, climbing upward into the morning air, which contributed to us finally waking up.
We were about half way up the mountain when my friend said, with some effort in amongst the moaning, ” Good job it is only once in 100 years.”
“Never mind Dick, think of those ancient druids, they were at this game all the time. Cheer up, we shall soon be at the top,” I replied.
As I looked at the valley below, all was quiet and peaceful, as one would expect at half past six in the morning. Not even a dog was barking and most of the inhabitants were still sleeping. On reflection I began to think that maybe Dick was nearer the truth in what he had said, after all it is not everyone who wants to climb 1000 ft at an unearthly hour. However, look what those people below were going to miss by not being alert like we were, (thanks only to our teachers), but by Dick’s glum expression he was not on the same lines of thought . . . still, ours was not to reason why (more so when it was Hopkin’s orders).
When he gave a command, eyebrows went up, not down, and what a fine teacher he was, especially with the material he had to work on.
We reached the top at last, before joining the other boys of our class. The ‘Arch Druid’ was there waiting for us, and there we all were, watching for the sun to rise, like the druids of by-gone days.
Now is the opportune time to say more about Hopkins during this waiting period . . .
He started teaching when he was quite young and could throw a piece of chalk with unerring aim, which you realised if you were on the receiving end of the throw. He always walked to school, which was about a mile and a half walk in distance. There is more to this walk than meets the eye, as it gave us boys less of an excuse for being late for school. He had been a sergeant in the 1914 war and well we knew it at drill time in the playground, as he must have thought that he was still in the army.
When, at the end of term, before we had to go up into his class, the older boys would scare us stiff with a yarn, but boys will be boys and this was the warning . . .
“Look out! On a misty day especially. Why? Because he has a bayonet wound on his leg which required 25 stitches, which is aggravated by that kind of weather.”
I don’t know where the figure 25 came from, as 10 would have carried sufficient warning. Anyway, sometimes the mist lasted for as long as 2 or 3 weeks at certain times of the year in the valley. We were demoralised long before we even entered his class for the first time. Then, when the dreaded day arrived, and it came all too soon, with that kind of threat hanging over us, it seemed as if we were going into a lion’s den rather than a classroom. However, when the first lesson was over we emerged from the class all in one piece. As for myself, I thought that he was one of the best, but for some boys who were from a place called ‘Nant-Yr-Bar’, they were like red rag to a bull to Hopkins, and in fact, he had them weighed up even before they got to his classroom.
Although his observation skills were now directed toward the sun. and as he knew all about the eclipse, he seemed always to be in front and we admired him for this attribute. He looked at his watch and said, “Get your smoked glass.” That was the order, but in the next few minutes, something happened that even Hopkins had not taken into account . . . a cloud appeared just at the vital time of the eclipse and we saw precisely . . . nothing! So the 100 year phenomenon had turned out to be nought in the space of a few minutes. We looked at each other and realised that even Hopkins could be wrong at times! This then was the culmination of all our efforts.
As we went down the mountain on the way home, down went our estimation of Hopkins as well, but not for long.
After visiting relatives in Canada during the August holidays, he brought back an Indian Moccasin and a locust in a small glass case which he brought into the classroom to show us. I glanced at my mate and again, knew something was in the air that day, “Wait for it Dick,” I remarked. As we were very Indian conscious at that age, we wanted a story about that moccasin, but no, it had to be about locusts and what they were capable of doing, including the ability to block out the sun. When the part about the locusts being able to block out the sun came, the penny dropped. Here he was making good what had happened on that morning when the clouds stole the show. So his role of bing ‘the one in front’ was proved once more, so his observation skills were clearly still there, and up went our estimation of him once more.