Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School

Certificate Ceremonies

school building

Report of the address by guest speaker Mr Handel Davies, M.Sc.,
Director General of Scientific Research (Air) to the Ministry of Supply,
June 1959

from School Archives

Handel Davies

Coal and cotton in decline


—says Air expert at old school’s Speech Day

WITH BRITAIN RELYING LESS and less on her exports of coal and cotton, and depending more and more for overseas markets on the products of her brain power, such as motor-cars, aircraft, machinery and chemical equipment, it was essential that we should possess an education system able to sustain the fight to win a place alongside other nations in the world of trade, said Mr. Handel Davies, Director General of Scientific Research (Air) to the Ministry of Supply, when he returned to his old school, Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School, last week to deliver the annual speech day address.

Mr. Davies, who had that day received the news that he had been promoted to Deputy-Director at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, spoke with authority, for he is a man who has travelled the world on behalf of the Government Ministries. He has just returned from America, and in his address he said that even if the Government carried out its intention to double the output of technologists, engineers and scientists, Britain would still be hard put to it to keep up (in proportion, of course) with the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.

Several references were made during the afternoon to Mr. Davies’s romantic career. After failing the 11-plus examination, he had to be content with admission to Gadlys Secondary Modern (then Central) School. But he proved an outstanding example of latent development, and won his way into the Grammar School by passing the Oxford Senior examination.

Then, entering the Grammar School in Form 4, he won rapid success. After gaining his Central Welsh Board Certificate (equivalent to the present General Certificate of Education), he went on to win a State Scholarship. He continued his studies at the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire at Cardiff, where he graduated with double honours.


He began his career in aeronautics as a scientific adviser at Farnborough and later became chief superintendent of the aeroplane and armament experimental establishment at Boscombe Down from 1952 to 1955.

Mr. J. Warren (headmaster) and County Coun. D J. Lewis (chairman of the School Governors) summed up the romance of his career by pointing out that the future of aeronautics and aircraft design in this country were in the hands of an old boy of the school whose father was an ex-miner living at Llwydcoed.

Mr. Davies recalled that the days when he was attending the Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School and the University College at Cardiff were immensely different from those of the present time. Those were days of industrial depression and widespread unemployment. Even in the academic world jobs were difficult to come by, and people leaving the colleges and universities had often to stick round for as much as a year looking for a job.

“Making due allowance for the happenings of the past few months and allowing even for the ‘bulge’ of school leavers, prospects are much brighter today for the products of the grammar schools, the colleges and the universities,” said Mr. Davies.


“The problem now,” he stressed, “is not finding a job, but choosing one from the offers you get.”

There was, he declared, a big demand for the very small number of people available, and that gave rise to a problem in this country which did not confront any other nation in the world.

Even allowing for geographical differences and population comparisons there was a great gap between this country and the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. in the supply of engineers, scientists and technologists.

There was a total of 120,000 engineers, scientists and technologists in this country. The total in America was 800,000. In U.S.S.R. the total was somewhere round the million mark.

It was a great tribute to Britain that this had not mattered an awful lot in the past. These islands produced the first jet aircraft; we were also in the forefront in the field of atomic energy. Britain was the very first to have an atomic power station in operation, and it was the country which had given the world penicillin.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of, despite the handicap of being in more than a six-to-one minority compared with the United States of America,” added Mr. Davies. “We are well able to look after ourselves although the odds against us ma be high”

Other countries, although they were already possessors of far more technologists and scientists than Britain, were planning to develop their resources in this respect still further. Recently, when he was in America, he had seen that the authorities there were prepared to push up their education expenditure to fantastic sums.

The output of technologists and scientists from British universities was 10,000 a year. The aim of the Government was to increase that to 20,000 by 1970. Even that figure was only one-tenth of the output of technological people in Russia, where the expenditure on education was £8,500 million compared with less than £800 million pounds in this country.

Emphasising the great need for more and more technological people Mr. Davies said, “The figures are six to one against us now. By the time you boys come out into the world the odds against us will be ten to one. Because of that, I say that where boys and girls are doubtful of the career they will adopt it would do no harm — to them or the country — to push them towards science and technology.”

While conceding that we should not, lose our sense of values (Mr. Davies said he would willingly sacrifice 100 potential engineers and scientists for one Dylan Thomas or Alun Lewis), he was strong in his conviction that our modern culture should rest on the firm foundation of prosperity and good living standards — which of course in the world of today depended on engineers, scientists and technologists.


Commenting on the invitation to speak at an annual prize day of his old school, Mr. Davies said: “If anyone is being honoured here today, it is I. There is no honour which I would have wished for more than this. This school stands with very high repute, very few grammar school have a higher reputation than this one. Having had lunch with the headmaster and members of the staff and having now met the boys, I have complete confidence that the school will continue its distinguished reputation.”

There had been a mention that afternoon of the possibility of a new grammar school for Aberdare at the bottom of Cwmdare Hill, said Mr. Davies. It had been recommended as a project in the major capital programme for 1961–62. He sincerely hoped that the date would be adhered to, whatever the difficulties. The school deserved it.

Mr. Davies concluded with a tribute to the late Ald. (Mrs.) Rose Davies.

“I owe her a lot,” he said. “She played a big part in enabling me to come to this school, and through it, to reach the university.”

He came back knowing that there was left on the staff only one person who was there when he was in school. That was Mr. P. E. Phillips, M.A. He had been quite prepared to find a white-haired man with a white beard, but much to his surprise he found that Mr. Phillips had hardly changed at all!

Mr. and Mrs. Handel Davies and the chairman were thanked by Allen Prowle (head prefect) and Geraint Roberts.

Musical Items were rendered by Robert M. Jones (Form Va) and Kennard T. Johns (IVa).

The original Aberdare Leader article of June 6th 1959 can be seen here.