Pontypool’s Secret Society

 

Few people know that, in 1945, there was set up in Pontypool a secret society which operated clandestinely under the name of the “Q.O. Secret Society”. Its meetings were held regularly, well away from the public gaze and its meeting place could only be accessed by using the secret password. The society also published a monthly document which contained details of its operations and also of its finances. The document was passed around and read by members of the society only.

Visitors to this blog will know that, in order to protect national security, cabinet papers and a host of other documents were not released to the public for 30 years after they were written. The Freedom of Information Act subsequently amended this arrangement and anyone can now make an application to all manner of bodies to acquire information under the Act. Therefore, before I get masses of applications from members of the public, Scotland Yard and the Security Services demanding that, after over 50 years of secrecy, I release all I know about the Q.O. Secret Society, I thought I’d better come clean in this post. 

The Q.O. Secret Society was founded in August 1945 by Eric Smith, Elgar Counsell and I and several other boys we knew. Our ages ranged from about 12 to 14 at the time. The original idea of the society was the brainchild of the manufacturers of Quaker Oats – hence the Q.O. bit. Doubtless in an attempt to sell more of their Quaker Oats, the company engaged in a campaign to interest children. You will all have seen the small oval frame on their boxes of oats with the head of the Quaker man inside it. By cutting out these little ovals, all sorts of benefits could accrue such as choosing free toys from their list, or, if not free, then obtainable at a very nominal price. They also published several books: “The Master Book of Secrets”, “Detection and Disguise” and a book on how to run a Q.O. Secret Society.

 picture-1Two of the books published by Quaker Oats Ltd

My brother Garyth, who was four years older than I, really got organised on this matter and went around all the members of our family asking them to save their Quaker Oats ovals for him. They readily obliged and soon he was able to send in an order for no less than eight  model aeroplanes that flew, and they flew well. He kept one himself, gave one to me and shared the rest amongst his friends. The aeroplanes were powered by a wound up elastic band but they stayed up for quite a while and when they ran out of power they glided quite well. One of our favourite places for flying these were up the Tumps – but more of the Tumps and the Tranch in a future post.

At the backs of the books mentioned above were several pages with illustrations of the goods on offer. Here are two of them:

gun-etcGun and disguise outfit advertised in the books

I bought both the above items. The gun could be obtained free for 12 Quaker figures or for 2 Quaker figures and 1/6 (one shilling and six pence). The disguise outfit was 6 Quaker figures or 2 Quaker figures and 6d (sixpence) in stamps. The gun was wonderful. It came with a roll of ammunition which was merely a roll of thin paper. This was led over a hole and when the gun was fired, air was forced through the paper making a hole and a realistic bang. I manufactured my own ammunition by cutting up strips of newspaper of the required size.

Our meeting place was my father’s shed at the rear of our house in School Lane. It was reasonably large so that housing six or eight of us was no problem as long as we didn’t mind the strong smell of stored onions and other garden produce. In the colder weather we lit the valor paraffin oil stove to provide warmth, but it added another ambient smell rather more unpleasant than the onions.

The monthly document I refer to above was our own magazine. Fortunately, my oldest brother, John, when he left West Mon went to work in the chemistry laboratories at County Hall, Newport and was anxious to learn to type which would have been a big help to him; so my father bought a second-hand Imperial typewriter from someone in Griffithstown and, one evening, he and John carried it all the way to Wainfelin. Those old typewriters were very heavy, so it was no mean feat.

I was eleven when the typewriter was purchased, so after three years of practice, I could type reasonably well – with two fingers. This was the reason that I was able to edit and produce just one copy of “The Q.O. Secret Society Magazine”. It consisted of ten 8×10 one-sided pages of very off-white and very thin wartime paper and was passed around from member to member. I still have these magazines and I note that the December Christmas issue was a bumper 25 page effort. This experience sparked off my interest in magazine editing and writing which is something I’ve been doing ever since in an honorary capacity.

The contents of the magazine were very varied and members were asked to contribute as they were able. There was some information about the society itself and also things like a crossword puzzle, jokes, poems written by members, a science section, competitions,general knowledge items and even a serial story. It also carried some adverts where members were able to advertise for sale things like model aircraft kits etc.

The Christmas number, unlike the other issues, also contained illustrations. Eric and I were very keen at that time on pen and ink drawing and below are a few of our original works which were used. When Eric sees these I hope he won’t be too embarrassed. I am!

christmas-greetingsEric’s Christmas greetings to all members.
The verse is part of the hymn, “Now the day is over”. 

autumnMy rendering of autumn. I think I can claim to have improved since doing this.

camelEric’s rendering of “The Mysterious East”.

Also in the Christmas number was our balance sheet after five months in operation. Our total income was £1:4:0 (one pound four shillings), our expenditure was 8/- (eight shillings) leaving a balance in hand of 16/- (sixteen shillings). This was most pleasing and meant we’d been running on just one-third of our income. What financial skill! If the Chancellor of the Exchequer needs someone to sort out the current financial crisis, we might possibly be persuaded to help. But, naturally we’d expect a fee of at least £5:7:6. Now – what’s that in this new fangled money?

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