NHS’ 5th July Birthday at NHS’ 1948 Birthplace: Wales’ Temple of Peace & Health

The birthday of the NHS – on 5th July – has been marked with a call to establish an NHS Wales history website that recognises those who pioneered the creation of a pilot national health service in Wales, decades before the full NHS was officially established by Aneurin Bevan in 1948 in the aftermath of World War Two. 

The call comes from Aneira Thomas, the first baby to be born on the NHS, and Emma Snow, author of a new book outlining how a National Health Service began in Wales before the Second World War, which inspired Aneurin Bevan the create the UK-wide institution. They celebrated the NHS’ Birthday at the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff, where they were joined by Julie Morgan, MS for Cardiff North, and former Deputy Minister for Social Services.

Emma Snow with Aneira Thomas and Julie Morgan outside Wales’ Temple of Peace & Health on 5th July 2024

The story is recounted in Emma Snow’s new book ‘The First NHS , which describes how Wales developed a ‘national health service’ 38 years ahead of its rollout across Britain, in the WNMA – the Welsh National Memorial Association, headquartered at the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff – which was purpose-built for this mission. 

The WNMA”s first campaign in 1912 was this ‘Caravan Against Consumption’, raising awareness around Tuberculosis – which was then the ‘biggest killer’ in Wales

Emma describes how the full NHS put in place by Nye Bevan in 1948 adapted the model developed in Wales from 1912 onwards, through the efforts of a Montgomeryshire ‘Friendly Society’ leader, her great-grandfather John Tomley, and many contemporary colleagues. From 1945 to 1948, the by then well-established WNMA was co-opted by Aneurin Bevan to act as the ‘transitional authority’ charged with bringing together the new NHS in Wales, becoming in effect on the ‘appointed day’ NHS Wales itself, with its headquarters in the Temple of Peace and Health. 

Emma Snow calls for an NHS Wales history website and resources to be developed, arguing that the NHS’ history in Wales is not on the compulsory Curriculum for Wales and does not yet appear in any Welsh school history textbooks.  “For example,” Emma said, “the new history textbook for 11-14 year olds mentions health, yet does not even mention Nye Bevan or Betsi Cadwaladr – who have NHS health boards named after them – let alone other people and organisations involved, such as the founders of the WNMA itself.  More research is needed, and deserved, to uncover these hidden health heroes and include them on the curriculum for all children and young people in Wales.”

Julie Morgan, MS for Cardiff North, and former Deputy Minister for Social Services, said: 

“Here in Wales, we are all very proud of our Welsh connection to the NHS, with Nye Bevan setting it up in 1948. It is fascinating to find out the full story of how Wales played even more of a role in setting up the NHS that we thought. It is vital that children and young people in schools, as well as health and social care patients and staff, can find out about all our Welsh NHS health heroes and celebrate them. I fully support the call for a new NHS Wales history website, for Welsh NHS history to be added to the Curriculum for Wales and textbooks, and for more research into Welsh health history. As a start, Aneira and Emma’s books should be stocked in all Welsh secondary school libraries.”

Both Emma Snow and Aneira Thomas have written about the history of the NHS in Wales:

Emma Snow, ‘The First NHS’ – https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-NHS-Tomleys-Modern-Healthcare/dp/1399038168

Aneira Thomas, ‘Hold On Edna’ – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hold-Edna-heartwarming-story-first/dp/1913406318

NHS History Authors Aneira Thomas and Emma Snow at the NHS 75 / Temple 85 Anniversary Event on 23 Nov 2023

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