ALIEN LIFE OF THE PURITAN SISTERS
Reginald Horton was evacuated from Osmaston Road, Harborne to Hirwaun, South Wales with St. Peter’s School, Harborne
Reginald Horton writes:
I LEFT Birmingham for South Wales with two sisters and a brother.
We left behind an older brother, two younger sisters and a baby brother. The journey was memorable for its length and tediousness. We eventually arrived at Hirwaun, near Aberdare and my sisters and all of the other evacuees were quickly taken to various Welsh families.
My brother, Bert, and I were finally taken by Mr. Jenklns, a teacher in the inevitable Welsh rain to a house in the Penderyn Road.
To us Brummies the Welsh language was incomprehensible but we quickly gathered that our presence was not welcome.
Next morning we were given breakfast next door and then Mr. Jenkins reappeared to take us and our meagre luggage to 32 Merthyr Road where I lived for the next six years.
There Bert and I settled into the lives of three unmarried sisters, Margaret, Hannah and Elizabeth Watkins. They were school cleaners at the local boys’ school which I attended and I afterwards helped them to clean.
After my brother, four years older than me left school he worked for a time in the coal mine and then returned to Birmingham with my two sisters. I cried when they left because I had second thoughts about my decision to stay in the village.
My school days were spent first in Hirwaun then Aberdare and my holidays in Birmingham. I had become an outsider in two places – to the Welsh villagers an English schoolboy, to my relatives in Birmingham an occasional guest with an acquired Welsh accent.
The three sisters I lived with led a life alien to me but to which I had to adapt. They attended the Welsh Methodist Church three times every Sunday. I was sent with a Mrs. Price as escort to the English Congregational Church as Miss Watkins thought that if I was to benefit from a sermon I should have to hear it in English.
After church on Sunday evenings a group of Welsh ladies gathered in the house. They all sat in front of a roaring fire, drinking tea and discussing the week’s events in the village. And I began to find the talk more interesting as I was studying Welsh at school and it helped me to feel a part of this extremely puritanical household – no radio, games or newspapers permitted on Sunday.
At school Birmingham children were accepted by the local pupils without animosity. Any fights that occurred were between London and Birmingham evacuees.
Most of my problems with the Welsh way of life were connected with food. I have never eaten mutton stew since 1946 because it was a frequent and hated dish in those days.
It was ironic that I had left a modern house in Birmingham for a dwelling built in 1850 that lacked gas and electricity, bathroom and kitchen. We took water outside and washed from a bowl on a table in the yard.
MY GRANDDAD’S WARTIME MEMORIES OF HIRWAUN
Granddad was born in 1929 and was ten years old when war was declared in 1939 one of a family of 5 children and his father was a regular soldier, his mother looked after the family.
By 1940. the main cities in the country were being subjected to air raids almost nightly and the people had to spend most nights in the air raid shelters. Most of the children could not attend school as they had been
awake most of the night and several schools closed and some were either ARP posts or other wartime buildings.
The government decided that it would give families the chance to have the ir children evacuated to the rural parts of the country where air raids were not as common because the factories making munitions were in
the towns and cities.
In 1941 granddad and his younger brother Brian were evacuated to South Wales, to a small town called Hirwaun in the Welsh valleys. When they arrived in Hirwaun with a school teacher and about 50 other children they were taken to a large church hall where there were a lot of Welsh people who had come to pick which children they wanted to live with them. Grandad and his brother would not be separated so they were amongst the last ones to be picked for their new home. They went to a house with a middle aged lady Miss James who lived with her brother Walter who was a coal miner at the local colliery. Miss James and Walter were very nice people and made them very welcome. There was only one school in Hirwaun and that was a large corrugated iron covered building and was for the under elevens. Brian had to go to the local school and Granddad had to go to a school in Aberdare about seven miles away and had to get tile school bus every morning. When they first attended the school they found that there were other evacuees from the other outlying districts who had arrived from London and other’ cities and towns. As newcomers they tended to stick together a lot, and the Welsh lads resented them a bit and would try to bully them or cause trouble for them which often resulted in quite a few playground fights which they usually got blamed for, and as the cane was used quite liberally in those times many got punished. Things eventually got a lot better and friendships were formed so everybody got on fine.
In the villages where they lived they had to adapt to the ways and customs of the Welsh people, most were members of various chapels and tiley were ruled by the chapel deacons who were village dignitaries or retired miner’s etc. who always wore white starched collars and sat in the two front rows of the chapel. On Sundays they had to wear their’ best clothes and had to walk and not run. If you were caught running or climbing by the chapel deacons they would tell them off and report them to there homes. Mr King was the teacher who came from Birmingham to supervise the evacuees and he lived in a billet in the village like the rest of the evacuees. Mr King always wore a tweed suit and plus fours in both summer and winter. He looked after the welfare of the children and organized many events and rambles at week-ends and holidays to the local beauty spots such as over the mountains to look down on the other valleys and towns such as the Rhondda and Ebbw Vale. Another beauty spot visited among many others were the Penderyn water falls where one could cross from one river bank to the next by passing beneath the water fall and not get wet. Mr King eventually returned to teach at Station Road School, Harborne as the evacuees were eventually integrating quite well with the Welsh villagers and their customs etc. and the ones who could not settle returned to their Birmingham homes.
Grandad started working part time for a farmer in the evenings and week-ends and holidays and when the farmer moved to a larger farm in Penywaun near Aberdare he gradually spent more and more time there than in Miss James house in Hirwaun although Brian continued to live in Hirwaun. Grandad liked the life on the farm and had to get up at around 5:30am and help to get the cows in and help with the milking, load the churns on the horse drawn milk float and get a lift on the float to catch the school bus to Aberdare. While the float carried on to Hirwaun to do the milk round. There were no milk bottles or cartons in those days in Wales and the milk was measured and poured in to the waiting milk jugs. He particularly enjoyed haymaking time on the farm helping load the hay on the carts and stacking in the barn.
Granddad eventually returned to Birmingham in 1943 as he was approaching 14 years of age and he would be leaving school shortly and the only work in Wales was farming and mining.
Brian continued to live with Miss James until the end of the war as the house where they lived in Birmingham was rather full as my Granddads Grannie and Auntie had been bombed out in Folkestone and were living there for a time until they could find a house in Birmingham.
Grandad says he would like to return to Hirwaun one day to re-live old memories but perhaps that is what they should remain – Happy Memories.
Written by Mr Douglas Crawford who is the grandson to a wartime evacuee who now lives in Birmingham.