The first time that I was aware that we were about to be at war was the Saturday before it was declared. My parents, my sister, Margaret, and my brother Bill were returning from a holiday in Mumbles. As we walked from the station to our home in 61 Tramway, my parents stopped to talk to someone. The conversation was of the imminence of war. I was nine and was troubled by the thought. Next day war was declared. All members of the public were issued with gasmasks and had frequent practices on how to put them on in school. My father became an ARP Warden. He had told us that if ever there was an air raid we must go to where the walls of the Royal Exchange (next door) and our house joined as that would be the strongest wall. We had no air raid shelter.
We heard of the terrible bombing of Cardiff and Swansea and got accustomed to the chilling wail of the siren, although it did not affect us then. However one Sunday night we did get a taste of what it was like to be bombed. My Mother was laying the table for our supper when there was a boom and the whole house shook. We did as we had been told and my father pushed the couch and the table into the corner to further protect us. The evacuees, Lawrence and Norah from Birmingham knew immediately that we were being bombed and they came over to be with us along with Mrs. Mary Bowen, Olwen’s mother, with whom they were staying. Mr. Thomas Bowen was out on duty as a Home Guard. The raid did not last long I don’t think, but my father went out to see if help was needed anywhere and I was not happy until he was safely back at home. Early next day my grandfather arrived from Cwmdare to see if we were safe. The news had reached Cwmdare that there was a whole street of houses down in Hirwaun. He was a dear man and cried with relief when he realised we were safe.
I do seem to remember that there was damage to one house in Brecon Road and a large chunk of plaster came down off our landing ceiling. More bombs had landed in the pond not far from the Ordnance Factory. Otherwise we knew very little of the atrocities of war – thankfully.
I do not remember being short of food but I do remember being short of sweets even though we lived next door to Mrs. Price’s sweet shop. I remember eating Spam and omelettes made of dehydrated eggs and longing for the taste of a banana – still my favourite fruit. My mother bottled fruit and made preserves and we were
encouraged not to waste anything. They were difficult times, but, as children we were not really aware of the severity of the situation. There was great joy in 1945 when the war ended and gradually food and all commodities became available again.
We had moved to Rhigos on April 2nd 1941 and thereby hangs another tale.
Ann Jones (nee Jenkins) 2005
Another experience of the war was the arrival of the ‘Yanks’ in Britain when America finally joined us. Their impact was enormous as they were so relaxed and easy going. They brought us cigarettes, chewing gum, chocolate and coffee and even nylon stockings. The Americans had easy access to luxuries that had long been rationed in Britain. A friend of mine, getting married was so happy to receive a pair of nylon stockings. Throughout all the busy war time activities of fire fighting with the air raid wardens, sleeping on camp beds in cold school buildings in Bristol, involvement with people to be consoled after losing part of their house in the bombing, and also with a family who had received the dreaded telegram reporting – “Missing” – a husband and son of a wife and mother in anxiety. I recalled a great friend of mine in Aberdare, whom I never saw again after his family had received this type of message.
It was at times such as these that the war time radio helped in giving advice and in strengthening morale. Vera Lynne sand and echoed the war songs, the comedians of the day travelled and rallied the troops wherever possible, providing laughs and entertainments. Dance halls sprang up all over the place and band leaders such as Henry Hall, Harry Roy, Joe Loss became stars in their own right and I loved the dance tempos. Glen Miller with music of “In the Mood” crowded the dance floors as we slowly edged towards the great news of victory. Even the radio had somehow united the nation until Mr. Churchill entered Germany. We all hoped it was onward to a happy future of peace and prosperity.
NAZI FIRE AND HIGH EXPLOSIVE BOMBS ON MINING TOWNSHIP
Remarkable Escapes; Lessons to be learnt. (Aberdare Leader, March 22nd 1941)
Pontypridd Police Log Books, Sunday 16th March 1941
Report at 22:04 – Brecon Rd, Hirwaun. 50 yds from Jones’ Garage. Cardiff side of Brecon Rd. 1 H.E. at 21:58, road blocked. Telephone and telegraph lines down. No casualties.
These are the bare bones of an event some of which I still remember vividly. I was 6 years old and a few weeks before this night, my parents, Ivor and Iris Hill had taken me outside wrapped in a blanket, to see through the darkness, the red glow of the sky above the mountains. They told me it was Swansea burning.
Later I knew it was the terrible fire bombing of 19-21 February which destroyed the town centre, killed 230 and injured 400.
The blitz on Hirwaun was minor in comparison though it left us homeless but, amazingly, physically uninjured. Here are my actual memories of the night:
“We lived at 25, Brecon Rd, sharing a house with Mrs Jones, our landlady who was away this night. I woke with the taste of dust in my mouth and my first thought was that the wardrobe had fallen down! Then I heard the sound of my father’s voice repeating my name and I called “What’s the matter, Daddy, has a bomb dropped?” By this time he was crossing the bedroom floor, picking me up out of bed and wrapping me in a blanket; as we turned to go downstairs, I noticed that the room was lit by a funny light showing through a large hole in the wall. I could hear my mother screaming “He’s killed my baby, he’s killed my baby” and when we reached the bottom of the stairs, my father had to stop her by slapping her face. We hurried down the gwlli and at the bottom, turned to go towards my grandpa’s house at no. 20. The funny light made everything bright and as we turned I saw a large hole in the pavement. All the neighbours were out but we hurried past them with my mother still crying but quietly now. When we got to Grandpa’s, he pushed us under the stairs where my Aunty Irene and cousin, Helen were waiting; they had arrived from Manchester just before Christmas to escape the blitz up there. As we settled in, there was a loud bang which started Mam and Aunty Irene off again but my father’s voice told us they had overturned a table against the cupboard to keep us safe.”
Those are my actual memories of that night. Later I learned that two bombs had fallen in the allotments behind no.25. My parents were sitting in front of the fire downstairs, listening to the radio, when they were thrown off their seats by the explosion. They were saved from injury because the mantel shelf fell forward
and balanced on the back of a chair creating a space around them. My mother’s panic was because I was a long time answering my father who had to be careful going up the staircase which was broken. The blast had blown the back wall into the house and the front wall out into the yard. My bed was against that wall and
through the force of the explosion “little Audrey’s bed almost hung in space” (Aberdare Leader); I must have been tightly tucked into bed which was at such an angle, I could easily have slipped out. Afterwards, I remember children asking me if I was the girl “whose bed hung out of the window”; I also remember enjoying the attention! The house was so badly damaged, it had to be demolished and another memory is visiting with my mother to see what we could save. I cried when we discovered that the glass Christmas decorations in a box in the pantry were all broken. In retrospect, the whole incident must have happened very quickly since nobody had come to rescue us. I learned that the”funny” light was from the flares which had been dropped by the bombers. The Leader report with details of injuries and escapes of residents in Brecon Rd. is in the archives of Aberdare Library although Hirwaun is not named – this was due to security. The full Police Report is in the Glamorgan Archives in Cardiff. I always believed that the seven High Explosives and many Incendiary Bombs were dropped by a rogue plane which was off course.
After the talk I gave to Hirwaun Historical in 2011, I received an interesting email from an ex-resident. When he was young, he had been told that on that same Sunday evening at 21:30, the German propagandist, William Joyce, known as Lord Haw-Haw, had broadcast that a raid was imminent on the Royal Ordnance Factory at Rhigos. The first bombs had fallen near Tower Washery so this sounded feasible. My informant intended making further investigations so I asked if he would let me know any result. Unfortunately, I have heard no more from him and I cannot find his email address or name. I would certainly like to know more.
There was no such thing as post traumatic stress in those days and I do not think that I had any after effects although my mother was always very nervous.
However, the bombing had an unexpected result. My childhood memories are divided in two; I can set certain scenes at No.25 when I was very young and later ones at No.108 where we moved after a few days to live with my Mamgu and two uncles and where my parents spent the rest of their lives.
Courtesy of Mrs Audrey Griffiths
Just as a footnote:
VE Day – Victory in Europe – 8th of May 1945
VJ Day – Victory over Japan. After the dropping of the first atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th & 9th of August respectively.
The village children were treated to street parties in every location and it continued throughout the country after so many years of fear and deprevation. It took quite a long time to recover and sweets were still rationed until 1953.
A FEW NOTES ON THE NIGHT OF 16TH MARCH 1941 – “LITTLE AUDREY SLEEPS!”
The timing of the bomb drops. There was no siren sounded.
The BBC news was at 9pm and to my grandmothers annoyance my step grandfather Charlie Cole was listening to J. B. Priestly. He was scheduled to finish his broadcast at 9:15 and he was still holding for the stick as the bombs exploded. This we concluded set the time close to 9:12.
Me, I woke when the first bomb went off to hear the other three and fetched by my mother back into 72A at the rear of the shop. My father had already left to run to the Girls School to get the team moving for any rescues.
I have the plot of the four bombs. No.1 fell a short distance, about equal to the spacing of the ‘stick’ south of the just closed railway line, the next No.2 to the south side of where the track was, making a minor cater, nothing like the ole in Brecon Road. The third took away the wall of Audrey’s bedroom and the fourth blew a sizable hole in the pavement and roadway (South side carriageway). One of the kerb stones went up in the air and down through the roof I think of No.32? To finish up in the bed of an old lady of 82, lying beside her! My father assisted in the treatment and rescue of this person with the rest of the team from the St John Unit based in the Girls School. A photo has appeared in the calendar one year on the occasion in 1941 of the presentation of proficiency certificates by Dr. Ben Thomas and my father’s departure into the Army. He could not change his conscription notice back to being a navigator in the RAF, much like the attitude one finds around today!
Lord Haw-Haw timed his broadcast to 9pm in the propaganda war with the BBC. Caversham is not a simple journey from Windsor through Reading to the North side.
Audrey mentions the bombing of Swansea on the three nights in February. This blitz was very sad for Charles Cole my step grandfather as he and his daughter Ethel lost an entire family of relatives (Commemorated on the Swansea WW2 web site – family Camden). The authorities were expecting a fourth night to come and it had been established the raiding Luftwaffe was heading for Hirwaun Ponds and turning on a compass bearing to head down the vale of Neath. Ponds and the River Neath would stand out at night. The drone of those de-synchronized engines I will never forget.
On the morning of the fourth day, three Army Lorries stopped at the shop carrying Royal Engineers. They said they were going to blow holes in the retaining dams to the Ponds for emergency draining. The resulting flood went down the Nant past Penhow and the Catholic Church. The coal slurry could still be detected in the bottom slit of the Cynon when I did an OU Environmental Tutor marked Assignment in 1975. The OU found the Cynon so interesting from Source with the Phurnacite Plant the OU ran summer school trips to repeat the findings.
When the Luftwaffe came to bomb the ROF the “Empty Ponds” must have thrown at least one crew, sorry Audrey.
Sweets are one item, when these went on to ration the range available shrank to us in the village. Output from sweet factories maintained, but distribution was zoned. Big manufacturers like Mars (Slough), Fry’s of Bristol, Terrys (York), Cadburys (Birmingham) were only allowed to distribute their products over a limited area.
We had Lovells Toffee Rex and occasional variation like Frys Peppermint bars, still love them. The big treat used to come when my father was stationed in the north of England and my step aunt Ethel serving in NAAFI, Didcot.
I have a letter written by Ethel in 1940 when the blitz started, aged 19, she was working for the Jones & Higgins departmental stores. The store shelter took a direct hit killing friends and employees at the far end of the shelter. Several more raids followed before her letter reached my grandmother. My father went up immediately to fetch her home. No post-traumatic stress then, people were made of very stern stuff then. I still have Ethel’s letter to her stepmother.
A point, for the Observer Corps piece. The RAD RDF/RADAR system only looked out to sea in 1940. The RAF fighter control system depended entirely on the Observer Corps over land. It was a huge responsibility for undisciplined civilians and depended on the individual skills to recognise aircraft as friend or foe. The volunteers rose magnificently to the occasion. Hence after the Battle of Britain the King bestowed the title ‘Royal’.
Training was fun too, a photograph of a plane would be flashed on a screen in a local cinema, usually on a Saturday morning for one hundredth of a second. In 12 Group my best friend and I were part of the ROC team pitted against the RAD and Army of Western command, guess who won.
Mr. K. Saunders
During the war years we lived in the Prince of Wales Inn, Harris Street. My father had been posted overseas to Burma to serve in the RAF. My mother struggled to keep the business going with the help of her brother and sister and also had three small children to look after.
I remember well many busy nights when contingents of American GI’s, who were billeted on the local common, would seek some relaxation and enjoyment with a pint of beer. They were a very friendly, happy crowd and it was the first time I had seen an American.
I remember too one night my mother waking me up from bed and taking me to the bedroom window. The sky was “alive” with droning aircraft moving in one direction towards the South coast. We learnt later that that it was the Allied Invasion of Europe – D Day and many of those American we met were involved in that invasion.
Rationing was a way of life and once a week on a Friday my brother, sister and myself were given a “D” coupon (which was 2 ozs) to buy some sweets at Glyn Davies Shop before going to the local cinema. We loved the radio and “Dick Barton-Special Agent” was a favourite.
My father returned home after 4 years – a stranger to us children for a while, but then it became a favourite occasion when every Sunday around the lunch table, he would tell us tales of Burma, and the jungle and elephants and tigers – we loved it!
HIRWAUN SEAMAN WHO ESCAPED FROM PRISON TRAIN
One of the most thrilling “Get-Away” stories of the war (Extract from and unknown newspaper dated Saturday November 1 1941)
Details became known on Tuesday of the remarkable escape from Nazi captivity of Seaman ALFRED TURNER of Penmark, Hirwaun, Turner was on a merchant-ship sunk by the famous German pocket battleship “Admiral Scheer” in the Indian Ocean.
It is one of the most thrilling escape stories of the war and one of the most encouraging things revealed by Turner is that as he got safely through Belgium, occupied France and then unoccupied France he was everywhere assisted without question once people were certain he was British.
Turner is now home on leave, bearing evidence of his ordeal – he has lost over 1½ stone in weight – but is cheerful and certainly delighted to be back in his own country free from the grip of the Nazis.
He escaped when a batch of British prisoners was being taken by train from Bordeaux to Hamburg, but he had to hide for five months before he found freedom. Turner was in a prison ship for nearly two months before being landed at Bordeaux and taken to a concentration camp. He made his mind up to escape and saved dates (Red Cross gifts) to be ready for his dash to freedom.
His chance came when he was included in a group of prisoners being taken by train to camps near Hamburg.
HID UNDER A TRAIN
“It was about 4 a.m. and everybody was asleep” he said. “Now for it, I thought. I climbed out of the window onto the footboard and crawled along until I reached the coupling between coaches. Every second I thought I would be dashed to death under the train”.
“The train stopped, and I dropped down and lay flat between the rails. I had been missed. I could hear the guards tramping around searching for me. They flashed torches underneath the carriages. Then the train moved on over me”.
He was free – but in Germany!
For over a fortnight Turner he hid in woods and fields, walked miles at night avoiding towns, heading for the Belgian frontier.
“I must not give names of places nor people” he said, “but I got through Belgium, occupied France and unoccupied France and everywhere I was assisted without question once they were sure I was British”.
It was from Gibraltar that his wife first heard he was safe after he had been reported missing.
Aberdarians generally congratulate Seaman Turner on his enterprise, pluck and endurance.
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