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- People in story:
- Elaine Kidwell - Nee Griffiths
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- 16 August 2004
We all “got through” the next day in a daze of tiredness and grief, as the death toll was getting larger. The hill opposite the town is called Kilvey Hill, and thousands of fire or incendiary bombs had fallen on the hill, amongst the bracken and had gone on fire. Because they were phosphorous, they burned for many hours. It lit up the town like daylight and the bombers could see the town spread out beneath them. Lots of bombs fell on the Townhill housing estate killing a lot of people. One man told me that his young sons were killed in front of him and he gently laid them together on his front lawn. In his own words, “I went to help the living and got my neighbours out alive from their kitchen”. He did not see his sons again, as ambulances were picking up the wounded and the dead and taking them to the hospital. At the hospital, they were sorted out, and the dead were put aside for burial the next week-end.
A bomb had fallen alongside the market’s main gate, and had hit the very solid wall of the market and then had skidded across the road into a shop doorway, then, down the steps into a public shelter and killed many people there, when it exploded. So, many of the air-raid wardens had to go and help the policemen and medical people to sort it out. But they would not allow any woman there as it was so dreadful.
Men were caring towards women and girls in those days and they shielded us, as much as they could. I was rather relieved as, I had not been able to get the blood off my uniform from the night before. I kept on washing my hands, as there was no hot water and I just did not feel clean. That afternoon my father told me that the victims in the air-raid shelter did not look dead as it was the ”blast” that had killed them. I remember my dad saying that they all looked as if they were asleep. He seemed relieved as he was thinking of their poor relatives. He was a man of compassion and he still remembered his years in the trenches in the First World War.
At about four o’clock in the afternoon we assembled at Post 2.E. for another terrible evening and night. If we had had coffee, we would have drunk gallons of it, to ward off the aching tiredness that we all felt. We had no coffee so we drank weak tea instead and were grateful for it! Quite honestly, we wondered if we were able to survive another night, but, one had to try and do our every best as so I many people depended on us. We went around with smiles on our faces and kept on saying that everything was fine. I lied a lot that night, and felt it was the right thing to do.
Throughout those three nights, because I was the only woman in the warden’s group, I was given the task of telling people if their homes had been destroyed. I hated the job but I did it, as gently as I could, and always seemed to end up with my arms around them, as people sobbed on my shoulder. But I kept on telling them, that they were alive. People were wonderful, they wiped their eyes and agreed with me at once. But sometimes I had to go off back to these bombed houses looking for their beloved cats or dogs! By the third night, when the pets were also in the shelter with their owners!!
As the hours went by we got ready as we had the two nights before. The shelters were all open and the people had all moved into them long before the sirens had gone off. The Amber Alert came and went, and then the Red warning came and we all made for our places. Running up the road we blew our whistles and everybody took cover. We did not have a lot of warning as we could hear the bombers coming a long way off.
The sleeves of my uniform felt very odd as my mother had insisted on washing the sleeves to wash out the blood, and after cleaning off as much as she could get out, she dried the sleeves on the oven door. We had a coal fire and it was the only way to get a hot meal as our electric cooker was useless as all electricity was off. Afterwards she ironed them dry with the aid of a flat iron she had kept from years gone by. The electric iron was useless of course!! The sleeves were very stiff and uncomfortable, but dry!
So we waited, and we were so tired and weary that we would have given almost anything just to sleep. Although I was young, even I was feeling the strain, as I had had about ten hours sleep in three nights and I could see another long night ahead of us. Then I heard our head warden blowing his whistle and running up from the A.R.P. Post and suddenly we were not tired any more.
The target that night was the whole centre of town but everywhere else had their share of bombs. There did not seem to be any plan of attack. It seemed that as long as the bombs and the incendiaries were dropped, the pilots and crews were satisfied. The search-lights were all “playing” their beams all over the sky to catch a plane and give a target for the “Ack Ack guns” or artillery, as was their correct name. I was standing in Wind Street when the first wave came over and the searchlights trapped a plane in its beam and it seemed to me to be like a silver brooch hanging in the sky! The guns all opened up and down came the shrapnel like heavy rain. Everyone that was outside went inside quickly and waited for the salvoes of bombs to pass. After a few minutes we ventured outside and rushed around to find out where the bombs had dropped and what damage they had done. All through the raids the Weavers Flour Mill which was the ugly tall building in Quay Parade never had a direct hit!! It was an awful looking building. It was the first ferro-concrete building in Britain and much admired by Town Planners, but definitely not a thing of beauty. I would not have minded one little bit if it had been hit as it was such an ugly monstrosity!! But it never had a bomb within yards of it. Someone voices the theory that it was such an outstanding target that they could not hit it as their bomb-aiming equipment was not good. But they seemed to hit everything else!!
The streets by this time were full of glass and debris and miles and miles of hose-pipes. The Fire Service had been going to fires for three whole days and they were “dead beat” like ourselves. When they were on top of ladders, the bombers machine-gunned the firemen, so many were wounded or killed.
Three of us wardens were sent to the top of Wind Street to see if any people needed our help there. When we arrived there the whole world seemed to be on fire. The army were there, and the firemen were walking up and down looking so frustrated, as the pipes carrying the water were being blown up and the water by then was coming up from the North Dock. The pumps were working like mad to pump the water up-hill through a narrow passage running alongside Swansea Castle, but the dock was full of debris and kept fouling up the pipes. No water was getting through. But by this time nothing could contain the fires. Every few minutes a building would explode into a fire-ball. One of the town’s favourite stores, Ben Evans, was well alight when we arrived at the bottom of Castle Street and the firemen, the bravest men in the world, were almost in tears of frustration. But somehow people were struggling out of this burning hell and we gradually gathered up about twenty survivors. When, after another period of waiting and dodging the huge pieces of burning material which were blowing around us in the air above, we could see that no-one else was going to come through the flames, and buildings were starting to collapse and the noise was horrendous.
We had to “mime” what we were trying to communicate to each other. Scotty pointed down Wind Street and waved his arms to get the little band moving and put his head near my ear to shout to me to get them to the Wind Street shelter. So, down we went. When we arrived at the shelter there was hardly any room, but everyone moved closer and in the little band of people went. No-one made a fuss over being over-crowded and they were singing together in no time at all. What lovely heart-warming brave people the old Swansea people were. I loved every one of them and I’m still very proud the way that Swansea folk behaved during the Blitz.
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