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Geoffrey Webb

by Chepstow Drill Hall

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Chepstow Drill Hall
People in story: 
Geoffrey Webb-Chepstow Memories
Location of story: 
Chepstow
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4167803
Contributed on: 
08 June 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by volunteer from The Chepstow Society on behalf of Geoffrey Webb and has been added to the site with his permission. Geoffrey Webb fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

CHEPSTOW IN WARTIME - G.A. WEBB

Unfit for National Service, I started work at the Head Office of Red & White Services Ltd in their imposing building at Bulwark(whoever allowed it to be demolished?) in July 1942. My Main occupation for the rest of the war was concerned with the running of the Accident Claims Department for the company and several associates. However, several small tasks were undertaken, and these have specific reference to wartime conditions.

1. On the roof of the building was a firewatchers hut, and at 10.00 every Monday morning I went up via the fire escape to test the siren which was controlled from there.

2. Fuel, of course, was strictly rationed. Every week we had to declare and justify the amount of diesel and petrol used, and were issued with coupons on the strength of which orders were placed for deliveries in the following week. As the suppliers were not too happy at delivering in less than full loads(in those days the larger tankers held only 3000 gallons)careful calculation was needed to place the order for each depot to be delivered after the date/time there was enough room in their storage tanks, but before they ran out altogether.

3. Because it was argued that staff wearing uniform did not require so many “civvy” clothes, they were required to surrender clothing coupons. This was very unpopular, but without the coupons no order could be placed for the next issue. Such was the security necessary that both clothing and fuel coupons were kept in a strong-box.

Routes for regular services were:

Cardiff-Newport-Caerwent-Chepstow-Lydney-Gloucester=hourly.
Chepstow-Caldicot-Newport=hourly.
Bulwark-Chepstow-Tutshill-Beachley=half-hourly.
Chepstow-Usk-Pontypool-Blackwood=2 hourly.
Chepstow-Monmouth=hourly(alternately via Tintern and Trellech).
Services were also operated by Bristol Tramways & Carriage Co. Ltd. from their depot at Coleford to Chepstow via Brockweir & Tintern(alternating with the Red & White service) and via Tidenham Chase. Many contract services were operated, especially to the Royal Navy Propellant Factory at Caerwent. There were still some long distance coach services operating through the town at the beginning of the war but these were soon phased out to conserve fuel. At the peak of the fuel shortage last buses left terminals about 8 p.m. and there were no services on Sundays.

Fares were unchanged throughout the war. Single fares for one stage(e.g.Bulwark-Chepstow or Chepstow-Tutshill)were one (old)penny.

Vehicles were mainly of the standard Red & White fleet - Albion/Gardner/Duple single-decks, and some Guy utility double-decks. These were supplemented from the surplus requirements of other organisations with London Transport AEC double-decks with open stairs and rear platforms, and Leylands from Oldham Corporation.

Two other points of possible interest:

*The company operated a National Savings incentive scheme via deduction from wages. For every 12 shillings saved the employee received a 15 shillings National Savings Certificate. Every month there was a draw on a depot by depot basis, with prizes according to the total amount saved that month.

*There was a Welcome Home Fund in Chepstow, and many firms and groups had sections raising money for the ultimate benefit of returning service men and women. Apart from the usual raffles and dances, the Red & White section organised a Brains Trust at the Public Hall and, with the aid of a farmer from Rogiet, put on a Sheep Dog Trial. This was held at Thornwell Farm for two years before it developed into the Chepstow Show held on fields between High Beech Lane and the top of Pwllmeyric.

SOME MEMORIES OF WARTIME IN TUTSHILL

Throughout the war I was resident in Sedbury Lane. For the first three years I was still attending Monmouth School, travelling daily by train from Tutshill Halt, which was conveniently just down the road. Thereafter I was employed at the Head Office of Red & White Services Ltd. in Bulwark.

Immediately on the outbreak of war it was necessary to “black out” all windows at night. We did this with large panels of plasterboard downstairs - a rather clumsy manoeuvre each night and morning - and by lining the upstairs curtains with black material. Father was an Air Raid Warden, and when the siren sounded had to report to the Air Raid Precautions post in the little cottage next to the Cross Keys. Wardens were trained in First Aid by the St. John’s Ambulance, but had little with which to tackle the results of any raids other than stirrup pumps and buckets of sand to deal with incendiary bombs. Mother and I used the walk-in pantry under the stairs as our bomb shelter, this being considered the safest place in the house. Like most people of our acquaintance we gradually got fed up with this arrangement and stayed in bed. If things started to get a bit too noisy we got out - and under!

A number of bombs did indeed fall in the parish (probably just jettisoned by pilots anxious to be done and off home), and there were plenty of pieces of shrapnel to be found from exploding anti-aircraft shells. From our house we had views across to the Bristol area, which suffered from many extensive raids, when the sky in that direction would be one large red glow. It was widely believed that navigators used the confluence of the Wye and Severn as a point for a return run over Bristol. At the height of these raids a ship, known as a monitor, was moved to this area to provide extra anti- aircraft fire. The recoil from this ship’s guns caused our windows to shake quite considerably, and far more than the land-based guns.

We were used to low flying R.A.F. aircraft (Blenheims I think) on training runs, but one morning one seemed lower and/or louder than usual. From our back it seemed that it must be too low for us to see behind the trees in the neighbouring orchard, which was on slightly higher ground. Shortly after returning into the house we heard machine gun fire. Going into the front room we reached the window as it shook very violently. From a stool we could see a plane pulling up and away from Beachley camp, a plume of smoke following it up from the ground. You no doubt have an exact date for this. Afterwards stories circulated that this plane had first dropped a bomb on the railway line near the signal box which in those days controlled a siding near Snipes Hill. Gangers were working nearby, the bomb failed to explode and they flung it into a watery ditch. It must be said that this was typical of the stories which circulated in wartime, but it could be true.

One day in the summer of 1944 I took a visitor down to Beachley (by bus, of course) and as it was a nice afternoon we decided to have a boat trip, crossing to Aust and back on the Severn King. With this ferry you were able to sit up on the wheelhouse bridge. We were aware of a plane flying very high above us, when from both sides of the river we heard sirens and were aware that it was not “one of ours”. We felt very vulnerable out in the middle of the Severn.

On the subject of Beachley Camp, there were mass evacuations at the end of each term, to Chepstow station. This was usually marked by a shuttle service of buses, seen from the vantage point of our front windows. However, there came a time when because of shortage of buses, fuel or drivers, this could not be arranged, and we were then treated to the sight of the Army Apprentices marching to Chepstow, headed by their band. Their kit travelled in Army lorries.

In 1941 I joined the Home Guard - the 4th Gloucester’s, with headquarters at Coleford. By this time the vicar, Revd G. Newman, who had assumed command from the initial days as the Local Defence Volunteers, had departed to be a full time chaplain, and the company was commanded by Capt. Ames. He lived in Sedbury lane, worked in Chepstow Shipyard, and after the war emigrated to Australia. Second in command was Lt. Ivor Jones, who actually lived in Chepstow where he had a cafe in Bridge street, just opposite the entrance to the Castle. Among the other officers was 2nd Lt. (Pat) Evans, a Woodcroft man who had been invalided out of the Navy. He became a clerk at Chepstow Post Office, and a couple of years ago was still living in Bulwark, and long time Treasurer of the Chepstow British Legion. Co. Sgt. Major was another who was invalided out of the Navy, “Jimmy” Jones. Quartermaster Sergeant was Bill James (Gloucester House, Gloucester Road and Lydney and Chepstow Trading Company), ably assisted by Vic Wallington (Beachley Road and Engineering Stores Manager, Red & White). When I joined we met at the Church Institute in the grounds of Tutshill School, but then moved to the Memorial Hall, Woodcroft, where a unit of the Auxiliary Fire Service was based. We built ourselves a rifle range on the banks of the Wye down from the Windmill. Hand grenades were thrown into the mud at Beachley Point. From time to time we were engaged in manoeuvres in the Forest of Dean, and at least once were involved in a joint exercise with Chepstow Home Guard. Specialised signals training was also carried out at Chepstow Company HQ.

Food rationing was the same for everyone, but many were able to supplement their purchases with produce from their gardens (rather bigger on average than these days) and there were a number of allotments available. We had such a plot in a field of them in Sedbury lane, on the left just before the railway bridge.

Of course, during the war Chepstow Shipyard was busy, especially building various sorts of landing craft. Once again, our front windows gave us a grandstand view whenever we were aware that a launch was about to take place.

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