- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Clive Griffiths
- Location of story:
- Pontesbury and surrounding areas - Shropshire
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 January 2006
I left school on April 5th 1939 and so I have a clear recollection of events that were to follow during that year.
I clearly recall the coming of the evacuees to Pontesbury Station on 3rd September. The spur line from Shrewsbury was still open and so they arrived by train from Liverpool. An old disused carriage had been put up on sleepers as a reception area for the evacuees. They all wore labels and had their own gas masks. Local children had their gas masks distributed through the school and so Mr Baker Yates and Mr Tarver looked after that task. The Liverpool children all settled in, and until recently they would make return visits to see the friends and families they had stayed with and got to know. They were spread around Pontesbury village and around Asterley and Plealey as well: they went to both schools in the village. Somehow space was made for them.
Then the Army came: A Sergeant and five men; they were Welsh Fusiliers. They pitched their tents in a small field below the railway station later moving to a field of two and a half acres adjacent to the Hall Bank and put six or seven huts on it with about 40 men billeted in each one. There was a guardroom on the end by the gateway into the field that we use for parking now at the top of the Hall Bank.
The Village Hall at Hanwood (known as the Morris Hall) was also commandeered by the army, and moved to Pontesbury and rebuilt to be used as a mess hall (later moved on again to be used as Habberley Village Hall) with a toilet block in the adjoining site where the children’s playground is now. The house called Highfield was used by the army for clerking. Two officers, Major Barratt and Captain Charlie Peck were billeted in the village. Major Barratt was later killed in North Africa. Another hut — at the entrance to David Avenue — was also used for administration.
Then great amounts of ammunition came (all to be stored hereabouts.) Members of the Pioneer Force were brought in to handle it until finally the Royal Army Ordnance Corps transport came with lorries to take it to the final storage points.
These ammunition stores were spread over a large area. There were six Nissen huts down Boycott Lane (just 200 yards from the station!) It was stored through Edge and Hinton in little huts, with the bulk of it down Hinton Lane below the house known as Roseville. Only civilian farmers were given passes to see to the cattle below the railway bridge. It was also stored under the Craft (part of Pontesford Hill.) Again, no-one could go up those roads without a pass. One soldier was blinded in an accidental explosion.
The soldiers mixed in with village life and stole our girlfriends. The pubs did a thriving business and so did the shops, for although the troops could shop in the NAAFI they also spent money in our local small shops.
A voluntary ladies’ group served tea and sandwiches in the Village Hall, my Mother, Mrs Nesta Griffiths, Mrs Bethan Lakelin amongst others, and not only the off duty soldiers, but also folk from the Land Army could go and re-fuel in there.
There were dances in the Public Hall most Saturday nights with local lads providing the music. Brian and Ivor Jones played the saxophone and piano amongst a few others.
My Uncle Fred was a special constable and so I volunteered to be an ARP messenger. The night that the Stiperstones was firebombed (the Germans had mistakenly picked out the white heaps at Snailbeach as a crucial target) Uncle Fred put all of us messenger boys in the cells to keep us safe. The next day Lord HawHaw spoke about that bombing in detail in one of his broadcasts. It was a good thing that the intelligence unit which planned the raid had got it wrong.
When the siren went my job was to take messages up to Dick Pugh, on Pontesbury Hill. He was the Wartime Head of the Voluntary Fire Brigade along with Ern Humphries who was Chief Fire Watcher. He had a small motorised mobile fire extinguisher. The only problem was that Dick Pugh was very deaf and took a lot of rousing. We also had to rouse the nurses out of bed if there was an air raid warning. We had lamps with shutters on fitted to our bikes so that we weren’t a hazard in the blackout. Our rector the Rev G. Stockley organised a rota of fire watchers on the roof of Pontesbury Church.
One night there was a landmine dropped at Stoney Stretton and I remember cycling out with a pal to have a look at the hole and the remains; it had fallen into the brook and caused no damage. Another time a lone plane machine-gunned a train as it stood in Yockleton; again no-one was hurt and there was another landmine at Edgebold.
My Grandparents had a farm at Pontesford near to where the Wynnstay building stands now; I used to go up there and play in the woods around. There were 3 great cob trees standing where the Rea Valley petrol pumps are now; I recall when the timber fellers came from the Earlsdale estate including four forestry land girls who were billeted in the village. They were to be the first women I ever saw drinking a pint of beer!
This story was collected by Jill Hollands and submitted to the People’s War site by Becky Barugh, both of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk. The story was very kindly shared with us by Clive Griffiths and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Griffiths fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
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