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A Wartime Childhood - in South-East Wales

by Tegfryn Richards

Contributed by 
Tegfryn Richards
People in story: 
Tegfryn Richards
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Contributed on: 
04 November 2003

My member name is Duffryn and I was born on 6th August 1936, at Deri in Glamorgan. Soon after we moved to Aberbargoed. One of my earliest memories is going with my father to Blackwood show field to see three small aeroplanes. They were parked beneath some nets and I noticed that each one had two wings. I could not have been more than about three years old. Another time I went to the train station with my parents and the platform was full of people, mothers, fathers and children. When the train arrived all the men got on while the women and children stayed on the platform. I can still see my father leaning out of the window like all the other men and waving as the train went off. It was mid 1940 and I was not yet 4 years old.

As we walked home a lot of the women were crying, including my mother, and this started me crying although I was too young to realise what it was all about. That train was a special, which was taking the men off to the war. My father had volunteered for the RAF, although he didn’t have to go because, as a coal miner, he was in a reserved occupation. He became an armourer, loading bombs into the aeroplanes at the aerodrome at Weston Zoyland, and later at other aerodromes around the country.

Some time before my father enlisted, we were all sat in my grandmother’s living room and my father was sat near the open front door. He saw a soldier walking up the hill towards the house and as the man drew near he realised it was his younger brother, John. They all rushed out to meet him and I saw my father carry in a big bag and a rifle. My uncle had been in the BEF and had been brought out at Dunkirk. He was absolutely filthy and had a bath in the tin bath, which was kept “out the back”. He later returned to the army and fought in Africa before being a part of the D Day landings. He was in bomb disposal and went all the way to Berlin without a scratch.

Shortly after my father left, a lorry came to our garden and unloaded sand, cement and bricks. This caused great excitement among us children and we watched the men building thick, high walls right outside the ground floor windows of all the houses, completely blocking the outlook and making the rooms a good deal darker. They did this to all the houses in our street because we lived very near to a coal mine. There were about 20 coalmines in our valley at that time and it was known that the Germans would be trying to bomb them. The walls were to stop the blast from the explosions shattering the windows. As children a special treat was to be allowed out into the garden at night to see the red glow in the sky. It was from the bombing of Cardiff docks. We could also see the glow from the bombing of the docks at Swansea. One day when we were playing in the garden, a Spitfire flew low over the houses and waggled his wings. He turned in the distance and then came back and did it again. It caused great excitement. About twenty-five years later, when I worked at Penallta colliery, I met an electrician whose name was Rowley. He had been the pilot of the Spitfire that day and he was amazed that I could remember it. He was decorated for his achievements during the war.

In September 1941, I started at Aberbargoed Infants’ School and on the first day we heard the air raid siren and had to run to the shelter, which was in the schools’ yard. It was almost dark in there being lit by one small bulb. We all sat there and the teachers sang songs to us. The shelter is still there and is used for storage. Our house was a three storey and coal was delivered by tipping it through an opening in the pavement above the living room. There was a door in the living room, which led directly into the coalhouse. When coal was delivered the dust came straight in so my mother used to stuff newspaper into the doorjamb to keep it to a minimum. This coalhouse doubled as an air raid shelter and whenever the siren went we would go in there and wait for the all clear. I vividly remember hearing the drone of the engines as the German bombers flew over, mostly at night so that we had to get out of bed and go down two flights of stairs into the coalhouse. My mother used to say “Hark at those bounders, I wonder which poor dabs will be catching it tonight”. It was the nearest I ever remember her getting to swearing. I was very frightened of Hitler coming to have me and when my mother would be lighting the fire in the mornings I would be scared in case he heard the noise of her raking out the ashes from the night before and come for me.

We had an evacuee from Dover. His name was Christopher Hedges and he missed his mother so much that he became ill. His mother came and stayed with us for a while and then took him home. I have often wondered what became of him. Later, we had two more. They were a brother and sister and their names were Betty and Bud. They stayed a long time and came to school with me, although they were both older than I was. They were from East London and their parents used to send them chocolate, which they tried to hide in their room, but my mother always found it and made them share.

By this time my father had been discharged from the RAF on medical grounds. He had fibrosis in his back and was considered unfit for heavy work as an armourer. He wore a large mustard plaster and went back to working in the coal mine. It must have been just as heavy work, but at least we had him home. After a while he volunteered again for war work and was sent to work for Vickers Armstrong Supermarine. I believe it was at Birkenhead, but I’m not sure. He lived with a Mrs Nellie Foulkes and her family who all worked in the same place. He used to speak very highly of them all. I have a map book with their names in. It would be nice to be able to trace that family and show them what is written.

Whilst my father was away we had a lady come to live with us called Rose Boxhall. She was from East London and came to work in the munitions factory. She was great and used to tell me stories at bedtime. After the war my mother, father and I went to stay with her and her husband. They had two children by that time. Her husband, Charlie took us to see the blitz damage and also to Petticoat Lane market. We lost touch afterwards. The munitions factory was at Glascoed in Monmouthshire and special trains were used to take the workers. On weekends we visited my grandparents at Rhymney and Pontllottyn and would catch the last munitions train to Bargoed and walk across the top of the coal mine to home. It would be pitch dark because of the blackout but we always made it home safely. The night munitions train was nicknamed the “Budgie “ train because of all the affairs that were carried on during the journey. You had to be careful which compartment you got in because of the activities going on in them. Of course I was too young to know anything of that but I learned of it years later from the older men and women.

We had the Home Guard in Aberbargoed and us kids used to march alongside them through the main street on Sundays. The man in charge was Mr Curtis who was a large man and, to us, looked very old, although he probably wasn’t. He didn’t know the commands, and all the other men used to laugh at him behind his back. I remember him marching alongside the men and when he wanted them to turn left he forgot the command so instead shouted “Up Church Street boys”

I had two uncles in the armed forces, John, who I have already mentioned and my mothers’ younger brother, David, who was in the Royal Navy. I remember him coming home on leave and we all had to touch his sailors’ collar for luck. It must have brought him some because he was on HMS Hawkins and whilst it was in for rearming he had blood poisoning and so the ship sailed without him. Soon afterwards it was sunk. He was later placed on HMS Bermuda, a cruiser and saw a deal of action. He was at the D day invasion and told me years later that the ship fired every shell and bullet it had and shook the rivets loose such that the ship had to put in for a refit. Later, he was in the Far East releasing prisoners from Japanese prison camps. He said it was worse than being in action. He survived the war and lived into his late seventies. My uncle John is still alive and in his eighties, living in Northolt, London.

My mother had a sister who lived in a little place called Sarsden, near Chipping Norton. She was married to a farm worker on the estate of Lord Wyfold. Just after the war we used to go to them so that my father could work on the harvest to earn some extra money. There were German prisoners working there and I used to play hide and seek with them around the hayricks. One day one of them gave me a wooden model of a Mosquito aeroplane, which he had made himself. I still have it although it looks now as though it has seen a bit of action. I have thought of having it renovated but don’t really know where to get it done.

Two men from our street were killed and I remember both occasions, although I was very young. Charles Caswell was in the Royal Navy and went down with his ship. He was a young man and had a wife and son David. I see David occasionally, he lives locally and has a grown up family of his own. Rex Horton was one of my childhood friends and, one day, when we were playing together, his elder brother called him in. After a few minutes he came back and said quite casually that his father had been killed in the war. We didn’t take much notice and just got on with playing. We would have been about five years old.

We started to see some strangers in the village, who had a strange way of speaking. My mother told me they were Americans and were helping us to fight the war. They seemed huge and one of them gave me my first ever chewing gum. I ran home to show my mother because I didn’t know what to do with it. After chewing for a short time I swallowed it. I didn’t like it much; the taste wore off too soon. There was a camp at The Penllwyn and all the American troops lived there. Then one day they were gone and we never saw them again. I now have friends in Florida and during one visit met a man who was in the US Air Force and based at Cardiff where there was an aerodrome for B17 bombers.

After the war, when I was about ten we had a new headmaster at our school. One day he got all the pupils together and took us to the main street of Aberbargoed. We all stood at the roadside for a while and it seemed that the whole town had turned out and were waiting for something to happen. Shortly some vehicles came along and, stood up in a jeep, was Monty, Field Marshall Montgomery. The jeep stopped and he got out and spoke to some of us. He stood right in front of me with a big smile on his face. After speaking to several of the adults, he got back in the jeep and was driven slowly along the street. It was a great moment for a small child.

I now have three grandchildren, the middle one being Katie who is eight years old. Part of her school curriculum is to learn about WW2. I recently visited her school and gave the children a talk on what it was like being a small child growing up during the war. I told them my story and showed them a gas mask and an adults’ food ration for a week. I also showed them what two ounces of sweets looked like and were astonished that it was such a small amount. To finish I showed them my model Mosquito and the letter I had from His Majesty King George VI. I keep that letter safe in a wallet. I know its’ mine because it still bears the ink blot I got on it when I first received it in 1945.

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Message 1 - Comments on my contrbution

Posted on: 24 October 2005 by Tegfryn Richards

I note that people have been commenting on my contribution. How do I open and read these comments please?

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