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Jo Wright's (nee Jay) Memories of Swansea

by CSV Solent

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CSV Solent
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Josephine Wright (nee Jay)
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22 August 2005

The Wartime Memories of Josephine Wright (nee Jay)

This story will be submitted to the People’s War Site by Jan Barrett (volunteer) on behalf of Josephine Wright and will be added to the site with her permission. Josephine fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

I was 18 and living in Kenilworth when the war broke out and I moved back to Newport, where my mother lived, and found a job in Brecon, which was a Barracks Town.

Then I got a job as a Receptionist at the Mackworth Hotel in Swansea. The town was also a dock for submarines and saw some heavy bombing. One of the Germans tactics was to drop incendiary bombs around 7 p.m. These set fire to everything and lit up the area so that when the Luftwaffe came back two hours later they could see to drop their high explosive bombs and do even more damage. We had teams of three people manning stirrup pumps and we would rush out when the fires started and try to put them out. Unfortunately this was often an impossible task due to the fact that the incendiaries would land in guttering making it impossible to reach the fire.

One of my duties at the hotel was to check and lock up the valuables in the safe each evening. One night as I was doing this, the sirens started going and I could hear bombs dropping. As I was coming out of the office a man staggered in bleeding profusely from his hands, which were badly cut. He had been sitting at a window writing on the floor above and the glass had blown in and cut him. I did my best to help him and then managed to find an ARP man who took over.

There were huge cellars under the hotel and if I was on duty when the sirens went I would shelter down there.

Mum’s house in Newport had a big cellar as well, but it was cold and damp and I was more frightened of the spiders down there than I was of the bombs.
Mum was a tailoress and I remember we once unpicked a man’s evening dress suit to make a suit for me. The legs of the suit weren’t quite wide enough for a skirt so Mum put some black and white check material into pleats down the front and around the collar and it looked really smart. She also used to make topcoats out of Army blankets and anything else we could get.

We had some famous guests staying at the hotel in Swansea, including Vera Lynn, and Richard Tabaur, the opera singer and his wife Diana Napier. One of my favourites from “Land of Smiles” was “You are my Heart’s Delight”.

Swansea was badly hit during the war and on one air raid the hotel was badly damaged. One week we had no electricity or water at the hotel and we had to use cold cream to wash with! You can imagine what a sight we looked! On the last bombing of the hotel there were huge fires and it was so damaged that it had to close. I was out of a job, so I went back to Newport. During the war, one had to work where one was needed. So I went to the Labour Exchange and they sent me to Stewart and Lloyds, a munitions factory, where I worked as a Progress charge-hand working on 9.2 shells.

They asked us office girls to play a Charity football match against the girls on the machines (lathes). We’d never played football in our lives, but they gave us some football socks and we had a go — we lost! I don’t know what was worse — the Football or the Pints of Beer we were encouraged to drink after the match!

American troops and Indian troops were stationed in the area. The Indian officers were mounted on horses, while their ordinary soldiers had mules. Sometimes we held gymkhanas and we would ride the mules. They were stubborn creatures and you couldn’t get them to move, unless of course, you were right in front of the Grandstand when they would suddenly take off, kick up their heels and we would go over their heads!

In the canteen at Stewart and Lloyds we used to hold concerts to raise money for the war effort. Once, during our break, we had a best legs contest — a curtain protected our modesty!

During the weeks following the announcement of War we were told to go and get our gas masks from one of the local schools. (The big fear was gas because it had been used in the First World War and it was expected that it would be used again). We all lined up outside the school and so many of us went in at a time. The WVS ladies had a pile of gas masks in front of them. We had to put them on and breathe in and they would hold up a piece of card in front of the mask, if it held there when you breathed in, your gas mask was working. We never went anywhere without them.

We had the radio to listen to, but we had no idea of what was going on with regard to the concentration camps, and when the atom bomb was dropped we did not really hear that much about it, although we knew it meant the end of the war.

Josephine Wright
August 2005.

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