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Welsh Adventure: Part Three

by ateamwar

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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Al Owens
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11 October 2005

One Summer evening I was coming home from school. About half a mile from home you had to cross a river by a footbridge. The river was down a steep hill in the lane with woods on either side and the lane twisted so that the river was not visible until you were right on top of it. I started to cross the bridge and saw a floral frocked body bent over in the water about 10 yards downstream. I stopped on the footbridge wondering what on earth was happening. I could see a floral frock with legs and arms but no head. All of a sudden a shout went up. With what was probably the Welsh equivalent of “Eureka” a trout lay squirming on the bank of the river. The face then came into view and I recognised Mrs Price, a lady from the farm further up the hill. She called me down to the riverbank to watch her doing her trout tickling act. I was late home from school but did not get told off because I had my story to tell and the trout given to me for my supper by Mrs Price.

Earlier I recalled the killing of 2 pigs each November; this was done by a professional butcher. He would come the night prior to the slaughter and stay overnight. He would be away by the following afternoon to stay at another farm. He was a giant of a man, about 6ft 4ins in height and very broad shouldered. I don’t know where he came from but he used to come on foot with all his tools of the trade in a bag over his shoulder. When he had breakfasted the slaughter would begin. The first unsuspecting pig was taken to the closed barn, the doors would be shut and about 5 minutes later we would hear the screams. They were unmerciful. I would always stay outside.

About 2 hours after the doors would open and the buckets of blood would be brought out. The pig would follow cut up into 10 segments and carried to the kitchen. I would be told to bring the other pig from the sty. He would always look suspicious, I suppose he could smell his brother’s blood. When I got him near the barn it would take 3 of us to push him inside. This was the country way of life, but I never liked taking part and was always glad if it took place when I was at school.

My mum came to see me on 2 occasions. She first came in the Summer of 1942 and stayed a week. I think Lily also came over from Builth that week to stay. Mum then came again for a week in 1943. These were the only times that I can remember the guest bedroom being used. We went to a village named Beulah where Mrs Williams had relatives and from there we caught a bus to Llanwrted Wells where there were more relatives. I think they were her sisters or cousins, though it is hard to remember.

I remember vividly, mum and I taking the well water. It cost one penny a glass and tasted like rotten eggs. It must have done some good though because I didn’t start drinking alcohol until I was 21, I think it put me off drinking anything which was served out of pumps.

During mums’ stay at the farm we were invited out to tea at neighbouring houses, though we also did this at other times of the year. I would also be invited to other farms to play with their children and Mr and Mrs Williams would invite my playmates to their farm. At one of the farms I used to visit I made friends with a boy whose name I can’t remember. Funny that, because I know we had a good friendship, and I remember that he wanted to be a banker, but I can’t remember his name. He had relatives in London and always said that was where he would go when he left school. I hope he made it and I hope he realised his dreams.

One thing that sticks in my mind about Welsh farmhouse teas was that we always finished the tea with Welsh cakes, which were a cross between a scone and a pancake. We used to top them with butter or jam.

One of the most wonderful experiences I ever had was to go up a mountain called Bryn. It wasn’t that high, about 1500ft and it had a good track all the way up to the summit. We had to bring the sheep down for shearing. When you look at a mountain it always looks as though it peaks and there is nothing else, and it probably just goes down the other side. But when I got to the top of Bryn on a beautiful clear sunny evening, I saw this wonderful scene of the undulations and streams like silver threads that seemed to stretch for mile after mile. I suppose we stayed on top for about 2 hours whilst the sheepdogs rounded up the sheep, and as the sun dropped behind the mountain it started to go chilly and the scene altered with the shadows creeping in.

This procedure had to be repeated in the Autumn when the sheep would come down from the mountain and be taken by lorry to the lower lands on the West Coast to spend the Winter. They would be returned to the mountain the following Spring. I made this journey a number of times during my stay with the Williams’s and it always remains in my memories.

The seasons play such a major part in the life of the farmer. Spring is for ploughing and planting and sowing the seed. Early Summer is for haymaking and late Summer for corn harvesting. In the Autumn the potatoes were picked. I hated potato picking because it was such backbreaking work. In this area where there were very few tractors, farmers used horsepower. I remember we had a big white gelding and a young brown mare. Mr Williams also had a riding horse, which was used occasionally by the family to take short rides into Beulah. I can’t remember her name now, but she was reputed to be about 25 years old.

I suppose anybody reading this now thinks that these times were mundane, not a bit of it. People now may have videos, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and dishwashers, but even people in towns during those days did not have these things. We would enjoy listening to the radio or wireless, as it was known then. The one we had worked from batteries, but so do Walkman’s don’t they? The reason we had a battery radio was because we didn’t have electricity. One show I remembered listening to was ITMA with the main character being Tommy Handley, a very funny man. Of course the news programmes were our main source of information about what was going on outside our area.

Our other main interest was reading. I used to borrow books from the school library. Magazines such as Picture Post and John Bull were brought in from Builth on market day. We also had the local newspapers and the Farmers Weekly to read, these were delivered by the postman and of course we had Ruby on her piano.

Every 6 months or so we would go to a film show in the Sunday school Hall at the chapel. We mainly saw newsreels and cartoons, but I don’t remember seeing a full-length film.

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by BBC Radio Merseyside’s People’s War team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with his / her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'

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