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Summer of 1939

by Chepstow Drill Hall

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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Chepstow Drill Hall
People in story: 
H E Richards
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Contributed on: 
10 June 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by volunteer from The Chepstow Society on behalf of Miss H E Richards and has been added to the site with her permission. Miss H E Richards fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

During the summer of 1939 our radio news bulletins graphically described the terrible happenings in some of the European countries like Poland. They became vivid by pictures in our newspapers and on the cinema newsreels. In early September I was staying with friends near Swansea where I used to live and on Sunday September we did not go to church in the morning as our Prime Minister was to make an announcement to the nation. We all gathered around the radio and at 11 am we were told that " Britain was at war!" Although just 16 years old and reasonably intelligent I recall my thoughts exactly-am I going to be able to get home?
The Second World War affected rural areas of Great Britain as well as the towns and cities. Many of the young people went to war, others were in the very important reserved occupation of farming, to produce food for the country and were not allowed to enlist.
We heard that Trelleck was to welcome evacuees and I remember a group of us doing the Palais Glide down the street from the Church Hall to the Blacksmiths and back whilst we waited to greet them. Iron railings and gates disappeared as they were handed over to make munitions. Our lawns and flowerbeds everywhere disappeared as the ground was dug up to make way for vegetables and fruit. The cannons in the alcoves of the Shire Hall in Monmouth disappeared never to be replaced to this day. An army pillbox was built at the bottom of Trelleck in the Court field opposite the present surgery and this would be manned by the Home Guard in the event of an invasion. A contingent from the army manned a Searchlight Enclosure which was positioned at the Rocks between Coleford and Parkhouse. I believe there was also a gun there. There was always a guard at the entrance to the field leading to the position at the top of Bullocks Hill (I remember, later in the war, when Swansea was bombed, one of these soldiers was given leave to go to his family as he lived in Swansea. On his return he graphically described how bad the raid had been by telling my father "You could stand on Swansea station and see the sea.")
By the summer of 1940 we had heard and seen some enemy aerial activity. At night time, planes with their distinctive sound vrrm, vrrm told us somewhere was being bombed and we were under the flight path. On a Friday in the summer holidays our family had been gardening, renewing the strawberry bed with the new runners. The strawberry bed came right down to the side of the house. This was either the last Friday of July or early August and I was awoken by my mother shouting at me and shaking me. I was covered with plaster from my bedroom ceiling but unhurt. We had been bombed. It was12.30am. The grandfather clock had stopped, we went into automatic; neither my mother nor myself was injured-my father was away. We very carefully picked our way downstairs as everyone had been told that this was the safest place in the house. There was glass and debris everywhere, the doors and windows had been blown in and shattered, but we were alright.
In a short time we heard voices and our nearest neighbours Jim and Gwen Vaughan shouted to see if we were alright. They had their baby daughter, Heather, with them. Jim said he had heard the planes, got out of bed to see if he could see them from the window. He heard the bombs falling and threw himself down on his wife and baby. When he went to the window again he could see a cloud of dust and said -"They've got the Gethley". They dressed quickly and came to help. We were so very fortunate for the one bomb had landed about 12 feet from the front corner of the house and blown our strawberry bed away! After a while the Home Guard arrived, they had been along the Whitelye Road. After checking on us their next thought was to find bits of the bomb for souvenirs and I can still see them scrabbling in the small crater looking for bits of shrapnel. These were the first bombs to fall in this area and we found later it was a stick of 5 bombs in all, anti personnel bombs, so not very large luckily, but causing a lot of mess. Two had fallen in the Llanynant fields, one had burst in the middle of the roof of the lovely old barn (my mother was awake and actually saw that one exploded). One just missing our house and one in the field just above the house; three sheep were killed .The soldiers at the searchlight emplacement saw all the bombs coming down the beam of the searchlight and thought they 'had had it'-perhaps it was the intention.
Saturday was a BUSY DAY .We were notorious! Assessors, builders various members of any and every branch of authority turned up and, by the afternoon, the PUBLIC knew that bombs had fallen in the area and came. There were so many people that I remember sitting under a field hedge at one time with a friend to get away from the crowds. Billy Truman who lived in Trelleck and was on leave from RAF made a collection box out of an old cocoa tin and a piece of string and collected an appreciable amount of money for the Spitfire fund. We were fortunate to be bombed early in the war for we had all our windows replaced with glass, others later on had to be boarded up. No one was supposed to take photographs of bomb damage. Mr King had a film in his camera and a friend with a dark room and we have a couple of photographs of the house with its damage and the shallow crater with me standing in it with my dog. I have in my possession the nose pieces of both bombs which fell at the Gethleys and we have only kept one piece of shrapnel. It shows vividly what damage could be done with each bit.
Many months later the big barn at The Court Farm, Trelleck had a direct hit. There were no casualties even though their sheepdog had a litter of puppies in there. Funnily enough one of the puppies became our sheepdog, Rover. He was a wonderful dog who slept outside in his large kennel. The only time he wanted to come in to the house to be with us was during a thunderstorm or when men were shooting- I wonder why?!

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