- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Alan Jeffreys
- Location of story:
- North East Wales
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 October 2003
Alan Jeffreys recollects growing up during the war, and having to leave his beloved 'Nain' for a short period.
At five or six years old I left my Nain's (grandma) in Plasbennion and went to live with my parents in Liverpool where my dad had got a job. When I was about seven years old a man on the wireless — probably Alvar Liddell said that Britain was at war with Germany. Newsreaders always gave their names and he always read the news.
It didn't mean much to a seven year old until things began to happen. Curved corrugated sheets were delivered to every back garden and all the neighbours would help each other to dig big holes and use the sheets to make Anderson Shelters. The spare dirt would be thrown over the top of them and then we had a bomb-proof bedroom to keep us safe during the raids. Next to be collected were gas-masks. These were contained in cardboard boxes with a string to slip over the shoulder. Alvar Liddell said we had to carry them at all times. Gas masks had a snout on them like a pig and every once in a while new filters would be added and our snouts became bigger and bigger - I thought about Pinocchio. Babies had 'Mickey Mouse' gas masks which covered them all over and they did look a bit like their name.
One early morning whilst playing on top of our bomb proof bedroom I beheld a sight only ever seen by drunken men. "Mam, there's elephants in the sky!" These were fat bellied grey monsters with two big ears, an upside-down nose, but no legs. They posed to be Barrage Balloons and were filled with a light gas and could be raised to stop dive bombing during air raids.
The war had started and one day Alvar Liddell said that "children in bombed cities were to be evacuated and share homes with people who lived in the countryside". If they had relatives in the country they could live with them. Thousands of evacuees were moved to Wales and I went back to Nain's in Plasbennion.
The war had come to Plasbennion too. Lorries were taking red ash from the old coal banks and thousands of tons were transported around Wrexham to make new roads and factories.
Soon soldiers were camping in the 'B.Pit' banks and built three large Nissen Huts and a coop-house which fitted within the old stone walls of the ancient colliery workings. This camp proved to be the site for two searchlights — one for measuring cloud height and a larger one to seek out German planes when they nightly droned to Liverpool with their heavy loads. Anyone who ventured out in the blackout would see a grand firework display in the night sky. Funnily enough we never heard the planes returning.
One night an odd bomb or so landed on the mountain — the dry weather soon spread into a huge fire. The Germans had hit a very important inflammable target and bombed the area for a whole week. The mountain was ablaze from Garth to Minera and the smoke could be smelt thirty miles away. German radio penetrated our air waves with the voice of Lord Haw Haw (William Joyce) and he broadcast to the world that Monsanto Factory in Cefn had been burned to a cinder. But the Old Works was still producing — nestling in the 'bottom of the Cefn' by the River Dee. At this time two stray bombs landed in Wynn Hall but did no harm. One unexploded bomb landed in Christionedd and the Army - with hundreds of villagers watching — brought sand bags and detonated it. It wasn't a very impressive bang. The most famous unexploded bomb landed in Osborne Street, Rhos where an early-rising tidy lady brushed the mess into the newly made bomb hole. The lady was immediately sent to heaven where she could brush for eternity.
It was time to make bomb shelters in Plasbennion and some of the old men knew of a buried tunnel under the 'B.Pit' banks it would be the safest place in the world. They found the entrances to the tunnel — it was semi circular built about four feet high. Many people from Plasbennion moved in with their blankets and pillows. The wisest people said we must put buckets of fire there to keep the tunnel aired and the people warm. Unfortunately within a short time everyone were coughing and wheezing in the acid smoke and the tunnel was left alone to keep itself warm.
Dai Davies, the caretaker of Ruabon Grammar School lived in Plasbennion and he thought he could save his villagers lives by allowing them to sleep in the large coke cellar under the school. This meant a nightly trek across the fields to sleep on very uncomfortable heaps of coke. People soon got fed up of this and decided they were just as safe in their own beds at home.
Back at the army camp a soldier and his rifle would guard the gate day and night, but unknown to him we had a secret path through the bushes which led to the savoury smelling cook-house where Vince the cook prepared his special cuisine for the 20 or so soldiers. Vince would often give us each a meat pie or even cut thick corned beef butties to nourish us to play football or cowboys and Indians.
Food was rationed and shopkeepers would snip bits out of your ration book when anything was bought. One of our main dishes was rabbit, and in the early morning you would see poachers returning from their night's work with red and white bellied rabbits dangling from any available bar on their bikes. The colours meant that the poor little animals had been clearly gutted on the killing fields. Rabbits were only available when there was an 'r' in the month because the rest of the time they were breeding.
Posters everywhere told the men to Dig For Victory, which meant to dig all the available ground around the house into vegetable plots. This resulted in piles of smelly cow muck everywhere - ready to be dug in the ground to prepare for the planting season.
Many houses had a pig-sty attached to the side of their earth toilets — this was to keep the smells in one place. Each house would rear one pig and would feed it on peelings and any waste food from the neighbours.
The quietness of the village would be disturbed by the constant squealing of a pig and we would follow our ears to find the poor animal tied to a wall — having its throat cut. Water was being boiled in the outside wash-house ready to shave him and cut him up into succulent pieces of pork or bacon. The butcher would give us the pig's bladder to blow up and although not spherical, was good enough to use it as a football. Neighbours, who had helped to feed the pig were all treated to a piece of pig meat and the rest of it was hung up on the ceiling of the coldest part of the house.
Coal miners were given an extra ration of cheese for energy to dig harder but many of the younger men were volunteering to leave their jobs from hell and serve in the forces in sunny lands across the world. Many would never return.
Women who were doing war work would wear R.O.F on their sleeves — this meant Royal Ordinance Factory and would permit them to jump any food queues and save valuable time for working.
Farmers would slyly skim their milk and churn the cream into fresh butter. There was also a Black Market in food which had been stolen. This was an illegal trade but people with enough money would still buy it. Every area had a Home Guard who were given an army uniform and an Auxiliary Fire Service who were given a boiler suit with wellies and a helmet — ideal for work. They would practice every Sunday, hand pumping water from a brook in the field and give us the hoses to have wonderful water fights. It was great fun until we went home in our dishcloth clothes.
The Home Guard would parade every weekend and proudly marched around the village in their new uniforms and toting their imitation rifles. We used to make 'bonies', which were bikes without power or brakes, and would free-wheel down the steepest hills and see how far we could go. One day at the height of our speed, the Plasbennion army appeared marching three abreast and fully armed — a German tank could not have scattered them as good as we did!
Also at this time every village had an A.C.F. Army cadet force and we were given a warm long-trouser uniform which we proudly wore. The colour of many trousers on weekly parades would prove that the uniforms had been used for many other duties.
The officers would teach us how to march and handle rifles and guns and even took us to a range to practice shooting. In the summer we would be taken to a real army barracks and spent two weeks under canvas and sleeping on straw beds. There we would parade on a real barracks square and even marched to a real army band. During this time the US army or Yanks as we called them, were camped in Erddig Park and Bersham, and sometimes they would invite the 'cadets' to visit their very posh camp. Here we experienced plenty of fags and chewing gum and even tins of apricots and pineapples — things which we had hardy ever seen before. Their main interest was in our older sisters who many married and eventually took them away to America.
Most hardships were felt by mothers as they would queue for hours for anything going. They would knit and sew patches on holey trousers and my Nain could reverse worn collars on shirts and do all sorts of things to make our clothes last.
I remember a rumour that the Germans would poison our water and the women filled every bath tub or bucket with the lovely sparkling water from Penycae reservoir.
An unexpected pleasure during the war that Wrexham had one of the best football teams in Britain. This was because Wrexham was situated as a central point to many forces camps and the servicemen were allowed to play for the nearest club to them. Hence Wrexham's team comprised of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh international players and regularly topped their league.
Every Sunday night the churches would be full and the vicar would name every local man in the forces for special prayers - especially those who were missing or had been killed. He would pray for us to win the war and for peace to return. Sitting in my pew I wondered if the German churches were doing the same and would the best prayers win God's favour.
Well that's about enough of the war for now because "Careless talk cost lives — even the corn has ears". We just waited for Alvar Liddell to tell us that the war was over.
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