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WARTIME MEMORIES

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
derbycsv
Location of story: 
Mid-Wales
Article ID: 
A4469745
Contributed on: 
16 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Lin Freeman of Radio Derby CSV on behalf of Mr Dewi Morris and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Memories of WW11!! In my case they are all mixed up with growing up as a boy in a small Welsh-speaking village community in Mid-Wales where my father was the village headmaster.

My first distinct memories were from Christmas 1939 when we were bought quite substantial presents for the time and told that these would have to last for a long time as there wouldn't be any real presents for the duration of the war. As I got a small 8mm cine-projector and a mechanical Charlie Chaplin that didn't bother me too much!

The first immediate effect was that my father couldn't replace the family car as he didn't have sufficient priority so for the rest of the war (and a long time afterwards!) we were totally dependent on public transport and two legs. We had two bicycles between four of us (we became five later) so, as the nearest railway station was five miles away, we evolved a system which required two to cycle off for one and two miles, drop off the bikes at the side of the road, and walk on whilst the walkers got to the bikes in turn - got on the bikes and carried on until they overtook the first two - passed them and went on for another mile or so - dumped the bikes and carried on. This, of course, became quite a race as to who got to the station first!

We lived in a slate mining area, so one of the first things to happen was that the slate mines became underground factories and storage areas. I never found out what they made there, but there were always plenty of aluminium turnings dumped around. It became a competition amongst the lads at school as to who could pick up the longest unbroken length of swarf!

Being remote, we soon became a haven for evacuees. We had a number of families amongst us, some from Liverpool and the Wirral and some from the East End of London. Imagine those children dumped into a totally foreign environment where most of the kids of their own age didn't speak English at all fluently! It improved their language skills enormously - they were swearing fluently in Welsh within two to three weeks - and conversing fluently within months. Being urban sophisticates they weren't as subservient to authority as us yokels, so when my father gave one of the Wirral lads a hundred lines for disobedience he drew a hundred railway lines on a piece of paper!

The war was remote from us, but there were two aspects of military activity that affected us. One was a Royal Observer Corps observation post placed on top of the local hill and continuously manned by local people. As lads, we used to go there, see their equipment, peep through their powerful binoculars and pick up discarded aircraft silhouettes that they used for aircraft recognition. The other activity was of course the Home Guard. Based at a nearby town they would descend on the area which was wild and open for weekend training. My uncle, who was WW1 veteran, was one of their leaders so on Sunday night he would appear with enough shot rabbits (and other game!) to last us at least a week.

Three active incidents - once a USAF Thunderbolt fighter lost engine power and buried itself in the hill across the valley in our full view. The pilot was killed but the lads picked up pieces of aircraft for weeks afterwards. Secondly, we heard this aircraft noise one light evening and saw this Lysander (we knew our aircraft shapes by then!) below us trying to find a landing spot. Thirdly, and more ominously, I was out with my mother one evening when we saw hundreds of German bombers making their way to Liverpool using a Western approach.

I lost a cousin, Walter, from Kent, in the RAF as a bomber crew man. His brother, George, became a POW in Italy and was involved in a major prisoner escape. We were also visited by an Australian cousin who was navigator in the RAAF.

Locally people came and went into the forces. As far as I can remember, nobody was killed, but one, Tom Humphreys, became a Japanese POW and had harrowing tales to tell when he finally returned.

The end of the war we celebrated like everyone else, I couldn't find any flags or bunting to put out, so we hung appropriately coloured undergarments of my mother's on the washing line as an alternative.

More next time!

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