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The Cwmparc bombing

Phil Carradice

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In April 1941, at the height of the German bombing offensive against Britain during World War Two, the small village of Cwmparc, just outside Treorchy, was subjected to a devastating bombing raid from the Luftwaffe.

For some reason, the Rhondda valleys, with their tightly knit mining communities and essential supplies of coal, had been left more or less alone. The Germans concentrated their efforts on places like the docks in Swansea. Then on the night of 29 April reality hit home.

In what was probably a getaway raid, where the bombers' actual target may have been Swansea or Port Talbot, Cwmparc was left utterly devastated. Chased by night fighters or harried by anti-aircraft fire, the Germans simply ditched their bombs in order to lighten their load.

Incendiary and high explosive bombs plummeted onto the village, tearing a wave of destruction across the whole community. Within minutes the village was blazing furiously. The worst damage, however, occurred in Treharne Street and Parc Road.

Twenty-seven people died that night. One of them, Ivor Wright, was a Home Guard soldier who saw a parachute slowly drifting down through the night sky. Assuming it was a German airman, he went to investigate. The bomb exploded and he was killed instantly.

Because the raid was so unexpected people did not have time - or, indeed, the inclination - to head for the air raid shelters. And many of them paid a terrible price:

"The house was on top of us and we were screaming for help," recalled resident Peggy Mars. "We didn't hear a word from my mother or sister. I think we must have had some sort of idea they had been killed because we couldn't hear a word from them. We weren't dug out until morning."

One of the most tragic events of that terrible night was the death of three evacuees, all members of the same family. The Jameson family, two boys and two girls, had been evacuated from Manor Park in East Ham, London, and sent to the Rhondda, supposedly a safe haven.

They were staying at 14 Treharne Street and, when the bombs fell, their house was one of those hit. The surviving child, Vera, remembered it well:

"I was buried for about 10 hours before they got me out. I was just a child and when they started digging I could hear them talking - I thought it was Father Christmas coming down the trap in the ceiling. My sister Joan, I saw her lying there and I knew she was dead".

The two boys - George, 13, and Ernest, 11 - survived the initial blast, were pulled out and taken to another house that was serving as a first aid post. Then a landmine fell onto the building and they were killed instantly.

The funeral of all the victims was something no-one in the village - or in nearby Treorchy - ever forgot. Lorries were used to transport the coffins to the local cemetery where the bodies were buried in one grave. People lined the streets and stood to pay their respects. The death of the Jamesons was particularly poignant: three innocent children who had been sent to the Rhondda for safety and found only bloodshed and mayhem.

After the war, in November 1948, there was a memorial service at Cwmparc Library and Institute for those who had died.

As a permanent memorial an illuminated two-faced clock was unveiled by a young boy, Colin Harries, who had been there on that dreadful night and had been rescued from the wreckage of his bombed house in Treharne Street.

The tragedy of the Cwmparc bombing is that it took the lives of so many innocent people, adults and children alike. It was, perhaps, no different from the tragedies that were played out in so many other towns across Britain and Germany during the dark days of World War Two.

But the sudden and unexpected plunging of the Rhondda - a community well used to death and disaster - into the horrors of modern warfare continues to pull at the heart strings.

Peggy Mars and Vera Jameson quotations from Wales At War, published by Gomer Press.

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