July 1942: enemy action over Pwllheli

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 11:00 UK time, Monday, 30 July 2012

Britain might have been totally unprepared for war in 1939 but within a relatively short space of time the country's economy had been placed on a war footing. Slowly but surely things began to change.

The defeat of the German air armada in the Battle of Britain during the summer and autumn of 1940 is well known. Without that victory Britain would almost certainly have been defeated. Thereafter, Germany turned to night bomber raids in an attempt to pummel Britain to her knees. But, to some extent at least, the British had learned their lesson and now the attacking bombers found they would not get their own way.

By the end of 1941 there were 23 night fighter squadrons operating around the coast, as well as numerous anti-aircraft guns, searchlight batteries and so on. One of the best night fighter units was No 456 Squadron, operating out of Valley aerodrome on Anglesey.

Defending industrial ports

On 27 March 1942 Wing Commander EC Wolfe was appointed CO of the squadron. He was an experienced and capable pilot who was determined that his aircraft would play their part in helping to defend ports and industrial cities such as Liverpool and Birmingham.

On the night of 30 July 1942 Wolfe was flying a Bristol Beaufighter over the Irish Sea and Cardigan Bay, hunting for enemy raiders. With him in the two-seater fighter was Pilot Officer EA Ashcroft.

Two radar contacts were made, the first with an enemy Junkers 88. To Wolfe's annoyance the German plane managed to slip away in the darkness. The second contact, however, yielded much better pickings. As Wolfe later wrote in his combat report: "I obtained a visual at 2,000 feet range and identified the aircraft as a HE 111, the exhausts on each side of the engines being very apparent" (quoted in Fighter Command 1942).

The German Heinkel bomber was one of several on their way to attack Birmingham but had, obviously, become separated from the rest of the force. Wolfe immediately closed the range and opened fire. Two quick bursts were enough to make the pilot drop his bomb load which fell harmlessly into the sea.

Wing Commander Wolfe again: "No return fire resulted, the upper gunner having been shot through the head, the pilot's controls lost and the port engine put out of action during the first burst delivered." (quoted in Fighter Command 1942)

After another few bursts of machine gun fire, flames were seen to flicker from underneath the Heinkel. Wolfe later said that he thought the port engine of the bomber fell off - he saw something dark dropping away from the fuselage and, certainly, one engine was missing when the wrecked aircraft was later examined.

The Heinkel now went into a vertical dive from about 2,000 feet and crashed onto the beach at Pwllheli, very close to the fairways of the town golf club.

Heinkel casualties

Opinions vary as to the casualties. It is commonly believed that three men perished in the crash but the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales claims only two.

The gunner, in his position at the top of the fuselage, was killed by Wolfe's opening burst of fire. The observer, Horst Vogl, was also killed while attempting to parachute to safety - his parachute became entangled with the tail of the doomed aircraft and he was dragged to his death.

Johann Hesketh, the radio operator, did manage to get out of the diving Heinkel and landed in the sea with two broken legs. He was rescued by a local fisherman. The pilot, Dirk Hofles, also baled out and he was quickly taken prisoner and marched off to captivity.

In many respects the combat fought by Wolfe and Ashcroft with their German opponents on the night of 30 July 1942 - 70 years ago now - was no different from many other such engagements in the skies above Britain during World War Two and Wales, certainly, saw its fair share of action during the war years.

In 1942 alone, no fewer than eight crashes took place on or above the Welsh countryside. Several of these were British aircraft, brought down by accident or bad weather. But others, like the Junkers 88 that crashed into a hill side just outside Builth Wells in April that year, were as a result of fighter involvement, proof positive - if any were needed - that Britain had at last become prepared to fight a long and bitter war.

The Welsh language Act of 1967

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 13:40 UK time, Thursday, 26 July 2012

There have been many important acts of parliament relating to Wales over the years but none was more significant than the 1967 Welsh Language Act - not so much because of what it said, more for what it symbolised. The act was passed and became law 45 years ago on 27 July 1967, a significant and vitally important date in Welsh history.

The 1967 act was, effectively, the beginning of a process and the smashing away of old, out of date legislation that dated back to the time of the Tudors. It gave rights, albeit limited, that allowed people to use the Welsh language in legal proceedings in Wales - something that had been denied to them for centuries.

The act also allowed the appropriate and relevant government ministers to authorise Welsh versions or translations of any documents required by the act. And, importantly, the fourth section of the act repealed part of the Wales and Berwick Act of 1746, a section that stated the term English should be used, apply to and include Wales as well as England.

Hughes Parry Report

The 1967 act was based upon part of the Hughes Parry Report (1965), although it did not include all of the report's recommendations. The report had advocated equal importance and significance, in both writing and speech, for Welsh and English in the court system.

The significance of the 1967 Welsh Language Act lay in the fact that English - and only English - had, since the Acts of Union in 1536, been used in the law courts, totally ignoring the fact that most people in Wales in the 16th and 17th centuries spoke Welsh. Very few had any real understanding of English.

Obviously things changed with the industrialisation of the country. It did not hide the basic iniquity of a system that effectively prevented Welsh men and women using their natural and native tongue. Now, however, the new act put Welsh and English on equal terms in public life.

Welsh Courts Act 1942

There had been some slackening of legislation in 1942 when the Welsh Courts Act allowed defendants and plaintiffs appearing in court to use Welsh if they were being disadvantaged by having to speak English. Such a disadvantage had, of course, to be proved and then there was the problem of finding a judge or magistrate who understood the Welsh language. The 1967 act, however, was a much more robust and useful piece of legislation.

It had been passed only after extensive campaigning by members of Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Language Society; the latter organisation came into existence following Saunders Lewis' seminal 1962 radio broadcast Tynged yr Iaith ("the fate of the language").

The act did not please everyone, particularly the more militant language campaigners who saw it as toothless. They continued to campaign and in 1982 the Welsh Language Society published their manifesto. An aggressive and virulent campaign of protest began, including a series of cottage burnings and the painting out of English language signs.

Eventually, in 1993, a new Welsh Language Act was passed, giving far more importance to the Welsh language. Significantly, however, it could never have been passed had it not been for the revolutionary 1967 act - something that tends to be forgotten today.

From Cardiff Arms Park to the Millennium Stadium

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 11:05 UK time, Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Out of all the international sporting arenas in the world, Cardiff's Millennium Stadium has to be the most convenient and one of the most iconic. It sits on the banks of the River Taff in the centre of the city.

It is an ideal location that makes a visit to Cardiff special every time the Six Nations Championship is held. People come for the rugby and the celebrations - or commiserations - afterwards. Yet what many visitors don't realise is that the ground also sits in an area that has always had important social and historical connections.

Millennium Stadium. Photo © Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Millennium Stadium. Photo © Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The original sports ground - and it was "sports", not just rugby - was named after an old hotel that used to exist on the spot where the Angel Hotel sits today. The original Cardiff Arms Hotel was knocked down in the late 1870s but its name lived on in the shape of the wide tract of open land that was once just a stone's throw from its front door.

The land, like many of the open spaces around Cardiff, was owned by the Marquess of Bute and, due to his munificence, was used for all types of activity, from parades and shows to concerts and, most importantly of all, for sports events.

A home for cricket

Cricket was the first major sport played on the land but any real development of the area was hampered by the fact that it lay so close to the Taff and was, therefore, always liable to flooding whenever there was anything like a heavy downpour.

A plan to take out the bend in the river - in all fairness, to suit the requirements of the Great Western Railway rather than to develop the sports facilities - resulted in the GWR's chief engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel adding one more to his list of major achievements. The work was finished by 1853 and the scene was set for Cardiff Arms Park to start really developing.

The growth of rugby as a major sport in Wales dates to the 1870s, the Welsh Rugby Football Union being established in 1881. Soon the Arms Park was home to Cardiff Rugby Club and, increasingly, to the Welsh team as well. In the early days, international matches were played at various venues in Wales, in particular at St Helen's in Swansea, but gradually - as Cardiff's importance as a port and trading centre increased - the Arms Park came to be seen as the real home of Welsh rugby.

Cardiff City leave for Ninian Park

As well as rugby and cricket, soccer was also played at Cardiff Arms Park. Not until 1910, when Cardiff City created their pitch at Ninian Park, did soccer finally leave the ground.

New stands were built in 1885 but flooding was still a regular hazard and in the final decade of the 19th century new drains were laid in an attempt - not really successful - to solve the problem. It did not stop the ground, and the sport of rugby, becoming increasingly popular. When Wales entered their first "Golden Era" at the beginning of the 20th century the national team was undefeated at the Arms Park for 12 years.

The 1930s were a difficult time for Wales and for the Arms Park. Yet, somehow, they struggled through. For a while there was talk of the Welsh Rugby Union leaving the ground and decamping to Bridgend but, in the end, it came to nothing and, instead, the decision was made to revamp Cardiff Arms Park. New stands were built, including a brand new North Stand as well as new changing rooms for the players.

Bomb damage

It was too good to last and in 1939 the outbreak of World War Two brought more problems for the Arms Park. The ground was seriously damaged during an air raid by German bombers on 2 January 1941, the North Stand being totally destroyed as well as bits of the South Stand and West Terrace. It was not until the early 1950s that the damaged stands were finally replaced. Perhaps more importantly, several of the drains under the pitch were also destroyed and this led, once again, to serious problems with mud, water and flooding in the post-war years.

Despite this, in 1953 the WRU made the announcement that, in future, all home international matches for Wales would be played at Cardiff Arms Park. And it was not just rugby. For the 1958 Empire Games the Arms Park acted as an athletics ground with a cinder track - state of the art facilities back in the 1950s - being built around the rugby pitch.

Cardiff Arms Park, taken in 1999. Photo © Nicholas Mutton and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Cardiff Arms Park, taken in 1999. Photo © Nicholas Mutton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Since 1922, when the 4th Marquess of Bute sold the land to the Cardiff Arms Park Company for just £30,000, the Arms Park had been given to Cardiff Athletic Club on a 99 year lease. For a while both international and Cardiff sides continued to use the same pitch but, in 1962, a decision was made to split the Arms Park into two distinct grounds, one for international games, the other for use by Cardiff RFC.

With Cardiff's ground now located on what was once the county cricket pitch, Glamorgan Cricket Club moved into a new home at nearby Sophia Gardens. Cardiff Athletic Club surrendered their lease to the WRU and a debenture scheme was launched to fund the project, enabling debenture holders to buy match tickets for the next 50 years.

Millennium Stadium

It took almost 17 years for the new National Stadium to become a reality. And then, within a dozen years the new ground was already dated and, in the eyes of some, unsafe. Consequently, yet another new development was proposed.

This was for the revolutionary Millennium Stadium, a facility that cost somewhere in the region of £150 million and would, when completed, provide Wales with state of the art sporting facilities. The finished stadium had a fully retractable roof and turf that could be grown in pallets to enable easy replacement of damaged grass.

With the new stands only partially finished, the first match at the Millennium Stadium was against South Africa. Wales duly won by 29 points to 19, a suitably fortuitous result. The stadium went on to host matches in two Rugby World Cups. For a short period at least, Cardiff Blues - as they had become known - moved out of the Arms Park to play at the Cardiff City Stadium but an announcement in May 2012 pleased most true rugby (and Cardiff) fans - Cardiff would be returning to the Arms Park.

Since its opening the Millennium Stadium has hosted concerts, football matches and boxing tournaments and is regarded as one of the finest entertainment and sporting venues in the world.

It is all a very far cry from the early days of Cardiff Arms Park when players had to change in the hotel across the road and, if it should happen to rain, spectators and players alike slowly sank into a wet and smelly bog.

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