When the sirens sounded in Pontypool

 

It was about a year after the declaration of war that we started to learn about the realities of the situation. The blitz by Hitler’s Luftwaffe  started on our towns and cities. London was one of the main targets but other cities were badly damaged also, Swansea being one of them.

Newport also suffered to a lesser extent and, as I had an aunt living there, I saw some of the effects of wartime when we visited her. I clearly remember the  circle of huge, grey barrage balloons surrounding Newport town centre. We lived in a house, Garfield, in School Lane, and many is the night we stood at the window of our parents’ bedroom which looked south over the playing field of George Street School and watched the searchlights over Newport sweeping the night sky. We could hear the thuds but didn’t know whether it was gunfire or bombs dropping. Occasionally we saw what looked to be fires. They showed up starkly in the black night as, of course, the blackout was in force then and, unlike today’s sodium light halo over most towns, all that was usually visible was intense blackness all around.

I can only remember two incidents of bombing near Pontypool. One day the grapevine vibrated with a rumour that, the previous evening a bomb had dropped on the Wheatsheaf Inn near the market. However, later rumours suggested that, as the damage to the pub was slight, it had probably been a shell cap which fell near it.

We had many warnings when the air raid sirens went off, so much so that, when nothing happened near us, we started to take little notice and carried on as usual. However, there was one evening when we had a real fright. I think it must have been about August or September time. My father, being a keen gardener and having quite a large garden devoted to vegetables, we had plenty of runner beans at that time of the year. I was in the kitchen with my mother watching her prepare the beans for supper when, suddenly, there was a terrific explosion. Everything in the house vibrated and the crockery in the cupboards rattled. I felt sure a bomb must have dropped in Wainfelin Avenue. As it turned out a land-mine had been dropped on the mountain much higher up the valley in the Varteg area.

When the blitz started in 1940 I was in the scholarship class in Town School. (https://oldpontypool.wordpress.com/2008/07/03/the-scholarship-class-at-town-school) When the sirens sounded we were all sent home. Most children lived fairly locally and so were able to go to their own homes where, in those days, mother was always home. But some of us lived further away from the school as I did, so arrangements were made for us to go to the home of someone else who lived near the school. I was partnered with Billy Wootton who lived near the top of the Bell Pitch at Coedcae in a little cottage with a small raised yard at the front of it. Billy had an airgun and we often spent the time when the weather was dry out in his yard shooting at a target. Mrs Wootton was a very generous person and would often provide me with refreshments. If the air raid was short-lived we had to return to school as soon as the all-clear sounded, but if it did not sound before ten minutes before our usual home-time, we didn’t have to do so. At home-time I was free to go home in any case. I quite enjoyed the air raids. 

Later, when I attended West Mon, we were so used to nothing happening during daytime air raid warnings that the practice was abandoned and we stayed in school.

 

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