Posts Tagged ‘boys come home’

The war ends, and Pontypool celebrates

September 6, 2008

The end of the war came in two stages. As we entered 1945 it was obvious that Hitler’s forces were on the back foot and struggling. I took great delight in looking at the many maps of the progress of the war as they were published in the newspapers and I filled in with pencil the extra areas of countries as they were occupied by allied forces.

The Battle of the Bulge in Belgium headed by one of Hitler’s Panza divisions made slight ground to begin with but soon even they were driven back. It looked as though the end of the war was not far off. By 8th May 1945, after the suicide of Adolf Hitler, all German resistance finally ended.

Early in the morning of that day, unaware of what was happening, my friend Eric and I decided to go for a bike ride to Goldcliff, just on the coast near Newport. It was one of our favourite destinations where we could visit the seaside. Late in the afternoon, on the way home, as we cycled through Newport we were surprised to see people putting up flags and bunting across the streets; we wondered what was happening. On arriving home, of course, our families told us about the announcement on the wireless about the ending of hostilities with Germany, and we were thrilled. It was VE Day! We were still at war with Japan, of course, but that seemed less of a personal threat as Japanese forces were not near enough to bomb us.

I shall always remember Monday, 6th August. I had been to a matinee performance at Pitts Cinema in George Street and when I arrived home at Garfield, School Lane, I discovered that my parents were out. I put on the wireless and soon there was a news broadcast. When the news reader said that an atomic bomb had been dropped on the city of Hiroshima, I didn’t really know what that meant, but I shall never forget the words that followed: “The pilot reported that, when he looked back after dropping the bomb he could see nothing left of the city.” We were used to the dropping the “block buster”, a 1,000 pound bomb which could destroy a whole block of buildings, but a whole city? Wow! What sort of a bomb was that? I remember telling my parents about it when they returned and they were as shocked as I was. We later learned that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 2,000 times more powerful than the blockbuster.

Japan did not surrender immediately, but when another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later, that did it. All Japanese resistance crumbled and on 15th August they too, like Germany, unconditionally surrendered to the allied forces. It was VJ Day! The whole war was was over and peace had returned.

The following day at midnight the Prime Minister spoke on the wireless declaring Wednesday and Thursday to be public holidays in celebration. Crowds of people went out into the streets shouting, singing and dancing. On Wednesday evening floodlights were turned on in Pontypool Park. It was amazing after almost six years of intense darkness at night, to be able to see clearly at that hour of the evening.

Bonfires could be seen on the hills for miles around Pontypool, and in the streets loud music blared forth as people showed that, despite all the hardships, they had not forgotten how to party. I remember coming out of my house and, just the other side of the allotments, I could see the lights and hear the singing from the folk in Edward Street and Prince Street who seemed to be having a right royal “knees up”.

On Thursday evening at Pontypool Park and at Talywain Rugby Ground, massed choirs gathered to sing the Hallelujah Chorus and other hymns and also community songs. They were largely impromptu affairs and various people volunteered to take part. I was fortunate enough to get a seat in the park grandstand. I clearly remember a contribution from two young girls slightly younger than I, who lived in the Brynwern area quite near to me (I’m fairly certain they were sisters). They had made something of a name for themselves for singing in close harmony, just like the popular Andrews sisters. I still remember the song they sang as it was a favourite of mine: “Ragtime Cowboy Joe”. I bought the sheet music for 6d in Woolworths and loved playing it on the piano. I can’t recall the girls’ names but, if anyone else knows, I’d love to hear from them. They were excellent!

At Pontnewynydd Tinplate Works the workers held a thanksgiving service in the morning. The following Sunday afternoon a thanksgiving service was held in Pontypool Park where the Salvation Army supplied the music. As there was no time for the printing of hymn sheets, everyone was asked to take along their own hymnbooks.

Another impromptu event was arranged by John Griffiths who was the organist at Pontnewynydd Methodist Church at the time. A platform was erected on the pavement and a piano from 24 St Luke’s Road was put on it. As John played, many of the local residents gathered around The Fountain to sing popular songs and listen to the ad hoc concert. John started to learn the piano at the age of six. He became the organist at the Methodist Church in 1940 and, last November, at the age of 79, he celebrated his 70th year in the job. I’m fairly certain I knew John as a young boy who was a year or so younger than I. I think he was quite a small lad with fair hair. I have a vague notion that he might have been in the Boys’ Brigade or there might have been a connection through the Gregory family who attended the same church for many years. If he reads this blog post, or if anyone who knows him can tell him about it, I’d be delighted if he would get in touch.

After all the excitement, we all had something rather special to look forward to: all the boys returning from the fighting. I had written to both my brothers all through the war and occasionally saw them when they came home on leave, but to have them once again permanently as part of the family was something I really looked forward to.