There were all sorts of ways we were urged by the government to help the war effort. As a young boy, after all the things Hitler had done to upset me, I was ever ready to join in.
When I was in the top class in Town School, the government, in an effort to keep all us kids happy and healthy, introduced free milk for all children – well, all those who wanted to drink it. I loved drinking milk so I decided to help the war effort in this direction. We all had a one third of a pint bottle every day, plus a straw. There was an extra spin-off for those of us in top class: Mr Petty had to appoint two “milk crate boys” each day to carry between us, in a metal milk crate, the number of bottles required around to each class. This was a job, if carefully handled, which could be stretched out to half an hour or more which meant missing most of a lesson. Later, we returned to collect the empty bottles. Also, someone was appointed as “straw monitor” to give out the straws for that day. The girls were also allowed to do this job, but, as it was done in a matter of minutes inside the classroom, it wasn’t such a popular job. I noticed that, as the eleven-plus exam drew nearer, Mr Petty was reluctant to appoint those of us “trying for West Mon” to be milk crate boys, which I thought was grossly unfair. In the winter months, when the milk was very cold, we were allowed to place the milk bottles near the stove to warm them. There was a keen sense of rivalry to try to get our bottle as near the fire as possible.
Mr Petty urged us all to fill every corner of our exercise books and the covers before asking for another. He stressed the fact that our sailors were risking their lives in merchant ships to bring the paper for the books. His pep talks touched our sense of patriotism so we really did fill our books to the limit. Mr Petty was also the teacher in charge of National Savings, so every Monday we took along some of our savings to buy sixpenny saving stamps. When we had saved up fifteen shillings’ worth of stamps on a card, this could be exchanged for a savings certificate. For those of us a bit short of the “ready”, it was possible to buy a red penny stamp to put on a smaller card. When we had six stamps we could exchange them for a sixpenny stamp. Thus we loaned money to the government. We didn’t buy battle-ships exactly but we all did our bit with the little we had. Announcements were made from time to time about how well we were doing with our savings and towns were asked to sponsor a naval vessel. I remember Pontypool sponsored HMS Kittiwake which I think was a small frigate or something like that.
From time to time a salvage drive would be organised by the government. All our unwanted pots and pans, buckets etc were taken to a large shop almost opposite the top entrance to the market in Crane Street. Volunteers sorted it all into piles of aluminium and iron etc. ready to be recycled and made into aircraft and other weapons of war. Some churches, householders and other owners of buildings sacrificed their railings for the salvage drives; many have never been replaced.
We were also urged to “Dig for Victory” by planting every inch of our gardens to produce vegetables and other food which meant importing less. Some people dug up their lawns, and Penygarn School even dug up sections of Pontypool Park which was near them. I remember wandering up to inspect their handiwork at one time when I happened to be playing in the park.
In the darker days when we thought there was a possibility of Hitler invading our shores, we were all warned not to spread rumours or speak out loud any war secrets we might know such as where our brothers were serving in the forces. The posters warned that “Walls have ears”, though, at the time I was unaware of any important secrets I might have known which would have been any use to Hitler. We were further asked to surrender all the maps we owned of the local area just in case Hitler’s soldiers found them and would be helped to find their way about the country. In retrospect, I hardly think the maps of the Welsh valleys would have been much use to him. On several occasions, when driving in the upper reaches of some of our valleys, suitably armed with an up-to-date map, I still get lost; and I live here and speak the language. I think we could have posted those maps to Hitler; he still wouldn’t have found his way around the Welsh valleys.