Impressions of Gwauncaegurwen and District in the 1870s©
Tommy Vaughan 2002
We start from the top of Cwm hill outside the Mount Pleasant Inn, which is situated in the middle of a row of attached cottages, very much as it is today. But, in the 1870's it had much more of a frontage than it has now --- the road in front was only a track for horse-drawn vehicles and much narrower that at present. The inn had it's name from that section of the village --- Mount Pleasant or Bryn Siriol. I don't think that the building was a pub from the time of construction, I base this supposition from an old photograph which suggests that the front garden wall had been demolished, probably to facilitate the delivery of beer barrels.
At the end of the row of cottages, a lane went up the hill --- this hill is now a street --- unusually having a different name for each side --- Leyshon Road on the left and Bryn Siriol on the right. In 1870 there were only 3 houses along this lane --- two attached houses half way up the hill --- the reason why the first houses became to be half way up the hill was because the cottages, including the Mount pub had gardens over 200 foot long --- subsequently their gardens were greatly reduced as four houses were built on them. On top of the hill was Ty Flat --- these houses still exist and Ty Flat is reputed to have once been a toll-house. The houses were built on the left hand side of the track --- land of Cwmdrysien or Cwm Farm as it is more commonly known. The land on the right side was common land and building was prohibited. It took an Act of Parliament in the 1950's to change the law and allow the building of the council houses of Maesywerin and Brynsiriol.
There was no Leyshon Road as it is today, but to the north there was a cluster of about 12 houses, and this area was called Gwaun Leyshon. Eventually, of course, Gwaun Leyshon and Bryn Siriol became joined up to form Leyshon Road. In 1870 the next houses towards Brynamman were in Cannon Street, or Cannon Row as it was called in those days, two terraces of about 10 houses facing each other across the road. There were no buildings on the common, the area which is now the football club, park, school, Maesywerin and Barry road was all part of the common --- which extended from the square to Cannon street.
Lets go back to Graig Road --- we come to a row of 20 cottages --- Incline Cottages --- company houses --- they were as they are today. On the opposite side of the road there is one cottage --- Penyrincline. This cottage overlooks a long drop to the valley below. The cottage has long since been demolished and the local surgery now occupies the site. The clanging of railway wagons can be heard from this valley, indeed it is a marshalling yard for coal wagons from collieries in Cwmgors and Gwauncaegurwen, as the railway, part of the Llanelli system had reached Gwauncaegurwen in 1841. How did these wagons come up the slope to the square? The present viaduct was non-existant, in fact the viaduct would not be built for another 30 years. The name for the cottage gives a clue as to the method that was used to raise and lower the coal wagons --- the inclined plane system. A big shed contained machinery that enabled a long rope to be attached to the trucks and controlled by a brake so that the weight of full coal wagons being let down the slope, or incline, on rails brought up the empty wagons from the sidings below. An interesting question arises --- how did they get empty wagons up in the first place, so that they could be filled with coal to start the inclined plane system ? Maybe they employed a team of horses to bring the empty wagons up one at a time either on the constructed railway or by road up Cwm hill until they had enough wagons to start the system, or perhaps, as the wagons were made out of wood, the parts were brought up to the top of the incline and assembled there. One of the men who worked this system had the moniker 'machine' attached to his name, this nickname was carried on by him and his son for the rest of their lives. A steam engine eventually replaced the inclined plane system.
We now cross the railway line in the vicinity of the 'square', in the same position as it is today, only there were no gates --- there was no need for gates --- the only traffic was on foot or horse-drawn. Later, of course, gates were erected and also an iron bridge so that pedestrians could cross when the gates were shut. The iron bridge has long gone. Immediately after the railway, lanes went off to the right and left, as of today,Twynyrefail to the left and Heol Cwar to the right --- Heol Cwar led to Tyisaf and other farms, there were three cottages down towards the 'falls' and also a woollen mill, the mill was driven by water power and there is evidence of it's existence today. There was also a stone quarry in the vicinity --- stones were needed to build the houses --- there being no bricks available in the area at that time. In fact there were several small stone quarries in the surrounding area.
Back up to the 'square' and across the road to Twynyrefail, a rough track, same as now. Along this track were six cottages and a blacksmith shop --- yr efail --- the road named after it. Twynyrefail was a dead-end. Across some marshy ground east of Twynyrefail was a track which is now Glwyd Road, along this track was a farm --- Maerdy Isaf and also three cottages. To the north of the farm and across the railway line were about a dozen cottages, spread out to form the community of Cae-newydd. All these communities were connected to the village by footpaths, one footpath led from the 'square' just above the railway to the top end of Glwyd road and another path from the bottom of what is now Upper Colbren road --- from these paths others led off in various directions. In fact there were many footpaths criss-crossing in all directions many of these paths were or became parish paths, but sadly, through neglect and lack of use, most have disappeared.
There was no road to Tairgwaith at this time, in fact there was no Tairgwaith. The name Tairgwaith is Welsh for company houses, and it was only when St Davids Street and Brook Terrace were built in the early 1900's that the village assumed the name Tai'rgwaith. About 500 yards east of Maerdy farm was a group of five cottages or small holdings together with a public house called Maerdy Rhys, later to be called the Leigh Arms, now demolished as are all the cottages --- the Maerdy race track now occupies this site.
The name MAERDY appears in a fourteenth century ordnance survey map of the area, which together with Bryndu, Glyn y beudy and Neuadd Wen are the only names mentioned. They come under the Manor of Caegurwen, --- the Lord of the Manor having his mansion or country house at Neuadd Wen at the north-west tip of his domain --- the area of present day Neuadd farm.
Further to the east of Maerdy was the community of Llwyn-y-celyn, a farm of that name with a cottage or two, still further to the east was another little settlement of a few cottages called Cwm-nant-hir. In years to come, roads and streets would be named after these settlements.
Most of the fields of the Maerdy farmland would disappear eventually to make way for the Maerdy and Steer Pits and the enormous Maerdy tip --- now levelled to form the playing fields.
From all these settlements, paths led off, one path led to the same destination --- the school and Old Carmel chapel on the hillside above Cwmbach Farm. A thatched building on Cwmbach farm became a school in 1762, religious services also took place in the school, this arrangement continued until 1821 when a single storey chapel was built to become the first or Old Carmel, a gallery being added in 1829 to accommodate the increased congregation.
The school existed for some 120 years, before the pupils were transferred to the new school in the village. The Welsh language was not entirely forbidden in this school nor was it encouraged. A puzzling aspect about this school is in an Inspector report dated 1767 stating that 60 students were present. With so few dwelling places in the area, how could there be 60 pupils, even if the children of the Gwrhyd farms were attending --- there had to be a large catchment area to encompass this number of pupils.
Again back to the 'square' --- immediately after the entry to Twyn-yr-Efail stood the Cae-gurwen Arms --- the local hotel. The original Caegurwen Arms was altered, knocked down and rebuilt before the final demolition took place a few years ago to be replaced by a supermarket. It was a substantial hotel from its early days with travellers staying overnight, who knows, had he not had a soaking coming over the Black Mountain on his travels through Wales, George Borrow may have gone on another mile or so, and stayed in the Caegurwen Arms in 1854. As it happened he stayed in the Farmers Arms, Brynamman --- now the rugby club. Borrow must have passed through Gwauncaegurwen the following day on his way to Swansea, as the road from Brynamman was already in place, having being opened in 1824, but Borrow does not mention it in his book Wild Wales.
At this time there were about 17 houses from the 'square' to near where Carmel Chapel is today, the area was called Pwllywrach, as it was on the land of the Pwllywrach farm. The farm was situated in Water street and had stood there for at least 100 years by the 1870s, there were also six cottages nearby. Pwllywrach is Welsh for witch's pool or pit. There was a well in the field behind Water Street, and maybe that is why the street was so called. Mentioning Carmel chapel, at the time we are talking
about it was yet to be built, but the site for it was probably already acquired, for only a few short years later is was built. The date in the stonework is 1877.
In the 1870's there was a post box in the wall near the square but there was no post office in the village at this time, so all mail was sent to and came from Brynamman for sorting and delivering. This made sense, for at that time Brynamman was already connected to the outside world by railway.
But the most important building near the square was the school which was opened as a one classroom British school in 1866, and converted to a Board school in 1877. It was soon extended to two classrooms to accommodate an increase in attendance. Many changes to the building took place to reach its present day form --- but now, of course, it is no longer used as a junior school.
Gwauncaegurwen began to change from being an isolated hamlet with a few cottages and a inn, surrounded by small holdings, to a fair sized village when coal began to be mined on a commercial level. In fact, it is almost certainly be assumed that, but for coal, the village would not have become it's present day size. The first successful pit was sunk in 1837 to a depth of about 170 yards, and was situated near the present day Amman Valley Enterprise buildings on the side of the road to Tairgwaith. It was called the Gwauncaegurwen Pit, later to be called the Old Pit.
Some 20 years before, the first serious attempt at coal production was when a pit shaft was sunk about 500 yards further to the east than where the Old Pit would be developed. This shaft was on land of Cwmnanthir farm, the spoil from the sinking was made into a tram road towards the bottom of Llwyncelyn road and beyond. The project was soon abandoned due to flooding, but not before three cottages were constructed a little bit further east of the pit to house key men and their families, maybe the manager and some of his chief officials. At the time these houses were called Cwmnanthir cottages, but the locals referred to them as Tai y gwaith --- the first unofficial reference to what the future village, would be named --- Tai'rgwaith. Another cottage was built about 200 yards north of the tramway, this was the colliery agents house.
The first part of the tram road became a parish path, and is there today --- along side the Bakers Arms --- but the tram road was continued in a southerly direction with the idea of continuing as far as Pontardawe to link up with the canal so as to convey the coal to Swansea docks and from there to the customers. But when the pit was abandoned, the tram road was, of course, discontinued --- it had reached Cwmgors. To negotiate Cemetery road, Cwmgors, the tram road was raised several feet by means of an embankment and bridged to cross the road with the embankment continuing some distance. The construction of the tram road was not a total waste, for at the turn of the century, part of the embankment was demolished and it's contents used for making bricks at the works adjacent to Cwmgors Colliery. Part of the embankment is still there today.
But the old pit was not the first producer of coal in the area, in fact coal had been mined in a crude fashion for at least 200 years before this pit was sunk, the coal was got from surface outcrops and shallow pits by tenant farmers and labourers for their own use. And when the landowners objected, the matter was brought up at the Baron Court of the Manor of Gwauncaegurwen in 1610 where it was decided that the tenants could mine and use coal found on their tenancy. When the second pit was sunk in 1884 --- called the Maerdy Pit --- the first pit was from then on called the Old Pit . The East and Steer pits were to follow later.
As the pit shafts were sunk deeper, the best coal became reachable, in fact this area produced the best anthracite coal --- arguably the best in the world, and was in great demand, no wonder the coal owners were constructing tramways --- they were anxious to get the coal to the markets.
That, more or less, was Gwauncaegurwen in the early 1870's. Let's pause for a moment and ask ourselves how did the village get the name Gwauncaegurwen from --- no one seems to know. If you break up the name, Gwaun or Waun means moor --- a stretch of open, uncultivated land --- a true description of the common. No problem with Cae, which means a field. But the baffling part is Gurwen
or maybe Curwen, could it be a persons name ? --- making the translation 'the moor and field of Curwen or maybe Gerwin'. Or has the word Gurwen been corrupted from the word Gwernen? --- Gwernen is the Welsh name for the alder tree --- there are many such trees in the area, and they thrive in wet conditions --- the original meaning may never be known.
The problem with early maps was the incorrect spelling of Welsh names, I have come across several different spellings of Gwauncaegurwen on old maps and documents. The earlier maps were compiled by military surveyors and draftsmen with no ideal of how to spell Welsh place-names.
I can imagine the following scene :- A military map maker approaching a local and asking him information. Bearing in mind that the Welsh were probably suspicious of the military, thinking that they were out to confiscate his farm or holding. The conversation between them may have gone like this:
Map maker: What is the name of the hill above?
Penllerfedwen Sir, replies the local.
How do you spell it? asks the map maker.
Don't know Sir, replies the local.
Then write it down on this book begs the map maker.
Sorry Sir, I can't write, came the reply.
So the map maker, probably not being Welsh, writes down his version of the spelling.
Another example is in an old document referring to the tenants of Kygyrwen in 1699.
For interest sake, the tenants were:
- John Jenkin
- Jenkin Griffith
- Evan John
- Rees Morgan
- Thomas William Herbert
- Phillip Morgan
- Rees Bowen
- Evan William and
- David Hopkin.
We are now heading in a southerly direction towards Cwmgors and from the site of present day Carmel Chapel we soon come upon a stream crossing the road near where Cresci's car park is today, this stream is no longer visible --- it now flows through a long culvert stretching from the north end of Crescent road to behind Lower Colbren road.
At the top of the hill there was no Lower or Upper Colbren road as we know it today, there were no buildings at all --- it was all fields, but there was a footpath. Again this footpath, as in other parts of the village led to Heol Hir, past Cwmbach farm to the Old school and chapel. At the top end of the footpath of what is now Upper Colbren road, we would cross the tramway which had been constructed to convey coal from small collieries in Cwmgors to link up with the railway at the 'cross'.
With the mention of Heol Hir, the road that goes past Derwydd Avenue and the Old Carmel cemetery and up to the mountain, this was the main southerly route from Gwauncaegurwen towards Pontardawe
and Neath before the present road through Cwmgors was constructed in about 1815. At the top of Heol Hir, tracks and paths led towards Cwmllynfell and Rhydyfro and one down past Llwynhen farm and Cwmgors farm up to Nantricket and Nantymelin farms and onwards over the Baran mountain to Llangyfelach and beyond.
Alongside the track towards Llwynhen farm were two cottages called Penbryniau with a further cottage on the hillside above called Penmynydd. There is evidence of a further cottage or small holding between Penybryniau and Pencaedu, but there is no trace of it today. Penybryniau cottages are in ruin but the cottage above is still occupied. As mentioned before there were many small quarries in the area, one such location is on the hillside above Pencaedu farm, and clearly visible are the diggings into the hillside so that tracks could be constructed to bring the quarried stone down to the building sites in the village.
Back to the main road we continue our journey in the direction of Cwmgors --- there is only one more building in the next half mile or so --- the toll gate, built in 1856 and situated where gate shop garage is today --- the garage getting it's name from the former toll gate. On we go following a rough track through fields with hedges and trees each side, the road was no better than a dirt track --- dusty in summer and muddy in winter. It would be years before the road was stone surfaced and many more years before tarmac was laid down. These are the fields of farms on the left hand side or the eastern side of the valley, farms such as Cwmbach, Pencaedu, Beiliglas Isaf, Beiliglas Uchaf, Llwynrhydie, Llwynhen, Cwmnanthopkin and so on, the land of some of these farms continues down to the river some distance to our right. The fields of the other side of the river are of the farms on the other side of the hill, the western side of the valley --- farms such as Tymawr, Gorslydan, Gellifawr, Nantricket, Nantmelyn and Pwllwatkin. Some of these farms go back hundreds of years, and are listed in manorial records of the 1600's.
We have now reached the boundary separating the villages of Gwauncaegurwen and Cwmgors, the boundary is a small river which has been bridged and is called Pont y Groes, this is the river which runs to the side of the church hall, and begins its journey way up on the hillside above Tairgwaith, and after flowing under the road at southern end of Gwauncaegurwen at Pont y Groes it runs at the back of what is now Geryrafon to join the Gors, or as some maps call it, the Garnant river near the bottom of Lower Colbren road, this river continues in a northerly direction over the 'falls' and down to the bottom of Cwm hill before turning west towards Garnant to join the Amman river near Neuadd farm. The bridges were already built of stone by this time, but previous bridges were of timber, and before bridges you got across the streams and rivers the best way you could --- on stepping stones, or if you were lucky, on horseback.
There is some geological evidence that this river was about 200 yards wide some hundreds of thousands if not millions of years ago. If you stand on the roadside outside the church gate and look towards the Waun, the downhill slope in front of you and the up slope beyond the vicarage would be the width of the river. This is the river that must have gouged out the valley below Cwm hill, having gathered tremendous force when rushing through the narrow channel below the present day viaduct --- having the effect of a mini Niagara Falls. Of course the river during that time did not start from the hills above Tairgwaith, but from thousands of miles away, maybe from eastern Europe, before the world assumed its present shape and before the Britain became an island.
We now proceed uphill into the village of Cwmgors, no Church at this time, it would be about another 15 years before the church appeared, in fact there would be no buildings for a few hundred yards, then a single cottage followed by a terrace of cottages called Blue Cottages would appear on the right hand side of the road --- these cottages are still there and occupied today. A short distance on there was the New Star Hotel on the left side of the road as of today with three houses on the opposite side of the road, there is some evidence that the original New Star Hotel occupied one of the houses opposite. It is recorded that religious services and a Sunday school was held in the New Star.
There were two small drift coal mines at Cwmgors, one named the Llwyrhidiau Colliery on whose land it was on, later to become the Cwmgors Colliery site --- now the Pantyfedwen housing complex, the other mine was higher up towards the mountain on Beiliglas Uchaf land, and was appropriately called the Mountain Colliery, although the locals called it Pwll y Focsen. There is evidence of the crude mining methods of the previous two centenaries in this area to this day. Coal from these mines were originally carried from the site by pack horses, but when the railway reached Gwauncaegurwen, tram roads were constructed to link up with the rail head --- horses were still used --- now pulling the trams.
Years later, in the 1920s another pit was sunk in Cwmgors, the Buckland Pit, this was intended to be a super pit, with an abundance of top quality coal available, a ready made railway alongside connecting the pit with the markets, and ample manpower locally. But due to financial problems during the 'depression', the pit was abandoned. Had it been fully developed, there is little doubt that Abernant Colliery would not have come into existence some 30 years later. The Buckland Colliery site is now the Golwg-y-cwm housing estate.
Near the New Star a tramway crosses the road, this tramway conveys spoil from the LIwyn Rhidiau Colliery already mentioned. The spoil heap extended down towards the river, and houses in present day Gors Lane have been built on it. The Llwyn Rhidiau colliery and the Mountain Colliery up above could be reached by a track alongside the New Star Hotel --- present day Cemetery Road --- Beili Glas Uchaf farm could also be reached at the top of this track. As a matter of interest, in the days when coffins were carried by manpower, the route for funerals to Hen Garmel Cemetery from Cwmgors was along this track, hence the name Cemetery Road.
A hundred yards or so past the New Star Hotel, were two attached cottages on the right hand side. Then at the bottom of what is now Llwyn road were seven properties, the area to the north of Llwyn road, where Cwmgors colliery stood was called Waun-hen. There was a track up what is now Llwyn road which led to Llwyn Rhidiau farm and also on to Beili Glas Uchaf farm and inevitably Old Carmel chapel. Before reaching the top of present day Llwyn road we would cross the construction of the tramway from the Tairgwaith area previously referred to, at the top of Llwyn road was another track going down towards the Abernant Inn and brewery --- this track was to become Abernant road. At the bottom of this track just before joining the main road stood two attached cottages on the left, these cottages were demolished some time ago and the site now is that of a large modern house. At the junction of this track and the main road were seven cottages --- four attached, a gap and a further three attached --- these were on the right-hand side of the road, there was a single cottage on the left hand side, all are still there today. Another mountain stream crossed the road at this point, it was then bridged, but when the Abernant Inn and Brewery was constructed the stream was piped and only the right hand side of the bridge is visible today. The piping of the stream was not well constructed as this area is subject to flooding after heavy rain right up to the present day. Work to rectify the flooding appears to be taking place at present.
As the name suggests, the Abernant Inn and Brewery made their own ale or beer --- there was an ample supply of fresh water in springs found in the field behind --- essential for the production of beer. When beer production ceased at Abernant the local council made use of this spring water. The brewery was a big building some three stories high, not only did they produce beer for their own premises, but they also supplied other hotels and inns --- the beer being transported in large barrels on horse drawn drays. The lees left after beer making was a wonderful garden fertiliser and was much sought after by the locals, my grand mother told me she and a sister would be sent over to the brewery for this product, and carry a sack full back to Gwauncaegurwen. With so many horses around, I don't know why they bothered.
There was no other buildings along the road until Cwmgors farm, almost a half mile distant, this is no longer a farm, the farm buildings having been converted to human habitation, and three bungalows have been erected in the farm yard. But it must have been a substantial farms in it's day and the village of Cwmgors probably got it's name from it. The next building was the Old Star inn, a very old building, and maybe used by people walking over the Gwrhyd mountain down past Cwm Nant Hopkin farm on their way to the Baran mountain and beyond. But it is no longer a pub, and at the moment a slow restoration job is being carried out.
It is not surprising that there were very few buildings along the road after the Abernant Inn, because it appears that the stretch of road from the Brew to the Cwmgors farm had only been constructed a short time before. The construction of this section of the road was part of the plan to form a road southwards to link up with the road being constructed northwards from Rhydyfro. The connection being completed by 1815. Previously the route was up Llwynhen road, past the farm and rejoined the track near Cwmgors farm. It is interesting to note that the first road north west from Rhydyfro over the Baran mountain towards Ammanford was very straight for miles --- Roman road style --- but the modern road north from Rhydyfro to Cwmgors is anything but straight, in fact there are many nasty bends as any motorist will tell you. It seems that in the old days these tracks did not go from south to north as today, but from east to west, tracks coming down from the farms on each side of the valley down towards their fields alongside the river. These farm tracks were then connected by some kind of bridge over the river to form east-west routes. Connecting up later to a south-north route was relatively easy.
Cwmgors village also had its share of footpaths, leading from the main road to farms and small holdings situated on the hillsides. These paths led off from Pont y Groes and from small groups of dwellings in the village --- becoming public footpaths, very few are in existence today.
There you have it --- my impression of the locality some 130 years ago.
HILL WALK --- SATURDAY --- 21.09.2002.©
Re-written April 2004.
Having been told that there was an ancient stone circle and burial chamber on top of the hill above the village of Rhydyfro, I decided to visit the site.
But first, I wrote to CADW, the Welsh Ancient Monuments Organisation requesting details about the site. The reply from CADW took ages, but soon after it arrived I was off to see the stones for myself.
Using my free bus pass for the first time, I caught the 10.35 to Rhydyfro and was soon ascending the Baran road. After about a mile, and having crossed the cattle grid, I left the Baran road and turned sharp left up a rather steep road for a distance of several hundred yards. On reaching the top of the hill, the road, now a track, turned right or north and then left or west around a fenced field. After walking a hundred yards or so westwards, I turned north again towards the hill top, within another three hundred yards, I had reached my objective.
I had arrived at Cam Llechart Stone Circle and Burial Chamber. CADW describes the site thus:
'A prehistoric cairn-circle on level moorland at 290m above OD. It consists of a ring of twenty-five contiguous slabs, probably originally upright but now mostly leaning outwards slightly. The circle is about 14m in diameter, and the stone slabs vary in length from 0.6 to 2.5m, none stands more than 0.9m. at the centre is a rifled rectangular cist, 2.1 m long by 1.2m wide. The East slab and capstone are missing.'
The Burial Chamber is a short distance to the west of the stone circle. It is described as megalithic tomb and has the distinction of being the only example situated in the uplands of Glamorgan.
The approximate dimensions of the great capstone are 17 feet by 8 feet by 1 foot 6 inches. There are other huge stone slabs resting on it. CADW describes it as a 'destroyed tomb',
The burial chamber and stone circle were first reported during the 19th century, but their origins are unknown --- maybe the television Time Team should have a look at the site.
I remained at the site for about an hour and then walked westwards along the hill to a site of a terrible tragedy that took place over half a century ago.
I refer to a fire that destroyed a smallholding called Hendy. The fire occurred on May 14th, 1948 when seven members of the Prosser family lost their lives --- Mr. and Mrs Prosser and five of their children perished.
Two elder siblings escaped from the inferno --- the mother managed to get her eldest daughter, Ceinwen Myfanwy, age 19, out through a window, but the mother died when attempting to save the others. The eldest son, William Charles, age 26, managed to save himself.
William and Ceinwen, realising that they could do nothing to assist the others, went by motor bike to the nearby village of Craig-cefn-parc to alert their elder married sister, Harriet Morgan, and to contact the fire brigade.
But a workman on night-shift at the Pontardawe bus depot, some three miles away, seeing a red glow in the night sky, had already contacted the local fire brigade.
The smallholding was situated in a remote spot with no proper access road, best described as a rough track.
Pontardawe and Neath brigades had great difficulty getting to the scene of the fire, when they eventually arrived it was far too late to be of any assistance.
The family are buried at Pant-y Crwys chapel at Craig-cefn-parc. The headstone bears the following names:
John Myrddyn(Father)Age 49
At the inquest, held on June 7th, the Coroner stated that there was no explanation of the cause of the fire, and a verdict of accidental death was passed.
I resumed my walk in a northern direction and soon came in sight of Nant-ymoel Uchaf farm. I had, during boyhood, spent many a happy time at this farm, when it was owned by the Robertses --- Price, his wife Annie and his brother Fred.
I would spend part of my summer holidays with these fine people, helping with the haymaking and other farm duties. I had the run of the place --- a real boy's paradise --- climbing trees, fishing and collecting wild berries and nuts.
A nephew of the Robertses --- Owen --- would arrive at times to spend the day. Owen was a keen fisherman and while he was there my farm duties would cease. Borrowing an old rod from Price, I would join Owen to fish the little streams branching off the Lower Clydach River. These streams were teeming with trout and we would return with a bagful --- mostly caught by Owen it must be said. The fish were not very big, but two or more on a plate with boiled potatoes and fresh peas made an excellent meal.
I lost touch with Owen for many years, but we met up again when we both became members of Pontardawe Golf Club.
To me, the good wholesome food provided by Annie was a big attraction. Being out in the open air all day helping out with the haymaking made a growing lad hungry, the intervals between meals seemed eternal.
When we were working out in the hayfields, Annie would ring a hand bell to summon us in for a meal. On one occasion, ready for a meal, I was sure that the bell had being rung and told Price so. He would laugh, and looking at his watch, would declare that it was too early for lunch, and anyway, he continued, when Annie rang the bell it was unmistakable. I was unconvinced and kept hearing the phantom bell.
Price, sensing that I was hungry, suggested that I should go into their orchard and pick up some windfall fruit. I loved apples, and soon made a habit of visiting the orchard every day and putting a few apples into my pocket. Sure enough that silenced the bell.
Price, Fred and Annie would get up early each morning, and after a quick cup of tea, it was milking time. First the cows had to be brought in from the fields, and then milked --- by hand.
Some of the milk was kept for household purposes, but most was put through a separating machine to extract the cream for butter making --- the residue was fed to the calves and pigs.
It was Fred's task to do the separating --- the machine was turned by hand --- as there was no electricity supply to the farm in those days. The humming of the separator from the kitchen below was my cue to get out of bed, for I knew that Annie would soon have a deliciously cooked breakfast on the table, consisting of bacon and eggs and plenty of fresh bread and butter.
Oh that butter! Annie's butter was the finest I have every tasted. Try as I might, I have never been able to find such butter anywhere. Butter, of course, was in short supply during wartime and I suppose some of Annie's produce found its way on to the 'black market'.
I ate like a lord, while my mates in the village below had to exist on rations. My friends in the village of Cwmgors wondered as to why I preferred to spend my summer holidays on the farm instead of playing cricket with them. The reason, I would tell them, is the food.
Most of the farm was under grass, but some potatoes and swedes were cultivated. When ready, Fred would take a cart load to sell in the villages. Fred would not return with an empty cart, for he would have collected unwanted small coal from the miners' concessionary allowance.
This small coal would be mixed with clay and a little water to form 'pele', and when dry, was an excellent medium to put on the open fire to supplement the 'large' coal purchased from time to time.
The kitchen fire was the only means of cooking and heating water, and as the 'pele' would collapse from anything heavy placed on it, the big kettle was hung over the fire by means of a chain, and a griddle of sorts placed over the fire to prevent such collapse. At the side of the fire was an oven for baking, this oven was heated by removing an iron plate thereby allowing heat to penetrate under the oven. The iron plate was replaced as soon as the cooking was finished.
Annie had a grace and charm about her, she was as cool as you like, and spoke with a soft voice with an 'Englishly' accent like Brecon people, from which area she originated from. She spoke no Welsh, and although Price and Fred were Welsh through and through, the language of the home was mostly English. However, when not in the presence of Annie, we 'men' conversed in our native tongue
Looking westwards passed Nant-y-moel; I could see other farms such as Llwyn Ifan and Twll-y-Gwyddyl, other farms which I had visited during my time with the Robertses. Both these farms had sons of about my age and they were always keen to show me around their 'patch' and beyond.
A few years later, I would meet up with the Llwyn Ifan boys (their names escape me now) at dances in Ammanford and Pontardawe. The dances would not finish until midnight and they were left with a long, dark, journey home --- part of the way by bus, but the most part by walking.
The Jacob brothers from Twll-y-Gwyddyl took me up to the slopes of Mynydd-y-gwair to the site of an army firing range. The abandoned range was littered with live ammunition. Also on the site was an old armoured tank, used for target practice.
At the end of the summer, when I had returned home, I mentioned this site to my pals in the village of Cwmgors. They urged me to take them to see the place, so off we went.
It was about a three mile walk; we had a good look around and climbed all over the tank. I put a few live .303 rifle bullets in my pocket and my mate Billy (Sgili) Davies picked up a metal canister with the intention of taking it home.
On the return journey, the rest of us kept well away from Billy carrying the canister. When we arrived above the disused stone quarry near Nantricket farm, Billy suddenly threw the canister into the quarry below. It exploded into a huge orange ball, with sparks and dense smoke everywhere.
None of us was hurt, but, I can honestly say, we made the last half mile home in world record time.
The following day I showed the live bullets to my father. He was furious with me and immediately confiscated them. Having being in the Home Guard, he probably would have known how to dispose of them.
We never visited the site again.
Recalling these times, I resumed my walk and soon came upon the little, remote Baran Chapel.
This chapel was built about 1805 when members of Gellionen Chapel broke off to build a new independent chapel. While Baran chapel was under construction, religious services where held at Llwyn Ifan and Nant-y-moel uchaf farms.
Baran chapel became renowned for the Eisteddfodau and tea parties held there, I attended some of these myself, especially, of course, the tea parties.
Sadly, the little chapel is now closed and is in a state of some disrepair. Local people have found the money to bring about much needed repairs, but it appears that the landowner will not grant access for the work to take place. This is a shame, and I very much hope that there will soon be a change of heart to allow the remedial work to proceed before it is too late.
The graveyard around the chapel is the last resting place of Annie, Price and Fred. I stood over their graves, paying my respects as I have done many times since their passing.
Just a few hundred yards north of the chapel, I came to the ruins of Brynchwyth farm; the farm where Price and Fred were raised.
A murder took place at this farm in 1908, when the son of a neighbouring farm shot Bessie, the sister of Price and Fred.
The assassin had been trying to court Bessie, but apparently she was not interested in him. Incensed by her rebuff, and having been drinking heavily, he collected his shotgun, walked over to Brynchwyth farm and shot Bessie dead. The date was the 13th of March, 1908. Bessie was 24 of age and is buried in the family plot at nearly Baran chapel.
At his trial, the murderer was declared insane and imprisoned for life.
Regaining the Baran road, I continued for a short distance before joining a track towards Tresgyrch Fawr farm. I then took a circuitous route around the fields of this farm which brought me to a right-of-way track out to the Betws Mountain. This track passed the now defunct private opencast coal site.
To my right is the now uninhabited Llety'rcrydd farm. It is said that the well known Welsh poet of yesteryear --- Crwys --- had some connection with this farm. This may be so, for it is known that Crwys' father was a cobbler and Llety'rcrydd means 'cobblers lodge'. Of course, the village of Craig-cefnparc claim Crwys as one of their own, and quite rightly so.
Away to my left --- westwards --- stands Brynmawr farm. This farm is owned by Michael and Enfys Hicks, Michael is a native of Gwauncaegurwen, while Enfys was brought up on Brynmawr. Enfys lost her father William Morris when he was killed by farm machinery on nearby Tresgyrch farm in 1944.
On a previous walk I had met Mrs. Hicks --- she is well read regarding the history of the district.
We discussed, among other topics, the Welsh drovers, and Enfys mentioned the shoeing of geese! --- I had read that thick tar was pasted on to the feet of geese so that they could survive the long journeys to market, even to English towns. But apparently, a blacksmith in west Wales had devised a method of attaching a metal plate with a spike on to the legs of geese, which extended under their feet like miniature stilts.
While on the subject of drovers, apparently a sign of welcome was a cluster of Scotch pine trees. Blacksmiths, Inn-keepers and farmers had such trees next to their establishments as a signal to the drovers that there was assistance and an over-night stop for them and their beasts.
A case in point is the old Butchers public house situated about a mile out of Ammanford on the hillside. This inn was appropriately renamed the Scotch Pines some years ago.
There is also a cluster of these trees at Brynmawr farm. Also on the farm is a monument in the shape of a stone pillar, which Mrs. Morris takes care of. It is suggested that this monument has a sinister background. I have asked CADW, but they cannot help me.
There is no right-of-way to this monument.
The next farm to the west is Hafod farm or to give it its proper name --- Hafod-y-wennol. During the Second World War, a search light unit was based at this farm. The soldiers manning this unit were often entertained by concert parties from neighbouring villages.
During my time at Nant-y-moel, Hafod was owned by Sam Jones or Sam-yrHafod as he was better known. Sam had a small bus, and collected the local farm children to take them to Rhyd-y-fro school.
Proceeding along the hilltop in a northerly direction, I soon came in sight of the Carmarthen Black Mountains. The mountains appeared in all their glory at upwards to two thousand feet above sea level. The two groups of stone cairns, which I had walked to earlier, clearly visible.
Below to my right, the village of Cwmgors where I was raised, and to the north the village of Gwauncaegurwen, where I have lived since 1959.
I soon arrived at the top of Bryncethin road, and passed the site of the long since closed Cawdor colliery. I have poignant thoughts of this colliery as my grandfather, Tom Morris, lost his life there in an underground accident in 1908. My grandfather died on the 28th of September, six weeks before his only child, my mother was born. He was 28 years of age when he died.
My grand father must have been held in high esteem, as a report of his life and funeral ran into three columns in the local paper. He was a member of the local silver band, and they led the cortege to old Carmel cemetery.
A short distance down Bryncethin road, I turned right onto a fast disappearing footpath. This path led down and over the old mineral railway from the former Abernant colliery. Arriving at Ty-isaf farm, I followed the track down from the farm and there towering above me was the mighty railway viaduct.
This viaduct, now disused, was built during the early twentieth century. Since then, countless millions of best anthracite coal has passed over it. Coal from the Gwauncaegurwen collieries --- Maerdy, East and Steer pits, also Cwmgors Colliery --- all now long since closed.
I crossed the little bridge above the 'falls' --- a series of low falls, over which flows the Garnant river on its way to join the Amman river a mile or so to the northwest at the border between West Glamorgan and Carmarthenshire. Above the falls can be seen the remains of a woollen mill, which was powered by the fast flowing water descending the falls.
Walking up from the 'falls', I soon reached the 'square' in the village of Gwauncaegurwen.
A few minutes later I was home, the time was 2.30 p.m., an enjoyable 6 mile walk.
RECOLLECTIONS OF CWMGORS VILLAGE
DURING WORLD WAR TWO, 1939 TO 1945©
I was only seven years of age when World War Two was declared - far too young to realise the significance of such a momentous event.
I can't recall any panic among my parents or neighbours, as most probably there was not any.
There was obviously much talk between the grown ups, but it did not mean a thing to me. Life seemed to carry on as normal, only circumstances were soon to become far from normal.
The first thing I remember as far as the war was concerned was being fitted up for a gasmask. They were horrible things, the strong rubbery smell made me feel sick. It could have been worse - for babies, poor things, were completely encased in an outfit specially made for them.
We had to carry these masks around in a square cardboard box slung over the shoulder by means of a bit of string. We took them to school of course, and we had to practice on how to put them on, having to improve our performance each time.
We had to put our thumbs through the side straps, the face piece was pulled under the chin, and the straps yanked over the head into position. To test the effectiveness of the mask, a piece of cardboard was placed over the filters, and if within a few seconds one was gasping for breath, it was the sign that the mask was doing its work. It was not a pleasant experience.
It seemed a novelty at the time, but it soon wore off, and as I recall nearly everyone in the locality gradually stopped taking them outdoors.
However, the masks were kept in a convenient place indoors, so that they could be produced quickly, should someone in authority ask to inspect them.
Circular metal plates about 14 inches in diameter were fastened to the pine end of a few houses. These discs were coloured brown, and were supposed to change colour when gas came into contact with it.
One such disc was attached to the pine end of 2 High Street, and was still there, in a much rusted state, several years after the war.
Public Information leaflets were issued as follows:-
One was issued by the Civil Defence entitled 'Your gasmask - how to keep it and how to use it'.
The Ministry of Home Security issued a chart on 'War gases'
The Civil Defence also gave information on 'Masking your windows'.
A booklet was issued by the Home Office entitled 'The protection of your home against air raids'.
National Registration Identity Cards were issued in 1940. Each family had a letters/numbers identity, such as KBDR/176/1. The last number represented your position within the family, for example 1 as the father, 2 the mother, 3 the eldest child, 4 the second child, and so on.
A strange phenomenon during the war was food rationing. Ministry of Food Ration Books were issued to each person during December, 1939. A book lasted one year and was then replaced. Gradually all the following food items were rationed: bacon, butter, sugar, meat, tea, margarine, jam, cheese, milk, sweets, biscuits and bread.
The ration book contained about a dozen pages and a page was divided up into sections, one section for meat, eggs, fats, cheese, bacon and sugar. Another section for sweets, another section for clothes and so on. Fats were in the form of butter, margarine, lard or dripping. There was very little butter, but my mother could get some on the black market from time to time, paying an exorbitant price for it. We considered it a real treat when butter was available. There were blank sections in the rational book; these were used when other items were later rationed.
Most parents gave up butter so that the children had a little extra. I know that my parents used only the margarine. The butter ration was usually consumed before the week was out, so the children also had to revert to tasteless margarine.
It must have felt strange to our mothers that they could no longer go shopping and get whatever they wanted, within their budget of course. The amount of food, clothes etc was now restricted by the use of coupons. It meant a few ounces of this and a few ounces of that, not a pound of this and half pound of that.
We children were more concerned that chocolate and sweets were rationed as well. Before the war, shops displayed whole shelves of bottled sweets, but as soon as rationing came into force, the bottles all but disappeared.
As far as sweets were concerned, I did alright for a while. One of my classmates at Pontardawe School was the son of a shopkeeper in a village nearby. In return for helping him with his homework one would be rewarded with a completed sheet of sweet coupons which he had taken from his father's shop. The only problem now was lack of money to buy the sweets.
The owner of the local tuck shop near the school soon became suspicious of some untoward practice - I was one of a half dozen or so with plenty of sweet coupons - and reported the matter to the headmaster.
All six of us were interviewed by the headmaster, the coupons were confiscated, and the matter dropped.
As a treat my mother would somehow come up with the ingredients to make toffee and mints. This was indeed a real treat, and they tasted wonderful.
As soon as war broke out, bananas were no longer available. It was many years before they re-appeared in the shops.
Food rationing did not end until well after the war, into the 1950's in fact.
Petrol was also on ration. There were very few car owners in the village in those days, but there was Lewins' petrol station in the village. The few cars that were there were those of professional or business people.
The Co-op Society had a lorry for home deliveries as did Williams, Rock Shop. Another small grocery shop owned by Harold Davies y Parc had a small Morris van for home deliveries. Next door was Llewellyn's the Tailor. Mr. Llewellyn was disabled, and needed his car so that he could go around the district on Saturdays to collect club money .
I often accompanied above, at some time or other, to help with the deliveries or just go for the ride.
One businessman who did not get petrol coupons was Glyn Hughes the shoe shop owner and cobbler. His car - a Morris Cowley - was jacked up on bricks in the garage for the duration. I still remember its registration number - BNY 572.
Other shops in the village during the war included, Clarks', with the billiard hall upstairs. Jenkins the hardware shop - a real Aladdin's cave. Tom Co-op the fish and chip shop. Jones, the newsagents. There were two butchers' shops - Harris and Morgan. Also one or two other small shops situated in front rooms.
Customers could have credit at some shops, in fact the owners welcomed it. As long as it did not get out of hand and something was paid off every week. It was their way of keeping their customers - they came in to pay something off the bill, and more often than not, bought more goods.
There was a blackout restriction in force on homes and businesses, and anyone showing a light through their curtains during darkness was liable to a heavy fine. The local policeman and Air raid precaution (ARP) personnel would patrol the area to ensure no lights were showing.
Vehicle lights were dimmed by placing a hood over the headlights. And there was no street lighting.
During the blackout, without the moon or stars visible, it was pitch black. There were a few incidents of locals being injured by colliding with lamp posts and the like.
A more serious incident took place when, from a crowd of people returning home from the cinema, a man stepped into the road and was promptly knocked down by a car which showed hardly any lights, as indeed the driver was compelled to do. Thankfully, although badly injured, he survived.
The removal of all road signs and any shop signs that could identify the locality was put into operation early in the war. This was in case German spies infiltrated the country.
The ringing of church and school bells was banned. This restriction was relaxed from April 1943.
Strong masking type paper strips were pasted on to windows in a criss-cross manner, this was supposed to minimise flying glass should a bomb blast occur.
A Forces Comforts Committee was set up with their meeting room at the Mount Pleasant Inn, Gwauncaegurwen. The object was to raise money to provide gift parcels etc to local men who were away on war service.
I recall pupils of Cwmgors School being asked for donations towards wartime causes such as Wings for Victory and the like. Most of us could only donated pennies, but the most affluent parents would give paper money to their children to donate.
There were posters in shop windows advising people to speak in hushed tones as there could be enemy spies amongst us. In those days everyone in the village knew each other, and most spoke Welsh, so there would not be much chance of a spy mixing with us.
During this time I was a regular attendee at Tabernacle chapel - only a short distance down the road from our house.
I would also attend the concerts, plays, dramas, etc. taking place in the chapel vestry on a weekly basis. I would often take part in these activities.
I was in a sketch where we all had our faces greased painted black to represent minstrels. The following morning during assembly at Pontardawe School I was sitting behind one of the lads from our village that had been in the play. The back of his neck was still black - he had only washed clean what he could see in the mirror!
There were also farewell concerts for each of the young men of the village who was joining the armed forces.
During the concert, they would be called up to the stage to be presented with a copy of the New Testament by Mr. Tom Roderick, the chapel minister. Mr Roderick would make a short speech and wished the young man a safe return from the war.
Some did return safely, sadly others did not.
Those that did not return have their names on the local Cenotaph; I will refer to them again at the end of this article.
As a supplement to the national armed forces, another type of army was being formed.
The Local Defence Volunteers (LDV) was started up, with their Headquarters at the Church Hall.
This organization was set up in 1940, when after the retreat of the British forces from France a German invasion of these shores looked likely.
Several local men soon joined the LDV, and veterans from Word War 1 were appointed as Officers, Sergeants and Corporals.
At first they had no uniforms or weapons, but soon they had replica guns made out of wood - the recruits called them pren guns - pren being the Welsh word for wood, and sounded very much like the authentic Bren guns.
Gradually, uniforms, boots and proper rifles were issued, and it was a sight to see them marching through the village with ever increasing proficiency. In those days men took pride in shining their shoes, and for some, their home guard boots had equal attention. Some would spend hours buffing up the boots so as to have the shiniest boots on parade.
They would march up past Howard Park, and make their way towards the slag heap of the old Cawdor Colliery where a firing range had been set up. Sentries would be posted at various points to ensure that the public did not encroach into the danger area, as live ammunition was now been used. Later, live hand grenade throwing was practiced in this area.
The brickworks quarry was another location for firing practice. The quarry was situated on land of Llwynrhydie farm.
The ammunition and arms were kept in a concrete, windowless building, with an iron door, situated in nearby Gwauncaegurwen. This building was near the road, halfway between the cinema and the level crossing near the square. I had walked passed this building hundreds of times during the war, but I was unaware that it was an arsenal for the home guard.
This building remained on the site for several years after the war, but was eventually demolished.
There was a lookout post at Cawdor Colliery, and the home guards on duty were required to do two hour stints at this post. This lookout post was manned throughout the evening and night, and was a well chosen site as there was an almost uninterrupted view for miles. It also had a good, if in parts steep, access road.
The guards were ordered to patrol the area, but when the weather was inclement they disobeyed orders and sheltered in the engine house. Although coal production had long ceased at Cawdor Colliery, it had been kept open to provide a source of fresh air for Cwmgors colliery situated across the valley. A few men from Cwmgors colliery worked each day at Cawdor to maintain the airways.
Every male on reaching the age of 18 had to register for war service, but mineworkers were exempt as coal mining was regarded as an essential occupation. The young men not exempt, and if medically fit, were liable to be called up. Many registered as Voluntary Reserve, which meant that, more often than not, they could choose which branch of the armed services they preferred.
However, many mineworkers exempt from military service joined the Home Guard or did Air Rail Precaution duties.
Of course, working underground is a hazardous occupation. On Wednesday, the 1st of May, 1940 there was an underground explosion at Cwmgors Colliery and five workmen were badly burned - Jack Styles, Berwyn Morris, Meurig Rees, David Phillips and Tommy Evans. All bore the scars of their injuries for the rest of their lives.
I recall many incidents connected with what was later called the Home Guard.
On one occasion a few of us boys - we were fascinated with the Home Guard - were watching some form of exercise on the grass outside the Church Hall - men were taking it in turns to lie down behind 'a machine gun' and practicing loading and unloading empty magazines.
After a while the men picked up their equipment and retired into the Church Hall. We boys cautiously made our way into the grounds, meaning to peep through the windows of the hall to see what was going on inside.
Crossing the area where the men had been exercising, I came upon a pocket watch and chain. Picking it up, I made my way to the partly opened main door of the hall. I was immediately told, by an authoritative voice to go away. But I dangled the watch and chain so that he could see it, and the transformation in his attitude was electric.
We were immediately invited inside, the watch was returned to the rightful owner, and each one of us was given a few shots with a .22 rifle at their small indoor range. A very nice gesture and much appreciated by us young lads.
Sometimes on a Sunday morning when almost the full squad of the Home Guard would muster, a handful would be sent through the village to conceal themselves behind walls and hedgerows. After a suitable interval, the main squad would proceed after them to try and locate their hiding places.
We mischievous lads would have followed those that went to hide and would point out these hiding places to the pursuing gang. The Officer in charge, following up, would compliment his men with their efficiency - until it was pointed out to him that we boys had given the game away.
This infuriated the Officer who warned us that our actions could be construed as sabotage and the consequences could be dire. We behaved next time.
An amusing incident took place later regarding the Home Guard. A message was received at the church hall headquarters in the early hours, stating that German parachutists had descended on nearby Baran Mountain. Orders were given that a squad of men was to be sent immediately to capture them.
The Commanding Officer was contacted and he gave a list of men to be collected for the task. The men were to include a Davie John, who knew the Baran area well as he had worked on a farm there before the war.
A man, Roy, already on duty, was sent ahead to alert Davie and get him out of bed, and then the two were to wait at the roadside for the arrival of the main squad.
When the squad arrived to pick up the two men, Roy was alone; there was no sign of Davie. Roy explained to the Officer in charge that Davie was eating breakfast of bacon and eggs and was not budging until he had had his fill. No way was he going to chase after Germans until he had eaten a proper cooked meal.
The Officer took a very dim view of this, but while he was deciding what to do next, Davie turned up and they were soon on their way up the mountainside.
As it turned out, it was a false alarm - there were no parachutists. If parachutes were seen descending, they probably were parachute mines or flares.
Even if there had been Germans on the mountain, they would have had ample time to escape back to their homeland before the locals arrived. Talk about Dads Army....
Apart from the Home Guard, which everybody was aware of, there was apparently a kind of Secret Service in each area which we were totally unaware of. Certain men had been trained and armed to organize resistance pockets, in the event of a German invasion. It was said after the war that the members also had secret hideouts which was fully equipped to provide food shelter and communications for several weeks. Their members were a secret, but after the war, the names of some of them leaked out - they were ordinary citizens of the village.
I do not know the date of the first air raid warning, but according to my late fathers' diary, there was a warning on Sunday afternoon, 30th June 1940. The warning lasted from 1.40 to 2 p.m. - rather a short time; however, nothing happened, and no planes were heard. These first air raid warnings occurred at the time of the first raids on Swansea.
The following day - 1st of July, there was another warning of short duration - about half an hour - again nothing was seen or heard.
At first, when the air raid warning sounded, we would seek shelter in the small room under the stairs - cwtch dan staer - but we were later advised to go to the basement of neighbours.
I don't know if we had been officially allocated this basement, but we went to the same place each time there was an air raid warning. Our next door neighbours went to a different basement, so each family must have been allocated a certain place to shelter when the alarm went up.
As the village of Cwmgors is built on the eastern slope of the valley, only houses on the western side of the road had cellars or basements, so the 'eastsiders' had to go elsewhere for shelter. As we lived on the eastern side of the road, we consequently did not have a basement
As far as I was concerned, it was a big adventure and I quite liked getting up at such an unusual hour and joining others in the basement. But on a few occasions, having gone back to bed after the 'all clear', there would be another alert, and we had to get up again and go back to the shelters. At these times it got a bit tiring.
At lunchtime on Wednesday, the 10th of July 1940, the war came home to us for the first time. A lone German bomber came over the black mountain and dropped a bomb on Brynaman. It exploded in the churchyard and did considerable damage.
A few graves were obliterated, and much damage was done to the east side of the church and to several tombstones - the damage to the tombstones is still visible today.
No one was injured, but had the bomb fallen to the west of the church, the children in the nearby junior school would have been in peril. As it was, the explosion dislodged plaster from the ceilings and covered the children. There could not have been a warning on this occasion.
After dropping the bomb on Brynaman, the raider continued southwards over Gwauncaegurwen and Cwmgors - I remember seeing it myself.
I was suffering from a painful whitlow at the time and was not in school. So the following day I went up to Brynaman and into the churchyard to see the damage.
Two days later, on the 12th of July, another lone German bomber dropped three bombs near Brynaman, no damage was done.
Why were these enemy aircraft flying over this area during daylight? Was it on a reconnaissance mission? If so, why did it have bombs on board? Why did they drop bombs on Brynaman? Maybe the bombs were dropped at random so as to lighten the plane and improve its chance of getting away.
Were these daylight sorties over Brynaman trying to plot a route to Swansea?
I do not know the fate of these raiders, but it is inconceivable that they returned to base safely after such a suicidal flight. Royal Air Force Station Pembrey was operational during this time and there are reports that they shot down several lone daylight raiders. Maybe the Brynaman bombers suffered this fate!
With the bombing of Brynaman making people sit up, an emergency meeting was called on Wednesday, the 17th July, 1940 at the Minor Hall, Gwauncaegurwen to discus the need of better air raid shelters.
There were no more daylight alerts after August 1940, in fact the last daylight raid on Swansea occurred on the 18th August, and raids after that date took place at night.
The first raid on Swansea had occurred at 3.30 am on the 27th June, 1940, six bombs were dropped but fell wide of the target - on the Kilvey Hill area in fact, causing no damage.
On the night of 29th of June, 1940, my fathers' diary entry states the he heard bombs explode during the night, but there was no air raid warning. These must have been the bombs dropped during the early hours in a hillside near Morriston. Again a lone raider and causing little damage.
Soon everyone became familiar with the air raid warnings..the long continuous wail of the alert and the intermittent sound of the all clear. The sirens were erected on the chimney breast of the Gwauncaegurwen police station, and another one on the Co-operative stores in Cwmgors.
With nothing happening so far during these air raid warnings, some of the men got a bit fed up - having to get up in the middle of the night for an hour or so - going back to bed - maybe taking the best part of an hour to get back to sleep - and then in an hour or two - getting up to go to work at the local colliery.
Two of my near neighbours, living next door to each other, decided that they would stay in bed when the next air raid warning took place. A few nights later, this is what they did. But in the case of one, his wife tried her best to get him out of bed, and in the case of the neighbour, his sister tried to get him out of bed.
One was named Jim, and the other Gus.
So the shouting went as follows: Jim!......Gus! Jim!........Gus! Jim!......Gus! And so on....
Jim, in a deep sleep, started to rouse amid all the shouting, his bleary head tried to make sense of the shouting, and this is what he thought he heard:
Jim!........GAS! Jim!..........GAS! Jim!...........GAS! Jim!............GAS!
Now fully awake, Jim, panicking, said to himself - crikey, GAS!
Thinking that there was a gas attack, Jim leapt out of bed, came down the stairs three at a time, grabbed his mask, bolted out the back door, past his surprised wife, and headed up the back alley way, across two gardens, and into the air raid shelter, still in his long johns and nightshirt, much to the amusement of the people already sheltering there.
Jim took a long time to live down that episode.
At this time, during the bombing of Swansea and Llandarcy, the drone of the heavily laden German bombers could be heard overhead as they made their approach to the target.
Swansea docks were an obvious target due to the movement of oil, coal, iron, steel, tinplate and aluminum etc.
There was a heavy raid on the Llandarcy oil refinery on September 2nd 1940. The glow from the burning oil was evident in the night sky, also the smell of the burning oil drifted up the valley.
I well remember my father taking me out briefly from the shelter to witness the red glow in the sky towards the south. This was the glow from Swansea and Llandarcy ablaze during a raid. Also seen were white objects falling to earth, these must have been parachute flares dropped by the enemy to illuminate the targets, also parachute mines.
Clearly visible were the searchlights trained on to the enemy bombers, one had a much stronger beam than the others. This was the one sited on the mountain a mile or two away - alongside the Rhydyfro to Betws mountain road, near Hafod Farm.
Another happening occurred during the bombing of Swansea - a stray, unexploded anti-aircraft shell screamed over the village, knocked off the ventilation dome on top of Tabernacle Chapel and embedded itself several feet deep in the front lawn of 8 High Street.
The police cordoned off the lawn, and soon a bomb disposal unit came to dig it up and cart it away - watched by a crowd of villagers.
I heard later that a local farmer found one of these 'dud' shells on his land, he took it home and it was used for several years as a door stop. They eventually found out that it was still a lethal object, and became another job for the bomb disposal chaps.
After one raid on Swansea, some of the older lads of the village went up to the old duke colliery site, later to become Abernant Colliery, and brought back a few 'used' incendiary bombs. These incendiaries had dropped across the main road, the A474, and into the field to the west. Small fires had occurred in bushes and also burnt some of the grass.
The incendiary bombs were tubular in shape and about 14 inches long with fins on one end. Several dozen of these bombs were packed into a canister. The canister was dropped over the target, would open at a certain height allowing the individual incendiaries to scatter, causing many fires over a wide area.
There was a Ministry of Supply storage yard in the bottom of this field. There were hundreds of drums of some white crystal material in these drums and they were covered by tarpaulin. We lads used to think that the contents of the drums were bomb making material.
Was this the target? Or was it a stray canister of incendiary bombs dropped at random.
If an air raid warning took place during school hours - I was attending Cwmgors Junior School when war broke out - the pupils were hastily assembled and ushered across the road to basements on that side of the street.
However, pupils who lived near the school were allowed to go home.
It did not take long for some these of the boys, ignoring the air raid warning and instructions to go home, to go instead to some waste ground nearby to play football or cricket.
I was envious of these kids, and so I approached the headmaster to ask for permission to return home during warnings. As I lived about 400 yards from school, he was very reluctant to grant my request. On the other hand, the basements were very crowded, and this may have swayed him to say yes, provided I took my younger sister home with me.
Of course, having my sister with me was not part of my plan. But as I was anxious to join my mates at their illicit games, I agreed to take her home.
When the next alarm took place during school time, I ran down the corridor, grabbed my sister, dragged her home, gave her instructions to proceed towards school when the 'all clear' sounded, and then I joined my mates.
This procedure worked well for a time, until on one occasion, we carried on playing instead of returning when the 'all clear' sounded.
The following day we had to appear before Mr. Dan Davies, the headmaster. He cited me as the ring leader and the one who suggested that we would not return to school after the 'all clear'
I felt that I was hard done by, but had to accept his decision to go to the shelters and not return home during any future air raid warnings
Mr. Davies was a very good teacher and head master and guided most of his pupils to further their education at Pontardawe or Ystalyfera grammar schools.
Where feasible, blast protection walls were constructed around the school. These brick walls were about 10 feet high by 2 feet thick. Also every window pane was criss-crossed with masking tape.
I do not know the total number of air raid warnings that occurred in our area, but as there were over 40 air attacks over the Swansea area, it is fair to assume that on most of those occasions the air raid warning siren was sounded locally.
The bombings of Swansea took place from June 1940 to February 1943, so presumably we did not have any more alerts after this date.
Another incident I recall happened on Brynamman fair day. It must have been the Spring Fair of 1944. A visit to Brynamman fair was a must, war or no war.
As we were waiting for the bus after lunch on the Saturday, I glanced up into the cloudless sky and spotted a shining object several thousand feet up. I pointed it out to my mates, but no one could offer an explanation as to what it might be. The bus to the fair soon arrived and we forgot all about this object in the sky.
We had been enjoying ourselves with the various rides and stalls for two to three hours, when I suddenly remembered about the 'thing' in the sky. Looking up I could see that it was by now much lower and bigger.
It turned out to be a stray barrage balloon. With the hydrogen gas inside the balloon escaping slowly, it had come down lower and lower, and when about a few hundred feet above the fairground, it started drifting southwards. We lads gave chase and caught up with it when it got snagged on high tension wires on the Waun Common behind Barry Road. It now looked enormous.
The police were soon on the scene and kept everyone away from it. The crowd by this time could be numbered in hundreds. We stayed around for about an hour or so, and with nothing more happening, every one started drifting away - the excitement was over.
The balloon was eventually removed from the wires and ended its days in the backyard of the Gwauncaegurwen Police Station. It remained there for years and eventually rotted away.
We never found out where this balloon had broken away from, but the South Wales ports of Swansea, Barry, Cardiff and Newport were protected by barrage balloons and could have come adrift from anyone of these places or even further away.
Royal Air Force Station, Fairwood Common - the nearest RAF Station to Cwmgors, opened in June 1941 as a fighter station, and later disabled miners and others were employed on runway maintenance duties. A bus picked them up locally at about 7 a.m. and they got home by about 5 p.m. They worked six days a week, but were home at lunchtime on Saturdays.
My near neighbour, having been withdrawn from the colliery with 'dust on the lungs', was employed at Fairwood. He took me to work with him on a few Saturdays, and I was thrilled, first by the bus journey, and secondly seeing the many aircraft landing, taking off and parked.
There were Spitfires, Beaufighters, Mosquitoes, Typhoons and much more. What an experience for a young lad. I could not wait to join the RAF, which I did eventually - doing my National Service...
Most householders in the village made use of their back gardens to grow vegetables; this had always been the case - war or no war. But now, with restrictions on food due to rationing, the growing of vegetables became more important than ever.
Every square inch of available space was cultivated, vegetables rows were spaced closer, every effort was made to keep the produce in good condition for as long as possible - right through the winter if the harvest was big enough.
Most of the vegetables, the potatoes, carrots, parsnips and swedes went into the weekly diet of broth - cawl - a traditional Welsh favorite.
My contribution was to collect manure from the many horses that roamed the little used railway track, and also cut pea and beans sticks from the woods above the village.
I was always on the look-out for ways of earning a bit of pocket money. For a while I helped Mr. Willie Austin Davies with his milk round. The milk was sold by measures - pint or half pint. I would carry a container in each hand each holding about a gallon of milk.
My round was all the side roads of Cwmgors and Gwauncaegurwen, and the boss, riding the milk float drawn by a pony, would serve the main roads. Very often, after running out of milk, I would make my way back to the float, and more often than not, help the boss out with the main road customers.
At Christmas time there was a demand for holly - holly with plenty of berries. My boss had holly bushes around his field, and he had no objection to me selling it to his customers and keeping the cash. It was a nice little earner.
One particular summer job I liked was watering the green houses for Mr. Tom Griffiths. The nurseries were situated behind Springfield Terrace, Pontardawe road, and contained three long greenhouses and a smaller one. There was also a brick building where the packing of tomatoes, cucumbers, currants etc was carried out. Funeral wreaths were also made in this building. Moss was used as a base for the wreaths, and when required, I would go up to the hillside above the nurseries to collected the moss which grew in abundance. Nowadays, a synthetic material is used for the purpose.
My main job was watering the greenhouses each evening; I worked from about 6 pm to 8. I was not paid for the work, but I could eat or take home as many small ripe tomatoes as I liked. I would take these small tomatoes home in a brown bag which was used in the business. When I got bolder, I would hide a few large, partly ripe, tomatoes among the smaller ones. These were much more useful to my mother. These tomatoes were a very welcome addition to our rations.
Most of the produce of the nurseries would be collected by wholesalers from Swansea.
With the bombing of London intensifying, it came as no surprise that children were sent to the countryside to be out of danger. These evacuees, as they were called, duly arrived in Cwmgors. The first batch came from Walthamstow during 1940 and some time later a second lot came from Bermondsey. More arrived during 1944 when the V1 and V11 rockets fell on London.
These children soon settled down amongst us and even picked up the Welsh language, which was spoken by almost everyone in the village. When they first arrived, some of their own school teachers accompanied them, and for a year or so had their own class at Cwmgors School.
My mother put up one of the first batch, but after a while he got homesick and went back to London, only to arrive back in the village later, but not to our house, as by this time the second batch had arrive in the village, and on this occasion, two were taken into our home.
The younger of these two received a parcel of chocolate each month sent by his father who was in the army. At first he refused to share with my sister and myself, but he soon changed his mind when I refused to take him to the cinema on Saturday afternoons. The other lad was older that me and did his own thing - chasing the local girls mainly, and borrowing a shirt from my father to do his courting.
After the initial shock of being at war, matters settled down almost as before. With no television those days, the local cinema - the Waun Hall - dominated the lives of most locals; there would be a change of programme about twice a week and there were long queues each night in order to gain entry. Very often loose chairs would be carried in from the adjoining minor hall and be put into the aisles to seat the overflow. A practice that would not be allowed these days.
Brynaman and Garnant cinemas were also within a mile or two, and if there was a good film in any of these, then the locals would flock to see them. I was especially interested in the newsreels which gave an up-to-date position of the war.
In passing, it is worth congratulating generations of dedicated locals who have kept Brynaman cinema open. Well done to them.
The daily newspapers, of course, gave the war news, and I recall that after the D Day landings in June, 1944 it was heartening to see the progress of the allied troops across Europe as portrayed on the daily maps printed.
In the months leading up to D Day it was not unusual to see convoys of American troops pass through the village, on their way, probably to the firing range they had up on the mountain or to the Gower beaches for training. There was an American Army camp a few miles away, and when the convoys were passing, the boys of the village would shout "any gum chum"? Sometimes the soldiers would throw out wraps of chewing gum, but I was never lucky to get one!
A Ministry of Supply depot - (MOS) - was built at Cwmgors. It was a large brick building with no windows and was sited at the disused railway station complex.
Apart from the main brick building, there were also several nissen huts. These semi circular buildings were constructed from corrugated asbestos sheets, stopped at both ends with heavy planking, with a door. They had concrete foundations and a cinder floor. These storage huts were situated near the old engine shed south of the main building.
Built before the First World War, the station complex was, in fact, never used for the purpose intended.
I recall families housed there as tenants. At various times families named Morris and also the Howells lived in the station building.
Mr. Howells had worked hard to turn a grassy area near the station into a vegetable garden. However, when the Ministry of Supply depot was being built, a new access road was needed. This new road went right through Mr. Howells's garden, destroying so many long hours of hard work and tender loving care.
The station occupied a large area, a long station building with waiting rooms and offices, platforms over 100 yards long, another small waiting room and toilets on the other side of the line. There was a signal box, large engine shed, cattle pens, water tower, coal bunkers, weighbridge and shunting area. The railway was connected to the Llanelli - Brynamman line through Gwauncaegurwen and was planned to run to the Clydach area to connect with the Swansea line.
The line proper was only constructed as far as the future Abernant Colliery site, but the land required for the railway was fenced off as far as the Uplands area of Pontardawe. In this area also, an opening was blasted through the hillside towards Trebanos, but the system was abandoned before a proper tunnel was constructed.
A living quarters for the construction gang was erected at Rhydfro, and is still in use today as a private dwelling. I was informed many years ago that this wooden building was previously in a field near the Cwmgors station, again housing the construction navies.
The station and all the other buildings were constructed of the best material. Good quality red bricks trimmed with glazed dark blue bricks.
The large engine shed was similarly constructed. The presence of the engine shed suggested a maintenance area, where there could have been work for local men - an alternative to coal mining. In fact the whole complex, had it been up and running would have provided many jobs for the locals.
Parts of the complex were decorated with red granite stones and chippings, and must have looked grand when new.
Apart from the families living in the station building, the railway complex had been totally abandoned, and before the advent of the Ministry of Supply depot, was a wonderful play area for the local children.
In fact during my childhood, Cwmgors was full of play areas. Apart from the old station, there was Howard Park, the colliery yard and sidings, the brickworks, the old brewery, a defunct builder's yard, the abandoned Buckland colliery site, not to mention the surrounding woods and hills.
Although the line was never used for passenger service, it was used during the war to store empty coal wagons. There were hundreds of them, stretching the whole length of the line from Gwauncaegurwen to the old Duke Colliery site. A distance of over two miles, but gaps was left for access to Nantricket and Nantmelin farms. The wagons were there for months, and then over a period of a few days steam engines would take them all away.
A month or two later, they were back, only to be removed again later. Local opinion thought that these wagons were surplus to requirement due to the loss of the overseas coal markets due to the war.
The local boys, myself included, welcomed these wagons as another addition to our play options. We would climb into them and jump from one to another.
When my father was withdrawn from the coalmine due to pneumoconiosis, he was employed at the MOS depot. After a little training he was given the job of a mobile crane operator, and he worked in conjunction with the lorry driver. My father applied for a driving licence, and was promptly given one without taking a test. One was able to do that during the war.
The lorry driver was none other than the famous rugby league player - Ted Ward of Garnant. With most sport shut down due to the war, Ted had secured a job at the MOS.
I would spend many Saturday mornings been driven around by Ted, and when in the works yard, I was allowed to steer the lorry with Ted's long legs on the foot pedals...
A variety of articles was stored in the depot by the Ministry of Supply, including machinery in the form of lathes, presses, drills, and other heavy engineering machinery.
Some of these machines when deposited for storage were encased in one inch thick good quality timber. And when they were to be sent on to another destination, orders were sometimes given to remove the planking.
Much of the timber was burnt, but quite a lot ended up as chicken coops, garden sheds and fences.
My father was one of those who used some of the timber to build a chicken coop. He then borrowed a broody hen and had her sitting on a dozen eggs. The hen was on the small size, but she turned out to be an excellent mother and presented us with twelve beautiful chicks. As they grew we could see that there were four cockerels and eight hens. The hens, in turn, became good layers and produced an egg each per day. A good addition to the wartime rations.
We fed the chickens with a diet of boiled potato peelings mixed with bread, which they obviously thrived on.
I am afraid that the four cockerels ended up on the dinner table, but another welcome addition to the menu.
Prior to keeping our own chickens, my mother would perform wonders with egg powder. My favorite was fried egg powder which had been mixed with a little milk or water. Decent omelets could also be made from egg powder.
Later during the war a gruesome consignment was delivered to the M.O.S. depot at Cwmgors. I refer to hundreds of military helmets, many with bullet holes and blood stains. These must have been recovered from some battle area, maybe after the D Day landings. The helmets were of American design and some had names and ranks of the previous owners inside them. These helmets were piled up in a corner of the building and eventually taken away.
After the war it gave me great pleasure, to watch Ted playing rugby league for Wigan. After the match, I was allowed into the dressing room to meet Ted. He was delighted to see me and I was soon joining him and his team mates for beer and sandwiches.
Ted had an illustrious playing career, played many times for Wales, including a spell as captain. He also toured Australia with the Great Britain rugby league team. Ted also played in the rugby league cup final at Wembley Stadium, where he was presented to King George VI. All this in a career interrupted for five years due to the war.
Soon after the war the depot had windows installed and, in 1948, a private engineering firm occupied the building. This firm has now relocated and at the time of writing, plans have been submitted to build upwards of sixty houses and apartments on the old station complex.
The Ministry of Food took over the old brewery buildings next to the Abernant Inn. Where once had stood beer barrels, now stood hundreds and hundreds of cheeses. These cheeses were wrapped in hessian and enclosed in wooden crates. Each cheese was circular in shape, about 18 inches wide and about 12 inches thick. The wooden crates where circular top and bottom with slats about 1 inch apart joining the top and bottom. The crates were stacked on top of each other right up to the ceiling.
The building was never supervised, and the local boys could easily gain access and play amongst the crates. Even before being taken over by the Ministry of Food, this building had been another of our play areas, especially if it was raining.
I recall a racing car being garaged in the old brewery building, but never found out who owned it or why it was there.
Of course, there were no fireworks available during the war. But in 1943 when I went to Pontardawe School, the local lads informed us that fuse wire was available at a hardware shop in town.
This type of fuse wire was used to detonate explosives. I was very surprised that it was sold to schoolboys. But sold it they did and pooling our money, we purchased a few yards.
Cutting off a few inches, we unraveled the remainder and carefully collected the black powder exposed.
Having had advice from the Pontardawe lads, we packed the powder into an old tin, attached the cut off piece of the fuse, packed it with clay, put it into a hole, lit the fuse and retreated a safe distance.
In a few seconds, it exploded with a mighty bang. Turf and clods shot up into the sky to the delight of us lads. It was a sight to behold - great fun.
We set these 'bombs' off in the old Buckland pit area. The village bobby lived close by, and although we made sure he was not around at the time, he must have known about it, but never said a word.
We did not keep this on for long because we did not have the money to pay for the fuse wire. Maybe the bobby realised this and let us have our bit of fun while the going was good.
When the war in Europe ended on the 7th May, 1945 - VE Day - there was much celebration in the village. I recall a throng of people outside the Abernant Inn, Cwmgors singing their heads off, with one or two individuals giving a solo turn.
After a lull of a year or two, Tabernacle chapel Sunday school trips were resumed; one trip I recall was to Porteinon, another to Tenby.
A bunch of lads attended Sunday school on a regular basis; our elderly class teacher was Mr. John Brian Morgan. My mate, Billy (Scili) Davies suggested to Mr. Morgan that, as we had missed a few regular Sunday school trips early in the war, perhaps a class trip would be in order. Mr. Morgan would have none of it, but after persistent requests by Billy, he agreed.
We went by public transport to Swansea and got off the bus at Trinity Place, seeing the drastic results of the blitz for the first time. We had a guided tour of the Civic Centre and then travelled on the Mumbles train to the pier. We had pop and chips, followed by ice-cream. Then climbed the nearby rocks, walked on the pier, and generally fooled about, closely watched by Mr. Morgan.
All too soon it was time to start our homeward journey; a grand day was had by all, although Mr. Morgan looked decidedly tired on the bus going home.
The following year, Billy suggested another trip. Again Mr. Morgan was very reluctant to agree. But Billy, if nothing else, was a persistent lad and Mr. Morgan
eventually agreed. This time to Porthcawl and we went in style - by limousine! And so that is where we found ourselves on August 14th 1945 - VJ Day - when the war finally ended.
When we heard the news we were on the beach. We all wanted to return home immediately, so we hurriedly sought out our driver.
When looking for the driver, we came across a stall selling fireworks - we could not believe our eyes, we had not seen proper fireworks for years.
We bought a few fireworks each with our unused pocket money and returned home post haste. We made for the square at Gwauncaegurwen where we found hundreds of locals singing and dancing to celebrate the end of hostilities.
Later we returned to Cwmgors and delighted the local children when we set off the fireworks.
One thing I did not know until many years after the war ended, was the fact that at least three Royal Air Force and one American Air force aircraft had crashed within eight miles or so from Cwmgors. These planes had crashed into the Black Mountain during cross-country night exercises. There was an embargo on releasing such information during the war and that is why we knew nothing about it.
One of these planes was the famous Avro Lancaster bomber. On the night of the 5th of September, 1943 it had left its base at Winthorpe, Lincolnshire, and for some unknown reason was flying far too low and crashed into the north side of the Black Mountain. Sadly, all eight crew members were killed.
I have visited the site of this crash, the main part of the aircraft has sunk into a bog, but bits and pieces of the plane were spread around the area, together with live .303 ammunition. Since my visit, I understand that the site has been cleared of the debris and a plaque has been placed on site to commemorate the dead airmen.
A Wellington bomber also crashed on the south side of the Black Mountain. This Royal Air force plane was also on a cross-country night exercise. It had left its base at Wellesbourne Mountford on the night of the 20th November, 1944. It developed engine problems, was unable to maintain height and crashed into the mountain. Again all six of the crew died. There is also a memorial stone at this spot.
Previous to this crash, another Wellington bomber had crashed to the north and on the other side of the ridge. It had taken off from Chipping Warden in Northamptonshire on the night of the 25th September, 1942. It was hopelessly off-course and collided with the mountain. Four of the five crew members were injured - one fatally.
The American plane was a Liberator. It had flown from the US Naval base at Dunkeswell, Devon on the night of 24th August, 1944. It was on a routine night familiarisation training flight. The reason for the crash is unknown. All 6 crew members sadly died.
The Lancaster bomber and the Sunderland Flying Boat were two famous World War Two aircraft, and during 1950 to 1952 when doing my National Service in the RAF, I was privileged to fly in both these planes. The Sunderland was based at Pembroke Dock and the Lancaster at St. Mawgan in Cornwall, both in Coastal Command.
Some time after the war, I saw Field Marshal Montgomery being driven through Cwmgors in his famous open car - on his way to meet the workmen of Steer Pit, Gwauncaegurwen, to thank the miners for their part in the war effort.
Among those who survived the war was David Davies (Baker) of Abernant Road, Cwmgors. Dai was captured during the retreat from France in 1940. Dai spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner in Germany.
On his return at the end of hostilities, he received a right royal welcome home by his family, friends and neighbours. In fact almost the whole village gathered outside his parents' house at flag festooned Abernant Road.
A near neighbour of mine was ROBERT POWELL. Bob was with the Army in the North African Campaign and later in Europe. He returned home to Cwmgors without a scratch.
Heroes are very reluctant to talk about their experiences, Bob was one of them. He did however; tell of an incident when his platoon was resting in a small town in Germany which had seen considerable fighting. He was sheltering near a shop whose windows had been blown out - it was a shop selling musical instruments, and on the pavement near him were strewn part of the stock. He saw a trumpet lying there, and his immediate thought was to bring it back for me, for he knew that I was a member of the local junior band.
Bob picked up the trumpet and put into his haversack. But after a while the musical instrument became a burden and he had to discard it.
I was chuffed at hearing this story and to think that a soldier, in the middle of fighting and in great danger, was trying to do a good turn to someone who was hundreds of miles away and was safe in bed every night. Bless you Bob.
Cwmgors born BRYNMOR VAUGHAN was in the Fleet Air Arm branch of the Royal Navy as a Volunteer Reserve for the duration of the war. He served overseas, was on convoy protection duty and was aboard HMS Rodney when it was sent to assist in the sinking of the German battleship, The Bismarck. Bryn achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer and was in the Far East when the war ended. He returned home unscathed with a fistful of medals and was mentioned in dispatches. He is my last surviving uncle, my father's younger brother.
Another Cwmgors villager was JOHN THOMAS, Tytwt; John was a padre in the Royal Air Force and rose to the rank of Wing Commander. John made a career in the RAF, and when he retired from the Services he would often take the service at Llanfair Church, especially on Remembrance Sunday.
DONALD THOMAS lost an eye and was taken prisoner. However Donald survived and was a welder at Cwmgors Colliery after the war.
WILLIAM D. EVANS - wartime service in the army, including the Far East, gaining a commission.
BRYN LLEWELYN - Royal Air Force, awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
There are doubtless others who deserve a mention, but I do not know of them.
Of course, the biggest impact in the area was the loss of young lives in military and civilian service. I append below some details regarding these heroes.
The first to lose his life was MICHAEL MERRETTI of Abernant road, Cwmgors. Michael was killed in a flying accident on Tuesday, the 8th July, 1941 when training to be a pilot in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was just 20 years of age and is buried at Chippenham Cemetery, Wiltshire, England. He was the son David Morgan Davies and Alice Margaret Merretti.
Another pilot, in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, to lose his life was ATHERLEY PRICE of High Street, Cwmgors. Atherley was shot down on Thursday, 17th August, 1944. He was aged 23 and is buried at Calvados, France. Atherley was not married and was the son of David and Anne Price.
I was at the welfare cinema, Gwauncaegurwen when a message was flashed up on the screen asking Mr. and Mrs. Price to return home immediately.
They arrived home to receive the news that their son was missing. Atherley had received an extended leave shortly before he was killed and I heard him tell my mother, that he feared that there was something 'behind' all this, having had such a long leave. Sadly he was right.
Next was VERNON EVANS of Church lane, Cwmgors. Vernon, a Batchelor of Arts, was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was a navigator of a Mosquito light bomber. On the night of the 5th/6th of March 1945, Vernon together with the pilot Flying Officer Alfred Payne was the crew of Mosquito Mark XVI Registration number PF 447. They had made a successful raid and had contacted base to report the fact. However on the return leg they crashed and both were killed. They are buried side by side at Brussels Town Cemetery. Vernon was 26 years of age and single, and was the son of David John and Hannah Jane Evans. David John was the organist in Tabernacle chapel.
One person who did not have a farewell concert, but died by enemy action nevertheless, was WINSTON DAVIES of Gors Street, Cwmgors. Winston was a member of the Pontardawe Auxiliary Fire Service. He died on Friday, 21st February, 1941 on the third night of the so called 'Three Nights Blitz' of Swansea. A bomb damaged building collapsed on him and his fellow crew members, and it took almost a week to recover his body. He was 31 years of age and is buried at Old Carmel Cemetery, Gwauncaegurwen. Besides brothers and sisters, a widow, Gwyneth, was left to mourn him.
Killed alongside Winston during the Swansea bombing was local man HERBERT LEWIS, Harry was 37 years of age and left a widow Annie.
Other local young men who lost their lives during world War Two were:
David Gordon Davies
William Rufus Griffiths
Benjamin Cynddylan Jones
David John Jones
Howell John Rees
Details of service and deaths of some of the above are not available - probably next of kin at the time did not want to release the information. But I append below what is known about their fate.
DAVID GORDON DAVIES of Gwauncaegurwen, Sergeant Air crew with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Died on Sunday, 29th November, 1942 age 21. Has no known grave. Son of David James and Sarah Davies.
GLYN DAVIES. There are no details available regarding Glyn.
KENNETH DAVIES of Derwydd Avenue, Gwauncaegurwen lost his life when serving in the Merchant Navy. No other details available.
WILLIAM RUFUS GRIFFITHS, Private in the 1st Battalion of the Welch regiment, died on Friday, 30th May. 1941. He was 21 years of age and is buried at Phaleron War Cemetery, Greece. He was the son of John Sidney and Elizabeth Ann Griffiths of Gwauncaegurwen.
EDGAR HOPKIN. Leading Aircraftsman, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Edgar was killed on Tuesday, 20th January, 1942, age 19. He was doing aircrew training in the USA. He is buried at New Castle Burial Park, Pennsylvania, United States of America. He was the son of William and Rachel Hopkin of Crescent Road, Gwauncaegurwen.
BENJAMIN CYNDDYLAN JONES, Flying Officer Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Benny, as he was known, was shot down over Germany on Friday, 24th March, 1944, age 22. He is buried at the Brandenburg War Cemetery, Berlin. He was the son of David John and Ann Jones of Derwydd Avenue, Gwauncaegurwen.
DAVID JOHN JONES. Sergeant Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. Lost his life over Germany on Thursday, 25th May, 1944. Age 27. He is buried at the Rheinberg War Cemetery, Germany. He was married to Nellie Jones of Gwauncaegurwen.
HOWELL JOHN REES. Private, 2nd Battalion, Cambridge Regiment. Died on Saturday, 15th September, 1945 age 30. Howell is buried at Rangoon War Cemetery, Burma. (Now called Myanmar). He was the son of Edward and Elizabeth Rees of Cwmgors.
GEIRIONYDD RHYS. Private, Royal Army Medical Corps. Died, Wednesday, 2nd June, 1943, age 23. He is buried at the Delhi War Cemetery, India. He was the son of David and Ann Rhys, Gwauncaegurwen.
I read the names of the above, together with the 38 local young men who lost their lives in the First World War, at the Annual Remembrance Day service at Llanfair church. Followed by the words...
THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD
AS WE THAT ARE LEFT GROW OLD
AGE SHALL NOT WEARY THEM
NOR THE YEARS CONDEMN
AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN
AND IN THE MORNING
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.
Yes, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM... young men who lost their lives so that we may live..THEIR NAMES LIVETH FOREVER.
Gareth Hicks © Copyright notice