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Archive for May, 2013

Llanharan Town Square, from Bridgend Road faci...

Llanharan Town Square, from Bridgend Road facing North.

Out of the blue we were told that we had to be moved further away from London. Our next destination was Wales. When we were told that we would be going by train we were all very excited. It was our first train journey, but the excitement did not last long as we gradually became more hungry and thirsty and this time we did not have the luxury of a packed lunch.

It seemed a long time before the train pulled into a station, and we were told to gather our things together. Outside the railway station a coach was waiting for us. My sister Lil asked where we were going, and we were told that the coach was taking us to a small mining village called Llanharan.

Llanharan was a typical mining village. Everything revolved around the pit, which was situated in the heart of the village. Towering over the village were the slag-heaps, made up of the accumulation of waste from the mine which had built up over many years.

On a windy day you could see and taste the dust in the air from these tips. It was in the mine that the majority of the men earned their living, and what a hard and dangerous job it was. At that time the pits had not been modernized and all the coal was excavated by hand. I can remember my amazement the first time I saw a stream of ‘black’ men emerging from the pit. There was not the luxury of pit-head baths then. When an accident happened at the pit, the siren would go off, then everybody would run to the mine fearing that their loved one was involved.

At the top of the village was quite a big square. On one side there was a row of shops which included a greengrocer, grocery store, chemist, butcher and a hardware shop. As the war progressed, stock became very limited as nearly everything was rationed. It was particularly difficult for the hardware shop to get any stock, because the goods they sold (unlike food and medicines) were not considered a priority.

Opposite was a public house, which spread almost over the whole side of the square. A small lane led to the village church. The local bus would stop in the square, though it was not a very frequent service. The men of the village would sing in the square after they had been to chapel on a Sunday, then people would stand around talking. There was no chance of having a social drink as drinking was banned on a Sunday.

Just opposite the railway station there was a small hotel and also a fish and chip shop. Further along the road was the school, a long low building consisting of four classrooms, a hall, the teachers’ rest room and the headmaster’s room. Outside were two playgrounds, one for the boys and one for the girls. Under no circumstances were we allowed to mix. The lavatories were also outside, two in each playground.

The local cemetery was situated at the top of a hill overlooking open countryside and the village. It was only a small field with trees growing at the edge, about half-filled with gravestones. But this same small field would come to mean a lot to my family, for our dear Dad and my sister Anne’s four month old baby Keith, would one day be buried there.

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Bread!

We sat down to our first meal which was some sort of stew. At home we had to ‘Thank the Lord’ for our food before we started eating, but Aunt said: “We do not thank the Lord here, but you can thank me instead.” We all thought this was very wicked. I was a slow eater as a child, but she thought I did not like the food and told me to leave the table.

Lil told her we had not eaten all day, and she then told Lil to leave the table for being cheeky. My sisters, Mary and Kath, who even when we were home were always in trouble for giggling at the table, started to giggle when we left the table and they were told to go up to their bedroom. The four of us ended the day with nothing to eat or drink.

I was told to wash and go to bed. I did not like sleeping with a strange girl as I was used to sleeping with my sisters. I lay awake for a long time, hoping she would speak to me, but she never said a word. In the morning when I woke up, one side of my nightdress was wet and when I put my hand where the girl had slept that was wet as well. I did not know what to do. I knew I had not wet the bed but would the lady believe me?

I dressed and went downstairs, and sat down at the table. My sisters were still upstairs so I could not tell them about the wet bed, but I dare not go to their bedroom. Aunt came in from the kitchen with a slice of toast, which she placed in front of me, saying: “I don’t have children staying with me who wet their bed.” At this I started to cry as I knew Rose was the culprit.

When Lil came downstairs she asked me why I was crying, and when I told her what had happened she started shouting at Aunt that she was going to tell the billeting lady how we were being treated. Then she said Rose was lying and that Aunt knew who was responsible. I thought I would be sent away, but we did not hear anymore about the incident. That night I was allowed to sleep with my sisters, two at the top of the bed and two at the bottom.

The next day when I went down for breakfast, I had the same slice of toast that I had started to eat the previous day. When Lil said I was not going to eat it, Aunt said: “There’s a war on and we can’t waste food. She will not get anything else until she eats that.” She even begrudged us having a glass of water, making out it was rationed. I ate the toast as I thought I would not get anything else to eat.

Later in the day Aunt said she was going to sort out what school we would have to attend, and while she was doing that Peter would be responsible for us. It was a bitterly cold day, and the clothes we had were not suitable for being out of doors too long. Nevertheless, Aunt told us to play outside.

As soon as she was gone we tried to go inside, but the horrible boy had locked the door. It was hours before Aunt returned, but even then she would not let us in until teatime. Altogether we had a miserable time while we were staying there. We spent hours out in the cold, and we were always hungry. At school it was no better. The other children would taunt us calling us ‘dirty evacuees’. Lil would end up hitting them which made matters worse. We were then kept in after school had ended, making us late home. Aunt would then make us go without our meal as punishment.

The winter turned to spring, then summer and we were still in Northampton. It seemed such a long time since we had seen Mum and Dad. Now I realise there was no money to spare for them to visit us.

Photo credit: Jason Riedy

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Once more we were taken to some sort of hall, and experienced the same procedure as before. There were quite a lot of children lined up when we arrived, and soon people started arriving, nearly all women. They began looking the children over and pointing to the ones who caught their eye. We could not believe it when a lady said she would take all four of us. We felt so happy that we were to be kept together. With hindsight, Lil said it must have been the money she wanted, as she certainly did not make us feel wanted.

We gathered our belongings together, and followed the lady to her house. As we walked along she told us that her husband was away in the army, and that she had two children, a girl called Rose who was seven, and a boy named Peter who was twelve. She said we were to call her ‘Aunt’. Aunt was a short thin lady, with black hair which was always pulled back in a bun. All the time we stayed with her I never saw her smile or heard her laugh. When she was angry her face would go bright red.

The boy, although only twelve, was taller than his Mother. He had quite a nice face, which is more than I can say about his behaviour. He was a crafty, spiteful boy always telling tales about us. Rose looked like her Mum. She was plain and short with the same dark hair. She never had much to say for herself, and certainly did not want to make friends with me.

The house was quite a nice house, with three bedrooms upstairs, and what was then called a parlour, a small living room and kitchen downstairs, with the usual outside lavatory. There were two beds in the main bedroom, my three sisters shared one, with Aunt sleeping in the other one. The boy had the next biggest room, and I had to share the small bedroom with Rose.

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