These are the wartime memories of Gerald J. Davey, who has kindly allowed us to reproduce them here:
When on Sunday 3rd September 1939 the Prime Minister spoke his famous words about “consequently we are at war with Germany”, he was speaking to the whole country on what was then always called the wireless; I was just seven weeks and two days short of my fifth birthday and living in Rhos-on-Sea, part of Colwyn Bay in North Wales.
Later when the European War was over in May 1945 and the Japanese War was finished off by the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of that year I was a couple of months short of my eleventh birthday. I lived in Rhos for nearly all the whole of the war apart from journeys to my aunt’s home in Staffordshire.
Initially after my father was called up into the Army in 1938 (he had been in the Territorial Reserve since 1931 after 12 years RAF service) we, that is my mother, brother and I, went some time in 1938 or 1939 to Staffordshire to live at my Aunt’s bungalow, (even to the bedroom where I was born in 1934) and for some time we lived with her family.
Whilst living there National Registration came along so that everyone was required to have an Identity Card to prove to any authorised person that they were who they said they were. It was very heavily emphasised to me that I must never ever forget my number, and I never have; it was ORYA/142/7. I presume the O was for Staffordshire, the RY was for Rugeley and the A was for our area of the town; and that we were the 142nd family to register. I was the youngest and therefore the last of the people living at Mead Cottage and I presume the other six living there were numbers 1 to 6, being my aunt and uncle, my mother, my brother and my two cousins.
Anyway, probably my first specific wartime memory is the day I went to Infants School. It must have been just before War broke out. It was a matter of being taken up Fortescue Lane from the bungalow, turning to the right onto Church Street and walking a hundred yards or so to the Infants School.
Some time after the War had started, probably during 1940, we returned to Rhos- on-Sea to live again in Colwyn Crescent. The house had been built in 1914 when house owners were expected to have servants; it was and presumably still is a four bedroomed semi detached house with roughcast walls and solid timber windows. There were two main rooms on the Ground floor, the exterior front door opened into to the staircase hall and corridor, on the left was the front room with a bay window, this was the best sitting room. The back room off the hall was the Dining cum Living Room and contained a large Yorkist black leaded cast iron cooker and oven built into the fireplace with floor to ceiling cupboards built into the recesses each side. The First Floor comprised two large and one small bedroom, a lavatory and a bathroom. I presume the servants were expected to live in the largish Kitchen wing which opened off the Dining Room; it had its own staircase to the bedroom over and an exterior back door leading to the outside lavatory, coal store and back garden. The house had been built on the line of what must have been a stream running through a shallow valley from the front to the back of the house and originally water would have run out into the wet back garden, which was the same low level as Penrhyn Avenue where the tram tracks ran, and which road could be flooded sometimes from exceptional high tides, thankfully rarely. Consequently there was always a problem with damp in the house.
When we returned to Rhos the house had been requisitioned by the Ministry of Food and my mother had some difficulty getting the house back from them. I think one of the conditions was that some civil servants would be billeted upon us though the occupying family went somewhere else. Obviously the problem was resolved as I also remember some other civil servants who presumably moved in as lodgers and with whom we had good relations. Much local property, including virtually all the large hotels in Rhos, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno, had been taken over to accommodate some of the many civil servants from London who had been evacuated to North Wales; the Ministry of Food locally, the Inland Revenue in Llandudno, and the BBC Entertainment Department in Bangor.
Once we were back in Rhos-on-Sea I went to the Infant’s School at the eastern end of the Church Road Infants and Primary School where I entered the reception class with a Miss Davies as teacher. I remember what seemed to me to be a long walk to school down Colwyn Crescent and along Penrhyn Avenue, passing through Rhos Park by the bowling green and the virtually derelict tennis courts, then up the steeply sloping fields overlooking the cricket club (little knowing that about ten years later I would be helping out with the harvest in those same fields and even later again that I would be part of the team responsible for building 243 council houses, flats and bungalows on those same fields) and so to the school grounds.
I soon learned to walk to school on my own or with Mike, Shirley, Margaret and other neighbouring children, and like them I had to take to school my gas mask in with a cardboard box slung over my shoulder and supported there by string. The type of gas mask we were issued with was mainly of rubber with a transparent cellophane eyepiece and the circular tin trunk though which we breathed air which was processed in some way to remove gas fumes. Being naughty little boys we would blow into the gas mask and enjoy ourselves by making the rubber vibrate against our cheeks so as to make rude flapping noises. Of course we wanted the grown up military version which had a pair of eye goggles and a tube which led to a shoulder bag containing the anti gas equipment; but we would have been pleased we had never even seen the babies version, which was really a cot with a sealing transparent cellophane cover and a bellows for an adult to continue pumping in air all the time the baby was in the gas mask.
I remember that for the first year, and perhaps later years whilst we remained in the Infants Department, we always had to have a rest in the afternoon and had to place oval shaped straw mats in ranks on the floor; we were not allowed to talk and were supposed to go to sleep; no doubt we often did but there were other times when we didn’t and giggled among ourselves. I missed that fun when we moved up to the next class.
One of the favourite lessons in the Infants Department was music when we all played different instruments to make a noise. Like the other boys I was pleased when it became my turn to beat the tin drum and wasn’t much interested or good at playing any other instrument.
When I went up to the Junior School, which was at the Western end of the building, we had a hard rough stoned playground on a steep hill. At what we called Playtime we played a game of Tag we called Relevo, which involved rushing up or down the playground and trying to avoid getting caught by those who were “on”. Eventually all would be caught, tired out and ready to go indoors for the next lesson, though we would have had a break from the game if one of the boys fell over and grazed his knee. No possibility of suing the school in those days if a boy got hurt; no Health and Safety legislation saying the child must be protected from anything untoward happening that could be conceived as the school’s responsibility; the boy just got up and got with it, only going to the teacher if it was a serious cut. We also played marbles there and in the roadside gutters. Although we had separate playgrounds at either end of the school, the one for Boys and the other for Girls and Infants, we were co-educational from the start so we saw the girls in class and were quite used to them and so never had the sort of hangups other boys from single sex schools had about girls, at least not until our teenage lives.
Whilst we were certainly taught the three Rs of writing reading and arithmetic we also learned the English and Welsh alphabets and the Lord’s Prayer and the Welsh National Anthem in both languages. As a result I can still read and pronounce even if I cannot translate the Welsh language, and I can pronounce Llanfair P. G. properly especially when I see it printed in full. Singing was also on the curriculum and such standard songs as The Ash Grove, Linden Lea, as well as many Welsh melodies now well out of circulation were learned and quite enjoyed.
Mr. Hedley, the Headmaster of the School, also insisted that we learn a little about the Metric System as he expected the country to change from the Imperial System some time in the next few decades. He was right about the decimalisation of the currency which came in 1971 but metric measurement is only used is certain industries and is not yet countrywide.
Whilst I was at the school these fields became an army training ground with all sorts of assault training course equipment, and barbed wire fenced off areas signed “Achtung Minen” with a skull and crossbones. We soon found out this was German and meant the areas were minefields and we would get blown up if we dared to crawl under the wire on to the grass. Of course they had no mines at all and some older children, brave souls, did crawl under the wire and were not blown up, but even so as five to ten year olds we did not dare to. We wanted to try out the assault course because at the time Johnnie Weissmuller was playing Tarzan in the movies (we called them “the pictures” then) and we all wanted to be Tarzan swinging on the ropes.
I also remember playing Doctors and Nurses with the other little boys and girls in the long grass in the fields on the way home. Whatever we learned was found to be uninteresting and soon forgotten; it certainly was no help later in life.
My mother was quite keen on my going to Sunday School on Sunday afternoons, and sometimes we were taken to Morning or Evening Service at the then Congregational Church (now United Reform Church) in Colwyn Avenue on the corner of Abbey Road. After the War my father’s name was incorporated with others in a Roll Of Honour erected in the Church corridor of names of those Church members who had seen active service during the War.
The Sunday School was in the Church Hall on the corner of Penrhyn Avenue. I remember being disappointed when I found the others children’s names were on the Cradle Roll hung on the wall of the Infants classroom. It made no difference to me to be told that my name was on a similar roll in the church in Old Colwyn where we had first lived during the early 1930s and that I had been enrolled there, I wanted to see my name on the Roll in the Sunday School not far away in Old Colwyn. I never did get to see it and forgot all about it. The Sunday School was run in the main by a Mr. Hoskins and his daughter Glenys, assisted by some older girls. He was the agent for the Liverpool and Victoria Benefit Society and I was impressed when calling at his house in Penrhyn Avenue to see the polished brass plaque by the front door declaring who he was.
We had an Annual Sunday School Anniversary Service in the church. One year I had to sing solo a hymn about Samuel’s ear; I never understood the meanings of the words I was singing but did as I was told. We also had the annual Sunday school treat; this more often than not comprised hiring a special tram, which in itself was a very special event to us, to take us to Llandudno. It seemed a long way from the Sunday School, down Penrhyn Avenue, past the toll gate opposite the golf links on the private road owned by the tram company alongside the sea wall, then rising through Penrhyn Bay and up and over the Little Orme and crossing the Glan Afon fields into and through the main streets of Craig-y-don and Llandudno itself to the terminus at the sand hills at the West Shore terminus at Llandudno. We then played around the boating pond and the Lewis Carroll memorial to Alice and the White Rabbit (Alice in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carol was allegedly supposed to have been written nearby but later this was disproved), and went into the sand hills and sand dunes for playing and jumping about; a big tea was provided nearby at a café within walking distance, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon out.
It was also the Sunday School which provided the annual Children’s Pantomime; one year I played Buttons opposite Rowena Reynolds as Cinderella and I had to sing the current romantic song Near You. The pinto was organised and run by the sisters Helen and Cissie Turnbull whose full time work was the ladies gown shop on Rhos Road.
One of the few times I do remember during the early years of the war is the night I came downstairs as I had heard my mother crying. She had the wireless on and it was playing Monday Night at Eight, but she wasn’t listening, she was crying as she tried to get on with some sewing and when I asked why she was crying she told me to get to bed as it was nothing to do with me. I much later realised that my father must have been in France and that the Dunkirk evacuation was in progress and there was no news of his whereabouts; in the event he was not evacuated from Dunkirk but was in that part of the Army which was at the western side of the German advance to the Channel coast, and he must have taken part in the retreat to the west as the German steamroller blitzkrieg overran northern France. It turned out he had been forced to travel by any means available, including marching, across France to Brest where he was evacuated. When he came home I remember being told to be as quiet as possible as “Daddy was sleeping”. He slept for at least twenty four hours. It was at this time that the SS Lancastria was evacuating soldiers from Brest and was sunk with hundreds of servicemen on board. Clearly he was lucky that he was not on her.
On another occasion when he was on leave when my Mother and I, and possibly my brother, were in Colwyn Bay; we had called at my parents friends the Cockers at the Benefit shoe shop, on the corner of Ivy Street and Abergele Road in Colwyn Bay, where he was the manager; after that we were walking in front of Waterworths the Greengrocers opposite St. Paul’s church (from the boundaries of which all the wrought iron railings surrounding the church had been taken down, allegedly to help the War Effort, but later known to have been no practical use).
Anyway, I was brought to stand at the kerb next to my father and mother, and no doubt clutching “my mummy’s” hand tightly. What was happening was that a parade of soldiers was marching down the hill from our left and on the line of the tram track, with a flag flying at the head of their group and led by an officer. My father, as was the official requirement at the time, was in uniform, and so was required to come to attention to salute the flag, which he did, and the officer shouted out “Eyes right” to acknowledge his salute as they passed. I was tremendously proud of this and thought it was a compliment to my father, not the other way round.
We all had to have Ration Books in which were marked out coupons to be cut or torn out and given to the shopkeeper whenever you bought things which were rationed on a person by person basis so that everyone would get fair shares of whatever things were in short supply. I remember particularly the sweet coupons and would regularly be taken to the sweet shop on Colwyn Avenue opposite the then Irwin’s Grocers shop and the County Garage (now an apartment block). It was run by the Misses Walker who of course knew us very well. I used to buy all sorts of sweets, dolly mixtures, liquorice allsorts, and the like, in little cone shaped paper bags; and later I used to enjoy Cadbury’s Caramello, a milk chocolate covered bar filled with a caramel based toffee confection. The Misses Walker later moved to another shop further up Colwyn Avenue on the right hand side near what was the Men’s Hairdressers. When we were at Rugeley I used to be dosed with Ex-Lax which was a chocolate based item that was “off the ration”, and I couldn’t understand why I could not have more of it, surely if it was off the ration I could have as much as I wanted! I had no knowledge of long words like laxative or diarrhoea in those days.
I remember wartime travel on the railways when the station platforms were dark and dank and the stations had no name boards so that any invading Germans could not find out where they had landed; the porters used to call out the name of the station so that passengers knew where they had arrived. We always dressed up in our best clothes for travelling in what were undoubtedly extremely dirty, smelly and noisy steam trains. Every train was crowded with military men and standing was the norm. In addition to blackout blinds on every window dim blue lamp bulbs were put in the carriages to reduce light exposure at night. We always seemed to get seats, but I suspect this was because my mother was a woman travelling on her own with two small children.
I also remember the trip from Colwyn Bay to Stafford by main line express train and then getting the small local train from the station’s bay platform, pulled by an old and even dirtier steam locomotive along to Rugeley Trent Valley railway station (in those days it was always just called the station or the railway station, and certainly not a train station as is the modern vogue). The station was a long walk from Mead Cottage and I do not recollect any means of transport being used other than Shank’s Pony; taxis were just not available and in any case were too expensive except on special occasions. Later just after the War Mr. Pye, who lived at the corner of the Crescent and Penrhyn Avenue, ran a taxi service which we used to take us to the station.
In particular I remember some of the highlights of train travel so far as a little boy was concerned. For example, when the train stopped at a little country station between Stafford and Chester, and the porter would cry out in a very loud and distinctive voice “Beeston Castle and Tarporley”, always finishing the “ley” in Tarporley on a very high note; or when we stopped at Prestatyn on the way back we would always want to press the bell push in the dining car window which was intended to call the waiter, no response of course, no waiters and no dining service, but it was a childish corny joke we enjoyed that as we were at Prestatyn we had to “Press that in”.
Beeston station, now closed of course, was a very small village station, so why should express trains stop there at all? We were told it was because the local aristocrat, presumably the Cholmondley family from Cholmondley Castle, had insisted on a special personal service of stopping every train, as the quid pro quo for his allowing the railway to be built on their land.
We often spent some of our summer holidays in Rugeley and I particularly remember getting my first proper bike. My first trike was probably ruined on the day when as a five or six years old I was riding it too fast round the corner of Penrhyn Avenue into Colwyn Crescent and I hit a tree, and of course fell off with a great wail which continued until I got home and had it rubbed better. That was the time my nose and jaw suffered permanent damage which has of course lasted until today.
However to get any bicycle during wartime was exceptional, but somehow I was given one for birthday or Christmas, and I remember learning to ride it with someone, usually big brother, holding on to the back of the saddle whilst I rode up the lane, and then the terrifying moment when I realised he was no longer holding me upright. The bike was a Vortex, a make I had never heard of, and have never heard of it since. I do not remember bringing the bike back to North Wales but feel it must have been done for me, especially as I do not remember getting another bike until I was a teenager, though I vaguely remember using a fixed gear bike at some time, one where you braked by stopping the pedals going round, in addition to the normal braking system.
We were of course aware that there was a war on, but North Wales was considered to be a safe area and hardly affected us children, though evacuees came to the area from Liverpool. We had no difficulty getting on to the beach to play but we had to pass the anti tank truncated pyramids, made of concrete, which had been positioned on the slipway at the foot of Rhos Road, they were huge things to us, and must have been about two yards square at the base reducing to one yard square at the top which was about two yards high and were set in a staggered chess board type pattern down the slope. There were supporting gun emplacements either side of the slipway. There was also a huge black painted steel tank nearby which was an emergency water supply in the case the fire brigade had a fire to deal with fire in the adjacent buildings. It was set against the wall crossing the promenade on what was officially known as Combermere Square opposite The Cayley Arms, The area was improperly known to us boys as Lavatory Square for the obvious reason that that was where they had built the underground public conveniences, as they were called in those days. However, at that time I did not know the proper name and only found it out at the time of the Coronation in 1953 when it was announced that part of the celebrations would be public dancing in Combermere Square, and that there was such a person as Lord Combermere.
We, that is my friend Pete Shenton and I, used to play skimming stones on the beach, or chasing one another over the stones, jumping lightly and rapidly from stone to stone; how we avoided twisting ankles I do not know. At other times with more friends, we played Union Jack, which comprised marking out in the sand with our feet a Union Jack, about 20 feet x 10 feet, and then playing tag by chasing one another along the lines of the flag.
When the tide was coming in we would build sand castles near the jetty, they would be about eight feet square with four walls about four feet high and thick with sloping sides, and then we would stand in them to try to keep out the rising tide or pretend the Germans were invading. We built them close to the steps on to the jetty so that when the water came in we could easily get out without getting too wet.
Pete and I would sometimes go to Millers toy shop in the range of shops on the sea front and look into the window and play “Baggying”, where each of us would choose which toy we wanted for Christmas and when either of us had bagged one toy, like several Dinky Toys, or a large Meccano set or a Hornby O Gauge or Dublo Train set, the other couldn’t bag that one “cos it had already been baggyed”. After the War Pete was taken by his parents to California and eventually he joined the US Air Force.
If we had a few coppers, mainly halfpennies, we would slip in quickly to Old Bill’s Amusement Arcade, which was in a crude timber building in falling down condition on the corner into Penrhyn Avenue. We were not supposed to go there as it was held to be gambling and on the way to ruin if we spent money on pin ball machines and the like. Being boys of course we found ways of just giving the ball the right amount of push to win and we liked that; but we only won a free go and of course that paled in time, no matter how many times you won; and we never did find out why the crane machine always managed to drop the prize which you thought you had won, we were too innocent to realise that these things could be fixed by the management.
Wartime Christmases were very different from today’s commercial excess; we children knew that all good things were simply not available and yet I have no recollection of feeling in any way deprived, one just accepted what one was told. I do remember going to sleep very late, though trying very hard to stay awake until Father Christmas arrived; but waking very early next morning to find a long woollen sock on the bed absolutely stuffed with the small presents like chocolate bars, and the big surprise was a tangerine at the very foot of the sock; and there were certainly bigger presents, like the Dandy Annual, all wrapped up. I devoured the tales of Lord Snooty and his pals, and of Desperate Dan. Heaven alone knows where the rationed and scarce items came from, I didn’t bother at all of course, I just accepted the bounty with delight.
The winters, especially 1940 to 1941, were very cold, there was no such thing as central heating in most homes. It was quite normal to jump out of bed in the morning in order to scratch names and faces on the icy frost on the inside of the windows. There was a small fireplace in the bedroom but there would only be a fire in the grate if one was very ill and had to stay in bed.
One night, and it must have been the winter and quite early in the evening, perhaps I had been to Cubs otherwise I would not have been allowed out so late. We were on the promenade near the Rhos pier (now demolished) and saw the sky glowing red over in the east, and were told that “Liverpool is getting it tonight”. It must have been the Liverpool Blitz in 1940 or perhaps one of the later air raids. The occasion even brought people out of the Abbey Hotel bar, known as the Dugout, for them to see what was happening.
Another night, most likely in 1940, we were taken to the promenade to look at the fabulous Northern lights, the Aurora borealis; and of course due to the blackout requirements on a clear night the stars often looked bright and sharp and we learned to recognise the Plough and Orion constellations.
The pier, and no doubt all the other piers on the North Wales coast, were considered structures where the Germans could land from the sea and so they were guarded by armed soldiers, usually from the regular Army but sometimes no doubt by the Home Guard (Dad’s Army to present youngsters). Anyway to restrict the Germans’ access partway along the pier a long section of boarding and other elements were removed and there was only a narrow walkway access. Naturally boys wanted to find out if they could cross the gap but they were chased away, though the soldiers had to cross the gap to get the observation and gun posts at the end of the pier.
One of the things I remember best was the arrangements for ensuring we were all aware of the war. I think it was in connection with war savings campaigns, like the Buy a Spitfire week, or a bomber, or a warship. The best bit was that we got out of lessons. We were paraded in the school playground as if we were in the army, flags were provided from somewhere to march at the head of the procession; we were positioned somewhere behind a band (where they came from I have no idea) and marched off pretending to be soldiers. We went down the Church Road hill past the air raid shelter which had been built by the sewage pumping station in the lane which ran to the rear access to the terrace houses between Church Road and the Tramway depot for the Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Light Electric Railway (the L&CBLER – it took me years to find out what these letters on the ticket collector’s jacket meant).
Anyway we then marched along Penrhyn Avenue, which for part of the distance next to the Cricket Club was tarmacadamed on the one side only as the tram track like a normal railway was not covered with tarmac; it ran on a stoned up track base which was not tarmacadamed until many years later. We then arrived at Mr. Sydney Frere’s cinema, called The Playhouse, (now a Co-op supermarket) and saw some films, now long forgotten, but no doubt they were propaganda and patriotic films. It got us off lessons so that was enjoyable.
And then there was the waste paper collecting for the War Effort. We used to go round the houses collecting waste paper or jam jars and bottles for recycling; also going up Bryn Euryn collecting wild rose hips to be sent way and made into rose hip juice. It may have been from the school or the church or the Wolf Cubs that we were organised. I do remember going to the then splendid private house at Aberhod on the Promenade (now a restaurant) and being amazed at the old Indian statues and other memorabilia kept in the old dark house by the then, to me, very old but most likely wealthy owners.
I joined the Wolf Cubs and enjoyed it very much. I remember a new boy joined us one evening and we all immediately thought he was very prissy as he was called Robin, reminding us of Christopher Robin, and he arrived in a new expensive immaculate complete uniform, which was another reason for our jeering at him, as was the fact that his “Mummy” brought him and left him with us. Little boys can be very cruel. During the normal Cubs circle we would be commanded by Akela, the Cubs leader, that we should “DYB, DYB, DYB” (Do Your Best) and we had to reply in a loud shout “DOB, DOB, DOB” (Do Our Best), giving the Cubs’ soldier type salute above the ears but with two fingers split as a V. The poor new lad humiliated himself by wetting his pants and then had no idea why we were laughing or what he had done, and of course he cried. I do not recollect seeing him after that.
We had our first camping trip in the Cubs and had to walk over Bryn Euryn and across Dinerth Fields (now a built up area), all in our uniforms and ending up, after what seemed a very long walk for little boys, in a bell tent in a farmer’s field. One of the joys of the camp was going to see the pigs being fed; we didn’t like the smell, but the animals were great fun.
A year or so later I also remember one day walking over Dinerth Fields with friends to Pabo to try to see the remains of a plane which had crashed there. It may have been a German or a British aircraft, perhaps a Lancaster, or a Wellington (always called Wimpeys either because they were made by Wimpey the famous builder, or named after Wimpey who was a cartoon figure in Popeye). Whatever the aircraft was we were not allowed to get close to it to collect shrapnel or other bits, no doubt because of the danger of exploding ammunition; but we couldn’t care about that possible risk and thought it was a swiz.
On another occasion later in the War I was on the Marine Drive near the pier when an Anson aeroplane crash landed in the sea just below the low watermark and near the old Monks’ Weirs opposite St. Trillo’s Chapel, and we saw the aircrew being rescued. I seem to remember that the aircraft was taken away, hopefully for repair and reuse. Apparently the Anson was on a training flight when navigational error brought it to us. They had inefficient navigational guides in those days and I remember a story of one occasion of an aircraft returning from a bombing raid over Germany lost in the sky and flying across the Irish Sea and ending up seeing the lights of Dublin before turning back; and there were many other aircraft trying to find their low level Lincolnshire aerodrome and ending up overshooting and unexpectedly crashing into high level Snowdonia. I remember Lyn Doylerush whose brother Edward’s excellent book No Landing Place reports on the many aircraft crash landings in Snowdonia.
On one very memorable day after the war we were in the same place by the pier, with hundreds of others, when a sea mine, reportedly from a minefield out on the Constable Bank or somewhere else, had become detached from it’s moorings and was first seen floating off Old Colwyn. There was a great danger that if one of its explosive horns touched anything then the explosion would be something to fear. The tide was receding but it brought the mine very near Colwyn Bay Pier in the morning though luckily it floated well past the sea end of the pier. But when it came to Rhos Pier in the afternoon it was a different matter as the tide came in. The grown ups watched with bated breath while of course we children watched hoping it would explode, but were disappointed when it floated right under the pier between the cast iron supporting columns and came to rest without exploding on the beach not far from the wreck and the ancient fishing weir. A Mine Disposal Unit was brought to the scene and when the tide went out removed the explosive, the horn detonators and the like and burned everything else out of the casing to make it safe, and left the empty casing on the beach; so little boys thoroughly enjoyed clambering all over it for a long time. Very many years later a visitor reported to the Police the existence of a “dangerous wartime mine that has landed on the beach”, the Police soon passed the buck to the Army and they had to bring the mine disposal people from Liverpool to inspect it and declare it harmless, but it was of course a wasted journey as it had been on the beach for decades and the Police should have known all about it.
The wreck is of the Rhos Neigr (yes, two words); she sank on 20 July 1908 intending to call at Rhos Pier for more passengers on a return trip from Llandudno to Blackpool. She reportedly struck a rock off Little Orme and tried to make it to Rhos Pier but didn’t quite manage it but all on board were saved.
The ancient fishing weir had been built by the monks from the Aberconway Monastery, who had an outlier establishment at Rhos now called Plas Fynach, though it was then known as Plas Mynach or the old monastery. They also created another weir on the beach opposite Aberhod. The remains of both weirs can still be seen. The monks had built low stone piers in which the erected timber posts to which they would tie their nets so as to catch the fish.
The garage next door to us in Colwyn Crescent was wholly taken over by the military and they used one of the lockup garages as a kitchen to supply the soldiers. I used to get the occasional piece of fruit cake from the cooks but was discouraged by my mother as she considered it to be begging, but perhaps she had other reasons unknown to small boys why they should not accept gifts from soldiers or anyone else. I disagreed with her but of course got nowhere with that.
Then there was the time the Yanks came in 1943 to 1944. A kitchen and dining hall and other facilities were built for them in Rhos Park so we passed them each day on the way to school, and of course in spite of dire warnings we asked “Got any gum, chum” and received from them proper chewing gum from America. We were totally unaware that they were just part of the thousands passing through the U.K. on the way to the D-Day landings in Normandy, and we were quite disappointed when suddenly they were no longer there and the buildings were virtually empty.
We knew a little about the gunnery school and the large gun emplacements on the Great Orme and the Little Orme; we heard the bangs when they were fired. Amazingly we never heard about the fantastic structures being built on the Conway Morfa in 1944 in connection with the Mulberry harbours for the D-Day landings. In recent times the area was excavated to allow the making of the huge precast concrete tunnel sections which were then floated out and sunk into place for the Conwy Tunnel; and now the area has sensibly been converted into a marina for yachtsmen and the like.
But we did play on Bryn Euryn so we knew about the RAF barrack hut part way up the hill and the tower at the very top of the hill. It may have been a radar establishment (called in those early days RDF for Radio Direction Finding), or perhaps it was just an observation post for the shipping passing to and from Liverpool, and we were not allowed to go to the tower though there was a handrail and stony footpath from their hut right up a steep part of the hill and up to the tower. There was also a track which wound its way round to the top for the airmen’s vehicles, this was also used as a test track for the jeeps which were being assembled in the then Braids Garage on the Mochdre road below Bryn Euryn. Jeep of course is a corruption of GP for General Purpose and GI meant General Infantryman or General Issue.
By this time there was very little enemy activity in this area and things were quiet. In 1944 we were in the top form, called I think Class Six, at the Junior School and a Mrs. Rock taught us until we sat the Scholarship Examination, the forerunner of the now superseded 11 Plus exam. Shortly after that my Dad came home from the War, being one of the first to be demobilised, due to his being one of the first soldiers called up. He arrived home on leave on VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) and that evening he went to the Cricket Club and was bought so many drinks (for he was one of the few local soldiers who actually went to the War; I don’t remember hearing about or seeing anyone else who was called up, though there must have been quite a few); anyway he was brought home well over the eight.
But that was the end of the war so far as most were concerned, even though the Japanese War was still going on ferociously, until the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I remember that when he came home one of the first things was that a proper holiday away from home was called for; surprisingly for a boy brought up at the seaside we went to another seaside resort, to Southport in Lancashire where the sea was so far away from the shore that they had a railway built on the pier so people could get to see the sea. It was all so new to us. We stayed in a guest house not far from the main Lloyd Street, went to the Pleasureland funfair for all the rides, this was a much bigger funfair than Old Bill’s Amusement Arcade in Rhos or Collins’ Funfair by the railway bridge and pier in Colwyn Bay, and we went swimming in the indoor baths. One night we went to a small theatre to see a comedy play. But the most exciting thing was that I was allowed out late one night to see and hear the celebrations on the streets for VJ Day, the ending of the war in the Far East, Victory over Japan. There were crowds everywhere and fireworks were being let off. Being so small I couldn’t see properly and was lifted to sit on top of a Post Office red letter box where I was quite safe and could see what was going on all around me. All too soon the holiday was over and it was time to go home, and Dad went back to the Army until the October when he came home for good.
But the War was over so far as we were concerned and peace took its place. Because he had been called up early before the war started and because of being 42 years old in 1945 he was demobilised (demobbed) quite soon after the end of the European War, though even then he had to wait until October 1945. Thus for the whole of my infants and primary school childhood he was away in the War and my Mother brought us up through those troubled times.
We, that is several friends and I, had just passed the Scholarship exam to go to the Secondary School and were looking forward to the new experience, partly with hope and partly with dread. I remember getting the uniform and a new school satchel and being quite proud about it. But going to a new school at the other end of the town, well, that is another story.