Memories of a World War 2 Evacuee
Left to Right: John Broughton, Mavis Broughton, Blodwen Thomas, Clifford Broughton (Author of this page).
The following passage was written by Clifford Broughon and is a summary of his memories as an evacuee in Garnant during the Second World War.
An Evacuee in the Amman Valley 1940 - 1945
I had just had my 6th birthday when war was declared in 1939. I lived with my Mum and Dad in Lewisham, S.E. London and had two elder brothers and an elder sister. In mid-1940 we moved down to our holiday bungalow in Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey for a few months to escape the travails of the 'Battle of Britain' but actually were no better off because we witnessed many overhead battles and sporadic bombing whilst in that corner of Kent. With the real threat of invasion during September-time we withdrew again to London and resumed what normal schooling we could manage.
My sister Mavis and youngest brother John attended the Addey & Stanhope school in New Cross and in view of the worsening situation it was decreed that the staff and pupils should be evacuated to Garnant in South Wales (another local grammar school, Roan, in Greenwich, was evacuated to Ammanford).
Mavis and John went down to Garnant in October and
November 1940, respectively, and were both billeted with Blodwen
Thomas, a recent widow of a miner, at her house 'Glanpedol' in Twyn.
The London blitz had started at this time and I remember sleeping
in the cellar of our house on bunks which Dad had constructed.
It was a sea-change in culture, moving into a rural welsh-speaking mining community but we were safe, save for the nights when Swansea was bombed in February 1941! we could hear the explosions even though we were 20 miles distant.
As mentioned, we were very lucky living together as a family (photo c.1942) and Mum and Dad used to come to visit us alternately once a month, by train to Neath and then bus. Considering that it was a seven hour journey from Lewisham this was a tremendous effort on their behalf. Dad in particular always took us out for the day during their stay, say to Swansea (I remember a tramway ride to Mumbles) or to Llanelli, Carmarthen and even Brecon I remember on one occasion. I also remember passing Pembrey, where there was an RAF station, on one train trip to Ferryside.
Our leisure activities were mainly based around 'The Centre' the school building in Twyn taken over by Addey & Stanhope although I was too young to attend that school by day. The Black Mountains bordered the village and we used to walk up there gathering whinberries and in the autumn hazel nuts from trees bordering the lower slopes. Each Whitsuntide there was an annual trek to Carreg Cennen castle but regrettably I was never allowed to go - too young! Every Saturday night we went to the 'pictures', the Workmans Hall in Garnant, but also further afield to Brynamman, Gwaun-cae-Gurwen and Glanamman (The Palace). There was always the 'wireless' of course, and we listened to Happidrome, ITMA, Gert & Daisy etc; I remember Auntie Blod was always keen to listen to plays starring Gladys Young who was very popular at the time.
I still have a part-completed diary for 1944 in which I have recorded on various dates 'Went to see' - Bells Go Down (Tommy Trinder), Crash Dive (Tyrone Power), Random Harvest (Greer Garson/Ronald Colman),Tarzan Triumphs (Johnnie Weissmuller), Immortal Sergeant (Henry Fonda). In the late 40's/early 50's I remember listening to the BBC programme 'Have a Go' with Wilfred Pickles which came from the Workmans Hall; it must have been quite an event in the village because at that time this programme was nationally very popular.
We had to get our weekly food rations from Glanamman (the shopkeepers were relatives of Auntie!) but we always used our sweet ration at the Twyn shops. We got our comics from Dan-y-Bryn, opposite the Raven pub which was definitely a 'no go' for us with Auntie's views! At that time there was still a small slag tip (dormant) opposite Dan-y-Bryn which I used to climb. We walked everywhere of course.
The village was at the confluence of two rivers at the head of the Amman Valley. One of the rivers was known as the 'black river' because it was literally black from colliery workings upstream. A great deal of our leisure time was spent in and around these rivers and around old mineshafts and workings and colliery 'tips'; Gelliceidrym was the main local operational colliery and I well remember the conveyors with their slag carriages relentlessly going up and down the slag tips depositing their load at the top, and the black-faced miners coming home from work.
Auntie Blod's neighbours were Mr and Mrs Price and he gave us a demonstration of how to kill chickens, and what with a pig slaughterhouse just down the road we were certainly indoctrinated into country life. As happened in all mining communities I believe, I well remember the free coal drops outside the houses of the miners, it was part of the 'perks' of the job in those days, and we used to make cemented coal-dust pellets (pelau) in Auntie's shed for burning on her stove. Apart from the mines, the only other industrial activity was the 'Raven' tinplate works which presumably manufactured military equipment at the time.
Amazingly, despite wartime rationing, we were always able to get ice-cream from an Italian family who had a shop in the village. At this time there was a passenger railway through Garnant running from Ammanford and this was always a feature of interest; indeed my route to school every day took me along the platform on the Brynamman branch.
There was no military presence in the area.
Although I only had a few Welsh friends - I think the evacuees tended to keep to their own - I learned a little Welsh, I remember going around households on one New Years Day, probably 1945, singing a little traditional verse 'Blwyddwyn newydd dda ----' and collecting a few coins. I can still recite that famous station name in Anglesey, 'Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantisiliogogogoch!
I cannot remember any animosity between the local children and us evacuees.
We had a very healthy childhood, but I do remember a local typhoid outbreak - there was an isolation hospital at Tumble - which we mercifully avoided. The other incident I remember was contracting 'mumps' just about the time we were due to go home for the school holidays (we frequently went home for short periods when London was comparatively safe from bombing) and the decision to travel was taken the day before when we rang Mum from the only local household in the village with a domestic 'phone - the Vicarage! In turn, Mum had to go up the road to her friend to take the call because we had no phone ourselves in Lewisham.
Mavis went home for good in 1943 when she was 16. About this time my eldest brother Leslie joined the RAF. After training stints in Bridgnorth and Madley, during which period he visited us in Wales, he was posted overseas to Egypt in 1944 as a wireless operator/air gunner. He flew principally in Boston's and Baltimore's.
We did not come home for holiday breaks from mid'44 to springtime 1945 because flying bombs (V1) and then rockets (V2) made it unsafe, consequently I never heard or saw either. However, as the rocket attacks finally ceased, and VE-day approached, Mum and Dad finally brought John and me back home.
Our last trip on the Western Welsh bus to Neath station
was in April '45, so ending nearly 4 ½ years as an evacuee
at a very impressionable time of my life.
Many thanks to Clifford Broughton for sharing
his memories wih the readers of this website. Since this page was
published, Clifford's story has been included in a hardcover book
titled "Evacuees: Children's Lives on the WW2 Home Front"
by Gillian Mawson, release date 30th Sept 2014.