Night of terror: the blitz in Cwmparc
The Rhondda Heritage Project has been working with local people to record their family stories and memories. John Geraint, Creative Director of the Project, reports on one moving account that’s come to light – of the night the Second World War came home to the Upper Rhondda.
You never know, when you ask people to tell stories, what will result. But if it’s Rhondda people you’re asking, you can be pretty sure that you’ll hear something special, articulate and affecting.
That’s been happening – in spades – in the Storytelling Workshops we’ve been running as a key part of the Rhondda Heritage Project.
The Project is the result of a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund won by Rhondda Radio, the valley’s community station. Since the start of January, we’ve been broadcasting the stories we’ve collected – in the Rhondda Heritage Hour on Wednesday afternoons at 3pm.
We’ve already heard about the women’s campaign for pithead baths, about the croeso Rhondda extended to refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda, and about the Treorchy schoolteacher who lifted the Rugby World Cup.
Almost all of the stories – we now have more than a hundred of them altogether – are genuine ‘oral history’: the recollections of our storytellers themselves or tales overheard in family conversations. But one particular narrative – brought to one of our sessions at Treorchy Rugby Club by Jayne Griffiths – was a little different.
It was a written account, authored by Jayne’s mother, Mrs Mary Evans, of the night of April 29, 1941, when enemy bombs fell on Cwmparc, the community that nestles in the small side-valley that forks west from the Rhondda Fawr at Treorchy.
Growing up in the Rhondda, I had often heard tell of that terrible occasion; but the detail was often hazy, conveyed at second- or third-hand. Mary Evans’s account is crystal clear, painful and personal, and all the more terrifying for that.
Jayne has generously agreed that we can share it with readers of Nation.Cymru.
‘Night of Terror’ by Mary Evans
It had been an ordinary school day.
I was eight years old and bedtime was around 8.30 pm. Later that night a warning siren sounded.
My mother’s young sister arrived home and told my mother to get me from bed, and we three went to shelter in the cwtch under the stairs. My grandfather had gone to his allotment behind the house to tend his greenhouse and my father was out on ARP duty.
We heard a bomb drop and soon my father came into the house to tell us he was going to Treorchy to investigate. No sooner had he gone out of the house than a bomb dropped directly on our back garden.
We heard nothing, we simply felt a thud. Up we were thrown into the air. My father had only had time to walk two doors away before the bomb dropped. Now all he could see was the house, a pile of rubble. He knew we were buried underneath but he did not know whether we were alive or dead.
As he had been a miner in his younger days, he had some knowledge of safety measures when a fall occurred underground to ensure that the top of the debris was made safe. So, he set about working on the rescue. Soon he was joined by a young man who had come up off an afternoon shift underground. Together they worked for hours until all was ready to get us out.
They began with me, as I was nearest to the small opening. I was freed except for my left leg which remained tightly trapped. It took the young man approximately two hours to free me. This meant that I had been buried for six hours altogether.
My mother was brought out two hours later and taken to the local miners’ hospital. Then the last of our buried family, my mother‘s young sister was freed but died as they lifted her out. She was 24 years old and was to have been married in a few weeks.
My mother remained in hospital for three weeks with no serious injuries but in a great state of shock. I was x-rayed for any broken bones; there were none, but I couldn’t walk for months afterwards.
We were taken in by an aunt and uncle who lived in Ton Pentre and we remained there for the duration of the war.
The casualties on that one night in one street totalled 27. Among them were two sisters evacuated to the house next to us. When the bomb fell, the younger sister was killed outright. Their two brothers were rescued from a fire which had broken out when an incendiary bomb hit their house. They were taken to a house lower down the street where a lady had opened her home to be used as a first-aid centre.
A short time later another bomb fell and hit that house, and all inside perished. That mother from London who had been evacuated with her children to be safe from the London bombs had lost three children in one night from bombs which fell on the sleepy mining village of Cwmparc.
There was a mass funeral the following week when the main roads of Cwmparc and Treorchy were black with people as they followed the cortège of lorries which carried the coffins of adults and children. No one could find an explanation as to why this small village had been attacked.
The Rhondda Heritage Project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage fund.
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