Bridgend in Wartime

Remembering the role that Bridgend played in World War 2

Bridgend in Wartime

Remembering the role that Bridgend played in World War 2

In Spring 2017 Bridgend Town Council was awarded grant funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a project in Bridgend Town Centre to mark the role that Bridgend played in World War Two.

The project includes a number of education and participation activities aimed at community members and schools, culminating in the development of a heritage walkway supported by digital resources within Bridgend town centre. 

The heritage walkway is a permanent marker, recording, celebrating and educating local residents, visitors and tourists, with regard to the role that Bridgend has played within World War Two. 

Bridgend in Wartime Bridgend Town Council

Funded from the Heritage Lottery Fund

The heritage elements that are recorded by the project are:

Island Farm

A former prisoner of war camp

Visit Page

HMS Urge

A submarine paid for by the people of Bridgend

Visit Page

RAF Stormy Down

A war-time airfield

Visit Page

The Royal Ordnance Factory

Located at both Brackla and Waterton

Visit Page

InBridgend, the vast Royal Ordnance Factory at Brackla and Waterton, and the Island Farm Prisoner of War Camp brought the war even closer. 32,000 workers, mostly women, travelled every day from all over Glamorgan to the factory where they performed the vital and dangerous role of filling bombs and shells with explosives. German prisoners were regularly visible around town as they marched from the camp at Island Farm to work on the railway sidings. The dramatic escape in 1945 led to a week of excitement and fear as young and old alike stayed alert for any sign of the missing men.

Despite the difficulties brought by the war, morale was high in Bridgend. The drive for war bonds met a very enthusiastic response. Warship Week saw Glamorgan rank 4th overall in England and Wales for money raised per person. The Gorsedd Stones were placed in Newbridge Fields for the National Eisteddfod of Wales that would be delayed by the war until 1948.

This period saw other developments, such as the opening of a Bridgend Citizens Advice Bureau and the Embassy cinema.

For most people in Britain, World War 2 was encountered on the homefront .

Bridgend in Wartime Ration Book

Dig On For Victory (National Archives)

Blackouts, rationing, evacuees, air raids, and the risk of invasion all contributed to both a feeling of anxiety and a deepening sense of community .

Bridgend in Wartime Ration Book

1944 Ration Book & Ration Money

No town in the country, according to its size, lost more than Bridgend in the war – in all 144 representing all classes – the wealthy, the middle classes and the poor.

A quote taken from The Glamorgan Gazette report of the 1921 service in Dunraven Place. This picture shows the unveiling of the 24ft high cenotaph in Dunraven Square, Bridgend on November 11, 1921 – the third anniversary of Armistice Day. Hundreds gathered to pay their respects and remember the fallen.

Wartime Bridgend Community Events

In Autumn 2017 we worked with pupils from Bryntirion Comprehensive History Club to host 4 Community Drop-Ins for anyone with stories, memories or memorabilia from the war to share this with our team. The pupils had been trained in oral histories and artefact handling and they gathered a range of stories. To find out more take a look at the Oral Histories that have been recorded.

Wartime Bridgend Events
Wartime Coins

Wartime Coins

Real Testimonials

In Spring 2018 we ran a series of 4 History Talks, each focusing on one aspect of the Heritage. These were very popular and well-attended. Copies of the talks are available on DVD for private use only. Click the plus button to expand the testimonials.

Name: Eurfyl Lloyd Williams

Age at time: 5-10 years old (schoolboy)

Memory: 

‘I remember hearing and seeing the Blitz on Swansea Town and witnessing the craters left by the bombs which were dropped on the valley mountainsides by the German pilots, before they headed for home. The vast majority of miners who dug out the coal in the pits were exempted from forces duties, as they coal they had extracted was so crucial in our efforts to win the war. Sadly the part played by these mining communities has never been truly recognised.’

Name: Lynn Williams (mother’s memory)

Age at time: Born in 1949

Memory: 

‘She was from Vishwell farm, Wenvoe. She met her husband at a dance in 1937. She served in the Land Army, having been trained in Cowbridge. She worked in the Land Army awaiting the men returning home from the war. She said all girls wanted to help, especially to join the Navy. She and John Lewis later worked on Southerndown Farm for Mr and Mrs Morgan.

Gino guarded prisoners in Belgium, he refused a Polish man who offered a ring for his freedom. He later helped to build council houses in Bryntirion. He said he liked Wales.

Her former mother in law, Sarah Gran, used to travel to work in ROF Bridgend by a bus from Swansea.’

Name: Thomas John Williams

Age at time: 16-26 years old 

Memory: 

‘He won numerous medals, the Arctic Star, 1939-45 medal, France and Germany, Atlantic, Italian Star and possibly Africa Star. He served on HMS Penelope, HMS Erebus (D-Day) and HMS Alynbank. He kept his ditty box, passed down by his father who had fought in WWI. During the invasion of Norway while serving on HMS Penelope he took a Luger after capturing a German hospital ship, but it was seized by an officer.

His battles included the Battle of Cape Spartivento and Battle of Walcheren. He served on HMS Boxer at the end of the war.’

Name: Sadie Evans

Age at time: 20(s) years old

Memory: 

‘She worked in ROF Bridgend, travelling from Neath. She was Welsh speaking and her brothers were photographers. Her hair turned yellow due to her work.’

Name: Colin John

Age at time: Born in 1949

Memory: 

‘My sister used to speak about Swansea being devastated by a 3 day Blitz.’

Name: Howard Lewis

Age at time: 5-10 (schoolboy)

Memory: 

‘I got used to the wail of sirens during those days which often resulted in me and my family having to seek shelter in our damp garden Anderson Shelter. On school days we abandoned the short walk to the primary school down the road. At night we were very frightened by the drone of the German Dornier or Heinkel bombers passing overhead. My sisters, mother and father sometimes sheltered under our large farmhouse kitchen table praying that the ‘all clear’ would come very soon.

We thought ‘So much for the agreement between Chamberlain and Hitler!’

Our family looked after two young cousins evacuated from London.

The very busy Tondu Junction and Bridgend Arsenal lead to frequent air raids at night. During such times we could see searchlights attempting to provide a visible target for anti-aircraft guns. Apart from several attempts by the Luftwaffe they never did hit the factory – although the 500lbs bomb dropped on Coytrahen resulted in a huge crater and was probably recorded as a ‘direct hit’. I particularly remember its shock wave blowing out all the front windows of the terraced houses facing the main road to Maesteg.

Many fathers (including ours) who had served in WWI were recruited as Air Raid Wardens notifying the public when each raid was over. The uniform include a round khaki coloured metal hat which I still have to this day.

When American forces were based near Porthcawl some of the local girls had American boyfriends who could sometimes be seen waiting for their Welsh ‘dates’. Cheeky children would approach the Americans pleading ‘any gum chum?’ in the hope of receiving one of the typical long white packets. Most of the time the ‘Yanks’ would comply.
These American visitors influenced young fashion trends (particularly the ‘Bobby Soxers’ style of dress) and behaviour. In Bridgend a ‘Milk Bar’ was available with high round seats and different flavoured milkshakes attracting the younger element. I was too small to sit in one!’

In these difficult and frightening times there existed a strong community spirit and with rationing being the order of the day neighbours often borrowed consumables from each other. Vegetables and fruit were understandably in short supply and many fathers subsequently used allotments to bridge the gap. Shops didn’t have bananas – I didn’t see my first one until a girl brought one to school in 1944. By the time we had all handled it, it was inedible!

Teenagers not yet old enough to be ‘called up’ got together to form a choir – giving it the title ‘Black Cat Revellers’. My sisters Barbara and Norah were members. They practiced in St. John’s Church, Aberkenfig and entertained the public in various locations singing popular songs of the time. Later during the war many of these same teenagers served in the Navy, Army or Air Force. Sadly not all lived to see the end of the conflict.

My GP Dr. Milne’s car was stolen by German escapees from Island Farm POW camp (wich ran out of petrol). I witnessed Von Rundstedt being marshalled from the station in Bridgend up Nolton Street to Island Farm camp.

My father and uncle worked on construction of the armaments factory. My sister, Barbara, became a ‘Wren’ and my 2 uncles were in the RAF.’

Name: Robert Carter

Age at time: 4-5 years old (schoolboy)

Memory: 

‘My father in law, Gerald Keegan, joined the home guard as he worked on the railways. I liked open beaches and playing in the sea. When I was 5 we had to move to London Circus. I could feel the tension and remember the air raid sirens going off. They used to test it at 3pm every Saturday and my mother was afraid every time. The first V2 landed about 2 miles from my home. I remember that those who survived the war got a certificate from the king.’

Name: Alan Higgins

Age at time: 16-22 years old (schoolboy)

Memory: 

‘I joined the Navy and became responsible for Morse code communication in the Arctic Convoys. While serving on HMS Edinburgh we were torpedoed by Nazis in 1942. I had been feeling seasick and went on top just to see the torpedo hit and kill scored of men. I later served during D-Day, I remember seeing a soldier die of a leg wound. I felt guilty rather than lucky for not going through what they had to. I was recently given a Russian medal for bravery, joining several British medals.’

Alan’s story can be read about in detail in his book ‘You’re in the Navy Now’ (2013)

Name: Paul Warren (Great-Grandfather’s memory)

Age at time: 40s

Memory: 

‘He had a large collection of medals and first aid and prevention manuals for surviving the Blitz. He also had a Home Guard uniform.’

Name: Barry Ward

Age at time: Born 1952 (mother’s memory)

Memory: 

‘The police in the ordnance factory searched the ladies for matches, cigarettes and lighters and they were searched on the way out. The Home Guard patrolled there.

My mother was in an air raid shelter and it went sideways. The chicken coup was blown apart and the chickens were on the roof. The house next door was blown up. People rescued the chickens first because they were used for eggs.

There were ‘spivs’ – black market sellers. She remembers using her ration book to buy things.’

Name: Mario Burke (father’s memory)

Age at time: 21 years old (Seaman)

Memory: 

‘He was serving on HMS Newfoundland when it was torpedoed on 23rd July 1943. He remembers six men in the water, one of whom was killed. He went to Boston for ship repairs (3 months) and escorted Russian convoys to Murmansk. He passed away in 1976 aged 53. 5 Years ago he was awarded the Arctic Star.’

Name: Christopher Lewis

Age at time: 3 years old

Memory: 

‘My father was in the Welsh Regiment and my uncle was a fireman. I remember sheltering in the cellar of our house on Coity Road with other people from Cemetery Road during an air raid. We have many old ammunition boxes from the Arsenal.’

Name: Eugene Shersen

Age at time: 16

Memory: 

‘He left Poland aged 16 as it was invaded by Germany. He remembers seeing tank divisions and hid from them in a ditch. He met Joan Shersen at a dance in Bridgend town hall in 1950 and they later married. Before this he had joined the British army in Scotland, although he rarely talked about his experiences. He would get irritated by food being wasted and would tell his daughters not to do it, saying that they did not know what it was like to go without. He once said that the Russians were crueller than the Germans.’

Name: Joan Shersen

Age at time: 11 Years old (schoolgirl)

Memory: 

‘My family was in Swansea during the 3 nights Blitz. Aunty Vi, Andrew, Jackie and Archie went to Aunty Ethel’s house. Uncle John had walked from the city centre to Ethel’s house on Townhill and was making tea. Megan’s house took a direct hit and the blast hit Ethel’s house, blowing the doors and windows out. John was facing the window and was wounded across the chest. He bled to death. Jean had his back to the window and so was wounded in the back and blown under the table. A wall fell on Jackie and broke his nose. 5 others died nearby.

Aunty Ethel game me her clothing coupons so I could get more new clothes. These were usually very plain. I never felt hungry on rations but was conscious of not wasting food. I remember eating lots of dried eggs. I mostly remember the long queues for food in town with mum!

I got a boyfriend from New York who was based in Island Farm camp. When I took him home to meet the family he ate a turkey leg and my mother shouted ‘that had two legs when I cooked it!’ It was a brief relationship and we did not meet after he left Bridgend.

I did not feel afraid, I used to do dancing with my cousins, Cyril and Trevor. They both joined the Navy. Trevor became a diver who had to recover bodies. Cyril was torpedoed twice but survived. We would have big family ‘get togethers’ where all the children would sleep together in one bed.

We lived near to the train station and my father, Gordon Carpenter, was in the Home Guard. He was a WWI veteran who liked helping the war effort.’

Name: Peter Shell

Age at time: 10-15 years old (schoolboy)

Memory: 

‘Peter and his brother were playing in the fields next to Bridgend Road near to Porthcawl and saw German planes flying overhead and one dropped bombs on the Stormy Down RAF base close to them. He also remembered seeing the glow from the Swansea Blitz illuminating the night sky from Sker.

He knew somebody called Phillis Evans who married Wayne Gateswood, an American serviceman based in Porthcawl. The ‘Yanks’ had been getting on the local’s nerves with their apparent bragging about American being ‘bigger and better’. One day an American soldier pointed at a lobster in surprise and asked what it was. The shopkeeper replied ‘It is a Welsh flea, don’t you have anything bigger in America? His family had a small holding in Newton which they would use to sell fresh vegetables.’

Name: Wyndon Evans

Age at time: 20s

Memory: 

‘He joined the grenadier guards. His wife gave birth to triplets while he was serving in Italy and the King gave him a silver egg cup. While fighting in Italy he was wounded with shrapnel in the arm.’

Name: Keith McAllister

Age at time: 7 years old

Memory: 

‘I remember seeing the German prisoners of war being marched up the road. Some were waving, some looked blankly ahead. Some wore civilian clothes. There were several generals and field marshals, Hitler’s most trusted.

My brother and I were in an Anderson Shelter in the middle of Merthyr Mawr Road when a bomb fell in the field nearby.’

Name: Gwendoline Thomas

Age at time: 15 years old

Memory: 

‘She worked in the Arsenal selling sweets and cigarettes, but my father stopped her working there because of the threat of German bombing raids. He worked on the railway between 1943 until 1947 and was also on Guard duty the day the German prisoners escaped from Island Farm.’

Name: Mr Tyre

Age at time: 24 years old

Memory: 

‘My grandfather went to India, arriving in Bombay. He travelled across India to Burma and fought the Japanese.’

Name: Bronwen Joyce

Age at time: 20s

Memory: 

‘I enjoyed working in the Land Army. I married my husband after meeting him in Berlin after the war. Alec Charles William Joyce was a ‘desert rat’ in Africa, who once thought you could catch syphilis from camels!’

Name: Barbara Phillips

Age at time: 2-8 years old

Memory: 

‘I remember being given the ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas masks in primary school, they smelled like biscuits! It was both scary and exciting when the air raid sirens went off, we would all go under the school to hide. There were 3 evacuees, 2 boys and 1 girl.

I did not really notice rationing. I once found a sheet of sweet coupons but gave them back instead of keeping them. Everybody did their bit. When the Americans stayed they would give me juicy fruit, pretending it was in my ear. There were black soldiers. I saluted the American soldiers and asked ‘got any gum chum?’ I remember when the women working in the Arsenal stayed in Island Farm before the Americans moved in.

I thought people going to Bridgend were crazy, it was dangerous. My father worked in the Night Watch and took me to visit a bombsite on the mountain.’

Name: Christine Cook

Age at time: 6-7 years old

Memory: 

‘I remember American soldiers with their tents, tanks and lorries. They had dug out big holes in the mountain for soldiers to go in, I thought they were protecting the Arsenal. In Southerndown where Dunraven Castle was they had the ‘Blue Boys’, who were the injured of the war. There was barbed wire across the beaches leaving only a small entrance to the sea. I found bullets all over the sand dunes.’

Name: Cynthia Bailey-Wood

Age at time: 2 years old

Memory: 

‘I used to play in the bomb sites and out in the street. My mother had been bombed out of her house and went to live with my grandparents. 

Rationing did not make me go hungry. We used to have a roast on Sunday and eat leftovers over the next few days. There was lots of rice pudding! I remember we had to go food shopping daily using our ration book. Life was not easy but the community was stronger, everyone checked on each other and helped each other out.

We had a shelter in the back garden and had no running hot water, we lit the fire for heating. I would bath one a week and Monday was washing day. I knew nobody who owned a car.’

Name: Steven Fletcher

Age at time: 27 years old

Memory: 

‘He cared for Montgomery’s daughter and served in the Eighth Army, fighting in Germany, France, Italy and South Africa. While serving with the Eighth Army in South Africa he said it was so hot you could fry an egg on a fuel tank. He received numerous medals, including the Africa Star, and survived a ship transporting him being torpedoed. He fought through the entire war from start to finish.’

Name: Jane Graham

Age at time: 6 years old

Memory: 

‘My father trained in Scotland to be in the Grenadier Guards. He served in North Africa and Italy. He was wounded in the foot in the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was called a ‘D-Day Dodger’ but his battalion lost a lot of men in Italy serving General John Nelson. He marched to Rome before peace was declared, when he returned home. As well as receiving medals he took a German arm band.

He married my mother in 1947. She was from Port Talbot and because rationing was still in use fruit was donated for their cake.’

Name: Dennis Smith

Age at time: 7-13 years old

Memory: 

‘Rationing felt normal because I grew up with it. I used to eat Oxo cube and margarine sandwiches. I did a Sunday paper round so used to see the headlines about the war. I remember the Island Farm escape headline and saw the German officers walking in town. A soldier attended Nolton church.

My father had helped to build the Arsenal and my uncle was stationed in Litchard. I remember there was land mine behind the Red Dragon pub.’

Oral Stories To Listen To

Play any of the oral stories captured.

Resources

Local Voices

Wartime Bridgend lives on….

Although this is no longer a live project although Bridgend Town Council continue to run some events under the Wartime Bridgend banner, including their annual town-centre event. If you would like any further information about this or the educational resources please contact us using the contact page. Alternatively, you can ring Bridgend Town Council on 01656 815757 (weekdays 9am-2pm).

Wartime Bridgend Events
poppy rememberance bridegnd large
We will remember them

As part of the UK national Remembrance commemorations, Bridgend Town Council co-ordinates two events for local residents to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts.

Remembrance Events