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bullet Memories of Mumbles in 1939 part 2

Summer Months 1939 Part Two

The Evening Post (1d) published a front page plea against “hoarding”. In spite of this, enormous amounts of canned goods and storable items, such as sugar, were purchased by the more affluent. Talking to some of the errand boys, I was told of countless journeys to many homes in the area, carrying such goods. This, of course, created shortages as many shops sold out completely. 


By the third week of August, the influx of uniformed servicemen had increased enormously and then came the startling news of the incredible alliance of Germany with Russia. Hitler could now look west without fear from his Eastern front.

The sun continued to shine but did not take away the shadows of foreboding now building up in everyone’s mind and it was not surprising to hear of a marked increase in church attendances reflecting these anxieties and the need for spiritual support.

Routine, day-to-day, work continued

On his skiff, “Rising Sun”, the abrasive Bill Davies (better known as “Aunty Minnie”), growled obscenities into his nets as he prepared to trawl. A coming war, meant restrictions, and paperwork, which he hated. What he obviously could not know was, that within a year, these same nets were going to pull in a catch that would terrify him more than any of his World War 1 experiences in the RNR. 

Edgar Clements delivered milk daily from his horse drawn float. Milk was poured direct into the customer’s jug from his glittering brass churn. 3d a pint. 

Every day at 5.30am, Jack Thomas, dragged his heavy boots up Gloucester Place to light the ovens in Tom Davies’ bakery. Tom baked thrice a day for brothers, Fred and George, and daughter Elaine to deliver on the horse drawn drays. 6d a large loaf (hot and crusty). T and G. Davies still serve us well in Mumbles. 

Newton Road was bustling, due to the holiday influx.

In the Maypole, young Ivor Biggs, glistening and gleaming served up the butter with theatrical juggling skill and good-natured backchat.

Pasties and Pies 3d each

At 6.00am, Graham White, was already working in the family bakehouse, baking pasties and pies (3d each). At 8.30, across the road, George Rees filled his window with the finest Welsh meats as Bob Chambers, further up the road, laid the fruits of the sea in their beds of crystalline ice. Both were WW1 veterans and wondered what would be in their windows in a year’s time. 

Walter O’Neill (another WW 1 veteran) was not complaining, he had sold more wireless sets up to August this year, than in the whole of the previous decade.

At 9.00pm, in lower Newton Road, dapper Tommy Moss, opened the doors of his new pharmacy and must surely have wondered if this had been the right time for such a venture.

Kemp's Cuties 

Mr Kemp rubbed his hands
with glee as visitors poured into his spacious emporium (now Somerfields) for summer wear. Here the prospective customer would be warmly greeted by one of his young female staff- known locally as the Kemp’s Cuties. The Big Apple at Limeslade continued to sell Whiteway’s, “Cydrax”, at 3d a bottle and the Wall’s Ice-cream,“Stop Me and Buy One” lads, peddled their little barrows, offering Snofruits lollies at 1d and wafers / briquettes at 2d, 

The new Tivoli cinema was playing to full houses. Double feature programmes included: Robert Donat in “the Citadel”, Jackie Cooper in “Newsboys’ Home”, Errol Flynn in “the Adventures of Robin Hood” and Welsh actor/playwright Emlyn Williams in “They Drive by Night”. Best seats cost 1s 6d and children paid 3d. for entry to the Saturday afternoon matinee. The newsreels were avidly watched being our windows on to the world.







Dances on the Green 

Parade Gardens, Southend hosted evening “Dances on the Green”, these were always immensely popular events, with a packed arena and crowds watching. Significant of this time was that there were never any unpleasant incidents. 

The Mumbles Pier, then, had much to offer the public, with dodgems, racing track, roundabouts and tea-rooms and, as a result, was well patronised. The nearby Pier Hotel advertised Tea Dances at 2s.0 and Evening Dances to the “Club Four Band”, at 3s. (including free late bus home). 

The lovely Langland Bay Hotel, too, held the most delightful of informal dances in its elegant surroundings with music by Bertram Charles’ “Manhattans” at 3s.0d.

The wireless set now had a place in most homes (A Mullard Wireless, 1938, is shown) and offered a fine bill of fare, especially on Saturdays with “In Town Tonight” at 7.30, “Music Hall” at 8.00 and Saturday Night Theatre at 9.00. Mid week comedy shows had arrived in the shape of Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch in “Band Wagon”, and Tommy Handley with his quick-fire “ITMA”. What morale boosters these were to become! 

The Big Dance Bands abounded and not a day would pass without a broadcast featuring one of the many excellent orchestras, fronted by the likes of Henry Hall and Roy Fox.

Radio Luxembourg

Radio Luxembourg beamed in the first of the commercial radio programmes. Ralph Reader, on “the Gang Show”, told us that ”Lifebuoy Soap was not only a Good Soap but a Good Habit!”; and we all wanted to be “Ovaltineys” but without having to drink it. 



There were local dramas. In mid August, John Varley, the chemist’s son, from Newton Road, saved a man from drowning off Norton. A body of a Mumbles bank clerk was found in a car on top of Cefn Bryn. Tragedy struck when 10-year-old Jean Hickson of Woodville Road was drowned, whilst on holiday in Cornwall. 

Forte’s Ice Cream Parlour, in its short three-year history, had already become a vital part of the community. The ice cream was superb. 6d would buy a North Pole, 2d a large cornet and a Knicker-Bocker Glory was 1s 9d. Situated in its magnificent position on the Square, with its Lloyd Loom chairs and ‘twenties décor, it had become the most popular venue in Mumbles and was a great rendezvous for the younger element. 

The annual visit of the Girls’ Life Brigade from Newport took place in mid August. They stayed in Victoria Hall. A unique occasion for me as I lost my heart, for the very first time, to a lovely lass- Jean Carhart! Most of the lads paired off for a lovely week, enjoying all that Mumbles had to offer. Saying goodbye broke a number of hearts! 

Half hourly news bulletins

On Monday, 28th August, the BBC began to transmit brief, half hourly news bulletins and, for the first time ever, the announcers identified themselves before reading. The names of Alvar Liddell (right) and Bruce Belfrage became household words.

By August 30th, the political situation was now serious enough to justify the evacuation of children from potentially dangerous areas in the UK, to safer havens. This involved the biggest mass movement of the population in history. Nearly two million children and escorts were involved and 700 trains were commandeered. Incredibly, not one single child went astray! (I suspect that in this computer age, whole trainloads would disappear forever). Although many evacuees came to Wales, few were seen in Mumbles. 

Friday 1st September

On Friday evening, 1st September, I listened carefully to the wireless and laboriously scribbled down the new blackout regulations, which were to be imposed the next day. All cars had to shield their headlights and, as a temporary measure, bulbs inside buses and trains had to be painted dark blue. Most important of all was the complete prevention of light leaking from any building and, if reported by the Air Raid Warden, transgressors would be prosecuted. In the Gloucester Place area, Warden, Mr. Welling, revelled in his new authority but was disappointed in that, his powers fell short of being allowed to shoot anyone on the spot, if they showed a chink of light. 

With Hitler’s Wehrmacht now straining at the leash on the Polish border, what was going on in the minds of the ordinary people who made up this village? 

As one would expect, those of mature age reacted with grief and foreboding, a glance at the beautifully carved Remembrance Rood Screen in All Saints Church, Oystermouth, explains why.

98 names of the men who fell in World War 1 are recorded here. So many, from such a tiny village! Unrecorded are the names of those who were wounded and mentally traumatised. And what of those who grieved in bereavement? This generation knew what war was all about. 

The younger element reacted in a different way. For the great majority, theirs had been a life of deprivation with grim career prospect. Fuelled by a diet of Hollywood heroics, Kiplingesque jingoism and Gaumont-British Newsreels most faced the challenge of war with an uncertain excitement. Here was adventure and perhaps a chance of glory!

Apprenticeship Schemes

Apprenticeship schemes had already attracted a number of Mumbles lads to enlist in the Royal Navy and RAF. When on leave, they were the source of much envy! They had bloomed health wise and, now, with heads held high, brasses glittering and boots “boned”, they proudly paraded in smart uniform. From being total nonentities they had now become respected individuals. It was desire for this respect that burned in every young man’s heart. To go to war would open the door to this new life. 

Another factor must not be played down, although never voiced in dramatic terms ( “… Uncle Sam needs us, Al, as never before. I guess its time we get with him..!) patriotism did burn fiercely in their hearts. 

Every Mumbles lad (and lass), that I encountered, was eager to enlist.

Saturday 2nd September 1939 

Saturday, 2nd September 1939, was a scorching day and after spending most of it in Langland, Jack Timothy and I returned for an evening swim, off the sea wall at Oystermouth Station, joining hundreds of others. It was a very high tide, up to within a few feet of the top of the wall. The sea was like a millpond, the temperature was still in the mid 70’s and a heat mist across the horizon promised another hot day on the morrow. The light was beginning to fade as the sun sank behind the castle and yet, it was still so warm that most were still in swimsuits.. Then “Butty” Hinds saw it! He was the first to spot the Mumbles Train pulling into Oystermouth Station, from Swansea. 

“Look at the train! All the lights inside are painted blue and there are things on the headlights!” 

Sure enough, in compliance with the new blackout regulations, this was the result and it was our much-loved Mumbles Train that was to give us the first absolute sign that war was imminent. Looking across the Bay in the gathering gloom- the familiar golden crescent of lights along the Mumbles Road was no longer there. Swansea no longer twinkled with lights. 

Saturday evening, 2nd September Everywhere, darkness.

War was very near and this Saturday night marked the end of an era in our village of Mumbles. 

Sunday morning, 3rd September 1939 

The day dawned and the sun shone warmly. A small group gathered in our dining room at the Vic’ to hear on the BBC the clipped and concise announcement by Neville Chamberlain. 

He finished:

“ …..I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently, this country is at war with Germany.” 

Such simple words. Seventy years ago. 

The reaction by those present must have been mirrored in a million different homes. The elders present, wept. 

The juveniles, in their ignorance, reacted with subdued excitement.

Even my brother, Colin, was quiet.

Quiet dignity

Throughout all these anxious times, I remember clearly the quiet dignity and the humour displayed by the people of Mumbles. There was no rending of clothes and hysterical mass behaviour. They all quietly prepared themselves to get on with the job of defeating a vile enemy who threatened to take away a way of life, which although far from perfect, was cherished. That’s the British way.

In conclusion

During the August crisis, four young Mumbles men decided to play bowls on the local green. Three of them, Graham Gosling, Tommy Evans and Lewis Rees had recently enlisted in the TA. The fourth member, Freddie Grace was a seaman with the Ffyffe Banana Boat Company and was home on leave. Fred desperately wished to enlist in the TA to serve with his buddies but, unfortunately, a congenital eye defect had resulted in him being unable to read the test chart. He failed the medical. (This defect, incidentally, had gone undetected by the Ffyffe’s medical officer).

Lew Rees had a brainwave. By some skulduggery, he managed to get a copy of the eye test chart and brought it to Fred. Fred learned it off by heart. He presented himself again for examination. He read the list out loudly, with confidence. There was stony silence from the medical officer, a pause, and then, “I thought at first, Mr. Grace, that I was going mad. But I am not. The list you read out was the one they used yesterday. This is a completely different one.” Fred failed. Undeterred, he returned to sea, eventually making many a wartime Atlantic crossing on oil tankers which, to say the least, was not without hazard. Although not in the TA, Fred Grace served his country honourably. 

Back to the game

The game started and was barely half way through when there was a sudden and dramatic interruption. Lemmington Ace (the Butcher’s son and better known as “Flemmy”), came running along the pavement, past the tennis courts and into the bowling green. 

He shouted, “All of us TA boys! Police called- we have to report to the Drill Hall for mobilisation! Now! There’s going to be a war! There’s going to be a war!”

The immediate reaction of the three TA boys was to pick up their coats and go. However, Graham Gosling raised his arms, drew himself up to his full 5ft 6ins and cried out, 

” Stop! It is at times like these that I remember our heritage! When Drake was playing bowls on Plymouth Ho, the Spanish Armada was sighted. What did Drake do? Did he go immediately? No! He finished the game and then went on to deal with the Spaniards! Gentlemen! We finish our game!” 

The intrepid four did just that. They finished the game.They returned the woods to the shed. They donned their coats. Graham Gosling carefully, and firmly, placed his hat on his head and turned to his colleagues,

With great dignity he said, 'Gentlemen! Now we go to war.!”

And they went.


Illustrations chosen by Les Ryan