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The West Wales Veterans' Archive

Tuesday, November 2, 2021
English

The West Wales Veterans’ Archive on People’s Collection Wales was recently announced as the winner of the Community Archives and Heritage Group’s Contribution to Wellbeing Award. This blog takes a look at how this archive has evolved to include nearly 400 items, unearthing veterans’ experiences and capturing stories that have remained untold until now. They include contributions mainly from WW2 veterans and those who were conscripted into National Service from 1947-1961 and a small number who served in later conflicts and on peace-keeping duties.

Hugh Morgan is the Veterans Coordinator for Age Cymru Dyfed and also co-ordinates activities relating to the West Wales Veterans’ account on PCW.

“Age Cymru Dyfed is delighted and grateful to receive this national recognition from CAHG. The West Wales Veterans Archive has become an increasingly powerful source of mainly older veterans’ memories, providing enormous satisfaction to those veterans and their families who have shared their often hidden and understated stories. But this Archive also establishes a legacy which will inform generations for decades to come.

“Creating and sustaining the Archive during the global pandemic has been a real challenge but Age Cymru Dyfed and its brilliant partners have met this challenge head-on. In so doing, we have been able to demonstrate that Archive development is a superb and innovative vehicle for supporting and enhancing people’s wellbeing.”

Hugh recalls that as he conducted interviews over the phone with some of the WW2 veterans last spring, he realised that many of the older veterans had little or no contact with other people for months.  As the lockdown restrictions lifted, he arranged a WW2 Veterans Afternoon Tea at Aberporth, Pembrokeshire, on the 77 th Anniversary of D-Day on the 6 th of June.

Eleven veterans and their families came along to enjoy afternoon tea and had the opportunity to come together to share their memories and to celebrate their contributions. A collection based on the day’s events can be found here and includes a short film by Age Cymru Dyfed.

Among those who came to Aberporth were Kitty Francis from Bridgend and Dennis Tidswell from Pembroke (above) and who met for the first time on that day. Dennis served in the RAF from 1940-46 and was stationed in Duxford during the Battle of Britain and then in Malta (1941-44). Kitty's brother Dilwyn served as a Navigator on Lancasters during WW2 but was lost on operations in March 1944 when she was just 9 years old.

One of the items Kitty contributed to the Archive was an interview about her childhood memories of Pontycymer during WW2, with recollections of hearing the air raid warnings when she was in school, evacuees in the village and the impact and terrible loss of life as a result of the Luftwaffe bombing.

According to Hugh Morgan, who has supported veterans from the Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire areas through his work with Age Cymru Dyfed, listening to the veterans’ life stories became a gentle way of building up a partnership with them and enabled the charity to put together tailored programmes of support. It soon became apparent that these stories from World War Two were particularly significant contributions as ‘the last voices’ from a major world conflict, and so the oral history aspect of the archive became an increasingly important and powerful way of ensuring that the veterans’ story was told in their own words.  “These were the last opportunities we were going to have to capture the voice and contributions of what could be described as “our greatest generation”’, Hugh added. 

John Martin, a centenarian veteran, originally from London but now living in Tanygroes, Ceredigion, is seen here with Adelaide, his wife of 78 years, who is also a WW2 veteran, having served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. John recorded his recollections of the early years of the war, his Royal Air Force training and service, being shot down and then held as a prisoner of war in Germany.

As a young wireless operator in the RAF, John Martin (seen above in a photo of him taken in 1942) had a miraculous escape when his Lancaster aircraft came under attack from a night fighter in Berlin on 30 th January 1944. His parents kept the telegram sent to them by the Air Ministry the day after he went missing and is included in the archive. This is how John Martin recalls his last frightening moments in his aircraft, all those years ago:

“There were cannon shells ripping around my right arm. Blue flashing lights all over. I think that the navigator must have been injured. I knew we had been badly hit and switched on the intercom just in time to hear the skipper say ‘bale out, bale out!’. The navigator couldn’t have been very badly hit because he and I were both getting out our parachutes on at the same time. As I opened the door of the back of the cockpit to go down to our exit position, flames came at me, and I saw that the whole of the fuselage was ablaze. In the split second that I opened the door, I saw the mid-upper gunner climbing out of his turret, which was completely wrecked, and I knew that all I could do was to slam the door shut so I went back into the cockpit.

“The aircraft was in a terrific dive. I climbed into the pilot’s seat. I tried the dingy hatch, but that wouldn’t move, and just thought to myself, ‘well, that’s my lot’ … The next thing I heard was this enormous explosion, and I was knocked unconscious.

“I half came-to outside of the aircraft and saw this huge piece of Lancaster sail very closely past me, and then my parachute jerked me into consciousness … so I was extremely lucky. When we had been first attacked, we were at 20,000ft, but by the time I regained some consciousness, I must have only been around 1,000ft from the ground. Part of my harness had been ripped off, but I was aware enough to realise that I needed to cling onto the straps as hard as I could until I hit the ground far harder than I should have done.”

You can listen to John’s vivid account of how he looked death in the eye in the first of his two interviews here:

 

The West Wales Veteran’s Archive was congratulated by the judges of the Community Archives and Heritage Group’s Awards for “the way this project connected the simple act of truly being human and listening to someone's story with the formation of an archive. Participants are made to feel heard and valued while their narratives can connect and reconnect them with families and friends.” For Hugh Morgan, the project co-ordinator, “The Archive has also worked on the ground because of the contributions made by the many volunteers who have given selfless and skilled commitment to the task, and especially to the generosity of the veterans themselves in unearthing memories from experiences in the past”.  Hugh added: “We have been so grateful for the unstinting support and professionalism of the People’s Collection Wales in the National Library of Wales, the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust and the Armed Forces Covenant in Wales.”

Items in the spotlight

Our items in the spotlight from the West Wales Veterans’ Archive focus on the Second World War and include an advert for Marshall Flying School in a leaflet from 1942, Enid Lewis’ wartime diaries, completed when she served as an Aircraft Plotter in the Auxiliary Territorial Service and a painting created by ex-RAFVR Spitfire pilot Flight Lieutenant Edward ‘Ted’ Morgan during his retirement.

Why not take a look at the West Wales Veterans’ Archive and see what you can discover?

Avert for Marshall Flying School Leaflet 1942

Here at Marshall’s Flying Training School, Cambridge, many RAF cadet pilots took their first solo flight in the De Havilland Tiger Moth. During WW2, Marshall's was the home to No 22 Elementary Flying Training School, RAF.

Enid Lewis’ Wartime Diaries

Enid Lewis (nee Lloyd), of Carmarthen and later Neath, served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War Two. Her annual diaries - which were kept meticulously between 1939 and 1947 - paint a picture of a vibrant young woman fully enjoying life, the dances, parties and the frequent visits to the "pictures" to see the latest film. A closer examination of Enid's daily entries portray a calm and understated manner and approach to daily life during the war, including the frequent bombing of Swansea and seeking cover in pubs during air raids. Enlisting in the ATS, Enid becomes an aircraft plotter (though she doesn't talk about her role), and she speaks again about the air raids, the Buzz Bombs flying over her accommodation and hitching with her fellow ATS pals to London for VE Day. Post-war, she describes in some detail her trips and social life in Germany with the British Control Commission. Throughout her diaries, her calm disposition shines through. Enid’s diaries have now been passed to the National Library of Wales, where they can be enjoyed for many years to come.

Ted Morgan: Mosquito at Night

This painting by the late Flight Lieutenant Edward "Ted" Morgan, showing a Mosquito in flight, was created by him in 1986 and appears in the Veterans’ Art and Poetry Collection. Born in Neyland, Pembrokeshire, Ted was selected for training as a pilot and in 1943 was posted to the No.6 British Flying Training School in Ponca City, Oklahoma, where he gained his ‘wings’. After the war, he returned to his studies at Cardiff University and continued to fly at weekends. In the early 1950s, Ted became one of the first Educational Psychologists appointed to the newly established NHS and eventually retired as Head of Applied Social Studies at Ruskin College 

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