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Gwen Evans. Voices from the Factory Floor

Morris Motors, Felinfoel, Llanelli (1940 or 1944 to c. 1981)

Interviewee: VSW014 Gwen Eira Evans

Date: 20.12.13

Interviewee: Susan Roberts on behalf of Women's Archive of Wales

Gwen left school at 14 (1936), then she worked on a farm and as a cleaner. During the war she worked in Morris Motors – every factory had to employ one disabled worker per 100 able. She had a weak arm. It was good money (c. 1940) – pocket money from it. The work on the car and aeroplane radiators was heavy. Since a labourer had to help her she was paid less. There was a fuss when the Union started – she paid a groat but anonymously. She remembers the girls buying goods from catalogues. She refused to move to harder work – by showing her disabled card. Bruising from handling the radiator blocks. It was a noisy factory which has affected her hearing. Lots of joking and singing. She went on holiday with the girls, fun at Xmas. During the war, stars from the entertainment world visited. She got married (1953) – received a clock as a present. She left c.1981.

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Gwen was born in Bancffosfelen 4/1/1922. Her father, a miner at Glynhebog, died aged 47 of “full silicosis”. Her mother was from Llansaint and had worked in “siop Elis”, Bancffosfelen.

Gwen had 3 sisters and a brother. She was the second child. She left school in Pontyberem when she was 14. She talks about 14 yr old boys who started at the coal mine who have all now died.

Gwen worked, delivering milk for a local farm for a shilling a week. She wasn’t paid extra for working on Sundays.

00.03.30:

“.You had to work for nothing.”

She rose at 6am and finished work at 7pm and sometimes later in the summer.

She had hoped to become a dressmaker but her mother couldn’t afford the training so she used to go to Amy Stevens’ house to patch and sew and would receive a shilling for her work.

Feeling that she was being exploited, Gwen left the farm for a while and went to Pibwrlwyd to clean and scrub floors which was not enjoyable work – being on her knees all morning.

After the war broke out the factory opened in Felinfoel. Gwen understood that there was an obligation to employ 1 disabled worker in every 100. She had a weak arm which she’d broken and had difficulty handling weights.

She applied in person at the factory. She knew nothing of Morris Motors until then – she’d never set eyes on a factory before but she felt there was nothing worse than being constantly pushed.

Her pay was double what she’d previously earned. She brought home £9 from Morris Motors each week.

She was 18/19 when she started at the factory. She caught the bus at 6am in order to start work at 7.30am. The bus left early enough to take a man to work at Cwm-mawr colliery. Work finished at 5pm and Gwen caught a bus at 6pm, arriving home at 5 to 7pm. She’d bathe, eat and go to bed. Gwen states that she didn’t really have much of a life.

Gwen had a good mother but she was old fashioned and Gwen had to be at home at night.

She was proud (as was Gwen) that her daughter had a job at Morris Motors and that she was

earning double the money. Gwen paid her bus fare and gave the rest of her wages to her

mother. Her mother gave her 5 shillings pocket money (out of £6/£7 pay) Gwen’s mother

was a widow at 47 and only received 10 shillings a week, so Gwen’s wages were an

important contribution.

When Gwen went to Felinfoel to apply for the job, she went with 2 other girls who were also given jobs, although they didn’t stay long as they didn’t like the work (and were both married.)

Miss Wishard (?) employed new staff. Gwen started a week after applying. She was given 2 or 3 days of training – then she was on her own. She was paid depending how much work she did. She made radiators for cars and aeroplanes, but because of her weak arm she found the work hard. She had to wait for one of the labourers to help her pull the radiators? out. She did the same work as everybody else and enjoyed it. She’s glad that she made her living at the factory.

Gwen thought the factory was enormous when she started working. There were more than 2000 workers at the time, including many girls from Ponthenri.

She travelled to work on a “private” bus – even though the same bus took miners to New Dunant colliery. There was fun to be had on a busful of girls. One girl caught the bus on the square and the driver, Jac the Sailor would wait for her there. Sometimes she would meet the bus elsewhere, like Glynhebog (and everyone would try and guess what she’d been up to.)

She had plenty of fun on the bus, but Gwen felt she didn’t have much of a life because she was always so tired when she arrived home.

Work began at 7.30am, and there was a 10 minute tea break at 9.30am. There was a ½ hour lunch break and work finished at 4.30pm – 5pm.

Although there was a canteen at work, Gwen took a packed lunch. A large tea urn would do the rounds of the factory floor – 1d for a cup of tea. The electric motors of the machines made it a noisy place.

Because her disability meant that Gwen needed help from a labourer, her wages were reduced. Her job was categorised as light work, but Gwen couldn’t argue or she might have no job at all.

Many local people from neighbouring villages worked at the factory (Tumble, Pontiets, Llanelli, Dafen) Welsh was the language spoken by the majority.

Charge hands provided training for new workers. They were men and women, but mainly women. Many men and boys worked in the coal mines and weren’t compelled to work elsewhere during the war. Boys who weren’t miners were pressed into the armed forces.

Many girls had been “called-up” to work but Gwen had chosen to work there.

Until recently, Gwen kept in touch with many of her old workmates, like Glenys Fawr, but her health has deteriorated of late. Many have passed away – some recently like Ann McClean and Peggy Dafen. Gwen thinks they’ve all gone now apart from May from Cross Hands (VSW002) who Gwen met in Morris Motors during the war.

Gwen worked in the same section of the factory throughout and so worked with the same people all the time.

There was a great fuss when the union first came on the scene. She paid a groat/week to the union. (1shilling/3 weeks). Membership was forbidden so she paid “on the sly”. Girls from her section collected the dues for the Transport and General Workers. Gwen still has her cards.

00.28.55: Gwen said:

“You couldn’t do what you wanted with your life”.

Gwen got on with everyone, like the boys on the machines. There were 2 sisters from Ponthenri – Annie and Glenda (VSW003) – who were always arguing with each other. They were nasty to each other. Gwen remembers them sitting on the doorstep of their house. They never argued with other girls.

When Gwen was 10, she remembers a lodger in a nearby house was killed in the mine. His body was brought home in a cart pulled by a pony. She remembers seeing his hobnailed boots in the back of the cart. The boy was from Tregaron. When Gwen was 31 she went to Aberystwyth and in a nearby pub, met the boy’s father.

Gwen talks of many accidents – in the coal mines; a bus crashing onto the railway line (and the conductor losing all the money!) ; people drowning in the big pond and those that were killed in an explosion at Glynhebog.

Gwen’s father didn’t want her brother to go underground. He used to say: “you’ll be selling matches in the street before you go there.” He suffered so badly from dust that Gwen and her sister had to carry him downstairs from his bedroom each day. Every day, Dr Howells would ask him how he was and he would answer: “In the front line today again.” He barely had enough breath to talk. Glynhebog was the worst mine (for dust). One boy finished there when he was 14. He died of silicosis when he was 26.

Gwen’s father would laugh at the thought of her working in Morris Motors. He told her that she wouldn’t be able to stick it. Sometimes everything went wrong at work. Other times everything was fine.

00.41.00: Gwen said:

‘No two days were alike.’

Gwen worked with Annie and Glenda. Most women were single. Gwen worked there for 37 years doing the same job. She remembers an incident with a charge hand called Wilf John who wanted to move her to a larger job. Gwen refused and told him she had a disibility card. He refused to take no for an answer until she eventually answered him back and was summoned to the office. The matter was dropped because she had a green card. Gwen thinks it was important for her to defend herself. Many of the other girls were afraid of Wilf John.

There were two other “white coats” who were great.

Gwen doesn’t think quarrelling gets you anywhere.

Workers were paid on piece work. This was more difficult for Gwen.

Charge hands wore white coats and the ordinary workers wore green overalls. They were given 2 overalls a year and Gwen would wash hers every weekend. Sometimes the work was dirty/greasy. The car radiators were of varying sizes depending on the model of car.  The aeroplane radiators were very large. They were pulled out by the men and placed on a stand. If they weren’t fixed properly they could fall against the girls as they worked. Gwen has many marks on her legs where the blocks fell. “All in a day’s work”.

She said:

“You’re no better off for complaining.”

Gwen doesn’t remember any big accidents at work. Sometimes a part would detach itself from a machine and hit somebody. They’d be taken to hospital.

If Gwen suffered a cut at work there were first aid people there to help or she would be taken to hospital. The first aid facilities at work were good.

The company was very strict when it came to clocking on and off.

The toilets were clean. There was a full-time cleaner. There were paper towels and soap. However, it could get quite cold especially in winter. Sometimes workers would wear big coats on the factory floor.

The factory was very noisy because of the machinery banging away all day. In some parts of the factory, ear defenders had to be worn. Gwen thinks her hearing has suffered due to the noise at the factory. She’s very hard of hearing now. Gwen enjoyed her time at the factory even though things could be difficult sometimes. She was never tempted to look for work elsewhere because she enjoyed the company of her workmates.

Two of the charge hands would allow the girls to chat and have a little fun. But one was hateful. (Wilf John) He’d make 2 or 3 girls cry every day.

01.01.25: She said:

‘Nobody should cry at work’.

There was plenty of leg–pulling and jokes at the factory. Every time a white coat worker from Swansea called Jim walked past his girlfriend, Enid, everybody would start to sing.

There was a lot of “carrying on”.

A very young lad from Penygroes called Denzil Parker – he used to make a fuss of everyone – received his call-up papers. There was a whip round and a watch was bought for him. He was crying when he left, but he returned to the factory (after the war).

Gwen remembers a couple running away together. They went to London to live. They were both married and had families at home. It was a big thing in those days.

01.06.17:

Gwen married at 31 and continued working. Her mother still did all the cooking so Gwen worked in the garden after work.

She worked 5 days a week and some Saturdays when required.

There was a shift system at the factory and although she didn’t like doing so, Gwen worked the night shift for a while. This left her mother alone in the house.

During break-time at the factory, Gwen chatted about anything and everything.

01.08.50: She said:

‘a sheep with a broken leg’.

Annual holidays consisted of 2 weeks (shutdown) during summer, Christmas, Easter and bank holidays. In order to get a day off for personal reasons at other times it was necessary to ask permission. Sometimes the managers would agree to time off (unpaid of course)

Gwen took holidays abroad with 11 other girls from work. When she announced for the first time that she was off to Benidorm, her mother’s response was to ask where Benidorm was. She refused to allow Gwen to go and so she had to cancel and lost her deposit. After she buried her mother, she went away every year and had a good time. Benidorm was her first foreign holiday. She also went to Malta. On her return from holiday every year, she returned to work and started paying in to save for next year’s trip. The girls at work arranged everything once they’d all agreed where they would go. Once, they went to London for a weekend. It cost 27 shillings on the train.

There was a social club at Morris Motors, but Gwen never darkened its door. Although it was always busy, Gwen wasn’t interested. She didn’t drink or smoke and didn’t agree with the concept of Bingo, which was often played there. She did, however, enjoy going on the holidays.

At Christmas, everyone would drink.

Gwen said:

“It was every man and his bottle.”

The girls drank a lot. They also smoked. Many smoked at the machines (on the factory floor?) Gwen would quite like to visit the factory now to see how things have changed. The workforce has reduced from 2000 to 200.

At Christmas, some workers were so drunk they could hardly walk out through the gates. On the last day before the Christmas break, everyone would be dressed up and some would go on into town and make fools of themselves.

Gwen witnessed many changes during her 37 years at Morris Motors. She believes things became stricter but felt it necessary as more workers were constantly being employed to work there.

Workers weren’t permitted to be more than 2 minutes late for work. Any worker clocking on

3 minutes late was docked a ¼ hour’s pay. Many girls stayed there for years. Many had stuck it out during the war years because, had they left, they knew they would be compelled to work somewhere else – possibly far away from home.

Many members of the same family worked there. Gwen doesn’t recall any workers being sacked.

During the war, the factory would have visits from “Workers’ Playtime” at lunchtime, when Gwen saw film stars. One week would see a visit from Edna Squires, and somebody else the next week. The workers would all sing in the canteen at lunchtime.

Although it wasn’t compulsory, Gwen paid a contribution for the Social Club directly from her wages. She never set foot inside.

Gwen was 59, (she’d been working there for 37 years) when she suffered a heart attack and had to leave work. It was a great loss to her – she missed the company of friends and coworkers.

01.26.32: Gwen said:

“You had nothing. Nothing.”

Gwen was presented with a clock when she was married, and a watch after 25 years of service.

01.30.30: Gwen said of her time at Morris Motors:

“If you go, you’ve got to go with your mind set on enjoying – you mustn’t go against the grain.”

01.30.58: “Wherever you work, whatever you do, there are ups and downs. Not every day is plain sailing.”

http://www.lleisiaumenywodffatri.cymru/uploads/VSW014.2.pdf

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