My Early Days
by Edna Davies (née Harris)
The Children Who Loved Books
I was 14, and in Swansea High School for girls when the new Oystermouth Library was opened in 1935. It made such a difference to have so many books available, when they had been, for me, a very rare commodity.
Prior to the opening of the library, books were very difficult to come by, if you had a very limited income. It was a time of great depression; few people in Mumbles were in a position to spend money on books. Even though there were a few private lending libraries in the village, they were not for the benefit of children.
The eight Harris children
All my family of eight children, of whom I am the eldest, began their education in what was known in Mumbles as 'The Board School'. The alternative school was 'The Church School' - now demolished.
We were taught well in the Board School and were all avid readers and good at spelling.
When my sister Doreen and I were at the Board School, before the library existed, we always called into All Saints' Church on our way home from school. The big attraction was the Children's Corner, which had a small library of books considered suitable for children. We would choose a book, settle down and read for a while. We would put a marker into the book at the page we had reached, so that we could continue the story the next day - serialisation at its best!
When we arrived home, we just said that we had been to church.
When the library opened, my younger siblings were always anxious to get to the books - although children's books in those days were certainly not as attractive as those that children are fortunate enough to have today.
On Saturday mornings, to my mother's relief and my father's pleasure, they would be waiting outside (with the youngest in a pram) for the library to open. Mr. Morgan, the kind librarian always put a table against the wall for the Harris family, so that they could all be together.
When lunchtime arrived, he would come over to the table and say 'Time for you to go home to dinner now.' We tidied all the books, chose what we would borrow, and went home, well satisfied with our pleasant morning.
Saturday afternoon was also greatly enjoyed with a trip to the Regent Cinema, or as we usually called it, 'The New Cinema.' I think it was 'tuppence' a show.
When War was declared in 1939, I was just about to start my studies at the teacher training College on Townhill. The majority of the students were resident—the few day students allowed, lived mostly in close proximity to the College. There were only 100 students admitted each year.
Resident students slept at the top of the building, reached by climbing endless stone stairs. There were two wings—the East and the West and I was resident and slept in the latter.
Teachers Training College, Townhill, Swansea
When the air raids started
. . . we were all instructed to make our way to the ground floor common rooms—East and West, there being no air raid shelters. This was not too bad in daylight hours, but when, as frequently happened, an air raid attack took place at night, we had to get up, pick up our blankets and trek down all those stone stairs to the West Wing common room, where we stayed until the ‘All Clear’ sounded.
At the old Glanmôr School, lower down the hill, were the Anti-aircraft guns. During raids, we would hear them pounding away at the German bombers.
Our worst experience:
of the air raids came in 1941, when Swansea was targeted by the German bombers and set on fire and bombed mercilessly during the three nights’ Blitz. For three days and three sleepless nights, we lived in the same clothes. Water, gas and electricity were all affected by the bombing. Dozens and dozens of Molotov Cocktails (fire bombs) were dropped to light up the town. These had to be quickly dealt with by stirrup pumps and sand—but the stirrup pumps needed water, so sand alone was used. We were in such a prominent position, and so well lit up by the fire- bombs, that we fully expected to be hit. Streets around us suffered devastating destruction, with injuries and loss of life.
After the third night, we were all instructed to evacuate the college and go home, but to return some time in the following week if there were no further raids. There were only three of us who needed to get to Mumbles—one to West Cross, one to Langland and myself to Newton. We each packed a case and set off down the path towards the gun emplacement at Glanmôr. We could not go down the main road so went along a side street until we came to a road with a barrier. Someone invited us to go through their garden and their house. We continued on our way, passing streets with ‘Unexploded Bomb’ notices and were really lost. Eventually, we found ourselves at the top of Mount Pleasant—I don’t know how!
We were utterly shocked. The Grammar School was bombed and still burning. We continued down the hill and came upon Delabèche and Dynevor Schools, also both bombed and still burning. There were firemen, ARP wardens, Policemen, hoses and rubble everywhere.
We were not allowed to turn right, but were directed towards Alexandra Road. As we carefully made our way through the rubble, we came upon Trinity Church, practically razed to the ground and also still burning.
Firemen prevented us from continuing further up Alexandra road. We asked them how best to get to Rutland Street for the Mumbles train and they told us that High street was practically destroyed, still burning and highly dangerous. They escorted us through the narrow lane between Lewis Lewis and the King’s Head and we came into High Street—it was beyond belief! We crossed the road and were taken down a narrow lane to the Strand. This, we were told was the best route to Rutland Street.
The journey down the Strand was quite daunting, for high above us were all the bombed and burning shops of High Street.
Eventually, we reached the bottom of the Strand and looked for landmarks—there were few. Rutland Street School had been wiped out, but we found the trains were not reaching Rutland Street as there was a bomb on the track.
We continued wearily on our way until we reached Brynmill. We were surprised to see so many people there, as weary and dishevelled as we were. They were carrying bundles and cases and children. All were making their escape from the town, in anticipation of another night of bombing. We managed to get on the train and were very thankful for the respite.
When the train at last reached Oystermouth and we walked into the Station Square, it was amazing to see the crowds there—so many bewildered faces, not knowing what to do or where to go. There were many Mumbles people offering help and most of the Mumbles Ministers. The Rev. George Wilkinson, Vicar of All Saints’ Church (my Church) came to us and asked if we had anywhere to go. We were so dishevelled and fatigued that he did not recognise us.
We continued on the last lap of our journey, which was uphill all the way and when I reached home and my mother opened the door, we both burst into tears.
It was wonderful to be safe home with all my family.
My Wartime Wedding
My Fiancé, Morgan Davies was serving in the RAF in 76 Squadron, Bomber Command. We had had to postpone our wedding, which had been expected to take place in the spring of 1944, because all leave from the Forces had been cancelled in preparation for the D-Day landings. We rearranged it for the Monday morning of 25 September 1944, as Morgan had been granted five days’ leave and I had managed to get five days leave from my teaching post.
Newton School Log BookWest Glam Archive
Morgan was given a lift down to Fairwood Aerodrome from his base at Holme-on-Spalding Moor in Yorkshire on Sunday 24th September and at 11.00 a.m. on Monday 25th September, we were married at All Saints’ Church, Mumbles, by the Rev. D.G. Wilkinson. I carried a bouquet of cerise carnations, wore a wedding dress of gold brocade, with a short train, a matching gold-trimmed veil and orange blossom head-dress. The wedding outfit was not new, as valuable clothing coupons could not be spared. It had been bought from a very sweet deaf girl and it fitted beautifully. Thus there were enough coupons to buy a new going-away outfit—14 coupons for a jumper suit and 18 for a full length coat.
The Wedding of Morgan Davies and Edna Harris
After the wedding ceremony, we were taken by taxi to the Swansea High Street studio of Mr. Chapman, where our wedding photograph was taken. The wedding reception was held at the Osbourne Hotel, Langland, but the number of guests was restricted owing to wartime food rationing. Food points had been collected by family and relatives in order to obtain enough ingredients for a one-tier wedding cake, which had been made by the Chef of the Mackworth Hotel in Swansea, where my Aunt worked.
After the wedding reception, there being no petrol available for private journeys, we travelled by bus to Brecon, where we spent a very short honeymoon at the Wellington Hotel in very peaceful surroundings ‘far from the madding crowd!’ When we left, the Proprietor gave us half a dozen fresh eggs as a wedding present.
On Friday 29th September, amidst a bustle of soldiers and sailors all coming and going, I saw him off from Victoria Station in Swansea, as he had to return to his unit.
Soon after his arrived, the Squadron flew to Portreath, in Cornwall and thence to Marseilles for refuelling. They were en route for the Far East in stages. They spent time in Sardinia and Lydda, where they decided to visit Jerusalem and see the Wailing Wall. On their way back to the airfield, they were attacked by hostile Israelis and had to drive fast and furiously to escape from them. They then flew on to Aden and India.
After the War:
Morgan was transferred to Transport Command, bringing back our POWs from the Far-east to India and following a rest, then home. He also dropped rice over Burma. He returned home on the Oriana and was sea-sick all the way. His sister had waited for him to be Best Man at her wedding, but later, he collapsed and was taken in to Morriston Hospital, suffering from weakness following all that time at sea.
Morgan & Edna Davies, several years later