Barry War Museum
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Sylvia and Vernon Charles at Barry War Museum
In 1942-43 or so we lived in Romilly Avenue , Barry and my parents were asked if they would put up two ladies who had been appointed to work with the Americans. They were secretarial typists and held high positions because of their capabilities: Beryl Hearn from Ystrad Rhondda, my parents knew her family, and Marjorie Brown from Killay in Swansea . They were good friends and for some reason, although we only had three bedrooms, we were able to put them up. Beryl came home with a beautiful army knife, a real treasure but unfortunately, I’ve lost it.
Another time 1943 or so, as caretakers of the Methodist Church in Porthkerry Road , I was asked by my parents to open up the school room and church because there was going to be a wedding. So I got there at about 9.30 and as I was going into a little porch off the schoolroom, I came across a huge American, he said, “Hi son, what’s happening here?” I told him. It was at the time in my education when I had been told that going back to the 1500s or so that if you had done something wrong as members of the militia, police or army you were safe within a church. He said, “Don’t tell anyone that you have seen me.” This bothered me. I told him so. I think he took a hint and found another place of safety.
We had many air raid warnings. The boys and girls were segregated in Romilly School . One boy, John Scott couldn’t catch a ball although he was a brainy feller. He could always remember the ‘Just William’ stories by Richard Crompton. John Scott would always be called by Mr Williams, the teacher to give us a story.
During an air raid we would go down under the stairs. One night the Docks were attacked. There was one plane flying out towards St Athan. It flew over Romilly Park , the Gibbs family had a 3 or 4 year old son Melville. The bomb demolished their house. The mother and father were saved but the boy was killed.
The Methodists would put on social evenings, generally a Saturday; monologues, funny stories, dance. As there was rationing you didn’t have much food and yet people were so apt at making things. Everyone would bring something and share it out. As caretakers, we would be last to leave the building to lock up and I remember, we used to always have a tin of wonderful cakes. We would hold services on Sunday mornings but in the evening, once it got dark, during the blackout, we couldn’t hold a service. The church had 12 huge windows and each had a big panel of plywood that my father would put up for the blackout, being caretaker.
Towards the end of the war a number of POWs could go to services at Porthkerry Road Church , Barry. They would come to our home for tea. We were willing to welcome these people. We had two, a German officer and the other was a German airman. They were asked what they thought of the war. I can remember one of them saying, that if he had not enlisted he would have been shot. The other person, an officer, was a real gentleman who visited after the war.
War is a terrible thing. The inhumanity of man for his brother.
I lived in a street off Park Crescent , called Castle Street and went to Romilly School. I remember all the American jeeps and trucks in a never-ending convoy coming down Park Crescent making their way down to the SRD. Everyone was thinking how brilliant it was that they Americans had joined the war. Then others thought, “Oh no, they will have gum and nylons.”
We had two English ladies staying with us who were in the air force, W.A.A.F.s. One was called Mrs Macsheeda. They would both go out in the evening and come back with American soldiers and tins of ham and butter so my mum would prepare a nice meal for them. They would swing us around and turn us upside down, that’s what they liked to do.
Underneath our school there were shelters, so if the siren warning went, we all had to troop down, sit on our own cushion on the concrete floor and sing songs until the all-clear was sounded. I can remember when I had my gasmask; my brother who was 3 years younger than me had a Mickey Mouse one and I had an ordinary one. I remember thinking that I wanted a Mickey Mouse one too. The smell of rubber was horrible. We had a Morrison shelter which was basically a big metal table with a door. We would crawl inside this table in the hope that the top would protect us. I can’t remember going in the Morrison shelter, only under the stairs.
My grandmother lived in Salisbury Road . There were two houses in Oxford Street that had their windows blown out during a bad raid. I understand that the Germans were coming back from Swansea which was the target and they just off loaded their bombs.
Sweets were rationed and would go in the sweet jar. My mother used to have a sweet in one hand and a spoonful of cod liver oil in the other. You didn’t have your own sweets; they were pooled and shared out. If a banana boat came in you would have to go and queue up at the Co-op for a banana. We used to have spam and it didn’t taste the same after the war. We never had dried potato, not in our house, nor dried egg. We would rather wait and have the one egg.
As children we didn’t really know what was going on so you weren’t worried. Six o’clock and it would be silent while the news was on. We were protected as children in those days whereas today it’s all on the telly, the Gulf War, the Falklands War.
Below are several testimonials from by Barry residents relating to Barry and South Wales during the conflict.