Muriel's story

We are sent away to Wales

My name is Muriel. I was born and brought up in inner city Birmingham. In 1939 I was 9 years old, my brother Leonard was nearly 12, sister June was 7 and baby Margaret was 3. My parents decided that, in the event of war, we three older ones should be evacuated. Since they felt it essential that we should stay together, June and I were to go with the boys school. So, on the morning of Friday, 1st September, before actual declaration of war, we were taken to the school carrying gas mask and just one bag each with a change of clothing. Then we all walked in crocodile to a local suburban railway station where we boarded a train to we knew not where. We were, in fact, bound for the village of Cwmbran in South Wales. Sometime in the late afternoon the train drew into a siding and we were shepherded into what I afterwards learned was the works canteen of the Weston's Biscuit Factory at Llantarnum. Here we were given a meal and a brown paper carrier containing packets of biscuits, sweets and tin of corned beef. Then by bus to the council offices in Cwmbran where we were sorted out and taken to the homes where we were to stay.

We were taken to a large house (Oakfield house) quite the largest house we had ever been in, standing in quite a large area of land. The front gate opened onto the tow path of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. A large garden surrounded the house, in some of which vegetables grew. There were apple trees and a large area of raspberry canes. At the rear was an area with pig sty, hen house and a place for ducks. The family we were with was called Paling.

All this a world away from inner city Birmingham.

In the convention of the times it was not considered proper that June and I should be taught with the boys, so we two were taken into the village girls school. Another new experience where our accents were considered funny and we felt somewhat inferior. People were mostly kind and we soon made friends and went off on expeditions up the local mountain where we picked whinberries and we explored the upper and lower reaches of the canal where for the first time in my life I saw kingfishers. We had chores to do at Oakfield House - one of mine was daily to feed the hens and collect the eggs. We hated it when the ducks escaped onto the canal for it was a long-winded task to persuade them back in. People who kept pigs were allowed to kill one per year and on the day the butcher was coming to kill the pig we were sent off with sandwiches and a drink to spend the day up the mountain.

Our parents made occasional trips to see us so we heard something of the devastation of Birmingham by the bombing. The nearest we came to an actual experience of war whilst at Cwmbran was one afternoon on the way home from school when we saw in the distance an German aircraft falling out of the sky in flames and the pilot baling out and his parachute opening. He was captured by farmers, his plane having been off course.

Click here for Muriel return to Birmingham
Muriel Cope
September 2007.

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