Sunday, 29 August 2010

Hanes Môn: Anglesey during WW2

In today's Hanes Môn we'll take a look at some of the fascinating stories about Anglesey during the Second World War. All the information here us drawn from the excellently researched "An Island At War: Anglesey 1939-1945" by Geraint Jones.

  • During the early days of the War, over 2,500 primary school evacuees, mostly from Liverpool and Manchester, arrived on Anglesey to escape any bombing of their home cities. In fact there was so many of them that Anglesey's schools had to operate a double-shift system of educating local children in the morning and evacuees in the afternoon. However there was still not enough room in the schools for all of them so many of the evacuees had to be educated in temporary premises like chapels - causing more than a few problems for Catholic children. When requests were made to use three Welsh Nonconformist chapels in Holyhead to educate these children, the Holyhead Free Church Council agreed only on the condition that "no teaching of a Roman Catholic nature can be allowed in them". Despite all this it appears that the Anglesey people made a good impression on the youngsters and one evacuee, called B. Lake, was reported as having told the local newspaper: "we have made a thorough revision of our view on the Welsh people, totally in their favour, although we still fail to be convinced of the merits of Lloyd George and the Liberals".
  • At outbreak of the war only five of the Island's villages had mains water and the rest of Anglesey still relied on carrying water from wells. However as the population on Anglesey expanded rapidly with evacuees and military personnel, the sources of water on the Island started to become insufficient forcing authorities to lay a pipe across the Menai Suspension Bridge to carry water from Bangor to Menai Bridge.  Incidentally, both bridges were routinely guarded during the War by military detachments and police to watch out for saboteurs who might try to blow them up.
  • In May 1940, the Holyhead Free Church Council sent a letter to every chapel in the town expressing concern about "moral sicknesses" in the town and claiming there were houses in Holyhead where "terrible sins are committed". The Free Church Council apparently claimed that some Holyhead girls and their families were to blame. The same Free Church Council also tried to prevent the showing of films in Holyhead on Sundays.
  • Holyhead received the brunt of "enemy action" during the War, suffering from nine ariel bombings and two incidents of machine gun strafing from passing aircraft - although fortunately nobody was killed in any of these incidents. It wasn't only Holyhead: Llanfachtraeth, Llanfair PG and some poor, unassuming greenhouses in Pentre Berw were also struck by bosch bombs during the early years of the War. Furthermore Anglesey wasn't only attacked from the air, several boats were sunk by German mines just beyond the Holyhead breakwater. German U-boats were active in Irish sea attacking ships sailing between Holyhead and Dublin, and another ship was torpedoed by a U-boat just off Bardsey Island on the Llyn Peninsular.
  • A 'War Weapons Week' to raise money to buy equipment for the military was held in Holyhead in December 1940, raising £90,261 - the equivalent of several million pounds at today's values. Apparently the people of Holyhead saw themselves in competition with the people of Conwy for some reason and wanted to raise a larger sum (which they did).
  • RAF Valley, built early during the War, was originally designated "RAF Rhosneigr", but was later changed to its present name as "Rhosneigr" was thought too difficult for incomers to pronounce. Indeed there appears to have been some friction between the Islanders and incomers over place names, with one writer to a local paper complaining that "they regard their persistent mispronunciations as humorous rather than discourteous". Though to be fair, I'm not sure how well we would be able to pronounce many Beligan, Polish and Czech place names - where many of the pilots stationed at Valley came from. Interestingly to protect RAF Valley a 'decoy' airfield was built on a section of sand dunes near Newborough and lit up at night time to trick the enemy. No enemy aircraft ever attacked the site, but in 1942 a Briston Beaufighter mistakenly tried to land there on a cloudy night, killing both crewmen. When the runways at RAF Valley were being extended in 1942 to accommodate the massive American 'Flying Fortress' bombers, the Llyn Cerrig Bach Iron Age treasures were found.
  • A Supermarine Spitfire, which had developed a fault, crashed into Gwalia Stores in the centre of Beaumaris in March 1941. Nobody was killed. In Novermber 1941 a German Heinkel bomber was shot down by an Australian pilot from RAF Valley and it crashed in field near Bodffordd - attracting huge crowds of onlookers. It was never reported in the press though as it was thought that news of enemy aircraft in Anglesey airspace would cause worry.
  • In October 1941 the Chronicle reported that a semi-concious man had been found in a wooden crate shipped to Dublin from Holyhead. It transpired that the man was a well known French painter and a former member of the French Air Force. Strangely no further news was ever recorded about the man or how he had got there.
  • Disturbingly in January 1942 a letter from the RSPCA in the local press informed the public that cats were being stolen for their fur. Owners were urged to keep their cats indoors at night.
  • Anglesey's War Agricultural ("War Ag") Committee issued farmers with quotas for the food they were to produce and penalties for failing to comply were severe. In fact in 1942 a Brynsiencyn farmer was fined £130 for failing to produce enough.
  • On 19 July 1943 a Vickers Wellington bomber on training exercise over Anglesey suffered failure of both engines prompting the crew to bail out. The aircraft crashed into a field not far from Llanddeusant. It burst into flames and then ploughed through a hedge and onto a country road were it crashed into a car carrying a doctor accompanied by his wife and mother-in-law. Distressingly the inquest included testimony from a woman who had seen the doctor with his clothes on fire pleading with her to help him look for his wife. Sadly both women were dead at the scene of the crash and the doctor died in hospital the next day.
  • In September 1944 the Chronicle reported that Cpl Idris Jones from Menai Bridge who served with the RAF in North Africa had met a Welsh-speaking Arab. In the same month Holyhead Town Council paid tribute to the gallantry of Jack Everett, who had escaped a Prisoner of War camp in Italy and rejoined his unit.
  • The Crosville Motor Company finally started using double-decker buses on the Bangor-Llangefni-Holyhead route in April 1945. This was made possible by the strengthening of the Menai Suspension Bridge in 1941. Previously the normal practice had been for passengers to get off the bus which would cross the bridge empty and then wait for the passengers to walk over to the other side.
  • On 5 July 1945 the General Election was held. In Anglesey there were only two candidates: Megan Lloyd George (Liberal) and 28 year old Flying Officer stationed at RAF Valley called Cledwyn Hughes (Labour). Lloyd George beat Hughes by just over a 1,000 votes.

This is just a small selection of the information and anecdotes contained in "An Island at War" by Geraint Jones - a really fascinating read. If this has piqued your interest, the book is available in Anglesey libraries and to buy in Oriel Môn (for the avoidance of doubt I am in no way connected to Mr Jones).


The IT Crowd said...

Tut, tut, Druid: you should also have mentioned that the book is available at no cost whatsoever, from Anglesey's library service:

Solstice said...

Very interesting facts, and I'm sure there'll be a run on the book!

My grandfather was a policeman during WW2, being too old to fight as a WW1, Military Medal veteran, 1916-1918. He was posted to guard South Stack lighthouse for some time. The picture here may be taken from there (the scraggy grass looks coastal!):

The Druid of Anglesey said...

IT Crowd - quite right, my apologies. Ive now added the library link in the main post.

Solstice - a great photo. I did have a look online for photos of the island during the War but there was virtually nothing. Would be interesting to start some kind of Flickr group for Anglesey WW2 photos.

The Red Flag said...

Very interesting Druid, especially about RAF Valley changing it's name. I know RAF bases from around that time were usually named after the nearest rail station and I always wondered why it wasn't called RAF Rhosneigr.

Turns it it was originally then!

The Great Councillini said... RAF Llandwrog, which kept that name throughout the war period, I think; now Caernarfon Airfield.

Heh! The word verification is 'Dogons'. Now there's a topic for further discussion. Claimed to have been visited by aliens from Sirius 'B', a story that emerged about the time that small and extremely difficult to observe companion to the Dog Star was discovered.

Anonymous said...

The Great Councillini 17.26. Sir, if you can not hold your drink I suggest you keep away from the key board, sir!

Prometheuswrites said...

Councillini is correct.

Check out the late great Robert Anton Wilson's 'Cosmic Trigger' series of books.
Or even Tom Robbin's 'Half Asleep in Frog Pajama's'
There's even a section on Dogon and Sirius under 'Dogon People' in wikipedia.

Pass the 16 year old single malt TGC!

TGC said...

"Pass the 16 year old single malt TGC!"

Now there's a contributor with taste. Hic! said...

hey, i'm doing a project for history in school about WWI + 2, in Rhosneigr and Anglesey. If u have any stories about families or cool facts about Rhosneigr or anglesey in the great war please please email me!!!! thanx ;)