‘I was put on a train with my gas mask. We didn’t know where we’d end up ....’

Peter Davies who was evacuated from the South Coast to Wales as a child during the war.
Peter Davies who was evacuated from the South Coast to Wales as a child during the war.

AS the anniversary of his life’s defining moment approaches, retired train guard Peter Davies finds his thoughts drifting 300 miles and 71 years back to his formative years in the Welsh valleys.

As youngsters in the Hell Fire Corner area of Kent – so called because it was closest to Nazi raids across the Channel during World War II – Peter and his two brothers had seen the haggard faces of troops dead, shot up and rescued in the June 2 evacuation from Dunkirk.

At his home in Saville Road, Blackpool, the retired and widowed railway guard still recalls the horror he witnessed shortly before he was sent to Wales.

“We were coming home from school near Sandwich and saw them returning from Dunkirk,” he said.

“It was a terrible sight – boats that had been machine-gunned, taking off the dead and injured, the look on the faces of troops absolutely exhausted. It haunts me to this day.

“We children were in the firing line and one day, two classes were put on a train with two teachers and spent a very long day travelling to Glyncorrwg in the Afan Valley.

“There at the Miners’ Hall, around 18 of us were billeted with local people who welcomed us with open arms.”

With suitcases and gas masks in hand, Peter was taken in by David, a collier, and Gladys Morgans, while younger brother Alan found a home in a neighbouring street with miners’ representative, Glyn Williams.

Later on, as the first shots were exchanged in the Battle of Britain, their youngest brother Roy, five, also came to live with him at the Morgans’.

There they went to Cymmer Primary, to chapel and eventually on to work.

Peter said: “They treated us as their own, as one of them.

“If there was a scuffle between lads and one said ‘surrender’ the other stopped fighting – it really was ‘chwarae teg’ (fair play).

“Once a bomb dropped near Glyncorrwg and the shockwave ricocheted off the mountain, smashing all the windows, but otherwise there was little trouble in the village.

“They took us into their hearts and homes and brought us up as their own.

“After the war, Roy stayed in Wales, Alan and I went home. But with dad in the Merchant Navy and no house, there wasn’t a place for us. We were sleeping in a tent in the garden and gran’s roof had been half blown off by a V1 rocket.

“Alan missed Glyncorrwg and soon went back. Within a year, so did I, aged 14, because we were like strangers in Kent. Our aunties and uncles showed little interest and, if it weren’t for Wales, we’d all have been put in an orphanage. I got back home to Glyncorrwg at Christmas and Uncle Dai could see there was something wrong and pressed me about it. Eventually I told him I had no place to return to – and he just said, ‘Then you must stay here’.

“They were like a father and mother to me. When it came to work, he put me off the pit by organising a trip underground to frighten the life out of me and it worked!

“Both my brothers stayed in Glyncorrwg, went down the pit and ended up marrying Welsh girls so I’ve lots of nieces and nephews there now.

“I ended up working at the Co-op instead and later went into the RAF as a driver in Blackpool for my national service. I chose the Brylcreem Boys, as they were called, because they wore shoes and I’d heard all the horror stories about sores from Army boots!

“When I returned to Wales that Christmas, I found out that of the 20 lads who signed up alongside me – but as soldiers in the Gloucester Regiment – only two had survived the Korean War, with awful arm and leg injuries. The rest had all been killed.”

Peter met his wife, Rosalind, in Blackpool and they settled here to have five children. But every year I made sure I returned to Glyncorrwg on June 2 and often took my family there to share my Welsh home with them too,” he said.

“There are fewer and fewer of us evacuees left now and, at 78, it’s getting difficult to travel to Wales again, though we had a fine reunion a few years back when they turned out a commemorative book called Cor! Memories of the War in Glyncorrwg.

“I would not have swapped my childhood in Glyncorrwg like an adopted Welshman for any other – and I can still sing Land of My Fathers!”

Peter’s sister-in-law, Violet Davies, 75, still lives in the village in Woodland Road, having buried Peter’s brother, Roy, 13 years ago in Cymmer cemetery.

She said: “Roy hardly knew his mother though we took our family to see her several times and his dad once. It was very difficult for the brothers when their parents split up.

“Quite a few evacuees came to Glyncorrwg during the war but most went back and lost contact with the families here.

“Peter’s family and ours kept in touch and holidayed with each other for years with the kids. But Roy thought of the Morgans as his parents and they were marvellous grandparents to our kids – he always felt Glyncorrwg and Wales was his home.”