My family moved to Bishton in 1945 when my father began working at Bishton Signal Box. Because of the returning soldiers, few houses were available in the Newport area so we settled at Bank Cottage, Bishton. The cottage had been condemned in the 1930s - the west wall appeared ready to collapse, there was one faucet, and a drop toilet thirty yards away was the only biffy - but we were desperate for a roof above us so we moved in. The cottage was soon made comfortable even though most of the furniture we had brought from Aberdare had to be put into storage. My father added a greenhouse to the front of the house to give us more room. By spring the garden had been tamed and it began to yield a stream of vegetables. My contribution was spread over two years: I hedged the orchard, repaired the pigsty, bought a piglet for fifteen shillings, fattened it over eighteen months and got Mr Rawlings to slaughter it for us. I can still taste that bacon.
I was eleven when we made the move to Bishton. The first thing that struck me when I had time to look around was that there were lots of other youngsters living in the village and most attended the Bishton Primary School. Some youngsters of high school age attended St Joseph’s School in Newport while I attended attended Larkfield, a high school in Chepstow. St Joseph’s students caught the Red & White bus from the village into Newport but I cycled to Llanmartin to catch a bus which meant a very long day.
There was lots for a youngster to do in Bishton. Once a week we could attend a youth club run by Mr Tom Reese and assisted by my mother which was held in the Presbyterian Church (now converted to a private residence). I never found out what the girls did but the boys made good use of a box horse built by Gordon Webber for gymnastics and we also held boxing matches in the vestry. On Sundays, as well as the regular church services provided by the Reverend Stanley Jones, there was a Sunday School run by his wife. Children sang in the choir chiefly at evensong and also participated with plays and Bible readings in special events such as Easter and Harvest Thanksgiving. Adults worked very hard to give the youngsters a good time in those post-war years and I remember a well organized sports day - sack races, egg and spoon races, etc -being held in the field behind Bank Cottage and a fancy dress parade through the village. We could also amuse ourselves. Tesse Davies and Jean Stevens established the Bishton Bicycling Club. Although we only made one bike trip the organization was superb! We elected officials, designed a badge and somebody even modified 'Men of Harlech' to come up with a club anthem!
The only provision for adult recreation I remember was the Old English Dance held weekly at Bishton school shortly after the school had closed down in about 1949. Mrs Harris and Mr Griffiths attracted participants from all over the moors. My mother often provided the music on a piano. She was good at this because all Mrs Harris had to do was hum the tune and she could play the piece.
Compared with two other places, Risca and Aberdare, that I had lived in during the war years, Bishton came away somewhat unscathed; however, I am sure listening to the bombers passing overhead and dropping their bombs onto the well illuminated decoy out on the moors was unnerving. The only bomb which fell in Bishton exploded just after my father had taken up a position at the signal box. He and the telegraph boy caught sight of an enemy plane approaching the signal box from the south with a bomb protruding from its fuselage. The plane was waggling its wings as it came towards them and the bomb was dropped in the field behind the box. There was a big explosion and the windows were blown out but neither railwaymen were hurt. The plane roared on to the north.
By the time the rest of my family had followed my father to Bishton, VE Day was passed and we were all celebrating VJ Day (August 15, 1945). Sometime later a celebratory bonfire was burned in the meadow - the field behind The Ridings Farm, owned by Mr. Bassett. I don’t know who paid for it but oodles of fireworks were given out. In the months following the end of the war we became more aware of the prisoner of war (POW) camp at Llanmartin on what is now the site of a housing estate. Initially the only sign the military were at the camp was the sound of automatic weapons being fired, but later the gates were thrown open and the inmates were allowed out. It was not uncommon to see groups of uniformed men walking along our lanes conversing in German. Still later the government encouraged the British interact with these men so that reconciliation could begin. They suggested the POWs did volunteer work in our homes. That was the year we had our apples picked by Lieutenant Commander Ernst Muller, a former architect from Hanover - fluent in English, an accomplished pianist and a capable artist. I still have a very small painting he did of St Cadwalader.
Bishton was a farming community before the steel works flopped on its excellent agricultural land. Mr. Bassett, the Ridings, had a high tolerance of youngsters and never discouraged youths lending a hand on his farm. The work was voluntary but there were real rewards - healthy activity, farming knowledge, tanned bodies and a general feeling of well-being.
In 1950, following the unexpected death of my father, my family moved away. I have lived many places since but few Bishton‘s community spirit remains impressed on my memory.
A memory shared byon Apr 25th, 2009.
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