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Wartime Memories Of Hay Part Two

A Memory of Hay-on-Wye.

Memories of Hay during the Second World War: Part Two.

(Continued from Part One)
Thoughts of 'Dad's Army' remind me that the local Home Guard occasionally used Forest Road for some kind of exercise. I've dim recollections of one or two coming into the garden of 'Wayside' with their rifles and taking up whatever position was thought advantageous. Soldiers marching through the town was not an uncommon sight. I have quite a vivid memory of a large column of soldiers with pack-mules proceeding westwards up Belmont Road past the Wye Cafe, probably on their way to Brecon. Likewise, a small boy was always likely to be attracted by processions of army vehicles, Bren-gun carriers, tracked vehicles in camouflage khaki livery. There was a petrol station opposite the Swan Hotel (J.V. Like's garage in peace-time) manned by American soldiers who not only responded favourably to requests of "Any gum, chum?" but also were known to give away tiny pairs of (?army-issue) light-weight dice. Each small, top-like, die (less than an inch long when spinning) was used in games of chance because the sides read: 'take two', 'take one', 'put one','put two' 'take all' etc. Somewhere in the back of a drawer I probably still have one of these souvenirs.

Of soldiers generally one probably saw little enough in Hay during the day. One spot was The Moor Lodge east of the town on the road to Dorstone and Hereford; it had been commandeered by Army authorities, and at one time was used by American soldiers. Post-war I recall my mother being told by one of the Riddell family, the displaced owners, that soldiers had wrecked the house, tossing the wooden banisters on to the hearth fire for warmth. Another remark about such camps was that the guards and temporary defences were not so much to keep the soldiers within as to keep the local girls out - make of that what one may!

Another source of interest for me was accompanying my mother in delivering vegetables to a small prisoner-of-war camp situated just beyond Llyswen. The nationality of the men was (I think) Ukrainian, and the inmates were sometimes helping local farmers with agricultural chores. Members of the female 'Land Army' were based at Maesllwch Castle, north of the Wye at Glasbury; these were under the command of a Miss Robinson who from time to time visited Hay and who liked to confide to my aunt of her experiences with unruly girls. There may have been other kinds of 'camps', including small prisoner-of-war camps, in the neighbourhood of Hay because at one stage, perhaps just at the end of the war, there was a football match played at the Cooper's Hall field where a Hay St. Mary's team played against a group of what I thought were mostly Polish players who had been living (perhaps working) not far away.

'Digging for Victory' was a well-known slogan in war-time Britain. And one of the grand schemes for improving land production was a scheme for growing come corn on the flat land at the foot of Hay Bluff. Many in my own family seemed to know that this was doomed from the start, reckoning that at that elevation there would guarantee insufficient growing days. And so it turned out. The stalks of wheat or barley never reached full height let alone ripened maturity. I can't think the experiment was repeated, though planting groundnuts in central Africa a few years later met with no more success.

On the local front, I recall - though maybe this errs beyond 1945 - as Primary School children we were sent on expeditions a few times to collect rose-hips from the hedgerows in order to boost the supply of vitamin C. One such outing in school time took us to the Cwm-mawrs (large fields south of Hay Castle). And analogously there were even times when schoolchildren were asked to collect and bring to school old rags and even old newspapers, the materials within which were presumably in short supply and could be extracted.

With thanks to John S. Batts for this memory of Hay-on-Wye

Added 28 April 2010


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