When Bombs Rained Down on the Communities of Coedffranc
On the night of 1st September 1940 and into the early hours of 2nd September, a group of Skewen residents fought to extinguish incendiary bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe on properties in and around Siding Terrace. At the forefront of the struggle to extinguish the fires were two senior Air Raid Precautions Wardens who took charge of the situation and, displaying exceptional courage and resourcefulness, prevented the small fires turning into an inferno. This was not the first, or the last, or the most devastating air raid that the residents of the Coedffranc community would experience during the Second World War.
In July 1939 a presentation was made at the Castle Hotel, Neath of badges and certificates to 60 men and 40 women ARP wardens of Skewen.1 These wardens became the first link in a chain of ARP bodies that would include firefighters, rescue and first aid parties, ambulance crews and medics. In order to report and co-ordinate the work of the ARP Wardens a local control post was required. The Wardens Post might be in a municipal building, a shop, or a basement, or even the front room in of one warden’s home. A limited number were purpose built constructions. In the communities of Coedffranc, Wardens Posts were established at:
22.A.1 1 Dynevor Place, Skewen (the home of Albert Emerson Truman)
22.A.2 19 Wern Road, Skewen (the home of Ambrose Richard Morgan)
22.A.3 79 New Road, Skewen (the home of Idris Dawkins)
22.A.4 The Cottage, Cardonnel Road, Skewen (the home of Edwin Gaskins)
22.A.5 Highlands, Skewen
22.A.6 Constructed Post, opposite the Smiths Arms, Neath Abbey
22.A.7 Scout Hut at Llandarcy
22.A.8 Constructed Post, Elba Crescent, Cymlyn Burrows
22.A.10 The Schools [sic], Jersey Marine
22.A.11P The Garage, Cefn Parc, Skewen
22.A.12P Lonlas House, Park Avenue, Skewen (the home of Miss Jennie Myfanwy John)
Wardens would report to their post when they came on or went off duty and part-time wardens were supposed to put in about three nights a week.
As the threat of war developed ARP wardens were issued with additional equipment, such as a more robustly constructed gas mask. Among the tools at the Wardens Posts was a stirrup pump and hose for firefighting. This was to be used by two people – one person working the pump, which stood in a bucket of water, whilst the second person held the hose and directed the nozzle at the flames.
On the night of 1st /2nd September 1940 the German Luftwaffe carried out its biggest raid on Swansea and the surrounding district to date. In the early hours of 2nd September extensive damage was caused to properties, a workshop and stores, also a timber yard when a high-explosive bomb fell on the roadway of Siding Terrace, Skewen and incendiary bombs fell on Nos 5, 7 and 8 Siding Terrace. The senior wardens on duty at that time were David William Thomas and Albert Emerson Truman. The high-explosive bomb dropped a matter of yards from the Wardens Post, damaging the Post. Thomas was on duty in the Warden’s Post and Truman was on patrol duty. As a result of this bomb explosion extensive damage was done to workshops, stores and houses, whilst incendiary bombs started several fires. Thomas and Truman took charge of the situation immediately. Using stirrup pumps they commenced to fight the fires - Thomas tackled the house fires with the aid of other wardens and residents, while Truman took charge of attempts to keep the timber yard fire under control. When one trailer pump that arrived failed to function fresh fires broke out. Thomas and Truman tackled them using the water for their stirrup pumps, from the water-filled crater caused by the bomb; this activity was being carried on while enemy planes were still dropping bombs. At the crater, where they were using the stirrup pumps, there was danger from falling debris from the damaged houses, but Truman and Thomas carried on and undoubtedly saved the situation by preventing small fires from becoming an inferno. For their courage and resourcefulness Thomas and Truman where awarded the British Empire Medal. The timber yard which belonged to Messrs Jones Bros was destroyed by fire while extensive damage was done to numerous houses. Fortunately there was no loss of life but six people were injured, two persons were classed as serious casualties and four as slight casualties.2
Bomb Damage at Siding Terrace
With oil storage tanks burning brightly the Luftwaffe returned on the night of 2nd /3rd September 1940, but this time the raid on the National Oil Refinery (Llandarcy)proved to be ineffective. The refinery’s anti-aircraft defence, aided by a ‘fighting vessel’ in the bay, put up a barrage of fire with the result that only two bombs landed in the refinery (both failed to detonate). However, a further five bombs landed in and about Llandarcy Village - one bomb fell near 35 Pretyman Drive and one at the rear of 22 The Greenway and three more bombs detonated on waste ground at the side of 68 The Greenway; fortunately there was no loss of life.3 During this raid four bombs were also dropped on Jersey Marine Golf Course, no personal injuries or property damage resulted.
Prior to these air raids, an earlier air raid on 21st July 1940 resulted in a near miss from a high-explosive bomb which landed in the garden of 25 Elba Crescent, Cymlyn Burrows. Nine people (four adults and five children) found themselves trapped inside their Anderson shelter in the garden. Covered by sand and dirt the survivors’ shouts for help were answered when ARP wardens and soldiers dug them out. All nine survived, but Mr William Harris, the householder, sustained shrapnel wounds, and his legs were crushed by a blast-wall he had constructed in front of the entrance to the shelter.4
Another devastating air raid on Skewen was that of the night of 20th May 1941. A single raider dropped a cluster of bombs on and around Burrows Road and whilst most fell on waste ground causing no damage, one high-explosive bomb caused extensive damage and death. Four casualties required hospital treatment, while one casualty was treated at a temporary ARP Post in Cardonnel Road. Sadly Philip George Moth died from his injuries at Penrhiwtyn Hospital. Mrs Mary Richards was detained in hospital requiring stiches to a gash across her eyes and punctured check. Four houses were badly damaged with Y Capel Chapel and four other houses having to be demolished; rescue and demolition parties were stood down at 20.35 hours the following day.5
The district of Neath Abbey was also on the receiving end of Luftwaffe attacks. In September 1940 nine bombs were dropped on the district, one causing extensive damage to Glynfelin (home of the Gibbins family) and in July 1942 the district was again bombed.
Bomb Damage at Glynfelin
ARP wardens were not above the law and offences for which Coedffranc’s wardens were charged included minor motoring misdemeanours. Failure to adequately screen bicycle lighting and torches, would lead to a summons. Other cases for which wardens in the district of Coedffranc were found guilty were more serious, such as the senior warden who was found guilty of black marketeering and a female warden who was found guilty of the theft of food and clothing. One unfortunate warden found himself briefly incarcerated in an internment camp since his parents were of German origin.
Over 1.9 million people served within the Civil Defence which was disbanded on 2nd May 1945. A farewell parade with representatives of all the Civil Defence Services from across Great Britain took place in Hyde Park, London on 10th June 1945 in the presence of His Majesty King George VI.
Note: The images used in this article are held at Glamorgan Archives and appear with the permission of the South Wales Police Heritage Centre.
1. Neath Guardian - 14th July 1939
2. Neath Control Centre ARP Log Book
3. A History of Llandarcy 1921 – 1971 - VL Barnes
4. Memories of Swansea at War - South Wales Evening Post (1988)
5. Neath Control Centre ARP Log Book
2. Neath Control Centre ARP Log Book
1. Neath Guardian, 14 July 1939