“This is your Victory”….

My Geat Uncle Ivor Guest Davies of Great St. Dials Farm, Cwmbran

Well, clearly not anyone in  our political arena – not yet anyway.  No, this was Churchill, 65 years ago,  the end of the War in Europe, May 8 1945.  It seems to have slipped by in all the attention given to anticipating which gang will be victors this May.

The Second World War has always been a strong influence on me,  though it had actually ended long before I came into the world.  Nevertheless it was an omnipotent force in my family.  My mother’s two brothers were in Normandy, my father’s elder brother and his elder sister’s fiancee were there too.  My uncle Bill, my mother’s brother, was seriously wounded in Belgium serving with the 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers.  He was a dummy runner to flush out a German sniper who had already killed five of his platoon – including two close friends – the sniper was spotted and killed when he fired at Private William Deakin.  Unfortunately his aim was too near to true and he took off the left ear.  Bill survived and was shipped back to England to be hospitalised into a ward of badly burned airman (the Guinea Pig Club) and there, under the expert hands of Archibald McIndoe, an innovatory plastic surgeon, skin grafts resulted in half of his ear being reconstructed.  In the black humour of the mining community in which we lived, Uncle Bill was forever-after known because of this half ear, as Billy 18 months – a (y)ear and a half !

There was never any discussion of war time exploits or tales of daring do.  It was never mentioned, but looking back when I myself was serving, I realised that the strain of the war years, of the worry and fear, had in fact resulted in a sort of post-traumatic stress amongst the women of the family and probably the men too.  I imagine my poor grandmother, Bill’s mum, getting the telegram that he was badly wounded – I have it, it says …”his wounds are such that he is not expected to survive”.  She, along with my mother, then 15 year old, caught the train to Cardiff thence up to a little village called Taffs Well (famous for the Taff Vale Railway dispute of 1901 in which the Trade Union was held financially liable for the losses incurred by the railway following a strike – this led ultimately to the formation of the Labour Party) to await the homecoming, from the factory in which she worked, of  Bill’s fiancee, Betty.  Her mother and she had already had a telegram eighteen months earlier telling them that her son, Bet’s bro, was MIA in Libya (eventually being traced to a grave in the British War Cemetery in Tripoli) his plane having failed to return from a strafing mission.

My father’s mother, Irene Fry nee Davies – my grandmother – had lost a brother twenty five years earlier at Verdun as had my mother’s father Albert Deakin; I have the ‘death plaques’ of  Uncle Dick – as Bill always called him – who is buried near Amiens and Ivor Guest Davies of Great St Dials Farm, Cwmbran who served in the 1st Battalion South Wales Borderers and died in May 1916. See the picture at the top of this post.

My Uncle Bill survived his wounds and lived to the ripe old age of 91, he died this last Boxing Day.  The last of the blood relatives I have from the generation above me.  Betty lives on, confused and sad, “my Husband’s dead” she repeats as I sit with her. Seventy years or so of devotion and partnership leaves her a lost soul, animals likewise mated rarely live long beyond such a loss, God could do worse than to take her from us soon too, for her and us the loneliness is too much to bear.  My generation and those that come after should remember May 8, the dead, the survivors who suffered and the women at home

“They also serve who only sit and wait”

My Uncle Bill on the occassion of his 90th birthday gig. Alongside is his devoted wife, my aunt Bet, and me, a doting nephew. My goodbye to him following his death on Boxing day said "And so, Private William Deakin, 2 SWB, as you journey to that place where warriors gather, it remains only, for those of us left behind, to salute you and join together is saying that At the End of the Day and in the Morning, We Will Remember You, We Will Remember.

Thus the link with the past has ostensibly gone, and yet, it unnerves me a little to think that I knew men who fought and suffered and yet lived on to have ‘normal lives’.  My Bampi (Deakin) had a boast which he used to demonstrate the touchability of major historical events.

He would say “I shook the hand of a man, who shook the hand of a man, who fought at Waterloo!”  Thereby linking me to that man too.  So little Esmea will be held by a man in C21st, who was held by a man in the C20th  who had shaken the hand of a man who had, in turn, shaken the hand of a man who had fought at Waterloo in 1815.  Astounding, our past is not so long ago.

Now this has come into my mind for a number of reasons, not least the 65th anniversary date.  Great St. Dials farm in the old village of Cwmbran (designated as a post-war ‘New Town’ and now huge in size) is my paternal family home-farm.  Closeby Greenmeadow Farm – now a ‘Community Farm ‘-  and Llanyravon Farm – a few miles south – are relics of the pre-industrial agricultural landscape which dominated the area.  I was there on May 8th, returning to my childhood home area, to woods and farms, canal bank, school-yard, walks and the homes of relatives (including Aunt Betty mentioned above).  My reason for visiting was to carry out an investigation into a recently discovered piece of history of the area.

Having recently completed a study of Dry Stone Wall typology – the ways that the stones which make up such walls are positioned within them – in an attempt to ascribe certain styles to an historic period, my University tutors suggested to the Ancient Cwmbran project, that I might have something useful to contribute.  It is clear to me, from the twenty or so years I have been involved in dry stone walling, that techniques changed over the historic spectrum.  Field systems delineated by such walls can be traced back to Bronze-age farmers  nearly three thousand years ago.  Iron-age walls and field systems abound in upland Wales and throughout the medieval periods walls were used to corral and enclose crops.

In the ancient woodlands (technically ‘ancient semi-natural’) of the upper slopes of Mynydd Maen, now covered by sprawling housing estates, there exists a number of old walls.  Two local men (unbeknown to each other until recently) had long been fascinated by them.  In addition to the walls there exists nearby, the prehistoric twmp of Twmbarlwm which dominates the south Wales skyline, a presumed Iron-age defended enclosure.  An early Christian claas lies above the woodland dedicated to the unrecorded ‘St. Derval’ (Llanderval is undergoing archaeological investigation too) and is known to be associated with the later Cistercian presence at Llantarnam – an abbey a few miles south.  On the skyline to the south can be seen Lodge Hill at Caerleon and the glistening water of the Bristol Channel.  The Roman presence at Caerleon is well recorded as is the post Norman influence in this area.  What this project seeks to explore, and these walls tantalisingly suggest, is the early Christian settlement and landscape.

These stones are big, and then some - the red and white pole is half a metre.

The stones which make up the most significant wall in the woodland are large, to say the least.  They are of a quartz clonglomerate, heavy and naturally slab-sided.  They have been laid in an absolute straight line, built as a ‘double’, which is to say there are stones laid down both sides with the middle in-filled by smaller stones. The wall is significant, it is ancient and it may turn out to be an important find in a wider context.  The history of Wales, in the pre-Roman period may need to be re-assessed in the light of the finds of the Ancient Cwmbran project.

(Have a look at: www.ancientcwmbran.co.uk)

I will revisit the Walls of the Woodlands, much research and investigation lies ahead in the coming months.  Isn’t it strange that I should end up back where I started – ‘what goes around comes around’ indeed.

All-in-all its been a varied week.  Monday (the May-day holiday) saw me displaying a small collection of my artefacts at a carnival in the village of the ‘five Saints’ – Pumsaint, which is the home of the Roman Goldmines of Dolaucothi (readers who don’t know Wales will be thinking them darned Italians got everywhere – in essence they did !)

A device not for me but to stop a calf from suckling on his mum.

I enjoy a small local show.  There’s always a lot of interest and for me, there is a wealth of information on Welsh names for pieces in the collection, for memories of using them and fascination for what they are.

How many of these do you know ?

By the end of the week I was on the trail of some additions to my collection.  A tip off led me to a large old farm in the Swansea valley, just a few miles from the work site at Ton y Fildre.  Here, hidden for a generation in an airy, zinc barn were a number of carts…

Hidden for a generation, this tantalising glimpse of the wheel of a Glamorgan Gambo.... oh well, here we go again !

Oh, and by the way, I found the owner of the plough mentioned previously,  I have spoken to her, its coming my way but the problem is….

She’s got the Standard Fordson Tractor as well !!

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