Getting back to normal

Not one to encourage the jinxes to strike, I am reluctant to say that Rufus is back to normal after his recent illness. The best you will get from me at the moment is that he seems okay, and all the tests show improvements where we would expect them. If pushed I might even say ‘he’s getting there, slowly’.  It’s hard to explain how I know when he’s ill and when he’s better. It’s like trying to describe the subtle characteristics that define a loved one. One of the tests I always apply is the ‘stair test’. Basically, I watch how he goes up and down stairs. If he’s under the weather or his leg is aching, he takes it easy going up and hops down one step at a time. If he’s really not well, he’ll be very slow and hesitant in both directions. When he’s well, going upstairs is a race that he always wins, and coming down makes me hold my breath as he charges off, often two steps at a time, leaps the last two steps and only barely makes the turn at the bottom to miss the front door. I’ve seen more of the latter recently.

I have to keep reminding myself how ill he has been, as he has a tendency to bounce back from ailments very quickly. Last night, after our usual evening walk, he was very tired. Well, no wonder as he’s still a bit anaemic. This morning, on our stroll on Cefn Bryn, he was almost back to normal as he ranged far and wide from the path. Only his jogging rather than running betrayed his recovery is not yet complete. He’s snoring on the sofa now.

This afternoon, I decided it was time to plant the spuds. I first grew potatoes three years ago and I was very successful, with a huge harvest of over 22lbs. This year I dug the same patch, forked it over, added compost and weeded like crazy. As you can see from the photo, my crop of stones was mightily impressive. Bearing in mind this was the same patch I used three years ago, I don’t know where they all came from – particularly the big, head sized one. It took over an hour to dig the two trenches with all the stones I had to remove. That big one took 15 minutes of excavation to remove.

This year, in addition to the spuds, I’ve planted some carrots. I’ve never grown them before so it’s very much an experiment. Watch this space for more updates on the veg patch.

What does this have to do with Rufus’ recovery? Well, I knew he was back to normal as apart from a few checks to make sure I wasn’t having a sneaky snack of biscuits, he remained in the house, lying in the sun streaming through one of the windows in the hall. He knows about comfort and has no need to show off his energy levels.

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Bog and bullet

World War 2 wasn’t just about the famous battles. Troops were away from their loved ones for months and years, often in hostile places but always thinking of home. I’ve written before of the aircraft crash sites I’ve visited, all remote and lonely places. These crashes took place during training exercises and it’s important to remember that during war, its not just in the fighting that servicemen risk their lives.

Around the UK there are many places that are associated with military training. But during the build up to D-Day in 1944, allied troops of many nationalities were training and preparing all over the country. Swansea played host to American soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division. My mum remembered them driving Jeeps along the roads of Swansea and making tyre screeching turns at speed. Their transport ships were anchored in Swansea Bay and vehicles were parked along roads and under the cover of trees across the area.

In the months leading up to the invasion, these soldiers were training constantly to prepare themselves for the ‘Day of Days’. On Cefn Bryn, practice trenches can be found on the ridge and there is at least one bunker, now derelict, near Broadpool. For years I’ve suspected but never known for sure that it was a military relic – it’s in the wrong place to be defensive as it can easily be outflanked. But I recently found out that it was a command centre, and probably played a role in assault training.

The wonderful beaches of south and west Gower were used to practice beach assaults. The Loughor Estuary became an artillery range; the firing points are still visible as concrete shells of buildings near Penclawdd and the target area, not far from Whiteford, is marked by an observation post built on stilts near Woebley Castle.

To the north of Morriston is Mynydd y Gwair and a place Rufus and I visit often. Opposite is Tor Clawdd and the site of the home and research facility of Harry Grindell Matthews, known as ‘Death Ray’ Matthews after his work during the early part of the war on a weapon to stop engines and explode bombs at a distance. He built this isolated retreat, complete with a small airstrip, to work on his secret projects (which also included an aerial torpedo, a means of turning light into sound and a means to synchronise sound and film). Unfortunately he died in 1941, before any of these inventions could be perfected.

In 1944, Tor Clawdd was taken over by the officers of the 2nd Infantry Division and the troops were camped on the surrounding hills. One of the training exercises they carried out was to try and simulate real battle conditions. This they did by firing live rounds at an earth bank while the soldiers crawled along a trench in front of the bank or behind the bank. The remains of this exercise is still visible opposite Tor Clawdd and this morning Rufus and I took a look.

Once you know what you’re looking for, the earth bank is very noticeable, although just glancing at it might lead you to think it’s a drainage feature. As we walked towards it, we passed a single conical mound followed closely by six more, lined up parallel with the bank. The mounds were the positions of the machine guns used to fire on the bank. Then came a deep ditch and some 30 yards from this was the bank.  Between the ditch and bank were several shallow depressions in the ground and I had read that these were the result of explosions set off as part of the training. We wandered along the bank, heading north until it came to an end. Great sections of it were weathered and worn by the passage of sheep and cattle but it still stood a metre or so high.

Then I started to notice the bullets. The first one I saw was long and grey and could have been mistaken for a stone half buried in the mud. But I knew what I was looking for and within 10 minutes I’d picked up 19 bullets and fragments just lying on the surface. I also picked up three large pieces of sharp glass, souvenirs of a later period of history.

I have no idea what it must have been like to undergo this kind of training, but I guess if it helped to save their lives later on, then it was worth it. Research I did into this site suggested that some of the soldiers were killed when a section of the bank collapsed on them during an exercise.

The troops of the 2nd Infantry Division landed at Omaha beach in Normandy on June 8, two days after D-Day, and went on to see action in France, Belguim, Holland and Germany. The division is currently stationed in South Korea.

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