A little bit of local.

On Friday, I was reading a book about childhood experiences in Swansea during the war. This morning, I was sliding and slipping in mud in Dunvant. There’s a link.

I’ve been researching Swansea during WW2 as a result of some of the stories my mum told me of the bombing, the anti-aircraft guns and the Americans stationed here just before D-Day. I found a book in the local library and read with some interest the first mention of anti-invasion defences in Swansea Bay that I’d ever see. The bay would have been an ideal landing place for enemy troops if it wasn’t for the long journey they would have to make down the Bristol Channel. But Swansea had a big port, an airfield near by and a sheltered bay and it may well have been worth the risk. In fact, Swansea Bay was used (along with other beaches on Gower) to practice beach landings prior to the Normandy landings.

My interest has been in finding any evidence of other defensive plans. One of the threats to Britain during the early part of the war was invasion from the west. It was thought that the Germans would make a pact with neutral Eire and come across to West Wales. Lines of fortifications, known as Command Stop Lines were built all over Britain and there is one stretching north from Pembrey to New Quay that would have been used to delay or block any advance eastwards. I had explored parts of this line north of Carmarthen, on one occasion finding myself at the end of a shotgun when I accidentally strayed on to private land. Fortunately, after explaining to the landowner why I was there and pointing out that there were no fences or signs, he let me explore the particular pill box and told me of several more relics of the war hidden from the road.

This stop line reaches the south coast at RAF Pembrey, which is now a bombing range and private airport. There are remains of pillboxes and anti-tank defences near the estuary and they merge into the defences of the airfield itself, and the fortifications and minefields that protected Cefn Sidan and the Pembrey munitions factory.

Swansea had it’s own defences. With the port, bay and airfield in close proximity, and reasonably good transport links, it needed it’s own protection. The beach had several pill boxes and minefields along it’s length and on the low tide mark, iron girders set in concrete were ready to rip the hulls of craft trying to land. There is a suggestion that flame weapons (either oil to be poured on the water or fougasse firebombs) were available, too. Inland, there were anti landing trenches on the hills north of Morriston, anti-aircraft sites on Mumbles Hill and around Kilvey Hill and decoy bombing targets north of the docks.

I found several pillboxes on the Swansea to Llanelli railway line, now disused, that used to run through Clyne Valley. One overlooks the main road through Killay to Gower. Two more protect a bridge over the railway line some 200 yards further south. I would have expected more but I could find none. The book I read said that there were two more pillboxes at the entrance to the Clyne Valley where it meets the sea at Blackpill. Anti Tank blocks also shielded access to the railway and some parts of an old wall made of wartime concrete (with more aggregate as it was cheaper and quicker to make) line the sea front near by. Much of the land between Blackpill and Killay is marshy and undulating and would have needed little extra protection.

Further north at the Loughor Estuary, there is a line of concrete anti-tank blocks stretching out into the water. They are covered by a gun emplacement near the Chinese restaurant, and the estuary also had artillery as it was at one end of a firing range. When you look at a map, the railway cutting (it’s mostly below ground level) makes an ideal obstacle for tanks and runs across Gower. To be most effective, extra fortification at weak points would be necessary. Infantry trenches would be hard to spot after so long as the ground is wet and overgrown. I expected there to be more pillboxes but knew of none between the estuary and Killay.

I went online to see if I could find more about the Clyne pillboxes and found a reference to Dunvant Brickworks. Dunvant lies north of Killay along the same railway line and an archaeological survey had been done in 2009, showing the site of several small scale collieries and a brickworks. The survey also described two more pillboxes and a spigot mortar site in the area and mentioned the ‘Gower Stop Line’. Suddenly it was all making a bit more sense.

And so this morning, I was scrabbling about in the mud in completely the wrong place trying to find one of the pillboxes. I slipped, skidded, squelched and was nearly tripped up by brambles. I climbed, descended and all the while got wet in the drizzle. But it was all worth it (for me, anyway) as I finally came across the pillbox I was looking for. It was high up overlooking the railway line. And even better, it was an unusual design that was used mainly for observation. It was hard to visualise the context as in the nearly 80 years since it was built, trees and bushes have grown around it obscuring it’s original field of fire. It was impossible to enter as bars had been placed in the entrance tunnel. I later found out that it has become a home for bats so I’m glad I didn’t try to disturb it.

For the pillbox geeks, it was a type 22, modified with a longer entrance tunnel and no embrasures or a roof. This one had railway sleepers over the top to provide shelter for the bats.

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Strange days

It’s been an odd month; a strange mix of depressing news, achievement and good news.

All this month, there has been bad news in work. A friend has passed away, another two are off with serious illnesses and relatives of colleagues are seriously ill or have passed away. It’s at times like these that you fully understand the value of supportive colleagues and friends. I remember how important it was for me when my mum was ill, and I try to be as supportive if I can.

Rufus had to go to the vet for an operation to remove two small lumps from his eyelid and head. A routine, minor operation but given the stress in work, I found myself more worried than I should have been. I needn’t have, of course, as he bounced out of the vet’s with only a slight, post op stagger (although his eyes betrayed the effects of the anaesthetic as did the fact that when he tried to circle me – his usual greeting when we’ve been apart – he kept bumping into me as the circle became an ellipse). His head was shaved and he resembles a monk at the moment.

A while back, I was asked a strange question. “Do you want to take photos of a bunch of Vikings fighting on Pen y Fan?” It’s the kind of offer you can’t really refuse.

I know some of the Vikings in question because one of them works with me. Thus a week ago I found myself driving to the car park at Pont ar Daf with two giant Scandinavian warriors, four round shields, two sets of chainmail armour, a Dane Axe, a sword and two scrams. The conversation had I been stopped by the police would have been one to retell for many years. But fortunately, we weren’t pulled over. Nor were we ambushed by Angles, Saxons or Celts. Instead, we managed to get the last parking space in the car park and met up with 5 other Vikings to make the long trek to the top of the mountain.

All of this was for Cancer Research, (the Just Giving site is here), and we had a lot of interest and support from all the people we met on the way up, at the top, and on the way down again. Thank you to everyone who donated on the day.

Today, I took Rufus for his first long walk after the op. He was walking in a straight line again, which is always an advantage, and we went along a quiet stretch of the Pembrey cycle path. In the past we’ve encountered belligerent cows on this route so i was particularly wary but all the cows I could see were in the distance. But as we got to the end of the tarmac part, there on the left on the field were around 50 cows. Almost as one, they looked at us and Rufus and I looked at them. We stayed where we were, with the bravery that only a barbed wire fence can bring out in one.

As we watched each other, four of the braver bovines approached the wire. I am guilty of anthropomorphising animals but this time they really did look like four tough guys walking menacingly towards us as their stares never left us. We stayed long enough to appear not to be concerned and, egos satisfied, we set off back tot he car.

With one eye constantly looking behind for any signs of a herd of cows charging towards us.

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Rufus and Dave’s lads week day 7 – The Bovine Dimension (By Rufus)

I popped in to see Dave early this morning. Awww, he was sleeping and looked so relaxed. So I didn’t shove my nose in his face to wake him up. I went back to bed and waited until 5.30. Too long in bed isn’t good for him. To be fair, he got up and we went out to make sure the garden was still there (I understand there is a fox around and I wouldn’t want her to steal Dave’s garden).

We went back to bed for a lie-in. Yesterday’s adventures took their toll on Dave so I let him rest. We got up around 8am and I let him make breakfast as he likes to feel useful when I’m around. We watched tv for a bit and then we had a chat about what we were going to do today. Dave suggested Pembrey and I thought that would be a good place to go – plenty of places toe xplore and things for Dave to photograph. It’s also flat, which means he wouldn’t be pushing himself too much after yesterday.

Dave drove. He likes that kind of thing. I prefer to contemplate the world from the back seat. I know my rightful place. We left the car and made our way along the estuary to the north of Pembrey airfield. Today, as we walked along, there were swans, lots of geese flying low overhead (they nearly bumped into Dave) and several herds of cows. The cows were all in the distance though, so there was no need to dodge them like we did last time. We walked past the pillboxes (for some reason, Dave likes these) and through the outer perimeter of Pembrey airfield. Apparently, according to Mr Interesting, it used to be a WW2 airfield and most of the derelict buildings date from then.

We entered the forest on a track that ultimately leads to the bombing and gunnery range. Last time I was here with Dave they had just finished landing Hercules aircraft on Cefn Sidan and when we got there, we had to dodge out of the way as several large fire engines made their way from the beach. There was nothing going on today so we had the run of the track. There were plenty of puddle for me to paddle in (my paws get hot with all the walking) and Dave seemed happy enough with his camera. Before long, we got to the beach. I haven’t been to the beach for a while so it was great to be able to run off in the soft sand.

Dave threw sticks and I made sure I gathered them up; you can’t be too careful leaving sticks just anywhere on the beach. The tide was going out but I managed to get some more paddling in. We had some snacks and I made sure Dave had a drink; he gets thirsty but sometimes he won’t drink. Then it was time to head back to the car. We took the same route back. By the time we reached the airfield again, one of the herds of cows had moved and some of them were very close to the path. We both decided to take it easy walking past them. I ignored them and carried on past. When I turned around to look, two cows were running straight towards Dave.

I had to stifle a laugh. He does some daft things but turning to face them, waving his arms in the air and talking to them like he talks to me was rather funny. They stopped and he turned to go and they started towards him again. I think they were after me, as they were staring at me. Dave turned to face them again and started shouting at them. I think they got the message because they stopped. They only came after us again after we’d gone through the gate and reached the path by the estuary. I enjoy a little bit of adventure on our walks.

Just before we reached the car, we saw a grey heron that had been in the pool with the swans.

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Pembrey

It’s my 80th posting, but you don’t see the country queuing up to have street parties for my Jubilee!

Rufus and I headed off to Pembrey this morning. We were both feeling tired so there was no mountain in our sights. Instead, a gentle walk on the beach and through the dunes. The weather looked cold and grey but it was deceptively warm once we set off on the Millennium Coastal path. I had to keep Rufus on the lead for a bit as there were a lot more cars on the cycle path than I would have expected. Eventually we came to the dunes and he was off.

We took it easy today; there was no rush and no hurry to be anywhere. Instead we strolled along the beach for a mile or so before heading back into the dunes and the outskirts of the country park. I sat on a bench to eat my lunch and Rufus lay down in the shade at my feet, after having drunk a bowl full of water. Rufus has his own litre bottle of water now, which goes everywhere. He’s good at drinking but will always try for food first. I’m going to have to train him to carry his own supplies, I think.

We passed a few signs on our walk. The classic one about no dogs on the beach between May and September but another one about not digging in the sand dunes. I think it does say a lot about our society that we have to have these signs. It used to be that common sense and supervision made the need for such signs unthinkable. What has this generation done to its kids?

And that’s my leave over. It was great, it went too quickly and I can think of a load of things I should have done but didn’t. Still, there’s always the next leave.

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