Maisie Nitsch and Marjorie Hughes
These two friends have both lived in Llangadog since before the war (that's WW2 against Hitler in case you weren't sure). They have a wealth of entertaining recollections of what life in Llangadog was like then - it's almost as if the war was fun except that, in many ways, it was actually as demanding for the children as it was for adults. Imagine being a toddler and having to carry your gas mask with you whenever you were out, keeping it dry in a waterproof bag and hanging it on your hook at school every day. And when the siren went off (it was behind Victoria House), the older children had to help the younger ones to hide somewhere safe. And the windows at home were taped from corner to corner so that they wouldn't shatter if a bomb blew them out. And at night the blackout curtains had to be carefully closed.
There were two major influences on everyday life - the deprivations of food rationing, and the constant and important and valuable supervision of our local farming by a team of bureaucrats the “County War Agricultural Committee”, called the “County War” or “the CWACs” (make a duck noise) who were based in an office in Great House.
The CWACs were part of the government's process of ensuring that, during the wartime shortages, the food that farmers produced was properly planned and securely distributed to the population at large. Imagine being a Llangadog farmer. The CWACs told you what to breed and what to grow, and they policed your day-to-day production and distribution so as to prevent black-marketing. Before the war, like it is now, most of the land around Llangadog was used as pasture. However the country's desperate need for vegetables meant that many fields were ploughed and planted with grain crops and things like potatoes.
Marjorie's father not only ran a farm but he was also in the Home Guard, spending his busy days ploughing, sowing and harvesting crops and breeding and feeding woolly and feathered animals, and spending some of his nights on the Black Mountain keeping a watch for any German warplanes that might be launching an invasion up there. He was able to get a little extra petrol for their car to do that. Marjorie mentioned that doing both jobs eventually got the better of her father and he had to plead with a tribunal of CWACs to be allowed to retire from the Home Guard.
Her father explained that 100 hours a week working on the land was enough and eventually the CWACs admitted that yes it was, after being persuaded by the Captain of the Home Guard. Incidentally the headquarters of the Home Guard was in the tiny house, now a stone barn but still with its chimney, right on that tricky narrow bit of main road next to Glan Sawdde farmhouse, on the nearest edge of The Common.
Like many other households in the village, Maisie's family hosted evacuees from London, in their case a mother with two children from Bethnal Green, as well as another 10-year old girl. All the evacuee children spoke only English so they went to a special school in the vestry of Providence Chapel. Because of rationing, all sorts of foraged materials were used to make up everyone's food and the London children made it clear that, among other things, they definitely did not like nettle leaves. Meanwhile one of the benefits of being in Llangadog was the abundance of rabbits - they could be turned into real treats to be enjoyed from time-to-time.
Like many other farmers, Maisie's father had ferrets to encourage rabbits out of their holes - the family sheep dogs chased them too. For the hunting, nets were stretched over the rabbit holes so that they couldn't escape.
There were hardly any tractors, so horses and carts were a vital resource. Farmers used them all the time including to take their milk in churns to the station every day, and for heavy work like ploughing. There was another important local industry - mining for lime, which was used as a fertiliser. Getting the lime from the Beacons hills down to the village involved many horses and carts and one of the reasons why there were so many pubs in Llangadog was that they had plentiful and excellent stables, encouraging lots of thirsty workmen to drink more beer. Maisie vividly remembers being a bit surprised to see the plump back-end of a huge horse disappearing into a narrow door at the Carpenter's Arms (now the Goose and Cuckoo) on its way to the stables behind.
There was endless hard work for farmers. Cutting crops involved collecting and bundling the cut straw and grain and stacking it all in “stooks”. These needed to be turned from time to time to ensure that they dried evenly. When it was ready for finishing a tractor and a threshing machine would come to the farm. A large team of people was needed to feed the threshing machine and to clear away the sacks of corn and to stack the straw. All the extra people needed feeding and extra rations were allowed so that Maisie's mother could cook enough lunch for everyone involved.
Commercial life in Llangadog was plentiful and we have to use our imaginations a bit to visualise just how many shops and pubs there were. We had four banks - the Midland in part of Great House, Barclays in part of the Carpenters' Arms, Nat West in Gurrey House where our Post Office is now, and Lloyds too. Our shops included four butchers, and there was Mrs. Gravell's, opposite the Goose and Cuckoo, which sold groceries and sweets. (Mr. Gravell taught music - several different instruments - in a room at the shop and was a signal-man on the railway.) There was a telephone exchange in part of Victoria House where the operator skilfully made connections with plugs in the many holes on her board. The Beehive was a flourishing hardware shop run by William Morgan - you could buy anything there from just one screw to a whole bicycle. And he had petrol and kerosene pumps at the side of the street where the gate into the Beehive house is now (the Midland Bank sign is just visible on Great House in the photo). This William Morgan was a major influence on the village's social and cultural life. He organised a Drama Week every year and also eisteddfods, encouraging everyone to participate, and he also arranged the village cinema's shows once a fortnight and Welcome Home concerts for our soldiers, sailors and airmen on leave, as well as recruiting a popular comedian who, apart from being funny, sang well (Maisie does a great imitation of him doing “Don't dilly-dally on the way”) and, best of all, he had a chicken in a cage to which he sang passionately about laying him an egg please - and there was one! There was Howard's Fish and Chips, where Maisie and Marjorie remember long queues and everything wrapped in newspaper.
The Post Office was in Great House, and the previous generations of the Morgan family now in our Post Office were tailors and we had a cobbler too. And there were two Miss Evans making ice cream who evidently got fined for using too much custard! On the A40 where the roundabout is now, there was a shop and yet another pub (the Square and Compass) and a filling station. And there was the weekly Mart on the open land that used to be behind The Red Lion, selling cattle and sheep on Tuesdays. Farmers took their sheep for sale in carts with nets over the top to prevent them jumping out. And the pubs sold plenty of beer to thirsty buyers and sellers.
We had a textile mill at Carreg Sawdde - it belonged to the Jones family. The buildings are still there. Power for the mill was by a waterwheel, the mill stream (long disappeared) running across the common from a weir up the Sawdde. Different Jones's ran departments that prepared and spun raw wool, dyed it, wove blankets, knitted clothes and socks, did quilting, and making warm jackets, breeches and also flannel shirts that farmers particularly liked because they “breathed” so as to reduce the effects of perspiration. It was quite a major enterprise.
At that time, and in fact well into the 1950s, there was no mains electricity and none of the luxuries that we now take for granted. Cooking was mostly on open fires or, if you were lucky, on a wood-burning stove. Treats like apple pies were cooked upside down in a frying pan, with the pastry underneath the sliced apples flavoured with cloves. And hot water was from a kettle on the fire or from a large wood-burning water heater for a few gallons at a time. Lighting was with kerosene lamps. Baking day, maybe once a week, was a big event. Marjorie and Maisie remember clearly the complicated routine of cooking in an oven. One big issue was what kind of wood to burn. Oak was vital to generate enough heat with a strong draught if you wanted to make bread, and there was a knack to judging when the oven was hot enough - put in your bare arm and count how many seconds elapsed before it was so hot that you had to take it out again. Two seconds or less was good! Then it was necessary to plan how to make the best use of the oven and the precious timber being burnt in it. Start with bread (which needed hours of careful preparation to get the dough in perfect condition) and work through things that needed progressively less heat, maybe pies and stews depending on what fruit or meat might be available, then bara brith and cakes and buns and currant loaves until, in a cool oven, it was time for rice pudding, cooked slowly and gently so that it had a lovely brown crust, and then eaten hot or cold with plenty of nutmeg grated on top. And the fire was used to heat heavy irons for pressing laundry, one iron warming by the fire while the other was in use.
A few Llangadog houses and farms did have a connection to a private electricity supply; it was low-voltage DC from a big battery recharged every day by an engine and dynamo, and very expensive - 6 pence a unit - which was too much for a typical family living on £1/10 shillings a week or only a little more. It was important to use only one piece of equipment at a time to avoid overloading the system.
There were two groups of people who made a big difference to wartime life at Llangadog - the American and Canadian soldiers based at Abermarlais and enemy soldiers who were in the Prisoner-of-War camp in Llandovery (it was near where the Co-op is now).
The American soldiers especially were a source of unfortettable treats for Llangadog children. They ran a Christmas party at Abermarlais, collecting children from the village; this involved the excitement of soldiers lifting them high over the back of the army truck that was the transport. Apart from having a lot of fun at Abermarlais, the biggest treats were the real peaches that they had for tea and then the CHOCOLATES which were a complete wow. And while they were preparing for the invasion of France, the soldiers used to train in the countryside around Llangadog and after that, roaming children found many empty rifle cartridges.
POWs from Llandovery worked on our farms. Apparently the farmers preferred the Germans - they worked hard and could be trusted to do the right thing without much supervision. Italians, on the other hand, were sometimes lazy, never stopped talking and would run for shelter at the slightest sign of a spot of rain. And they smelled of olive oil that they used to smarten their hair. However the Italians were more fun - they sang beautifully and entertained the farmers' wives by showing them how to make spaghetti which was a perfect accompaniment for roasted rabbit. With permission from the CWACs, farmers were allowed to have their best POW workmen to live with them at home.
However Maisie has a special story about a POW. Maisie spoke quite a lot of Italian and also learned a little German - “Hello, how are you”, that kind of social chat. One day when she was carrying some milk on the farm a POW came by and, in an instant, Maisie tested her German on him. He was Fritz, who had been on a submarine and, among other sailor skills, he was expert at splicing and repairing ropes, something that farmers really appreciated. Anyway, Fritz won Maisie's heart, perhaps helped because he played whist, and she became Maisie Nitsch, and they worked hard to build up their own farming business, and were together in Llangadog for 57 years.