Friday, 8 April 2011

Newport's Forgotten Bomb

An article from the South Wales Argus back in 2007 by Mike Buckingham about the German bomb which killed 18 people in 1941. I for one never knew of this incident so it came as quite a surprise as this is so close to where I live.

"REFLECT, when you next drive on the M4 through Newport at High Cross that you pass through a place where men, women and children have died.

The story of the Eveswell bomb that in the summer of 1941 killed 37 and that vapourised the elderly solicitor, Mr Searle, are prominent in the story of Newport's war.

By contrast the bomb and mine which on two seperate dates that same year killed 18 in Rogerstone are rarely spoken of.

"Caerleon's got the Romans and Newport itself has a rich history of industry and the Chartists but Rogerstone seems to have been skipped over".

Mr Brian Stephen, secretary of Rogerstone Local History Society says ruefully.

"The motorway divides Glasllwch Crescent because the houses that were there before May 31, 1941 were blown up leaving a gap that was never filled.

"I find that quite a sobering thought."

The small but dedicated group which comprises the local history society contains a man who witnessed the May 31 bomb blast which killed seven and the explosion of October 7 in which 11 lost their lives.

The young Vernon Morgan, now 81, was a pupil at Bassaleg Grammar School and on fire-watching duties with his Air Training Corps unit when the May 31 bomb dropped.

"I was in Ifor Hael Road where we lived looking East roughly in the directly of High Cross Lane where I now live.

"I saw those houses go up.

"When you get an explosion like that there's not just a flash there's a sort of dull, eerie glow as the bricks and wood are thrown into the air.

"There's also a loud bang at a distance which oddly, is not noticeable when you are nearer the blast as I was to be later that year."

Although for Vernon and his young friends were only three years short of conscription age war was for them a game.

"We never for a moment thought the Germans would ever win. We didn't take it all that seriously.

"Now of course we know that in 1941 there was every chance of a German victory."

The second intrusion of reality came at the end of a perfectly ordinary day when, as they had many times before, the air raid sirens began to wail.

"It was getting dark.

"Immediately our mother herded myself, my two brothers and my sister under the stairs at number 18 Ifor Hael Road.

"When the aerial mine fell there was a lot of vibration but funnily enough not much noise.

"You often don't hear a bang when you are very near the explosion and we were only some 200 yards from it.

"The shock wave caused a partial vacuum that for a few seconds takes your breath away.

"Our father who worked for the council and who was in the Home Guard had a car and came driving back from his parents' home in James Street.

"He was relieved when he drove through Park Avenue and saw the damage and knew we were all right.

"That evening, as did others during both explosions, we helped the people who had been made homeless.

"I knew Donald McQueen, who was a young evacuee and William Taylor who was related to my late wife, Brenda.

"Percy Gibbons was a little boy whose father was caretaker at the Welfare Grounds."

When his time for the call-up came Vernon Morgan who had served an engineering apprenticeship with the railways was accepted by the RAF for training as a flight engineer.

After 'demob' he decided to become an architect working for Newport and Monmouthshire councils and also the Cwmbran New Town project.

"What would be found strange these days is that after each incident we were only given a day or two at the most off to help out the stricken families.

"There was no question of people after the first explosion getting neurotic about the possibility of another bomb.

"Homeless people were helped by friends and neighbours as people got on with their lives, helping one another when they could."

He smiles wryly at the thought that were such an incident to happen today, Rogerstone's population would be swollen by counsellors and solicitors advising on claims for compensation and stress.

"There was none of that.

"In those days we just had to get on with it.

"The authorities were quite good at making propaganda though," he recalls.

"Not long afterwards we were told the German aeroplanes that had dropped the bombs and parachute mines had not made it back.

"Later we heard that everybody involved in an air raid was told that.

"Still, I suppose it made us feel better for a while.""

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