Nefyn Recollections from Vancouver, Canada

July 1944

The following stories were sent to me recently by Dr Gwilym Evans an expatriate living since 1964 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. They describe his recollections of Nefyn during the war. Dr Evans lived in Rhianfa, Nefyn, and was known locally as Gwilym Rhianfa.

Sounds of War

The Lleyn Peninsula was an idyllic and safe place during WWII, and during the intra- war years, at summer time, visitors flocked to this safe haven for a rest and well-earned holidays. Being a rustic area, it lacked the industrial base that was the usual target for enemy bombers that attacked the major English cities, such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Coventry, etc. However, Wales did not completely escape the wrath of the Luftwaffe: the major cities, towns, and ports of South Wales were bombed and much damage was inflicted on them. When I lived in Cardiff and Swansea in the late forties and fifties, the scars of war were still visible in certain areas of these cities. The German Air Force had good reason to bomb various areas of South Wales because, being a densely populated area, it was a strong contributor to the war effort, and it possessed good ports strategically located. The northeast part of North Wales was also attacked because of the steel works in Shotton and an airplane manufacturing plant in Broughton – both in Flintshire. Wellington bombers, and other planes, were built in Broughton, and during the war this factory broke a world record by building a fully operational Wellington bomber in 24 hours. Today, the plant is an important manufacturer of airplane wings, which include the ones for the giant Airbus A380.

The Lleyn area had, though, one potential target for the enemy, and that was the Penyberth Aerial Bombing Training School at Penrhos, located roughly about half way between Pwllheli and Abersoch. The aerodrome was on this site but the bombing run was conducted out to sea in Porth Neigwl. I remember my brother and I would go to the easternmost promontory of the bay (Trwyn Cilan) on an occasional Sunday to watch the bombers drop smoke bombs out at sea. Also we witnessed aircraft gunnery practice in the same area with the planes shooting out to sea at a drogue pulled behind a slow-moving Lysander. Thousands and thousands of empty cartridges littered the land adjacent to the shoreline, and it was the custom in those days to collect a few to make cigarette lighters. Two cartridges were soldered side by side; then one cartridge would be provided with a wick, filled with cotton wool and moistened with lighter fluid. The other cartridge had a flint wheel mounted in the neck, making the whole a very serviceable lighter.

Pupils at the Pwllheli Grammar School were subjected to frequent air-raid drills during the war, and the orderly evacuation of the building was under the supervision of the amiable mathematics teacher, Mr. C. J. (Mr. Caradog Jones). Alarms would go off at irregular times and that would be the signal for each pupil to make for the door with his gas mask and make it down the wooded slope to a safer area. One afternoon in class, the alarm sounded and in rushed a pale-faced Mr. C. J. to announce that this was a real alarm and that there were enemy planes in the vicinity! There was a hasty evacuation to the usual retreat, and we waited expectantly. Fifteen minutes later the All Clear sounded and we later learned that it was a false alarm!

One summer in late afternoon, I was bicycling idly in the vicinity of our house when I heard four heavy explosions to the south in the direction of the bombing school. Later that evening, information filtered down to the public that a lone German bomber had been driven away from Penyberth aerodrome, and had jettisoned its bombs on to a farmer’s field on the Pwllheli-Efailnewydd road. On the following weekend, I cycled to the site to look at the bomb craters, and over the ensuing weeks many other curious onlookers made the trip to the same venue. One bomb had hit a hedge and blown a gap in it. I had a discussion about this incident last week with a retired farmer friend who lives on a farm adjacent to the one on to which the bombs fell, and he averred that there were nine craters in all. It seems that some of the bombs had exploded in unison for me to hear only four explosions. Then my farmer friend told me something that I had not known previously: in the area of the bomb craters, a delayed-action device had been found a few days later! Immediately, the area was cordoned off and no sightseers were allowed within a certain distance until an army bomb disposal squad had defused the bomb.

Our grammar school sometimes showed films about potentially lethal munitions of war, especially antipersonnel mines that could be dropped by enemy aircraft. Since we were located on a peninsula, the possibility of sea-mines breaking adrift from their moorings and being swept onshore was a plausible possibility, and we were shown films demonstrating their enormous destructive power. One came ashore in Nefyn Bay and it was defused; its outer casing remained on the foreshore for many years being slowly corroded away by the elements and corrosive seawater. We learned that British mines were automatically defused if they broke their moorings, but the German mines did not, and would remain primed, under similar circumstances. On one sunny Sunday morning there was a huge explosion coming from the direction of Carreg y Llam, which shook the windows of our house facing that area. We later learned that a mine had come ashore and exploded at the eastern end of Pistyll Bay near Carreg y Llam. This bay has very little tidal movement and an expanse of sand is hardly ever exposed, the foreshore merely consisting of loose rocks of all sizes. The mine had been tossed on to the rocks and detonated, throwing large rocks up on to the bluff. Since it was a remote area and relatively inaccessible, there were no human casualties.

Aircraft spotting and identification became second nature to the children and adolescents during the war. Frequent submarine patrol flights from the Penrhos aerodrome passed over Nefyn and headed out over the Irish Sea and beyond. Since Liverpool was a very important port during the war, it was commonplace to see large convoys of ships moving slowly towards Liverpool Bay and making for the entrance to the River Mersey bringing food and instruments of war from Canada and America. It was surreal to look at the convoy with binoculars to see only the upper structures of the ships being visible, the curvature of the earth preventing us from seeing the entire vessels. During the early part of the war, submarines, enemy aircraft and magnetic mines took a heavy toll of shipping around the British Isles, and it was not rare to see the food items from the cargoes of the sunken vessels strewing the beaches of Nefyn and Pistyll. After being in the sea for several months the flotsam would be saturated with sea water and be quite inedible. Fighter aircrafts, such as the Spitfires and Hurricanes were commonplace and easily identifiable. I remember seeing a plane that had crashed into the sea in Nefyn Bay just two or three hundred yards from the shore in line with the Lleiniau path that leads to the cliff top, where once there was a convenient way to descend to the beach. My brother reminded me that it was a Hurricane from Penrhos that had developed engine trouble, flown by an Australian, and who had tried to land on a long field belonging to Penisardre farm. This field extends from the farm all the way to the bluff and flanks the aforementioned Lleiniau path, and it was the most ideal of all the fields in the neighbourhood for an emergency landing. Sadly, because of the loss of power, the pilot was unable to manoeuvre his machine, overshot the field and plunged into the sea and lost his life.

Although we were constantly reminded of the war by radio broadcasts, the presence of soldiers and airmen and their vehicles and equipment everywhere, the aerial traffic, and two separate waves of evacuees, we felt safe and secure far from the active theatres of war. I’m sure that the many English visitors and the evacuees who came to spend their times at Nefyn during the war years, and particularly during the times of heavy bombing of their cities, were very glad to have found this oasis of comparative tranquility and safety in this corner of North Wales, at a time when a large part of our island was otherwise beset by heavy aerial bombardment.

Dr. Gwilym Evans
Vancouver, Canada

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