ANGLESEY. 1939 and 1942.
I took advantage of a short gap between end of University term and the
start of a period of continuous military training to make a long-distance
cycle tour. In August 1939 , through the School, I had been on a fortnight's
'School and Works Camp' on Anglesey. This was a development of an initiative
by the late King George VI, who when Duke of York had started 'Duke of
York's Camps' to bring together teen-age boys from Public Schools, and
apprentice boys from industry. As King Edward's was then a 'Headmasters
Conference' School we were nominally a Public School and were allocated two
places. Ian Hope and I were each given a place. It was a turning point of my
life. Incredibly, at the age of 16, I had never until then spent a night
away from parental oversight. At Penrhos on Holy Island we met not only boys
from Eton, Harrow and Repton, but from various schools in the Birmingham
area. Furthermore we shared tented accommodation with an equal number of
works apprentices on a basis of equality. I struck up a good rapport with a
Lawrence Cureton who was at George Dixon's School at Birmimngham. What
happened to you Lawrence?
Apart from getting a taste of independence and of other standards, I
learnt at that camp that even if one came from Birmingham one could try to
speak other than with a Brummie or Black Country accent without being
derided for being 'posh'. I never managed it entirely, but it was a simple
lesson to learn and it has been of great value since, enabling me to
associate with all classes of society without embarrassment.
On the last evening in camp we lit a huge bonfire on the coast of Holy
Island. The war broke out only a few days after our return home, so that
bonfire must have been the last light on that coast for many years. I still
have a letter written to me by my mother whilst I was at that camp. With
Hitler and the Bosche breaking forth and war imminent, she still finished
the letter with, 'Don't get your feet wet!' Little did she know!
Three years later, in the summer of 1942 we were allowed a short break
between the end of University Term and the start of a period of continuous
military training. Cycling had always been my 'sport' and by some means I
managed to persuade my parents that I was old enough to be allowed to go off
for a few days on the bike without being seduced or murdered. So, on a
certain Wednesday I set off with very little money and a case strapped to my
Nostalgia for Anglesey made me determined to get there again, somehow.
That night, by way of Bridgnorth, where I had a puncture, and Shrewsbury, I
crossed the Welsh border and put up at a C.T.C. place near Llangollen.
Next morning, a Thursday, I set off and had a gruelling climb up the Nant
Ffrancon on a torrid day, followed by an exhilarating run down from Llyn
Ogwen to Bangor - almost without pedalling. I crossed the Menai Bridge in
the early evening and put up for the night at Llandona with two elderly
ladies who in their youth had been amongst the earliest of women cyclists.
They had been the cause of scandal by riding their cycles wearing
'bloomers'. I had been directed there by the District Nurse whom I happened
to see about her duties in the village.
The privy at this cottage was a 'companionable' having two adjacent
'seats' - holes in the same board ! Fortunately I was not expected to share
The next day, Friday, I spent on a circuit of Anglesey, taking the road
through Pentraeth, Benllech and Amlwch to Valley, with a dip in the sea at
At Valley I refreshed myself at a small pub with the barrels on a broad
shelf behind the bar. The beer was, accordingly, nice and warm, but as
conversation ceased when I entered. I drank in silence. Conversation
re-started as I left. Probably the locals regarded me not only as a
stranger, but a 'column dodger' as well. I did not at that age have the
self-confidence to start a conversation myself, but have amply made up for
this deficiency since and have thus made many interesting acquaintances.
It was a hot night and I was not overburdened with cash, so decided to
emulate Arnold's Scholar Gypsy, to 'wrap myself in my cloak' and sleep
rough. This I did in a cliff-top field at Rhoscolyn. The night passed
reasonably satisfactorily apart from my having to deal in the small hours
with an over-curious hedgehog. The next morning, Saturday, in spite of an
early dip in the sea I felt very stiff and wondered how on earth I was going
to turn the pedals that day. I made for the A-5, the main road to and from
Holyhead, and began the return. At Gwalchmai village I found a house
advertising 'Gweli a Brekwast' and in spite of war-time rationing, was given
a meal which I can only describe as very satisfactory. Since then, the tune
"Gwalchmai", set in 'Ancient and Modern' to 'King of Glory, King of peace'
has always revived happy memories.
The effect of this re-fuelling was remarkable, and after so stiff a
start, I pedalled that day to Caernarfon, Beddgelert, down the Aberglaslyn
pass to Penrhyndeudraeth, Harlech, Barmouth and on to Tywyn, a distance of
over eighty miles. Hithero it had been a very hot week, and passing through
Talsarnau the inevitable thunderstorm broke, and before I could find any
shelter I was soaked to the skin. I did spend ten minutes or so in a barn,
wondering what to do, but decided to pedal on as I was. It was not cold and
I could not get any wetter! I did, however wonder of my mother was still
worrying about my getting my feet wet!
The weather improved after the storm and I was able to change behind a
hedge. In Tywyn I found another C.T.C. lodging for the night, and on Sunday
morning decided to commit the ultimate sin and enjoy myself on a Sunday. I
Just before I arrived in Llanbrynmair I developed not only a puncture,
but also a holed outer tyre cover. This was worrying because this was Wales
on a Sunday and facilities were, to say the least, limited.
Arriving in the village I noticed a sort of horse-trough alongside a
grocers shop, which was, of course, closed. On enquiring at the back door
whether I could use some of the water in the trough to locate my puncture, I
was welcomed and given every facility. Moreover the grocer asked me about my
lunch, and on learning that I had hoped to reach Newtown, brought me in, set
me down and produced red salmon and salad with tea and bread. Many years
later in Llanbrynmair I was mistaken for "A man named Pritchard who looks
just like you!" The fact that I had a great-grandmother whose maiden name
was Pritchard may have something to do with all this!
The tyre cover I managed to patch up somehow and I contrived with care to
get as far as Caersws without further calamity. I had just passed the
village when I saw, stretched across the road, a line of the local village
damsels out for a Sunday afternoon stroll - Sunday afternoon traffic in
Wales allowed that sort of thing at that time. About four yards before the
point at which it would have been necessary for me to sound my bell, the
ailing front tyre burst with a loud bang. This caused squeals and
It also brought forth advice - "Go back into the village and you'll find
Mr. Roberts' garage; go round the back and I'm sure he'll be able to find
you a new tyre." And it was so. I have since held a certain affection for
Caersws also. Perhaps the gods were not angry after all.
These adventures, I think, justify my hackles rising when I hear the
Welsh libelled by ignorant 'Saesneggau'.
I pushed on to Newtown and over the Kerry hills, re-crossing the border
and joining the main road at Craven Arms. I was now back in England which,
unlike Wales was not 'dry' on a Sunday, so I gratefully downed a couple of
pints fairly rapidly. The bike developed a bit of a mind of its own between
Craven Arms and Ludlow, but there were no breathalysers in those days.
I had intended to put up at Ludlow and finish the journey on Monday
morning, but it was a fine evening so I thought I would complete the
remaining thirty-odd miles and get home, in spite of the fact that the Clee
Hills had to be crossed. I telephoned to announce my impending arrival.
Pushing the bike up Hopton Bank I was hailed by a gnarled old character
leaning over a gate. Glad of an excuse for a breather, I stopped and we
chatted. Whilst we talked, there appeared, free-wheeling down the hill, a
double column of cyclists, about twenty in all, one of the many cycling
clubs that abounded in the Midlands at that time. Most of the girls in the
party were wearing very short shorts. The old countryman sucked his pipe and
turned a bleary eye. "Arr!" he said, "If they'd dressed loike that in moi
time, there'd a-been a lot more baastards about Oi tell ee !"
I still wonder whether this was comment on ancient immorality or on
modern lack of virility.
All went well until I arrived at Wollaston village where we then lived.
My Father was waiting on the crescent 'nursing his wrath to keep it warm'.
He began to berate me in public. Not only had I had the audacity to do such
a journey on a Sunday, but I was late and 'we were worried stiff'.
Had my son completed such a trip on a push-bike, and on a shoe-string to
boot, finishing with a 120-mile run in one day, I like to think I would have
been inordinately proud of him. In these days he would probably have been
sponsored, made a packet for charity and had his name in the papers.
Round about this time I began to yearn for the time when I could leave
(The file ends abruptly here)
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004