Rhyl High Street at Armistice Celebrations 1918

This little grainy gem was plucked from one of my mum’s biscuit tins of precious things which resurfaced at the weekend after many years in forgotten storage.

It shows the High Street in Rhyl preparing to celebrate the Armistice to the First World War in 1918, in which the town, like so many others,  had paid so heavy a price.

My Nain had recently arrived in Rhyl to stay in the Children’s Convalescent Hospital, which became the Royal Alexandra Hospital, following an appendectomy. She so enjoyed life on the coast that she settled in the town and from that decision comes all our family.

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Photomaton portrait of the author as a young sniper…

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In an age before selfies, this was as close as you got. Five pictures for ten pence or two shillings in old money… and this was definitely in an age of old money. This was from a Photomaton booth on the Promenade in Rhyl… this is what I chose to do with a sacred two shillings which otherwise would have been spent on an Airfix kit.

The year is 1969. I’m with my best friend of the time, Ted Henderson. We’d met in the first term at Rhyl Junior High School. He’d gone to Ysgol Llewelyn so we met for the first time in the lottery of form room allocation in the big school.

Ted lived near my auntie in a new build bungalow that was close to the railway. His mum and dad were smashing, as was his younger brother. What was there not to like.

We seemed to spend a lot of time walking around the place. We had matching wind-cheater jackets, by coincidence rather than design, and we must have looked like two people trying to start a mod based, bad haircut cult. I don’t know what that haircut actually represents, but I’d asked for it to be feathered and layered at the fashionable hairdressers upstairs on Wellington Road. I returned to Bill the Barber’s on Vale Road not long after due to the cost of this, so-called fashionable haircut, and the stream of invective I received from my dad. He recounted how if I had been in the services the drill sergeant would stand behind me on the parade ground and say,

‘Am I hurting you laddie? Because I should be, because I’m standing on your hair! Get it cut.’

Ted had clearly had the same tonsorial experience.

They were generally happy but frustrating days. I always felt that something good was going on, just out of our reach. Like the girls we phoned from my auntie’s phone to arrange a date that never happened.

I remember we spent a lot of time shooting air pistols at paper targets. That was until I lost the firing pin, which screwed into the barrel, by dropping it into the Cut.

My second pistol was confiscated and broken up by my dad.

I had been firing it from my bedroom at a metal target at the end of the garden. The target was the lid of a broken washing machine. This was all that remained of the washing machine my mum had told us to take down to Rifkin’s scrap yard, adding that we could keep the money they gave us as scrap value. I was already spending the money in my head when Mr Rifkin, in no uncertain terms, told me that the washing machine had no value and to kindly remove it from his premises.

We ended up carrying it all the way back home. My mum’s suggestion was that we buried it deep in the garden and digging the hole took a couple of hours.  Living by the seaside meant that we reached a water sodden sandy layer before we had dug the height of the washing machine. As we didn’t want to carry on digging in quicksand, we had a sit down and a drink of squash to fathom the problem.

In the end, after much heated conversation we decided to change the shape of the hole so that we could bury it on its side. The whole exercise reminded me of the Bernard Cribbens song ‘There I was, digging this hole.’  I look forward to the day when the Time Team are excavating in Rhyl and ‘Geo-Phys’ throw up some very exciting pictures of a large metal object, which could be a chest of some sort, buried on its side a few feet below a garden patio.

Anyway, the lid was all that remained and I used it as a target. Firing upwards of 500 pellets at it over the course of a fortnight. It must be stated that the pellets barely reached the target but did make a satisfying ‘ding’ when they hit the metal.

The ding was what alerted a distant neighbour, who shouted from about six gardens down that he’d have the police on me as I could kill his little girl or have her eye out. He clearly had me down as a sniper in the league of the Jackal in the eponymous ‘Day of’ film. The idea was so preposterous that I ignored him and he was perplexed that he could not get a clear look at me as I shot from behind the less than grassy knoll of my bedroom curtains. There were some school books in my room, but it was hardly the Repository Building in Dallas.

I ignored him the second day as well and continued to register satisfying dings every thirty seconds or so, right up until there was an insistent knock on our front door. I guessed it was my vocal accuser and climbed out of the bedroom window and down to the outside toilet where I placed the pistol on top of the cistern, in its usual hiding place.

I quickly set up the dart board on the coal hole and assumed the demeanour of someone who had been playing darts for some considerable time.

Within seconds the back door opened and my enraged dad and a florid, bald-headed man appeared demanding that I hand over the pistol. I thought for no more than a couple of seconds and realised that I did not have a story cunning enough to talk myself out of this one. I retrieved and handed over the pistol for my dad to remove the screw pin and throw it in the bin and dismantle the barrel and hand the spring to the irate man.

That put paid to my career as a sniper.

As for Ted, we drifted into other friendships and I have not seen him since about 1973. I hope, unlike me, he managed to get his hair sorted out and that he still displays glimpses of the same sartorial elegance we managed to muster in this photograph.

 

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Letter to home…

 

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It is October 2nd 1975. Carrying heavily laden cases, I’m on my way to University in York for the first time. The A level results had gone particularly well and I managed to get into my first choice of University.

My mum insisted on coming with me as far as Manchester on the train, in part to check I don’t leave my cases anywhere, also to make sure I eat the stack of sandwiches she had made early that morning. My mum, in my lifetime, had never felt the need to travel to Manchester for some urgent shopping, but on this day she does. Perhaps it is the thought of the second born flying the nest.

I can’t work out if my trepidation trumps my excitement. I’m assuming the next few days will be difficult. The torrential rain as we arrive in Manchester Victoria does little to improve the mood and we both get soaked as I see my mum off the train. She is crying, which she claims is the rain. I have butterflies but try to sound breezy. In the minutes before the train’s departure she reels off a list of things to remember, of which the old chestnut of changing my socks and underpants every day features, together with the command to ring that night after seven, to be sure she is home to hear about my progress.

I wondered if my dad had received such lavish attention when he left home to fight in World War Two. I doubt he had as many corned beef and pickle and egg and tomato sandwiches as I was carrying, unless he was expected to feed his whole regiment.

All this comes to mind as we were discussing family history with my uncle Glyn this weekend. In honour of his and Janet’s arrival, I had blitzed the attic trying to find artefacts and photos from my parents, as he is the family historian. Eventually I was able to find a biscuit tin from my youth which dates from about 1960 and shows a little girl in a snowy scene wearing a red scarf and hat. The girl’s face has outlived its usefulness as it has been covered by my mum’s faded, yet distinctive writing on a heavily sellotaped piece of yellowed paper.

The Premium Bonds alluded to on the cover note have long since disappeared, but all the other contents, Army Records, Important Letters and the catch-all Bits and Bobs, were present and correct.

Amongst the salubrious company of the Important Letters were two written by me in my first weeks of University. As my mum had provided stamped letter cards, all I needed to do was to find time to write the one page letter and locate a letter box. It would have been churlish not to have completed those two tasks.

I had not seen the letters in over forty years, and did not remember writing them. Immediately on reading them though, I was back there on my first morning as a student following a restless night’s sleep in my new room. I can remember the emulsioned breeze block that cooled my back from the incessant heat of the central heating system, which had a default position of breathlessly hot, even when turned off. I’d grown up with ice on the inner windows of my bedroom and this central heating would take some getting used to. The letter was the first task after the morning shower as it gave me the opportunity to wile away some time with some purpose.

The letter was inordinately positive and breezy, which was not quite how I felt in those first few days away from home. I was going to be able to fully enjoy and indulge myself in student life, but for now the butterflies had not subsided and I was already exhausted from the charade of looking positive and confident when I felt the opposite.

It was a relief when I teamed up with my first university friend, Davy from Belfast,  who seemed to have both direction and momentum and was patently not lacking in confidence. I must have come across, or at least I hoped I did, as mean and moody in those first few days as I tried to re-orientate myself to this new life. In fact I was melancholy and disorientated in my new surroundings.

I suppose we have all experienced similar feelings on our first forays away from home.

What were yours?

 

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William Elwyn Conway O.B.E.

My much loved and sorely missed Uncle Elwyn Conway, beautifully described by my Uncle Glyn.

Rhyl History Club

If there is ever a name synonymous with Rhyl it is that of Elwyn Conway.  He dedicated his life to public service  for our community.  We are proud and delighted to publish this article about Elwyn’s life, written by his brother The Rev. Canon Glyn Conway.

“My late brother Elwyn, often known affectionately within the family as ‘Ebb’, was born inRhyl in 1925 living in The Geufron with his parents Aneurin and Elizabeth Conway, five siblings, Crid, Doris, Tim, Eddie and me, Glyn.

He was educated in Emmanuel School where he was a member of the school football team and was also a chorister in St. Thomas’s church choir.  During the Second World War aged 17, he enlisted in the Royal Marines. He took part in the Normandy Landings the following year, on the 6th June 1944 where, he said, it was a case of killing or being killed.  I…

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Beyond the Reso at bargain prices!

Click below to see books at £2.75 at Amazon marketplace…

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