The following is a verbatim written account by Jack of his early life. Jack spent his boyhood in Henllys and spent his teenage years in Cwmcarn - where the scenic drive is nowadays.
The Life Story of a Working Mans Son.
My Life Story
Born 26 April 1906 in Rock Cottages Henllys.
Near a forest surrounded by pines and fir trees of great beauty
My Father - Shropshire born 1867 Died 1925************My Mother - Chepstow born
We were seven children, six girls, one boy.
Names; Florrie, Maud, Winnie, Ethel, John, Nellie, Nancy; myself the only boy.
Our nearest village was four miles distant; nearest neighbours were two farms situated between my home and the village.
Firstly, my memory dates back to 1909, three years of age, nearest neighbours the farm half a mile distant were typical Welsh people and spoke the language fluently. It is these people I speak of in the commencement of my life.
Being three years old I well remember the kindness of these lovely people who used to speak a lot of Welsh to me, possibly thinking I would learn it; I wish I had taken more notice, being so small and young they were all very fond of me, of course they were elderly; menfolk were all bachelors.
Womenfolk were; Grandmother, her daughter who had two daughters born twins. Their father was deceased, so was their grandfather. The two girls were a lot older than me, even so they used to play with me. So being so young and mischievous, and all of them being so fond of me, my mother used to know where to find me. To get to the farm I used to cross the brook as we termed it in my younger days, then walk across the field, chasing the cows and horses; I used to love animals and was never afraid of them; later in my story you will realise why. Playfully toddling through the field I would enter the farm through the garden which comprised of nice fruits, such as damson trees, apple trees and lovely juicy gooseberries (Golden Drop). I would walk in as if it was my own home and when meals were prepared I was always at the table, and when tired would fall asleep on the large sofa.
Dear old Ann (Grandmother) and Anna (daughter) would always take care of me.
Let me say firstly, these days of my young life and ensuing years were hard and people lived a practical life of hard work, good solid food, and an honest and saintly way of life. As my story goes on you will realise although primitive and historically, we found life amusing in making our own fun, with very few toys etc. but always a good sense of humour. For those that may read this My Life Story, after a time, will realise the advancement technically, scientifically, commercially in all aspects, I am very much in favour of these great achievements, but I must say people don't realise as we do, we elderly, how fortunate they are today, pity is, all is abused.
Returning again to the little farm, which was so picturesque to enter from the roadway, with brook running alongside you would walk up a little cobbled drive approximately forty yards, with an archway of overhanging golden chair and lilac. To reach the house you would pass stables and a hay barn. Over the stable there was what we called a tallet (where hay was stored), and an old man used to kip, or sleep; this little old man we will call Jimmy the finisher, who did odd jobs etc. As time marched on, and I am getting older but very small my story will explain how interesting my young life has been in following the old fashioned people in their funny and practical way of life. For instance, I would follow old Jimmy as we termed him. He would not stop in the same place for long, I mean his mode of life was the building of huts on different parts of the mountains, comprising of stone sides and front, branches off trees and ferns on top with a fireside chimney outside
May I add that he was comparatively clean in his way and manner, being a short thick set man approximately 5'2"; he always carried a short thick walking stick cut out of the forest, he was always quick in walking pace. As I grew older and asked questions regarding his name being so funny, it was explained that he finished a man, be that as it may I never found out anymore about him. Our cottage being very lovely, our parents whilst going out shopping or leaving we alone, Jimmy was always left in charge of we children. Jimmy would never enter the house ever, but rest assured he was around watching then house and we children. As I am now nearing 5 years of age, toddling behind old Jim, I was beginning to learn my way around the mountains, such as Twym-Barlwym, Henllys, Pontypool etc. So by following Jim around I knew where he built his shacks, so usually on a Sunday morning I would take a parcel of fish, Mam would send for him, which of course she would have bought at Newport, usually Flocks, Fennels or Hagals - in those days fish was comparatively cheap. Such as herrings, mackerel, Hake, Bream, Sprats, any fish which was in season according to the time of year. And then there were smoked kippers, bloaters, haddocks, not forgetting 'Toe Rag' salt fish.
All these commodities in our hard and practical life, made life worth living, we had good genuine food cooked and prepared so practical with different sorts of herbs for savouries, which made it so tasty. It was at this time of my life that I remember the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary, year 1910. Myself and my sisters attended the Church of England. So the church celebrated by giving everyone a grand tea and each child received a picture of King and Queen. There were huge bonfires lit up on the mountains such as Twym-Barlwym, highest mountain in Monmouthshire. On arriving at the grand old age of five, I broke my leg through my mischievous ways this so happened, as my story continues you will understand.
My sisters and I, we were a happy and cheerful disposition, although times were hard, and money regarding mens wages were very low, we lived on a mere pittance, the little had in clothes etc. we had to take care of. Being poor off, appropriate to the times, we were always clean and tidy. Thank God we had a good mother (when I remember back, now at my age of past half a century a tear comes to my eye) ton think of the times she went without herself for we children. Your will hear quite a lot of Mam as my story goes along. My sisters all had lovely long plaits of hair down their back, reaching their waists, especially my eldest sister and in our young days after attending school mother would put a small comb through our hair
It was on such an occasion that my wickedness started my unfortunate ill lick of complacency. I must add that we had Gypsies camping on grounds adjacent to our own which we named the 'flats' because they were nice and green and also very level, situated at the lowest point of the fir forest. The boys of the camps were a lot older than me, some were teenagers, and it was the latter who was the cause of my misfortune. As I remarked about mother combing my sisters hair, Florrie, my eldest sister sitting on a chair having hers done when I entered the kitchen, wickedly crept up to her, and gave her such a whack on her bottom, ha ha, and she made a dash for me but I scampered out as fast as I could with her chasing. My sister not being able to catch me, I ran along to the holly tree, whereby was a skip in ground where we used to jump, so happened the gypsies boys were so doing. I suppose being a little dictatorial in my small way, and being on my father's ground, I suppose I imagined that I had precedent over them. Whereby defying them to jump on our ground, I sat down underneath the slip. Disregarding my defiance a gypsy boy, Darkie Walker (as we knew him) jumped and landed on my left leg. Immediately crying in pain, someone ran for my mother, so when she picked me up my leg was just limp, it was broke. The year, 1911, the medical profession was not so modernised as it is today, but believe me, they were efficient and practical. So for six weeks I was lying on my back in bed and my leg was set between bricks, ordinary house bricks. Whilst in my bed awaiting for my leg to set it was that I nearly lost my life again. It happened like this; my father gave me one of his pocket watches, and me always wanting to see the work inside, managed to open it. Not being satisfied with seeing the works I pulled the spring out and put it into my mouth, whereby the spring sprang open and jammed in my throat and was choking me. Fortunately, mother heard a choking sound and rushed upstairs, found me suffocating, blue in the face, frightened mother screamed for father who rushed up and after some struggles managed to put his fingers in my throat, pulling the spring out. Being unconscious awhile, I eventually came to - I must add just, recently I met a man who hasn't seen me for over fifty years, but reminded me of the above event which he remembered. When I was to get up I was carried downstairs; so taken I was with getting stronger I would crawl around the room and gradually pull myself by the chair until I could eventually stand. And so when I got stronger out on the mountains I would creep. So in the next few weeks I began to walk slowly. The Doctor who attended me was actually commencing his practice, so I was his first patient. Hence the reason he took so much interest in the setting of my leg, and attending to me regularly. Firstly, he would have me walk slowly and gradually a little faster, eventually to run also slowly. As I was getting stronger he was delighted how quickly my leg had set. Visiting me until I was really fit he would give me one shilling - oh boy! That was worth something in those days. He was a great doctor and done a great job on my leg. My next chapter will be commencing school, may I add that this particular doctor a little later in my young life took up a practice in South Africa and became a great surgeon. And now my leg has set, so I can run as well as other little boys, so I commenced school. The school being four miles to travel from my home we had to start early to be there at commencement of class. Owing to living so far from the school, we were allowed to leave fifteen minutes earlier than the termination of the class, only in winter, so as to allow my sisters and I to reach home before darkness. But as I grew older and there were no other children near our home to play with, I can say now how I abused this privilege, not of course to the knowledge of the master or teachers. By keeping out of sight of school I would wait until school was dismissed and would then play in the village with the other boys and girls. To reach my home was a very lonely and quiet road, the silence only broken by the hooting of owls and the intermittent baying of the male and female fox. Just imagine me walking home the first one-and-a-half miles was the old gas lights; from thereon was total darkness, and of course walking through a forest of trees was much worse, in fact, many a time it was so dark that I would glance up to the sky on a starry night to keep to the road. I had many frightening moments in my school days, but was not really afraid or nervous of darkness. Whilst on my escapades at school I must add one which happened to me a little time after a year at school or possibly two years. There was a second farm between my home and the village. The farm was worked by two sisters (spinsters) and two brothers (bachelors) of the same family. One sister was deaf and dumb, one brother was totally deaf and it is of this man that I will tell you about and an escapade which could have cost me another broken leg. His name was Bill, my sisters and I were going to school early one morning and old Bill was driving a horse and trap. So of course, here's a ride for me. Without his knowledge I grabbed the rear which was much higher than me; in so doing my foot slipped and went in between the hub of the wheel and the side of the cart. Screaming with pain and fright (Bill couldn't hear me) I clung to the tail board of the cart. Fortunately, my sisters were with me, so rushed in front of the cart and stopped Bill. So home again with an injured leg for a week.
May I add that though his sister was deaf and dumb she was quite sociable, me so young and not able to understand her I was scared of her through the awful sound that she made when trying to make me understand something. Yet, as scared as I was I would do any wickedness to annoy her, and then run like H____ But as I grew older I got to understand her and we were great friends. To reach the farm where Sally lived we had to cross a stream over an ancient archway built out of stone, underneath of which was a deep pond. This pond was full of the nicest fresh water trout you ever wished to see. Sally used to pride herself on this pond and her trout there, hence my mischievousness to annoy her by throwing stones in the pond. Now I am eight years of age, and in the evenings meet and play on the village with school mates, and again in our devilment we would play jokes on the people of the village, then again being chased. We had very few pence in my young days; the little we had to spend would purchase a lot, but is was very little that we had to spend so we had to be satisfied with our lot. Many nights arriving home late I have had many a slapping, and sometimes put to bed without any food. Arising the following morning at seven am to prepare for school, for remember, we were four miles to walk to school. So mother would prepare porridge (Quaker oats) boiled with a little water, then each with their portion in a basin it was covered with hot milk and Demerara sugar; it was very nice. Then we would have toast and marmalade, usually the marmalade was made by mother. We would have sandwiches to take to school and sometimes a bottle of herb beer which, of course, mother brewed. Being so far from school we could not come home for dinner. Now I am getting older, and remember me saying how fond I am of animals so in summer when the farmers were haymaking you bet I was there-abouts to lead the horse in the wagon, or ride on the load. Also I used to follow the mowing machine, pulled usually by two horses. My job was to follow with a rake and throw any grass which fell in the next swathe, which is of course, the live grass which he cuts next time round. By golly how hard I worked, and only a little boy, as I was always small for my age. Remember, I did not get any coppers for helping but would go in the farm house after we finished and would have supper; usually farm house cheese and lovely home made cake. Sometimes I used to help with the cows; you would sit on a little stool and bucket tilted between your legs. Sometimes if the cow was restless you had to be careful, otherwise, yourself and bucket would go flying, which happened to me many times. Many times I would not go home till ten pm - of course mother would know where I was. Remember I had to do jobs for mother - such as gathering fire wood and logs from the forest, also gathering dandelions and nettles for brewing herb beer. Also we had a bricked oven in the shed out the back of the house where mother baked her bread and cakes. How nice her baking was. We used to have a sack of flour every month, my job was to collect wood and logs to burn inside the oven (that was hard work). When the oven was heated and wood burned out mother would scrape all the ash etc out. Then the bread, cottage loaves, would be put in, we would then close the door and bank the outside of the door with turves of grass. After the bread was baked mam would, with any dough left over from bread, make little batches, small and round. Also she would put in the cake, comprising of raisins and sultanas. Oh boy, it was lovely cake. In square tins they would come out of the oven well baked, whoever reads this story will realise how practical we lived in poor circumstances of our time. Usually on my way to school I would eat some cake which I had put in my pocket. May I add at this juncture, I remember one winter, and believe me we used to have some very hard ones, mam had no flour to make bread of which little was left. The snow being high we could not get to the village, so dad and I walked down the brook to get enough flour to keep us going, by golly it was tough going, of course we had gum boots on, I was eight years old at the time. Remembering such a winter, I must go back two years, then 6 years old, it was the year 1912 when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank; very few lives were saved. You will find that as you go through life, there are some incidents which are outstanding and this is one, although so young I remember being at school our teachers explained to us the terrible impact for such a large liner, her length 852 feet, and gross tonnage 46, 328. Lives lost 1,700. that was some liner in those days and later in life as a young man I was to meet a nice lady whose husband was on the liner but was a survivor, Lord Rhondda. Even so we had severe winters we also had lovely summers, living so near to a forest of pines and fir trees there were such grand walks. Infested with snakes, and habited with foxes, and the top of the valley where the brook or stream ran I saw many badgers. As a little boy I would go for walks with old Jimmy, may I add, he would cut props and wood uprights for clothes lines, he also made whips from the skins of snakes, which he sold to eke out his meagre living. The forest being very warm and a hive of brambles, hence the reason for so many snakes, and on these walks with Jimmy, he could detect a snake, a habit of his which made me think he could smell one; whilst following behind him he would sometimes stop and silence me by raising his hand, and boy, there was a snake creeping through the growth. Jimmy carried a stick with a v shape at the top, old Jim would (if the snake was to his liking) fasten it down on the back of the head, Jim would put his foot on the wriggling body to straighten it, then with the pocket knife which would spring open for use he would he would slit behind the head with a circular movement and gradually peel the skin off; what a smell if you were near. He would then snip off the head and kick the snake away. Of course he would make sure that it was a grass snake and not an adder, for there were plenty of those. The snake of his liking had to be a certain length for the type of whip he was making. By golly he made some fine ones, always in demand. He used to hang the skins to dry a line between two posts outside his cabin. He would treat the skins with certain oils of which I did not know. I wish I had taken notice. I will explain an incident which happened to me at this young stage of my life. Mother used to keep lots of poultry; ducks etc. The chickens used to roam the forest and build their nests and so lay their eggs of course in the most remote places such as the centre of brambles. It was this particular nest which gave me the fright of my life. Each day I would collect in the afternoon, so this day I did just that, the nest being so far in the centre of the bramble I would put my hand in without looking. Believe me, my hand came out much more quickly and my feet as I sped down the path in the forest made me a fast miler; I had caught hold of a nice fat snake. My swear words in my young days were flaming fling and it was this I was shouting as I raced down the path with the sickly feeling of fright. I smile now when I think of it, but not then. My father was working in the garden, and wanting to know what was wrong I told him. Giving me a large stick and insisting that I should go back and kill it trying not to look a coward I did so, but out of his sight I did not go back to the nest - I felt too scared. You may laugh but it's a hell of a feeling especially being so young. But as I grew older and seeing many more of them the scare wore off. When I used to go round the gypsy camps I used to see the boys playing with snakes. It was whilst visiting camp that I saw a gypsy woman roasting a hedgehog in clay in a fire, and I can say it tasted a small (after it was done) portion. The meat was very white after coming out of the clay and the taste was very rich. It was at this stage of my young life that the gypsies moved on to another site; where I did not know. My sisters and I used to go picking blackberries in the wood. They were plentiful where the brambles were thick. We had to be careful owing to snakes such as adders which were the dangers. Mam made lovely blackberry jam. We used to pick sloes and elderberry when ripe for making wine. Before the elderberry ripened of course while growing in flower, we picked and dried in the sun, we used to take it as a tea for colds or inflammation. It is a good herb to avert pneumonia. Pity people do not take more care of this herb today. Then again we would go mushroom collecting in farm fields, usually in September. They were delicious with our home cured bacon (those were the days of practical living). When the First World War commenced, I was eight years of age (1914). This last was terrible as you the youngest generation saw it, but God alone knows the 14-18 war was terrible.
The 14 - 18 war was not mechanised as the 39-45. Horse drawn gun carriages through dreadful mud and sludge, and our troops, heroes all of them, went through hell, mud heaped trenches up to their waists, and then advancing with packs over the top saturated with all this puddle. But with the guts of the lion, and the determination to fight for the freedom of their loved ones. Just stop for a minute and imagine what these brave boys went through. Of course it was a war of infantry on foot and all horse drawn vehicles. Although a little boy I remember the suffering, and the terrible state of the wounded returning from the trenches. Of course the difference with the latter war being mechanisation, whereby civilian life suffered through the bombing of our cities etc. which was terrible and atrocious. But believe me, the 14-18 war was terrible and by God, we were on meagre rations and often very hungry. For future reference my story will continue I wish you to know, I have up to the present age of my life 65 years lived under five reigns. Our ruling monarch in 14-18 was King George V - Queen Mary. We went through very hard and depressing times. Rationing ; one square of butter approximately one inch, a lump of sugar of Demerara, jam which was rationed and used to be delivered to shops in barrels. Also treacle which was black and tasted horrible, edible only on toast or in porridge. We took our own jars to collect, and according to what quantity the shops had, was eked out to customers. Of course we had a ration book to take with us for these commodities. Our meats were sometimes dark in flesh and tasted sweet and we soon found out it was horseflesh. But when you are hungry it goes down. Vegetables such as greens and potatoes were very scarce. Fruit was out of the question; that was a real delicacy. Sometimes we had a few boiled sweets but chiefly root liquorice, which was very good to suck. To munch at school I would go in the farm fields and look for a small swede and with my knife peel it and cut it in small squares or sometimes wash a young carrot, which was the better of the two because it was sweet. Owing to the shortage of vegetables, such as cabbage etc. we used to collect young nettles and boil the same as cabbage. After the boil the water was dark green and was poured in the mix of gravy. Believe me it was very nice. When we had boiled bacon and nettles it was a favourite meal of mine. May I say at this juncture we had our pigs and chickens and with the meagre rations we were allowed we had a hell of a job to feed them. Now just take particular notice of what I say, how we fed these animals, and in the years ahead to you that you will realise how we made use of what nature provided, so how can you call us stupid compared to your living.
Firstly, my father usually kept a pig for bacon and always a large white was his choice, which of course was always best for bacon, owing to the body being lengthy in its frame, also large hindquarters for the hams. Now we were only allowed a small amount of meat for feeding. We commenced feeding the pig on sharps meal while it was growing, and then when the time came to start fattening we would try for barley meal and Indian meal. By golly that was the bacon in those days, and now to tell you what we did to help out the rationed meals.
In the spring when the ferns commenced growth it was my job to pick the centre of the ferns' new growth which was tender, what a tedious job, it would take hours to pick a bag (potato bag), and your fingers would be sore through picking, and also young nettles which would be boiled and when cooked would be mixed with meal, and kept in barrels ready for feeding. Also with what peelings you could collect. Then come autumn we would collect acorns also to feed to the pigs. When we killed the pig for bacon, usually in September, or in the spring, it was my job to collect the blood in a pail or bucket for mother to make black pudding and mince for the making of faggots. Of course I had to run the chicklings; that means clean them and turn them. Chicklings are the organs of the interior of the pig. To run them I had to take them to the water, where we had a pipe across the brook, running from water cress beds. To turn them I had a shaped stick one foot long, which I would turn them to wash inside. What a stink, but you got used to it when you were compelled to do it. But after all this dirty and tiring job the faggots, chickings and blackpudding was delicious and by golly mother knew how to make them. May I say my fingers were chilled from water through the pipe when cleaning chicklings, especially when doing them late at night. How I wish, now at my age of 65 years I had a place where I could keep a bacon pig and I would do the same thing again.