Bonfire Night – Part 5

The Garw Valley Heritage Society are proud to present a story by Roy Davies, remembering his early days in the Garw.

In the weeks leading up to Bonfire Night, we are printing one part per week.

The following is an account of the author’s boyhood in the Garw Valley when gangs of boys collected anything and everything months in advance to build their bonfires for November 5th.


Part 5 – The Co-op’s Dilemma

He heard his mother go, he presumed, to fetch milk.   But that was very strange.   The Co-op ran like clockwork.


“Mr Jones went down to find out why there wasn’t none,”Mrs Edwards gossipped on to his mother, “they told him that the delivery van couldn’t leave the yard because it didn’t have a tyre on one of its wheels.  They had it there ready to be put on this morning, first thing, but when they got there, there it was, gone!   Someone’s pinched it and they don’t have another spare.   It will be weeks before they can get another one, they say.”


“Good gracious,” he heard his mother reply but he knew it wouldn’t affect her.   They got their milk from Dick Maesglas.   “Always have and always will” his mother insisted whenever a neighbour praised the Co-operative service.


Letting his head fall heavily back on the pillow the boy, who now realised he was responsible for preventing  the delivery of milk to most of the houses in the valley, was first relieved and then worried.   Removing an old tyre was one thing.   Stealing a brand new tyre, even though they hadn’t known it was new, was an entirely different matter.


All day long he and his blood-brothers looked hard at each other in school not daring to say a word in case they were overheard or seen to be conspiring.   The news of the pinching of the tyre was everywhere and any talk of it would have been extremely dangerous.    All they wished was that the school day would soon be over so that they could get back up the tin shed – especially since there was a near- riot in the school yard when the three hundred boys discovered that there was no milk for them during the morning break for the first time in living memory.


They ran straight for their homes at the final bell and from their teas straight to the shed where they hid themselves in the rubbish until all of them were inside and they had pulled the door to and fastened it securely.


“Where is it?  Wher’d you put it? they shouted at each other through clenched teeth as ferns and old cardboard and mattress flock were thrown everywhere.


“I’ve got it” the timid boy said,  and they helped him drag the tyre from under some old slatted orange boxes. For the first time, in the dim light of the shed, they were able to read the name of the factory on the paper wrapped around the tyre.   They slowly pulled it off and examined the smooth, new rubber and the hard-edged and deep pattern of the tread which repeated itself in diamond chunks around the tyre.


“Oh Christ, it is a new tyre, too,”said the boy who had fetched the Bible.   “What’re we going to do?  What’re we going to do?   My mother’ll kill me.”


“She’s not,’cos she’s not going to know it was us who pinched it,” said the boy who had organised the raid.


“But I’m sure they all know it was me already,” said the very timid boy, “I’m sure everybody was looking at me today in school.  Oh, why did we do it.   It’s all your fault,” he said to the ringleader.


The boy looked straight back at him.


“No-one is going to find it or to connect us with it,” he replied without bothering to defend himself.


“But we can’t take it back, someone is sure to see us,” the timid boy said from his tunnel under the ferns, “and we can’t burn it now – everyone will know it was us what did it.  What’ll we do?  The police will find out and put us in jail!”


The wind played around the holes in the back of the shed again as they all silently searched for a way out of their dilemma.  Then the leader’s voice broke the silence:


“Don’ worry”, he said.  “You lot just remember your vows and don’ tell no one.   We all start building our fires tonight don’t we?  Well, how can anyone tell what’s at the bottom of a fire?  No one can see nothing once its been built and there’ll be so many being built tonight that nobody can keep an eye on them all, can they?   Not even the police.”


“What’re you going to do?” the timid boy asked.  “You’re not going to get us into more trouble, are you?”


“No,” the boy said with a smile as he recalled all the nights of terror they had suffered guarding their bonfires in that shed.   No, there’s not going to be any more trouble – ever”.


That night, when the boys of the valley had gone home after building their bonfires ready to be lit the following evening when it got dark and after guarding them until very late from the other gangs, the boy crept out from his house and removed the tyre from the now empty shed and began rolling it quietly  through the back lanes and deserted alleyways in the opposite direction from the Co-op yard.


Next evening as the finishing touches were put to fires up and down the valley and the five blood brothers prepared their fireworks – mostly bangers –  there was still a lot of talk about the tyre and what had become of it, but the excitement of the actual bonfire night rituals soon overtook everything else.


The children called out down the street that they were about to  light the fire and from the houses out came their mothers and fathers and neighbours onto the fronts of their houses to watch the ceremony of the lighting.   Some grown-ups approached the huge pile of rubbish with the Guy sitting uncomfortably on the top with pieces of wood or material that they had kept until the last minute so that they could throw something on themselves as they had done in their own childhoods.  That also allowed them an excuse to be as close to the fire as the children when the dead ferns of that Summer, the boxes from the shops in the main streets and something from almost every house in the area went up in flames once again.


Four of the bonfire builders were excited and jubilant that the tyre had gone; where they didn’t know but they didn’t care.  All they knew was that their night of adventure and theft had gone undiscovered.


The fifth had about him an air of complete satisfaction as they stood together and studied the sites of the other bonfires up and down the valley for the first sign of nerves for it was not the done thing to be the first to give way to the excitement of the night and to light their fires first and draw the attention of the entire valley.


Then a shout went up.


“The Cwmroaders, the Cwmroaders have started.   Look at it go.”


The children, jumped up and down as the flames signalled the beginning of the night of celebration.   “The Cwmroaders are always first,” one boy said.


“Look,” somebody else said, “they’ve gone in Victoria Street”.”


“….and in Pantygog.”


“…and in Waunbant.  Look, come on or we’ll be too late.”


The Topenders with Spikey and Morpho and the twins must have been waiting to be last but the five boys could wait no longer. As the darkness fell along the valley the five boys lit their paper torches and stuck them under the dead ferns and paper and straw now innocent of all suspicion. The dry material flashed and flared leaping up and around the wood and the boxes and the mattress that they had been lying on each night for weeks past.


And then Morphp and the twins could wait no longer and the whole valley seemed to be alight from top to bottom.

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