Memoirs of Gladys May Davis (nee George)

By David JK Jones

Gladys May George was my Grandmother, a prolific writer and avid diary keeper. I felt that some extracts from her memories might be of interest to Society Members.

Gladys George was born at 19 Chapel Row, Llanharan on the 21st July 1908.

Her parents were an Ystrad Mynach couple, Lucy Frowen (1885-1929) and Ed George (1868-1937). The couple had temporarily moved to Llanharan where Ed had worked in the sinking of the new coal mine there.

With Gladys still an infant and the pit up and running the family returned to Ystrad Mynach to the family home at 64 Central Street.

Gladys was the middle child of five. Four born in Ystrad Mynach and Gladys herself, in Llanharan.  Her siblings were Violet (1903), Wilfred (1905), Roy (1918) and Owen (1923, not born for this photo).

Gladys was a highly intelligent lady and vividly remembers her childhood years, several personal tragedies and the value of the family unit.

She writes, “I remember Ystrad Mynach School being built and being on my father’s shoulders watching them build the ‘Cong’ Chapel.  This would have been about 1910”.

Adding: “Every Sunday evening after Chapel during the Summer my family always went for lovely, long walks . On a Sunday afternoon after chapel we would gather in the parlour and sing hymns and songs while my sister Violet played the piano. She played beautifully and eventually became a Music Teacher. People don’t seem to do anything like that these days. I had a very happy childhood, I don’t think that we’ll see such times again.

I used to spend a long period of the school holidays at my Grandmother’s sisters’ house in Dingestow. She was my Aunty Louise. My mother would take me to Pontypool Road train station and place me with the train guard until I got to Dingestow where Aunty Louise’s husband, a Mr Ewers, would be waiting for me. Mr Ewers worked on the Railways.

I would sit on my suitcase on the train. I was about five years old and it was around 1913. At Dingestow every week we would go by horse and trap into Monmouth town for provisions. In one of the houses that we passed lived two Quakers. They wore the Quaker dress, they looked lovely and were very polite.

At the end of the holiday Aunty Louise’s daughter, also called Louise took me home in the sidecar of her motor bike.

The war broke out in 1914 and I remember my mother buying dark blue roller blinds to put up. Everyone had to do this. I remember seeing a soldier on guard duty on the Maesycymmer Viaduct  on one of our family walks and much excitement and consternation was displayed when an actual Zeppelin flew over the Rhymney Valley.

On 10th January 1918 my brother Roy was born. There was a battle going on in France at this time in a place called ‘Warneton’ so they got out a huge map in order to spell it correctly and christened the new baby, Roy Warneton George. Why this particular battle I don’t know? Perhaps we had an uncle fighting there? I also gave this name to my son Barrie.

Back in Ystrad Mynach, my Grandfather and Grandmother both came from the Forest of Dean. Many locals couldn’t understand my Grancha’s speech. He had a peculiar, very strong dialect that only his close relatives could understand. He was really kind, funny and broad speaking.  They lived opposite us in Central Street and every Saturday he’d say,

“Little Wench, be you coming to tea tomorrow cos we got Skinnymanlately Flippity Floppity?”

This was his way of saying Jelly & Blancmange.

The Frowen family. Grancha and Grandmother sat central and Gladys’ mother Lucy sat down on the far right.

He waited on my Grandmother hand and foot. He cooked breakfast on weekends and would shout up the stairs, “Lizzie, be you getting up yet?” My Grandmother would come down in her best silk blouse and gold brooch and her long white hair combed lovely.

She would forage in the woods for herbs and berries etc and make the most amazing Jams, Wines and Medicines etc. A natural talent from the Forest of Dean that I would never dare to undertake.

My Grandmother read one book a week from the Library. She also had lovely handwriting. Sadly, Grancha could neither read nor write. He would sign a cross for his name and just look at the pictures in the newspaper. Poor old Grancha!

Every morning before going to school I had certain jobs to do. On Mondays – Washing Day, I had to fill a large boiler in the back kitchen with cold water. Under the boiler was a small sort of fire grate which I would light with sticks and coal. I would leave a shovel there for my mother to keep the fire going to boil the white clothes.

Other mornings I had to go around to Bedllwyn Road to see if there was any horse manure about as my father needed it for his allotment over by the church. Violet never did anything like this, only me.

As soon as I came home from school I had to go and see if my Gran wanted anything done for her. It was always, “Our Glad, your Gran wants you to get her medicine from the Doctors for her, or go to the Co-op, or take her Library book back and so and so…”

Violet never went anywhere for anyone, only “Our Glad.”

Other mornings I’d scrub the passage and sweep the front, all before going to school. I would eat at home dinner time and have to wash all the dishes before I returned to school.

Once a week I would scrub my Grandmother’s house too.

On a Saturday I would scrub our own kitchen, clean the brass candle sticks and scrub the lavatory. Wilfred used to help me with these chores as Violet had to practise her music.

I was still in school when I went to help my Aunty Florrie who had a shop on the square. She sold cigarettes, tobacco, sweets, chocolate, biscuits and fountain drinks. She also had a small dining room where the same travellers came every week for a light meal of bread & butter, cold ham, tea and cakes. She paid me five shillings a week for helping her and I eventually moved in with her. Aunty Florrie cooked her own hams which she did to perfection.

There was a Bank opposite and she would cook the Manager a meal which I took over on a large tray and then it was back to school for me.

I had just passed the “Labour Exam”. I was nearly 13 years old and the 1921 strike was on and my father was out of work. Aunt Florrie regularly supplied my parents with meat, provisions and essentials. She even kept my father in tobacco. She kept employing me but she was doing enough for us as a family so I left.

There was a lovely lady nearby, Mrs Thomas, a Dressmaker. She took me on. My mother had to pay her 12 shillings & 6 pence a quarter to teach me but at the end of three months I wished to leave as I couldn’t sit down all day sewing buttons and button holes. Mrs Thomas wanted me to stay for free but I still said no.

I then child minded for a local shopkeeper. Her sister wanted me to work for her childminding in Penarth but it meant living in. I did this for several months but one day I met my mother in Cardiff as she wanted to buy me a winter coat and I saw my two little brothers with her. I felt homesick and broke down crying and wanted to go back to Ystrad with them. Nevertheless I returned to Penarth to work my month’s notice and then I left. I returned to the shop washing and cleaning, sometimes until 9-00pm at night. I stuck it for two years and left.

I was only home at Central Street when I was offered a job by a lovely family to work at a big house at Park Road in Hengoed.  I walked to work every day at 7-00pm and stayed most evenings until 6-30pm. They were a lovely family to work for and I stayed until I was nearly eighteen.

I then entered into Nursing at the Bolton Royal Infirmary, Greater Manchester. It was 1926 and the General Strike was on.

My mother and Roy came to Pontypool Road Train Station to see me off. I remember it so well. The train was full so I had to stand in the corridor, all the way to Manchester. I met some lovely people in Bolton, a Mrs Sharples who I met in Church there and where I spent my days off. I nursed there for two and a half years then left to start my training in the Royal Northern Hospital at Holloway, London.

I only lasted six months here as my mother was seriously ill and I was called home. I got home on the Saturday and my mother died the following Thursday. Violet had left home so now I had to look after my father and two brothers. I needed a new job.

I heard that Colonel Lindsay’s daughter, Nesta Stoneham, was looking for a Cook. I had an interview with her at Ystrad Fawr and got the job.

Colonel Morgan Lindsay still lived at Ystrad Fawr but his daughter lived in the London area. Colonel Lindsay was an eminent man and sports lover. He was the first Welshman to play in the FA Cup final when he played for the Royal Engineers against Wanderers in 1878. Furthermore, his three sons all died in WW1 in three separate battles. Archibald (20), Claud (26) & George (26).

My father assured me that he could cope and I said that I’d send regular money. I worked in London first and then Boreham Wood, Hertfordshire. I remember travelling one evening from St Pancras to Boreham Wood and seeing a lady in my compartment with three legs. Her third leg started at her knee and she had a shoe on each. Three shoes in total.

In the old days of 1930 young, wealthy ladies were presented at court. In other words they would be presented to the Queen and then enter “society”. Nesta Stoneham (nee Lindsay) was always invited to these functions and I would accompany her. She had an Aunt who lived in Park Lane next door to the Mountbatten’s. Her name was Lady Barrick and she had a husband who was a Captain in the Army so he was presenting the ladies in his red uniform and busby. I enjoyed working for the Colonel’s daughter (now Mrs Stoneham) and I stayed for over two years when I returned to Nursing at Long Grove Mental Hospital, Epsom. The money was very good but I didn’t like it at all. This wasn’t nursing as I knew it and I saw some cruel things. I left and returned home again.

I had been courting James for two years and we got married and lived at Central Street. My daughter, Sylvia was born there in 1934.

In late 1934 Nesta came looking for me again but with a husband and daughter working for her again was out of the question.

James worked at the Penallta pit in Ystrad Mynach until the outbreak of WW2. He joined the 99 Ack Ack and was sent to Singapore. Just two days before docking there Singapore fell to the Japanese and James’s ship was ordered to sail on to Burma where he spent the rest of the war.

Nesta received the MBE for being a Commander of the East End of London Fire Service during the bombing blitz of 1943.

In peacetime we kept many pubs and clubs. They were The Railway Club, Wind Street, Swansea, the Ex Servicemen’s Club, Morriston, Swansea, Pontycymer Workingmens Club (where my daughter Sylvia met her husband), the Green Meadow, Graig, Pontypridd and the Cross Keys at Llantrisant. We left the Cross Keys in 1960 and I re-entered Nursing at Rhyd Larfar Hospital at Pentyrch. Both my daughters, Sylvia and Kathryn became Nurses too.”

Notes in conclusion:

Gladys had five children, and outlived four: Sylvia (my mother) died in 1991 aged 57, Reg died in 1972 aged 37, Kathryn died in 1996 aged 48, and Keith was killed by a coal lorry while leaving the local school, aged 7, in 1946. I am named after him. Barrie still survives today. She led a pretty tragic life but never lost her Christian faith. She died in Talbot Green, Llantrisant. I still own her house.

Her brother Wilfred also died young, and she lost touch with Owen, her youngest brother, after he left the Navy in 1960. She searched high and low and I have lots of her correspondence with Australia House, the Salvation Army, and even Cilla Black. She got a knock at the door one day and there was Owen, who had traced her!

She died 10 days later, peacefully in her chair on 26th January 1997, after she had said to me “David, it’s all come right in the end”.

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