Arthur Barnacle: Memories of a Dover boy

On a fine June morning in 1940 at the railway station in Deal, Kent, I was parted from my over-protective mother. This small incident in the general alarms and excursions of war left me that same evening in the yard of Willowtown school along with the lads of the Dover Grammar School for Boys, waiting for someone to watch over me.

My school chum, Ray Fox and I could see across the valley, the white-washed terraces of Newtown, gleaming in the setting sun, looking so much more desirable as accommodation than they actually were.

"Oh, Duw, love 'em, I'll take that one," said a voice that was to mean so much to me over the years to come - Eva Player, there with her sister Maggie, had elected me to be her evacuee. "Can he come?" I asked, indicating Ray. "Oh, well, I'll take them both" said Eva.
So began four and a half of the happiest years of my life.

Our new home was just a few yards down the hill from the Willowtown Post Office.

William Charles Player, foreman of the locomotive maintenance department of Richard Thomas and Baldwin's Steelworks, and his wife Evelyn were a childless couple. They lived in some comfort at 28, Brynheulog Street.

For two lads like Ray and myself, Will Player was the perfect surrogate dad. We admired his engineering skills which were plain to see in the working steam-driven miniature mill engine and locomotives he had and was still constructing. He started building them when he was a sixteen year old apprentice. He was a keen health and fitness fan, a good swimmer and an avid cinemagoer. He subscribed regularly to magazines on all his hobbies which both Ray and I read.

Given our natural respect and admiration for him we were easily managed and while we must have created a lot of work for Eva we were treated with exceptional kindness and understanding.

Ray and I shared a bed and with the onset of puberty it was decided that one of us was to move out. Ray, it was, who was moved to stay with Joe Player, (Will's brother) and Elsie, his wife.

Joe and Elsie had a son, Glyn, who after military service worked in the chemistry department of R.T.B. The reason for their taking on Ray was, I am sure, to keep him in the family to minimise any disappointment he may have felt and to ensure he was going to a good home.

They were a caring and perspicacious family. During the days we shared Ebbw Vale Grammar School, attending mornings one week and afternoons the next week, we would spend our free half days roaming the district having great fun with mock battles or exploring the tips, quarries and railroads that abounded. We must have walked and trotted miles every day. It was great for our physical well-being.

Having come from a church in Deal where the singing was of the usual half-hearted and self conscious variety the effect on me of my first visit to Nebo Baptist Chapel, Mount Pleasant Road, (Rev. Jones B.A.) was electrifying. The sermon was powerful and the singing was passionate.

What happened afterwards was equally astonishing. Young people would emerge from all the chapels and churches and begin an amazing parade up and down Bethcar Street. Groups of young men and young women would wander from the Palace Theatre to the Plaza passing the White House and the Astoria cinemas on the way and then back again.This perambulation would continue until the 'pairing off' was completed and the couples would then wander off, the lad taking the girl home, to be rewarded with a little kissing and cuddling. Thus ended the weekly "monkey run" in the blackout. Many a Sunday night I had to sprint back from Rassau, Beaufort or Victoria to Willowtown to beat Uncle Bill's deadline.

He would be in his armchair reading the newspaper, facing away from me. The newspaper would crack irately. "What time do you call this, Arth.? Your Auntie Eve have got enough to worry about without this." "Sorry, Uncle Bill" I'd say hoping I'd rubbed off all the lipstick.

Where are they now those darling girls of innocent wantonness? Jean, Stella, Dinkie, Eileen,
Alma Avril ............................

I have returned to Ebbw Vale often over the years, most recently, sadly for Eva's funeral. There, too, was Eileen, bless her, my last link with Ebbw Vale.

© evcgs former pupils 2013