Whitchurch residents share wartime tales of bomb scares, gas masks and lemonade

Hopes that the reminiscence group idea might spread to Rhiwbina and Llandaff North

RESIDENTS of Whitchurch have been meeting to share their memories and preserve local history for future generations.

Whitchurch Reminiscence group meets once a month to share memories, photos and artifacts that show how Whitchurch has changed over the years.

It is part of the charity Awen, which hopes to extend this opportunity to residents in Rhiwbina and Llandaff North. 

All the information presented in the meetings at Whitchurch Hub is collected and recorded by members with gaps in local knowledge filled in by experts at Glamorgan Archives.

At the February meeting residents exchanged stories about the Second World War. Dorothy Chamberlain, now 90, spoke in detail about growing up in the 1940s. 

Mrs Dorothy Chamberlain at Whitchurch Reminiscence Event: Credit Katharine Worrell

“I’ve lived here 90 years and only moved once!” she said. 

“I was six years old when the war began. My mother had me evacuated to Barry because she thought I would be safer. I had three brothers but I was the only one who went, I lived with my grandparents.

“Everyday I would take the bus to school and would bring my gas mask. I remember it smelt terrible and was very difficult to get on and off.” 

If there was a bomb scare while she was at school, neighbours would volunteer to take in up to five children each while they waited for the all clear. 

“I had a lovely lady. She was very kind to us and gave us lemon and orange drinks,” said Mrs Chamberlain with a smile. 

Another member of the group, Mrs Jill French, brought in a photo album her father had made of the Victory in Europe Day Celebrations in Whitchurch in 1945. He took the photos himself and created an album for every person on Bishops Road. 

Mrs Jill French photographed by her father at Cardiff VE Day celebrations in 1945. Credit: Jill French
Mrs Jill French at the Whitchurch reminiscence event. Credit: Katharine Worrell
Bishops Road VE Day celebrations, original picture taken by Jill French’s father.
Victory Day Photo Album 1945- Credit:Mrs Jill French

The group was launched in 2018 with about eight members. This number has grown to more than 30 and members want to encourage other Cardiff hubs to take up the challenge of setting up groups to preserve their local history.  

“Having people discuss their memories helps bring the past to life. It is important to remind people of the stories; if you are going to knock down Whitchurch history you could at least put up a plaque,” said committee member Chris Lewis.

Mrs Lewis also read a newspaper clipping from the Western Mail in the 1920s which told the unfortunate court case of a local homeless man Jebediah James who was given six weeks hard labour for stealing chickens from a farm.

The group also dives further back in history. Chairman Nigel Lewis gave a presentation on how Domino’s Pizza on Merthyr Road used to be the Village Farm in the 1870s.

Nigel Lewis giving his presentation on Village Farm, Whitchurch in the 19th Century. Credit: Katharine Worrell

Mr Lewis described the group as being dedicated to preserving a “glimpse of the village we call home in a time long since gone.”