On 18th November 1943 a Lancaster bomber, under the command of Captain Andrew Harding from Winnipeg, failed to return from a pathfinder mision over Mannheim. Among those on board were another Canadian, a man from Northern Ireland, a Scot, a Welshman and my father, Frank Alfred George Parker. Like my mother, Frank senior was a Londoner. Mum, however, was living in Herefordshire having been evacuated from London whilst pregnant with me in the spring of 1941. As a consequence of her husband’s demise, Mum remained in Herefordshire and I grew up close to the Black Mountains that mark the border with Wales.
Sometime after my father’s death Mum tried contacting the families of the other crew members. The mother of the Welshman, navigator Edward (Ted) Clements, replied. Thus began a family friendship that lasted more than 60 years. Edward had a younger brother, Fred, and a sister Peggy. His father, George, a former champion bowls player, was, by the time I came to know them in the nineteen fifties, grounds keeper at his local park where he took great pride in perfecting the surface of the bowling green.
Fred worked at the Pontypool steelworks and played Rugby for Lougher. Peggy worked in a dress shop and sang in the Morriston choir of which she remained an active member into her eighties. It was only through the friendship of this family, especially Ted’s mother, Win, that I was able to enjoy childhood holidays near the sea. The journey from our home, midway between Hereford and Hay-on-Wye, was undertaken by bus: first to Hay, then to Brecon, Brecon to Swansea and the final leg from Swansea to Gorseinon.
Sitting in the front seat on the top deck of a double decker bus travelling through the Brecon Beacons and down into the Swansea valley engendered a life-long love of mountainous landscapes in me. I remember travelling alongside the Cray reservoir and seeing the water spilling over the dam at the Northern end. The road was also overlooked by the fairytale Craig-y-Nos castle that had been home to the legendary opera singer Adelina Patti. But, back then, the Welsh valleys did not offer many scenes of beauty. There were factories and coal mines with their distinctive winding gear and mountains of black mine waste.
Once arrived in Gorseinon we had access to all the facilities of a small town – shops and a cinema within walking distance, all a source of great excitement for a mother and child used to the isolation of rural Herefordshire. Trips to the cinema always ended with a bag of chips from the fish and chip shop to eat on the way home. Shopping trips meant a cone of delicious ice cream. But far and away the best was a trip to the seaside. This might be Swansea, with its DKW trips across the sand and into the sea and the tram along the seafront, or out along the Gower peninsula to Caswell, Langland, Oxwich or Rhossili.
I remember how a travelling fun fair would usually be present on the common land next to the Clements’ house. One year I discovered a spot of green paint on one of the ducks that circled a spectacular array of prizes. To win, it was necessary to hook the right duck. The one with the spot of paint I’d identified yielded a small prize and I was able to hook half a dozen or so glass jam dishes. A short distance up the hill in the other direction, an elderly gentleman ran a small market garden. He would take us into the glasshouse to pick tomatoes straight from the vine into a brown paper bag. To this day, I cannot smell a tomato without recalling that experience.
Further up the road still, a terrace of stone houses included a sweet shop in one of its front rooms. I recall a narrow space in front of a high (to me) counter, behind which a white haired lady dispensed aniseed balls, liquorice allsorts and toffees from an assortment of square jars. The name by which this place was known has a rhythm I shall never forget: Annie shop a’two.
Over the years I experienced school trips to Porthcawl, a week in Butlins at Barry Island and days out by car to Aberystwith and Borth, but it is those childhood holidays in Gorseinon and the Gower that remain among my most treasured memories.
Mum fell in love with the Gower and introduced her second husband to it and to the Clements family. A few months after her death, in 2005, her children and their respective spouses gathered above Oxwhich Bay to scatter his and her ashes over a place they adored and that held so many happy memories.
Frank’s historical novel “Strongbow’s Wife” is set in 12th century Ireland, Pembroke and the Welsh Marches.
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