Over the past few months I’ve been remembering things about my dad. The initial reason was that I had been given custody of my father’s diaries for 1973,74,75 and 76. He had told me at the time I should keep a diary to document all of the exciting experiences I was going to have, having just signed my first recording contract. Of course I knew better. 50 years later I was borrowing them to help me remember what I did in those early years of my journey into the music business.
I think I can say without reserve you would have liked my dad.
Stan was small, funny, with a real passion for people. He was a teacher who always said to look for the worth in the child. He was a preacher who wanted to lighten the darkness and he was a father who never missed one of my football schoolboy games from the age of 9 through to the ‘end of my career’ at around aged 16.
Born in Briton Ferry and brought up in Pontrhydyfen he had a yearning to travel. He had wanted to go to China to become a missionary but instead he ended up hunting U-Boats in the Bay of Biscay.
He dreamed of going to University to study to become a Volcanologist, someone who studies volcanos. That career would have taken him to Krakatoa or Vesuvius but instead the only eruptions he saw were waters leaping into the air from exploding depth charges as they targeted the wolves of the sea.
When he was finally demobbed and returned home he had to put all of his plans on hold. He was now an orphan with a younger brother to look after. Thankfully, it wasn’t too long until he met my mother and his ‘luck’ changed forever.
From the outside it looked like my father survived the war unscathed but of course some scars are unseen. He was slightly deaf in one ear which he put down to his time manning the guns on the destroyer HMS Wren but apart from that it appeared he had escaped unscathed…
As a family we were all aware that dad had a tendency to jump up in the middle of the night. In some ways it became a bit of a family joke.
I remember on one of my trips to London my dad acted as chaperone. After a busy day recording we had just nodded off in our room in the Cumberland Hotel on Marble Arch when a bell starting ringing. My dad jumped up and grabbed me telling me to head for the door. It was only when I calmed him down that he realised it was the telephone ringing not some general alarm.
That week, sharing a bedroom with my dad, was both interesting and disconcerting. It gave me the chance to see first hand his ‘night terrors’ as the nightmares came during ‘the hour of the wolves’.
It would be totally understandable for those terrors to be rooted in his wartime experiences in the navy. When asked to speak in schools about the war he would always cry as he remembered the part he played in those dreadful days.
But my father’s war started earlier than his navy days and much closer to home.
It’s not just the diaries I’ve been reading lately. As my brothers and I have been going through my parents possessions we have also found books that he loved and a couple that he also contributed to.
This week I was sent some pages from a book I’d not seen before, ‘Talking Stones’ by Lionel Fanthorpe. My dad contributed to the chapter, The Emmanuels – Pontrhydyfen.
Ivor Emmanuel was a big name in showbusiness in the 1960’s. After leaving the mines it’s said that another old Pontrhydyfen Boy, Richard Burton, helped open some doors for him to get his big break in the West End. He went on to star in a weekly TV show called ‘Land of Song’ but he is probably best remembered for playing the part of the singing soldier, Private Owen, in the film ‘Zulu’.
If you read his Wikipedia page it just says
‘After losing his parents at an early age Emmanuel began working as a coal miner’.
Lionel Fanthorpe’s book tells a much sadder story.
In May 1941 my father was still in school and helping out in the family shop, ‘R. Glyn Pope and Son…General Merchants’.
‘They lived and worked just a few doors up the street from the Emmanuels who used to call in and often bought Pope’s Tea, blended to suit the waters of the district.’
In February 1941 Swansea had already experienced the horror of 3 nights of bombing. The blitz had led to the deaths of 230 people, men, women and children. Swansea was a massive port and an obvious target but there was nothing strategically important in that little village nestled in the Afan Valley.
The people of Pontrhydyfen must have been used to different planes flying overhead as my dad was able to identify enemy aircraft by the sound of their engines. On the night of May 11th my dad says he heard the unmistakable engine pulse of Heinkel 111 Bombers and then the sound of 18 bombs exploding across the valley.
His parents ran into his bedroom and for all the good it would do them told Stan and his younger brother Colin to hide under the bed. Then came the silence.
Why anyone would target Pontrhydyfen is still a mystery. One theory was that the RAF had chased them off their intended target and they choose to drop their deadly cargo harmlessly in the uninhabited mountains.
The bombs cut through the village hitting 18 Morgan’s Terrace the home of the Emmanuels. Ivor lived there with his parents Gretta and Steve and his little sister Mair. Crowds gathered and a lone policeman with a gas mask hung over his tunic tried to organise a rescue party. Dad recalled that one of the spinsters who lived at No 10 called to him. He was beckoned inside and asked if he knew the badly injured little girl lying there. He immediately recognised her as 4 year old Mair.
In total, Ivor’s parents, grandparents and little sister had been killed.
It wasn’t long before my father put aside his dreams and joined up. As the book says
‘Stan went on to serve in the Royal Navy and saw action during the war, but he has never erased the images of that night from his mind, and he remains now an uncompromising pacifist.’
There will come a time when the current conflicts taking place in the world will stop, only to be replaced by new ones, but the damage they do to those involved will last a lifetime.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God’ Matthew 5: 9.