Professor Tecwyn Jones, CMG, OBE
When in August 1939 I came to Cardiganshire, as it was then known, it was by road rather than by rail which I would have preferred. Fortunately, however, during my subsequent six years here as an evacuee with the kind James family at Rhiwbren Fawr farm Mydroilyn, I had the opportunity to make, albeit only a few, memorable journeys on the Aberayron-Lampeter Railway.
I made my first journey – a three-week return trip to Paddington, London in August 1943, when I was allowed to go home to my parents for a holiday. I was 14 years old. My second trip was an identical return journey when I was 15. My final trip was a single journey to Paddington in August 1945, when I finally went home at the end of World War II at the age of 16. The under 14 return fare from Aberayron to Paddington throughout that time was £1.1s.9d. I have good and grateful cause to remember this detail, because the then very kindly Aberaeron Station Master allowed me to undertake my return journeys to London at this under 14 rate because I was, in his words, ‘small enough to get away with it’!!
At the time the Aberayron outward bound train consisted of one carriage hooked to the rear of a short, shunting-type steam engine which pulled the carriage along in the usual way, with the Driver and Fireman on the footplate. On the return journey from Lampeter to Aberayron the train simply ran in reverse, with the carriage in front being pushed by the engine behind. The train was controlled by the driver operating driving equipment in a special compartment at the front of the carriage and the Fireman alone working on the footplate of the engine at the rear.
My travel to London involved catching the early train at about 8 a.m. at Llanerchaeron Halt. Then after a short wait at Lampeter Station I caught the longer and faster Aberystwyth to Carmarthen train. Finally after a very long three-hour wait on Carmarthen Station I boarded the fast and exciting Fishguard to Paddington Express arriving in London, I believe, about 5 p.m. This train on my last journey in 1945 was, if my memory serves me correctly, pulled by the renowned locomotive King George V.
My return journey from London involved catching the Fishguard Express at Paddington around 9-10 o’clock, changing After an hour or so at Carmarthen to the Aberystwyth train and then at Lampeter boarding the virtually empty Lampeter to Aberaeron single carriage train. But the final leg was particularly exciting for me, because on the two occasions that I made the journey I was invited by the driver, a Mr Griffiths, to sit beside him in the special driving compartment at the very front of the carriage. This was a wonderful experience – and was given to me by Mr Griffiths because he knew me to be a fellow-pupil of his own sons – Stewart and Gordon – at the Aberayron County School. Only once was I in danger of being relegated to the rear of the carriage – and that was when I referred to Stewart as ‘Stew Griffiths’. I was sharply reminded by Mr Griffiths that the boy’s name was Stewart!!
On the return journey to London, the 3-hour wait on my own at Carmarthen Station would have been a long and lonely episode, were it not for the kindly railwaymen at the station taking pity on me. One young railway man put my suitcase in his office and took me to see the engines in the sidings and most interestingly got me involved in re-positioning an engine using the locomotive turn-table. Another took me to a signal-box and showed me various shunting exercises. Yet another kept me amused by telling me what he claimed were true stories. He persuaded me that the large and very prominent buildings, quite close to the station –which I later came to know as the Carmarthen County Office – was the asylum. This he said was full of the craziest people, some of whom spent the days standing inside the railings next to the main road offering boxes of safety matches and Swan Vestas at half the normal retail price. The trouble was, as the railway man explained, that when you had bought the matches and walked away to use them, you discovered the boxes were full of used matches. Worse than that, if you took them back to the vendor and complained, his response was to say, ‘You bought a box of dead matches from me – so which one of us should be inside here – you or me?’ As for stations I’ve known – I have one vivid memory of an incident involving Aberayron Station which involved three of us, students from the County School and some Yankee soldiers and our Headmaster’s car. It was at the time when Cilfforch Camp was full of GIs – 1944 perhaps and it was their practice to bring water tankers down to the riverside by the bridge near to and on the opposite side of the road to the Railway Station. These tankers and their crew of GIs were often there as we three students, John (Non) Rees of Brynawel, Neuaddlwyd, Maldwyn Price of Lluest, Neuaddlwyd and I collected our bikes after school from the cowsheds where Lloyd Motors now stands and prepared to cycle up Vicarage Hill and Lampeter Road. We often stopped to talk to the GIs in the hope of being given chewing gum or cigarettes. On this particular day we had been given both of these commodities and were preparing to leave when one GI offered us a packet of condoms, with an alluring picture on the packet and the trade name ‘My Lady’. He asked us if we knew what they were and we strenuously claimed that we didn’t!! – at which he opened the packet, removed the condom, told us it was a balloon and proceeded to inflate it. he blew it up to an enormous size before tying up its end and handing it to me. ‘Take it son,’ he said, ‘and have some fun’. I did not know what to do with it as I stood there among my laughing friends and giggling GIs. But then – as if to prove the old adage, ‘the devil always finds mischief for idle hands to do’, along came our Headmaster, Mr Howell Evans in his Armstrong-Sidley car, quite oblivious of our presence and predicament, and drove at some speed into the Station yard. There he parked his car and strode off to the Stationmaster’s Office. Without a word being said, or so it seemed, John, Maldwyn and I knew where our condom had to go. With Maldwyn as look-out to warn us if our headmaster emerged from the office, John and I raced across to the car and John somehow managed to fix the condom to the rear of the car, and we retreated to the company of our GIs. Almost instantly, Howell Evans emerged from the office, walked along the platform down to his car and without noticing the condom, got in and drove off up the hill to Lampeter Road. The sight of the giant condom flapping away behind the car was truly hilarious – a harmless schoolboy prank that still causes me to smile. It must have burst along the way – or the Headmaster saw it and removed it, because it wasn’t there on the car when we passed his house, Maesgwyn, some ten minutes later.