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The Second World War in Ceredigion

The Coliseum cinema during the war; The forces in Aberystwyth; The Women's Voluntary Service; Prisoners of war; Bombs and aircraft crashes; Ceredigion on the front line?; Aberystwyth harbour; Llanrhystud radar establishments; Anti-tank stopline; The Home Guard.

The Second World War affected the people of Ceredigion in the following ways:

  • Many people, particularly men were sent elsewhere to train and serve as soldiers, pilots, sailors and nurses. Some never came back.
  • Some people had to look after evacuees.
  • Some soldiers and airmen were trained in Aberystwyth. They slept in many of the hotels and boarding houses and had offices and trained in the Old College and the Assembly rooms.

The no 6 Initial Training Wing of the RAF (800+ men) and the 22nd Training Regiment of the Royal Artillery were based in Aberystwyth

Some injured soldiers, sailors and pilots were cared for in Aberystwyth

There was a general shortage of food, petrol, and other materials but Ceredigion may have been better off than many of the towns since so much food was produced here and fish could be caught in the sea

There were various events to raise more money for the war effort. These included concerts and other entertainments, collection of scrap materials

A few bombs were dropped in the County, possibly by aeroplanes that should have dropped them on big towns elsewhere (such as Liverpool). No one in Ceredigion was killed by German bombs, but 1000 were killed elsewhere in Wales.

Thirty planes crashed in Wales during the war but none in Ceredigion The nearest was at Mallwyd near Machynlleth where a Junkers 88 crashed. The crew of four and a Gestapo officer were captured

A floating mine exploded near the Pier (when it was showing a film)

At the end of the war, people raised money to build memorials to those who gave their lives during the war or to add names to memorials set up at the end of the First World War.

The Coliseum Cinema (where Ceredigion Museum is now housed) was closed on the first day of the war because it was a Sunday, and all cinemas in Britain were closed on the second day of the war. The Pier cinema was opened in Aberystwyth on the third day of war and was said to be the only one open in the whole country. The Coliseum opened on the forth day of war and remained open everyday but Sundays throughout the war, showing some war films and news reels but mostly funny, romantic or exciting films, to help people forget about the war (there were no televisions during the war).
Local soldiers were given training lectures in the Coliseum in the afternoons. 

The following were built in Aberystwyth:

  • Two pill boxes of concrete at the mouth of the harbour (one survives)
  • Bomb shelter built in North Parade outside Gwalia Garage
  • Two radar masts on Constitution Hill (for detecting low flying aircraft)
  • A direction finding tower built in Cwm Woods
  • Rifle range and clay pigeon range on Pen y Angor (to practice shooting)
  • The Old College. The Council chamber was half filled with museum display cases, and the remainder used to teach RAF personnel and there was a signals room and Air Raid post elsewhere in the building.
  • Parish Hall – Air Raid Post
  • No 1 Marine Terrace was occupied by Navigation and armaments Officers
  • The Queen's Hotel (now Swyddfa Sir) was used as the HQ of RAF
  • The Assembly Rooms (near the Castle) were used to train pilots and navigators
  • The Forum Cinema (Bath Street) became a NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institute)
  • The English Wesleyan Church (Bath Street) became a canteen
  • Sylvan Palace was an R.A.F. clothing store 

Elsewhere in Ceredigion:

  • RADAR establishments between Llanrhystud and Llanon
  • Anti-tank ditch and concrete bollards formed a line from the Tyfi to New Quay
  • Pill boxes on Cardigan Castle, in Lampeter and at Ciliau Aeron
  • A Concrete defence building on the main road near Furnace where there was also a look-out point in the old Iron Furnace
  • A British Concrete Federation Huts at Ynyslas where rockets were tested
  • Projectile Development Establishment at Aberporth

Some soldiers and airmen were trained in Aberystwyth (the no 6 Initial Training Wing of the RAF (800+ men) and the 22nd Training Regiment of the Royal Artillery). They slept in many of the hotels (the Belle Vue, Deva, Queen's Hotel, Lion Royal) and boarding houses and had offices and trained in the Old College and the Assembly rooms.

Some injured soldiers, sailors and pilots were cared for in Aberystwyth

3,000 troops from the British Expeditionary force were to be billeted in Aberystwyth after Dunkirk.

A list of the forces that were served in the Forum Canteen, Bath Street open 10.6.1940 – 30.11.1944 appeared in a menu for a supper held on December 8th, 1944 to celebrate the work of the Canteen Helpers.

These included:

  • Men from Dunkirk
  • South Wales Borderers (S.W.B.)
  • 224th Regt L.A.A. Royal Artillery
  • 12th Field Training Regt, Royal Artillery
  • 4th Army Selection Centre
  • 6th I.T.W. (Initial Training Wing) R.A.F.
  • W.A.A.F. (Women's Auxiliary Air Force)
  • A.T.S. (Auxiliary Territorial Service)
  • Woman's Land Army
  • Men of the Royal Navy
  • Wounded Soldiers
  • Repatriated Prisoners of War
  • Men of the American Army
  • Women of the Nursing Services
  • Home Guard

The Women's Voluntary Service (W.V.S.) was formed in June 1938. Although there task was to recruit and train women for various ARP duties, the WVS displayed a willingness to take on all sorts of jobs which did not fall into the remit of other services. Early examples included the evacuation of children, making medical supplies, pyjamas, nursing gowns and bandages.

There were Prisoners of War camps at Llanon and Henllys, mostly for Italian soldiers. A Roman Catholic chapel at Henllys was decorated by them.

A few bombs were dropped in the County, possibly by aeroplanes that should have dropped them on big towns elsewhere (such as Liverpool). No one in Ceredigion was killed by German bombs, but 1000 were killed elsewhere in Wales.
A floating mine exploded near the Pier (when it was showing a film).
(A list of the bombs is in Gwyn Davies' article)

Thirty planes crashed in Wales during the war, but none in Ceredigion. The nearest was at Mallwyd, near Machynlleth where a Junkers88 crashed. The crew of 4 plus a Gestapo Officer were captured.

Although considered by some to have been a bit of a "backwater" during the Second World War, for a short time the whole coastline of Wales including Ceredigion was potentially a front line area.
Following the "Blitzkrieg" and the advance of German forces through Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, The Low Countries and on into France, the opinion of the government was that the next target would be Ireland, effectively encircling the United Kingdom. The country would be vulnerable to a co-ordinated three-pronged attack, from the east, south and the west.
Hitler himself named the operation for the invasion of Ireland "Plan Green". The deep-water harbours at Holyhead and Milford Haven were prime targets for the invasion fleet, with support landings at smaller coastal harbours.
However, the German High Command thought that a neutral Ireland was more useful to its immediate plans than a hostile one. There was also a significant risk that such an invasion would sway opinion of a highly influential Irish-American population, and bring the U.S. into the conflict.

The "Type 22" pillbox is the only surviving machine gun post that protected the harbour entrance. A larger "Type 24", with a small Anti-Aircraft post attached protected the inner harbour. There was also a mobile gun post on the railway line overlooking both positions. Typically, the defensive position uses the terrain and any natural obstacles to impede any attack - in this instance, a small localised high point for the position itself, and a length of the River Ystwyth to the south.

Both Alltwyd and Maesfron farms, on the A487 between Llanrhystud and Llanon were requisitioned for the construction of a Chain Home RADAR Establishment. At intervals of 60 miles, these coastal RADAR Stations gave early warning of aircraft approaching Britain, and guide RAF interceptors to their target. Although a highly classified establishment, there was a small Prisoner of War camp nearby on the northern edge of Llanon – a very unusual occurrence. Some such establishments would not even allow child evacuees to be housed within two miles.

The rapid construction of an anti-tank stopline was started in the spring of 1940. It stretched 45 km from the Tywi to New Quay
It was one long anti-tank obstacle, using natural features where possible, covered by pillboxes, roadblocks, tank-traps, petroleum warfare defences and other hindrances.
The trench itself was in the region of 6ft. deep with the all of the spoil deposited on to one side, adding considerably to the drop.

A study of the RAF vertical aerial photographs of 1946 & 1947 revealed excellent cover along the whole 45km length of the Rhos-Llangeler stopline. Although much of it had recently been in filled, the remains were highlighted as cropmarks or shallow depressions on the ground. Even by looking at the vertical photographs it was clear that this used natural features and the terrain itself to augment the defences. The sides of the steep-sided valleys would have been impossible obstacles to overcome, so the ditches stopped at the bottom of the slope, then started again at the level plateau, stopping again at the next major slope.
Parts of the Rhos-Llangeler stopline can still be seen from the air – photograph taken in December 2001.

On the 14th of May 1940, Anthony Eden broadcast an appeal for volunteers for a Defence Force to protect this country from an invasion (following the disaster to the British Armies in France), which at the time seemed a forgone conclusion. The King had called upon all Lord Lieutenants to raise a Defence Force for the protection of the country.

The Lord Lieutenant of Cardiganshire (The Earl of Lisburne) stated he would himself take command of this Force in Cardiganshire, and Colonel B. Taylor Lloyd accepted the post of second in command. Two days later the Lord Lieutenant was recalled to the Welsh Guards, so Taylor was passed the responsibility of raising the Force, becoming Zone Commander with Lieutenant Colonel J. Albert Evans, M.C. as Second in Command. Over 3,000 men were enrolled by September. The Force was called "The Local Defence Volunteers" - or more familiarly the "L.D.Vs." The name was later changed at the request of the Prime Minister to "Home Guard".

Lloyd's intention was that there should be three battalions in Cardiganshire, but this was turned down by Higher Authority and only two were sanctioned, one with Headquarters in Aberystwyth (1st Cards.) and one in Cardigan (2nd Cards.) under the command of Lieut. Col. D.C. Lewis and Lieut. Col. T. Evans respectively. This formation remained in operation until February 1942, when after continuous demands the authorities acceded to Taylor's request and permission was given to form a 3rd Cards. Battalion with Headquarters at Lampeter. Lieut. Col. J. Albert Evans assumed command, his place as Taylor's second in command being taken by Lieut. Col. Earnest Evans, K.C.

After Edens' broadcast appeal volunteers arrived at the Police Station in Great Darkgate Street, Aberystwyth and filed up in line to draw rifles from a cell where they were kept. There were S.T.C. (Student Training Corps) rifles (as there were no students in residence); a few Ross rifles loaned by the police, a few shotguns and some Martini carbines.

The only available uniform was denim, which was rather untidy so local tailors adjusted them as needed. Some had no denims, just an overcoat and a cap. The Army had made no allowance for "middle-age spread".

During the obligatory proficiency tests the examining staff never failed to be astonished at the numbers of men who were taking the subject seriously. It became necessary to set up an examining station at Aberystwyth, to which candidates were brought in buses on Sundays. While the ranges were busy with the competitions, the examiners were busy with the proficiency testing. All told, 500 certificates were granted.


See Ceredigion in World War 2 by Gwyn Davies, Ceredigion (Journal of the Ceredigion Antiquaries Society), VIII, vol 4, 87-93