National Geographic : 1944 Jun
Wales in Wartime BY ISOBEL WYLIE HUTCHISON T HE train pulled out of Chester and crossed the Dee. Presently the red brick miners' rows of Flintshire swung into the picture, the sun glittering like quick silver on their slate roofs. Soon the mining villages gave place to dappled woods backed by gray crags. The stations had names that sang-Mostyn, Rhyl, Conway, Penmaenmawr (map, page 754). The fat man in the corner of the hot com partment wiped his brow and smiled at the soldier and his bride seated opposite. "Well, we're in Wales now," he remarked. Then he added irrelevantly, "Would you care for a bottle of beer? I've two in my bag up there." "Thanks," said the soldier; "better keep 'em. You'll need 'em in Wales. The place is crowded out." "I did hear it was little old England's refuge room," said the fat man happily. "Well, they're sending me to India next week, and I'm leaving the wife and kid at Conway. It's a tiptop place for the boy." "A tiptop place for the boy," gives the key to Welsh activity in wartime. This musical land rejoices in one of the few unrestricted seaboards south of Scotland, and accommoda tion is taxed to the uttermost. Besides the children, civil servants and Government offi cials have taken possession of Wales. At Conway the fat man, after consuming one of his beers himself, departed with his still clinking canvas bag for beaches crowded with sun bathers and deck chairs. The honeymoon couple left at Penmaen mawr (Head of the Great Rock), where the porphyry outposts of Snowdon meet the sea. Bangor Exports Slate and Professors My own destination was the university city of Bangor, whose principal exports are slates and professors. I knew little of Bangor, except that it has a mayor of the feminine gender who is a defi nite live wire. At the request of a helpful Welsh friend, this lady had arranged hospital ity for me in the home of one of Bangor's leading citizens. When I visited her next morning in the picturesque Town Hall, which was once a bishop's palace, she brushed aside my grati tude with a laugh. "That's nothing," she said. "A mayor has a lot of funny jobs to do. Welcome to Wales!" "Welcome to Wales" it was! "The Welsh," wrote George Meredith, "are hospitable to teach the Arabs a lesson. I do believe their life is their friend's at need. Seriously, they would lay it down for him." The home into which I had so abruptly intruded gave me a truly civic welcome. It was a charming villa overlooking the blue waters of the Menai Strait, which twisted, scarcely wider than the Thames at Chelsea, far down between wooded banks. In the distance the Menai Suspension Bridge, graceful as a thread of gossamer, linked the two shores. Thomas Telford built the bridge in the days when the stagecoach was at the height of its glory (pages 758-9). A few years later the stagecoach was super seded by steam, and Robert Stephenson's mas terpiece, the Britannia Tubular Bridge, was constructed close by, to carry the main rail way line from London to Holyhead in metal tubes weighing more than 10,000 tons. These two marvels of engineering skill har ness Anglesey to the mainland like a child in leading strings. A wartime wit reports the islanders are afraid, should the bridges be bombed, that Anglesey will float out to sea! "A Fo Penn Bid Pont" The old city of Bangor lies in a valley. On the northern height is the residential quar ter, dominated by the University College. This fosters the city's association with bridges, for above the fireplace in the Coun cil Chamber is inscribed the old Welsh say ing, "A Fo Penn Bid Pont." This, literally translated, means, "To be a head (or leader), one must be a bridge." A Prince of Cambria, tradition says, once helped his followers out of a tight place when they were being overtaken by their enemies. He stretched his tall body across a chasm in the path of the refugees and on this human bridge the others crossed to safety. The role of Wales as "little old England's refuge room" is no new one. Tacitus de scribes Anglesey as a common refuge for all the discontented Britons who were driven west ward by the Romans. On Mona, as the island was then called, the Druids made their un availing stand against the conquering legions of Suetonius Paulinus, who prevailed against them by such modern tactics as the use of flat-bottomed barges to carry his infantry across the strait. This lovely pastoral island is still one of the most sequestered corners of Wales, retaining the Welsh language as its everyday speech.