Mr. Colin Tanner, recorded 20/1/2014
Interviewed by Tudor and Janet Price. Transcription by Rachael Lovering and Sarah Daly.
This is an oral history recorded with Mr Colin Tanner on xxx, at his home in Swansea. The recording is part of the Connected Communities project, White Rock Digital Trails. The interviewers are Janet and Tudor Price.
1. Early life and death of mother
C: Then on top of that, the house went on fire …
T: My goodness …
C: Right. My sister died, got burnt, to death. That we, we slept together, my sister and I, there was an age difference, you know, I was small and … my brother was sleeping in the other room; George, who was 13 years elder than me. And, he, he saved me, he actually, he was telling me that he pulled Doreen, my sister, out from bed first, but she saw all the flames and got frightened and she was screaming and oh, she wouldn’t come, she was holding the bedclothes and, and the bed so he says, his words were; ‘So I thought, I’ll get that little bugger first, which was me, see and uh …’
T: So, so how old was Doreen?
T: 16 … hmmm … sad … dear me …
C: And when he went back for Doreen, all the stairs were on fire and he didn’t have any shoes on his feet, he’d, and he’d come out of bed and you don’t look for your slippers when you see things like that, nobody can, can say how you’re going to behave, and he couldn’t make it, so he was burnt a bit, his back and his lungs and his, his feet and I got a copy of the Coroner’s report, in fact, they did a full page in the Evening Post, so you know, it’s worth reading for me because I’ve been searching for donkeys years for where my mother was buried, I couldn’t find it. I tried everywhere and the last port of call then was Pontardawe, there’s no, no registry, registry office there, it closed down long ago and yet look where she was buried, she had TB, Madame Patties …
T: Good gracious …
C: Madame Pattie.
T: So she died in hospital?
C: She died in Madame Patties, right, but she was buried Cwmgelli Cemetery, does that ring a bell?
C: Brynhyfryd way?
T: Treboeth, yes.
C: Right, that’s it, I got the right one; Cwmgelli Cemetery and uh, I thought, I hope to God now this is the one and she was buried in a brick/great grave with a little baby whose Christian name was Veal, right and the Veals are from Weston Street, but I didn’t pursue that angle, I, you know, I didn’t want to go digging (T: No) too deep out of, get no substance out of it …
C: So I give that a miss then, but I was delighted and I feel much better now, I know where’s she’s buried.
T: Yes … very important
C: You know, we never met, I can’t remember her but you know, I know now.
T: You got a photograph, Colin?
C: No, the house was on fire, all literature, all photographs, everything gone.
2. Shops on corner
C: … every corner had a grocer’s shop and if it wasn’t a grocer, it was something else; a fish and chip shop or something, but it was there for the community, so I had to do all the messages and carry the bloody bags with one arm and you can’t run and you can’t go fast, but, and I told her I was picked then for, I was reserved for the team; ‘Oh, you’re not going there! Oh no, Oh no!’, – (Colin laughing!) – that was it, I dunno, I was really hurt to think I couldn’t turn out for the boys cause, it was the lads then, its, you know, it’s a camaraderie, was there.
T: So, when did you leave that … ?
C: That environment?
T: Leave that environment, yeah?
C: I was, I started work in Paddy Coombes, the butchers, an old Swansea butchers, down by the hospital square.
T: So when was that Colin?
C: That was just, I was 16 then and about, let me see now …
C: ‘40, yeah.
C: And the, anyway, I, I started there as an errand boy; 8 shillings a week; the full week’s work; hard graft and I used to come up Glanmor Hill with a bike, you know, the errand boys, and you’d always get 2 or 3 errand boys, at the, waiting at the bottom of the hill because there wasn’t all that transport going up and down. Only, the odd, the odd van and things and there’d be other boys, errand boys (used) to come up and all the shops in the Uplands; they were, they employed about 4 – 6 errand boys; every shop; it only cost them 8 shillings a week, like, you know, they could afford to employ them. And we’d all go together, up in convoy, up the hill, pushing our bikes, heavy loads, pushing the middle, the carrier, the carrier, (T: yes,)the carrier bag, with a basket in the front. I was, I used to love passing here, I, and I, the chaps along the road with the road; the ones off the road with the steps going up, have you got me John? (male voice (John?): hummm in agreement), yeah, they were building on it then and all the brickies were building the front walls and it was crazy paving.
4. Volunteered age 17
C: Now at 17 I volunteered, they don’t want to know you, because it wasn’t like a shilling a day, every signature, in the First World War, you, you had to produce your birth certificate, you didn’t get any, any back roads. And, anyway …
T: So, just, cause, it’s fascinating otherwise, so, why did you volunteer? [Colin says something at same time but can’t make it out.]
C: To get (her?) away from my, my Lettie, I can’t say I loved her, I didn’t love her.
T: So it wasn’t because of
C: it was the atmosphere …
T: … any jingoism or … ?
C: Oh no, it was
T: … it was just…
C: You know, she’s never been one to put her arm around you or anything like that …
T: Okay, okay …
C: I lived, I lived without love …
T: Yeah, okay.
C: … putting it in a nutshell.
T: So, at 18, then, you could, you could now …
C: I would have been on my own.
5. Joined Navy
C: Anyway, I joined the navy and I went into Skegness; Holiday Camp; Butlin’s Holiday Camp, for my training and kitting out; it only took 10 days; 10 days!? All for 21 shillings a week. No, it wasn’t; 7 shillings.
T: Can you remember your service number?
T: Okay …
C: Right? Look it up on the whatsitsname
T: Yes I will
C: On the, you know, the w …
T: Yes I know, I will look it up, yeah, okay.
C: And, then I got kitted out; ‘Right, you 10 are going down to Devonport, you 10 are going to Guss? that’s Pompey; Portsmouth, you went down (and weighed). Everybody had their clothes fitted too tight, mind, but it didn’t matter about that. They said; ‘You’re going to look well when you go home; you can see your mother will be pleased with you, but look at the way the clothes were fitting on you, you’d be well fed’. Ohh the weather was terrible, going down to Plymouth; rain and wind, which you, you know, you think it only rains in Swansea, but it doesn’t, and the next thing I know, I was in the Devonport dispersal centre; the barracks, then, if you like, I was on the ‘Inconstant’; that was my first ship; ‘Inconstant’, destroyer …
C: … ohhh beautiful. The fellas on it; during my time in Skegness, every afternoon we had lectures; health lectures; cleansing like; (mumbles what was he?) the Commodore and what, things that stick out in your mind that he said; ‘Now, look,’ he says, ‘over there in the cinema?, you’re going in the Navy, you’re all going to be cramped together, you must keep clean, because,’ he says; ‘If you’re not clean, you’ll be pulled into the bathrooms and scrubbed down by big brushes,’ right? But you didn’t have to tell people that, except on one occasion, it wasn’t me, it was somebody else; boy from Manchester, he wouldn’t bloody wash; he wouldn’t, you could see he was one of the boys that had had everything done for him and they took him up there, all his kit and clothes.
6. On the Water
C: … stripped him off, four fellas from the Mess; stripped him off, chucked bloody water over him; ‘There’s the soap, there’s the flannel, get on with it’. He had to wash all his body down first and no nonsense, every, every toenail he had and that kind of thing, all, all his clobber; all had to be washed.
T: So this is 1942?
C: February ’43.
T: Okay. Right, so, your initial experience; when are you, when are you first on the water?
C: I was on the water, within days, because I, it it was a destroyer, it was being commissioned.