Morris Lloyd Thomas
Morris Lloyd Thomas' neat little cottage, tucked away in the woods behind the Plas Hafod Hotel, is crammed full of non-fiction accounts of World War Two particularly the bloody campaign fought against the Japanese.
Taking pride of place on the mantle-piece is a strip of highly polished war medals and Morris surrounds himself with black and white pictures, some so old they have faded, of uniformed military men.
However, taking pride of place on the back wall is a thoroughly modern graduation picture of a pretty girl, dressed in her university gown, smiling as she poses for the camera.
“That’s my only granddaughter,” Morris explains. “A lovely girl, I’m very proud of her. Some of the other photos are of my dad; he fought in World War One in France, and my two brothers, Joe and Robert Lewis.”
Morris, who celebrates his 87th birthday in June, 2011 still cuts an imposing figure and is rarely seen away from his cottage dressed in anything other than a smart blazer, with a military badge on the lapel, a crisply pressed white shirt, tie and black, highly polished, shoes.
He was born in Gwernymynydd in 1924 and, other than a brief spell living in Gwernaffield and his posting abroad during the war years, he’s never strayed far from his village roots.
He said: “I was born in a row of two-up-two-down cottages that have gone now. They stood just below what was the chapel as you went up the road toward the Glyndwr from the main road, just down from the Rainbow.
“We lived in number 4 my mum, Annie (nee Foulkes), hailed form Denbigh, my dad Lewis, who was originally from Gwernaffield and worked as a quarryman in the quarries around the area, my brothers, sister and me.
“There was a family called Robinson who lived at number 5, the Jones family lived at number 3, I can’t remember who was at number 2, but at number 1 was a family called Lloyd.
“It was a bit of a squash as the houses were very small. I’m not sure how the Robinson’s managed as there were seven kids, six boys and a girl!”
Morris attended the village school for most of his education.
He said: “The school then was down next to what is now the village centre, although it’s a private house now. The headmaster was Albert Hughes and we had two teachers. One was Miss Jones and the other’s name I’ve now forgotten.
“The school was mixed, boys and girls. It was strict but not too bad, if you did wrong you got caned, but that was normal back then. Opposite the school were a shop and a pub called The Lamb, in fact there were two small shops. The estate of houses wasn’t there then.
“Before they built the estate opposite the village centre if you walked on the land you’d sink up to your knees it was that boggy, a real marsh. I’ve often wondered how they drained it, covered it on concrete I expect.”
And school life was very different to what it is today according to Morris.
He said: “Every Monday we, the lads that is, had to walk down to Mold for a woodwork class. It was held in a room more or less opposite what was then the church in New Street. We had to walk down to Mold rain or shine. There was no complaining if it was raining, you just got on with it.
“The teacher who taught us woodwork was a Mr Peters and if you did something wrong he’d throw a block of wood at you. And he threw it hard too, if you got hit it really hurt, there was no mucking about.”
When Morris was about 10 years old the family moved to a smallholding on the Hafod Road.
But he says the village, and life in general, was nothing like it is today and the village was so much smaller, and according to Morris there was a greater sense of community.
He said: “The Plas Hafod wasn’t a hotel or restaurant then and was only called The Hafod. The man who lived there then was a Mr Buckley, no relation to the current owners.
“I think when Mr Buckley died he became the first resident of Gwernaffield’s new cemetery. I’m not sure what he did but we used to have tea parties laid on for us and a sports day in the fields around the house.
“At Christmas the two brothers who lived in Fron Hall, just on the left up the hill from The Swan, used to present the school with a Christmas tree. It was always a big one, between eight and 10 foot and cut from the grounds of the hall. They used to give us a party at the school. It was always great fun.”
However, schooling back in the 1930’s and 1940’s ended at a much earlier age than it does today.
Morris recalls: “I stayed at school until I was 14. There was no going to secondary school in Mold. When I was about 12 my mum decided I would be better off going to Gwernaffield School so I went there for the last two years.
“Of course there were no buses or cars. I walked to Gwernaffield and back every day, rain or shine. That’s how it was back then. The village was so much smaller and I knew everyone, not like today when I hardly know a soul.
“But things are different now, people have different ideas. And of course we have been invaded by all you English people”, he added, laughing, and with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
On leaving school at the tender age of 14 Morris landed a job in Cadole quarrying limestone.
He said: “That would be around 1938 a year before the war broke out. It would seem young nowadays starting work at 14 but that was normal then. We had no secondary school to go to.”
However, a Christmas tragedy was to strike the Thomas household in 1939.
Morris’ elder brother Robert Lewis Thomas, who was then just 24, died from injuries sustained in a Christmas Eve car crash.
“To this day I don’t know exactly what happened,” said Morris. “There were three of them in the car and the other two escaped without a scratch. Robert was in the front passenger seat and was thrown out somehow.
“He broke his spinal cord and died on January 18th in hospital in Chester. It was a huge waste really. There weren’t that many cars then and the road was nothing like it is today. I’d still like to know what happened. I don’t even know what type of car it was.”
At just 17 years of age and with the Second World War firmly underway Morris volunteered for the Marines in late 1940 and was initially sent for training in Deal, Kent.
However, the journey to Kent took the young Morris an amazing 24 hours to complete.
He recalled: “I started out on a train from Mold, which in those days still had a railway station, and travelled to Chester. There I was given a list of trains I had to catch and stations to change at. It really did take a full 24 hours to reach Deal.
“In Deal I was kitted out with uniform and other gear and after a fortnight was sent to Whitley Bay for training. I was there for three months but the problem was we had regular army NCO’s (non-commissioned officer) and they did things different to Marine NCO’s.
"After the training finished they sent me to Scotland to train under Marine NCO’s. We had to do everything we learnt again but this time the Marine way. It was tough and hard going but we took it as it came and just got on with it.
“Eventually I ended up in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). We did more training and I ended up in hospital for three months with some sort of virus. They never did tell me what it was. In those days you didn’t ask and they just told you when you were well enough to go.”
And on New Year’s Eve, as the world waited to welcome in 1943, Morris found himself with the 43rd Marine Commandos on the Burmese border waiting to cross and fight the Japanese.
He said: “We had to take an island, Akyab Island, back off the Japanese. It was my first taste of active service. It was tough but we won through. The problem is the Japanese wouldn’t surrender so you had to kill or be killed.
“From there we did another landing this time from the sea using landing craft. The trouble was the Japanese were waiting for us. We had the sea on one side, jungle on the other and a strip of, well, like paddy fields, we had to get through.
“The Japanese were firing on us with fixed machine guns as we advanced. The worst of it was they weren’t trying to kill outright they tried to cripple instead. That meant it took more men to deal with casualties and slowed us up.”
The horrors he witnessed on the battle fields of Burma have clearly stayed with Morris and are as vivid today as they were back then.
He said: “It was terrible seeing good mates die around you or be horribly injured. I’ve always wanted to find out what happened to one particular lad. He was from Wrexham and had a terrible leg wound. Me and this other lad carried him a good half-a-mile back from the front line.
“His leg was hanging off and I know he had what was left amputated but I never found out if he made it back to Wrexham or not. Me and the lad who carried him went back to the front line and I caught up with the soldier I’d given my rifle to but he dropped it and couldn’t find it.
“I had a Lee Enfield with a telescopic sniper sight on it and he’d bloody lost it! I could have strangled him. I had to pick up an American semi-automatic rifle and use that, there were plenty lying about.”
Somehow Morris survived the fighting without being wounded, although he admits he doesn’t know to this day how he managed it.
“I thought I was bullet proof to be honest. It’s no good worrying when you’re fighting like that. It was horrible killing people but you have to remember it was them or us. You never forget the smell, the noise and the fear.
“The Japanese simply wouldn’t surrender so we were left with no choice, we had to kill or be killed.”
Morris last saw action at Kangaw on January 31st 1945 when he was one of a handful of Marines who defended a hill from the Japanese forces.
He said: “Our orders were to hold this hill at all costs we fought like wild men. They reckon, when we handed over to the regular army, there were almost 3,000 dead Japanese and we only lost 123 with a 250 more wounded. That was tough going.”
After the Burmese Campaign drew to a close Morris returned to India, for even more training, before being sent to Malay (now Malaysia) to engage the Japanese again.
However, two days from landing the war ended and instead Morris found himself on route to Hong Kong and a big surprise.
Morris takes up the story: “We arrived in Hong Kong and took over from the Japanese. I was asleep one night just before Christmas when this Captain woke me up and told me we were going home.
“I couldn’t understand until he reminded me when I signed up I had signed up as a HO volunteer, HO meaning ‘hostilities only’. As the war was over that was it for me. The captain said we had two choices, go home by boat or fly. He said he was flying and fixed it for me to fly home with him.
“When I arrived back I stayed in barracks at Wrexham until I got de-mobbed in March 1946. I went straight back to Gwernymynydd, well in fact Gwernaffield where my parents had moved to.
“You had to go back to the same job you were doing before the war so I started back as a quarryman. I eventually worked for a man called John Owen Smith who had a few quarries around the area.”
And in 1948 Morris married Mold girl Doris Bryan, and as often happened then, the newlyweds moved in with parents, in this case Morris’ mum and dad for their first 12 months of married life.
But Gwernymynydd was still much smaller than it is today and life in general was far slower.
“We used to have tea dances in the village centre,” recalls Morris. “Not the new village centre but the old one along the lane opposite the Rainbow, they sold it eventually. And all the pubs used to be full.
“There was no food though, just beer and spirits and you never saw a woman in pubs then, just the men. But that’s how it was back then, it was different. The Swan was run by a Miss Sarah Moss, she was the licensee for years. The Rainbow was run by a Tommy Evans.
“And of course Sunday was dry, pubs had to be closed in Wales on a Sunday – not that it stopped people getting a beer if they really wanted one.”
And according to Morris the village had its fair share of larger-than-life characters.
He said: “There was a farmer called Nat Griffiths who lived up toward the
Glyndwr. Nat had a pony and trap and the pony was pretty much trained to look after Nat. He would drive it to one of the pubs and it would wait outside.
“When he’d had a few he’d drive the pony to another pub and have a few more. And when he’d had his fill the pony would take him home while he slept in the back of the trap.
“Apparently he’d quite often still be fast asleep the next morning outside his farm house. I’m not sure if ponies can sleep standing up.
“Anyway, one night my dad and a few other lads met Nat on his way home. Nat was asleep as usual in the back so they unhitched the pony, pulled the trap forward to a gate and then backed up the pony and re-hitched it, through the closed gate. We always wondered what Nat said when he woke up.”
And of course at that time there were no Tesco, Aldi or any other supermarkets in Mold and shopping had to be bought from one of Gwernymynydd’s three shops.
Morris said: “There were two shops down by the Swan and one up near the Rainbow. You could get most essentials but most of your vegetables and the like came from local farmers.
“We used to live far more off the land then and there were always plenty of rabbits going around. My dad could always get a brace of rabbits to keep us going.”
Morris and Doris remained living in the village until Doris passed away in 1995.
They had two children, a daughter Ann, who now lives in Rhydymwyn. It’s Ann’s daughter Cheryl whose picture hangs proudly in Morris’ lounge. However, their first child was a son, Brian, who was born in 1949.
Sadly, Brian, died in 1989 aged just 40, after an accidental fall at his home, which was on the estate of houses behind the Rainbow.
Morris said: “We still don’t know what happened. He wasn’t drunk but somehow fell down the stairs. They had been out up the coast and I think he suffered a bit of sun stroke that left him dizzy. It took a long time for us to get over what happened.”
Since retiring as a quarryman Morris has lived quietly in Gwernymynydd and has continued to quietly watch the village grow. He says he doesn’t necessarily want a return to the old days when life seemed much simpler, traffic was far less and life wasn’t so rushed.
But he would like to see a sense of community return to village life, where people looked out for each other and helped their neighbour more.
He said: “Things change and new ideas come in. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. I do miss seeing people just talking and having time for each other. But everyone thinks there time was best. I’m just not sure today is any better but I can’t change it – not at my age.”
And with that Morris returned to the task of polishing his already gleaming shoes, his scowling face distorted on the shoe’s shining uppers as he attacked, what he perceived to be, a slight blemish.
(Morris was talking to Kevin Hughes in February 2011)
Page Last Updated - 21/02/2011
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