Authors: Catrin Collier
First published in Great Britain in 1998 by Century
First published in paperback in 1999 by Arrow Books
This edition published by Accent Press 2013
Copyright Â© Catrin Collier 1998
The right of Catrin Collier to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers, Accent Press Ltd, Ty Cynon House, Navigation Park, Abercynon, CF45 4SN
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Catrin Collier was born and brought up in Pontypridd. She lives in Swansea with her husband, three cats and whichever of her children choose to visit.
is the seventh novel in the highly acclaimed
Hearts of Gold
Works by Catrin Collier
Hearts of Gold
Hearts of Gold
One Blue Moon
A Silver Lining
All That Glitters
Such Sweet Sorrow
Spoils of War
Brothers and Lovers
One Last Summer
The Long Road To Baghdad
As Katherine John:
Murder of a Dead Man
By Any Other Name
The Amber Knight
A Well Deserved Murder
Destruction of Evidence
The Corpse's Tale
To John and Penny Pugh, good friends who have done so much to preserve the memories of old Pontypridd for future generations.
I would like to thank all the people who have assisted me with the research of
especially the old soldiers who often caused me to wonder whether they fought the Germans or the GIs in the Second World War.
A grateful thank-you to Ruth and Larry Gulino and their daughters Lisa, Bonnie and Vicki of New York, for their friendship and hospitality to a young and naive visiting English student in 1968, and for all their generosity since. They gave me an invaluable insight into the GI invasion of Britain from the American point of view.
As ever, I owe an incalculable debt to Mrs Lindsay Morris and the staff of Pontypridd Library, especially the archivist, Mrs Penny Pugh, and Mr Brian Davies and the staff of Pontypridd Historical Centre for their unstinting professional assistance and many kindnesses.
All the members of Pontypridd and District Art Society, for using their talents to preserve so much of the town in oils, acrylic and watercolours, especially Mr Edward (Ted) Walkey whose vivid and unfailingly accurate memory has enabled him to depict so many well-loved Pontypridd buildings as they were before the demolition hammer struck in the sixties, seventies and eighties.
I only have to stand before one of his paintings to be back in the town of my childhood.
My parents, Glyn and Gerda Jones, my husband, John, and my children, Ralph, Sophie and Ross, for their love, and for giving me the time to write this book.
Margaret Bloomfield for her friendship and continued help in so many ways, and my agent, Michael Thomas, for his continued faith in me.
And a very special acknowledgement to all those who have taken the time to talk or write to me about their own memories of Pontypridd.
Thank you Mrs Mary Jarvis (for a work that is a book in its own right), Kay Downs, Mary Wheeler, Poppy, and all my friends old and new, and while gratefully acknowledging the assistance of everyone I would like to stress that any errors are entirely mine.
Catrin Collier, Swansea, August 1997
âYou can see almost the whole of Pontypridd from up here,' Rhodri Williams, Pontypridd's billeting officer declared as Corporal Duval turned the military staff car on to the road that wound along the hilltop in front of the Cottage Hospital.
âStop the car,' Colonel Ford ordered.
Duval obediently slammed on the brakes.
Opening the door, the colonel stepped outside. Rhodri pulled his ancient overcoat and hand-knitted muffler closer to his shivering body and followed. Autumn had come early to the valleys. The wind was keen, carrying sharp needles of frozen moisture that stung as they whipped into the unprotected areas of their faces. Scattered over the slopes below them, miniature trees and bushes blazed fiery orange, rust and scarlet interspersed with every shade of green known to nature's palette, from funereal conifer to sickly, pale lime.
âThat's the park,' Rhodri informed the colonel proudly, shouting to make himself heard above the din emanating from the chain works directly beneath them. He pointed to a cultivated area sandwiched between the foot of the hill and the town centre. Covering an expanse of land almost as large as the town itself, its borders encompassed manicured playing fields and a small, flag-pockmarked golf course. A strip of tennis courts bordered the river on their left, a diminutive clubhouse set behind them. An uninspiring, institution-yellow mansion dwarfed a shrubbery in the northern corner; slate-roofed, covered seating surrounded a children's playground. âThose patches of blue are the swimming pools. The one closest to the swings is the children's, the other is for adults. Both are closed for the winter, but they'll open again in May, and your men will be more than welcome to use the larger one.'
The colonel nodded as he stepped further along the bluff to gain a more comprehensive view.
âPeople walk in the park all the year around,' Rhodri continued to prattle heedlessly. âIn summer they come from miles around to spend a day there. Not many towns in Wales, or England, come to that, can boast a recreation area with this many amenities.'
The colonel continued to gaze at the vista of twisting rivers and railway lines, pitheads marked by the huge wheels of winding gear and narrow, grimy streets. Lifting his head he studied the surrounding hillsides, their windswept summits cloaked in coarse, yellowed grass, the lower slopes ribboned with steep terraces and sprawling puddles of black slag and coal waste.
âIt's a real people's park,' Rhodri shouted, acutely aware that his babbling was boring the colonel, but the American's reserve had unnerved him to the point where he felt that any sound, even that of his own voice, was preferable to a silence punctuated only by the noise of the chainworks and the gusting of the wind.
Maurice Duval thought otherwise. The eight weeks he had spent driving the colonel around Britain had taught him to keep conversation to a minimum during working hours. It wasn't that the CO was unfriendly, he simply preferred to limit communication to the essential. The corporal only wished that the billeting officer who had insisted on showing them Pontypridd understood as much.
âYnysangharad estate was bought and landscaped with public donations, principally pennies from ordinary working men and women who wanted to build a Memorial Park as a tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in the Great War.'
âHave you plans for another collection when this war is over, Mr Williams?' David Ford enquired drily.
Uncertain whether the colonel had made a joke or not, Rhodri laughed anyway.
âThe mansion in the park? Is it privately owned?'
âA clinic. An essential facility for the mothers and babies of the town,' Rhodri informed him quickly, hoping the colonel wouldn't try to requisition that building along with those he had already earmarked. It was going to be difficult enough to administer the town's affairs as it was, with half the civic accommodation in military hands. The Americans might be allies, but after months of preparing for their arrival it was beginning to feel more like invasion than alliance. âAs you see, the town is quite compact. The drill hall and chapel vestries where the majority of your men will be billeted are either centrally situated or within easy walking distance of most of the facilities Pontypridd has to offer. And Mrs Llewellyn-Jones will have accommodation organised for yourself and your officers by tomorrow morning. She is very efficient.'
âAfter meeting her, I don't doubt it.'
âThe local WVS would be lost without her. Although she relinquished her position as chairwoman before the war, she's still very much a driving force within their ranks. She volunteered their services to take charge of, and find lodgings for all the evacuees sent to the town. It was no mean task. We were inundated when the London blitz began.'
Turning up the collar on his overcoat the colonel strode back to the car. Concerned that he hadn't done justice to Pontypridd and all it had to offer, the billeting officer trailed dejectedly in his wake. As soon as they'd closed the doors, the driver hit the ignition. Rhodri clutched the door handle as he perched on the edge of the rear bench seat. The boy behind the wheel was wearing a corporal's uniform but he looked too young to be out of short trousers, let alone be in charge of a car. He also talked funny, even for an American.
The accent Rhodri had such difficulty in deciphering was broad Southern. A native of South Carolina, Maurice Duval had recently celebrated his twentieth birthday, but to his constant chagrin, his skinny five-feet-five frame, curly, ginger hair and boyish, freckled features made him look more schoolboy than soldier. Before being drafted he had helped his father manage a run-down automobile shop. Smarter, and quicker to pick up on things than most draftees, he was an excellent driver who knew what it took to keep an automobile on the road, just two of the reasons he had been picked out to be an officer's chauffeur.
He glanced in the mirror as he steered down the hill towards the town centre. The colonel had a look of profound concentration on his face, as though he were plotting out a defence against German attack. Maurice shivered. Ever since the regiment had landed in Liverpool and seen the bombed-out buildings and rudimentary, barbed-wire, coastal defences, they'd been expecting Jerry to materialise. Like everyone else in his unit, he couldn't understand why the enemy hadn't arrived ahead of them.
âCouncil offices, sir?' he asked, as the landmark old bridge came into view.
Two people were waiting in the doorway of the building. A short, plump, middle-aged woman, who was so tightly corseted, Maurice expected her to burst out of her green costume at any moment, and a tall, slim, blond lieutenant in immaculate dress uniform. Rhodri said his goodbyes and opened the door, stepping on to the polished shoes of the officer who'd caught the door to stop it from blowing back.
âI'm so sorryÂ â¦'
âNot at all, sir.' Lieutenant Kurt Schaffer tipped his hat as he grimaced in pain. âNice to meet you again, Mr Williams. I'm looking forward to getting better acquainted with you and all the townsfolk. Mrs Llewellyn-Jones.' Lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed it before climbing into the car and taking Rhodri's seat in the back alongside the colonel.
âRemember,' she panted breathlessly, before he closed the door. âNow that you have the key, you're welcome to move your things in any time, day or night.'
âThank you, ma'am. That's most generous and hospitable.'
âAnthea will be so pleased to meet you.'
âI will be honoured to make her acquaintance, ma'am.'
Sensing, rather than seeing the colonel's impatience, he closed the door, returning her wave as Maurice headed down the road.
âAnd who is Anthea?' Colonel Ford enquired.
âMrs Llewellyn-Jones's daughter, sir.'
âShe didn't volunteer it, sir, and I didn't ask.'
âBank clerk, sir.'
âYou know army policy on billeting in private houses, Lieutenant. Only officers of the rank of major and above to be accorded that privilege.'
âWith respect, sir, Mrs Llewellyn-Jones insisted that there was more than enough accommodation for all the officers, including the lieutenants. And she offeredÂ â¦'
âYou're a charming bastard, Schaffer. Just make sure those Hollywood looks and gentlemanly manners don't get you into trouble.'
âTake that innocent expression off your face. You know exactly what I mean.' He glanced through the window as they overtook a stationary tram in the narrow main street. âDo you see what I see out there, Lieutenant?'
âBuildings that could do with a damn good clean, sir?'
âWith the dust generated by all this coal production there'd be no point; half an hour later they'd be just as black. Look again?'
âEmpty shops, long queues and shabbily-dressed civilians, sir?'
âThey've had three years of war, Schaffer. Have you any idea what that does to a country's economy, not to mention morale? Do you think your South Carolina would have had the guts to stand alone against Hitler?'
âThey had the guts to stand against the Yankees, sir.' Kurt realised he'd made a mistake as soon as the words were out of his mouth. David Ford was a Northerner, a graduate of West Point and a fourth-generation career army officer. A member of the fit, young, capable school of regulars who'd gained rapid promotion since George Marshall had been appointed Army Chief of Staff in â39. Rumour had it he'd been a captain only three years ago. At thirty-seven he was one of the youngest full colonels in the army. He was certainly up to the job, but he was not renowned for his tolerance or sense of humour. The lieutenant dropped his gaze as the colonel stared him coolly in the eye.
âAs you're unable to see what's in front of you, Lieutenant, I will explain. If you look out of that window,' Ford enunciated every word slowly and clearly as though he were addressing an idiot, âyou will see far more women than men, and the few men you do see will be either too young or old for military service.'
âSir.' Schaffer tried to put contrition as well as respect into his voice.
âThat means that most, if not all, of the healthy, eligible men in this town are either away fighting, or have already been killed.'
âTherefore we have to keep a close eye, a very close eye,' he reiterated slowly, âon our boys, and make damned sure that they treat every woman between the ages of twelve and ninety in this town like ladies, no matter what their social position or marital status.
GI in my command will show the utmost respect at all times. The same kind of respect they show their mothers and sisters: no more, no less. Do you understand?'
âGood, because I am ordering you to enforce that policy. As of now you are liaison officer to the town. I will hold you personally responsible for smooth and peaceful relations between our boys and the locals. You will organise social events. Large-scale events,' he added caustically. âParties for the town's children and socials that old ladies will be comfortable attending.'
âI understand perfectly, sir.'
âThe only seduction will be by the regiment of the entire civilian population, male as well as female. Old as well as young.'
âSir.' Ford squirmed uncomfortably under the colonel's unflinching gaze. There had been a minor scandal involving a sergeant's daughter back in training camp. One he thought he had succeeded in keeping quiet; now; he wondered if it was quite the secret he had believed it to be.
âOfficers lead by example, Lieutenant. I don't care how many girls throw themselves at you while we are here. You'll put that seductive charm of yours under lock and key for the duration. And in case I'm not making myself quite clear, here it is in plain English. Hands off the women, and that goes double for the daughter of your host family. That's an order.'
âI'm glad we understand one another so well.' Lifting his briefcase on to the seat, Ford opened it, extracted a file and handed it to Schaffer. âYou have the accommodation details, sort the units into billets. This time tomorrow evening I want every man installed in his own space and ready for training.'
Bethan John slowed her car as she reached the top of Penycoedcae Hill. After checking the mirror, she swung sharply to the left of the narrow lane turning between a pair of imposing posts that had been devoid of gates since the Ministry of Supply's drive for scrap metal in 1940. Her heart sank when she saw the car parked in front of her substantial, three-storey villa. Only one person in Pontypridd had a Daimler, a semi-retired chauffeur to drive it and the petrol ration to run it: Mrs Llewellyn-Jones, doyenne of the WVS and self-appointed administrator of the war in Pontypridd. Why did she have to come on a Thursday of all nights when
It's That Man Again
was on the radio at eight-thirty?
Bethan checked her nurse's fob watch. When Mrs Llewellyn-Jones visited, she
She'd be lucky to get rid of the woman in under two hours, and she'd been looking forward to spending the time before her favourite programme playing, bathing and reading to her two children.
Gathering her coat, nurse's bag and handbag from the back seat, she left the car. Maisie, the unmarried mother she'd taken out of the workhouse to keep house and help with the children, was waiting at the front door.
âMrs Llewellyn-JonesÂ â¦'
Bethan nodded as she hung her cape on the beechwood stand. âI saw her car.'
âMr Williams is with her. They insisted on seeing Liza and her sisters. I don't know what they said to them but the girls have been crying ever since. They won't talk to me. They've shut themselves in their bedroom andÂ â¦'
âWhatever it is, I'll sort it out, Maisie. You've put our visitors in the drawing room?'