Looking back at ‘Big Freeze’ of ‘63

First published in News

A FORMER reporter on the South Wales Guardian who covered the legendary ‘Big Freeze’ of 1963, this week recalled what, at the time, looked like being anewIceAge.

David Stoakes was an 18- year-old cub reporter from Nottingham who was offered a job on the paper by Guardian editor Gwynne Evans in December 1962 – in the week icy temperatures took their grip on the nation.

“Unbelievable though it may seem, I was offered the job following an interview over the phone,” David, 68, now living in retirement in Bridgend, remembered.

“I took a train down to Ammanford from Crewe and I can remember that extraordinary journey as if it were yesterday.

The snow was so thick between Llandrindod Wells and Llandovery that railway workers had to make cuttings through the drifts to ensure the train got through.

“When we finally made it to Ammanford, the snow wasn’t so deep but there was ice everywhere.

“It was the first time I’d set foot in Carmarthenshire, so it was quite an introduction.”

During the first weeks of his new job, David frequently wrote stories on how locals were managing to cope with the Arctic weather.

“James Bros, the bus company, somehow kept their vehicles running throughout the night,” he said. “I suppose they had to, in retrospect.

“They were ferrying miners to the surrounding collieries and doing their bit to ensure the coal industry did not grind to a halt.

“My most vivid memory is simply of the intense cold. Yet throughout that incredible winter, there was one oasis of colour and warmth in Ammanford – the late, lamented Regal Ballroom.

“Ammanford may have been a bit out of the way, but that venue seemed to draw all the top bands of the time.

“I can remember The Animals playing there before they broke big with The House Of The Rising Sun.”

After leaving the Guardian, David went on to work for variousnational papers before ending his career as crime correspondent on another local paper.

●Anyone with recollections of the Big Freeze of ‘63 should contact Guardian editor Mike Lewis on 01269 592074 or e-mail him at mike. lewis@southwalesguardian.co.uk

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