THIS winter marks the 50th anniversary of the Arctic freeze of 1963 which saw the entire country swathed in deep snow. In the latest in a series of articles on ‘The Big Freeze’ MIKE LEWIS reports on one Ammanford driver’s incredible journey home through record drifts.
AN AMMANFORD pensioner has recalled how his trusty VW Beetle turned into a makeshift toboggan during a hairraising drive home carrying “four screaming passengers”.
At the time of the ‘Big Freeze’, Goronwy Griffiths, of Pontaman Road, Pontaman, was a meter reader and collector for the electricity board who knew all the roads and shortcuts.
Despite a fierce blizzard, Mr Griffiths set out in his Beetle to pick up his wife who worked in Swansea. “Those cars are good in the snow as the engine is at the back,” he recounts.
Mr Griffiths managed to reach Swansea and found his wife accompanied by three other people also in need of a lift back to Ammanford. “So now there were five in the car.”
Their real problems started at Pontarddulais where deepening snows threatened to block their path. To the amazement of stranded drivers, Mr Griffiths continued to doggedly nurse the valiant Beetle along the old road towards Ammanford, only to eventually find his route blocked by “a 15-foot wall of snow” on Sardis Hill.
Still unwilling to admit defeat, he then decided to open a farm gate and drive down a sloping field in the direction of the town, which by now was tantalisingly close.
“At one point the car was sliding sideways down the farm path towards the other side where I opened another gate,” he says. “By now I had four screaming passengers but, having driven in the Alps, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about!
“When we finally got into Ammanford there were lots of people outside the Bazaar who took our arrival to mean other drivers would still be able to get home from Swansea.
“But I told them there was absolutely no way they’d get through as I’d seen that wall of snow myself. I never told them exactly how we had got back, mind.”
Until now, that is…
● A FORMER Guardian employee who helped get the paper out during the ‘Big Freeze’ has recalled howits compositors kept going on a diet of delicious Ammanford Welsh cakes!
John Hellings started work on the paper in the autumn of 1962, as part of a big influx of new staff hired by editor Gwynne Evans to work at the Guardian’s Quay Street base.
“It’s not hard to think back 50 years,” John, 72, and now living in Worcester, recalled this week. “I married my wife, Maureen (Davies), in Brynaman at the end of March and we lived in Lower Brynaman. From memory, the first snowflakes fellonBoxing Day and then it snowed and froze and froze and snowed until at least the end of February.
“I lodged in Glanaman and the snow wasn’t too much of a problem.
Buses ran and people carried on. At weekends I travelled back to Swansea and used West Wales buses in their grey livery. These were double- deckers and there were parts of the route where snow in the fields was at the same level as the upper deck.
“Buses from the James Bus Garage in Ammanford – resplendent in their scarlet livery – ran to order, sharing routes together with the South Wales Transport buses. During those fewmonths, I don’t remember a time when they didn’t run.
“I can remember walking on some roads on tightly-packed snow. One evening I walked from Gwaun cae Gurwen to Lower Brynaman on the road, or possibly the pavement. There was no visible division between the two.
“Whether my walk was due to buses not running or whether it was too late for a bus, I don’t know, but throughout the whole of the ‘Big Freeze’, I always seemed to get where I wanted to be.
“One of the other things that sticks in my mind was the morning snacks that were available.
There were quite a fewshops inAmmanford that sold delicacies full of calorific value, something we didn’t care so much about then.
“One of them sold Welsh cakes, freshlymade, with a wonderful aroma. They were large and warm, straight from the bakestone and who could resist them? Not meI’m afraid!
“I am not one of the rose-tinted spectacles brigade, who firmly believe it was much better then, but everything did seem to carry on as near to normal as possible in the Amman Valley.
“Perhaps it was because we were all a lot younger, then!”
●Anyone with any recollections or pictures of the ‘Big Freeze of 1963’ should contact Guardian editor Mike Lewis on 01269 592074 or e-mail him at: email@example.com