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Civil Defence

Merthyr Tydfil


A Personal Short History of Merthyr Tydfil Civil Defence


After the Second World War, the government decided it needed a civilian-based emergency and defence agency and so, in July 1949, the Civil Defence bill was finally passed as Act of Parliament (the Civil Defence Act 2120, 1948). However, because of the lack of funding, it wasnít until 1959 that Merthyr created its own branch.


Eric Lewis, my father, was appointed to head-up the fledgling force. He had served in the Second World War from 1940 to 1946 in the Royal Signals and was attached at one point to General Montgomeryís 6th Armoured Brigade in North Africa. It was his communications and Army expertise that was required to train new members. Jack Powell was seconded at the same time from the police force as a security expert and so, with a very small team backed by the council but with very few resources, they set about fund-raising and recruiting volunteers from a small building in Market Square.


They were initially issued with two old Land Rovers and two ex-Army K9 radio communication vehicles. These vehicles were usually to be found just about where the bus station is sited today. As more people joined they moved to a larger building approximately where the new railway station is now. By 1963 they finally moved to Ynysfach next to the old rugby club as a permanent home and appointed Trevor Small as Ericís Deputy.


Courses in first aid, mountaineering, open kitchen cooking, fire prevention, public safety, radio communications and mountain rescue were carried out. The spirit of the volunteers was excellent and they were made prepared for many situations. Peter Howells was a young man eager to be part of the volunteers and, for a short time, dated Ericís daughter Jane, such was the closeness of the Civil Defence family.


One of the many benefits was the close knit social community; many people found the camaraderie very special and in particular social events, such as fund raising galas.


Every year you could find the Civil Defence sited at Merthyrís FÍte and Gala in Cyfarthfa Park. They provided functions such as first aid, radio communications and support for the police etc. You would often find lost children waiting for their parents at the communications centre.


On one fund raising exercise, Eric decided to show how valuable the Land Rovers were to the organisation by driving to the top of Pen-y-Fan, the tallest mountain in the beacons, in one.


There were regular call-outs, particularly for stranded walkers on the vast Brecon Beacons, but in February 1966 an Avro Vulcan Bomber from RAF Cottesmore Wing, flew into Fan Bwlch Chwyth in the Brecon Beacons whilst on a training flight. The aircraft struck near the top of the mountain and broke apart over a large area, killing the five crew members. Eric and the team were one of the first people to the scene. A huge logistical problem required RAF helicopters, along with a large contingency of manpower to comb the Beacons. Ericís son, Jeffrey, recalls having to take body parts by Land Rover to the Brecon Barracks, as there was no way of landing a helicopter in the built up area of Brecon, a tough task for a young man.


Regular exercises were carried out using closed schools or empty buildings; indeed anywhere they could simulate everyday situations. Such exercises were taken very seriously and each person had a part to play in the, taking orders issued from HQ via section leaders.


In October 1966 the shocking news came into the Ynysfach HQ that was to test all that training to the harshest level. At 09:30 Eric received a call from the police requiring a full alert; one of the worst disasters had taken place in Aberfan. Eric and his team swung into action and, for five solid days, soup kitchens were set-up and manned, rescues were co-ordinated via the communications team and volunteers worked tirelessly to deliver the best service they could.


In 1967 the sad decision was taken to disband the Civil Defence, in favour of creating separate specialist services.


Eric Lewis was appointed as Merthyrís first Road Safety Officer and defined many new safety points within the borough. He passed away in 1973, but he never recovered from the sadness of Aberfan. Trevor Small became a procurement official for Mid-Glamorgan County Council. Jack Powell, I believe, retired.


No one in the Civil Defence was awarded honours for the hard and dangerous work at Aberfan. Eric was awarded the Civil Defence medal by the Queen, but later handed it back after the news that no one else in his team would be honoured.


Eric Lewis was proud to serve the Merthyr community; he followed in his father Williamís footstep, who was well respected ďHead of WorksĒ for Merthyr Council in the 1930ís.


Paul Lewis

Son of Eric Lewis

Margaret Olivia James' Memories of Merthyr Tydfil Civil Defence

The headquarters of the Merthyr Tydfil Civil Defence were based in Ynysfach, next to the Rugby Club, the organisation was part of the local authority at that time, and it consisted of several hundred volunteers, but also had a number of full time permanent staff (of which I was one) who were employed by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council. It was headed by Eric "The Bomb" Lewis who appears at the back of one of the field kitchen photographs. He was assisted by Trevor Small who also appears with a group of ladies in another of the field kitchen photographs. P.C Jack Powell was seconded from the Merthyr Police and there were also a number of other employees who carried out various duties - additionally there were also links with other organisations such as the WRVS.

Exercises were carefully planned and greatly looked forward to as it was a test of the training everyone had received in whatever section they were attached to. This was held in the evenings at the Ynysfach Centre. A contingent from Cwmbargoed were an extremely regular and reliable part of the organisation. The organisation had a number of different vehicles which were stores in the Council depots and possibly in the old fire station before its demolition.

During the time of the Aberfan Disaster assistance was provided by great numbers of volunteers and also full time staff, principally in a support role but also as a link to external organisations.

My husband was also employed in Civil Defence however although he was a volunteer at Merthyr - he became a full time instructor with the Cardiff branch and remained with them until the government decided to disband the organisation in the late 60's, when it was thought that more highly trained organisations of professionals would be able to meet the needs of any civil requirements.

Many people were very sad to see it go, and the full time staff were mainly re-deployed to other roles within the authority -I went to work in the Town Hall.

Margaret Olivia James


Merthyr Tydfil Civil Defence First Aid Exercise - 2nd May 1942

(From the Merthyr Express)


Civil Defence Exercises at Samuel's Corner (H.W. Samuel Jewellers Ltd) - 2nd May 1942

(From the Merthyr Express)


A Civil Defence Exercise at the Merthyr Civil Defence Headquarters in the 1960's

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Civil Defence

(Photograph Courtesy of Michael Donovan)


Merthyr Tydfil Civil Defence Marching down High Street - 1960's

(Photograph Courtesy of Derek Evans)


Photographs from Eric Lewis' Civil Defence Scrapbook

Civil Defence Headquarters at Ynyfach





Merthyr Tydfil Civil Defence Marching through Pontmorlais West - Late 1960's

(Photograph from Eric Lewis' Civil Defence Scrapbook, Courtesy of Paul Lewis)






Merthyr Civil Defence members at Aberystwyth, 1966.

Back Row L-R:- Gordon Dyers, Richard Davies

Front Row L-R:- Peter ?,Robert Williams.

(Photograph courtesy of Richard Davies)



Merthyr Civil Defence members, 1966.

Back Row L-R:- Pat ?, John Cummings, David Rees

Middle Row L-R:- Linda ?, ?, Veronica ?.

Front Row L-R:- ?, Danny Murphy, Jane Hebl.

(Photograph courtesy of Richard Davies)





Merthyr Police/Civil Defence Mountain Rescue Team 1968.

L to R:  Standing on vehicle  -  Peter Howells , Roy Whitney.

            Standing                 -  Bernard Corcoran, Martin Evans, Jack Powell, Tom Jones, Alan Davies, Tom Williams

            Seated                    - Dai Rees, Nick Richards, Lyn Powell, Emrys Nicholas, Bob Thomas, Danny Murphy, Norman Davies

            Seated Front           - David Jones?, Adrian Jenkins.

(Photograph courtesy of Julia Powell)




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