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
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.
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
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
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.