Page last updated at 07:22 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Swansea's darkest hours told in history DVD

The history of the wartime bombing blitz endured by Swansea 69 years ago is told in a new DVD, produced with the help of a project which supports people with mental health problems. Neil Prior reports.


ANALYSIS
Fiery shell of Ben Evans department store (West Glamorgan Archive Service)
SWANSEA'S THREE-NIGHT BLITZ

The city had air raids from June 1940 after France fell and was targeted due to its docks and heavy industry. But from 19-21 Feb 1941, bombers dropped 1,273 high explosive and more than 56,000 incendiary devices over some 40 acres of the town centre, a higher concentration than on any British city outside London.

The high explosives hit water and gas mains, making later firebombs harder to extinguish. An estimated 230-270 died, more than 400 were injured and 8,000 made homeless.

The old town centre was obliterated by a fireball which took weeks to put out. Landmarks to disappear were St Mary's Church, the grammar school, and Ben Evans department store.

Despite the devastation, the Three Nights Blitz was seen as a failure. Heavy industry was largely untouched and the docks quickly reopened. Instead of striking fear into the population, support for the war increased as a result of the city's suffering.

The three most devastating nights in Swansea's history have been retold in a DVD, which tells the story of the World War II blitz in the city - 69 years ago.

Up to 270 residents lost their lives between 19-21 February 1941, with hundreds more being injured or made homeless.

A collaboration between Swansea Museum and Create Solutions, a local project which works to turn around the career prospects of people dealing with mental health issues, has produced a documentary.

Andrew Steele, who is overcoming feelings of anxiety and depression, was the lead producer of Three Nights Blitz of February 1941 and says it's played a major part in his ongoing recovery.

He said: "I've always been interested in local history, and even more so in photography and film-making, but I'd never thought for a moment that it was something I could make a career out of.

"Part of my condition is that I often doubt myself and my work, I didn't think I had the staying power to see a project through, and I didn't think I had the skill or imagination to produce a documentary.

"But now when I'm having a bad day, I've got something solid and objective to prove what I can achieve, and remind me that all the negativity is a state of mind which will pass.

"More importantly, I've got something to show to potential bosses in the future, that I am good, and that they should take a chance on me regardless of my condition."

The documentary charts Swansea's struggle under the three-night Luftwaffe blitz of February 1941.

It's proving a hit on the shelves of the museum's shop, with most of the first batch of 250 copies sold in the first few weeks of release.

Last year the team produced a documentary marking the 200th anniversary of the Mumbles Railway but the blitz DVD has proved to be the museum's fastest-selling title.

Education officer Barry Hughes said: "I think the appeal is that it's a monumental event which happened here on our doorsteps, recently enough to have touched the lives of almost everyone in the city.

"There are a lot of people alive today who experienced it first hand, and almost everyone has a parent, grandparent or friend who lived through the blitz.

It's a monumental event which happened here on our doorsteps, recently enough to have touched the lives of almost everyone in the city
Swansea Museum education officer Barry Hughes

"Even if you haven't, the evidence is all around you in the mix of new buildings and old and, if you look closely enough, in the odd pock-marked house or conspicuous gap in a terrace."

Much of the archive material in the DVD has been in the museum's care for years, but according to Barry Hughes, issues of cost and display space have meant nobody was able to access it, until the partnership with Create Solutions.

"It's the type of project that we'd have never have been able to take on by ourselves. We've got the expertise and the archive, but the time and money would have been beyond us."

He said the joint working with Create Solutions had been "of enormous mutual benefit".

Cine footage shot by Swansea resident Sylvia Twigg in the 1950s shows the bomb-damaged market still operating without a roof

"We've been able to tap into the impressive media and technical skills of the service users, and in return they've got a high-profile production on their CVs, when maybe previously nobody's been prepared to give them a chance."

'Kept strong'

Create Solutions and Swansea Museum are already busy on their next collaboration, volume two of Three Nights Blitz, concentrating more closely on personal experiences.

Mr Hughes said: "The thing I'm always trying to get across to school kids is that the town in which they live suffered bombing every night for three nights, and still kept functioning, kept strong, and kept its sense of humour."

People with a personal or family memory of the blitz can e-mail Mr Hughes at: barry.hughes@swansea.gov.uk



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