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My memories of the Cardiff Blitz

Keith Matheson shares his memories of the night that German bombs fell on the Welsh capital 70 years ago, the worst night of the Blitz in Cardiff.

Bomb damage in Blackstone Street, Cardiff, 1941
Bomb damage in Blackstone Street - Keith Matheson heard a 'defeaning' blast which destroyed the back of his house

I was 13 years old at the time of the Cardiff Blitz on 2 January 1941 and well remember the events of that night.

The sirens went about 6.30pm and my father took us down to our Anderson shelter at 73 Wyndham Street, Riverside.

Very soon after the sirens we heard the drone of the aircraft and the whistle of incendiary bombs which started to fall in large numbers.

A house a few doors from us was on fire as were many in the area. My father and older brother, Don, were Air Raid Patrol (ARP) wardens and were busy trying to put out the incendiary bombs.

Soon after, the heavy explosives were falling and with the scream of the falling bombs, the sound of the anti-aircraft guns and the loud explosions when the bombs landed it was pretty frightening.

My brother Don, who was only 16 at the time came, down to the shelter to tell me that the house of a school friend who lived at the end of Wyndham Street had been demolished after a high explosive had landed just outside his home.

Keith Matheson in his football kit in 1941
In 1941 Keith was a keen footballer at Kitchener Road school

We had been out together that day sliding down an ice slide which had materialised in Lawrenny Avenue, Leckwith and now, I thought, poor Cliff, he's gone.

Amazingly, the family survived having sheltered under the stairs. His mother had made some jam that day and stored it on a shelf under the stairs. The only 'injuries' they suffered were being covered in jam.

Bombs continued to fall and later my father had just popped down into the shelter to check on us when we heard a flapping sound and then a dull thud.

"Sounds like a dud," said my father. Immediately after, there was a massive explosion - it was a land mine which had landed yards from our shelter.

The sound was deafening and debris blew into the shelter hitting my father in the face. However, apart from cuts and bruises, he was alright.

The land mine had demolished a number of houses in Blackstone Street, just around the corner from where we lived.

The back part of our house was destroyed. The amazing thing is that the next day my brothers and I were scrambling over the debris near the crater which was just yards from our shelter. This was now late in the morning and we heard a weak little voice calling for help from under the debris.

We went in the direction of the voice and ascertained it was a younger friend of mine, Gordon Stephens, who was nine years of age. I spoke to him and tried to reassure him while Don went to get the rescue squad.

They duly came and asked me to keep talking to him as they dug through to him. They got his hand out and asked me to hold it as they continued the rescue. He had been there trapped for about 13 hours and was the only survivor in a row of houses which were demolished.

Keith Matheson and Gordon Stephens
Keith (left) was reunited with Gordon Stephens after 40 years

They eventually got him out but wouldn't let me see him as he had bad injuries. The last I saw of him was him being carried off on a stretcher.

I lost track of him for 40 years when I discovered he was living in Leigh-on-sea in Essex. He was registered blind through his injuries, but had very limited vision in one eye.

We were able to correspond and incredibly we met up three years ago when his son brought him to Cardiff.

It was so emotional to meet again after all those years. Gordon's mother and grandparents were all killed that night.

Again, amazingly just three days before we were going to meet, my wife and I were at Cathays cemetery when I spotted the memorial stone to those who died in the blitz.

It was a communal burial plot and we stopped to have a look at it. The first names on the stone were Gordon's grandparents and his mother.

When I told him this at our meeting he was overcome as he had no idea what had become of them, so I was able to take him to the cemetery and it was a very emotional moment.

In pictures: The Cardiff Blitz
17 Dec 10 |  History


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