The Royal Ordnance Factory
Bridgend South Wales
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Audrey Lillian Mathews

12 September 2023 – 18 May 2023


 


This is Audrey’s story even though she cannot tell it herself; her story as told by her sister Daisy gives an insight into her life until her untimely death on the 18th of May 1941.

Audrey was born on the 12th of September 1921 into a typical Welsh mining family at Wyn Daffyd in the village of Cefn Cribbwr in the County of Mid Glamorgan South Wales.

She was the latest addition into the family of five children; two years later another girl joined the family increasing them to six girls and one boy.

In 1925 Audrey's mother died during childbirth leaving the eldest daughter Daisy to care for the children at the age of 12.

Audrey's father Albert Henry Mathews was a collier and had to continue working as a collier to support his children, whilst he worked afternoons little Daisy took over the responsibility of mother, caring for the younger children.

At this time Audrey was nearly four years old whilst her younger sister Betty was just two years of age.

Notwithstanding their sad loss they were a happy family, the eldest was Eric, and he went to live with his Aunt in Pyle whilst Daisy took charge of her siblings, Rose, Ivy, Violet, Audrey and Betty.

Fortunately Audrey was a happy child and remembered little of her mother, she liked dressing up and was the family joker, and Daisy remembers her being full of fun and Daisy doesn’t ever remember her being miserable; she was always singing hymns.

As soon as she was old enough Audrey went to Cefn School; she was a bright child and loved to play with her dolls and pram.

Audrey left school at the age of 14 and started work in a local shop before joining Motherwell’s in Bridgend where she was lodged.

She was a pretty girl although on the plump side with fair hair and blue eyes and although she was of a happy go lucky nature and full of life she would do almost anything to get her own way.

By way of example her sister Daisy recalled an incident not long after she had left school and had started work at the local shop. Audrey’s dad had planned a trip with Daisy to Cheltenham so see their sister Rose who was in service to a Dr Grassie there. They couldn’t afford the train fare for Audrey as well, so Audrey asked her employer if she could be paid in advance so she could pay for her own fare to see her sister. She was given her weekly wage and set off with her Dad and sister Daisy to see Rose.

She was a larger than life individual that liked to dress up in her fine Sunday clothes and always insisted in going to St Coleman church with her Dad come rain or sunshine.  Her sister Daisy played the piano and Audrey liked to get her to play for her so she could sing her Sunday hymns.

Audrey eventually left her employ in the local shop and went to work at Motherwell’s in Bridgend, the girls were expected to lodge in at the store and were only allowed home on their half-day off during the week and on Sunday.

Audrey liked her food and had a sweet tooth and would on her afternoon off sit at home with a bag of sweets and soft drink before returning to her lodgings at Motherwell’s in Bridgend by 10 p.m.

Following the outbreak of War Audrey now 19 years of age was worried about being conscripted and having to work away from home; it was at this time that she made enquiries through her sister Ivy about joining her at the Bridgend Royal Ordnance Factory.

Following, her successful medical she was offered a position in the detonator section of the works and started on the 24th of April 1941.

Initially, she went through a period of training before joining the Green shift; her first shift was on Monday morning the 12th of May 1941.

At first it was a new experience, but the work and her new work place did not faze Audrey, she simply took everything in her stride. At least she had her sister Ivy working nearby and they could lunch together in the canteen. Audrey and Ivy had a mutual friend and they would gossip together over lunch.

Audrey caught the works bus at 6.0am in her home village of Cefn Cribbwr for the seven mile trip to the Arsenal works main entrance, after arriving she joined the other workers where she went through a security check for contraband before being transported to the Detonator section clearing house.

Her work entailed screwing the live Detonator body into the Detonator plug before handing it onto one of the girls either side of her for the stabbing (securing) operation.

It was easy work but could be boring so the girls often sang along with the Tannoy which rebroadcast radio music around the works such as  “music while you work” or they just chatted amongst themselves whilst they were working.

The girls were a cheery bunch and the teamwork was good, they often met their targets and did more, at this time during the war they were expected to work a fair amount of overtime. So Audrey was not surprised to learn that she was expected to work overtime on her first Sunday and as it was the start of a new shift week she would be working afternoons.

On Friday she received her first pay, by today’s standards it was a large sum of money for a young woman and Audrey decided that she would save as much of it as possible to buy some new clothes.

For Audrey the Saturday off work was a new experience and she made the most of it by enjoying her day off. Too soon it was over and after a restful nights sleep she awoke to a bright beautiful sunny morning and thought about dressing up and taking the day off work.

But this was wartime and a day off had to be supported by a doctor’s paper, being new in her job Audrey didn’t want to make excuses and have to lie, so she prepared for work.

Her sister Rose was living in Cheltenham at this time and had recently had a new baby, Daisy had joined her sister to help her look after the new baby whilst Violet was employed in the “Initiators” section at the Bridgend ROF.

Her father had also gone up to Cheltenham for the weekend to see the new arrival so Audrey and her sister Betty were at home alone for the weekend.

Betty and Audrey had a light lunch before Audrey got ready for work, she caught the works bus in the village at approximately 1pm and as usual it was full. The journey took a little under an hour to travel the 7 miles because of the frequent stops to pick up her fellow workers.

They arrived at the works main entrance just before 2 p.m. in plenty of time before the start of their shift. After clearing security they were transported to the clearinghouse in the Detonator section by the works bus. Here they all dismounted and made their way to the changing room where they took off their outer clothes and put on their Green coloured turbans, gowns and overshoes.

Audrey like her work mates then stepped over the clean area barrier ready to leave for her shop 3G9. Unfortunately the door was locked and the overseer did not have a key, so they had to wait until security were called to bring a master key to open the clearinghouse works entrance door.

It was 3.15 p.m. before they arrived at their shop 3G9 for the start of their shift, there they were met with a scene of confusion as the Carpenters were still working on a workbench replacing worn linoleum.

This workbench was immediately behind Audrey’s workbench, and the Carpenters were still working on it when the girls sat down at their bench ready for work.

The overseer was pre-occupied with the morning shift overseer, counting the morning shifts un-worked detonators and allocating jobs, instead of traying up detonators for the inserter operators, this left the girls to get on with it by themselves.

The detonators were stored in paper maché pots, these held 500 detonators. The first operator took out 50 for her operation before passing the pots onto the next operator.

Finally, the paper maché pot was passed to Audrey when the accident occurred, the resultant explosion mortally injured Audrey and two other women, a number of other workers received severe injuries.

The ROF medical team was at hut 3G9 within minutes but it was too late to save any of the three young women. Audrey was taken to the Bridgend District Hospital where she died of her wounds 4 hours later.

Later in the day Audrey’s father received a visit from the local constabulary at his daughter Rose’s house in Cheltenham. They told him that Audrey had had an accident and that he was to return to Bridgend straight away. Daisy and her dad left by train but they arrived too late as Audrey had died of her wounds.

Mr. Mathews was distraught when he was told that his daughter was dead as she was daddy’s little girl, both he and Daisy returned home to console Betty who had been left to caretake their home in their absence.

Audrey was buried at Pen-Y-Fai Cemetery in her mother’s grave in Pen-Y-Fai where she rests today between her mother and father.

Audrey didn’t have a boy friend as such although she was fond of a boy in the village and had she lived they may well have developed their friendship.

Daisy was called to the inquest and told about Audrey’s injuries and that the cause of the accident was because they weren’t following the laid down procedures. She had also to identify her sister, it was a painful experience to see her sisters badly cut and bruised face however she recognised her younger sister’s mouth and the peaceful smile on her lips.

In January 1942 Daisy also joined the ROF, after training she became a C.I.A. and also worked on the Green shift.

Later on Tom John Rees who was injured in the explosion asked Daisy if she would like to see building 3G9, reluctantly she went and saw where her sister Audrey had been killed, signs of the accident were still visible over a year later; Daisy  never visited the building again in her remaining four years at the Arsenal.

This story recalled by Daisy 64 years after the death of her sister was still a painful experience, now in her 92nd year Daisy has a remarkable memory and has given a real insight into a close family during times of hardship.

Audrey, like many others gave her life in defence of her country for this we thank her.

J.D.V. Ludlow

22 May 2023

 

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