WHEN the Second World War broke out it must have seemed a world away from North East Wales. All that changed when France fell and The Blitz engulfed the skies across the UK’s major cities.
With its proximity to Merseyside, the region became an accidental target for the Luftwaffe who launched a series of major air raids on Liverpool in August 1940, when 160 bombers attacked the city on the night of August 28.
The assault continued for the next three nights with Norh East Wales directly beneath the flightpath of the bombers as they carried their devastating load towards the dockland sites on the River Mersey.
In an effort to draw the planes away from these heavily populated and strategically important sites, the men of the Home Guard would make their way to the nearby uninhabited mountains and light fires that it was hoped would dupe the enemy into thinking they had reached their targets.
They succeeded and to this day it’s possible to see the craters their bombs created on the hillside and across the uninhabited Ruabon Moors, but in the early hours of August 30 the plan backfired, bringing death and destruction to the village of Rhosllannerchrugog.
Speaking to the Leader in 2010, Gareth Jones, who was six-years-old and living on Osbourne Street at the time, takes up the story: “At night we would hide under the stairs and shelter there until the all-clear was sounded. You could hear the planes going over.
“It was very scary – my younger brother was three at the time and he was terrified.
“That night, after we’d heard the all clear, I remember distinctly going up to the middle bedroom and looking out of the window.
“In those days you could see the mountain from there and it was completely ablaze.”
An estimated 28 square miles of mountain were alight as the tinder dry bracken and gorse quickly went up in flames. Many sheep and wildlife were roasted alive with Wrexham and surrounding villages covered in smoke which could be smelt 30 miles away.
But it was in the village of Rhosllannerchrugog where the true human cost of the bombing would be felt the next morning.
The bomb which landed on Osbourne Street had hit the ground just a few yards from Gareth’s house where it had fallen between his neighbour and their neighbour’s house but had not exploded.
Living next door was Gwilym Parry, who was 15 years old. He lived with his parents while his grandparents lived in the other house.
“The bomb landed at about 1am,” Mr Parry recalled. “It landed right outside the two houses.
“I slept through that and the next morning the ARP man, who was a teacher at the local school, told my father he could fill in the hole.
“About 10 minutes before that, the rescue party from the Hafod colliery had come up but they left soon afterwards as there wasn’t anything they could do.”
Despite the presence of the unexploded device, life that morning on Osbourne Street continued as normal. Mr Parry, who had a job in Wrexham, set off for the bus while the younger Mr Jones was preparing to go to school.
Mr Jones recounted what happened next: “My mother had answered the door to a lad who came to call for my eldest brother to go to school.
“The bomb exploded and she was blown straight down the hall to the back of the house. The boy who came to see my brother, his bicycle was later found on top of the telegraph pole.
“There was rubble everywhere because one side of the house had been blown in. My father carried my brother and I to safety.”
Mr Parry, meanwhile, had already left for work.
“I caught the 8.22 bus to Wrexham and I was on it when I heard the explosion,” he remembered. “I’d left school and gone to work at Burton’s otherwise I’d have been home.
“I remember the teacher saying to me, it’s a good thing you’d left because otherwise you’d have still been at home.”
He didn’t find out what had happened until he reached Wrexham.
“The police came to get me at work,” said Mr Parry. “They said ‘don’t worry – your mother and father are OK’.
“My father was knocked back on the stairs and was trapped between two walls. He was knocking on the wall which was how they found him.
“Mr Jones from next door came and carried my mother out of the building.
“My grandfather and grandmother were killed, Dorothy Reid had been coming up from Church Street and had stopped to talk and among the others who were killed were three young lads.”
In total seven villagers were killed: Susannah Hughes, 67, of Stanley Villas, Osbourne Street; her husband, William Hughes, 67; William Hughes, 12, of Belmont, Duke Street; Donald Jones, 11, of 2 Cemetery Road; Kenneth Pemberton, 13, of 5 Afon Terrace, Afongoch; Dorothy Reid, 34, of Bro Dawel, Victoria Street and Eliza Richards, 58, of Glaslyn, Osborne Street.
They weren’t the only civilians to perish. A day later a bomb fell on the hillside farm of Plas Ucha above Pen y Cae killing two women and a male farm worker and in the same raid two bombs fell at Newtown, Gresford, killing nine people.
During the war, 29 people were killed across North East Wales as a result of bombing, and 95 were injured and although these numbers were relatively small compared to the 3,996 who were killed in neighbouring Liverpool, they represented a huge tragedy for those involved, and emphasised that even those living in rural areas were at risk of being victims of a war which had little to do with them.