Who Is Lila Coward?

Note: I received a tape recording from my cousin a while back. The tape contains stories told by Lila Coward. While she was someone in out family, I don’t know exactly who she was. There are some clues in the stories she tells, and someday maybe I will be able to place her in the family tree. I am transcribing her stories as blog posts, because my effort to import the audio from the cassette tape didn’t go very well. You will have to imagine her voice.

Lila was born in 1914, shortly after the start of World War Two. She lived in Abersychan, Monmouthshire, Wales. She had an older sister. She had an uncle George who lived in Bath with his wife, Beatrice. Her uncle George was wounded in World War I. She had a cousin named Edna.

Here is the start of her story.

I am not old, am I? I don’t feel old. A bit unsteady on my feet perhaps and a good deal slower in my work. But surely, not old. Why, then, does my mind play so many tricks on me? Why is it that sometimes I find it so hard to remember what happened last week, or the other day, or even yesterday. Sometimes, I can’t even remember what I was thinking about five minutes before. There must of course be a simple explanation, but I can’t for the life of me think what it is. But if the present is somewhat blurred and obscured, the memories of my childhood come flooding back into my mind. How nice it is to look back on those quiet, carefree, happy days, when my childhood was a happy one. Not all quiet, though, and sometimes far from carefree, as you will find out if you listen. I was born in 1914, just six weeks after the start of the First World War. Those first years of my life hold memories too. So vague are they, that I find them hard to put into words. During the war, Aunt Beatrice, who used to live in Bath, stayed with us. I don’t remember Aunt Beatrice at all, but I faintly recollect my mother with me in her arms, seeing her off at the end of her visit. Seeing the back of the train pulling out of the station was my very first clear memory, and I must have been very young indeed.

It was with the ending of the war, the excitement and rejoicing that that time brought, that my thoughts really began to take shape. The sound of music, and people shouting, somewhere in the distance was the cause of much excitement in our home and everyone seemed to spring to life and began to rush about. My eldest sister was recovering from a serious illness at the time and was lying on the couch wrapped in blankets. I remember someone lifting her up. My father I suppose, and carrying her into the front room so that she could look through the window. At the same time, someone grasped my hand and ushered me to the front door. The road ran straight past our terraced house and a procession had rounded the bend and was heading towards us. Uniformed men were marching in front, bands played, and men, women and children ran along each side waving flags and singing. Something was swaying above the heads of the crowd, and as they drew nearer, I could see men carrying a wooden platform, in the middle of which, stood an old wooden armchair. On this was seated the strange figure of a man, and to my young mind, it was frightening in its strangeness. I can’t seem to recall anything about its dress, but the head which seemed to be nodding with each step was crowned with a tin hat with a large spike on top. But it didn’t hide the mass of fuzzy ginger hair, which stuck out on all sides. The arms seemed to keep time with the nodding head as they dangled loosely down the side of the chair. Of course, it was a grotesque effigy if the Kaiser, I found out later. Only a few years ago did I find out what happened to that strange procession after it had passed our door. It carried on at Varteg Hill, and at the top, on waste ground, the poor old Kaiser went up in smoke.

I recall another memory of that time, my sister was still recovering from her illness and still wrapped in blankets, was sitting in a chair by the fire. Again nervous excitement was in the room, for uncle George, husband of Aunt Beatrice, was today being discharged from Cuilean(sp?) hospital, where he had been recovering from war wounds, and was coming to see us. At the sound of the door knocker I dived under the table where I was hidden by a long, fringed cloth, which covered it. My intention was to pinch his leg as he walked past. But Uncle George was [?] wearing uniform, and his legs were tightly bound with red webbing, which I believed were called puttees. It’s funny that this little incident is so clear in my mind and yet I can’t remember ever seeing Uncle George, that is, not until years later when I visited him in Bath. By then, Aunt Beatrice had died, and he had remarried.

If I don’t remember him in my early days, the fact that he was a soldier counted for something, as my cousin Edna and I used to quarrel about him. She used to say that he was her uncle the most, but I was quite sure he was my uncle the most. As time went on we still argued about him, but only in fun. Even now, tis a standing joke between us. Before I can tell you more about my early childhood, I must give you some idea of the kind of place I lived in. I have already said that the road through our village runs past our row terraced houses and on the other side were fields and hills, and beyond them, our beautiful mountains, pink with heather in the summer, colorful in the autumn sunshine, and often white with snow in winter. Yes, you could say that the outlook out the front of our house was very picturesque indeed, but not so the back. A long yard stretched the entire length of the road. On one side, the red brick houses, each with the outside toilet and cold places attached to them, so, as you walked in the yard, you had to pass a number of toilet and cold house doors, there being fourteen houses altogether. Most people took a pride in their homes and kept them clean and tidy, so though one could hardly call this terraced row attractive, neither could it be said to be ugly by any means. No, the trouble was the old tumble-down sheds and chicken coops standing here and there, all along the yard, facing the houses. Also, there were two large oblong iron gas bins which served the whole row. Once a week a man came along with a horse and cart and shoveled the refuse out. I can picture him very well and remember he had a wooden leg which was visible from the knee down and if I mention Long John Silver you will know what I mean