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The 1940's

The 1940s

Watch a playlist of people talk about the 1940s here

Orb Steel Works & WWII 

Anderson Shelters 

“That was our den in my grandparents garden in Oxford Street. Had hours of fun after the war ended” Nola Lewis

During WW2 Orb Works made and rolled the corrugated sheets for Anderson Shelters. This picture shows the first Anderson Shelter to be produced by Orb Steel works and 'trailed' in Newport. Orb helped make the corrugated sheets for over 250,000 air raid shelters in WW2. 

Nola Lewis shared with us her memory of playing in the very same air raid shelter as a child.

“My dad Frank GENGE was a Newport boy born and bred.  He worked at Lysaghts before WW2 started but enlisted and served through the war with the 4th 7th Royal Dragoon Guards, a tank regiment.  He met my mum Margaret - known as Peggy, a lady from Dublin when on leave and they were married in November 1940.  Dad then took his new bride home to 23 Oxford Street.  His parents were quite shocked as they knew nothing about his marriage!  I came along in December 1941 and my sister in July 1943. 
Dad's eldest sister and her husband and their children also lived there and dad's youngest sister also lived there when on leave from the ATS.  I believe there were lodgers as well.  Very overcrowded but never any shortage of other children to play with.  My memories are a bit vague now but our favourite game was making mud pies.  The earth was black and fine so you can imagine the mess we got in. 
Grandpa kept chickens and the cockerel would get out and nip the back of our legs making us run into the air raid shelter which was situated behind the outdoor toilet.  I can still remember the earthy smell of it and the darkness but we loved it.  I have an even more misty memory of my darling long suffering nana taking me down to the shelter in the middle of the night.  May have been when there was nearby bombing because there was minor damage to the house.  When dad was demobbed in 1946 he went back to Lysaghts and I still have very happy memories of the Christmas parties there.  We had moved into a prefab in Bishpool by this time but hardly missed a day visiting my grandparents. 
In 1951 dad came to Port Talbot to work in the new steel plant.  I believe there were rumours that Lysaghts were closing.  When we actually moved from Newport I was devastated at leaving my cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles.  I still think of Newport as my home town and visit occasionally to meet up with family.” Nola Lewis 

Anderson Shelters & WWII

Luftwaffe reconnaissance aerial photo 

On loan from Corus Steel 

The Lysaght Institute and the steel works were thankfully never bombed during WW2. It is something of a miracle that, despite the works' huge contribution to the British war effort, it was not subjected to the ferocious air raids which affected such cities and ports as Coventry, Bristol, Plymouth and Swansea. Reconnaissance aerial photos belonging to the Luftwaffe (Nazi aircraft bombers) were found, showing the steel works and the Lysaght’s surrounding areas as a proposed target. Thankfully this was never acted on." Steven Berry – Orb works 100 years

Steel women at work 

We spoke to several people who remember the many women who worked in the Orb steel factory and Newport's munition factory during WW2. They often worked long hard shifts, whilst still attending to their household duties, caring for their extended families and children.  

“In 1940 my mother left her home in Llanelli and her job as a Dressmaker to work the Munitions factory in Newport, known as Royal Ordnance Factory No 11. She worked here throughout the war helping in the manufacture of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. I thought I would share some photos of this factory during this time with you as it shows the contribution that so many women (like my mother) made to the war effort” Andrea Morgan 

Ruby Loftus - Mosaic project 

A portrait of Ruby Loftus

Loving the Lysaght project and Linc Extra Care tenants supported the Mosaic project to honour 100 years of women's history and to raise awareness of the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act. The six mosaics created in St Paul's Walk serve as a visual reminder of women's history and empowerment and provide a place of interest for local people and visitors.

The tenants helped artist Stephany Roberts to make one of the Mosaics in partnership with pupils from St. Andrew's primary school. 

The third Women’s History Mosaic at St Pauls Walk, funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund, remembers Ruby Loftus. Ruby was an outstanding munitions factory worker from Newport who mastered complex engineering skills in a very short time, proving herself in a traditionally male environment and contributing to the British war effort in World War II. The painting ‘Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring’ was painted at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Newport in 1943 by British painter Laura Knight. The painting is owned by and is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

More information about the mosaic project is available here

“My Nana Noop, worked in the Munitions factory during WW2, she was my hero, she has a choice of that or the land Army, she decided to work there. You had to be extremely careful as the bombs would go off. There was a chemical substance that would make your hands and hair yellow and stain for days.” Stacey Traylor

A fighting chance 

Newport community came together to fund 2 fighter planes in 1941. It is recorded that The Lysaght Club donated £1000 towards the funds.

Western Mail - Friday 21 February 1941 ‘NEWPORT’S OBJECTIVE ALREADY PASSED to raise during her war weapons week £500,000 for the purchase of a destroyer. When four days had passed that aim had been achieved and there was a surplus £21,000. This does not include a substantial sum which, undoubtedly, has been invested by the man in the street in Savings Certificates and so on. But Newport is not to rest on her laurels. She accepted the challenges of Cardiff and Swansea to beat their figures per head of the population. To achieve that feat about £700,000 will be needed. There remain three days to be accounted for, so that there would seem to be a prospect of Newport beating records in South Wales.’

Steel works after the war 

By 1946 a lot of the steel workers who went to war had returned to their Orb Works job when the war finished. Special provisions were made by the company to make sure anyone fighting had a job to go back to on their return. Some cases were not so clean cut as returning soldiers were often suffering from shell shock or had received injuries that prevented them from returning to the skilled better paid jobs they held before the war.

Lysaght WWII School Project 


The WW2 events were a series of interactive, intergenerational and educational events held in the Summer of 2019, across a range of Independent Living Care Homes and at the Lysaght Institute.

They involved over five local schools and Linc’s Care and Nursing Homes in Newport as well as members of the public. Children were invited to take part in over six workshops, listen to radio features, look at a specially created magazine featuring ‘famous people of the time’ and enjoy an array of wartime songs and dance. Workshops included acting in the RAF Control Room, taking cover in an Anderson Shelter, trying on wartime clothing and paraphernalia, visiting the wartime shop to collect rations, Getting the House Ready, handling a range of war time objects and looking inside a 1940’s house. The workshops were prepared by Suzy Bowers with the assistance of a range of staff and volunteers to deliver them on the days they were held.

Lysaght Institute in the 1940s 

The 1940’s started whilst still at war with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The Lysaght Institute and Orb Steelworks community pulled together to support the war effort. The basement of the Lysaght Institute was used as an air raid shelter during WW2, protecting the locals of Lliswerry and surrounding areas from the blitz.

The Lysaght Institute, a safe haven in times of war

The Lysaght Institute often hosted dances to boost morale during WW2, including dances put on for the stationed American GI's. Several styles of swing continued as popular dances after the 1930s, including Lindy Hop. However, some new styles also appeared. Mainly East Coast Swing, West Coast Swing, Carolina Shag, Jive, Washington Hand Dancing and the Lindy Charleston. There were still more traditional swing bands in the 50’s, but the music scene saw the emergence of more solo artists.

For women, the 1940s style usually consisted of a dress with a fitted top, a small collar, and an A-line skirt, all unadorned and with the requisite sharp shoulder pads. Long sleeves were out, dresses were casual, and pants and 'playsuits' became everyday attire shirtdress (button down dress). Men tended to wear suits with baggy trousers and wide shoulders.

Ladies fashion in the '40s

Coping with rationing 

Ladies from Willowbrook extraCare scheme in Newport talked about using gravy browning as a substitute for stockings, and how to make mashed banana sandwiches with no bananas. The GIs brought with them stockings, chocolate, lipstick and other goodies that were unavailable to the ladies of Newport at the time.

“We’d use Gravy browning on our legs to look like stockings. There were no stockings to be found at the time. My sister even drew a line at the back of her leg, so to make it look like the stocking seam. It was so convincing that her fiancé got quite a shock when he ended up with a black hand after a romantic kiss on a bench." Nancy Taylor

Romancing the Allies 

Romance blossomed between the locals and the American soldiers. Lasting relationships were inevitable, helped along by time spent on the Lysaght dance floor.

First Class private Al Beigiel of Brooklyn New York kisses his wife, as the last U.S troops leave Newport for home. They had been married only two days.

"The first Welsh bride to arrive in the town of Carey, Ohio, USA, was Mrs Whalen D Vaughn, Formerly Miss Joan Banks, daughter of Mrs Mary Banks, Green Meadow Avenue, Lliswerry. Her American sister in law said of her “She is so cute, and the most friendly person."

Stories of WII

Orb Steel Works WWII Memorial 

Peter Smith, one of our Loving The Lysaght Research Volunteers, researched the 27 men on the Orb Steel Works WW2 Memorial Plaque. The Memorial Plaque honours the Orb Steel workers who fought and lost their lives in WW2.
The current location is beside Brynbuga Usk River Orb Works. Since the mothballing of the Orb works in 2020 the works has been put up for sale, there have been plans to move it to Lysaght Institute Corporation Road Newport, where is was originally homed.
The Loving The Lysaght Project was funded through National Lottery Heritage Fund, and supported by Linc Cymru Housing Association.

Click here to see Peter's Orb Steel Works WW2 Memorial research

Social life at Lysaght Institute in the 1940s

Lysaght social life picked up again after the war years, and there was a rugby club running by 1949.

"One of Mary Berry’s fondest memories of Lysaght Institute is of the Christmas parties held there. There was a procession across the veranda to collect the bag of sweets which were such an important part of the Christmas treat." Stephen Berry’s in 'Orb works 100 years'

A children's' Royal party

HRH Queen Elizabeth

In 1944 there was a Royal visit to Lysaght Steel works. The Queen, King and Princess were shown around the works by R P Perry MBE, the works manager and Mr. Tom Crowther, Mayor of Newport. A children’s party to celebrate the visit was hosted at the Lysaght Institute. This would have been a grand affair and a memorable occasion for the children of the steel workers. We were told there were banners, flags and cake, along with music and dancing.

Mary Berry can remember the Royal visit, when she was still a pupil at Corporation Road School. The children were lined along Corporation Road with flags waving as the King and Queen passed on their way to and from the works.

“I remember going annually to the sports ground for races and games. I was presented with this autograph book to commemorate the Queens Coronation. My dad's name was Charlie Clarke..” Mark Clarke

Childhood memories of the 1940s 

Childhood in the 40s sounded fun and free, with lots of outdoor play. One of the favourite locations for children to play was Monkey Island, a land belonging to the Orb Works.

“A lasting childhood memory is one of the River Usk salmon. In years gone by when water was not so polluted, salmon swam up with the tide to a place beyond Newbridge to spawn. The lowest tides revealed parts of the riverbed. Near the bridge and accessed by the old dock timbers was Monkey Island and at the lowest tides salmon would find themselves stranded here flapping about. I remember being part of a chain that went from the riverbank down through the shiny oozing grey mud to reach the salmon which would be passed back till it reached the bank. Being a girl, I was put near the bank, but I remember now, the feeling of sinking in the mud and the sucking and squelch as you were pulled out. Hand over hand each chain member was pulled from the mud until unrecognisable but triumphant, the salmon were carried to be sold at Harpers the greengrocers. I think my share was half a crown, 12 ½ pence now, then we would go to a house with a hose pipe to clean ourselves" Peggy

“The children of the cottages lived in semi isolation, having no other neighbours, and during the long August holidays would entertain themselves by building a raft to float on the pond. Adventurous Pill kids would have raiding parties to try and capture the raft for their chance to sail and be pirates, only to be fought off by the makers” Peggy

Tales of Monkey Island

Joan Row told us about swimming out to Monkey Island as a child and spending sunny days there with friends during the long summer holidays.

“We used to play on Monkey Island, we’d swim over, and spend the whole day there playing”

Swimming in the River Usk was a popular pastime in Newport, both for children at play and for established clubs.

“At the highest summer tides there would be swimming in the river, you could dive or jump off from the old dock timbers. I never went far from the safety of these as the river current and eddies were strong and unpredictable. The bravest, strongest and most foolhardy swimmers would swim beneath the gondola and hold onto the struts and drop off when the gondola began its crossing. Some even hung on to the other side to avoid paying the penny to cross, even though dangerous, I never heard of anyone drowning doing this.” Peggy from Pill

“It will interest many—swimmers particularly—to know that the little girl who gave a message to Newport schoolchildren on the South Wales Rally on Wednesday night was Margaret Watkins, the 10-year-old daughter of Pilot-officer E. M. Watkins. In swimming circles she is known as “Girlie Watkins.” At the age of three she was able to swim and so qualify for membership of the Newport Swimming Club.“ Western Mail article

Newport County on hold 

In the 1940s the local social life changed significantly, mostly due to the implementation of blackout curfews. Football was put on hold throughout WW2. It meant the well supported Newport County had to wait until the 1946–47 season to take their place in the Second Division, though they were relegated at the end of the campaign.

Eight members of the Newport County Football team (which was in its first season in the Second Division) were now members of the Newport Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), and hard at work learning their district with the aid of a map on 1st November 1939. Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images