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Ty Cwm Ogwr’s eldest resident reveals wartime past

Margaret Rees

With her 100th birthday looming, Margaret Rees, a resident of Ty Cwm Ogwr in the Ogmore Valley, reflects on her colourful past and treasured memories of serving as a cook in World War II.

In 1940, at just 16 years old, Margaret fled her home in Llangynwyd, Maesteg, and joined the army by adding a couple of years to her age, in a bid to avoid working at the local arsenal factory, which she claimed could tint workers’ hair to yellow.

Following initial training, teenage Margaret became a cook in the RAF’s Catering Corps, stationed at various air bases.  However, unbeknown to Margaret at the time, whilst posted at Scampton air base, she regularly served breakfast and tea to the renowned Dam Busters – the squadron responsible for ‘Operation Chastise’, the raid of the three dams in the Ruhr valley, the industrial heartland of Germany in May 1943.

When the top-secret efforts of the Dam Busters were revealed, a visit from King George VI, the Queen and the Queen Mother was arranged to celebrate the squadron at Scampton, meaning that Margaret met them all too and served them tea!

Margaret recalls her many close calls with death during the war.  On one occasion, a little ‘white lie’ happened to save her life.  Trying to avoid plans to visit Liverpool to attend a dance, Margaret told friends that she was feeling under the weather and decided to stay at home.  That night, an air raid targeted the dance hall and, sadly, many of her friends were killed.

Young Margaret in the RAF; Margaret wearing her medals at Ty Cwm Ogwr.

Another time, Margaret talks of a German fighter plane hitting the air base whilst she was walking to work.  Luckily, the quick and generous actions of a nearby airman, saved her by rolling her down a grassy bank to avoid the plane.  Many people were killed that day, but Margaret was one of the lucky ones to survive.

When Margaret returned home from the war, she was met with her mother’s disapproval at her running away to the RAF.  In fact, her mother’s umbrage resulted in Margaret missing out on receiving her war medals during her first year back home – medals that she only received on her 90th birthday from the mayor, thanks to her family which includes 11 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren and three great, great grandchildren!

When speaking of her life, Margaret mentions that she is most proud of her family.  Following the war, Margaret met her husband Vic at a dance in Maesteg and they had four children.  Margaret said: “I have no regrets.  My mother’s advice was to ‘cut your cloth according to your needs’ and I’m proud that I have brought up my family with this in mind.  The guidance of both my parents got me to where I am today.

“I would say to the younger people of today, go out and grab life! Stay off the phones and live!”

Margaret’s son, Lynn, said: “The family are so grateful for everything Mam has done for us and for her contribution to the war.

“Mam is very much looking forward to her 100th birthday and receiving her card from King Charles.  She is now one of the few remaining war veterans with real life stories to tell.

“We are extremely proud of Mam and love her very much.”

Deputy Leader, Jane Gebbie, Cabinet Member for Social Services and Health said:

What a wonderful life to date! Margaret is a treasure and can offer so much, not just in illuminating a time gone by, but also in offering sterling advice for the future. Staff at Ty Cwm Ogwr all speak fondly of Margaret and love hearing her stories, as much as she loves to tell them!

Ty Cwm Ogwr reflects the inclusive, high-quality residential care homes that Bridgend County Borough Council offers throughout the county borough. Across our available accommodation, we have care teams striving to work collaboratively with individuals, their relatives, our health partners and more, to ensure that we provide the best service and support daily, with patience, kindness and care.

We are all very much looking forward to celebrating Margaret’s centenary birthday in July! I know that her family already have plans in place!