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Paul Radmilovic
Danger in the Mountains
The Dry Dock
The Skeletal Hero's
The Wagon
Ladies of theTinplate Works
The Big Cat  

Cardiff Past Aberavon Future.

This is a little story that I am writing for the two young brothers,who live next door to me at the Sandfields,Aberavon.
It will give to them, a brief historical note on one of their nearly forgotten ancestors.

He being Paul Radmilovic, who was born 5th.of March.1886 in Cardiff, at the age of five Paul was at Bute Street Cardiff, where his father Antonio, a naturalized Austrian was running one of the many pubs in that street.His mother Anna said to have been born in Cardiff, with an Irish connection.

`Raddy`, as he was known by his school friends, attended the Howard
Gardens School in Cardiff. At that school gala in 1901 he gave an exhibition swim of 110 yards in 72 seconds.He was the youngest water polo international player in the world at the age of 15.He held many boys swimming records of both England and Wales.
He went on to represent Great Britain in five successive Olympic Games- Athens 1906, London 1912, Antwerp 1920, Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928.
During the Paris Games he laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown warrier on behalf of the Prince of Wales, and in 1920 he was presented to King Albert of the Belgians.
At three of the above Olympics he captained the British Water Polo Team.
At the above games he won three gold medals for water polo, and one for swimming.

As a swimmer he won in between 1925.and 1927 the British Championships-- quarter mile, half mile, and mile--
the blue riband of the swimming world.
He was a member of the Barry swimming club,and all his Welsh successes are by far to numerous to list here.
In 1967 he was honored by the Hall of Fame at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, one of the few British competitors to receive one of the principal Honour of the swimming world. He died on the 29th. of September 1968, at Weston Super Mare.

It is sad that when his swimming days were ending Raddy even though he was known the world over, could not secure employment at Cardiff, and so had to find the same across the channel at Weston Super Mare, where he became a Hotel keeper.

To finish off it was nice to see him mentioned along side of Sir Steven Redgrave, in a recent debate in Parliament, concerning the forthcoming Olympics of 2012.

I do hope that my two little next door friends, will in a few years time remind me of this little article.
A gran of the two little brothers,who was a Radmilovic at birth, also lives in Aberavon.

Allen Blethyn July 2006.

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Danger in the Mountains.

In Aberafan right through to the mid sixties our only source of power was coal. Houses were heated by open coal fires industry belched out black smoke from coal fired furnaces, but in the nineteen fifties it was at its worst. Poisonous fumes and pollution were all about us it hung above the town like a blanket, it was a hundredfold worse when fog came to the town the fog mixed with the poisonous smoke and fumes caused a lethal cocktail, many of the towns old, and people with chest and lung problems died from the effects of breathing in this dangerous mix. This true story tells of a just such an encounter with the thing we called Smog

It had started out as a sunny but brisk autumn day but it was not until about 12 mid-day that I had decided to take the walk into the mountain that was to lead me into danger.
The walk started out very pleasantly and I had great fun as a 10 year old boy running along the sheep paths, I often played alone preferring my own company to that of others, the other lads I hung around with were often too boisterous for me as I had a chest illness that left me breathless after any exertion like running and the more physical games that were played, at those times I was probably viewed as a nuisance by the other lads.
I could run but when I got breathless I had to stop for a while to catch my breath so was no good at the game of touch and other like games, but alone I could run and jump about climb and do most of the things that the others could do but at my own pace.
I lost all track of time and eventually my games came to an end and I found myself on top of Dinas Mountain looking out over the upper end of Baglan as dusk was about to descend around me, I started my homeward journey.
As I started my way back I saw that a thick misty smog was raising up from below smog produced by the many coal fires that warmed peoples homes had mixed with a sea mist that had come in from the sea this had mixed together forming a freezing thick blanket of grey green mist already the whole town was hidden from my view, soon I would be engulfed, below me a few hundred yards I could see the line of the pathway I would have to use to get safely down from the mountain that’s all I had to do was get to that path and follow it down.
I decided the quickest way was to cut down the face of the mountain I had hardly started down when the swirling mist covered the path from my view and very soon it had reached me I was engulfed in its blinding swirling folds I stopped my headlong run and started to feel my way slowly breaking my way through the dead ferns I had by now completely lost my sense of direction not even knowing whether I was travelling up the mountain slopes or down I fell so many times as I could not see my hand in front of my face I was pretty frightened and frozen to the bone I fell into a hollow and that is where I started to use my head I knew that I was not going to find the footpath darkness had come to make things worse for me and for me to stumble about blindly in this fog made worse by the darkness was something that was stupid.
My mother never raised a fool so I decided to make the best of it here in this shallow hollow I started to snap the stems of the dried out ferns and lay the ferns about me the splintering dried stems cut my hands but I had to continue my work it was not long before I had cut enough ferns to form a bed between me and the cold ground and enough ferns to cover my body by now I was suffering from the cold and it was a great feeling to be sheltered from the damp and cold of the fog I buried my head in the folds of my jacket in an attempt to filter the air I breathed as I was pretty well out of breath with the pollution contained in the swirling wreaths of the fog I was still very cold but thanks to the insulating mound of ferns I now sheltered beneath the freezing bone chilling bite of cold was lessoning by the minute.
There was not a breath of sound in the stillness of the night I lay there for hours curled up into a ball venturing out only to see what the situation was like out side my shelter I heard all sorts of noises as I lay there and one time an animal brushed against my shelter I realised a fox had almost walked over me it shied away and continued on its hunt for food.
For some hours there was no change then on my last look around I noticed that there was an light glowing below and in the distance to my left, I realised that this was the lights of the town so the fog was dissipating below me. Now that I had an indication of where I had to make for I decided to try to get lower down the mountain and possibly find the path, by now my clothing was pretty damp due to the smog, quickly I set off keeping my eye on that distant glow at last I found the pathway or at least fell into it for as I walked down the slope the ground gave way to a sharp drop and I landed in a heap on the path now which way to go, the quickest way was to head for the path that branched off this one and led to the pistle an ancient spring of crystal water that would be very close to Baglan Road from there I would be able to walk home safely, but If I missed the branching path then I would be lost again.
I decided the longest way home would be the safest for me as I had the town lights to pinpoint where I was heading to, I set off following the path soon it started to slope more steeply down and I felt a surge of relief for now I knew I was heading down off the mountain there were noises all about me and some sheep unseen by me that had been sheltering against the bank of the path suddenly heard me stumbling along and bolted, my heart rose into my throat with fright, my breathing was a rasping sound as I dragged air into my pain filled lungs I was coughing and I felt hot one moment and chilled the next fever was setting in fast lending an urgency to being able to get home in the next hour or two.
I knew that if I tried to shelter again I would not be able to get a up and would probably die before I was found I had to make the top of the roadway called “The Causeway” that led down off the mountain the rest of that journey I remember in snatches but I sometimes even now wake up knowing that I had dreamt a nightmare of that long ago brush with death.
I eventually reached the infants of the Mountain school this was situated at the foot of the “Causeway” the fog had long ago cleared from the town, then I remember my father and my uncle Dia finding me my father lifted me up and ran heading for home. They had been out looking for me all night first my father, then my mother had ran to her brother David’s house in Mount view terrace and he had also joined my father in the search they had scoured the town and were on the way back home when I had staggered out of the darkness,
I had been on that mountain for about fifteen hours.
That little trip caused me to have Pleurisy and Pneumonia both at the same time, my mother nursed me for weeks in a steam tent made up in the corner of the living room by placing cushions on the floor to form a mattress and placing chairs around me then covering the chairs with blankets and coats forming a tent around and above me she boiled water on the fire and placed kettles of steaming water inside the tent, she and my father pummelled my chest and back for hours to break the fluid from my lungs she kept that boiling water going until weeks later I was off the danger list as my fever broke the only break she had was when my father took over when he arrived home from work the doctors had given me up, and told my mother that I would not survive but my mother and father refused to believe that and worked night and day to save me.
I look at that mountain now and it seems a wonder that such a danger could be found there, it looks so small for a mountain that could take one into such danger, but the combination of that smog and the darkness and the fact that I had found myself off the pathways that made walking the mountain safe, when the smog had blotted out everything that made the difference as I had no visible landmarks my orientation was lost this had nearly caused my death, thereafter I was off that mountain in plenty of time before dark and always kept an eye open for any hint of sea mist that may have been gathering in the bay never again would I be caught on that mountain with darkness or fog approaching.

John. E .S

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The Dry Dock

1958 the ship was an old coaster the rust and barnacles had been scraped from her undersides from the keel to the waterline. She rested on the blocks in the dry dock basin; scaffolding surrounded her on all sides. Men scurried about the ship like ants these were busy times, the painters with their lambs-wool paint rollers on twelve foot poles were busy with the red lead paint that they used for the first coat of paint over the newly cleaned steel plating of the hull. I looked down over the rail of the scaffolding I was working on and saw John and Efan busy dipping the rollers into the paint buckets standing on the second from the bottom concrete step of the ledges that were around the inner walls of the basin: with the roller full of paint they rolled their paint rollers along the side plating of the ship all along the step other men and boys were busy at the same task their work clothing covered in multi coloured paint spatters the stiffened cloth of their boiler suits seemed as if starched from countless layers of paint. Ok hold the bar brace a (metal bracket the shape of the bar this was to strengthen the fixing of the bar to the hull) hold it tight against the hull the welder instructed me, at that time I was a ship plater’s helper and we were busy welding rubbing bars along the hull of the ship these prevented wear of the ships plating when it was moored at a loading jetty as the motion of the water tended to lift and lower the berthed ship against the jetty. At intervals along the length of the bar was a countersunk hole into which was fitted a sealing washer and bolt part of my job was to work inside the hull tapping the plates when I reached the bolts I would screw on the nuts and sealing washers then screw them home tight then when all was done the ship plater would come and using an air drill we screwed the nuts up as tight as they could go the last job was to put a pin through the nut and bolt to stop it vibrating loose, then back on the outside scaffolding we would work our way along the bar welding it along its length to the ships plating. We walked into the Blacksmiths shop all around us were blacksmiths working away at small forges producing all manner of things for the old Coaster; I had worked here as a blacksmiths helper and I marvelled at what the blacksmiths were able to make, we collected our fourth rubbing bar from the blacksmith who had been beating the heating iron bar into the required shape. We struggled with the heavy bar carried on our shoulder crossed the plank gangway from the basin side to the scaffolding around the ship
Staggering with the weight along the decking of the scaffolding. The area around the dry dock basin was a hive of industry how I managed to carry those bars remains a mystery when I think back to those days working in the dry dock. This was the last ship I worked on for when it was completed I was laid off not long afterwards the dry dock closed forever.

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The Skeletal Hero’s.

My Mother was excited your uncle Dai is coming home today she informed me for the umpteenth time and for the umpteenth time she combed back my hair and brushed down my threadbare and much patched coat.
This was the latter half of the nineteen forties the war had ended and Japan had surrendered some months back, all this I came to understand when I became older, I knew we had been in a war for I was born before it had started and I understood that my Uncle David had been captured by the Japanese and had been held in a prisoner of war camp so my mothers excitement was understandable, today he was arriving home after spending months in an army hospital.
I did not understand why it had taken so long for my uncle to arrive back home to his family months after the war with Japan was over, I had witnessed the soldiers who had won the war in Europe arrive home a short time after Victory was won, there had been much celebration with street parties in every street, why had it taken so long for the soldiers like my uncle, of the Japan conflict to arrive back in Aberafan.
My mother stood with others on the railway station platform the women who had seemed made of Iron during the war years were now like schoolgirls hardly able to contain their excitement. In later years when I understood the savage difficulties of the Japanese war compared to the European war for our soldiers I came to realize why these women were acting as they were, but then as a small boy this was something I had never witnessed before and I felt the excitement well up within my own breast.
A railway man dashed up to the group ok the train will be here in a few moments and the welcoming group of wives mothers fathers sisters brothers were all put into an organized group to welcome home our long lost kin.
The train came to a stop and I had to force myself to breath as I found myself holding my breath in excited anticipation. I had never knowingly met my uncle for he had been at war when I was running around Aberafan so I did not know what to expect suddenly there was a stillness in the babble from the women as we saw men being helped from the train by military nurses some were able to walk others needed support. I say men but never had I seen men such as these all about me men and women had tears running down their faces as they tried to recognize their loved one, happy excitement had turned to despair at sight of those men.
I saw that day what heartbreak was really like, my mother sought out Dai from the pitiful group, some of these men looked normal but there was something etched into their faces at that time I did not understand but now I do these men had the look of great suffering buried deep in their soul. Whilst some of the men looked normal having recovered in hospital their body weight, there was a group of men I can only remember as walking skeletons I can only amagine now what their condition had been like when they were first repatriated.
My Mother was crying uncontrollable as she hugged the man who had no flesh to his body just a framework of bones covered with skin he smiled at me and I was frightened that terrible grimace in a face that had cheekbones very prominent did look like the grin of a skeleton, I hung back from these returning hero’s a frightened little boy but instinctively knowing that every man that had gone through the hell that they had and come back was a true hero.
One of the escorting soldiers handed me a brown paper parcel tied with string with my uncles name written on a tag that hung from the parcel here lad look after this for your Dad, I was so overcome with all that was about me that I could not tell him Dai was not my father.
This scene was repeated all over the country as men returned, released from military hospitals, months after all conflict had ended they had received extremely cruel treatment from their Japanese captors and it took many years for some to recover from their ordeal. Uncle Dai took two years to gain the weight he had lost and longer to recover his health, my mother always told us that the brother she had seen leave to serve his country was not the same after he came home, whenever I met Dai when I was a lad I was a little afraid for whenever I saw him I saw that man I had met at the railway station who had smiled at me.
But of one thing I am sure of I was and still am very proud that I had an uncle, named David Jones and that he had lived through what we can only imagine, with such great courage.

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The Wagon Repairer

During the Nineteen fifties work was plenty-fold if you wanted to work and most of us did, we could go from job to job almost whenever we wanted, the railway system had not yet been devastated by the cruel cuts and was still the main system used to carry goods around the country.
One of the jobs I had was with “Marcroft Wagon Repair’s” this works was situated alongside the river in Velindre just above Ynys Street.
The work carried out there was repairing railway wagons, If one stood at the entrance to the works at the Ynys street end of the works facing up the valley one would see all of the buildings, (accept the managers office) would be on the right hand side, the river Afan would be on the left, with a footpath between the river and the boundary fence of the works, there were two main workshops one for the wooden Wagons and the other for the more modern Steel built wagons, just beyond but on the same side of the workshops was the fore-mans office (there were two foremen), and stores at the top end of the yard across the width of the yard facing the entrance was the managers office and the structure that held the Water Wheel and reservoir pond of water that drove the wheel.
This Water wheel gave the Wagon works its power, all the machines in the workshops were driven by a series of belt loops that were around driving wheels on the main driving shafts above our work space, then the belts were looped around driving wheels on our machines, to stop or start our machines we had to slide the belt onto the fixed driving wheel from the freewheel on the main driving shaft.
My first job there was refurbishing bolts that the repairer’s salvaged as they stripped the wagons down to just bare chassis frames, I worked in the wooden wagon workshop at a lathe surrounded by five feet high mounds of used and rusty bolts.
I would take a recovered bolt from the pile and clamp it in the jaws of the vice on the lathe, then wind it into the jaws of the spinning lathe cutting tool by using a handle at the side of the machine.
This then produced a finished bolt with brand new threads cut and cleaned along the length of the bolt these would be placed in a sack and when the sack was full taken to the stores.
The workshops were always busy blacksmiths and their strikers would be working at a series of forges about the workshop, taking recovered metal work from the wagons heating it on the forge then by striking it with hammers turning the work over and over to reshape the metal into its original shape, there was all sorts of iron work fitted to the wooden wagons all would be reshaped and rethreaded, besides the obvious metal chassis there were torsion bars, that had a thread at each end these were bolted through from front to back of the wagon two to a wagon passing through the wooden frame at the front and back the bolts tightened up periodically to torsion the wagon frame when in use, there were iron straps, iron hinges, brake levers, brake holders, and adjusters, buffers four to a wagon spring hangers, all if damaged were repaired by the blacksmith. The four wheels would be turned on a large lathe to renew the surface that was in contact with the rails to a precise angle, a wagon repairer was a skilled man much of the work was apprenticed. The axle boxes were stripped and new brass bearings installed then the box loaded with grease, all of the wooden wagons were bolted together whilst the Steel wagons were either riveted or welded, these wagons like the wooden wagons were stripped down to chassis frame, and if the steel panels could be recovered that was another job for the blacksmiths. The water to drive the waterwheel was taken from the river using the channel that had originally been built for the Forge works, there was a sluice gate that we opened when the reservoir was low in this reservoir in the hot summer we dived in and swam about in our ten minute dinner break, in this story I have tried to condense it so as to not make it too long I hope that you enjoy reading it.
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Tinplate Works

I had worked as a shop assistant in Weaver to Wearer tailors in Water Street since leaving school at fifteen I had been at work for a year.I earned a fantastic wage of (one Pound seventy five shillings) today’s value would be about one Pound sixty pence, I paid my mother One pound lodge, half a crown a week went to Price the bicycle shop in Water Street, payment for my first shop bought bicycle, that left ten shillings (fifty Pence) for my spending money, out of which I had to buy my clothes things like the Italian style suits a smart high lapel single breasted pastel coloured suit (Buttoned down the centre) or charcoal grey Drapes this was a suit with ten inch drainpipe trousers ( the bottoms of the legs only ten inches wide ) and a single breasted jacket that came down to mid-thigh the lining of which was highly decorative imitation silk, Cuban heeled leather boots D/A hair style (ducks arse) with forward drooping wave we called a quiffe, my friend John Rigdon went the whole hog and dressed in the regalia of the Edwardian teddy boy suit, out of my fifty pence I also had to pay for my social entertainment with the lads I hated the job.
There is a job in the hot mill at Baglan Bay Tinplate works Albert informed me come in tomorrow and I will take you to see the foreman that was how I got the job in the Tinplate works I was sixteen, the job was not quite in the hot mill I worked along one side of the Hot mill as a weigher’s assistant.
On brick pillars about three feet high four feet wide with a two inch thick iron top a work bench ran alongside the hot-mill working area for about twenty five yards at this bench women stood a couple of yards apart these women were called openers, their work entailed opening bundles of tinplate sheets into single sheets these women were fantastic at their work, they would open their tinplate bundles as if dealing a pack of cards. Not an easy task as I can testify to for try as I might I failed to accomplish the opening of even one bundle this was a hard and dirty job I have seen hard working men and women during my working life but these women were amongst the hardest workers I have ever worked with, harder than most men worked. These bundles had been passed when red hot through Rolls and passed over to a man called a doubler by the roller-mans mate called a be-hinder who allowed the sheet to slide across the iron floor to the tongs held in the hands of the doubler who folded them over then placed them in the open jaws of the doubling machine then by pressing with his foot on a lever set into the floor the steam powered jaws would close he then slid the flattened sheet back across the floor to the Be-hinder who passed them back through the rolls to the roller-man they were reheated on occasion and were rolled increasing the length each time and folded then rolled again until the required amount of sheets were in the bundle the tongs the men used to handle these hot sheets were about six feet in length. The folded sheets were then taken from the roller-man and his be-hinder, to the Shearer this man and his mate then placed the sheets into the cutting machine, and its blade would cut the sheets into the required size, placed in stacks about two feet high then lifted by gantry crane to the workbench of the women openers.
We all wore heavy duty aprons and gloves, but even they did not protect us from the razor sharp edge of the tinplate I still have the scars about my arms and stomach where a lapse moment caused the tinplate to slice through to my skin. I used to watch enthralled at the way the women set about opening their bundles on the palm of one hand was a lead disk, tied around the gloved hand using this leaded hand the women struck one corner of the bundle then taking the raised corner in the same hand peel off the sheet from the bundle, sounds simple but it was hard work this done so fast that the eye could not see it happening speed was essential, for this was all piecework the more the women opened the bigger the pay they received. Behind the women was a small gauge rail track my job was to ensure that a small flat bed cart was placed at each woman’s work-station before she arrived for work, during her shift the cart would be stacked high with opened sheets then at the end of the days work I had to push each cart to the weighing machine set into the track bed, we weighed each load setting against each woman’s name the total weight of opened sheets for that day. Any spare time I had was used by greasing the wheels making the leads that the women used by melting lead bars and pouring the molten lead into moulds, taking blunted “hangers” (Machete like knife)the women used to chop open a sticker this was a sheet within the bundle that stuck to its neighbouring sheet, when this happened the air was blue as the women would shout across at the roller-man some obscene remarks for not doing his job properly, I would take the blunted tool to the blacksmith for him to heat and reshape then re-sharpen. Any bundles the girls failed to open I collected ready to be returned to the scrap bay the girls were never paid for any failed bundles. Sometimes I was sent to help out in the hot-mill Albert was always on the doubling machine whilst I helped out the Italian workers there were a lot of Italians who were prisoners of war but stayed in this Country after the war was over. The women had a wicked sense of humour and were always on the lookout for a victim, My first week there I fell victim to their pranks, I had foolishly asked the women where could I get the grease to grease the wheels of the carts, one of the girls volunteered to show me after I had greased all the wheels and placed the carts at the women’s work-station I went home, at the end of the next days shift, I found out how helpful the woman had been, for every fully loaded truck was stuck fast the wheels not turning freely as they should the weigher and myself sweated blood moving them, the very helpful woman had taken me to a vat filled with Palm oil. I never questioned the fact of why the oil was kept hot for when this oil cooled it became a solid cream cake of unyielding putty like substance, I had to stay after my shift and take off every wheel and clean away the hard palm oil and re-grease using the correct grease then place the carts ready for next days work all this extra work unpaid never again did I take what the women said to me at face value I always looked for their hidden agenda.
At this tinplate works there were no canteen or facilities for the workers I used to fill a glass pop bottle with tea before leaving home to go to work then on arrival at the works place the cold tea on a ledge behind the furnace amongst other like bottles my name tied to the bottle on a paper tag then if we had a chance of a break during our shift I would retrieve my bottle of tea which by now was hot and eat my sandwiches and drink my tea. My wages were Three Pounds two shillings eight pence a really good wage at that time the works shut down because of a cracked flywheel this huge wheel twenty odd feet high from its hub helped drive the hot and cold mill machines a repair was made but did not hold up to the work required and cracked again this spelt the death knell of the works and a short time later it closed.

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The Big Cat.

It was 1980 I was working at the new Morfa Coal handling Plant of the coke ovens, part of the giant steel works at Margam Port Talbot, part of my duties was to clean up spillage of coal at the deepwater harbour for this work I used a JCB on the shift that I am about to relate I was on my way to the Deepwater Harbour via the old docks as I wanted to call in to see a friend who worked at the Power plant, he worked in a water pumping station outside of the main power plant building.
John Rigden had told me some days ago that he had encountered a very large and wild bob cat John was not one to spin tales that were untrue but the story he told me was unbelievable, here is the story as told by John Rigdon on one of his night shifts.
I finished cleaning the room and went into the pump room and started to clean the pump house floor, I was busy working away mopping the red tile floor working my way backwards towards the open double doors. Something caused me to stop working and turn, what I saw made my blood run cold and the hair on my head stood up I could feel every strand raise up for there in the doorway not two feet from me was a very large cat like creature, I recognised it as a type of bobcat, this animal stood as big as a large dog and was staring at me. I could not move if I had wanted too the cat just stared not making a sound for how long we stood there I cannot say but suddenly the cat turned and walked off into the darkness.
That was the story as told to me, I would have just put it down to nightshift nerves if what happened to me had not occurred.
My story begins on another nightshift I was driving the JCB and turned into the old wharf road opposite the transporter cranes on my way to see John before making my way to the deep water Harbour, my headlights lit up the figure of a large animal that had stopped in the road at my approach it stood perfectly still side ways on to me and with its head turned in my direction unmistakable a very large Bob cat, I had seen enough pictures of this type of animal to recognise this creature as a Bobcat, it did not seem at all afraid of me or the JCB. I stopped just a couple of yards away from the cat and had ample time to study the creature spotlighted by my headlamps, I knew this was a Bobcat probably the very same cat that John Rigdon had encountered for I was only about twenty yards from his place of work. For some years stray sheep had roamed the works large acreage, and some had been found killed and torn up, some had the suspicions that large cats also roamed the works killing the sheep for food. Now here was the living proof how many of these bobcats live within the works area is impossible to say or where they had originally come from but suffice to say I know they roam that area of Margam for I saw that cat with my own eyes and had time to really look it over it was no feral tabby but a very large cat with tufts of hair on its ears and a broad face a large Body the size of my welsh border collie with a small tail like the tail of a Manx cat or Rabbit, I looked that cat over for over five minutes then it just walked on across the road as if meeting up with a JCB was not unusual.

Story by J.E.S

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