THIS week, historian Mark Muller discusses how, in 1939, an unassuming newspaper article informed Pembrokeshire the country was at war, and the effect the announcement had on the county at large...

With the repeated position that Pembrokeshire has been forced to adopt with regard to warfare, from the Flemings and Normans of 900 years ago, to the Tudors, the Civil War and the debacle at Fishguard in 1797, the casual, low key announcement by The Western Telegraph on September 7, 1939, that war had started, should perhaps come as no surprise.

The unremarkable article on page 7 informed readers that France had already declared war on Germany and that Ireland and Japan had announced neutrality, with the position of Italy, ‘made clear by Hitler announcing that he would not be calling for assistance from that quarter.’

What is remarkable is the list of measures either about to be taken or that had already been implemented... on much the same level as I suggested only weeks ago in preparation for the First World War.

Only four days after the declaration of war, Pembrokeshire was standing by to receive 14,100 child evacuees with the largest number, 3,200 destined to be billeted in the Haverfordwest Borough and Rural District Authority areas.

Cinemas had already been closed along with all sporting fixtures cancelled and actual sporting activity forbidden. Notice was being given of petrol rationing that was due to begin on the 16th of September and Food Control Committees had already been formed with rationing imminent.

Schools had been temporarily closed after assemblies of all children to ensure ownership and knowledge of the use of gas masks and hospitals had been cleared of all but acute cases with new ambulance and first aid posts being set up (but which were not available to civilian residents).

Fishing concerns were in the process of being transferred from private to public administration but in the midst of all of this appears the most far reaching of measures to be implemented in Pembrokeshire with the announcement of the formation of a County War Agricultural Executive Committee, which became known in time as Pembrokeshire War Agricultural Committee and to everyone as PWAC.

A decision had already been made to divide the county into five areas, the main purpose being, ‘to increase home production and to bring under the plough those areas that have gone out of production since 1918’.

The aim of this announcement was to bring an extra 30,000 acres into production within one year, success of which was made more difficult by the announcement of the potential call up of all able bodied men between the ages of 18 and 42.

This call up included policemen and it is to the farming community again that the Chief Constable turned to enrol over 500 men, mostly middle aged farmers, as special constables.

Adding to the difficulties in finding sufficient agricultural manpower was the fact that a farmhand’s weekly wages were two pounds and eight shillings whilst the Trecwn Mine depot was paying four pounds.

The closure of the hospitals was felt the most by the elderly, made more frustrating in the months that followed, due to the ‘phoney war’ which manifested itself in inactivity of any hostilities in western Europe for the first seven months.

Rationing and the formation of Food Control Committees provided eight ounces of meat per person per week from an allocation to butchers over which they had no control. Up to twenty five chickens could be kept for personal egg consumption but prosecutions followed where chicken owners had forgotten to cancel their egg ration allowance.

But of all the measures imposed on the population, it was the blackout that was to have the most serious impact; the number of war casualties over the next five and half years amounted to 370,000 servicemen killed, but the number killed on the roads in the same period was 588,000.

The number of prosecutions for blackout offences kept the courts active. First offences usually resulted in fines of five shillings but a third offence meant prison.