TOMORROW is the 75th anniversary of the first day of the Three Night Blitz of Swansea, when German bombers devastated the town with high explosive and incendiary bombs.
So perhaps it was timely that The Current Mrs Feeney and I spent this afternoon watching the recently released Dad’s Army cinema version of the much-loved tv series about a Home Guard platoon in a quiet South Coast town.
Coincidentally, my 101-year-old father this week was recalling his experience of the Three Night Blitz. In 1941 he had not yet been called up to the armed forces. As a tinplate worker, he was in a reserved occupation, carrying out work that was classed as vital to the country’s war effort.
On the night the blitz of Swansea started, he was on Air Raid Patrol (ARP) warden duties in Waunarlwydd, a village a few miles outside the town, where he and my mother were living with her parents.
“The air suddenly was full of hissing,” dad told me. Dozens of small incendiary devices started falling all around him and his ARP colleague. They dived behind a garden wall for cover. Luckily for the village, most of the bombs fell on the roadside, where they burned without causing any real damage or danger to life.
But one crashed through the roof and into the attic of a house opposite where dad was sheltering.
“I grabbed my stirrup pump and dashed into the house, up the stairs and into the attic. It had lodged against the wooden rafters,” dad said. He was able to put it out before the fire could get a hold.
When he went home later, he found my mother and her parents taking cover in the Anderson air raid shelter dad had constructed in the garden. It was where the family would spend many more nights before the air raid danger eventually eased.
The following night, dad was on patrol when a high explosive bomb landed on farmland on the edge of the village. Luckily for dad (and by extension for me, because I wasn’t born until nine years after these events) the bomb plunged into the soft ground and failed to detonate.
In the morning, dad went into Swansea to see the devastation. “High Street, Castle Street, Oxford Street – a huge square where everything had been flattened. The smell of burning everywhere.”
So, back to the film. The critics had been decidedly luke-warm about it; they hadn’t seen what the point had been in making it. I thought it did no harm to the tv series’s legacy, but confirmed that the subject matter was much better suited to the small rather than the big screen.
When it attempts a suitably cinematic finale, it loses the absurdity and innocence that gave the tv episodes their special charm. The moment Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson and the rest of the platoon start exchanging gunfire with German soldiers, the magic is lost.
Still, Swansea’s very own Catherine Zeta Jones looks wonderful as a writer for The Lady magazine.
Retired Bloke Rating: OK **/5