Great Britain

Unseen for decades, stunning pictures of Wales in WWII

The pictures will be published for the first time in decades as part of an exclusive series in the Daily Express

Eighty years ago, Britain stood alone against the might of the German war machine.

France had been defeated, and the Battle of Britain had raged in the skies for four months.

The Blitz had destroyed huge swathes of the nation’s cities, while Hitler had launched Operation Sealion - his plan to invade the UK.

Now, as the nation marks the 80th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Britain, thousands of dramatic images of the Second World War at home and abroad can now be seen for the first time in generations.

The striking images, contained in the huge Mirrorpix archive, have been digitised for the first time, and will be available from tomorrow in a four-part series only in the Daily Express.

Among them are haunting photographs of the extensive damage sustained in Swansea in a three-night blitz in February 1941, which left many of the town’s most distinctive buildings, including St Mary’s Church, the Ben Evans department store and the Victorian market.

The raids left 230 Swansea residents dead and a further 409 injured while more than 850 properties were destroyed and 11,000 buildings damaged.

Swansea’s port area and the oil refinery just beyond were major targets for the Luftwaffe, as the Nazis wanted to hamper coal exports and demoralise the residents of the town which for years had been at the centre of Britain’s metal industries.

In Cardiff, bombs fell most heavily on the residential areas of Llandaff, Grangetown and Riverside, but as our images show, the city’s brave residents attempted to retain the greatest degree of normality possible, holding snowball fights and seeing children playing in the streets amid the wreckage.

Nonetheless, the damage was extensive.

The raid which hit the cathedral was part of a wider blitz on the city which left 167 people dead in one night. The German Luftwaffe dropped around 100 bombs and 350 homes were destroyed. The raid began just after 6.30pm and lasted 10 hours. No one was killed at the site itself, unlike elsewhere in Cardiff.

German air raids saw 2,100 bombs dropped and 355 people killed.

The first bombs fell in July 1940 and the city was hit several times until the final air raid took place in 1944.

At the time, Cardiff was still the biggest coal-exporting port in the UK, but the bombs fell across the city and were not limited to its industrial heart. And following a raid on January 2, 1941 the nave of Llandaff Cathedral was completely shattered and much of the peaceful building was left in ruins.

Across Wales and the UK there was a similar story, as the terrible onslaught caused horrific damage that would take decades to recover from.

But as the images show, the spirit of the people bearing the brunt of the suffering could not be broken.

The People’s War In Pictures is a collectable partwork series that will run in the Daily Express over four days, starting tomorrow, October 30, with brilliant photographs, unseen for decades, that paint a picture portrait of the spirit which helped Britain survive its darkest hours.

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