Wartime Wrexham and it’s contribution
WREXHAM, during the 1914-18 war felt the full impact of the hardships and heartbreaks of war. Hightown Barracks, as the depot of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers saw the hasty mobilisation of troops for active service in France and Wrexham was familiar with the ceremonial departure of battalions for the front.
Memorials in the town and surrounding villages tell their own story of the men who made the extreme sacrifice. In the second world war, Wrexham’s involvement was just as great, although the town came through unscathed by the bombing which ravaged larger towns and cities. Bombs did, however, fall on Brymbo, Gresford and Rhos, causing damage, and in the latter two villages, casualties.
In August, 1940, German bombers droned northwards to Liverpool night after night. Late one evening, a pathfinder aircraft dropped incendiaries on the mountain above Rhos, setting the mountain, tinder dry with bracken and gorse, alight from end to end. Sheep and wildlife were roasted alive and Wrexham and surrounding villages were engulfed in stifling smoke for days afterwards. The igniting of the mountain attracted following bombers who attacked what they assumed was an important target.
Most of the bombs fell harmlessly but one high explosive demolished Plas Ucha Farm, Penycae, killing the three elderly occupants. A bomb dropped in Osborne Street, Rhos had failed to explode, but at 8.30 a.m. the following day it exploded killing two occupants, a neighbour, three boys on their way to school, and a passer-by.
In the same raid, two unexploded bombs fell at Newtown, Gresford. One exploded the following day, killing nine people standing nearby and injuring several others.
During the second world war, Hightown Barracks, became an important recruiting depot. Many local mansions were requisitioned for billeting of troops, and Acton Hall accommodated in turn, British, American and Indian forces. Penley was the site of a U.S. Army hospital.
Borras Airfield was constructed at the beginning of the war as an R.A.F. fighter station, and some of its runways had survived for use as a private airfield.
Wrexham’s greatest contribution to the war effort was, however, the manufacture of munitions. Several hundred acres of farm-land east of Wrexham were taken over to establish the Royal Ordnance Factory, Marchwiel. Manufacture was carried out in reinforced buildings dispersed over a wide area, for safety reasons, and some of the buildings still survive. At the factory’s peak, more than 10,000 were engaged on munitions work. Following the war, the site with a network of roads and all mains services proved ideal for conversion into the industrial estate we see today.