Written by Grafton Maggs
THE DAY THAT ‘SPUD’ MURPHY ‘MADE THE FRONT PAGE’.
In the virtually crime-free and uneventful society of pre-war Mumbles, it was indeed a rare event for a local person to be featured in a newspaper, yet alone ‘make the front page’! Apart from the Jackson Murder in Limeslade, earlier in the century, and heroic missions undertaken by the revered Mumbles Lifeboat, little sensational happened in this peaceful village. Those of a cynical disposition would say that nothing ever happened at all! Maybe, but, that was the way we liked it, because, in spite of the economic depression that was tearing the heart out of communities everywhere, life for youngsters in Mumbles was pretty good, as it was!
The ‘Mumbles Star’ (Proprietor: ‘Nobby’ Tucker, of the Dunns) would supply, weekly, riveting news about local weddings, funerals, fetes and Church bazaars but it was the ‘Evening Post’ that handled the big stuff such as: local election results, lost ‘bus tickets, stolen bicycle clips and earthquakes in Japan. I remember with great pride, when in 1937, my doting parents bought several thousand copies of the latter paper because my name was listed amongst those successful children who had passed the ‘Scholarship’ and gained a place in the Grammar School system. Copies were despatched, world wide (some as far as Manselton) to totally disinterested relatives to show what a clever little boy I was. Many of my cousins never, ever, spoke to me again.
Occasionally, however, something spectacular did happen in Mumbles worthy of front-page coverage. One such incident was in 1933.
The youngest member of the family
It concerned the youngest member of the Murphy family, a highly respected and much liked family who were domiciled in Overland Road. They worked hard, were regular communicants at Our Lady Star of the Sea and enjoyed the social life of Mumbles, to the full. Without any doubt, the most popular member of this clan was the last-born, known to one and all as ‘Spud’. Unfortunately, Spud was born with a skeletal developmental problem, which had inhibited his physical growth to the extent that he was very much shorter than his contemporaries. Also, an eye defect made the wearing of thick lensed glasses a necessity. By any standards, he was a disadvantaged child, but what inadequacies he had, added to the protective affection felt by all those who knew him. Not that he needed protection; he lived life to the full and was in the thick of all activity, no matter how perilous!
His legs were too short to reach the pedals of his battered bike, but ingeniously, one of his siblings had attached thick blocks of wood to those pedals, compensating for this deficiency. A grubby piece of knicker elastic knotted to his glasses, went around the back of his head and kept them in place. As a result, he was able to involve himself in cricket and football, making up for his lacking physique with Irish cunning, stealth and enthusiasm.
Perhaps his greatest joy was found in the fellowship of the 1st Mumbles Cubs Pack from which he graduated in 1936 to become a member of the 1st Mumbles Scouts Troop.
Annual Camping Competition
In 1936, Seagulls Patrol, of this Troop, competed in an annual camping competition at Summerlands, Caswell, for the coveted Pressdee Trophy. Haydn (Ginger) Williams (later of the RAF and local Constabulary) was the Patrol Leader, I was the Second and the rest of the squad consisted of Alan Hill (later to become a Police Sergeant after war service in RM Commandos), John (Chops) Williams (one of the Honey family) and young Spud. We did extremely well, being beaten narrowly into second place by Bill Barrington’s Patrol, from Major Hyett’s, 3rd Mumbles Troop. Spud played a very big part in our honourable defeat. Mind you, there were only two teams in the competition.
So, in spite of his small stature he always held his own but in 1934, these high spirited activities very nearly cost him his life and, unwittingly, were to set him apart from all his Mumbles contemporaries with him being featured on the front page of the South Wales Evening Post. He became a local hero!
It happened like this: the top of the Mumbles Hill, in those days, was far less densely wooded than it is now, and, with its deep undulations, trench-like divides, lent itself readily to be transformed, in the fertile minds of the young, into a cratered, Somme-like battle field housing grey-clad Huns (baddies) and khaki-clad Tommies (goodies) or, a prairie ambush with Cowboys (goodies) and Apaches (baddies) or, a Chicago street featuring a Tommy gun duel between Cops (goodies) and scar faced gangsters (baddies). The scenarios were infinite.
On one such day, Spud was running for his life being pursued by an Apache Chief and a dozen or so hollering Braves. Scalping, and worse, was imminent! Running Bear (who looked remarkably like Woodville Road’s Stanley Baglow) was almost within a tomahawk slice of his fleeing prey when Spud, made the greatest mistake of his life.
He looked around!
When he saw the raised tomahawk and the demented blood lust in Running Bear’s eyes, he called upon the last of his draining reserves. He forced his little legs into an even greater mad pumping action to gain the top of the hillock before him, still looking back!
He gained the top of that hillock but, such was his momentum that he carried on, and on, …..and on!
And then,… down, and down,…….and down!
With horror, the dreadful reality of the situation clutched his heart in icy hands!
He was falling off the top of the Mumbles Hill!
The terror of the situation seemed to freeze time and the drop seemed endless. Then suddenly! Bushes, branches, ferns, bracken tore at the thin clothes on his little body, dragged through the hair on his unprotected head and slashed at his face. Then, yet another plunge before a similar clutching and abrading by the undergrowth slowed him down to drop on the gravelled surface of the car park behind the Conservative Club, Southend. There he lie, scratched, bleeding and semi conscious.
By the Grace of God, this fall had been witnessed by Cliff Peters who lived in a house adjoining the Carlton Hotel. Cliff had been walking home and as he passed the Conservative Club had had his attention drawn to the summit of the Hill by a hollering shout of terror. To his horror he saw a small body fly over the summit and tumble down the almost vertical cliff face, to disappear behind the Club. He tore up the side lane and, dreading the worst, rushed to the pathetic, spread-eagled little figure lying there so very, very still. Cliff was no superman and it was debatable as to who was in a worse state of shock, himself or the victim at his feet. Yet with commendable alacrity, he burst into the Club and shouted for the ‘phone. As a result, an ambulance was soon on its way. Again, Cliff’s reactions were beyond reproach, he returned to the prostrate Spud and as others came to the scene, prevented them from moving the boy. He placed his coat over Spud who gave a groan and fluttered his eyes- a gasp of relief came from the on-lookers-he was, at least, alive!
Doctor and Ambulance
Very soon the blue uniformed ambulance men arrived, accompanied by a doctor. He conducted an examination and saw that Spud was rapidly coming to. The doctor decided that it was safe to move the injured lad and he was stretchered off to the Swansea General Hospital where a host of shiny red-cheeked, starched-aproned, bonny nurses waited. The police were informed, the site visited and questions asked. Within minutes, PC Ted Southall arrived at the Murphy home to inform the family of the accident, to reassure and offer assistance.
The Mumbles bush telegraph went into action. Within the hour, everyone from Limeslade to West Cross, had heard of Spud’s dramatic fall from the top of the Mumbles Hill.
Mumbles waited breathlessly for news!
And glad tidings came! By early evening, the small closed community of Mumbles relaxed with the news that, apart from shock and lacerations, the much-loved Spud was going to be OK!
The following night, the South Wales Evening Post, gave the top of its front page to the incident. Headlines splashed across the page with the announcement:
“ Mumbles Boy Survives 170 foot Cliff Fall!”
A photograph showed the cliff face with a superimposed dotted white line demonstrating the course of the fall. At the side of this was a rather blurred close-up image of a bespectacled grinning Spud taken at a happier time. The Post gave an eye witness’s account of the accident followed by a brief medical report which stated that the bushes which had broken his fall had inflicted minor lacerations to his person. This, and a degree of shock would keep him in hospital for a few days..
Luck of the Irish
It was an incredibly fortunate escape and was befitting of the old adage- “the Luck of the Irish!”
A few days later, a reporter was allowed to visit Spud for a follow up story and, then, as now, asked that usual sort of half-baked question which we expect from their ilk,
“ Were you frightened when you were falling?”
“Yes, I thought it would make me late for dinner!”
It all finished on a happy note. Spud was soon home and after the inevitable telling-off from his mother, was cocooned in the loving warmth of his family, a hero and little the worse for wear.
Spud Murphy at the tender age of seven had, indeed, “made the front page”! Yet his good luck did not finish there. Whilst in hospital, one of his brothers came back to the Con Club car park to look for his glasses. He found them straight away- hanging by a grubby piece of knicker elastic from one of those branches that saved his life- completely undamaged!