‘Mysterious Death Ray Man made his mark on our village’
A pensioner recalls visiting the secret lab of a Second World War ‘death ray’ inventor – and other tales. Geraint Thomas reports...
NEW stories centred around a World War II death ray scientist who built a secret laboratory on a remote Swansea mountaintop have come to light.
Lifelong Craigcefnparc resident Hubert Jones has recalled meeting the secretive Harry Grindell Matthews, hearing his private aeroplane come and go, visiting his highsecurity laboratory and even searching for his lost cat.
The 87-year-old, who was a schoolboy in the village at the time, has shared his memories after the BBC mentioned the inventor in its 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy series, citing his small contribution to developing radar.
It is said that Matthews had claimed to have invented a death ray in the early 1920s, which, he announced, could stop an engine at distance, bring down aircraft, ignite explosives and incapacitate infantry from four miles.
The War Office demanded a demonstration of the death ray, which it then denounced as a fraud. Curiously, though, a High Court injunction was granted forbidding Matthews to sell the rights.
Former Mawr councillor Ioan Richard explained the Gloucestershire-born inventor’s local association. He said: “Matthews arrived in Craigcefnparc in 1934, it was very much talked about in the village. He was known as the Death Ray Man. I think he was trying to perfect a laser beam but he was involved in numerous things.
“As a boy growing up in the village the older people all had their stories about Matthews. He was known as Death Ray Matthews.
“His home and laboratory was on the edge of Mynydd y Gwair, north of Swansea, and the building is still there today. It was an ideal location in those days; a well-hidden site, even though everyone in the village seemed to have known about it!”
Recalling his own memories, Mr Jones said: “He arrived in the village before the war and kept himself to himself. His wife was American, apparently. We knew he was a scientist and was doing something. He had a death ray or something. He told Churchill, apparently, that he could stop an enemy plane coming into London but I heard that they didn’t back him.
“I was eight or nine when I first remember him, he was a very independent chap, you hardly ever saw him, you may see him pass through the village in his car – you couldn’t miss him as there were only around six cars in the village at that time and his was a large American model, you couldn’t miss him – or you would hear his aeroplane coming in to land. He had his own private plane and airfield behind his laboratory.
“As boys we went up there once or twice but it was frightening. You weren’t at home up there. Everything was fenced off and secured with big gates.”
Mr Jones is convinced that the Germans knew all about Matthews and believes his work was even targeted. He said: “My uncle had a farm in the village and he was out in the fields one day when he saw something in the hedge. He went to investigate and it was a parachute; a black one. He took it up to the village policeman, Jack John; my cousin, Raymond, wanted to keep it as it was made of pure silk.
“I remember we came out from school and the parachute was laid out on the road with Jack John. It was a beautiful thing and belonged to a German; that’s what Jack John said. A spy must have come down in the field, perhaps looking for Matthews.”
Mr Jones still recalls one occasion when the inventor ventured into the village.
He said: “The first time I met him in person was when he came to the school one morning to ask the children to look for his cat. It was a pedigree Persian cat, worth some money, and he offered a £5 reward. Everyone went mad; that was two weeks’ wages back then. Everybody in the village was out looking for the cat. Eileen Jones found it.”
Mr Jones was to get a look inside the laboratory a few years later but was left disappointed.
He said: “When the bombing started in Swansea a married couple, who had been bombed out, came to lodge with us. The husband was a plumber by trade and the message came down from the farm, that was looking after Matthews’ bungalow, that he had a water leak.
“It was a Sunday morning and the plumber asked me to go up with him to show him the way. We went up to the farm and were given the key to the bungalow. We went in and the place was deserted. The laboratory was huge.
“Where he went to during the war I don’t know; whether he went to work on research for the government.
“The plumber did the job but it wasn’t on the mains. I don’t know how he managed for water and electric; he must have had his own generator.
“To cap it all a bus was taking workers up to the bungalow and the airstrip behind it. They were digging the runway up. They made huge trenches. The plumber and I went in one; it was deep, like a big grave. There were dozens and dozens of them. I think it was to stop enemy planes landing there.”
Unbeknownst to Mr Jones the laboratory had been cleared out after Matthews had died.
Mr Richard explained: “He died, aged 61, in his laboratory in 1941; it was a massive heart attack.”
He went on: “The village policeman, Jack John, would have got to know him as he would have patrolled the place during the war.
“Only seven people attended the funeral and PC John was one of them. He was cremated in Pontypridd and his ashes were spread on the mountain near his laboratory.”
> An artist’s drawing of Matthews’ death ray
> Harry Grindell Matthews
> Hubert Jones