‘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...

Western Mail - - SHARES -

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

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