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Milford Born and Bred en-GB

by Anita Wheeler

Anita tells her story about growing up in Milford Haven and performing with Milford Operatic

I’m Milford Haven born and bred, in fact Prioryville. I went to Milford Grammar School three days before my 11th birthday and I left there to go to work at Foster Wheeler when I was 17.

I’ve sung all my life and at school I was the soloist singing on St David’s Day and at school speech days. When I left the Grammar School in the January, the school was about to amalgamate the choir with the choir of the Central School, which was the secondary school at the time. In the previous October of we’d sung the Hallelujah Chorus. Now, Wally Walters was our music teacher. Later he left Milford and was a big noise on the music scene and at the University of Liverpool.

I’d been at work about three weeks to a month when Wally came and knocked on the door and said, “Is there any chance you can come back to school for an afternoon?”. I said “Pardon?” and he explained that because I had a strong soprano voice and could hit the top notes of the Hallelujah Chorus they needed me back because they had no one else who could do it which meant they weren’t going to sing it at the school concert. I was very surprised and said I didn’t know because I’d only been at work a few weeks.  But Wally told me that Mr Tidswell, who was the headmaster, had been in touch with my boss at Foster Wheeler, John Coulson, to ask if he would allow me to go back to school for an afternoon. He agreed so I went back to school. I remember telling Wally that I hadn’t sung his arrangement and he said he’d drop the music off for me, but he didn’t!

I got to school about an hour before we were due to start and I asked if we could have a run through. He said fine and asked me to stand at the back so everyone could hear me well. We sang the Hallelujah Chorus and I went up to the top notes and everyone went up with me. I told them I couldn’t keep coming back every year! And the funny thing was, my Mum had sold my uniform when I left, apart from the skirt. So when I went back when I had to borrow a blouse and tie. Once you’ve left school you don’t want to wear a white blouse again, do you?

I’ve sung all my life. I sang with Milford Operatic Society, Haverfordwest Operatic Society, and as a soloist when I was in school. I lost my speaking voice about three years ago for some unknown reason and for quite a while. When it eventually came back my singing voice was gone, but I’m nearly 81 so what can you expect. I took leading soprano roles – I was the Mother Abbess in Sound of Music; I was Nettie Fowler in Carousel who sings You’ll Never Walk Alone and as far as I’m concerned that song’s mine! That song gives me goosebumps and my hair stands on end listening to myself singing it even now. It’s a very moving part in the show and I played Nettie once and then a few years after I did it again. I had to audition both times and I thought to myself nobody is going to sing that but me for the second time. I thought that if I didn’t get the part I wouldn’t be able to be in the play because I could not stand listening to someone else singing it. But I got the part, so that was fine.

When I was a child my mother was a cleaner for Dr Bernard Evans in Hamilton Terrace. He was an amazing doctor and very musical himself. The first year I was in grammar school I had a solo to sing for speech day and obviously because I hadn’t been there the year before, my Mum shouldn’t have had an invitation to attend but because I was singing she got one. Anyway, I sang Wher’er You Walk by Handel, and a lady in the audience who was a singing teacher heard me and got in touch with my music master at school to say she’d like to train me. He told me and my mother and she must have mentioned it to Dr Evans because he said I could have lessons and that he would pay for it. And he paid for my lessons until I got married. So I had lessons from the age of 11 to 18 – if he hadn’t paid I wouldn’t have had lessons because we would not have been able to afford it. I’m very thankful to Dr Evans. He was a beautiful pianist too and had a baby grand in his flat. He was a lovely man. It’s a sad story in a way but he was a friend and he came to the school and we did a tape recording for him.

I remember Dr Evans didn’t have a surgery on Thursday afternoons and my mother used to go and clean so the surgery would be ready for Friday. One day there were workers laying the pavements down. Dr Evans lived in a big flat above the surgery. My mother was walking down the road and saw the two workmen standing with their hands on their shovels. And they said to my mother “Can you hear that voice? It’s a little girl singing!” and my mother said “Yes, I can and she’s my daughter!”. Dr Evans had visitors in his flat and the windows were open and they were listening to the tape and so the workmen heard it too.

Wenmouth Harris and his Dad had an electrical shop in Milford – and he took recordings of my voice too. He had the first tape recorder I’d seen – big silver thing with two spools, and I was walking down Priory Road one weekend and there were people standing on the pavement and I could hear they were listening to my recording. And he called me across and said to everyone “This is the little girl you’re listening to!”

I went to lots of local Eisteddfodau over the years and if you won they gave you money – probably 5 shillings, and they’d give it to you in a little handmade purse you wore around your neck. I should have kept one but I got rid of a lot of stuff over the years and they must have gone too.  Music and singing have been a very big part of my life.

My husband Paul and I moved location several times for his work. At one point we had three moves in a year and we had two children by then and I said once David, my son, had started school I’m not moving any more. So we came back to Milford in 1964 and Paul was working for Humphreys & Glasgow and was travelling back and forth for a while. After studying a floristry we opened the florist shop in Milford which we ran together for 27 years. Paul was the florist and I used to do all the preparation for him and the deliveries. At the crematorium they knew when he’d done the flowers because he had a trademark style which was very good.

I’m very happy to still be living in Milford though my son David, who was teacher lives in Exmouth, and my daughter Alison and grandson Alex live in Southampton. I still drive and go to visit them. It takes me a while but driving gets me out and about.  I go out with my friends for lunch and I go to the Torch Theatre all the time. And I’ve been a volunteer with the police for 20 years. I work on the computer linking with Neighbourhood Watch contacts across the patch and I contact local businesses to make sure the keyholder information we hold for them is correct. My work has been recognised a number of times as has my lemon cake!

You can hear Anita sing You’ll Never Walk Alone, recorded in 1989 for the Haverfordwest Operatic Society’s production of Carousel below.

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