A Second World War hero is starting a new life at a flagship sheltered housing scheme – 75 years after he cheated death at the hands of the Nazi SS.
Alf Davies, 95, was a VIP guest at the official opening of the £4.2 million development built by housing association Cartrefi Conwy in Llandudno.
Alf is one of the tenants of Cysgod y Gogarth (Shadow of the Orme) and his remarkable memories of escaping the deadly clutches of the SS have been chronicled for posterity in a time capsule that’s been buried at the site.
Six other tenants have also been interviewed about their life stories.
As they retreated towards Dunkirk in the face of the German blitzkrieg through France and Belgium in the summer of 1940, a group of British soldiers were surrounded by the brutal Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler unit.
Some were taken prisoner and later 80 of them were cut down by grenades and bullets as they were herded into a barn.
But among those who managed to escape the notorious Wormhout Massacre, as it came to be known, was a young Alf who was serving with a local battery of the Royal Artillery.
He eventually made his way to the coast and evacuation back to Britain and lived to fight his way through Europe until the end of the war in 1945.
For many years Alf has been a tenant of Cartrefi Conwy and was invited to take a special place on the guest list at the fanfare opening of Cysgod y Gogarth in Trinity Avenue where he is affectionately known to fellow residents as “Ambush Alf” because of his narrow escape from death.
Cartefi Conwy has replaced two of its two ageing sheltered housing schemes – Llys Seiriol and the adjoining Llys Eryl – with 30 new state-of-the-art apartments and houses for older people on the same site.
The ground-breaking development, which sets new standards in energy efficiency, has been planned with the emphasis firmly on the “people power” of how its residents want it to look and be used and also aims to be a social hub for the wider community.
Designed by award-winning architects and built by Colwyn Bay-based RL Davies Construction Ltd, Cysgod y Gogarth features a diverse mix of 26 apartments, of one and two bedrooms, plus four houses, two with two bedrooms and two with three bedrooms.
Ambush Alf, who starred in a documentary film, Bringing Back Memories, that was commissioned by Cartrefi Conwy and is now in Llandudno Museum, survived the 1940 massacre in the town with which Llandudno is now twinned by jumping into a river and escaping across fields before making it to the evacuation beaches at Dunkirk.
“After the ambush I ended up with some of the lads in a garage which had some cars in it. The Germans were firing at us and the bullets were hitting the cars and we were just trying to keep down,” he recalled.
“I managed to escape after one of the men smashed a window and we were able to get out through the back of the building.
“Basically, we jumped into a river to escape. Some turned left while me and a couple of mates turned the other way and made our way down the river.
“We later found out that the ones who went the other way were caught and put in a barn with a lot of other British troops.
“The SS called the men out five at a time and shot them down in cold blood.”
Alf, a great grandad of four, added: “I lived at Llys Eryl for 18 years and wanted to move into the new Cysgod y Gogarth when it opened.
“The ground floor flat I now have is very nice and the staff are all very helpful to me.
“I never thought I’d live in a place as smart as this and it’s great to be invited along to the official opening.
“I was dead lucky escaping from that ambush and to live long enough to be able to move into a nice place like this is amazing.”
Fellow resident June Ann Perry, 70, was chosen to help cut the ribbon on the new development alongside Cllr Andrew Hinchcliff, older person’s champion for Conwy Council.
Ann, who is Llandudno born and bred, said: “I used to live in a two-bedroom flat at Llys Eryl and was one of the first people to move into this new development.
“I’ve actually got the second floor penthouse flat, also with two bedrooms, and it’s just beautiful.
“In fact, I think the whole place is posher than some hotels I’ve been in and I just can’t believe I’m living here.
“My name was picked from a hat to help cut the ribbon and I’m very lucky to have been chosen.”
Cllr Andrew Hinchliff said as he declared the development open: “It is a great pleasure to be asked to formally open this fantastic new development that brings to life Conwy Council’s Older Person’s Housing Strategy.
“The project is a fantastic testament to the fantastic partnership work taking place between the council and Cartrefi Conwy.”
Iwan Davies chief executive of Conwy Council, who was also at the opening ceremony, said: “There’s a world of difference between the two older developments which stood on the site and Cysgod y Gogarth, which meets an identified need for housing for older people in this area.
“Having a smart new landmark development like this in such a key location lifts the whole area.
“The council very much values the close working relationship we have with Cartrefi Conwy.”
Also impressed with the new development was Dr Peter Higson OBE, chair of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, who was another key guest at the opening.
He said: “The health board is very keen to work with housing associations such as Cartrefi Conwy to support people as they get older.
“Cygod y Gogarth is the future and has got to be the way forward for all of us.”
Cartrefi Conwy Chief Executive Andrew Bowden said: “This is a flagship development and another big step in Cartrefi Conwy’s provision of modern and flexible accommodation for older people living in the community.
“Here they can have the best of both worlds. They can live independently and, if they need more support as their circumstances change, that can be provided in the same facility.
“At Cysgod y Gogarth we want to create a real community and provide the very best for older people.
“I hope I will provide a positive contribution to Conwy Council’s older person’s strategy.
“I would also like to thank our architect and our contractor, the local Colwyn Bay-based RL Davies, for the fantastic job they have done on the development.
“It is also commendable that they used 95 per cent local labour and had 12 trainees doing work experience on the project.”
And there were warm applause as Mr Bowden added: “Cysgod y Gogarth is fit for the older generation and fit for heroes.
“And we have our own Second World War hero, Ambush Alf, here with us today.
“His is a fantastic story and what you did for us all during the war is absolutely marvellous.”
The new development has ground, first and second floor levels, with the upper floors being served by a lift – something the blocks it replaced did not have.
It is attractively set within landscaped gardens and has parking areas reserved for tenants and their guests.
Each home is designed to be fully accessible for disabled tenants, with a modern bathroom and fitted kitchen.
A key feature of the development is that it has been designed around a “community hub” area where residents can go to mingle with friends and enjoy a range of leisure facilities.
This area will also be available as a venue for local groups to host a range of events and activities.
Tenants of Llys Seiriol and Llys Eryl were given the option of signing up for a place in the new development and moving into temporary accommodation until it is ready, or transferring to other Cartrefi Conwy housing schemes.
A significant number opted for the new development and were consulted every step of the way as it took shape.
A steering group of residents for Cysgod y Gogarth was formed and its members have taken decisions on its interior design and branding in terms of what its logo should be.
They also had a major say on what activities and events are held in the community hub, which will be available for the whole community to use.
As part of the consultation process residents even chose the name of the development – which is Shadow of the Orme in English.
Cartrefi Conwy formulated the rebuilding plan after deciding that Llys Seiriol and Llys Eryl, which were both around 50 years old, did not meet Welsh Government housing quality standards.