Camouflaging cattle at Dynevor during World War II

By Lawrence Alderson, CBE, President of the White Park Cattle Society

A recent enquiry regarding the Second World War caused me to search the archives of the Dynevor herd. There were confirmed reports that a Luftwaffe bomber flying up the Tywi valley in South Wales caused considerable concern. In particular it was thought the white cattle might be used as a navigational aid by German pilots because of their distinctive appearance. A colourful and amusing story appeared in several publications claiming the cattle were camouflaged to hide them from aerial view. Although many dismissed it as apocryphal whimsy it justified some research.

As early as the 1950s an opinion was expressed that “the herd was camouflaged with a green dye” and an article written in 1991 stated “it is reported that during the Second World War, because the cattle were clearly visible against the green background, they were painted with camouflage colouring to hide them from enemy aircraft. Evidently the first shower of rain wasted that effort”. I made a similar statement in ‘A Breed of Distinction’ (1997) which I repeated in ‘Breeding the Best (2019) – “towards the end of the twentieth century older people in the Llandeilo area remember the cattle were marked with green camouflage paint during the Second World War which unfortunately served only to cause war within the herd as the animals did not recognise each other.”

So where does he truth lie? In 1997 I had correspondence with a retired veterinary surgeon who was born in Llandeilo in the 1920s. I quote from his letter of 1 May to me:

“During the war I was away at Veterinary school, but I well recall my uncle who was then farming directly opposite Dynevor Park, across the River Towy, relating to me the saga of the estate staff efforts at camouflaging the white cattle from being sighted by German aircraft, when the possibility of an invasion became imminent after Dunkirk. The cattle were all collected and covered in an oil-based cement paint! The following day the park was like a slaughterhouse, the cattle had all regarded each other as strangers and fought throughout the night: this was confirmed to me in conversation with the late Vivian John, who had attended the herd as their Vet Srgn from before the war until their dispersal due to double death duty.”

He is the most reliable source, firstly as his parents were tenants of the Dynevor Estate and his family had been employees for several generations, and secondly as his account was confirmed by the veterinary surgeon who was responsible for the herd at that time and until I purchased it in the mid-1970s.

Dynevor cattle taken during the 1930s