As we near Remembrance Day, residents of the Gloucestershire care charity Lilian Faithfull Care share their first-hand experiences of conflicts and serving in the forces. These remarkable memories are giving added meaning to the commemorations being held across the charity this weekend.
Gwyneth Evans at Astell House care home
Gwyneth celebrated her 100th birthday at Astell House earlier in the year. She graduated from Swansea University during the Second World War and had to go ‘before the Board’ to be told what job to do. As she was bilingual in Welsh and English, she was sent, with one week’s notice, to London to work at the War Office.
“Well I didn’t know where the war office was, I knew it was in Whitehall but because the war was on they’d taken all the names off the buildings. I had to ask someone where it was. I walked up all these steps and at the top I was stopped by two soldiers with fixed bayonets who said, ‘and where young lady do you think you are going?’ ‘Oh lord’ I thought, anyway I told them and they said, ‘You go round the corner to the side entrance.’ I thought ‘this is a good start, dear dear’. You know, I’ve looked back on that quite a lot because nobody asked ‘have you got anywhere to live in London?’ You were just told you start on Tuesday and get on with it. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had two cousins who had a flat in London and I was able to go and live with them. You can’t go to a big city when you don’t know anyone can you.”
She met her future husband on her first day at the War Office and they were married for 60 years!
Joseph Cheetham at Faithfull House care home
Joseph Cheetham, aged 91 lives with his wife Margaret in Faithfull House, on Suffolk Square in Cheltenham. He served in the Navy for two years during his national service from 1954. Joseph (on the right) is pictured here with his Chief Officer. Joseph particularly enjoyed getting ‘back on the water’ earlier this year when Faithfull House took a day cruise thanks to The Willow Trust.
Elizabeth Shanks at Royal Court care home
Liz Shanks, aged 76 lives in an apartment at Royal Court. She served in the Royal Navy Reserves on HMS Caroline in Belfast for many years. At that time women weren’t able to go to sea and Liz was part of the campaign for change “and it worked!”
Doreen Rowland at Faithfull House care home
Doreen Rowland, aged 93 lives at Faithfull House in Cheltenham and was a school girl when the second world war started. She has vivid memories of watching the dog fights during the Battle of Britain over her family’s farm in Kent;
“[When the war started] our peaceful idyllic lives were suddenly thrown into turmoil with activity everywhere. All signposts were taken away, as were all iron gates and railings, which were melted down to make guns. Army troops moved into surrounding orchards and fields with anti-aircraft guns, all heavily camouflaged.”
“Many a time we had to delay leaving home for school because of an air raid and as the school was over two miles away we quite often had to jump into a ditch, this being the only shelter available. As soon as the sirens sounded, our own fighters would take off and were soon engaged in ‘dogfights’. It was a familiar sight to see planes shot down and pilots bailing out. During the early hours of one morning we were surrounded by bombs. We thought a plane was coming down in flames but it turned out to be a basketful of incendiary bombs. There were terrible explosions everywhere, windows shattered, the back door was blown off and beds shook and moved across the floor… My father discovered three unexploded bombs in the field 150 yards from our house…. We were very lucky not to have received a direct hit. I can remember picking up the propaganda leaflets that had been dropped by enemy aircraft over night as well as handfuls of silver, metallic strips which had been dropped to try and confuse the radar.”
These memories, along with many other personal experiences, will give Remembrance Day commemorations in the six care homes and day hub in Gloucestershire a special resonance for many staff and residents.