Interview with Gwendolen Wadmore


Interview with Gwendolen Wadmore


Gwendolen Wadmore was born in London in 1922, and lived there throughout the Second World War. Her early memories are marching with the Girl Guides. She left school at 14 and began work in a tailor’s shop; at the start of the war she was employed in the manufacturing of handbags for gas masks. The family lived close to Clapham Junction, a regular target for enemy bombers. Watching the barrage balloons being launched was early warning that air raids were expected. After one such raid, they returned from shelter to find the house opposite had taken a direct hit; their house also suffered blast damage. The bodies being removed wrapped in carpets is a particularly sad memory. Sleep was a problem in shelters which were cold, uncomfortable and smelly. She remembers arriving at work one morning and slept at her machine until after lunchtime. Gwendolen married in 1941 to a part-time band leader she had met through her love of dancing. They hastily married in a register office, followed by a paltry reception: toast was taken with tea. She remembers saving coupons for the food, ham and corn beef sandwiches, supplemented by eggs from the black market. Wedding presents were simple and useful. Her first child, Carol, was born in 1943. The baby was required to sleep in a modified metal crib which acted as a gas mask. The V-1 bombs are an unpleasant memory, the silence after the engines stopped particularly frightening. The V-2 were not so bad because no one heard them until the explosion occurred.




Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage





01:14:50 audio recording

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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 27th of December 2017 and we're in Norbury, London talking with Gwen Wadmore who actually lives in Gloucestershire and is staying with her daughter Carol Garrett and son-in-law Roger in London.
RG: Partner.
CG: Partner.
RG: Partner.
CB: So, Gwen, I’ll fix it later. Gwen, what are your, what do you remember first about your life?
GW: Being in the Girl's Life Brigade. I was about twelve. No. Eleven then.
CB: And what were you doing?
GW: The school.
CB: Yeah. In school. And when you were in the Brigade what did you do?
GW: I was the little one at the front. I was the mascot.
CB: The mascot.
GW: Yeah.
CB: Right.
GW: We used to walk down the street with the band behind me. I used to hold the flag.
CB: And where was that?
GW: In Battersea.
CB: Right. And what were the occasions when you would do that?
GW: Anything. On Sunday mostly. We just used to walk around the streets on parade. I can’t really —
CB: Was that all the people at school? With all your friends at school was it?
GW: Yes. They were all little ones. Please help me.
CB: And what did your parents do?
GW: My mum was an ordinary mum. And my dad [pause] I think he was in the catering business.
CB: Right. And what had he done in the First World War?
GW: He was a sergeant. He ended up being the sergeant.
CB: Right. And what decorations did he win in the First World War?
GW: I know he had a military medal twice.
CB: Yeah.
GW: I can’t read it, Carol.
CB: Yes. We've got a picture here. A board here with a picture of him and with his four medals. And, and the medals are the Military Medal and Bar, the ‘14/18, ‘14/15 Star, ‘14/18 Star that is. The General Service Medal and the Victory Medal. And then we have that he worked in the Fire Service later. So, what was that?
GW: In the Second World War.
CB: In the Second World War. Right.
GW: He was a fireman and he used to put the bombs out.
CB: And we’ll just stop there a mo.
[recording paused]
GW: He’s still like a soldier. He made — over his shoulder.
CB: Yeah.
GW: That's where he got the dum dum bullet. In his head and his arm.
CB: Where he was wounded?
GW: Yeah.
CB: Yes. And what type of bullet was it that hit him?
GW: A dum dum bullet.
CB: Right.
GW: I’ve never heard of it before but when he came, when I was old enough to understand he used to tell me about this.
CB: When did he tell you?
GW: When I was sitting on his lap when I was about five. Six. I mean, I wasn't born during the First World War.
CB: When were you born?
GW: When was I born?
CB: Yes.
GW: 1922. When the war was over.
CB: Yes. Yeah. And how —
GW: I had two. A brother and a sister. But they were born during the war or so.
CB: Right. So what age, so now you were born in 1922. Then you went to school in Battersea. Did you?
GW: Yeah. Lambeth.
CB: Lambeth.
GW: Latchmere Road.
CB: Latchmere Road. Right.
GW: And I left when I was fourteen.
CB: And what did you do when you left school?
GW: Into work. My mum got me a job as a tailoress in the West End. I learned. I learned how to in Conduit Street.
CB: So, was it in Conduit Street? Was it in a shop or was it above a shop or what was it?
GW: Above. Above. The shop used to be, used to cater for horse riding.
CB: Oh.
GW: And I used to, with the help of my governor I learned how to sew button holes and re-stitch the riding gear that the well to do people used to wear. And I left there after about two years. I made handbags with the gas masks. You know they used to have gas masks in the bottom of the handbag.
CB: What were the handbags made of?
GW: Oh, calf. You know, they weren't cheap things.
CB: So, was this before the war started or during the war?
GW: During the war because I used to come in to work tired where I used to sit. During the air raids we didn't go to sleep. We used to get on. I used to have to go up the West End to Hyde Park. We used to get on anywhere we'd like. We could. I used to go to work sometimes in a lorry. Sometimes I used to come out of my house in Clapham Road and they used to be bringing out the bodies in bits of carpet. Where the bombs had hit the building in Clapham Road. And then I used to sleep down Clapham North Tube Station [ pause] I know I spent my wedding night underneath my sister-in-law's bed.
CB: When was that?
GW: Pardon?
CB: When was that? When were you married?
GW: Just before [pause] No. I was married two years before Carol was born. What time was that? I can't see. This is a terrible. I should have —
CB: That's all right.
[recording paused]
CG: Two years before me. I was born in ’43.
GW: What was it?
CG: Well, if it was two years before I was born.
GW: Yeah.
CG: It would have been in 1941.
GW: Right.
CG: Is that right?
CB: Yeah.
CG: Yeah. I was born in ’43.
RG: Yeah.
CG: Yeah.
GW: Sorry. I can't remember all of the —
CB: It’s alright. We’ll stop for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: So, from what I gather you, you were, you had to shelter from a bombing raid. Is that what happened? In the —
GW: We got married in a Registrar Office.
CB: Yeah. Where was that?
GW: In Clapham.
CB: Right.
GW: No. Brixton Road.
CB: Right.
GW: There was an air raid on at the time.
CB: Oh. During the wedding?
GW: Yeah.
CB: Gosh.
GW: It was fun. I wasn't frightened of, during the air raids because I got used to them, you know.
CG: You're doing good mummy.
GW: What?
CB: That's good.
CG: You're doing good.
GW: No. I can't remember the dates.
CB: So it was a bit uncomfortable under your sister-in-law's bed.
GW: Well, it wasn't very happy because I remember there was a bit of dirt underneath the bed.
CB: Came off in your hair did it?
GW: Pardon?
CB: Came off in your hair.
GW: Well, it wasn't very nice. Anyway, I was glad to have the bed to get underneath.
CB: Yeah.
GW: Because the bombs were dropping.
CB: What did your husband feel about it?
GW: Well, do I have to answer that?
CB: [laughs] No. But he wasn't out on fire drill was he?
GW: No. He was a musician at the time and we used to go where we couldn't hear the bombs coming down because the band was playing.
CB: Oh right [pause] So he was a professional musician at that time, was he?
GW: Eventually he was.
CB: Yes. What was his job when he was doing this? When you were married.
GW: He used to work in the munitions.
CB: Oh. In a munitions factory. Where was that?
GW: What? Where he used to work.
CB: Yes.
GW: Kings Avenue.
CB: Right.
GW: A big block of flats. Very posh. And they dropped a bomb opposite and it's now a Blind School or a school of some description. I remember my mum got bombed in Kings Avenue. My brother got covered in glass and the house opposite in Kings Avenue got a direct hit and we got the blast from it. Carol was only a baby then. She was in a big bassinet. I remember running up from my, I used to live, when I was married I used to live in the flat above. Right up to the top and I remember [pause] Have a drink for me.
CG: Do you want a drink mummy?
CB: We’ll stop there for a —
GW: No. I’m only joking, Carol.
CG: Do you want one? Have a little sip. Go on [pause] You lived in Rowena Crescent, didn't you? Yeah. Your first wages was fourteen shillings a week and your mum had all of it. Give you two and six. All right?
GW: I remember running out from Clapham North Tube Station when I heard the bombs had hit King's Avenue. And I remember treading over the firemen’s — they were putting the water in and hosing my Mum’s house all down. And they wouldn't let me go up and see her. If she was alright. Anyway, she was alright. She made the firemen a cup of tea. And I was, I don’t know.
CB: So, the bomb had hit their building opposite.
GW: Pardon?
CB: What did the blast do to your mother's house?
GW: It blew all the houses. All of the windows out and the roof come down.
CB: Oh, did it?
GW: She still made a cup of tea.
CB: Amazing.
GW: And the firemen, eventually they let me go past and see her. She was all right. My dad wasn't there. He was fire watching somewhere.
CB: What time of day was this?
GW: This was the morning. When I eventually seen my mother it was about 11, 12 o'clock and my dad was fire watching somewhere. He never used to talk about it a lot. And then Carol grew up a little bit and I moved to opposite the Common.
CG: Tooting Bec Common.
GW: What was the road?
CG: Emmanuel Road.
GW: Emmanuel Road. That was when we really had the bombs because they used to try and hit the railways. Well, my house was right opposite the railways. And I remember opposite my house there was a big RAF balloon manned by girls. WAAF girls. And we, sometimes we used to go down the air raid shelter that was built on the Common. Right, more or less right opposite the, the house. But it was horrible. Really horrible. And they used to have about twelve bunks. We used to stay down there but it was horrible.
CB: What was horrible about it?
GW: Well, it was dark and the bunks were horrible. And the people. I didn't like it a bit and I never used to sleep down there afterwards. About three or four times and that was it. And then they built an air raid shelter in the garden. One of these.
CB: An Anderson. Anderson shelter.
GW: Like an Anderson. And there used to be about ten of us in there. And I remember one fella. He had terrible sweaty feet. He used to stink. Oh, and then one night an air raid the bomb come down and my mum said, ‘That's our house.’ but in the morning we couldn't get out. Then we saw it was only the windows that had gone, come in. The house was still there which was a good thing. What do you want me to—
CB: What did it do to the roof?
GW: Pardon?
CB: What did it do to the roof. The bomb.
GW: What did it do to the roof?
CB: It blew in the windows. What happened to the roof?
GW: I don't know. Just we used to, we run around and see what damage was done. It was the windows and there was a hole in the roof. It was the blast. It wasn't the actual bomb. The actual bomb was just down the road. And they had a big landmine and it was alongside the railway track, you know. Bedford Road. Do you know the Bedford Road?
CG: Sorry?
CB: So when the landmine went up —
GW: Yeah.
CB: That caused a huge blast.
GW: That was terrible. They were big. I think I was at work then. I was at work.
CB: What hours did you work?
GW: Fourteen.
CG: That was your age.
CB: What, what time did you start and what time did you finish work?
GW: When we got there.
CB: Yeah.
GW: Some people didn't get there.
CB: Right.
GW: You know. And I can remember staying up all night and falling asleep when I got to work. I had my head down on my table. And I slept for about four or five hours.
CB: How would you normally get from the Clapham area to work? Did you take the Underground or did you take buses or what?
GW: The Underground. And we used to have to step on over the people that had been there all night. And they used to be about two or three feet from the railway line. They used to sleep where they could.
CB: Because they were using the platform area as an air aid shelter, weren't they?
GW: Pardon?
CB: They were using the platform as an air aid shelter.
GW: Yes. Loads of people. You used to get down there early and get a place. Please ask me some more questions.
CB: So at, when you when the you took the Underground where did that go to? Did it go to Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square or did it go to —
GW: Victoria.
CB: Right. So, from Victoria how did you get to Conduit Street?
GW: We used to walk.
CB: Oh, did you?
GW: From Victoria. Opposite the Palace. Right up through Green Park.
CB: Through Green Park. Yes.
GW: Station.
CB: Yes.
GW: Green Park. I used to walk all the way.
CB: How long did that take? From Victoria to walk to Conduit Street?
GW: Sometimes I used to run because I was a bit late. I don't know. Half an hour.
CB: And was it easy to walk or was there a lot of rubble?
GW: No. It never used to have, there wasn't any bombs up there. I don't know why. I think I had them all in my house.
CB: Yes. Because of the railway lines. You talked about the barrage balloon. How many barrage balloons were there in Clapham Common?
GW: One big one opposite the house. And then as soon as there was an air raid coming they used to let them up. So we used to know that there was an air raid coming because we used to see the [pause] used to see the barrage balloons go up. And that was right underneath. More or less underneath the railway because they used to try and bomb all the railways.
CB: So they put the balloon close to the railway.
GW: Yeah.
CB: So, how did they raise and lower the balloon? What equipment did they have for that?
GW: Well, I don't know. We weren’t allowed to get too close. I could see them from my window. When they used to go up I used to say, ‘There’s an air raid on.’ And I remember I moved to Brixton and there was an air raid on. And I used to stand inside a cupboard. God knows what they used to do. I used to have Carol in my arms and we used to squeeze inside this cupboard. The gas meter was in there. And they hit the the Post Office in Brixton. You know, where the air raids, you know where the Brixton Town Hall.
CG: Yeah.
GW: They hit opposite there. And that was a doodlebug.
CG: By a doodlebug.
GW: They were horrible.
CB: What do you remember about doodlebugs?
GW: Well, we used to know all the way, all the time that we could hear them that we were safe. And when they stopped we didn't know where they were going to land.
CB: When the engine stopped.
GW: I think they were the worst.
CB: And did any land near you?
GW: Yes. That one that stopped at the —
CB: The Post Office.
GW: Town Hall.
CB: Town Hall.
GW: That was the one when I squeezed Carol in this cupboard. God knows what he would have done if it had [pause] The cupboard was in the hallway.
CB: Was it a particularly strong cupboard?
GW: What, love?
CB: Was it a very strong cupboard?
GW: No. It was just a cupboard that used to be over the gas stove. We used to put pennies in when we wanted some gas. It was only about. I could just get in Carol. And those were the times when we, when we had gas masks for babies. Thank goodness Carol never went in it. It was only as big as a — just got you in. That was before I moved opposite the Common. I’m all upside down.
CB: Yes. You're alright. So when you had these gas masks for children did you put, when the child was very small did the child go into it completely?
GW: They were only about as big as that.
CB: A box about eighteen inches long.
CB: We’ll just stop for a mo.
[recording paused]
CG: Crib thing.
GW: Yes. It was.
CB: So actually it was a sort of box crib.
GW: Yeah.
CB: And you put the child in completely.
CG: That's right.
CB: Yeah.
CG: I remember that.
CB: What was it made of?
CG: It was metal.
CB: A metal frame.
CG: A metal frame. I don't remember covers in it but I remember my doll being in it. We had that for quite a while. But it wasn't a mask. It was a complete thing and I know the cupboards you’re talking about because I know where we lived. Goodwood Mansions, in Brixton.
GW: The houses opposite, they are no more. They're all gone.
CG: No. All those houses have gone. The mansions are still there but the little houses that were opposite they've all gone. So I think we were probably very very lucky. What else do you remember, mummy?
CB: So, when the doodlebugs came the first one that came and landed near you, what did it do? This is the V-1.
GW: Turned my stomach over because as soon as the engine stopped we didn't know where they were going to land. You know. I think they were worse than the bombs.
CB: So you heard it coming because the engine stopped.
GW: Yeah.
CB: And then what happened?
GW: Then it stopped and then we just used to pray.
CB: Yeah. But the one that landed near you.
GW: We didn't know where they landed.
CB: No. You said one landed near you. So what was the damage that made?
GW: That was at Brixton Town Hall.
CB: Yes.
GW: Over the houses. It's about one minute away. We didn't know where it had landed.
CB: What was the damage to the Town Hall?
GW: Nothing. All windows. That's all. But it was opposite the Town Hall.
CB: Yeah.
GW: Right opposite.
CB: And as, after the doodlebugs got going then you had the V-1 roc, V-2 rockets. What do you remember about those?
GW: V-2 rockets. Not a lot really. I think we'd been over the worst.
CB: Because you couldn't hear those coming.
GW: No. They used to stop. Oh, over on towards the end of it. I used to go dancing a lot before I had Carol. No. Carol was [pause] you was evacuated wasn’t it? You was old enough to be evacuated.
CB: Evacuated in 1944.
GW: Yeah. She was evacuated.
CB: Where did she go to?
GW: Pardon?
CB: Where did, where was she evacuated to?
GW: Bournemouth.
CG: Tring.
GW: Was it?
CG: Tring.
CB: Tring in Hertfordshire.
GW: Tring. No. You was born in Tring.
CG: Oh right.
GW: You was evacuated down at Bournemouth.
CB: Right. And you went as well did you?
GW: No. I used to have to earn a penny.
CB: But she was safer there in Bournemouth.
GW: There wasn't much doing down there. We just used to send the kids where there wasn't a lot of activity.
CB: Did you know somebody in Bournemouth? Is that why she went to Bournemouth?
GW: She had a cousin down there.
CB: So she was born in 1943. She was evacuated because of the doodlebugs was it?
GW: Well, everything in general.
CB: We'll stop there.
[recording paused]
CB: The evacuation thing is interesting because it varies. It varied so much between families. But who, how did she come to be evacuated? Did you decide or did the authorities say children had to be evacuated?
GW: Well, it's rather personal but my husband and I had broken up then.
CB: Right.
GW: And this lady that lives down in Bournemouth she was his sister or something. Was she a sister?
CB: We’ll just clarify that. Hang on.
CB: So just to clarify this. The first evacuation actually was when?
GW: I had Carol in Lord Rothschild's.
CB: In Lord Rothschild’s house.
GW: In one of the old shooting lodges.
CB: Yes. In Tring. In —
GW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. That's so that's 1943. So she wasn't then evacuated. You were evacuated in order to give birth.
CG: Yes.
CB: And Carol was born in Lord Rothschild's lodge in Tring, you said.
GW: Yeah.
CB: Then when the doodlebugs came you didn't evacuate and she didn't evacuate at all then.
GW: She was back in London then.
CB: Yes. Exactly. It's after the war that she went to Bournemouth. Just to clarify that from what I gather you said.
CG: Nothing to do with Bournemouth.
CB: So that was nothing to do with the war.
CG: No.
CB: Right.
GW: What? Bournemouth?
CB: Yeah.
GW: No.
CB: No. That's okay. So we're in 1944. You're staying in London with the doodlebug. You. Who looked after Carol while you were working? Your mother did, did she?
GW: No. I had you in London when you was a baby didn’t I?
CB: So, did you work when Carol was very small?
GW: No. I didn't have any work then.
CB: Right. So —
GW: I used to live in Brixton didn’t I?
CB: Yes. And your husband was working so he was providing the income.
GW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Right. Okay.
GW: I’m sorry.
CB: That's all right. So what happened to your own brother and sister during the war? What did they do?
GW: My sister. She worked with me. She makes umbrellas. Doesn’t that sound terrible? She makes umbrellas.
CB: What? During the war did she make umbrellas?
CG: She only died a fortnight ago.
GW: A long way after the war.
CB: Yes.
GW: My brother went into musicians. Musicians?
CB: Munitions.
CG: Munitions. Making ammunition.
CB: So, he was in a Reserved Occupation.
GW: Yeah.
CB: Right. Was that in London?
GW: Yes.
CB: Or Woolwich?
GW: And my husband then, he was called up but he had to go either in the army or working in munitions.
CB: In munitions. Yes.
GW: Musicians.
CB: Munitions. Yes.
CG: Getting confused with musicians.
CB: You got it right. Yeah. He was in munitions. Yes.
GW: It's all coming back. Ask me something else.
CB: I will. I’m just going to give you a break.
[recording paused]
CB: What do you remember about your wedding, Gwen?
GW: The Registrar Office. It wasn't, it was all over in a couple of minutes, because there was an air raid on so I think they cut it short. But I remember going home to my mum’s. And she used all her rations up to buy a bit of ham. And it was good. I used to, I remember having, as a wedding present, a couple of tea towels. And that was a good present because you had to give the coupons up for many things.
CB: So, because of rationing it was very difficult to get —
GW: Yeah.
CB: Food and clothing.
GW: Well, we made do.
CB: What did you wear for your wedding?
GW: I had the dress. The lady around the corner made my dress. I remember giving up a load of coupons for the material.
CB: And so you had ham sandwiches, did you?
GW: Yes.
CB: And what did you drink?
GW: I can’t remember. It couldn’t have been, couldn’t have been whisky. I think we toasted it with tea.
CB: Why couldn't it be whisky?
GW: Couldn't afford it.
CB: Couldn’t afford it. Right. And who was at your wedding?
GW: My sister. My mum.
CG: Can you see that, mummy?
GW: My sister. My mum.
CB: We're looking at the picture now.
GW: My husband of course. It was just the family.
CB: Who was the best man?
GW: My husband’s band leader. His name was Bill. He was the manager of the band.
CG: Okay.
GW: He’s dead.
CB: The band worked part-time, did it?
GW: In the evening.
CB: And all of them had jobs in the daytime.
GW: They were all more of less doing government work.
CB: So what was your husband doing? What was his job in the daytime? At that time.
GW: Munitions.
CB: In munitions. In the munitions factory.
GW: Ammunition.
CB: Yeah.
GW: That’s the word.
CB: Yeah. Ammunition. Yes.
GW: Ammunition.
CB: Where did he? Where did he, where did he work?
GW: In a place just down where King’s Avenue.
CB: Right.
GW: They commandeered all the big houses that weren’t being used and they built things in the garden like sheds and all that. You know.
CB: They brought the work to the people. They'd got people there so they built the factory in the garden.
GW: Small factory. It wasn't a big one.
CB: Do you know what he was making?
GW: I don't know. Hush hush.
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo.
[recording paused]
GW: He paid six pence each for them.
CB: So, was that expensive or cheap?
GW: That was very expensive.
CB: Yeah.
GW: An egg was six pence.
CB: Then how much did you earn a week when you were working in the factory?
GW: About fourteen shillings. What's that today?
CB: Yeah. Difficult isn't it to work out? So fourteen and sixpence at twelve with twelve pence in the shilling an egg for six pence is a very expensive item.
GW: Eggs were a luxury.
CB: Yeah. How could you get them? Were they black market? Or were they in the shop?
GW: Yes. Black market. Six pence each.
CB: Did you know anybody who reared chickens during the war?
GW: I didn't ask questions. I just got enough eggs. And fish paste sandwiches. They went down a treat.
CB: What else?
GW: Oh, I can’t remember. Corned beef. We got a tin of corned beef. Everything was [pause] we were thankful that we could get it. You know.
CB: Yeah.
GW: No questions asked.
CB: No. And what about spam?
GW: Oh, spam was like a Sunday dinner.
CB: And what would you eat with spam?
GW: We could get plenty of vegetables. And I remember having whale meat.
CB: Whale meat?
GW: And horse meat.
CB: Yeah.
GW: Horse meat. Well, if you didn't know what you was eating you didn't ask. I remember. I remember getting horse meat in Brixton Market. My dad used to eat horse meat when he was in the trenches.
CB: Because so many horses were killed.
GW: Yeah.
CB: They were able to eat the horse meat. And how, what did it taste like?
GW: I don’t know.
CB: Can you remember?
GW: Just meat.
CB: Just good to get the meat. But did it taste like beef? Or did it taste like lamb? Or what did it taste? Completely different?
GW: Beef, I think. I can't remember, love. I didn't have it very often.
CB: And in the market did they tell people that it was horse meat?
GW: Oh yes.
CB: Right.
GW: They had to. They had to. But people still queued up for it. What was sweet.
CB: What about, what about drinks? Could you get coffee as well as tea or just tea?
GW: I think it was just tea. We were grateful for getting anything.
CB: Yeah.
GW: You didn't think that you was grateful in those days. It come along. You used to grab it.
CB: Yeah. Anything you could get. What about fruit?
GW: Fruit?
CB: Fruit. Apples.
GW: Fruit. I never saw a banana. Not for years. I didn't know what a banana tasted like because it come, had to be shipped over didn’t it?
CB: Yeah. So, what about apples and pears? Did you get those regularly or were they difficult to get?
GW: What was that love?
CB: Apples and pears. Did you get those regularly?
GW: Not regularly because they were so expensive.
CB: I think we'll rest there for a bit.
[recording paused]
GW: Didn't have much fish.
CB: You didn't?
GW: Not really. I can’t remember.
CB: Was that in the market as well?
GW: Everything was in the market.
CB: Right. Just —
GW: I can remember the horse meat though.
CB: But at least you could get meat.
GW: Pardon?
CB: At least you could get some meat.
GW: Yeah. But we never used to tell anybody that we queued up for horse meat.
CB: Why was that?
GW: Well. It wasn't the done thing, was it?
CB: Right. Just going back to your wedding why were you married in a Register Office and not a church?
GW: Because they, they used to bomb the churches. Anyway, the Registrar Office was much cheaper.
CB: Right. And then when Carol was born where did you have her Christened?
GW: I didn't. I’m sorry, Carol.
CG: That’s alright.
GW: She knows she wasn't Christened because every time I wanted her Christened there was an air raid on. So —
CB: And the churches had all been damaged.
GW: Yeah.
CB: And it's a bit difficult to run a Christening if you haven't got a church.
CG: [coughs] Excuse me.
GW: We had the party.
CB: Did you?
GW: We had the party but no Christening. I’m sorry Carol.
CG: It’s alright, mum.
CB: So, what, what did you do about coupons for that?
GW: Pardon?
CB: For the party.
GW: We had the party.
CB: How did you get the coupons for that?
GW: They used to bring their own. If they had drink they used to bring their own. Well, it was one of those things in those days.
CB: But you could soon get it swinging could you?
GW: Eh?
CB: You could soon get the, you could soon get the party swinging.
GW: And the night afterwards we had the party the house was bombed. Well, that’s when [unclear] my Vic.
CG: Uncle Vic.
GW: My Vic got bombed.
CB: Uncle Vic's house got bombed.
GW: Anyway.
CB: We’re stopping for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: We're talking about the atmosphere.
GW: This is not very —
CB: That's all right.
GW: Interesting. I used to go dancing during the war.
CB: Yeah.
GW: Not far from where I lived. And we used to have, we used to have the shrapnel come down. And if I walked close to a wall it used to ping off the wall. And that's where I used to come from the, from the dancing. I never used to know if my house was there or not. Or whether my mum was there. Used to go dancing down in the cellar. It was downstairs.
CB: In the cellar. Yeah.
GW: Well, we couldn't hear anything so we used to go down there dancing and pray that our house was still there.
CB: Yes. So you walked next to the wall so that the shrapnel which was from the anti-aircraft guns, is that right?
GW: Yeah.
CB: So — I’m going to stop just a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: So, Gwen we were just talking about shrapnel where does this shrapnel come from?
GW: Clapham Common. Clapham Common.
CB: Clapham Common. Right. So the shrapnel is as a result of the aircraft, anti-aircraft guns firing.
GW: Firing at the aeroplanes.
CB: Yeah. The shells explode.
GW: Yeah. I used to hug the walls coming home because the shrapnel used to hit the walls first. I don’t know —
CB: And bounce off.
GW: Yeah.
CB: Instead of hitting you.
GW: I remember once getting hold of a dustbin lid and holding it up above my head like an umbrella and running home.
CB: And did that get hit? Did that work?
GW: Well, I’m still here.
CB: So, did it, did the dustbin lid get hit?
GW: We used to hear it ping.
CB: Yeah that's it. Right.
GW: You know.
CB: Okay. Because it was lots of different sizes. The shrapnel was lots of different sizes wasn't it?
GW: I don't know. I didn't look. I didn't hang about. Only —
CB: But did, did you know anybody who got hit by the shrapnel?
GW: No. Not really. No.
CB: So, earlier in the war was when you went dancing and —
GW: That was the best bit.
CB: Was it?
GW: Yeah.
CB: So, who were the people you were dancing with?
GW: A lot of them were servicemen. They used to come down in their uniform and dance with you. But as long as I know, as far as I know nobody that I knew got, got killed or anything.
CB: And these servicemen. Which, which services were they from? Were they the Army, the Navy or the Air Force?
GW: The army and the RAF. Didn't get any Naval.
CB: Because they weren't in —
GW: That was in the age when I was looking for fellas.
CB: Right. So where did you meet your husband?
GW: He was the leader of the band that were playing. You mean Carol’s father?
CB: Yes.
GW: Ended up sleeping under the piano. God knows why. In the end people used to bring their bedding. The blankets and things and we used to stay down there, in the, what’s the name of the —
CB: In the cellar.
CG: The Italia Conti in Landor Road.
GW: Landor Road.
CG: Landor Road. But it was deep down.
GW: They used to stay there all night.
CB: How deep down was that?
GW: Pardon?
CB: How deep down was that cellar?
GW: You know. It was a dance floor. It wasn't just an ordinary cellar.
CB: Had it been converted specially?
GW: No. They still use it as far as I know as Italia Conti School of Dancing.
CB: Ah, right.
GW: All children now—
CB: Now.
GW: Use it.
CB: And your husband-to-be was the leader of the band down there, was he?
GW: Yes.
CB: So how did he come to [pause] get you as the prize.
GW: Get me as a what?
RG: I got that.
CG: How did you meet daddy?
GW: How did I meet Terry?
CG: Well, I would have thought that’s what—
CB: Yes. What did he say?
GW: I don’t know. You was a fella once. A young fella. How did he.
CB: He chatted you up at the end of the dance did he? Or in the middle?
GW: Didn’t chat me up. [laughs] I didn’t hear what he said [laughs]
CB: So, what was it that attracted you to him particularly?
GW: Pardon?
CB: What was it that attracted you to him particularly?
GW: His voice. Because he used to sing. “Who's Taking You Home Tonight?” And he used to sing it to me when I [pause] Are you listening, Rog?
RG: Yeah.
GW: One night he took me home and I was with him then [pause] Well, anyway [pause] After that I had a flower shop in the same road.
CB: Oh.
GW: You don't want to know about that of course.
CB: Of course we do. Yes. So how did he come to propose?
GW: Pardon?
CB: How did he come to propose to you?
GW: He didn't go down on one knee.
CB: Oh. How did you feel about that?
GW: I didn't take any notice. Only he just said. I don't know. I can't remember what he said but we got married. And that was —
CB: That's the picture on the wall.
CG: Yeah.
CB: But what about the ring? What had he done about the engagement ring?
GW: I won’t tell you about that because it was pawned for three weeks after I’d had it. I can’t. I think it had one or two diamonds in it. We were poor.
CB: So you never got it back.
GW: Pardon?
CB: You never got it back.
CG: No.
CB: What about the wedding ring? How did he deal with that?
GW: I think it was, went in the sea somewhere didn't it?
CG: I lost it.
GW: I was mucking about with Carol in the sea.
CB: Oh. And it fell off.
GW: We were playing in the sea and it come off and I never found it since.
CB: Oh dear.
GW: Never mind.
CB: No. We’ll take a break there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: So after Carol was born you didn't work for a bit. But then when you went back to work what sort of jobs did you do?
GW: Waitressing mostly.
CB: In hotels or restaurants or what?
GW: Pubs. The club in the [pause] the Oval.
CB: Oh, The Club at the Oval. Yeah [pause]
RG: The Cricket Oval.
CB: Cricket.
RG: She met a lot of cricketers.
CB: So, you met a lot of cricketers at the Oval.
GW: I’ve got a lot of autographs as well.
CB: Have you. Yeah. What did they autograph? Their napkins or pictures?
GW: I’ve got them in a book.
CB: Oh right. And I’ve got a bat. All the autographs on a cricket bat.
CB: The whole team was it?
GW: Pardon?
CB: The whole team. The whole team signed the cricket bat.
GW: I can’t remember. Who were they Roger?
RG: You can remember.
GW: The West Indies?
CB: Oh, the West Indies was it?
RG: Yeah.
CB: Yes.
GW: I served a lot of cricket teams.
CB: Right.
RG: Geoffrey Boycott. She didn’t like him.
GW: Then I had a flower shop.
CB: Oh yes.
GW: That's when I met his nibs over there. Because he used to belong to the police force. Have you told him yet?
CB: Yes. So, he parked his horse at the door, did he?
GW: He come around on a, he used to be a mounted policeman in the house. You kept coming round the shop, didn't you? Why? Anyway, we're still here and that was thirty-one years ago.
CB: Was it really? Yes. Fantastic. So what's his name?
GW: Who? Roger’s. What's his name? Roger.
CG: Last name.
GW: Did you name your, did you get named after your dad? Well, I don't know. Oh don't sit there like a Cheshire Cat.
CB: Yeah. So what's his surname?
GW: What love?
CB: What's his surname?
GW: Gwyn.
CB: Roger Gwyn.
GW: That's why I could never marry him. Because I didn't want to be called Gwen Gwyn.
CB: That's the best excuse I’ve heard all week.
GW: That's as good as —
CB: That's very good.
GW: As good an excuse as possible.
CB: And he's still asking you is he?
GW: Gwen Gwyn. Sounds horrible [laughs]
CB: So moving on from there. What about the flower shop? How long did you run the flower shop for?
GW: Oh, I don’t know. Carol, how long?
CG: Quite a while.
CB: A long time.
GW: How long?
CG: Was it ten year?
GW: I can't see you. Speak.
CB: Ten years. Right. She says.
CG: It's quite a while. It's about ten years, I think.
GW: And then I left work and that's it.
CB: Yeah. And you now live in Gloucestershire.
GW: I now live in Gloucestershire.
CB: What made you move there?
GW: He was born there.
CB: Was he? And escaped to London to join the police force. The Metropolitan Police.
GW: When he was how old? How old was you when —
RG: Twenty-one.
GW: You joined the police force.
RG: Twenty-one.
GW: Yeah.
CB: Well, Gwen Wadmore, thank you very much indeed for a very interesting conversation.
GW: Well, I don't think so because I should have been able to answer lot of questions.
CB: When you're in your bath you'll think of all sorts of other ones.
GW: Pardon?
CB: Thank you very much indeed.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Gwendolen Wadmore,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 23, 2024,

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