Local Face: Gladys Evans

  |  Published: Jan 1st 2019

Gladys is very much a woman of the post suffrage period whose work meant she signed the Official Secrets Act during World War II. Born in January 1919, she is looking forward to celebrating her 100th birthday in January 2019 with family, including 4 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren, friends and residents in Abbeyfield House where she has lived since 2004.

Gladys’ father joined up for WWI in 1915 and he was assigned to the Norfolk Yeomanry because that’s where his family came from. Her mother was from Aberfan. A cousin was a victim of the Aberfan disaster in 1966. Although she was born in Battersea, the family moved out to Ewell in Surrey when Gladys was 10 and she loved the countryside, especially rural activities like picking blackberries. As was normal in those days, Gladys left school at 15 and enrolled at Pitman’s College studying shorthand, typing and other secretarial skills. On graduating, Gladys immediately went to work for Shell.

In September 1939, Shell told all their single women that if they wanted to join the forces then Shell would make up the money and the difference would be sent to their mothers. Gladys immediately joined the WAAF. Her first post was on a switchboard in London but she was soon transferred to Bomber Command then based in Bridge House, Langley, Buckinghamshire. She occasionally had to take secret messages to the hush hush map operation at Hughenden Manor. 

John Clifford Evans from Cardiff was a career administrator with the RAF and in June 1940 they married. She left the Forces and joined the War Ministry working as a civilian shorthand typist at HQ Bomber Command which moved to Naphill in High Wycombe with its own set of secret tunnels. Gladys remained there until 1942 when John was posted as adjutant to 60 Squadron in Burma and Gladys moved to live with his father and sister in Cardiff. 

By 1943 she was back in London again and applied once more to the Ministry of Defence. This time she was sent to work (and sometimes sleep) in the bunker under St James’ Park which housed the Cabinet War Offices. She did not work for Winston Churchill but he would regularly greet the typing pool, “Good morning, girls”. She did take dictation from Genral Ismay having had to climb up a vertical ladder out of the bunker and along a corridor to his office. She shared a flat in the Strand, near the Lyons Corner House, with her friend Penny (Gladys Pentecost). Her mother was unhappy about the bombing in London. Gladys was transferred from the bunker to the Ministry of Production and then to the Air Ministry. She applied to go to the Yalta Conference (February 1945) but wasn’t chosen. Cliff returned in 1945 and they went to live in Cardiff.

Cliff had been offered a permanent commission so he stayed in the RAF. Marilyn was born in RAF St Athan, near Cardiff; Adele in RAF Innsworth, near Gloucester; and Shirley in RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire. RAF Scampton was used for the filming of The Dambusters. Michael Redgrave and Richard Todd were invited to cocktail parties in the Mess which Gladys really enjoyed. The actors wore brown shoes around the base so that airmen knew they didn’t need to salute those “officers” in uniform. Their next posting was Egypt. That came to an abrupt end with the Suez crisis in 1956 and evacuation on a troop ship. More postings included England and Germany where the two younger girls attended a girls Forces boarding school as the older one was by then working in London. They tended to take holidays on the Continent but rushed home one day early to watch the 1966 World Cup. The airmen went wild when England beat Germany and poured soap powder into the fountains in Cologne. Cliff had to reprimand them.

In 1967 Cliff retired from the RAF but moved smoothly into Barclays Bank in Tottenham Court Road as part of the initial computerisation of the Bank. In 1973 Barclays moved Cliff to Cheltenham and Gladys joined him in 1974. In 1994 John was showing signs of Dementia so they moved to Swan Mews in Wendover, near both Shirley and Marilyn. Unfortunately Cliff’s condition worsened and eventually he died in Stone Hospital in 2002. 

Gladys decided to moved into Abbeyfield House in 2004 even though her daughters felt she was too fit and too young for communal living. On the contrary, Gladys had researched carefully and concluded that the type of genuine communal living offered by Abbeyfield House was exactly what she wanted. And so it has proved.

Gladys Evans
Gladys and family
Gladys and family. Images courtesy the Evans family.
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