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Born in 1919: Gladys’s story

Posted on 20 July 2018

5 min read

Gladys has lived through the effects of two World Wars, been crowned a beauty queen and even started her own business in later life. At 99 years old she tells us her inspiring life story.

At the age of 99, Gladys can remember her childhood very well. ‘I grew up in an awful time between the wars’ she says. It was the end of the First World War when Gladys left school, and although there was poverty in the country ‘we didn’t know any different’ she says. ‘I wasn’t too unhappy’.

‘When I was younger, you could’ve bought a house for £375’ she tells us. ‘We always had cottages with the lavatory out in the garden.’ For washing, they used old tin baths, which you’d have a bath in once a week in front of the fire’.

Back then, it felt more like a community with the people who lived around you. ‘The next-door neighbour would knock on the window and you would go and have a cup of tea – people did that – you knew each other, people didn’t have anything but they did have each other.’ Gladys remembers.

Trying to get by during poverty stricken years meant that Gladys’s Mum would take her and her siblings picking mushrooms and blackberries in the hedgerows. It didn’t cost any money and it meant they had more to eat that evening at dinner.

‘I never knew what it was to have lots of things, we just used what was available. There was plenty of veg about, most people had gardens - and then you had the Dig For Victory campaign. We were able to grow quite a lot’ she tells us.

For the weekly food shop, the grocer would bring the groceries right to Gladys’s Mum’s front door, and ‘he’d always put a bag of sweets in for us kids. We’d divide them between the five of us’. Money back then was in pennies and farthings, and with a quarter of a penny you could buy a single sweet.

Back then, there weren’t even any telephone boxes, and the only entertainment was going to Weston-Super-Mare for the day with Sunday School, having chips by the seaside. ‘You went in what was called charabancs then’ Gladys tells us, ‘not coaches.’

And ‘whenever we went to the pictures, we’d always watch two films, we made an evening of it.’ She says.

Although there was a lot of unemployment after World War I, when it was time to leave school, Gladys worked in a factory – ‘as did 95% of us’ she says, ‘there were a huge amount of factories in Bristol.’ Her starting wage was 9 shillings, the equivalent of 45p today.

Working in Robinsons paper factory, Gladys was a messenger who took the mail around the factory. ‘It was a good job at the time’.

After the war, Gladys was married and so left her job, like all women were expected to. ‘Women go to work now - which we didn’t. When we got married, we were expected to leave our jobs. The banks wouldn’t employ married women’.

Throughout her life, Gladys never had another boyfriend other than her husband – ‘which I think is a pity really!’ she tells us, laughing.

By the time World War II came around, Gladys was running a household and so she, like her mum before her, had to be thrifty.

‘I remember when it came onto the radio and the announcement said we were back at war’ she says. ‘Looking back it was worse for my parents, to go through another war, the poverty’.

Where she lived with her husband, ‘there was a huge amount of different troops’ and there were a lot of American’s living in the village.

Gladys can even recall the day German bombers came over her home town of Bristol. ‘We went into someone’s house when the raid was on, we heard them come.’ Luckily, although Gladys’s husband was at work near where the bombs hit, he was one of the lucky ones.

a black and white photo of Gladys winning the first ever Miss Bristol in 1948

In 1948, Gladys was crowned the first ever Miss Bristol. The competition was originally born as they wanted to find a pin-up to send to the forces.

Gladys went to visit Weston-Super-Mare for the day. ‘I don’t think I intended to go for it, although I did have a costume with me and I don’t swim’ she tells us, laughing.

Based at the famous Tropicana in Weston-Super-Mare, she had to get through the heat that day and then go on to compete in the final.

It was the year that Diana Dors was in it. We all walked around the pool, you were lined up and judged by a film star or a celebrity.

When she won the title, her prize included £5 cash. ‘£5 was a lot of money, it was a week’s wages’ back then. ‘It ran until the early 50s, it became well known and people came from all over to enter’.

Later in life, after her family had grown up, Gladys decided she needed to do something. She got a job merchandising and saved enough money to go on a hairdressing course. Soon after, she opened her own hairdressing salon. ‘I worked until I was 87, I’ve never retired, I don’t know why people do it’ she says.

‘I never thought I’d own a car or a house, it was never on the cards when I was younger’ she says, thinking about her accomplishments in life. ‘Looking back now, we cycled everywhere.’

‘I could live on – and probably do live on – very little, because I don’t want all these things – I don’t even have a mobile phone.’

‘I think life has become extremely complicated with children being taught how to use a machine and not their brains. Children now never go out to see the first primrose of the spring or to find birds’ nests in the hedges’.

‘All this tech is over my head. Things like washing machines and televisions are good’.

People ask, what’s your secret? ‘Well, as far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a secret, you just keep going. You just keep living’.

To read more inspiring stories, read about our amazing over 50s who are defying stereotypes.

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