About this blog

As the author of this blog, Karen L Garner Martin Messick, I am the daughter of an American soldier, Wilbur (Bill) C. Garner, Sr. and Women's Royal English Navy service woman (British Wren) Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins, who met and married during World War II. They lived and loved for over 50 years before Mother passed in 2000. When she did I helped Dad with every day chores when I could. One day I was helping him clear things out and I lifted a plastic bag out of the seat of Mom's piano stool, asking Dad, "Whats in this bag?" to which he replied, "Just some of Mary's old letters." Mary, his older sister, was still alive at the time, residing in an assisted living facility, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I put the letters back in the piano seat thinking he did not want me to open the letters.
When Dad passed two years later, I inherited Mary's letters.
When I began to read them, I found they were mostly letters from Dad to Mary while he was in World War II ("The War"). I could not put them down. I wished I had opened them the day I first saw them so that Dad and I could have had conversations about them, but that was not to be...so as I read through these "Letters to Mary" I began to get a glimpse into Dad's young years when he met Mom and his time as a soldier. I have researched events during World War II to enhance my understanding of what was happening in the war as each letter came to broaden my understanding of what he might have been experiencing. I knew he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France D-Day plus 1 as he recounted his memory of that day to me when he was dying from Leukemia. It was horrifying. There were also letters from a companion Mary had met while in Minneapolis, he had been deployed overseas. I have entwined them chronologically with Dad's letters as it gives a greater dimension to the war itself. I intend to editorialize as necessary to explain personal relationships and situations as the story unfolds through the "Letters to Mary." I welcome any questions, comments and feedback. As the "Greatest Generation" fades away, I felt compelled to share these letters and story in hopes of continuing the legacy they left for the world. Let us never forget the untold years and lives that were sacrificed for freedom!
If you have stumbled upon this blog I have added a blog archive at the bottom of the blog page. Continue to scroll down to access the Blog Archive. The posts are chronologically listed and to follow the story it is best to start with the first post in December 2013.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

World War II timeline of development from 1930 - 1943

This blog entry lays out the chronology of important world events during the years of 1930 -1943 that led to the US involvement in World War II,  until the "Letters to Mary" resume in 1943.

Non-Interventionism before WWII
As Europe moved closer and closer to war in the late 1930s, the mood in America was divided. The U.S. attempted to keep hold of its policy of isolationism and non-interventionism; however, increasing threats, such as Nazi Germany, made this difficult.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland; Britain and France subsequently declared war on Germany, marking the start of World War II. In an address to the American people two days later, President Roosevelt assured the nation that he would do all he could to keep them out of war. However, his words showed his true goals. “When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger,” Roosevelt said. Even though he was intent on neutrality as the official policy of the United States, he still echoed the dangers of staying out of this war. He also cautioned the American people to not let their wish to avoid war at all costs supersede the security of the nation.
The war in Europe split the American people into two distinct groups: non-interventionists and interventionists. The two sides argued over America’s involvement in this Second World War. The basic principle of the interventionist argument was fear of German invasion. By the summer of 1940, France had fallen to the Germans, and Britain was the only democratic stronghold between Germany and the United States. Interventionists feared that if Britain fell, their security as a nation would shrink immediately. They were also afraid of a world after this war, a world where they would have to coexist with the fascist power of Europe. Non-interventionists, although a minority, were well organized and had a powerful presence in Congress. 
Neutrality Acts of the 1930s
The Neutrality Acts of the 1930s were passed in response to the growing turmoil in Europe and Asia that eventually led to World War II. They were spurred by the growth in isolationism and non-interventionism in the U.S. following its costly involvement in World War I, and sought to ensure that the US.. would not become entangled again in foreign conflicts.
The 1935 act, signed on August 31, 1935, imposed a general embargo on trading in arms and war materials with all parties in a war. It also declared that American citizens traveling on warring ships traveled at their own risk. The act was set to expire after six months.
In January 1937, the Congress passed a joint resolution outlawing the arms trade with Spain. The Neutrality Act of 1937, passed in May, included the provisions of the earlier acts, this time without expiration date, and extended them to cover civil wars as well. Further, U.S. ships were prohibited from transporting any passengers or articles to belligerents, and U.S. citizens were forbidden from traveling on ships of belligerent nations.In a concession to Roosevelt, a "cash and carry" provision that had been devised by his advisor Bernard Baruch was added: the President could permit the sale of materials and supplies to belligerents in Europe as long as the recipients arranged for the transport and paid immediately in cash, with the argument that this would not draw the U.S. into the conflict. Roosevelt believed that cash and carry would aid France and Great Britain in the event of a war with Germany, since they were the only countries that controlled the seas and were able to take advantage of the provision.
The legacy of the Neutrality Acts in the 1930s was widely regarded as having been generally negative: they made no distinction between aggressor and victim, treating both equally as "belligerents," and they limited the US government's ability to aid Britain against Nazi Germany. These Acts did everything they could to delay U.S. entry into a European war.

Timeline courtesy of The History Place     http://www.historyplace.com
September 14 - Germans elect Nazis making them the 2nd largest political party in Germany.
War Merit Cross 2nd Class* of Nazi Germany retrieved from a fallen enemy by Wilbur C. Garner during the war.
Footnote on the War Merit Cross 2nd Class at the end of the timeline listing.
November 8 - Franklin Roosevelt elected President of the United States.

January 30 - Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany. 

February 27 - The German Reichstag burns.

July 14 - Nazi Party declared Germany's only political party.
October 14 - Germany quits the League of Nations.


July 25 - Nazis murder Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss.
August 2 - German President Hindenburg dies.


March 16 - Hitler violates the Treaty of Versailles by introducing military conscription.


February 10 - The German Gestapo is placed above the law.
March 7 - German troops occupy the Rhineland.
May 9 - Mussolini's Italian forces take Ethiopia.
July 18 - Civil war erupts in Spain.
August 1 - Olympic games begin in Berlin.
October 1 - Franco declared head of Spanish State.


June 11 - Soviet leader Josef Stalin begins a purge of Red Army generals.


August 12 - German military mobilizes.
September 30 - British Prime Minister Chamberlain appeases Hitler at Munich.
October 15 - German troops occupy the Sudetenland; Czech government resigns.


March 15/16 - Nazis take Czechoslovakia.
March 28, 1939 - Spanish Civil war ends.
May 22, 1939 - Nazis sign 'Pact of Steel' with Italy.
August 23, 1939 - Nazis and Soviets sign Pact.
August 25, 1939 - Britain and Poland sign a Mutual Assistance Treaty.
August 31, 1939 - British fleet mobilizes; Civilian evacuations begin from London.
September 1, 1939 - Nazis invade Poland.
September 3, 1939 - Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declare war on Germany.
September 4, 1939 - British Royal Air Force attacks the German Navy.
September 5, 1939 - United States proclaims its neutrality; German troops cross the Vistula River in Poland.
September 10, 1939 - Canada declares war on Germany; Battle of the Atlantic begins.
September 17, 1939 - Soviets invade Poland.
September 29, 1939 - Nazis and Soviets divide up Poland.
November 8, 1939 - Assassination attempt on Hitler fails.
November 30, 1939 - Soviets attack Finland.
December 14, 1939 - Soviet Union expelled from the League of Nations.


January 8, 1940 - Rationing begins in Britain.
March 12, 1940 - Finland signs a peace treaty with Soviets.
March 16, 1940 - Germans bomb Scapa Flow naval base near Scotland.
April 9, 1940 - Nazis invade Denmark and Norway.
May 10, 1940 - Nazis invade France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands; Winston Churchill becomes British Prime Minister.
May 15, 1940 - Holland surrenders to the Nazis.
May 26, 1940 - Evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk begins.
May 28, 1940 - Belgium surrenders to the Nazis.
June 3, 1940 - Germans bomb Paris; Dunkirk evacuation ends.
June 10, 1940 - Norway surrenders to the Nazis; Italy declares war on Britain and France.
June 14, 1940 - Germans enter Paris.
June 16, 1940 - Marshal Pétain becomes French Prime Minister.
June 18, 1940 - Hitler and Mussolini meet in Munich; Soviets begin occupation of the Baltic States.
June 22, 1940 - France signs an armistice with Nazi Germany.
June 23, 1940 - Hitler tours Paris.
June 28, 1940 - Britain recognizes General Charles de Gaulle as the Free French leader.
July 1, 1940 - German U-boats attack merchant ships in the Atlantic.
July 5, 1940 - French Vichy government breaks off relations with Britain.
July 10, 1940 - Battle of Britain begins.
July 23, 1940 - Soviets take Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
August 3-19 - Italians occupy British Somaliland in East Africa.
August 13, 1940 - German bombing offensive against airfields and factories in England.
August 15, 1940 - Air battles and daylight raids over Britain.
August 17, 1940 - Hitler declares a blockade of the British Isles.
August 23/24 1940 - First German air raids on Central London.
August 25/26 1940- First British air raid on Berlin.
September 3, 1940 - Hitler plans Operation Sea Lion (the invasion of Britain).
September 13, 1940 - Italians invade Egypt.
September 16, 1940 - United States military conscription bill passed.
September 27, 1940 - Tripartite (Axis) Pact signed by Germany, Italy and Japan.
October 7, 1940 - German troops enter Romania.
October 12, 1940 - Germans postpone Operation Sea Lion until Spring of 1941.
October 28, 1940 - Italy invades Greece.
November 5, 1940 - Roosevelt re-elected as U.S. president.
November 10/11 - Torpedo bomber raid cripples the Italian fleet at Taranto, Italy.
November 14/15 - Germans bomb Coventry, England.
November 20, 1940 - Hungary joins the Axis Powers.
November 22, 1940 - Greeks defeat the Italian 9th Army.
November 23, 1940 - Romania joins the Axis Powers.
December 9/10 - British begin a western desert offensive in North Africa against the Italians.


January 22, 1941 - Tobruk in North Africa falls to the British and Australians. 
February 11, 1941 - British forces advance into Italian Somaliland in East Africa.
February 12, 1941 - German General Erwin Rommel arrives in Tripoli, North Africa.
February 14, 1941 - First units of German 'Afrika Korps' arrive in North Africa.
March 7, 1941 - British forces arrive in Greece.
March 11, 1941 - President Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act.
March 27, 1941 - A coup in Yugoslavia overthrows the pro-Axis government.
April 3, 1941 - Pro-Axis regime set up in Iraq.
April 6, 1941 - Nazis invade Greece and Yugoslavia.
April 14, 1941 - Rommel attacks Tobruk.
April 17, 1941 - Yugoslavia surrenders to the Nazis.
April 27, 1941 - Greece surrenders to the Nazis.
May 10, 1941 - Deputy Führer Rudolph Hess flies to Scotland.
May 10/11 - Heavy German bombing of London; British bomb Hamburg.
May 15, 1941 - Operation Brevity begins (the British counter-attack in Egypt).
May 24, 1941 - Sinking of the British ship Hood by the Bismarck.
May 27, 1941 - Sinking of the Bismarck by the British Navy.
June 4, 1941 - Pro-Allied government installed in Iraq.
June 8, 1941 - Allies invade Syria and Lebanon.
June 14, 1941 - United States freezes German and Italian assets in America.
June 28, 1941 - Germans capture Minsk.
July 3, 1941 - Stalin calls for a scorched earth policy.
July 10, 1941 - Germans cross the River Dnieper in the Ukraine.
July 12, 1941 - Mutual Assistance agreement between British and Soviets.
July 14, 1941 - British occupy Syria.
July 26, 1941 - Roosevelt freezes Japanese assets in United States and suspends relations.
August 1, 1941 - United States announces an oil embargo against aggressor states.
August 20, 1941 - Nazi siege of Leningrad begins.
September 3, 1941 - First experimental use of gas chambers at Auschwitz.
September 19, 1941 - Nazis take Kiev.
September 29, 1941 - Nazis murder 33,771 Jews at Kiev.
October 2, 1941 - Operation Typhoon begins (German advance on Moscow).
October 16, 1941 - Germans take Odessa.
October 24, 1941 - Germans take Kharkov.
October 30, 1941 - Germans reach Sevastopol.
November 13, 1941 - British aircraft carrier Ark Royal is sunk off Gibraltar by a U-boat.
November 20, 1941 - Germans take Rostov.
November 27, 1941 - Soviet troops retake Rostov.
December 5, 1941 - German attack on Moscow is abandoned.
December 6, 1941 - Soviet Army launches a major counter-offensive around Moscow.
December 8, 1941 - United States and Britain declare war on Japan.
December 16, 1941 - Rommel begins a retreat to El Agheila in North Africa.
December 19, 1941 - Hitler takes complete control of the German Army.


January 1, 1942 - Declaration of the United Nations signed by 26 Allied nations.
January 13, 1942 - Germans begin a U-boat offensive along east coast of USA.
January 21, 1942 - Rommel's counter-offensive from El Agheila begins.
January 26, 1942 - First American forces arrive in Great Britain.
April 23, 1942 - German air raids begin against cathedral cities in Britain.
May 8, 1942 - German summer offensive begins in the Crimea.
May 26, 1942 - Rommel begins an offensive against the Gazala Line.
May 27, 1942 - SS Leader Heydrich attacked in Prague.
May 30, 1942 - First thousand-bomber British air raid (against Cologne).
In June - Mass murder of Jews by gassing begins at Auschwitz.
June 4, 1942 - Heydrich dies of wounds.
June 5, 1942 - Germans besiege Sevastopol.
June 21, 1942 - Rommel captures Tobruk.
June 25, 1942 - General Dwight D. Eisenhower arrives in London.
June 30, 1942 - Rommel reaches El Alamein near Cairo, Egypt.
July 1-30 - First Battle of El Alamein.
July 3, 1942 - Germans take Sevastopol.
July 5, 1942 - Soviet resistance in the Crimea ends.
July 9, 1942 - Germans begin a drive toward Stalingrad in the USSR.
July 22, 1942 - First deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to concentration camps; Treblinka extermination camp opened.
August 7, 1942 - British General Bernard Montgomery takes command of Eighth Army in North Africa.
August 12, 1942 - Stalin and Churchill meet in Moscow.
August 17, 1942 - First all-American air attack in Europe.
August 23, 1942 - Massive German air raid on Stalingrad.
September 2, 1942 - Rommel driven back by Montgomery in the Battle of Alam Halfa.
September 13, 1942 - Battle of Stalingrad begins.
October 18, 1942 - Hitler orders the execution of all captured British commandos.
November 8, 1942 - Operation Torch begins (U.S. invasion of North Africa).
November 11, 1942 - Germans and Italians invade unoccupied Vichy France.
November 19, 1942 - Soviet counter-offensive at Stalingrad begins.
December 2, 1942 - Professor Enrico Fermi sets up an atomic reactor in Chicago.
December 13, 1942 - Rommel withdraws from El Agheila.
December 16, 1942 - Soviets defeat Italian troops on the River Don in the USSR.
December 17, 1942 - British Foreign Secretary Eden tells the British House of Commons of mass executions of Jews by Nazis; U.S. declares those crimes will be avenged.
December 31, 1942 - Battle of the Barents Sea between German and British ships.


January 2/3 - Germans begin a withdrawal from the Caucasus.
January 10, 1943 - Soviets begin an offensive against the Germans in Stalingrad.
January 14-24 - Casablanca conference between Churchill and Roosevelt. During the conference, Roosevelt announces the war can end only with "unconditional German surrender."
January 27, 1943 - First bombing raid by Americans on Germany (at Wilhelmshaven).
February 2, 1943 - Germans surrender at Stalingrad in the first big defeat of Hitler's armies.
February 8, 1943 - Soviet troops take Kursk.
February 14-25 - Battle of Kasserine Pass between the U.S. 1st Armored Division and German Panzers in North Africa.
February 16, 1943 - Soviets re-take Kharkov.
February 18, 1943 - Nazis arrest White Rose resistance leaders in Munich.
March 2, 1943 - Germans begin a withdrawal from Tunisia, Africa.
March 15, 1943 - Germans re-capture Kharkov.
March 16-20 - Battle of Atlantic climaxes with 27 merchant ships sunk by German U-boats.
March 20-28 - Montgomery's Eighth Army breaks through the Mareth Line in Tunisia.
April 6/7 - Axis forces in Tunisia begin a withdrawal toward Enfidaville as American and British forces link.

*The War Merit Cross Second Class of Nazi Germany

The War Merit Cross 2nd Class was the award that bore the main burden of replacing the non-combatant ribbon of the Iron Cross, there were two styles of cross which bore significance.
a. In the case of the combatant grade cross a pair of military swords, finished on both sides, were placed between the arms of the cross.  This Cross was presented to Military Personnel for bravery not necessarily in the face of the enemy.

Because this cross bears no swords it was from a Non-Combatant member of Nazi Germany.
b. The War Merit Cross 2nd Class without swords was presented to those whose actions were deemed to be in furtherance of the war effort but not directly involved in military operations. This could mean civilians such as teachers and industrialists or Military personnel on occupation duty or POW camp guards.

In reality there was a gray area in which individuals received the Cross with Swords when perhaps the non-combatant grade would have been appropriate, and other receiving the Iron Cross when the War Merit Cross would have fit better.
Number of Crosses Presented:
War Merit with Swords: 6,134,959
War Merit without Swords: 1,591,567
The War Merit Cross was eventually used to recognize virtually any service, and was to become the German decoration most widely presented during the war. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

United States Cultural History 1930-1939

This blog entry shares a few links to information on the "Cultural" times during the gap in "Letters to Mary" from 1930 to 1943 when the letters resume. 

Glimpsing the culture of the era adds an understanding of events in, fashion, technology, music, architecture, politics  and lifestyle during that period of time in history. We can then imagine what the daily life and sentiment of the people in the letters might have been.

Click here for  more information on Culture in the United States 1930-1939
These links have a wealth of interesting information!
Click here for more information on Culture in the United States 1940-1949

One of the major events of the era was the New York Worlds Fair of 1939–1940. It was the first exposition to be based on the future, with an opening slogan of "Dawn of a New Day", and it allowed all visitors to take a look at "the world of tomorrow".
I have duplicated a few 1939 New York Worlds Fair Postcards from my archives.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Back Story.....Henri Charles Romieux

This blog post introduces Henri C Romieux and shares the history of Wold-Chamberlain Field.
Mary spent her enlisted time at the Naval Air Station on the north side of the field.
During World War II, Naval Air Station Twin Cities was used as a Navy training facility. Some work had already been done before the war at Minneapolis naval reserve air base, but immediately after January 1, 1942, expansion to air-station size began with the construction of barracks for 300 students and 600 enlisted men, instruction buildings, and storage facilities for 50,000 gallons of aviation gasoline.

We conclude Mary met Henri at the Naval Air Station.

Many of the "Letters to Mary" were written by Henri C. Romieux.
We know very little of Henri, except that he earned the affection of Mary. Most likely, they met in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On line research indicates that he was born January 23, 1904, which would have made him 5 years older than Mary at the time they met. Everything we learn about Henri comes from the text in his "Letters to Mary," which will be revealed chronologically in following blog posts.

Wold-Chamberlain field currently named (Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport) served the Naval Air Station training facility during World War II. Its most famous flyer was George H.W. Bush, who was flying the PT-17 Stearman there in 1943. He was the 41st President of The United States. 

The following information is an excerpt from Wikipedia.

In 1920 a hangar was built on a former auto racing track to accommodate airmail service, and the 160-acre property became known as Speedway Field. In 1923, the airport was renamed Wold-Chamberlain Field in honor of two local pilots, Ernest Wold and Cyrus Chamberlain, who lost their lives in combat during World War I. The airport soon became home to Northwest Airways, which in 1926 won the government's airmail contract and acquired the airport's only hangar.

World War II

In February 1942, after the United States' entry into World War II, the United States Army Air Corps 1454th Base Unit was assigned to Wold-Chamberlain Field to conduct a survey about the usefulness of the airport to the war effort. The unit's mission was to organize, coordinate and supervise the movement of cargo and passengers traveling though the airport by contract airlines and to and from Ferrying Command. Northwest Airlines remained in control of the control tower and flight facilities. Other construction was initiated to expand flight facilities, base operations, passenger service facilities, customs and port of entry facilities. The Army Corps of Engineers was authorized to expand the ramp facilities and also to expand the airfield.
Personnel from the Alaskan Wing, Air Transport Command arrived at the airport on 29 December 1942 to organize a control detachment. On 20 September 1943, the detachment was re designated as Station No. 11, Alaskan Wing, Air Transport Command. The airport became a key stop on what was designated the "Alaskan Route", in which aircraft were ferried north to Edmonton Airport in Northern Alberta on the Alaska Route, to support the Alaskan Campaign against the Japanese, and also for eventual transport to Siberia as part of Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union.
Minneapolis was also a stop on ATC's "Crimson Route", the ferrying route between the manufacturing facilities in Southern California and the combat bases being constructed in the United Kingdom. It operated as a refueling and maintenance base on the transport route north to Crystal II in the Canadian Northern Territories or Goose Air Station in Labrador to support the combat forces in the United Kingdom, North Africa and other destinations.
Church Service Program dated November 21, 1943 from the archives of Mary Willis Garner

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Back Story... Souil William Garner

This blog post continues to fill in the events that took place in the gap of time between the last "Letter to Mary" dated October 1930 and the next "Letter to Mary" dated 1943. This blog profiles her oldest brother, Souil William Garner.
The Garner family in the summer of 1937. Top left Bernard Garner, Souil Garner, Phoebe Emma Garner, Mary Willis Garner
Bottom left Souil Wade Garner, WIlbur Cecil Garner (Absent Joseph Randolph Garner)
After completing his grade school work, he attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute for one year. For reasons unknown (probably economic) he was not able to finish his schooling at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and instead, attended night school in commercial classes at the Y.M.C.A. and later the Strayers Business College, Baltimore, Md. 

At the age of 16, in 1922,  Souil, entered the employment of The Maryland Casualty Company as a file clerk.
In August of 1925, he met Harriet Kimpton, the fourth child of Thomas Soden Kimpton and his wife, Eva May Stansbury. On July, 17, 1929 they were married in a garden wedding at the home of Harriet's parents in Forest Glen, Maryland. Souil and Harriet set up housekeeping and lived happily as a married couple.
Souil William Garner and Harriet Kimpton Wedding day 1929
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the need for men increased as the war escalated, and Souil was drafted in July of 1943. He was 37 years old and sent to Miami Beach for basic training in the Army Air Force. After his basic training he was reassigned to The Army Finance School in Indiana where he studied for 16 weeks. Upon completion of his 16 weeks he was reassigned to the Finance Office at Fort Dix, Trenton, New Jersey. There he computed and prepared enlisted men's payrolls and prepared reimbursement vouchers for enlisted men's rations and quarters.
Souil William Garner

Friday, December 27, 2013

Back Story....Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins

This blog post content continues to fill in the gap in years between 1930 and 1943 when there are no "Letters to Mary" and  the "Back Story" of the people who wrote "Letters to Mary."
Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins Circa 1927
Gwendoline's (Gwen, Mom) story starts in England. Born an only child to Kate Hudman Wilkins, 26 years of age and William Ewart Wilkins, 27 years of age, on October 14, 1923 at the home of her paternal grandmother, Mrs. William Joseph Wilkins, 2 Trinity Place, Newport, Monmouthshire, UK. At the age of two her parents moved to 55 Marion Street, Splott, Cardiff, Wales when William became a member of the police force for the Great Western Railway. 

She attended Splottland's Girls' School. 
She wrote her memoir in February 1999 and the story that appears below is constructed from excerpts of her memoir.

 "Growing up as a child in Great Britain was, for me, a rather orderly and peaceful existence. Days of summer fun were eagerly anticipated as holiday trips were planned to many lovely beaches, holiday camps, the breathtakingly beautiful Midlands counties of Oxford, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Wiltshire and Berkshire ---- to absorb the beauty of the country-side, to become entranced by the the majesty of the centuries-old abbeys, castles, cathedrals and many other places of interest. 
Gwendoline R. Wilkins  (bottom row 4th from left, and her mother holding the umbrella)
"On Holiday" Weymouth, Dorsetshire, July 1931
At age 7 my parents decided that it was time for me to take instruction in learning how to play the piano and so my music lessons began. I passed my first London College of Music exam in 1932, but did not seriously continue my studies after my bout of diphtheria. 

During my last year in school at age 14, I took courses in Shorthand, English and Commercial Practice and Arithmetic and Accounts at the Junior Evening Institute classes at Cardiff Technical College.

In July 1938, while continuing my studies at Cardiff Tech at night, I entered the world of business by becoming an all-encompassing Girl Friday to Mr. Saunders of the Marcliff Sectional Building Company. 
In December 1938 I started work at the South Wales Power Company at the fabulous salary of 10 shillings a week. 

1938 was also the year for yet one more family move --- this time from Habershon Street to "Llwyd Coed" 8 Tyr-y-Sarn Road, Rumney Village. For just a short while the days and months at Rumney were idyllic, but the drums of war were already beginning to sound in Nazi Germany and in September 1939, World War II was thrust upon us. 

The wailing of air-raid sirens soon became an everyday occurrence and upon hearing them, the office staff would head for the underground air-raid shelters on the company grounds, there to stay for sometimes up to three hours before the "All Clear" was sounded. 

I remember on many an occasion going up to the attic on Tyr-y-Sarn Road, on a moonlit night, poking my head through the skylight and watching the path of the Nazi bombers as they followed the silver ribbon of the River Severn on up into the heart of England to drop their load of death and destruction upon some peaceful sleepy village, a university town, or a city in a busy industrial center. 

The South Wales Electric Power Company was in the process of building new offices in another small village called St. Mellons - not too far from Rumney - and to prevent the British Government from commandeering the building for use of army troops, the staff had to move into the building just as winter was approaching even though many windows had not been installed and the heating system was inoperative! We all worked while still wearing heavy coats and most of the typists had to wear gloves to keep their hands warm. 
The Power Company Office of St. Mellons ( Gwendoline back row third from left)
During those years, my employment at the Power Company was classified as "National Service" and I was exempt from Land Army drafts or call-up of women for the Auxiliary Territorial Services or the Women's Auxiliary Air Force units. However, I felt the urge to do something more than work behind my desk at the Power Company and volunteered my services, part-time, to train young people who eventually wanted to go into one of the services.  

I became an officer in the Women's Junior Air Corps and was in charge of several groups of teenagers who met three times a week at the local school, receiving instruction in drill routine, the sending of Morse code messages, understanding flag language, etc. We also camped out on week-ends and even though there was war going on we managed to have a lot of fun. As Adjutant to the Regional Commandant, I had the honour of welcoming Viscountess Leverhulme to the City of Cardiff when she made a visit to inspect the numerous units of the Womens Junior Air Corps. 
Gwen in uniform standing next to the Commandant during inspection.
As the war rolled on, the need for woman power was becoming desperate and rather than be conscripted for service in the Army or Air Force, I volunteered for duty in the Women's Naval Service --- my ultimate desire to become a career women's naval officer.  My dad was very much against my decision, but knowing how much I had my heart set on wearing the navy blue uniform, my mother somehow persuaded him to give his consent. And so, on May 19, 1943, I arrived on board the Moorefield Training Depot in Plymouth, Devonshire, England, for a period of two weeks training.

I was extremely lucky to have been assigned to Bath, Somerset, England, on June 2, 1943, for that very evening, during a bombing raid on the city of Plymouth, the building where I had been quartered during training received a direct hit and was completely demolished ---all inside at that time perishing. "
Gwendoline R. Wilkins in her Navy Blues