“I was born in Shamrock Road, Claughton Village in 1921.”, Gwen Trenchard said. “Just three years after the Great War.” The world has changed a lot in the time since then, but Gwen has spent all of her life within a few square miles of where she now lives.
birkenhead.news met up with Gwen and her son Ron, and daughter Beb, for a chat about her life. To say that Gwen has led a busy life is a bit of an understatement. To this day, her social diary is as full as ever, keeping herself busy with church and a variety of sports clubs. On top of all that, she still finds time for knitting, baking, and puzzles.
Going back to the beginning and speaking of the aftermath of WWI, Gwen said, “There was no work or anything for people and if you had a father who worked, you were on a scale above other people.”
Gwen attended Bidston Avenue School as did her son. Ron recounts a story of his time there. Gwen didn’t like her son being called Ronnie and was adamant that no one should call him by that name and certainly not his teacher. In class one day Ron recalls, “There was a knock on the classroom door and in comes mother! She walks up to the teacher’s desk and she says, “I’m his mother. You may call him Ron. You may call him Ronald. But you may never call him Ronnie!”, and she walked out.” There is no doubt that the teacher never did call him Ronnie ever again!
During WWII, Gwen joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as a Wireless Operator at RAF Valley, Anglesey. In 1940, the airfield was constructed and opened for operations on 1 February 1941 as a Fighter Sector Station under No. 9 Group RAF with the task of providing defence cover for England’s industrial north-west and shipping in the Irish Sea. She did her training with 100 other operators who were trained in radio operation and morse code, etc. When Gwen ‘passed out’ from training there was only one posting to RAF Valley, “and it was me!”, she said proudly.
When she arrived at RAF Valley it was a very misty day and you couldn’t see anything – she was not impressed! Then, the following morning, “I woke up and it was bright and I could see that our billets were at the end of a lovely lake – there were yellow Irises all over – a most beautiful place and I’ve loved it ever since.”
On one of her visits home from RAF Valley, Gwen went to the cinema that stood on the corner of Bidston Avenue and Norman Street, just a few yards from her family home. During the screening, an air raid warning came on the screen. Gwen ran out of the cinema straight away and ran towards her home.
Then, the Luftwaffe bombs began to fall.
As she was running, land mines were falling around her, left, right, and centre. It was a close call for Gwen – the bombs were landing so close, she could hear the shrapnel “pinging off the walls” of the houses in the street. During this raid, large parts of Mallaby Street, Park Road North, Portland Street, Kingsley Street, and Clifford Street were levelled.
The cinema received a direct hit from the German bombs. The remains of the ruined building stood for many years until they were eventually demolished and the Avenue Hotel was built on the site, itself being demolished in recent years.
After the Second World War, she lived for a short time in a prefab on the corner of Henthorne Street and Westbourne Road near Grange Road West. Both her children Ron and Beb were born just up the road at the maternity hospital on Grange Mount, “The prefabs were very compact! When you went in through the front door, you turned left and that was the living room – the windows went from the very top almost to the bottom of the wall – and then the kitchen was off that. There was an airing cupboard as you went through and there were two bedrooms.”
In 1945, Gwen married Ernest ‘Ernie’ William Trenchard at the Primitive Methodist Church in Grange Road. The couple had met one day while playing tennis. “The Methodist Church had one of the courts in Birkenhead Park and all us young people played there. Ernie was bouncing around, and when I say that, he really did bounce everywhere! He had a silk shirt that had been passed down from his cousin.” During a game, somehow, Ernie managed to put a tear in his shirt. “What his mother wasn’t going to do to him! So, I just hawked him home. I’d learned to do fine sewing from my mother, so I sewed his shirt and his mother never even knew!”
Gwen has always lived in Wirral and in the 1950s, she lived on the new Woodchurch Estate when it was first built, “It wasn’t as big as it is now, it was only half the size. The lower part was built, but around Carrbridge Road hadn’t been built yet. The school wasn’t built. We used to walk across the fields from the estate to get the bus from near Upton Village.”
She also played an indoor form of Curling, played not on ice, but the much less treacherous surfaces of boards. Sadly, Gwen has had to recently give up playing this sport, but she did get a card and a big bunch of flowers from the team along with a request to rejoin the club.
Being less able to take part in active pastimes these days, Gwen likes to keep her brain active by completing crosswords, quizwords, and Soduko. She is also a member of the congregation at Prenton Methodist Church.
On her active lifestyle, Gwen said, “I like challenges!”, and being a lady of humble nature she said, “I just liked playing and the bowls just went in the right place.”, passing off her undoubted skill as luck.
Gwen has had a busy time with parties to celebrate her 100th birthday. She is President of Upton Ladies Bowling Club and they hosted a party for her, “We had all sorts of cakes! She has now had to give up actively bowling, but she did continue bowling competitively (and successfully) well into her 90s.
She is also a member of St Andrew’s Scottish Dancing Group who also held a party for her. This on top of other parties with friends and family has meant that Gwen has had a busy social diary recently, “I’ve been really spoiled”, she said. “I’ve had a lovely time.”
Ron wanted to praise his mother’s cooking skills, “She makes a mean pan of Scouse”, he said, to which His mother said, “I can’t eat Scouse – I’ve never eaten it!” Gwen was keen to show off her baking and she brought out a tray of freshly made macaroons that she had prepared for the family party. Ron said, “She’s famous for her macaroons!”
Gwen has a large family, including children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Her eldest great-grandchild is 28-years-old and the youngest is 6-years-old. Gwen has two children, Ron and Beb, four grandchildren and, counting on her fingers, eight great-grandchildren.
birkenhead.news asked Ron and Beb if there were any particular memories of their mother that brought a smile to their faces, “Almost permanently!” Ron said, with nodding agreement from his sister. Gwen said, “We’re a very happy family, we’re not a family that falls out!” So what’s the secret of a happy family, we asked. “It’s from my mum,” Gwen said. “She didn’t fall out with people and she taught me not to. We’ve had differences of opinion, but never a row.” Ron added, it’s always been a lead from Mum and Dad.”
Notable events of 1921
- January 17 – The first recorded public performance of the illusion of “sawing a woman in half” is given by English stage magician P. T. Selbit
- February 1 – Peter Sallis, English actor noted for ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and ‘Wallace and Gromit’
- March 4 – Inauguration of Warren G. Harding as 29th President of the United States
- March 28 – Dirk Bogarde, English actor and writer born
- April 16 – Peter Ustinov, English actor, director and writer born
- May 3 – The province of Northern Ireland is created within the United Kingdom
- May 5 – Chanel No. 5 perfume launched by Coco Chanel
- June 10 – Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh born
- June 22–July 12 – The Third Congress of the Communist International takes place, following the rise of communism in Italy, Czechoslovakia, Portugal, Spain, and China
- July 11 – The Irish War of Independence ends under the terms of the truce (signed on 9 July)
- July 27 – Researchers at the University of Toronto, led by Frederick Banting, announce the discovery insulin
- July 29 – Adolf Hitler becomes Führer of the Nazi Party in Germany
- September 8 – Harry Secombe, Welsh entertainer born
- October 2 – Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury born
- November 3 – Charles Bronson, American actor born
- 1921 – Albert Einstein awarded Nobel Prize in Physics (presented in 1922)
Main image: Gwen Trenchard with her 100th Birthday card from the Queen.