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Obituary: Former Ipswich schoolgirl and garden centre worker Gladys Murphy, 99

PUBLISHED: 19:05 28 October 2019 | UPDATED: 00:28 31 October 2019

Gladys and her mum  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Gladys and her mum Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

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Gladys had a lucky escape in 1958 when US jet fighter crashed near Ipswich

Gladys and sister Evelyn in 1922   Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONGladys and sister Evelyn in 1922 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Planes figured often in Gladys Murphy's life. She was shattered emotionally when the young pilot to whom she was engaged died in 1940. She later served with 617 Squadron - the famous Dambusters - and shared in its triumphs and tragedies. And then there was a lucky Christmas-time escape...

Gladys lived at Martlesham after the war, and had a job nearby. It's believed she was still working part-time at Falcon Caravans after son David arrived in 1955. "She would sometimes refer to a close shave whereby she was on a day off when this catastrophe occurred," he explains.

It happened on December 29, 1958. A couple of United States Air Force Super Sabre jet fighters took off from RAF Woodbridge. One was on fire within minutes and its pilot ejecting over Martlesham Heath.

The burning plane plunged into the caravan firm's premises at Kesgrave, killing a woman working there. It destroyed the garage building and a bungalow next to it. A couple of vehicles and a dozen caravans were wrecked.

Debris and burning aviation fuel struck other properties - including a house and kennels next-door that lost its upper floor and roof.

A grandfather in the garden of a house a few doors from the caravan business suffered burns from the jet's fuel that would prove fatal a few days later.

The wedding of Gladys and Ron in 1951  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONThe wedding of Gladys and Ron in 1951 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Married mayor's son

Gladys Ruth Forsdick, who has died at 99, was born in north-east Ipswich in the autumn of 1920 and went to Northgate Grammar School for Girls.

It wasn't long after the death of fiancé Bernard Haines in 1940 that she and a couple of friends volunteered to join the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

Gladys later found herself with 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, where (officially) she rose to the rank of corporal and (unofficially) was given the lifetime nickname Bomber by WAAF friend Biddy.

The squadron had been created for Operation Chastise - the 1943 wartime mission designed to breach German dams with "bouncing bombs" developed by engineer Barnes Wallis.

Corporal GR Forsdick, 617 Squadron  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONCorporal GR Forsdick, 617 Squadron Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Eight of the 19 Lancaster bombers that left Scampton did not return. Nor did 53 aircrew.

"The full details (of her service there) are sketchy but I imagine her nervously waiting for the returning aircraft during the German dams raid carried out on 16-17 May, 1943," says David. "Mum would have known many of the gallant crew members, many of whom were lost."

Joy and tragedy

After the war she married Ron Colthorpe - probably something of a catch, as he was the son of Ipswich's mayor. Ron had been an RAF armourer during the war. Children David and Sue were born in 1955 and 1959.

Gladys was 50 when Ron died in 1971 from renal failure. "Mum supported the family, working first as a helper at the newly-built Gorseland Primary School in Martlesham and then at (horticultural business) Notcutts in Woodbridge," says David.

Iken Cliff, near Snape, in 1956: Ron, Gladys and baby David  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONIken Cliff, near Snape, in 1956: Ron, Gladys and baby David Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

"Here she met John Murphy, a senior plantsman. They married in 1975 and created a magnificent garden at their new home in Hacheston (near Wickham Market). Gladys will be remembered by many of Notcutts' gardening customers for her comprehensive gardening advice."

With David and Sue living overseas in adulthood, in New Zealand and the United States, Gladys enjoyed many trips: to Jamaica, Hawaii, Spain and Corfu, as well as the countries where her children lived. "It was never too hot for Mum," says her son.

Always the optimist

After John retired, he and Gladys lived in a riverview flat at Suffolk Place, in Lime Kiln Quay Road, Woodbridge.

"Mum travelled overseas to visit Sue and myself quite frequently," says David. "Still very vigorous, she was a great walker. When I visited the UK we would often go on walks together at Felixstowe - from Cobbolds Point to Landguard Fort and back - and I remember having quite a bit of trouble keeping up with her!"

On Sir Lionel at Stalham, Norfolk, in the early 1960s: Evelyn, Gladys and Sue, unknown, Henry and Ron. Gladys often enjoyed breaks in a caravan at Felixstowe and boating holidays on the Broads, often with sister Evelyn and her husband Henry.  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONOn Sir Lionel at Stalham, Norfolk, in the early 1960s: Evelyn, Gladys and Sue, unknown, Henry and Ron. Gladys often enjoyed breaks in a caravan at Felixstowe and boating holidays on the Broads, often with sister Evelyn and her husband Henry. Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Gladys stayed at Suffolk Place after John died in 2003. In 2013, "perhaps now feeling her age a bit more", she sold the flat and moved to (residential care home) Jubilee House at Seckford Almshouses in Woodbridge."

Before he died, John wrote a tribute to his spouse that was said to express everyone's feelings about her:

"My dear wife. Her loving, constant concerns for the welfare of others, dismissing her own problems. Her total honesty. Her indomitable courage and fortitude in the face of adversity.

"Mentally strong - always the optimist. Her patient tolerance of intolerance. Her wonderful, cheerful disposition at all times, making her a joy to have around."

In her own words

The wedding of Gladys and John in October, 1975  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONThe wedding of Gladys and John in October, 1975 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Happily, Gladys committed her memories to paper nearly 20 years ago. Here are some extracts.

She was born on September 23, 1920, in Leopold Road, Ipswich. "It was a brick terrace house," she wrote. "The stairs curved around out of the living room up to the bedrooms, leaving a step in the room.

"We had to stand on this step and recite at Christmas. My sister Evelyn's favourite was 'When Mother makes the Pudding' and 'Is it uphill all the way?'

"My room had a sloping ceiling. Eve and I slept in one bed and had a fight sometimes as to who had the most bedclothes. We had a bath with a smelly old gas geyser at the bottom of our bed."

Hated school

The home of plant-lovers... Gladys and John Murphys home  Camellias, in The Street, Hacheston  in the early 1980s  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONThe home of plant-lovers... Gladys and John Murphys home  Camellias, in The Street, Hacheston  in the early 1980s Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

"My earliest memory was when I must have been just five and started school. I HATED it. Evelyn was supposed to take me and I ran crying around to the back door. I suppose they must have got me there eventually.

"My first school was St John's School, Cauldwell Hall Road, Ipswich. I was always in trouble… we had a coal fire and wooden seats and inkwells. The small bottles of milk were put around the fire in winter. Sometimes they were nearly boiling. Ugg!"

Scapegoat!

"I won a scholarship to the Northgate Grammar School. I still think someone made a mistake there! I don't know what I'd done but at one time I had to see the headmistress every day before I went home.

"I never really enjoyed school. I was always the scapegoat. Our very excitable French mistress caught me with some cherries hanging over my ears. I had to go and stand outside the headmistress's room, with these cherries hanging there, every day for a week. Pathetic!"

Hot Water Beach in New Zealand, 1986: Lynda and David Colthorpe, Sue, and Gladys  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONHot Water Beach in New Zealand, 1986: Lynda and David Colthorpe, Sue, and Gladys Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

Great roast dinner

"My Dad was a lovely man and I used to hope that I could be as kind and funny as him.

"I remember when he went to a gas company dinner. He brought us home some jelly in his pocket! I think he'd had a few. My mother took it as a joke. I remember her saying that although they didn't have much money, they'd always share what they'd had if needed.

"My Mum was a busy little person who washed the chapel down and things like that. My mother always did a great roast beef dinner with lots of Yorkshire and gravy."

Gladys Murphy at Bawdsey in the autumn of 2008  Picture: FAMILY COLLECTIONGladys Murphy at Bawdsey in the autumn of 2008 Picture: FAMILY COLLECTION

I was shattered

"My first boyfriend was a boy called Freddie Philpot. That didn't last long. My first serious boyfriend was Bernard Haines. I'd known him some time but we became serious a while before the war. And went sailing from Waldringfield.

"I loved Bernard dearly and we became engaged while he was training at Cambridge to be a pilot. He was killed flying in 1940. I was shattered.

"I was 18 when war broke out and, after Bernard was killed, three of us volunteered to join the WAAFs.

"I was posted to Kidbrook No 1 Balloon Centre, Kidbrook, and London. Our quartermaster used to put salt in the tea to make the tea heavier at stocktaking, after flogging some of the tea!

"As far as fashions go, I don't remember wearing much make-up in the WAAFs. I expect we had lipstick on our nights out. We had to roll the hair up so that it didn't touch the collar. We brushed it out for the dances.

"We weren't supposed to wear 'civvies' at the tea dances at Pettistree (near Wickham Market) but we'd sneak a frock out and change there. I remember one of our WAAF officers was there and she said 'I'll pretend I haven't seen you'."

The Eddie mystery

"Eventually I was posted to Wattisham (near Stowmarket). That was a lovely camp. There I met Eddie, who was with 226 Squadron. He asked me to marry him and I quickly agreed! I remember the licensee of the little local pub took us in his back parlour for a celebration.

"I wore Eddie's ring as we couldn't get near a shop, but it kept slipping off, so I gave it back. When my squadron (617) moved to Scampton (Lincolnshire) we would meet at Nottingham or Skegness. Then I was at Woodhall Spa.

"We got on really well and made plans for after the war. His squadron went abroad and somehow the letters stopped. I still think something must have happened to him, as we had something special and knew each other so well. We trusted each other completely. We'd write to each other every day."

Making the news

"After the war I met Ron at the Central School Dance in Ipswich, although I'd known him before.

"We wed on May 26, 1951, at 12noon at Tacket Street Baptist Chapel and we had our reception at the Oriental Café in Ipswich.

"Ron's father, Albert J Colthorpe, was mayor of Ipswich at the time, so we had the news hounds there and quite a write-up in the Star."

Lucky black cat

"Ron was a kind, gentle person but with a keen sense of humour. He was a hospital administrator at St Audrey's Hospital, Melton (near Woodbridge). When we wed, we bought a nice semi-detached house in Deben Avenue, Martlesham.

"We were so thrilled when Sue was on the way as I'd had a 'miss' two years before. We desperately wanted a girl and Ron bought me a little black cat ornament for luck. It worked!

"Sue was born very quickly on a Sunday morning (August, 1959) - about 6am at 20 Deben Avenue.

"My thoughts were that I'm going to be really close to this scrap of humanity. I'll love and cherish her for ever."

Traumatic time

"Unfortunately Ron died when Sue was almost twelve. He had a sudden kidney failure and was in intensive care for two weeks, on dialysis, but in those days they couldn't help him. It was a traumatic time for us all."

What I learned in life

"Life isn't always easy. It dealt me a few blows. But if that happens you have to tackle it and make a new life. A good friend is always worth having and your Mum is always there to listen and sympathise with words of wisdom!

"It is good to be tolerant. None of us are perfect and you must expect to be irritated in any relationship.

"I've had two happy marriages. The two children, David and Sue, are the best children anyone could wish for and it's a joy to be with them. We all have the same humour and get a giggle out of silly things.

"Mothers never, never stop worrying about their children, but it's worth it. Life changes completely when little ones arrive and you never go back to your childless days. You have to be unselfish and think of them first."

The last word

"Remember: life won't always 
be kind; but, whatever happens, 
I hope you'll take it in your 
stride with courage and good humour."

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