In June 1918 Gladys Frances Alwine Blagden’s wedding to Captain Arthur James Lush at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton Road was featured on the front page of The Sketch magazine (above). Arthur returned to civilian life after the war and Gladys embarked on the typical life of a well-to-do young wife, producing two daughters. The elder of them, Vivien, won dozens of prizes at shows and gymkhanas across the Home Counties.
In 1939, while Arthur and their younger daughter remained at their home at Little Court, Godstone, Gladys, now 43, lived at King’s Court, Chelsea with the now 18-year-old Vivien, a buyer for Marks and Spencer. They both volunteered for the London Auxiliary Ambulance Service, Gladys as a driver and Vivien as an attendant, and were probably assigned to the King’s Road station.
While it was not unknown for family groups to volunteer together – the 3 Morgan sisters, Blenda, Gerda and Carol, all single and of independent means, did so – I found only this one mother-and-daughter combination in Chelsea.
The entry level for driver was low – a licence and an on-the-spot test driving around the streets with a bucket of water in the footwell. Basically, if not too much slopped out, you were in. Once assigned to a station, there was training in first aid, midwifery, gas attacks, infectious diseases, and so on, as well as mechanics. Crews, however grand their bloodline, were expected to scrub out and maintain their vehicles themselves.
Attendants accompanied the casualties on their often perilous journeys to hospital or the first aid station. They would sometimes sit on the floor in the back of the van, which had been fitted out with wooden bunks, and comfort the injured or hold the hands of the dying.
In 1943, Vivien married Alfred Bernard Alexander, a Jewish refugee ENT surgeon. Perhaps they met at Guy’s Hospital, where Alfred was working. Their marriage seems to have been one of those short-lived unions in which people pressed together by circumstance fall away when life changes. I have not traced a divorce but in 1971 he married again.
Gladys died in 1971, Vivien four years later.