Gwendoline Maskell

Second World War veteran Gwendoline was a supporter of the Armed Forces throughout her life, and made SSAFA a beneficiary of her will when she passed away.

On the 30 August 1939 Gwendoline volunteered for the 1st Cambridgeshire Clerical Company. She was aged just 17 years and 3 months, and was driven to enlist by the desire to do her bit, and support her country as tensions with the Third Reich escalated. Four days after enlisting, Britain and France declared war on Germany and the Second World War began.

In less than a month after enlisting Gwen, as she was known to her family and friends, was promoted to Assistant Section Leader before being transferred to the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The ATS was the women’s branch of the British Army, initially the only jobs available were cooks, clerks, orderlies, store women or drivers. But as the war progressed, the ATS were given more roles and responsibilities in order to free men for frontline service. By the end of the war there was over a 100 different roles being performed by ATS women, including serving in anti-aircraft batteries. More than 250,000 women served in the ATS during the Second World War, making it the largest of the women’s services. 

Like many of those who served in the ATS, Gwen was posted to a range of different locations in the UK during the war. Gwen thoroughly enjoyed military life, and progressed through the ranks, ultimately reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant with “E” Company Chester Group.

During the war Gwen met and fell in love with an American pilot, Philip Lazowski. Tragically, Philip’s plane crashed over Germany on 5 November 1945, a month after Nazi Germany surrendered and the war in Europe had ended. Gwen left the ATS 15 days later.

“Gwen enjoyed her six years in the Army and regretted her decision to leave at the end of the war,” says her nephew Christopher Phillips.

Despite going on to work for Pye Television in Cambridge during the 1950s and then having a 37 year old career at Leys school, Gwen fondly recalled her time in the military and retained an interest, empathy and benevolence for the Armed Forces.

Gwen died in Cambridge, after a short illness, on 29 January 2020 at the age of 97. A photograph of her fallen wartime sweetheart, Philip, was placed inside in her coffin. Gwen also honoured her fellow Armed Forces family in her will, by leaving a discretionary gift of £5,000 to SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.

“She felt an affinity with serving personnel,” explained Christopher, who was also the executor of Gwen’s estate.

Gwen will always be remembered by her nephew, Christopher, niece, Rita, and god-daughter Caroline as a very intelligent and aware lady with a keen sense of humour right to the very end. Her family describer her as a ‘people’ person. As one of the teachers said in a note on her retirement “It was always a relief to know that, with Gwen there, good cheer would be found in the Accounts Department of the Bursary.”