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Time to remember Gladys - one of the brave Norwich air raid wardens

PUBLISHED: 11:29 20 April 2012

Gladys Clayden

Gladys Clayden

Archant

Let's honour Gladys Clayden - who, with her twin Helen, helped to save others as the bombs dropped on wartime Norwich.

They were among the all-too often forgotten heroes of the second world war – identical twins Helen and Gladys Clayden who were air raid wardens in Norwich when the city was under attack.

The daughters of Thorpe St Andrew police officer Ernest Clayden put their own lives on the line as the city burned in the wave of savage air raids which caused death and destruction in the early 1940s.

Helen, who became Mrs Ward, died in 2000 – and now her beloved sister Gladys, who never married, has passed on at the age of 97.

Although she lived at Knebworth with her sister, her heart was in Norwich – her home and the city she loved. Wherever they lived the twins were also proud to be Norwich “gals.”

They were born during the first world war in a police cottage at the bottom of Thunder Lane.

Father left when they were six months old and their mother Alice brought them, and sisters Ada and Eve, up in a two up/two down terrace house in Vincent Road, with a privy at the end of the garden.

The twins went to Thorpe Hamlet Primary School and then on to Stuart Central in Nelson Street and later Duke Street (now part of the Norwich University College of the Arts).

Gladys’ first job was at Surrey Street post office where she cycled around Norwich delivering Christmas card catalogues. Then she had a Saturday job at Woolworth’s.

During the war the sisters were ARP wardens based in the post at Britannia Road. In the photograph, taken in the summer of 1940, Gladys is on the second row, fourth from the left, next to her twin Helen.

They also worked as hostesses at the NAAFI club in Norwich.

“We used to write letters for the servicemen and play records for them in the quiet room where they would go to be on their own if they were stressed,” Gladys told me back in 1995.

“When there were dances at the air bases we used to go to them, but we were always taken home by taxi. We were not supposed to fraternise too much,” she added.

Gladys did fall for an airman. At one stage it looked as if it could lead to marriage but he was killed on a bombing raid and she never married – spending most of her life with her sister and her family – becoming like a second mother to Martyn and Jill.

Before they left Norwich, the pair of them worked at the offices of Eastern Counties Newspapers (now Archant) taking down reports of football matches over the phone for the Pink ‘Un.

She also worked in the shoe trade at Sextons and Southalls – also for British Rail in Norwich.

Gladys moved with Helen and her family to Enfield, Malvern, where they both worked at the Royal Radar Establishment, and Hitchin before the pair of them settled at Knebworth.

Helen died in 2000 aged 85 at which time Gladys had the stair-lift removed, saying “she wouldn’t need that thing”.

She continued living alone, looking after herself until two years ago when, following a fall, she moved into a residential home. She died of pneumonia at 4am on April 4.

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