Enid's friends

Photo:Enid Sykes

Enid Sykes

Jan Gore

Photo:Enid and her friends at King's (Enid is second from the right in the back row)

Enid and her friends at King's (Enid is second from the right in the back row)

Jan Gore

My mother's friends and the Guards' Chapel incident

By Jan Gore

In June 1944, Enid Sykes was 20. She had left her home in Yorkshire to attend University, the first of her family to do so. She was now in the second and final year of her degree course; she was studying French, Latin and Spanish at King’s College London. She had spent the previous year in Bristol, where King’s had been evacuated in 1940. Two months after college began, she met a fellow student, Alan Mitchell, at a dance; this was the start of a relationship that would last fifty-two years, until her death in 1994.

Alan graduated in the summer of 1943 and went to work as a government scientist near Bournemouth. Enid remained in London to finish her studies. She had made a couple of good friends on her course, Nesta Powell and Jean Williams; they were often mentioned when she talked of her college years.

She was given rented accommodation (“digs”, as she called it) in Earls Court, at 28 Penywern Road. It’s a tall building (now a hotel), part of a white stucco terrace behind Earls Court tube station, and it would be an easy journey by tube from there to King’s at the Aldwych. Gradually she got to know the other residents; three of them, in particular, became friends, and she would talk of how they used to go for walks together; they used to explore the splendid Gothic Brompton Cemetery, off the Old Brompton Road.

On the morning of 18th June 1944, her three friends decided to go to morning service at the Guards' Chapel. The music there was especially fine. Perhaps they asked Enid to accompany them. However, she was studying hard for her final examinations and was indifferent to both music and religion; she had French and Latin to revise. Did they agree to meet later?

But they never came back.

Enid was my mother. She rarely spoke of what had happened. All she would say was: “One Sunday my friends went to the Guards' Chapel. They never came back”. She never said their names.

The story has haunted me over the years, and when I realised that I was now working not far from  the rebuilt Guards' Chapel, I went there to see if I could find any more information about the incident. I saw the memorial plaque on the wall, and the two books of remembrance (one military, one civilian). The Chapel office gave me a list of those who died and I started to investigate.

The three women from 28 Penywern Road who died were Beatrice Gardner, Margaret Norris and Marjorie Souter.

Beatrice Isabel Gardner was born in late 1921 in Hendon. She was the daughter of Ernest Harry and Louisa Kate Gardner (nee Merhmann) of 48 Hillfield Avenue, Wembley. In 1944 she was working as a wages clerk; her father was a fitter’s mate.

Margaret Ellen Norris was born in late 1921 in Eastry, and was the daughter of George John and Margaret Norris (nee Gardner), of Godmasham, Lewisham Road, River, Dover. In 1944 she was working as a clerk, as was her father. Margaret’s mother was the elder sister of Beatrice’s father, so the two women were cousins. They were also the same age. Perhaps this is why they ended up sharing digs?

Marjorie Souter was aged 30. She was the daughter of Mrs Harvey (formerly Souter) of the Square, Kintore, Aberdeenshire. In 1944 she was working as a munitions worker. I have been unable to find any more information about her so far.

I believe their deaths had a profound effect on my mother. She would never say any more about the incident or its aftermath, and she never gave any details about the friends she lost. Once, when I was talking about a close friend, she asked “But why do you care so much about your friends?” I was bewildered and distressed by her question, but perhaps a quotation I found recently explains it.

You didn’t get involved with people, because people were dying, and you couldn’t cope with it....So although you had friendships, they were surface friendships. They could be deep, but you didn’t allow yourself to think too much about what was happening”.

Frank Wilcox, contributor to “Lost resort: memories of wartime Bournemouth”

I am glad to have been able to identify Beatrice, Margaret and Marjorie at last. My mother’s story has prompted me to compile brief biographies for all 124 people who died as a result of the Guards' Chapel incident. I would be very interested in hearing from friends and families of those involved.

For details of the Guards' Chapel V1 attack on 18 June 1944 see Bomb Incidents page


This page was added by Jan Gore on 30/08/2011.
Comments about this page

Nesta Powell was my French and Spanish teacher in Port Talbot during the 1960s.I know that she attended King's College in 1943. She became Nesta Griffiths and I believe married again in the 1970s.

By Linda Gerring
On 07/10/2011

Linda Thanks very much for the information about Nesta - Mum spoke of her often. I suspect she's one of the people in the group photo, but I don't know which. It's interesting that Nesta went into teaching too; Mum taught French until the 1950s. It's really good to hear about one of her fellow students - thank you! Jan

By Jan Gore
On 09/11/2011

Nesta Powell was the name of my French and Spanish teacher and I know that she attended King's College in 1943. She became Nesta Griffiths and apparently, as far as I know, left the school in Port Talbot in the early 1970s and got divorced and remarried. I don't know what she did after leaving university and teaching in the school in the late 1950s

By Linda Gerring
On 09/11/2011

Thanks Jan. So intersting to hear about your Mum, and so sad about her friends--I understand how she felt. My dad never allowed him self to get close to friends either-but that was more due to him being in care. When he visted the Chapel bomb site (he was 16 at the time)he remembered treading on alot of glass and his dads Army pals looking after him. Like your mum , he never liked to talk about it, plus it meant that his half brother who was then 8, had to be sent to Austrailia a few years later, under the Methodist children home migration scheme, . My dad was not close to his father, as he had to be put into care , so my grandad could carry on in the military.

 My grandad would have been married for a third time --(later in that year of 1944, )but alas never to be!--she was asked to go along by my grandad on that day,( could have perished along side of him-)-but she told him she was church of scotland - that was the excuse she gave my grandad, thus saving her life!--but she never really got over losing him , but mantain a relationship with dads younger brother and even went to Australia make sure he was settled in. I met her once, and seemed a nice Lady. Thanks again for all your hard work in this. It has helped me very much . Katharina Miller L

By katharina miller
On 28/01/2012

Jan: That's a wonderful and loving gift you created (compiling brief biographies) and gave to those 124 victims of the Guards Chapel V1 bombing ... and to their families. I can imagine your extensive research efforts and the emotional positives and negatives experienced in fulfilling such a task. Well done! I am so slow in commenting because I thought my story submission had not worked and I, therefore, neglected to review the West End at War website until last week. At which time I found my story, your posted comment (thanks) and your story. I shall be in London (briefly) in mid-November ... would love to compare notes over tea, if at all possible.

By Christopher Morley
On 19/10/2012

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