Moving service commemorates shop assistant killed during deadliest Second World War raid on Lowestoft
PUBLISHED: 06:36 19 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:53 19 October 2018
She went above and beyond to warn others in the middle of an air raid.
And now, the selflessness of a shop assistant – who was killed 76 years ago in the deadliest raid on Lowestoft during the Second World War – has been remembered in a moving memorial service.
Gladys Wright, of Wollaston Road, worked at the Lowestoft M&S shop in the town centre. On Tuesday, January 13, 1942 the 27-year-old – who was one of the store’s three wardens on duty that day – went to the front of the shop as the air raid sirens sounded to warn others and “advise customers that service was suspended.”
Minutes later a Dornier Do 217 dropped four large bombs in the town’s main shopping area. Buildings were flattened as a row of shops became “a heap of bricks, wood and twisted metal” as 70 lives were lost in the so-called Waller’s raid.
Blast and shrapnel from the bombs also caused severe damage to some of the buildings opposite, including the frontage of Marks and Spencer’s – where the body of Mrs Wright, nee Bull, would be found 36 hours later.
She had been married for just a few weeks, and would later be buried in an unmarked grave in Lowestoft in her wedding dress.
Now, after years of research and amazing generosity, her memory will live on – thanks to the unveiling of a new headstone in Lowestoft Cemetery, and a plaque in the town’s M&S store.
At a moving memorial service on Tuesday, the headstone was unveiled for Mrs Wright. Addressing a good turnout of people, which included members of the Jack Rose Old Lowestoft Society (JROLS), the M&S Lowestoft store manager, Mark Leftley, said: “We are here today to commemorate and remind ourselves of Gladys’ contribution.”
Clive Rougier, health and safety officer at M&S Lowestoft and keen historian, said: “This journey for me started about five years ago. I was aware that a lady died while working in the shop during the Second World War, but no-one knew who she was and I felt that was wrong – it needed to be right.”
Mr Rougier contacted the archives department at M&S, who sent through “a quite detailed report” from the time, and this led to a memorial plaque being installed in the shop.
But after researching more of her family history, by liaising with Trevor Faulkner, photos of Gladys were found and it was discovered she still had a sister and niece who lived locally – but due to illness they were unable to make the service this week.
Mr Rougier said: “I was a bit shocked to find Gladys had no gravestone. I did not think it was quite right, and so I approached M&S and said that as we had a member of staff who was killed in an air raid in store, would they help in any fundraising. The head office said they would fund the memorial stone. I would like to say a massive thanks to Ellie and Mark at the M&S store and all the staff, to Trevor and the Jack Rose Old Lowestoft Society, who have been a fantastic help to me over the past couple of years.
“From our point of view Gladys’ family have a permanent memorial and Gladys is very much known in the store now – this journey has been all about remembering her.”