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Last Updated: Friday, 8 July, 2005, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
'I did what I was asked to do'
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News website, London

Gillian Wilton Clark - copyright The Fire Service College, Gloucestershire. Copyright: The Fire Service College, Moreton in Marsh
Mrs Wilton Clark said the women of WWII deserved a tribute
The Queen has unveiled a £1m bronze sculpture in Whitehall to commemorate the role of women during WWII.

In January, those behind the fund started searching for nearly 40 women who were awarded the George Medal - the second-highest gallantry award for civilians - during World War II.

Among the seven surviving medal holders at the service on Saturday will be Gillian Wilton-Clark, 86.

Formerly Gillian "Bobbie" Tanner, she delivered petrol to fire pumps in Bermondsey while the docks were being bombed during the Blitz in September 1940.

In the last few weeks Mrs Wilton-Clark has been taking plenty of calls from journalists at her home in Aberaeron, Wales.

"I have never had so much fuss made - at the time nobody seemed to bother," she told the BBC News website.

"If the station officer wanted a driver, well then, you went. I did what I was asked to do."

On 3 September 1939, the day war broke out, 19-year-old Miss Tanner drove to London in her front-wheel drive BSA car from her home near Cirencester, in Gloucestershire, to see what she could do to help.

The Women's Voluntary Service directed her to the auxiliary fire service where she became a driver.

The country girl, whose main past-time had been horse riding, was at first alarmed to hear she was being posted to Dock Head, in south-east London, which she thought of as "the slums".

Memorial to WWII heroines
The sculpture shows the working clothes worn by women during WWII

But within days she had contacted her training officer to tell her she was staying put.

"There were two drivers allocated to Dock Head and I was the only one who had the heavy goods licence, so I had the canteen van and petrol lorry to drive," she said.

"You had the petrol in two gallon tins and they were stacked on shelves around the lorry. I didn't think about it at the time, luckily.

"They took over a lot of schools and made them sub stations and they all had their own trailer pumps - I remember going to one not far from Tower Bridge and we were pouring petrol into the engine and it was red hot.

"I didn't even think about the fact that one drop, and we would go up in smoke. You had a job to do and you got on and did it.

"I remember taking my fiancé back to Sandhurst, it must've been the first day of the Blitz, because when I turned round to come back I could see London burning from Sandhurst - that was when they bombed the Surrey Commercial Docks."

[Women] were never recognised really. They weren't given medals for staying at home and milking cows
Gillian Wilton-Clark
Mrs Wilton-Clark, who still drives, stayed with the service until she became pregnant after marrying in 1945.

But she found her experiences and her heavy goods vehicle licence paid off - after the war she took a job with a "hide and skin merchant" driving goods around in a 10-ton lorry.

She is a firm believer in the need for a tribute, not just to George Medal winners, but to the ordinary women of World War II.

"I think it's a very good idea because the men were away, especially farmers and things like that and the women took over the jobs they were doing," she said.

"It's for them, they were never recognised really. They weren't given medals for staying at home and milking cows."

Home Front veterans are honoured
19 Jan 05 |  England


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