8. Glen

“Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.” – H.C. Andersen

Gladys Mary Dobbs was born in Acton, a district of London, on 22nd October 1921. Jim always called her ‘Glen’. Glen’s father was registered at birth, in 1886, as Charles Wlodzimierz Dobrzanski and had later changed his name to Dobbs. The circumstances of his name change are likely to have been associated with racial intolerance.

As one might guess, the origin of Charles’ family was Poland : after some considerable research Glen concluded that it was Charles’ grandfather Izydor who had emigrated, some time in the late 1840s or early 1850s. There had been an uprising in Poland in 1848 when Austria absorbed the Cracow Republic : as an independent state Poland had then ceased to exist until World War I. Also there had been a rising in 1846, which had provoked the terrible Galician Jacquerie.

Charles lived an eventful life. Both his parents were of Polish immigrant stock and when he was a boy the family was miserably poor – his father was a cabinet maker and, once factory-made furniture became cheaper to buy, there was little work for cabinet makers. From time to time there wasn’t enough to eat at home, so Charles built up his fitness in a gym and enlisted in the army (he was too young to join up and needed to lie about his age). By the time he was 16 he was an excellent marksman and he was soon off to Malta with the Rifle Brigade and from there to the North West Frontier in India. In his spare time he would eschew the cards and drinking, instead preferring to go climbing in the Himalayas. He completed his service in about 1910 and returned to London where he took a civilian job driving a bus. He met Glen’s mother, Elizabeth Noble and they married in 1912. Glen’s eldest sister, Dorothy, was born in 1913.

Charles was still in the army ‘reserve’ and was called back into service in 1914. He was sent to France with his old regiment. Conceived during a period of leave, the next child, Florence was born at the end of 1915. At about the same time Charles was lying in a shell crater. He had been shot through the thigh but had managed to stem the bleeding. However he was between the lines, in no-man’s-land, and for two days he waited. By the time he could receive treatment, his leg was infected and when told that the leg would require amputation, he refused permission. His body healed itself, though the lead he carried for the rest of his days would sometimes cause him much discomfort. Aside from the circumstances of his injury, Charles wouldn’t speak about the conditions he had witnessed in World War I : this was usual among those who returned.

After the war he went to work for a London taxi company and when enough money had been saved he purchased his own taxi. Soon he met a man who wanted to set up a bus company : Charles had experience of the bus business from before the war; the other man, Ansell, had the capital. Together they formed the Skylark Omnibus Company which became very successful. Glen, the third and last of the children, was in some ways treated by Charles as the son he never had. When she was young, Charles often took her to work and would explain to her the running of the business and the workings of the vehicles.

When, in 1924, London bus companies became restricted by legislation and obliged by law to close and sell out, Charles instead set up the Skylark Coach Company. Because the new routes involved destinations such as Dorking, Guildford, Hertford and High Wycombe, towns outside London, this company was exempt from the legislation. The new enterprise prospered until once more legislation required the company to close down, this time to be replaced by Green Line Coaches. Charles invested the money in a fleet of London taxis. He retained the coach depot at Shepherds Bush, modifying it in order to serve the same purpose for taxis. Again the new business prospered and Charles ran this until 1945.

For two years, from late 1940, Charles held the position of Mayor of Acton. The circumstances of his return from France in early 1916, coupled with his indomitable business spirit had caused him to be regarded as something of a local celebrity. There is no suggestion that he was very much interested in politics (other than his dislike for the constant interference in his business affairs) and he was not a man given to currying favour (during his army service he had twice turned down opportunities for promotion). Perhaps it was felt that he would be the right sort of man to have at the helm during wartime. Certainly the period of his mayorship spanned the London blitz and it was a busy time for Charles. He would often arrive home at breakfast time with graphic descriptions of the night’s events.

By 1939 Glen had completed her schooling and achieved good ‘A’ Levels. She spent two years at Cambridge (on a course which included some study of radar) and then returned to London, to work in the Admiralty. Her practical nature, discretion and pleasant manner contributed to her selection for work alongside some quite senior people, mainly on classified scientific projects. She first met Jim shortly after he arrived in London, for a while they shared the same office.

As was the case for many younger people, the bombing in London didn’t seem to change the way Jim and Glen lived. For those who were earning enough, there were plenty of good restaurants in London which appeared to be unaffected by rationing. During the better weather a good number of people would relax by day in the London parks. At night-time, though access to some parks was restricted, the blackout provided cover for intimate liaisons. A flash of a torch might cause hurried movement into the shelter of a hollow, or a reckless escape over a barbed-wire fence.

Jim and Glen : Jim was basically cheerful, he combined a dry, ironic Irish humour with perceptive observation. Glen found this much to her liking. Over the years, as a couple, they seemed to have been almost always on the same wavelength. This was certainly true during the lifetime of the writer. Life was for living, and when issues arose they were confronted in a unified manner.

From Normandy in 1944, and again from SE Asia in 1945, Jim wrote many letters. The letters were numbered, thereby informing Glen should any go missing. None did, though more than once Glen received letters out of sequence. She was largely unaware of the details of Jim’s work until after his return.