A feature we published on the Women’s Voluntary Service has prompted a response from Phil Rodgers whose aunt was involved.

A PHOTOGRAPH taken in front of Holy Trinity Church, Skipton, in 1946 and capturing a group of women who were part of the Women’s Voluntary Service, prompted a response from reader Phil Rodgers who was able to furnish us with further information on the movement which had a local interest.

The feature, written by John Pallister, detailed the start of the Women’s Voluntary Service by the Marchioness of Reading, in 1938. The Second World War was looming and she began preparations for civil defence support made up of eager women ready to do their bit, in factories, on the land and in forests.

A year later at the outbreak of hostilities, her organisation had 330,000 female members, which would swell to more than a million by 1943.

Mr Pallister said Skipton women folk were part of this heroic organisation, and the Skipton branch soon had a good compliment of Craven housewives and working volunteers, all wearing the uniform smock and beret.

Mr Pallister noted that, of course the blitz suffered by London and major UK cities was not replicated in Skipton, but there was already much work to be done. Few of the Volunteers would have guessed that their organisation would be required for the next six years.

In response to the feature, reader Phil Rodgers remarks:

“In the concluding paragraph of the feature ‘Skipton women and the war effort’, it suggests that readers may be able to identify mothers or grandmothers in the photograph.

Well actually I can identify my godmother, and aunt: Margaret Hepper (nee Rodgers). She is front and centre with the blond quiff, which is to be seen in the attached wedding photograph that was taken on October 11, 1943.

“The irony is that it was taken in the porch of Holy Trinity Church, which is in the background of the WVS photograph. The sadness is that in the intervening two and a half years my aunt had become a war widow.

The groom was Sergeant Ron Hepper of the 13th/18th Royal Hussars, who was the commander of a Sherman ‘swimming’ tank on D-Day, and as such was among the very first to land on the beaches of Normandy.

For his actions that day he was awarded the Military Medal which was presented by Field Marshal Montgomery, as seen in the attached presentation photograph.

“My uncle Ron progressed to the German border at Goch, where, on February 24, 1945, his tank was immobilised by a land mine and he perished in the subsequent artillery fire.

In the wedding photograph my aunt is seen with her bridesmaid Mary Sladen, with whom she worked at the Skipton Building Society, and on the left of the photograph is my uncle Kenneth Rodgers, who attended Skipton Grammar School before his conscription into the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

“In his article John Palliser states that a battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment was stationed in Skipton, which is absolutely true, because there was a resident battalion in Skipton, with which my grandfather Philip Rodgers served during the first world was. His son Kenneth served with the regiment in Iceland from 1940 to 1942, as witness the polar bear patch of the 49th Infantry Division on his right sleeve.

“In June 1944 the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment was among the follow on forces in Normandy, and as they moved inland my uncle’s Battalion suffered heavy losses, and he was among wounded.

“During the Normandy Campaign, 19 Officers and 350 men had been killed or wounded. it was returned to England on August 17 1944, and was never reformed as a field force unit.

“Kenneth Rodgers recovered from his wounds and transferred to the Army Air Corps, where he trained with the Glider Pilot Regiment. In 1945 he was destined for action in the Far East; but thankfully the war ended.

“He went on to marry a teacher: Nellie Clark, who lived at the Water Mill in Hartlington, and was a graduate of Skipton Girls’ High School, and they settled in Chesterfield.

“Meanwhile his sister, Margaret, moved to Nottingham and married Donald Nichols, and interestingly she re-joined the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service providing “Meals on Wheels” for the elderly.