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Gladys Eva, plotted aircraft movements for the RAF during the Battle of Britain – obituary

·3-min read
Gladys Eva: rose rapidly through the ranks
Gladys Eva: rose rapidly through the ranks

Gladys Eva, who has died aged 100, was the last surviving WAAF plotter who served in Fighter Command’s operations centre during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz that followed.

She was not yet 20 when she joined the RAF as a special duties clerk in March 1940 and, after a few weeks training, she was sent to Bentley Priory, the headquarters of Fighter Command. “I arrived after only a month’s training to prepare us for the vital work in the Filter Centre,”she recalled. “Little did we realise that in a few months we would be engaged in battles for national survival.”

Using inputs and observations from radar units, Royal Observer Corps sightings and signals intelligence, an air situation picture was produced at the Filter Centre and it was by using this that the battle was controlled and fought. Gladys recalled that plotting was exhausting work but also exciting, “and the accuracy and speed of the plotters was vitally important.”

The plotters were, in fact, the first part of a complex analytical process, which hinged on their accuracy. Gladys had some four months to hone her skills before the Battle of Britain commenced in July and she was at the very centre of the action over the whole period of the battle. She was a passionate bridge player and always claimed that this helped her in her work.

She rose rapidly through the ranks and, by the time she was 21, she had been promoted to flight sergeant and became a Filter Centre supervisor. In April 1941 she moved to the operations centre of No 12 (Fighter) Group based near Nottingham. She was involved in the Thousand Bomber raids of 1942 and spoke movingly about talking over the radio to pilots heading back to base, some of whom did not make it.

The daughter of a Boer War veteran, Gladys May Taborn was born in Wimbledon on December 6 1920 and educated at Kingsley School where she was a keen tennis player.

Throughout the war, she served in the United Kingdom at various operations rooms in Fighter Command before leaving the service at the end of the war.

She worked in the family business in Wimbledon selling musical instruments. In 1959 she sailed aboard the Queen Mary where she met Fred Woolham. They were married shortly after and lived in Staffordshire. After his death in 1979 she became the housekeeper to the industrialist Victor Eva, who lived at Prestbury Hall, Cheshire, and they were married in 1982.

Gladys Eva, far left, meeting the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall 
Gladys Eva, far left, meeting the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall

After his death in 1986 she bought a large property in Macclesfield, which she converted and ran as a hotel until she was 73 when she retired to Dorset.

After the closure of RAF Bentley Priory, a museum commemorating the Battle of Britain was established. Gladys Eva helped in the recreation of the filter room and she was honoured for this work with one of the bronze figures in the Filter Centre being modelled on her as she appeared in 1941.

A bronze of Gladys Eva at the Bentley Priory Museum
A bronze of Gladys Eva at the Bentley Priory Museum

During the opening of the museum by the Prince of Wales on September 12 2013, she and a small number of her former colleagues were presented to the Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall and later had lunch with them.

She also features in the interactive display at the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne, overlooking the white cliffs of Dover.

In recent years she had been a guest of honour at Battle of Britain and RAF events, ranging from the annual Westminster Abbey memorial services to a film premiere, and music concerts. Last year the BBC filmed her for the Festival of Remembrance from the Royal Albert Hall, which was screened in November 2020.

She had no children.

Gladys Eva, born December 6 1920, died April 23 2021