Master Signwriter

Family Man

Alfred’s family in WW2

Joy Gough

Life after Joy

Alfred, in loco parantis


Royal Observer Corps 12 Group

The Observer Corps became the Royal Observer Corps in the Spring of 1941. Alfred worked for them both. This picture is of the ROC Bedford 12 Group - with Alfred in the back row, fourth from the left

Alfred's family in WW2

As Alfred and Rosie listened to Neville Chamberlain telling them they were now at war with Germany in September 1939, they realised that their world was about to change. The demand for signwriting would diminish and everyone would be expected to contribute to the war effort.

Rosemary had just turned six and would attend Castle Road Junior School and then Dame Alice School during the war. Joy had left home the year before to become a nurse in London, and Alfred was called up to join the Observer Corps Number 12 Group HQ in Biddenham, one and a half miles away.

It was a shift which could last from midnight to 8am or a similar number of hours during the daytime. Alfred had to cycle to Biddenham in all weathers and was not allowed to switch on his cycle lamp at night owing to the blackout rules.

Marguerite Joy Gough

Marguerite Joy Gough in her South Western Hospital uniform

Alfred's job was to act as an 'observer' and identify aircraft and their direction of travel by sight during daytime or by ear at night or when it was cloudy. Radar stations could spot aircraft approaching the coast, but after that, the RAF needed to track enemy planes using a network of observation posts. The information gathered would then be relayed across the country so that timely air raid warnings could be sounded in areas north and west of Bedford.

The BBC used Bedford as a base for their wartime orchestral and light music broadcasts. Glenn Miller played many concerts there and it was from Bedfordshire that he took off and disappeared forever over the Channel when flying to meet up with his band. Bedford was bombed but not extensively. The Gough family would hide under the kitchen table when there was an air raid warning. They didn't have underground shelter nearby to keep them safe.

Joy was in her third year of nursing in London, and was loving her vocation. She did 12-hour shifts and enjoyed the camaraderie and the night life in her free time. The London Blitz from September to November 1940 however, changed everything. The capital was bombed day and night, bar one night. It was intense, bloody, dangerous, scary, destructive and relentless.

Joy wrote to her family on 25th November 1940. In her letter she mentions: the removal of a live unexploded bomb from the hospital grounds; that her boyfriend Harry and her had an 'awful quarrel' but that he looked good in a new uniform; asks that Rosemary be a good Brownie and what she would like for Christmas, and signs off saying "You can't imagine how much I wish I was home sometimes. War is so horrible. I am definitely coming home within the next month and will bring all presents then - post is so very unreliable. Love from Joy xxx"

That was her last letter home. The next news that they had of her was in this telegram delivered Thursday 28 November.


A Luftwaffe bomb had hit Joy's South Western Hospital on the previous night at 22.15. According to the Civil Defence warden's report I retrieved from Lambeth Library archives a few years' ago: "1 probationary nurse killed, 2 nurses injured, some suffering from shock." Aunty Joy was unlucky to be the only one killed that night in one of the last Blitz bombings of 1940.


A bundle of 50 condolence letters sent to Mr & Mrs Gough commiserating over Joy's untimely death

Margaret Gallagher, an Irish nursing colleague wrote to the Goughs to say"Joy was my friend and would like me to let you know that she suffered no pain and that the end was as swift as lightning flash and therefore quite painless. Joy never caused anyone any sorrow and was always sympathising with everyone else in their sorrows and is now enjoying the fruits of her goodness in the next world."

Joy and Rosemary

Alfred kept this framed picture of Joy in his bedroom - with Rosemary's image added later on

Alfred and Rosie were devout Congregationalists and the support of church members would have softened the blow. But only by a fraction. We could see that she was constantly in her father's thoughts. He kept a local newspaper clipping about her funeral in his wallet till the end of his life. Titled 'BEDFORD NURSE KILLED - Miss Joy Gough'it said that she 'was greatly liked for her vivacious and sweet disposition.'

The pain must have been raw for years. Thank goodness Alfred had Rosie, and Rosie had Alfred. Having Rosemary to look after must have helped too. Eventually, the open wound closed little by little. Rosemary became the focus of their life until she too left home.

Joy died exactly halfway through Alfred's lifespan. The aftershocks remained with him forever though. Every 27th November, Alfred would either lock himself in his bedroom for the day, or cry at the table if he came down for supper.