By Viktor Berg
“Well, I had to do something,” Molly Clarke said about why she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1941 to play her part in World War 2.
At 98 years old, she is still full of energy, lives completely independently and only stopped driving (!) earlier this year. Unlike many, for understandable reasons, Salisbury-born Molly has no trouble speaking about the war. “I quite like to chat about it,” she said.
She saw plenty of action, including seeing a Spitfire physically tip off course a doodlebug (V-1 flying bomb). After training in Reading, Molly served in the 495 Battery 129 (Mixed Heavy) Air Defence Regiment Royal Artillery – the first to be formed – until her demob in 1945.
Britain pushed for women to join the army as most men were stationed overseas, and although it was the first-ever mixed regiment, there was no animosity. After a spell in Wales, she was stationed in Shropshire’s Oswestry and Greystone in Scotland before being redeployed to Kent to counter the German V-1 flying bombs.
“There was a great camaraderie, we were just accepted. It was about discipline,” Molly said. “Four and half years I was on there – and it was fantastic.”
Her regiment saw the most action in Lydd, Kent, just opposite Dunkirk, where they could see France. The Germans fired their 1,870lb doodlebugs from across the English Channel. Times were tough and for some, it was too much.
“I was on guard duty and saw a girl running out of camp – she was trying to desert,” Molly said. “I caught up with her and pulled her back: I was very fit back then! After the war, I couldn’t settle for a long time. I loved the Army and would have gone back into it if I hadn’t married.”
Molly married former bombardier and Mayor of Wilton, Jim Clarke in 1945. He had been a prisoner of war in Poland for six years. He was then stationed at the Bulford Camp.
Some years after the war, they moved to the same house in Wilton where Molly still lives. Jim, founder of Wilton’s cricket and football clubs, sadly passed away 10 years ago.
“They were the best 63 years of my life – he taught me to dance because I had two left feet. We had many good times. I’ve had a good life.”
Molly can “talk for England”, which is why she is a regular at the Thursday Club in Wilton’s Community Centre. She also enjoys knitting and uses her scooter to go out and about – in December she turns 99 years old.
As an ex-Gunner, she is a member of Salisbury and Wilton Royal Artillery Association, which actively supports all local ex-Artillery men and women, and widows of former members, with moral and financial help. Every year, the association raise funds to support ex Gunners nationwide.
More details: Cindy Nelson-Twiby on 07929 728852.
Pictured top: Molly Clarke (left), Grace Taylor 495 Battery 93 (Mixed Heavy) Air Defence Regiment RA (Poole Branch RAA). They served at the same time but met up for the first time in Salisbury last summer. Standard Bearer is Tim Aldridge Salisbury and Wilton Branch RAA.