Stotler recalls living through World War II in England

| February 5, 2019

COSHOCTON – When Gwendoline “Gwen” Stotler’s husband Harold got a job as the city and county sanitarian, the two moved from their farm outside of Zanesville to Coshocton County in 1953. However, their story goes well beyond the borders of Coshocton County to a small town in Manchester, England where Gwen was born and raised. Although Gwen will be 100 years old on Tuesday, Feb. 12, her mind is as sharp as ever and she can share stories of her childhood, the war, how she met Harold, and her first impression of the United States with detail, accuracy, and of course, a lovely English accent.

Gwen was born in 1919 in Stockport, Manchester, England and later moved to 33 Birchfield Road with her family. She was proud of the fact that she can still remember her childhood address.

“I remember the different games we used to play,” she said about her childhood. “We’d get together and play different ball games, certain games we used to play together.”

However, Gwen’s early 20s were anything but ordinary. As a young woman in war-ravaged England, Gwen remembers blackouts, air raid sirens, and German fighter planes blanketing the sky.

“The only time I lost it was the night they bombed Coventry Cathedral,” she said. “It was one constant drone. It started at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and didn’t end until 7 o’clock in the morning. It [the cathedral] was beautiful. It was about 25 miles away from where I lived. Later on in the war, I could see the fires by standing on my mum’s back door step. That was scary.”

During the war, Gwen worked for the gas and electric company as a telephone operator and was in charge of putting orders through from various countries.

“One of my customers used to call me the girl with the golden voice,” she said. “I remember I had a huge window on my side of the office, which is where I saw a fight in the sky with one of the German planes.”

After the blackouts started and Germany bombed London, Gwen was in charge of operating the air raid sirens that were located on the roof at the gas and electric company. When a blackout was announced on the radio, she would turn on the sirens.

“They bombed all night every night,” she said. “It wasn’t like they would take a day off. We got to know what kind of plane it was just by the noise of the engine.”

Toward the end of the war, the government made her quit her job at the gas and electric company to work at an airplane factory making sprockets for airplanes. This change was due to the shortage of men who could fill that job.

Gwen said that even though she lived through the uncertainty of war, she was able to talk with friends at her place of employment and they banded together to try to forget the tragedy of war.

“The best part of the war was when the soldiers here [in the United States] decided to come and help,” said Gwen. “I remember my dad saying, it’s bad for the people of Pearl Harbor, but it’s good for us because now we’ll have help. He used to call the United States the young country.”

It was after the American soldiers arrived in England that Gwen met her future husband at a dance. Harold was a sergeant and in charge of the mess hall and meals for the troops.

“I saw this soldier,” said Gwen. “He was kind of heavyset and he looked straight across at me and I said to my girlfriend, oh dear, I think that guy over there is going to ask me to dance and I don’t want to dance with him. He’s too fat.”

Gwen had eyes for one of Harold’s friends, an Italian named Tony. However, fate had other plans for the couple.

“Harold didn’t ask me to dance that dance, but he did the following dance,” she said. “He was light on his feet and we just hit it off together. I told my mum and dad that story and my dad laughed and my mum said that maybe we should ask him over for dinner one Sunday.”

After Harold was transferred to other places in England, Gwen would take the train to see him whenever she could. The two were married after the war ended on March 10, 1946.

In December of that year, their first-born son Chris was born and the next year, when he was only six and a half months old, the family came to the United States.

“I came with the idea that I was going to like it,” said Gwen. “Everybody on the airplane, when they announced that they could see the Statue of Liberty, they stood up and started cheering, but I got tears in my eyes because I wanted to go back to England.”

The couple lived with Harold’s mom and dad in Newark for a while and Harold helped his father paint houses for a living. Harold and Gwen then bought a small farm in Gratiot outside of Zanesville. The family moved to Coshocton in 1953 when Harold got a job as the city and county sanitarian. He was instrumental in implementing the mosquito control program.

In 1958, Gwen’s parents came over to the United States on the Queen Mary and settled in Coshocton to be near to their grandchildren.

Over the years, the couple made memories by taking many family vacations together, mostly to a remote fishing cabin in Canada. After Harold retired, the two spent a lot of time in Florida and bought a house in the sunshine state in the mid-1970s. They spent 35 winters in Florida together in the Bonita Springs and Estero areas. As Gwen never learned to drive, she loved to ride her bike down to the end of her road in Florida where there was a strip mall and she could go shopping. She still enjoys walking to Buehler’s in Coshocton and likes talking to the employees there.

Gwen used to reupholster furniture after the move to Coshocton to help supplement the family’s finances. The couple also owned Stotler’s Christmas Tree Farm out by Keene.

“I remember when the kid’s friends would come to the farm and they would go skating and I would always make them hot chocolate,” she said.

She and Harold were married for 68 years until Harold passed away in 2014. The couple have four children: Chris (Marsha Bates) Stotler, Steve (Sharlee) Stotler, Cheri (Mark) McCullough, and Jackie (Matt) Steele; 13 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.

Family and close friends will be celebrating Gwen’s birthday privately at a later date.

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Category: People & Places

About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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