Gwenda Rosemary NICKLE
(later Gwenda Reid)
Serial Number: W2458
Nickname in WAAF: 'Nicki'
RNZAF Trade: Motor Transport Driver
Date of Enlistment: 1st of January 1942
Date of Demob: November 1945
Rank Achieved: WAL
Flying Hours: A short flight in an RNZAF Moth
Operational Sorties: nil
Date of Birth: 20th of May 1917, at Cambridge
Personal Details: Gwen was the daughter of William and Florence Nickle of Cambridge. She married Harry Reid, and they had three children, Bill, Tessa and Sally.
Service Details: Initially serving as in the Cambridge unit of the Womens War Service Auxiliary (WWSA) and reaching the rank of Sergeant, Gwen was farewelled from that organisation in December 1941 upon her joining the WAAF.
Gwen took up her duties on the 1st of January at RNZAF Station Hobsonville, where she spent five months. She then transferred to RNZAF Station Hamilton, living and working right in the town centre.
She was billeted in the Grand Hotel in Hood Street, which these days is a pub known as House. Gwenda remembers that the girls slept four to a room, and living conditions were a little cramped, but it was great fun. She says that though she became good friends with her three other roommates in her room, she never did have the opportunity to get so close to the other girls in the barracks.
She recalls the girls in her room used to hide a bottle of beer in a secret compartment under a lose floor board, but during an inspection one day this was discovered. Rather than cause a fuss, the inspecting officer merely placed the bottle outside in full view to let the girls realise they had been caught when they returned to the barracks.
They also used to regularly make their beds in the normal fashion in the mornings, rather than make the regulation 'bedpack', which is a special military way of folding and stacking the sheets and blankets for inspection. "We hoped we wouldn't get caught," she recalled.
The girls had a curfew time for which they had to be all in their rooms, but she remembers that if they were ever late back to barracks, they simply shimmed up the fire escape and in through the window!
Gwenda's workplace was not at all far away from her barracks - the Transport Section was in the Ebbett garages that were behind where the present day Hamilton Fire Station resides in Angelsea Street, so the march to work in the morning was not more than a couple of blocks.
Gwenda remembers the job she did, working in the Transport Section in Hamilton, was quite a lot of fun. The officers were usually relaxed. She remembers they went through a number of Commanding Officers, one of whom got the men under him to build him a caravan on the sly. Another CO they had, who was British, is not remembered so fondly because he was always drunk. She says the discipline was fairly relaxed in Hamilton compared with a more formal RNZAF Station.
However she did recall an incident when she did get into some trouble - she was assigned a task to stack boxes into the back of a truck. She was told specifically to stack them neatly, but she says she got sick of this so just started "throwing them in any old how", as she put it, and she was caught by an officer, who was not best pleased.
Another memory of life in Hamilton that Gwenda remembers is seeing occasionally the airmen that had committed a misdemeanour being punished by running around the square in Palmerston Street.
In the Transport Section Gwenda actually worked with a few other Cambridge people, including Josie McGovern, Margaret Cornwall, and Ernie Gorringe (who later moved to Cambridge). She used to drive all sorts of vehicles, cars and trucks, and she recalls that the section had an array of vehicles including Fords, Bedford trucks and Bedford vans. She says in Hamilton the Transport Section's role was mainly employed with transporting stores and troops around. She laughs, "I had some of the Air Training Corps on board one day, and I stopped suddenly, and there were lots of yells from the back."
She says that the drivers and mechanics used to have wonderful water fights in the Transport Section's yard after they'd finished work at 5pm.
For social occasions the WAAF's including Gwenda often went to dances arranged by the RNZAF. One in particular was held in Melville Hall. She also remembers going to a Review in the old Embassy Theatre.
One of her great passions was playing the piano. She used to play hymns for the RNZAF church services, and though she was not a jazz pianist by training, and was more classically trained, she played the modern dance music in the Hamilton YMCA
In those days the YMCA was often the hub of an RNZAF Station, where a great deal of the social life was spent, and where airmen and WAAF's could relax together, fun could be had and they could dance to the swing or jazz music. At one point Gwenda received a posting to Ohakea, but her CO got her out of it, because it was felt the YMCA needed her playing more!
Another memory is her first flight whilst in the WAAF. She says, "Someone forced me to go - I didn't want to - in a little Moth. They put a parachute on me and I realised later that if I'd pulled the cord I thought was the right one, it'd have fallen off me!"
Connection with Cambridge: Gwenda was born and bred in the Cambridge district, living in Kaipaki before joining the WAAF
Date of Death: 10th of August 2016. at Cambridge Lifecare, aged 99
Cremated: At Hamilton Crematorium, Matangi on 15th of August 2016
Connection with Cambridge: Gwenda was born and bred in the Cambridge district, and she returned to Cambridge in her final years and died in the town
Thanks To: Gwenda Nickle herself, and to Errol Martyn for extra details