Barbara Phythian: Second World War army driver of repute who championed many local causes including Doddington Hospital

Barbara Phythian. This picture was taken in Swansea in 1943.

Barbara Phythian. This picture was taken in Swansea in 1943. - Credit: Archant

Barbara Evelyn Phythian (nee Ladds), died yesterday, aged 93.

Barbara with her grandson Mark Phythian.

Barbara with her grandson Mark Phythian. - Credit: Archant

She was the wife of the late Doug Phythian, mother of John and Rex and grandmother to Mark, Andrew, Misha and Alex.

Barbara was educated at Burrowmoor Road and Hereward Girl’s Schools in March. At school she learnt the piano and retained her love of the piano, dance and music all her life.

When the Second World War was at its height in October 1942 she chose to join the army, aged 20, and joined Army Transport Service (ATS). She was assigned to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) with whom she served until April 1946.

Barbara was stationed at REME in Stourport and Port Talbot where she was the driver responsible for the officer in charge.

She says she was chosen to be the officer in charge’s driver because she was the best shot when they asked a group new recruits to fire at targets to assess them.

She told the story on one occasion she was driving through Coventry and an air raid took place, seeing the German bombers overhead she shouted to everyone in the car to get out and take cover in a cabbage patch alongside the road.

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She also spoke of the occasion she drove her commanding officer to attend a meeting with General Eisenhower. Whilst the meeting took place she and colleagues and Eisenhower’s aides waited in a side room.

Her commanding officer wrote: “She has proved herself a first class driver, careful, courteous, and shows a good road sense. She has set such a high standard of maintenance to her vehicle that it has been the object of my other drivers to try and reach her standard.”

On leaving the Army she worked for the Ministry of Food (“Food Office”) in Wisbech where she made many friends.

After the war, to deal with extreme shortages, the Ministry of Food instituted a system of rationing. Each person had to register at local shops, and was provided with a ration book that contained coupons. The shopkeeper was provided with enough food for registered customers.

When purchasing goods, the purchaser had to give the shopkeeper a coupon as well as money. Her work included making up permits to allow the person to kill pigs.

She married Doug Phythian at St Peter’s Church, in March, in September 1953 and they lived in Elwyn Road and subsequently The Causeway, bringing up their two sons.

After her husband Doug died suddenly in March 1993 Barbara, then aged 72, became busier than ever getting actively involved supporting local causes and charities in March.

She undertook voluntary work for Friends of Doddington Hospital working in the shop at the hospital, helping fund-raising activities and petitioning for the hospital.

On many occasions she was to be seen standing outside Sainsbury’s in March in all weathers asking people to sign a petition to keep open Doddington Hospital.

She helped at March Museum and joined the Women’s Royal Voluntary Services (WRVS) and did voluntary work at Whitemoor Prison.

After the loss of their husbands, Barbara and Peggy Woodgate, her lifelong friend and sister of Doug, both took great pleasure in travelling together throughout the UK and Europe. Stories of the fun and laughter they had would emerge each time they returned.

Barbara continued to drive her car up to the age of 88, consistently applying the skills she learnt in The Army including daily vehicle checks, cleanliness and driving techniques.

She took great pride each year in attending the annual Remembrance service at Neale-Wade Academy, most recently in November last year.

In recent years Barbara moved to Upwell Park in March and then four years ago to Oundle, in Northamptonshire, to be closer to her son John.

Until very recently she was an enthusiastic attendee at Oundle School weekly open days, meeting and talking to pupils.

At the recent VE 70 celebrations she talked to residents of her care home and children from local schools about her experiences during the war, holding everyone in awe.

Son John said: “Barbara was a loving, gentle and considerate wife, mother and grandmother whose memory will be treasured by her family, friends and colleagues.”