Alice Hedy Anson

Alice Hedy Anson (née Goss), WAAF  photographer and charity volunteer

Born: 22 September 1924 in Vienna, Austria. Died: 16 June 2016, in Watford, aged 91.

Viennese schoolgirl, Alice Gross was a 14-year-old schoolgirl when she escaped the tyranny of Nazism, thanks to her grandfather’s business contacts in Europe.

Having witnessed the Anschluss and the presence of Hitler in her hometown of Vienna, her middle-class Jewish parents, though not religious, knew they would be targeted and took the decision to send her to live with a family in Surrey.

 

Travelling alone, she left the Austrian capital in 1938, arriving in Coulsdon where she was taken under the wing of the family who treated her as one of their own eight children. Though she spoke little English she became the mother’s help until being reunited in England with her own parents who had managed to secure a domestic service permit for her mother and entry visa for her father.

They rented a house in Finchley and young Alice became an apprentice dressmaker, working in various large London stores.

In 1942, when she was still just 17, she volunteered for the WAAF and was called up the following year. She had hoped to be a driver but was detailed to work as a clerk and posted to Hertfordshire, to a Observer air crew training station. There she organised transport before requesting the chance to train as a photographer.

After a three-month course at No 1 School of Photography, RAF Farnborough, she became an Aircraftwoman 1st Class and was sent on two postings, neither of which had a photo section. At one she even ended up helping the dentist, mixing fillings.

But by the summer of 1944 she finally got to work in the photo section – at HQ Bomber Command in High Wycombe.

One of her most significant tasks involved a tiny, postage stamp-sized section of an aerial photo taken in the north of France. It was to be copied, enlarged and sent for analysis. It turned out she and her colleagues had helped to pinpoint traces of rails leading underground to the Hitler’s VI flying bomb launch site.

She later served at the bomber airfield RAF Sturgate where she had to develop and print rolls of five inch film taken by the bomb aimers’ aerial cameras. Post-war she volunteered to serve in Europe but was posted to Egypt where she served at Ismailia, Kasfareet and Deversoir air bases before being demobbed on 1 January, 1947.

Returning home to Finchley she found work initially as a photo printer and then as an agency photographer, covering events in the rag trade for Drapers Record magazine.

She later worked for a society photographer, covering a wide range of events, and had some images published in Tatler.

She met her husband Colin in a London cafe, in 1949, while she was taking tea with her mother.

He was catching up with an old colleague in the Pioneer Corps who recognised her mother as someone he knew from Vienna. Alice was duly introduced to the handsome former Commando, Colin Edward Anson (aka Claus Leopold Octavio Ascher) who had fled his native Germany just days before he turned 17, when he would have been conscripted.

He went on to serve in the British forces, training as a Commando at Achnacarry in the Scottish Highlands and operating with X Troop, No.10(IA) Commando

Advertisements