My mum was born in Liverpool on the
16th of February 1919 and was Christened Gwendolyn Berry so her
initials were ‘GB’. I thought
that she was ‘Great’ but I am biased! She
had a happy childhood and couldn’t wait for her seventh birthday
because back then you had to be seven to take out library books. When the day finally came she stood outside
the library waiting for it to open and so started many years of
avid reading until she stopped in her late eighties because she
found it hard to see print. Gwen
was also the May Queen when she was seven.
At fourteen Gwen left school and had
three jobs before a year had passed.
Her third job was as a trainee telephonist. She qualified and stayed in that job until
she married at the age of 28.
Her youth was spent riding her bike with friends. They rode from Liverpool to Southport and
all around the Wirral on the other side of the Mersey. She also loved reading poetry and often
went to the theatre to watch plays, operas and ballets.
Just before the Second World War,
Gwen met Edwin Herbert, known to everyone as Bert. He was barracked in the street where she
lived. At a party she told
him that it was her birthday and she didn’t believe him when he
said that it was also his. It
turned out that they were both born on the same day, of the same
month of the same year. They did not see one another much throughout
the war. Bert was fighting
the enemy and Gwen was working as a telephonist in the heart of
Liverpool, spending a lot of her nights in the air raid shelter
at the bottom of the garden. The war ended and Bert came home. They married in March 1947 and moved to
St. Helens where Gwen spent the rest of her life. My brother, Jonathan, was born in the March
of 1951 and I came along in the August of 1954. Throughout my childhood, dad and I
were constantly in and out of hospital.
After dad died in August 1966, my grandmother came to live
with us. My mother went
back to work in Liverpool in July the following year.
She commuted an hour each way by bus, which made the days
In 1974 my mum and I went to the AGM
Weekend Tournament. It
was the first of many BCA events that we attended together. At the British Chess Championship for the
Visually Impaired in Blackpool 1975 I did well enough to be picked
as the travelling reserve in our squad for the IBCA Olympiad team
in Finland the following year.
Mum’s work mates assisted by raising money to help pay
for her to go with me. The venue was a sports centre 200 miles
north of Helsinki. Many
of the teams were accommodated in log cabins.
In our cabin, mum and I had a room to ourselves and Colin
Chambers, Jack Horrocks and Geoff Carlin slept in the main lounge and
bedroom. Imagine the look
on her colleagues’ faces when mum innocently announced that she
had slept in a log cabin with her son and three strange men for
a fortnight! We had two wonderful weeks, during which
we had a party to celebrate my birthday.
There was a lot of beer but there would have been more
if our coach hadn’t dropped some, smashing them to pieces. I wanted a smashing time but not like that!
While in Finland, mum wanted some milk to make tea.
Not knowing the language, she got her milk by miming milking
In 1977 we went to West Germany for
the Six Nations tournament and to Blackpool for the British Visually
Handicapped Chess Championship, where I finished third. Then in summer 1979 we went to Chorleywood
to play in the Visually Impaired Chess tournament where I finished
third again. I qualified
for the 1980 Olympiad in the Netherlands and this time played
on top board. We had a
great time there! The food and drink were excellent. Once again we celebrated my birthday during
the event but the real party was on the last night. In those days the Russians weren’t allowed
to drink until they had won the Gold Medal. Then after finishing their drinks they threw
their glasses over their shoulders, smashing them on the floor. We partied all night and finally went to
bed at 5am. Mum took the key to my room, so she
could let herself in and wake me up for breakfast just two hours
In September 1981 we went to the Six
Nations in Switzerland; a country mum had always wanted to visit. Sadly, this trip was tainted for her because
I was ill for some of the time.
Nevertheless, she loved the mountains!
The next Olympiad was in Spain in
1985. I found it far too
hot there and became very ill.
I didn’t eat for a whole day, which is most unusual.
Mum cared for me and brought me food in bed when I could
eat again. Together with
some antibiotics from the doctor, her attentive nursing restored
my health in time to travel home as planned.
In 1985 I won the British Chess Championship
for the Visually Impaired, which entitled me to play in the World
Individual Chess Championship for the Visually Impaired in Moscow
in October 1986. We had
to raise a lot of money for this trip but we managed it in the
end. We set off with my coach, John Littlewood,
and when we arrived in the heart of the city, mum spotted the
statue of Yuri Gagarin, which was about 300 feet high and could
be seen for miles. There
were also numerous skyscrapers with shops at the bottom of them
and the metro train stations were massive, made of marble.
Mum said that big was beautiful in Moscow, so I would be
happy there, and I was. During
our stay, mum and John went for a trip on the Metro and got lost.
Luckily John knew some Russian and was able to ask the
way back. The trolley buses
were interesting. No matter how full they became, people were
never prevented from boarding.
One day, mum made the mistake of standing by the ticket
machine. The other passengers passed their money
along the bus and the one standing by the ticket machine had to
put the money in and pass the ticket back down the bus to its
owner. Mum did this for the whole journey without
letting on that she was English.
On one of our days off we decided to visit the museum. Stefi Cohn came
too. The entrance queue
was very long and as we only had the afternoon we thought we wouldn’t
get in until it was time to come home.
A Russian gentleman behind us knew some English and heard
us talking about it. He advised us to go to the front of the
queue and say that we were tourists.
We did this and sure enough we were allowed through by
a guard with a rifle on his shoulder.
Inside, mum said, “Look at this!” putting my hand on the
massive foot of a statue made of solid stone and standing 30 feet
high. A female member of
staff immediately ran over and started gesturing at us and speaking
in Russian, presumably telling us not to touch things.
She followed us around for the rest of our visit.
We flew back into London at night and mum said it looked
like fairyland with all the bright lights of the city lighting
up the dark.
In 1987 we were off on our travels
once again, this time to Paris, for another Six Nations. Our team finished equal first and we were
each presented with two bottles of Champagne of the same vintage
that the Queen drinks! Later
that year we went to Hungary to play in a strong team event in
Budapest, which is an interesting city and was very cheap in those
days. In May 1988 we had another enjoyable fortnight
in Hungary, near the Yugoslav border.
In 1990 we went to West Germany for
the Individual World Chess Championship for the Visually Impaired. Once again mum’s miming came into its own!
She managed to get across to reigning champion, Berlinsky
(USSR), that he was little and I was large. The Irish representative, Mike Meaney, played music every night for the whole fortnight,
which made this trip especially enjoyable. Mum came with me to Dublin in 1990 and 1992
but didn’t travel to chess events abroad after that. Her last BCA event was the 70th Anniversary
in York, 2002.
Gwen died on the 29th of April 2016.
Rest in peace, Mum. I hope you are swinging on a star with your
beloved Bert, reciting your favourite poem, Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’.