Born Gwen Hobbs in Ipswich, she grew up in extreme poverty. Her father Thomas had been severely wounded on The Somme with a shrapnel head wound, before being captured by the Germans and seeing out the First World War as a prisoner of war. He also suffered from shellshock.
After the war, Thomas was never able to hold down a full-time job. Her mother Ellen Garnham was disabled.
The family lived in a dilapidated farm cottage at Clopton near Woodbridge. It had no heating, toilets or running water. The family got their drinking water from the nearby village pond.
Nevertheless, Gwen showed extraordinary talent at school and won a scholarship to Northgate Grammar School in Ipswich.
From there she was awarded a place at St. Katherine’s Teacher Training College in Tottenham – it is now part of Middlesex University.
Within days of her starting the training course, the whole college was evacuated out of London to Babbacombe in Devon.
It was there that Gwen met Sydney Bryson, a Royal Navy able seaman who was based at Devonport. They met at a Saturday night dance at St. Marychurch town hall in Torbay.
Gwen got her first teaching job in a Plymouth primary school in the latter stages of the war.
Once the war was over and Sydney had returned safely, and Gwen had qualified as a teacher, they moved back to Ipswich where they had two children, Celia and Steven.
Then Sydney caught tuberculosis and had to go into a sanitorium to recover. At exactly the same time, Celia caught polio and was put into an isolation ward. Dealing with both was difficult for Gwen.
Once they had both recovered, her teaching career really took off.
Her first job in Suffolk was at the Whitton Junior School in Ipswich.
Six years later she was appointed Deputy Headteacher at Robuck Road school.
And then she applied for her first headship at Luther Road school. She was one of three candidates selected for interview. The other two were males, who refused to talk to her throughout the whole appointment process. When she was offered the position, she heard one of the candidates say to the other, “that bloody woman has been appointed.”
She became the first female junior school headteacher in Suffolk.
Gwen had two further headships – at Hillside Primary in Ipswich and Causton Primary in Felixstowe. In all of her leadership roles she was loved by the staff due to her hard work and support – not to mention being adored by the students and parents.
All of her schools were in deprived areas. She was determined children from these areas should be given opportunities. She knew what it was like.
Art was her great passion. She ran the after-school clubs herself and the school walls were covered in the pupils’ creations.
Sydney died in 1979.
In 1985, Gwen retired and moved to Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, to be close to her family.
She dedicated her retirement to her artwork and founded the Isborne Patchwork Group.
She is survived by both her children, 8 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
RIP Revered (in) Ipswich Primaries