Doreen Wright, who lived in Amersham for nearly 70 years, won a gold medal at the inaugural British Empire Games.

In 1933 she captained the England Women’s Ice Hockey Team against France and also designed their kit!

In 1966, in a room above the Griffin Pub, Doreen led a team of swimmers to found Amersham Swimming Club, no mean feat in a town which still did not have a public pool.

She had this covered though.

As a formidable councillor on Amersham Council for 17 years she fought a long battle to have a pool built. Despite tremendous opposition, this finally opened in 1967.

Widowed at 32, Doreen had to bring up her children alone whilst continuing to run her business.

She still made time to pursue her interests in crafts and textiles and was a founder member of the Lace Guild.

She published a book on bobbin lace making, but perhaps should be best remembered for the poignant wartime diary she wrote as a series of letters to her beloved husband Gilbert, a pilot in the RAF, who was declared missing in action in 1940.

Early life

Mary Doreen Cooper was born in 1907, into a prosperous family in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where the family ran tea plantations. The eldest of four girls, she was sent to boarding school in Sussex, age 11.

When she turned 18, her supportive father gave her the choice of ‘coming out’ as a debutante or having a car.

She chose the car, and a course in design at the Royal College of Art!

Doreen played tennis, water polo and ice hockey at Cheltenham and continued to play competitive ice hockey in London. Her sister Joyce was a successful swimmer, winning bronze and silver medals in the 1928 Olympic Games.

Fed up with making sure that Joyce kept to her training schedule, Doreen decided to join her in training for the 5-mile Ladies Long Distance Swimming Championship in the Thames (the same course as the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race, but in reverse).

The British Empire Games

In the 1930 inaugural British Empire Games (later renamed The Commonwealth Games) in Hamilton, Canada, Doreen and Joyce were both selected to represent England in swimming. This was the only sport open to women competitors at the event, whilst men competed in athletics, boxing, lawn bowls, rowing, swimming, diving and wrestling.

England won 25 gold medals, topping the leader board, and Doreen won her gold in the 4 x 100-yard freestyle relay, with her sister Joyce, in 4:32.8 minutes.

Joyce won four gold medals at the games and is one of Britain’s most successful swimmers.

Sailing home on the Empress of France, the sisters returned as national heroes.

Gilbert Francis Wright

Before Doreen left Canada, she managed to visit some tourist sights. At one of these, the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, she met her future husband, Gilbert Wright.

Gilbert was the eldest son of a wealthy Midland ironwork manufacturer.

After leaving Harrow School he had trained as an engineer and was passionate about cars, motorbikes, and aeroplanes.

He qualified as a pilot in 1931 and was accepted as a Pilot Officer with 605 Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force.

Doreen and Gilbert became engaged three years after they had met and were married in Kingston Upon Thames, June 1934.

The newlyweds moved to Buckinghamshire, to a house that Gilbert had first spotted whilst taking aerial photos around the outskirts of London.

Charlecote, Harewood Road, off Cokes Lane, Chalfont St Giles was to be Doreen’s home for the next 70 years.

Gilbert established a new business partnership with Don Stanton, purchasing Station Garages, a small chain of garages around Amersham.

The men and their wives were directors of the company with Eddy Hearne as manager of the Amersham branch and Stan Yerby as manager of Little Chalfont.

World War II

During the lead up to WWII, 605 Squadron was converted to a fighting squadron and Gilbert was called up in August 1939.

Doreen and their three young children (Nick, four, and twins Bill and Mary, one) were invited by Gilbert’s parents to live with them at Wootton Court in Warwickshire.

Charlecote was let by Swannell & Sly for three years to accommodate the night staff of an evacuated children’s home.

With a nanny to help with the children, Doreen was able to commit to war work with the Women’s Volunteering Services.

The 605 Squadron was trained to fly Hawker Hurricanes and moved to RAF Wick in Caithness. For a time, this was the busiest sector in Fighter Command due to Luftwaffe attacks on Scapa Flow.

A few days after Doreen visited Gilbert in May, the Squadron was transferred to Kent to give some cover to the British Expeditionary Force in France.

Gilbert did not return from one of these missions on May 22, 1940.

Doreen received a telegram on May 24, advising her that her husband was reported missing.

From May 29, 1940 Doreen started to keep a private diary of the daily life of her young family.

This was intended to keep Gilbert ‘posted’ about everything he’d missed on his return.

The diary provides a unique insight into how the war affected all aspects of the family’s life and the communities in Warwickshire and Amersham.

Doreen continued to write the diary until she received a letter from the Air Ministry dated February 8 1943, which shattered her hopes that Gilbert was alive.

This confirmed that he had died May 22, 1940, and was buried in Berneville, Pas de Calais.

With incredible courage and resilience, Doreen moved back to Chalfont St Giles to start life again.

She took her husband’s place in the partnership and expanded the business, whilst ensuring that Charlecote was a loving home for her children.

Doreen’s Diary: She Could Not Have Loved More was published by the Leek Wootton History Group in 2012.

With many thanks to Judy Thompson for her research for this article.

A longer version can be found at