A unique insight into life in St Albans during the Second World War has been revealed in a handwritten wartime diary kept by former Herts Advertiser reporter Kathleen Gansert (née Wilson).

The remarkable diary – kept lovingly by her daughter, Nicola Doherty – details first-hand how life changed in the city after the outbreak of war.

Shopping, for example, changed dramatically, after thousands of Londoners were evacuated to St Albans.

Kathleen wrote in November 1940 that shopping “has turned from a leisurely pleasure into a perplexing problem.

Herts Advertiser: Kathleen recorded events in St Albans during WWII.Kathleen recorded events in St Albans during WWII. (Image: Peter Crumpler)

“The city is still the same size but the population is not! This has swollen from thirty-two to fifty-two thousand and instead of our genteel, cathedral-city ladies holding sway in the shops, they are pushed to one side by a tough determined down-at-heel hard-bargaining crowd of Londoners!

“Of course, none of us begrudge hospitality to these folk who have descended to us from bombed homes and shattered streets, but they do shove, and they do push.”

Kathleen writes about a German bomb that drops near her home in Jennings Road in October 1940. Several houses are destroyed, but no one is injured.

Herts Advertiser: Kathleen sadly died in 1998, aged 87.Kathleen sadly died in 1998, aged 87. (Image: Peter Crumpler)

She comments: “This morning, I went to see the damage caused by last night’s air raid.

"Crowds of others have the same idea and together we stand looking at these badly battered houses and rows of shattered windows.

“Stories of miraculous escapes are told to us and we see those who had them trying to gather together their belongings and examining their furniture. Poor people to be homeless – that is my chief dread of the many dreads that have sprung to life since the war began.”

The following month, Kathleen sadly records the death of a family of four in a nearby street during a night-time bombing raid. She adds “Miraculously, relations living in the same house were saved.”

Herts Advertiser: Kathleen's daughter Nicola with the diary.Kathleen's daughter Nicola with the diary. (Image: Peter Crumpler)

In addition to working for The Herts Advertiser, Kathleen volunteered at a local Women’s Voluntary Services canteen, serving meals to civil defence workers and troops.

She recalled “The troops don’t grumble. ‘Just like mother makes’ they say, as they eat some sizzling concoction or other. Poor mother, if she only knew!”

Kathleen’s wartime diary includes cuttings from The Herts Advertiser and national papers.

One article is from an interview that Kathleen did in May 1940 with a St Albans soldier returning home from “nine days of hell” fighting in Norway. The British troops had withdrawn in the face of overwhelming German forces.

The soldier, from Green Lane in St Albans, told Kathleen: “Our instructions were to hold the enemy off for forty-eight hours; we held them off for seventy-two.”

Other insights from the war include a grateful letter from the medical director of Hill End Hospital, where many wounded soldiers were treated after the evacuation from Dunkirk.


The letter, dated June 25th 1940, thanks Kathleen for donating cigarettes for the British and French troops.

The director writes: “I have to thank you very much for your kind gift of cigarettes. These are always most appreciated by our patients.”

Kathleen sadly died in 1998, aged 87.