Engineer of the Week No. 22 Major “Bunty” Sergant REME (Mrs. Gwendolen Alice Howard) BSc, CEng, FIMechE, AMBIM (17th March 1926 - 1st June 1979)
Gwendolen Sergant, known to friends as Bunty, was born in Sussex in 1926, into a family that was immersed in engineering. She was involved from an early age in her father’s agricultural engineering works as well as a refrigeration engineering works, and learned blacksmithing, fitting and welding before she left school. She went to Loughborough College in about 1943 and survived a gruelling week-long mathematics entrance test but her studies were interrupted by her father losing his sight. She resumed her studies doing an apprenticeship with the Rheostatic Company, Slough, which later employed her as a technical assistant, gaining an HNC and BSc in mechanical engineering. In 1948 she moved to the industrial design unit of Thorn Electrical Industries, to design fluorescent lighting.
Finding her way barred to more challenging roles in industry she took a commission as an engineer in the Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1953. Although the army was not integrated at that time, she spent the next 20 years working with REME, rising to the rank of Major in 1964 and working in many parts of the world and becoming Officer-in-charge of General Engineering REME 43 Command Workshop in Aldershot in 1969, where she was responsible for planning the care of the army’s entire fleet of 160,000 vehicles. By 1969 she was also a full Member of IMechE. In 1973 she married Lt Cdr John Howard RN, and they both resigned their commissions to set up their own garage. This unfortunately fell victim to the oil crisis at the time and she soon got a job as the assistant secretary to the Admissions Board of the University of Cambridge.
She joined the Women’s Engineering Society in 1945 and was active in the local branches when at UK postings. She gave talks about her army work, was the IMechE representative on the Society’s council and several profiles were printed in The Woman Engineer. In 1974-75 she became the Society’s president and, although in ill health, remained involved in the Society until her untimely death in 1979.