A 99-YEAR-OLD care home resident who regularly saw Winston Churchill during her top secret work at an intelligence base in the Second World War has revealed her unique role in history for the first time.
Grandmother-of-six Dorothea ‘Lilian’ Raymant, who lives at Woodland Lodge Care Home in Gumfreston, Tenby, was recruited as a teleprinter operator with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1940.
She spent four years sending encoded messages from the secret allied intelligence base at RAF Medmenham at Danesfield House in Buckinghamshire.
Alongside Bletchley Park, RAF Medmenham played a pivotal role in the war effort, housing a pioneering team of scientists, academics and inventors who together developed the then relatively new science of interpreting aerial photographs.
The information gleaned from the photographs, taken by courageous reconnaissance pilots across occupied Europe, was passed on in code to strategic departments and bases by specially-trained teleprinter operators.
Details of Lilian’s remarkable life are being revealed for the first time as part of this summer’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.
“I was a just a small cog in a big team and everyone did their bit,” said Lilian, who has released some personal photographs for usmarking her extraordinary life.
“We were targeting a common enemy. There were so many officers based there that the WAAFs were told not to bother saluting or they would have their hand permanently glued to their heads. It felt very democratic with so many people of rank in the one place.
“At the time, we didn’t realise the impact of what we were doing. Everything was managed in great secrecy. We certainly didn’t know the scale of D-Day.”
Her special role in history has now been praised by Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of care industry champions Care Forum Wales.
“The work of Lilian and the wider team at RAF Medmenham is extraordinary and helped bring an end to the war. We all have so much to be grateful for,” he said
“I am delighted her special role in history can be finally revealed as the nation marks this important anniversary.”
Born in 1920 in Pembroke Dock, Lilian was the youngest of seven children and the daughter of Owen Hire, a well-respected former Mayor of Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. Her uncle John Hire was the captain of a large sailing ship who saved the crew of a Norwegian vessel in a storm and was later rewarded for his heroics by the King of Sweden and Norway, while her grandfather William Jones was a decorated war hero who fought in the Crimean War.
She spent her early childhood growing up on the family farm before taking on clerical work in Pembroke Dockyard. Later, she joined the WAAF to train as a teleprinter operator.
The work carried out at RAF Medmenham is considered as significant as that of Bletchley Park.
It is estimated that 80 per cent of all intelligence in the war originated from aerial photography and the team, which regularly welcomed Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Britain’s highest-ranking army officer, General Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was at one stage producing up to seven million prints a month and was the centre for photographic reconnaissance and preparations for D-Day.
Among many triumphs, the centre led the identification by Lady Babington Smith, who Lilian knew at the time, of the V1 ‘Doodlebug’ launch site at Peenemunde and the discovery of Hitler’s V-weapons rocket programme.
“Although no one knew initially what they were, we were later told that the rocket launch sites were quickly highlighted as a target by the aerial photographic reconnaissance team because it was evident the Germans had gone to a lot of effort in their construction,” explained Lilian.
The team also studied enemy movement of ships and trains, factories, shipyards and advised targets to the Allied bombers as well as assessed damage and whether sites needed to be bombed again.
RAF Medmenham was involved in almost every operation in the war, producing aerial photographs that were translated into models of the channel coast and providing detailed information on beach gradients, tide levels, currents, typical waves and beach exits in the case of D-Day.
In addition it advised the locations of the Atlantic Wall German gun emplacements, pill boxes, wire entanglements, trench systems and every radar installation to a distance of 20 miles inland was noted.
Lilian was stationed alongside Churchill’s daughter, Sarah, a photographic interpreter, and has fond memories chattering with her on the beds in their barracks.
“Sarah would be clattering about in wooden clogs to protect her feet against the corrosive photographic developing chemicals,” remembered Lilian, who met Churchill’s daughter again many years later at a public event.
“You’d often see the Prime Minister arriving in his car although I never spoke to him.”
Lilian and the other girls would sometimes shin down the drainpipes at night to go off to the dances.
“It was all good clean fun” says Lilian, although after one such foray she was chased by the police for not having lights on her bicycle, and was put on ‘Jankers’ as punishment.
Sometimes they would dance with the American Airborne troops based at nearby White Waltham.
Her son, Andrew, who lives in Norfolk, a management consultant for logistics and supply chains, said: “I always thought as a young man my father had the more interesting war as he completed two tours of duty, one of the Eastern Mediterranean targeting Italian and German convoys and one as part of the Coastal Command at Pembroke Dock. But as more information came out about Bletchley and people talked about RAF Medmenham it became clear mum had been at the centre of some very interesting history indeed.
“Mum never really talked about it growing up. She had also signed the Official Secrets Act. She always felt the real heroes were the ones on the battle field who never came back.
“It was a time of great trauma for them. They didn’t really have a clear picture of what was going on but sometimes the results of the bombings would be fed through.
“When the aerial photos came back from D-Day, they saw lots of little black dots in the water which of course were the bodies of those who didn’t come back from the beaches.
“It would’ve been very difficult to see it as just an administrative job although it is only later on that they would’ve understood the reality of what had happened.”
Later in the war, in 1945, Lilian was posted back to Pembroke Dock and the RAF Coastal Command Station in the dockyard. During WW2, Pembroke Dock became the world’s largest flying boat station and it was here Lilian met her future husband, Frank ‘Ray’ Raymant, who was taking part in Sunderland Flying Boat search and destroy missions against the U Boat threat, both during the battle of the Atlantic and the build up to D-Day.
The couple went on to have three sons, Michael, 60, and Andrew, 56, and David, who sadly died in his teens, but not until Lilian had established a successful career in civilian communications.
After the war, highly-trained Lilian was recruited by Dutch airline KLM and later food exporters AJ Mills & Sons.
“The whole family is very proud of mum and for who she is,” said Michael, who is head of Welsh Language Service for North Wales Police.
“She was around during a remarkable part of history. The grandchildren, Hefin, Branwen, Siwan, Meirion, Brychan and Heledd, are very proud of all her achievements then and also for what came afterwards.”
Olivia Etheridge, deputy manager of Woodland Lodge Care Home, described Lilian as a charming and “marvelously knowledgeable” lady.
“We all love to hear her stories about her life, from make-overs in Bond Street to befriending Winston Churchill’s daughter,” she added.
“Lilian is a kind, polite and glamourous lady who deserves recognition for all of the fantastic things she has done in the 99 years of her life.”
Remembering the collapse of the Cleddau Bridge fifty years on
TODAY, marks the 50th anniversary of the collapse of the Cleddau Bridge, then called the Milford Haven Bridge, a day that would change bridge building forever.
The construction of the bridge was a staple of a then booming economy, with the original project estimated to be around £2m, but the flawed design caused devastation.
On June 2, 1970, disaster struck the small village of Pembroke Ferry, when a 150 tonne section of the part-built Cleddau Bridge collapsed, killing four men and injuring another 5 people.
At 2.16pm BST, as a section of the bridge was lowered onto the supporting structure below, villagers reported hearing a groaning sound followed by an engulfing cloud of red dust.
The first officer on the scene was dad of two, PC Phil Lloyd, having just clocked into his shift at Pembroke Dock Station when the fire siren sounded.
Recalling the day, Phil, 74 said “I presumed it was just another chimney fire.”
Then at 2.20pm Phil received a call from his mother in law, she lived 30 metres below the bridge.
“When I went into the switchboard the fella said ‘your mother-in-law is on the phone’.”
“She shouted, ‘the bridge has come down!’ and i said ‘don’t be so dull’.”
PC Lloyd’s mother-in-law, Ivy Lewis, lived directly under the bridge, in Pembroke Ferry, on the south side of the river.
With the oil refineries, Milford Haven Port, all being developed in the county, the bridge was a much needed asset, which would give better accessibility and cut down the 20-mile round trip for vehicles.
Arriving at the scene, Phil described it as “utter pandemonium”.
At the time of the collapse, the local gas man was attending Mrs Lewis’ property. She originally assumed that he “had blown the house up”.
It was only when stepping into her garden could she fathom the true cause of the commotion. The whole section of the bridge was resting at a 45-degree angle in her garden.
Astonishly the bridge narrowly missed the below properties. Although it had completely demolished Phil’s aunties coal shed and outdoor toilet.
“Luckily there was a gap between her house and her sister’s house which is where the bridge came down.” Phil said.
“One man had been killed at the scene and two others were taken to hospital but died later. Then when the bridge was lifted, we found another man underneath.”
Construction of the box-section bridge was put on halt immediately.
Within 18 month’s bridges in Germany and Australia, both of the same ill-fated design collapsed with fatal consequences.
The cause of the collapse was later revealed that the diaphragm above the pier of the bridge had not been thick enough and buckled as the 230-foot section was cantilevered out.
Following an inquiry, a number of safety recommendations were made, which included the addition of 500ft of extra steel to strengthen the bridge.
In 1995, on the 25th anniversary of the disaster a memorial plaque to the four men who died, William Baxendale, George Hamilton, James Thompson and local man Evan Phillips.was unveiled.
Unfortunately the plaque was later stolen and has not yet been replaced.
The completed Cleddau Bridge reopened in 1975, making it the largest unsupported span in Europe although costs had escalated to £12m upon completion.
The disaster which shook the small village, laid the foundations for which a new standard was developed in the box girder bridge design.
The Cleddau collapse was regarded as the last major bridge disaster in the UK.
Lottery win for local neighbours
Ten people in Pembroke Dock are celebrating today after winning £1,000 each thanks to their lucky postcode.
The Milton Terrace neighbours netted the windfall when SA72 6BJ was announced as a Daily Prize winner with People’s Postcode Lottery on Saturday 18th April 2020.
People’s Postcode Lottery ambassador Judie McCourt sent her well-wishes to the winners. She said: “What lovely news to start off your weekend. Congratulations to our winners!”
A minimum of 32% of ticket sales goes directly to charities and players of People’s Postcode Lottery have raised over £500 million to date for thousands of good causes in Britain and beyond.
This draw was promoted by the Wildlife Trusts which have received over £12.6 million in funding from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The Wildlife Trusts look after more than 2,300 nature reserves and operate more than 100 visitor and education centres across the country. The Trusts work to make life better for wildlife, people and future generations.
Many good causes close to the winners have also benefitted from players’ support, and local charities can next apply for funding in August.
Call to stay safe and respect the countryside
With more people using countryside paths and walks for exercise
during coronavirus restrictions, a call has gone out for walkers to stay
safe and respect landowners’ privacy and business.
The joint message comes from Pembrokeshire County Council and
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.
Pembrokeshire has some of the most beautiful countryside in Wales
and is fantastic to explore on foot.
And with exercise close to home part of the permitted reasons to
leave lockdown, paths and walks are increasingly busy.
Walkers are advised to only access footpaths from their doorstep and
be aware that when using Countryside Rights of Way that you are
crossing private land.
At this time of year the countryside is a busy place, lambing is in full
swing and field preparation for new crops is underway.
Those using the paths are asked to follow and observe any advisory
signs or temporary diversions you may come across.
Please note that routes are normally unrestricted, but under the
present situation there may be some routes that aren’t available, such
as closures to part of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path.
Please be particularly vigilant and respectful when using paths that
are in the curtilage of private residences or pass through Farm Yards
and adhere with “social distancing” at all times.
Please follow this advice:
Wherever possible restrict use to footpaths accessible within
your neighbourhood – if possible do not drive to the
countryside to walk.
Follow any diversion signs provided by landowner.
• Remember social distancing. Keep 2m distance from anyone
and use wide areas to pass each other safely.
• Plan your walk – try to avoid busy times of day when many
other people may be walking, and if possible, don`t use the
same route every day.
• Respect landowners as they may be self-isolating or have
vulnerable people living with them.
• Ensure dogs are kept on a short lead, but beware of livestock
as they may chase your dog.
• Do not let your dog come in contact with other people.
• Clean up after your dog – do not leave dog fouling bags
• Ensure gates are not left open allowing livestock to escape.
• Keep to the line of the path, do not allow your dog to run free.
• Respect the property and business you are passing through.
• Keep away from livestock
• As part of good personal hygiene always wash your hands
after visiting the countryside.
It is also worth remembering that when walking or running on roads
where there is no pavement, you should face on-coming traffic and
wear highly visible clothing.
Tegryn Jones, Chief Executive of the Park Authority said: “This
guidance will protect the public and any livestock they may encounter
while out walking. It will also prevent additional calls upon emergency
services, who are already working at capacity, from having to respond
to issues such as trespass, lost dogs, sheep worrying and livestock
escaping from fields.
“We are encouraged by the response of the vast majority of the public
in following Government advice to stay at home and only access the
outdoors from their doorsteps. It is important for those people who do
have walking opportunities on their doorsteps to take note of the
advice provided when out walking.”
Full details of the Coast Path closures can be found on the Authority’s
website at www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales.
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