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Tenby: The remarkable life of WW2 teleprinter operator who helped win the war

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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.

Former teleprinter operator Dorothea ‘Lilian’ Raymant with grandson Andrew

“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.

Wedding photo with husband Ray

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.”

Community

Pupils design road safety posters

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PEMBROKEHSIRE Road Safety team and Narberth-based Kia car dealers, Gravells, are working together to remind parents and children to buckle up this summer.

Pupils from schools across Pembrokeshire have taken part in a Seatbelt Safety competition in which they had to design a poster incorporating road safety characters Ziggy Zebra and Grizzly Gravell.

The contest proved extremely popular with the Road Safety team receiving over 300 entries. From these, one junior and one infant winner were picked as well as a number of runners up and highly commended entries.

The outstanding winning posters were designed by Macey James from Narberth School and Sam Clark from Pembroke Dock Community School.

Both conveyed simple messages – ‘Buckle Up Your Seatbelt’ and ‘Don’t Take Your Seatbelt Off’ – reminding drivers that the safest way for children to travel in cars is to use the right seat restraint and to always wear a seat belt.

The two winners received £25 gift vouchers with £10 vouchers going to the runners-up and goody bags for those Highly Commended. The winning schools also received cheques from Gravells.

Pembrokeshire County Councillor Phil Baker, the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Highways, said the standard of work was very high.

“We are very grateful to all those young artists who contributed with their entries. A great deal of thought goes into the making of their artwork” said Councillor Baker.

“We want to encourage people of all ages in Pembrokeshire to recognise the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt and the importance of being in the correct car restraint. These award-winning posters will certainly help to remind people of this vital message.

“Not wearing a seatbelt can be a fatal decision even on short, familiar journeys and at low speeds. The driver is responsible for ensuring that passengers under the age of 14 are wearing a seatbelt, or using the correct child restraint for their height and age.”

Ian Gravell, Dealer Principal for Gravells, added: “Road safety is a major concern on today’s busy roads so we are delighted to be a part of this exciting and important initiative.”

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Milford Haven: Two bowling club members given life bans

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TWO members of Milford Haven Bowling Club, among the best players at the local green, have been suspended and subsequently received life bans from the Club’s management committee.

The trouble started for Heather Griffin, 59, and her friend Jimmy McSparron, 68, when Jimmy asked the organisers ofa friendly away game if Heather could bring her Jack Russell Terrier, who suffers from diabetes, on the bus journey.

The coach trip, scheduled for June 2, was organised by the club, but operated by Narberth Travel.

The club told Jimmy that they would find out from the operator if the dog was allowed on board.

A short time later, the club said that the dog was not allowed to travel. A curious Heather contacted Narberth Travel with a general enquiry about whether dogs were allowed on the bus journeys. She was told they were.

Believing she had been misled, Heather wrote a letter of complaint to the Bowls Club Committee. Her letter was supported by a further letter from Mr McSparron.

Both were horrified by the Club’s response. Instead of responding to the complaint, the Club told them they were suspended until further notice.

The letter sent to Heather included a section of the Club’s constitution dealing with disciplinary behaviour and she drew the inference that action against her would follow.

Confused and upset, Heather wrote a further letter and hand-delivered it to the management committee meeting on Tuesday, June 11.

Arriving just before the meeting started, Heather was asked to wait outside before entering the meeting. Mr McSparron accompanied her.

After a brief adjournment, Heather and Jimmy were called in front of the committee and told that the letter had been considered and that a formal reply would follow.

According to the pair Club Secretary, Adrian Lewis called Heather a ‘stupid bitch’.

On being asked to repeat his remark, Mr Lewis did and, according to both Mr McSparron and Ms Griffin, added, “I have resigned anyway – and you’ll get what’s coming to you.”

As the pair left the meeting, at the request of the Club Chair, they say another committee member approached them and a further verbal altercation took place.

After getting home Heather called the police and reported Mr Lewis’ remarks.

A spokesperson for Dyfed-Powys Police has confirmed to The Pembrokeshire Herald: “We received a report of a dispute at the bowling club and spoke to two men [at the police station].

“Words of advice have been given.”

Milford Haven Bowling Club was asked to comment but only confirmed that two members had been banned for “a breach of the rules”.

Speaking on Wednesday, Heather Griffin said: “I feel totally demoralised and upset. I do not even know why I was banned as my last letter and email have been ignored.

“I now am in contact with the Welsh Women’s Bowling Association.”

Jimmy McSparron said: “I feel totally dumbfounded by the situation By supporting Heather, I have had a life ban. If you cannot support a fellow bowler, then something is radically wrong.

“It has been one-sided throughout.

“This is unfair, and we are both hoping that this will not affect our choosing a new club in the future as we are both avid players.” 

The pair are now looking forward to continuing with their hobby at an alternative club.
  • Mike Burgoyne from the club requested to comment further after reading this story in our print edition and said: “The information you have been given does not state all the facts only snippets that can be misconstrued.”Members of the club attended an EGM to discuss the banning of the two members concerned and gave full backing to the committee in their handling of this situation and the resulting bans. Milford Bowling Club now considers this matter closed.”
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Community

The Pembroke Coast Express visits Narberth and Tenby

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THE ICONIC Pembroke Coastal Express passed through Tenby and Narberth on Sunday (July 14). The Tornado Engine then headed to Carmarthen, after that it was full steam ahead for Bristol Temple Meads Station. The tour was organised by Pathfinder Tours.

(Photographs taken by Malcolm Richards Photography.)

The train pulled into Tenby on Sunday, July 14.

Droves of passengers and onlookers were there to greet it

Two members of the crew.

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