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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

Cruise Culture returns to Carmarthen this Sunday

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WALES’ biggest modified and performance car show is returning to the Carmarthen Showground this Sunday, August 25.

Cruise Culture is a static car show with modified, performance, classic and standard cars. The annual show attracts thousands of visitors each year.

On Sunday August 25, the ultimate indoor show hall will have some of the best modified cars from all over the UK on display, as well as an outdoor show and shine section.

Growing year on year, Cruise Culture now welcomes over 40 club stands. The entertainment stage will have DJs playing all day. Competitions throughout the day will include: Club of the Show; Car of the Show; Show and Shine Winner; Best Club Stand Car; Best Show Hall Car; Best Wheels of the Show and Best Install.

Prizes and awards will be handed out for each of the various competitions. There will also be inflatables and fair attractions, meaning Cruise Culture is a great family day out.

There will be a wide variety of food stalls, not just burger vans but hog roasts, BBQ, pizza and much more. The Jamie Squibb Freestyle Motocross Stunt Show will also take place, as the team of riders perform breathtaking jumps and stunts.

Pre-sale tickets have now ended. Tickets are now only available at the gate. Gate price is £7 per person. Under 12’s get in free.

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Ignite your vocal powers with the new Torch Voices Choir

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A VOCAL coach who has worked with stars from the West End and Broadway is to launch a new community choir this autumn at the Torch Theatre.

Torch Voices, led by Angharad Sanders, is a choir open to all abilities, from those who would like to give singing a go for the first time to those who may wish to sharpen up their vocal skills. Covering music off all genres, this is a fantastic opportunity to sing in a friendly and fun ensemble. The choir will meet weekly on Thursday’s at the Torch Theatre from 5 September.

Angharad has many years of experience working in theatre and with choirs and singers across the globe. Previous students include Pixie Lott, both recent lead actors from the West End smash hit Everybody’s Talking About Jamie; John McRea and Layton Williams (Bad Education, Hairspray UK Tour) and new Broadway leading man Sam Primack (Understudy Evan in Dear Evan Hansen). She most recently was the musical director for the 5-star original U.K. touring production of Madagascar: the Musical, starring X Factor winner Matt Terry.

Angharad commented: “I’m extremely excited to be at the musical helm of the new Torch Voices. It’s long been a desire to return to Wales and work with local talent. At Torch Voices we will be covering all musical styles, from pop songs by artists such as The Pentatonix, Madonna, Adele and Queen through musical theatre repertoire and classical material. I would love to welcome passionate singers of all ages and abilities to come along and join us bringing this music to life. The choir is open to anyone aged between 16 (those aged 8 and over can attend if accompanied by an adult) and up and there will be no audition needed or requirement, other than a desire to make some great music.”

If you are looking to join the Torch Voices or just give singing a go, the theatre is offering two free taster sessions on Thursday 5 and Thursday 12 September from 6pm. The choir will run until Thursday 19 December before taking a Christmas break and costs £55 per term to take part. To sign up, please contact Box Office on 01646 695 267 or via boxoffice@torchtheatre.co.uk.

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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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