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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

Ambitious community project to capture untold stories from across Pembrokeshire

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MILFORD HAVEN’S Torch Theatre is launching ‘The Pembrokeshire Story’, an exciting new community project that aims to connect people across generations in celebrating the Pembrokeshire spirit.

We all love a good story, but they are especially good if they throw light on the place that we are from. The Pembrokeshire Story is trying to bring local artists and our community together by mapping the county through everyday stories told by the people who live here. A story might be something as simple as how life has changed over the years or it might be a special event that you would want to remember. So often these stories remain as legends within our own families, but this is a chance to share them with the world. Everyone has a story to tell and this project will facilitate these stories to be recorded and remembered for generations to come.

The inspiration behind the project originated from the Torch Theatre’s Artistic Director, Peter Doran, who, whilst caring for his father who was suffering with Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic in 2020, encouraged his father to elaborate on stories which previously he had only touched on in passing.

Peter said: “My father told us of his time as an evacuee, having been sent from his home in Liverpool to the Welsh speaking village of Llamberis in North Wales. It was a fascinating tale and one that we might never have heard about had it not been for Covid-19. We’re all so busy, I feel we just don’t spend enough time with each other to allow these wonderful moments to happen, we’re all so busy it would seem.”

Peter’s father has thankfully gone on to make a full recovery from Covid-19 and is continuing to tell many more stories.

The Pembrokeshire Story is being led by Tenby based creative James Williams, who has assembled a team of freelance artists to capture extraordinary stories in different mediums from across the county. These stories are only part of the project and the Torch Theatre requires your help to capture your stories told across the generations.

James added: “Local artists have already been working to gather stories from over the county, and now we’d like to ask you to join in. We are putting out a call for videos made by young people where they interview their grandparents or older relatives about their experiences and stories of Pembrokeshire. These videos will be added to an online Living Archive which will be available for anyone to access.”

All the stories submitted will be added to the Living Archive on the Pembrokeshire Story website which will be launched in April. Videos can be made on a phone or recorded from a digital platform call (ideally filmed in landscape), they can be in English or in Welsh but must be no longer than 5 minutes.

If you would prefer not to film your submission, we would be happy to receive your story as an audio recording (mp3 format) or in writing, with an accompanying photograph.

For more information visit https://www.torchtheatre.co.uk/the-pembrokeshire-story/

If you would like to submit a story, please contact James Williams via this email address marketing@torchtheatre.co.uk

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Community

NHS worker from Pembroke Dock raises over £1,550 in a sponsored challenge

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An NHS worker from Pembroke Dock has raised over £1,550 in a sponsored challenge with her husband Edd, having been inspired by the support their young niece received as a baby at Glangwili Hospital Special Care Baby Unit.

Donna Reed works in the Communications Team at Hywel Dda University Health Board and wanted to do her bit to say thanks to everyone who nursed Layla and supported the family for several weeks when she arrived very early in 2012.

Donna says, “Born at just 3lbs, Layla is now a beautiful, bubbly and full of beans eight-year-old. As a family we’d like to give something back to the staff who cared for Layla when she was so tiny.”

Donna and Edd raised over £1,000 on a JustGiving page and a donation of £500 was made by Edd’s employer, Valero Energy Ltd, where he works as a Process Operator.

Karen Jones, a Senior Nurse thanked the couple for their efforts. She said, “We really appreciate what Donna and Edd have done to support us. Donations like this are used to purchase items for parents and babies in order for their stay to be more comfortable and to help make the stay less stressful – items such as parent pamper packs, items for the parent’s sitting room and overnight room baby’s journal, items to support breast feeding and items to support premature babies development. They are also used to support specialist neonatal training for staff and purchase specialist neonatal equipment.”

Donna and Edd are planning a series of physical challenges through the year. Donna adds, “A year on since I started fundraising for Glangwili Hospital’s SCBU, and after all but one of my events last year were postponed, I decided to take on a very unique challenge to raise another £100 to get to my target.

“I ran the Narberth Nobbler’s 4 x 4 x 48 challenge between March 5-7. The event involved me and Edd running 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours, a total of 48 miles over the weekend. This is an incredibly tough endurance event that will test our stamina, perseverance and mettle.”
Layla’s mother Rebeca said, “As Layla was born prematurely it was a very worrying time, however we knew she was in the best hands in SBCU as they built her up to a healthy weight and did everything they could to reassure us as parents.

“We are so grateful for the care and support that staff gave to Layla and to our family, and to my sister and Edd for raising money for the unit.”
Donna also plans to take part in Broad Haven Triathlon, Cardiff Half Marathon and Snowdon Marathon Eryri, providing they go ahead.
Donna would like to thank everyone who’s supported her fundraising so far and is encouraging people to donate if they can, “Any amount, no matter how small, will help make a difference and 100% of funds raised will go towards helping babies like Layla and their families,” she says.

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Community

Great Western Railway and the Fishguard Ocean Port – How WWI dashed ambitious plans for Fishguard

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by Doug Evans

ALTHOUGH Fishguard Port is best known now for its easy route to Ireland, it was once part of an ambitious plan to take trans-Atlantic passengers away from the likes of Plymouth and Southampton.

In 1889, the Great Western Railway rook over the North Pembrokeshire and Fishguard Railway, and in preparation of turning Fishguard into a purpose-built ocean liner port, the GWR opened its first station, Fishguard & Goodwick railway station, in 1899 while work on the new port began with the construction of Fishguard Harbour’s East breakwater.

The overlooking village of Harbour Village was built to accommodate workers and the necessary 27 acres site and 900 metre breakwater were provided by blasting 1.6 million tonnes of rock from the cliff face.

A new line would connect the proposed liner terminal on the East Breakwater to the West Wales line. The new 2 mile route, which would have bypassed the steeper gradients and curves on this part of the original line, would have included a deep cutting, embankments and two tunnels.

However, the project to build a breakwater and an ocean-going terminal was abandoned after it became clear silting (which could not be prevented by dredging) would stop large ocean-going ships from using the port.

Local legend has it that the engineer responsible for this mistake committed suicide after realising the port was not suitable for its intended purpose. Another local myth suggests that the breakwater was deliberately built this way as locals didn’t want the harbour to become too large.

The East Breakwater was left unfinished. Two short sections of the planned railway to the new port terminal were completed before the project was ended.

In 1906, Fishguard and West Wales was visited by the largest ship in the world at the time the RMS Mauretania.

Fishguard Harbour, from above

An archived pamphlet for the Fishguard Port from 1913 provides a fascinating insight into the journey from America to London at the time.

It reads: “Fishguard is situated on the south-west coast of Wales, and is the nearest British port to New York used by Atlantic liners. It affords the quickest means of reaching London, and is also a convenient port for the Continent.

“In addition, many parts of England and Wales are within easy access of Fishguard; the Metropolis is 262 miles away and this distance is covered in under five hours.

“Tickets for seats in the special train from Fishguard to London will be furnished to Saloon passengers holding railway coupons. Passengers who do not hold coupons can purchase same at Purser’s Office before leaving the steamer.

“Single tickets and outward halves of return tickets between Fishguard and London are available for three months if purchased in America, or if issued in exchange for vouchers obtained in America. In other circumstances they are available for ten days.

“The baggage of London-bound passengers is ready labeled, “London, via Fishguard,” the lettering being white on a purple ground, the bold lettering and the distinctive coloring precluding the possibility of confusion.

“The route from Fishguard to London, passing through the industrial centres in South Wales and the charming scenes of the Thames valley, is full of interest.

“The speed at which the run is covered is the most potent tribute to the excellence of the Great Western’s iron road and their rolling stock.  Only one stop is made, and this of a very short duration, at Cardiff.

“Between the Fishguard of today and that of even a decade ago there is a great difference. A bay which boasted but of a departing or rather departed fishing industry, and was visited by only a few coastwise traders and fishing craft seeking shelter, has been converted into a splendid harbour, a harbour in which great natural advantages have been ably supplemented by the works which the Great Western Railway Company have constructed.

“At the quay by the railway station the splendid fleet of turbine steamers running between Fishguard and Rosslare (Ireland) are berthed, and here are the most modern appliances for the speedy transfer from ship to train, or vice versa, of goods and baggage.”

Although the ambitious plans for Fishguard were not to be, the Port continues to this day, providing crossings to Rosslare with the Superferry Stena Europe providing two daily crossings all year round.

Transport for Wales operate from Fishguard Harbour and have special trains to connect with the arrival and departures of the Stena Line Superferry Stena Europe that operates to/from Rosslare.

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