Interview with Dorothy Lusby


Interview with Dorothy Lusby


Dorothy’s was born in Cleethorpes, her father served in the Army during the First World War. They moved to Grimsby at the outbreak of the war, when she was turning 13 years old. She recalls the bombings and having to stay in an Anderson air raid shelter in her garden throughout the night. Her father decided to move the family to Leicester believing it to be safer. There were communal air raid shelters, but they were closed after six time-fused bombs dropped nearby. The family took cover under the stairs of their home. At 14, Dorothy had left school secured her first job, but the family moved back to Grimsby due to the severity of the bombings. Dorothy went on to secure a tailoring apprenticeship as she was able to use a Treadle sewing machine, having originally learnt the craft from her grandmother. She undertook several tailoring jobs during the war, usually sewing uniforms for officers, which was considered ‘war work’. Dorothy recalls the ongoing bombings on Grimsby, including when docks and railway lines were targeted. She also remembers rationing, including clothing coupons, and having to save ingredients throughout the year to make cakes for special occasions. Dorothy enjoyed dancing, often at her local church hall on Saturday nights, where she won a competition and met her future husband, Eric. After the war, he served in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers for two years’ National Service.








00:32:57 audio recording


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ALusbyD181217, PLusbyD1801


This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewee is Mrs Dorothy Lusby and the interviewer is Mike Connock. The interview is taking place at Mrs Lusby’s home in Waseby, Lincolnshire on Monday 17th of December 2018. Also present is Mrs Lusby’s daughter, Pat Spotton. Okay, just let’s start at the beginning, tell me a bit about where you were born, about when and where you were born.
DL: Well actually, I was born at Cleethorpes, I can’t tell you exactly where, and I don’t like Cleethorpes, I don’t even like sand! But I was born at Cleethorpes but we lived on Laceby Road at Grimsby and we were there most, most of the war. The war started just before my thirteenth birthday, which was on September the 15th. I was born 1926, so there, I told you the truth about being 92 haven’t I! [Laughter] You’ll have to excuse me but I’m always having jokes and having laughs because I like it. My neighbour, that one, oh dear, I do get some laughs!
MC: What did your parents do then, what were your parents?
DL: My father, well he was in the first world war of course. Yes, but he was in the army, I don’t know what regiment it was, but it was the Grimsby something or other I can’t remember what it was called, but he wasn’t sent abroad. They wanted some cooks and he went in for cookery because his mother had taught him how to cook and so he was a cook actually, and I don’t know where he was based, I can’t tell you that either. Now he was only sixty nine when he died.
MC: How old would you have been at the time?
DL: Oh. About twenty seven, twenty eight.
MC: Oh right, okay, so it was later on.
DL: Oh yes. So that’s where we lived, on Laceby Road, and the war started whilst we lived there and as I say, just before my thirteenth birthday. Now, we lived there for quite a while and we had these Anderson shelters, everyone had one delivered and you had to dig a hole in the garden and put it in the garden as far away from your property, which we did. Well, living in Grimsby and being so close to Hull, which was the place they were going to, mainly, we were often up at night, and so my father decided we ought to move further inland. And so, I should think it would be a year and a half after the war had started. You see the other thing was, we, where we lived, not too far away from us was an army camp where they had these ack-ack guns were they called? I think that’s they were called. So of course they were banging off, you see, so you got no peace when you were in the air raid shelter. And so we, he decided we would move further inland and we went to live in Leicester. And that is the house where we went to live. And it’s, the other side is a park, it’s called Spinney Hill Park. Very, very nice and there were underground shelters right across so that so many blocks of houses would go into that shelter, and so many in that. And we were there every [emphasis] night probably from eleven until six in the morning, night after night, and eventually they dropped six time bombs across there, fortunately not close enough to where we were in the underground shelters, and so of course we couldn’t, the park was closed so we’d no shelter to go in to, so it was the cupboard under the stairs and it wasn’t very big. [Chuckle] So we spent time there and in the finish my father said to me, it, well, to mother and I, it’s no good here, we’re worse off here than we were at Grimsby: I think we’ll go back. And so we did.
DC: So did you experience any of the bombing raids in Grimsby and Hull before you went or just - ?
DL: Well, yes, there were some, but I didn’t know a lot about them. I suppose my parents thought you know, too young at thirteen to be telling you about the disasters so you didn’t get to know. So anyway the thing was that we lived in Grimsby more or less back in the area of where we lived before we went to Leicester.
DC: So what was life like as a school child, you know growing up in that area just before the war, you know?
DL: Oh, I had a nice school to go to, yes. It was in Grimsby and it was only a cycle ride away to school or we could even walk. I loved cycling, as soon as I learned to cycle I couldn’t keep off one, and it went on year after year after year, I cycled everywhere. But yes, [cough] we had a nice school, nice teachers and they built some extra school classes, the school -
[To other]: Thank you love, thank you very much. Did you put some biscuits in the hearth?
DC: So yeah, you were saying -
DL: So the schools had shelters built, these brick ones, in the school playground, so we used them if we had to, but strangely enough I don’t ever remember us having to come out of school to go in those shelters. We had practices, but I don’t ever remember us having to go in the daytime whilst we were at school. So I suppose that was a good thing. And when we got to Leicester, the schools hadn’t got any air raid shelters so children were not really going to school regularly or full day, full time, they would go when it was supposed to be the quietest. But unfortunately where we lived at Leicester, there were a lot of munitions factories and my father felt he wanted to do something so he went in a munition factory. So I became fourteen and it was no good me going to school by the time I got the shel, because it was going on for November. So I never went back to school really, after I turned fourteen in the September. So I thought I would look for a job, I thought well I ought to have a job, and earn some money, it might help at home and all this business you see, not knowing much about how difficult it was, and then of course there was the rationing, which I think we managed pretty well, with that. And so I did find a job and it wasn’t too far away from where we lived.
DC: This was in Leicester.
DL: Yes. But it was for a boy. But I applied for it and they told me what it was all about. They showed me what you had to do, so they said to me: ‘Can you pick that bale off that shelf, the one above?’ so I said, ‘oh yes I’m sure I can.’ I just got hold of it and I picked it up and said, ‘where do you want it?’, holding it. He says, ‘my goodness,’ he says, a lass as strong as that!’, I’ll always remember him saying that. And so he asked me a few things about where I lived and when I told him Mere Road, he said, ‘oh you’re not far away,’ he said, ‘you’re in walking distance.’ I said I would probably come on my cycle is there anywhere to put it. ‘Oh’ he said, of course there is.’ So I go the job and I worked there until my father wanted to come back. But the manager of that works, offered, because they were so pleased with me and what I did, they offered me to, accommodation to stay at the manager’s and his wife’s home because they had a daughter as well, I think they had two daughters, and my father said no we mustn’t be separated. Which I suppose my father was thinking that they were getting that much bombing there in Leicester. But you see the thing was they were aiming for Coventry and they did an awful [emphasis] lot of damage there, and they blew up that lovely cathedral. They did have a new one built but wasn’t the same. Well they were building it long after we left there, but I did see it because we went for a holiday there, took Pat and my other daughter with us and showed them the park and showed them where we lived.
DC: It’s nice to go back.
DL: Yes, but this place where I lived, these bales that were about that length and about that thick and that, were folded, into so many sheets. So what I had to do was get them down and put a marker on them with a, well like a pastry cutter if you like, but it was shaped like that, and it was toecaps for soldier’s boots. And the men on the machines were doing that, making toe caps. That’s what it was for. I didn’t know what it was for until they were doing it, and so I said to one of them, now I always remember his name, we called him Alec. And I said, ‘Can I ask you what you’re making?’ So he said, ‘don’t you know?’ I said ‘No’ I said, ‘I’m only putting the pattern on. Yes you do a good job,’ he said, ‘how old are you? I said ‘I’m fourteen.’ my goodness!’ so I said well are you not allowed to tell me he said they’re toe caps for the forces boots, mainly soldiers. ‘Because,’ he said, ‘there are different kinds for different forces, like if they’re a pilot or if they’re on a ship.’ And so that was it but then of course I had to leave to come back to Grimsby.
DC: So how old were you when you came back to Grimsby then?
DL: I would be getting on for fifteen I should think. Because I think it was beginning of the summer time, or late spring, I can’t remember exactly when. It was long after Christmas; we did have Christmas there, at, in Leicester, so, but I would, I can remember having my fifteenth birthday when we got there.
DC: Did you get a job when you came back to - ?
DL: Yes, I went, my father found it for me. It was a tailoring job. Well I was good at needlework and sewing and I was the only girl in the school class that could use a treadle sewing machine. They just had one, and the others would turn the handle on the, your desk top and so I used that because I learned to use it at my grandma’s, and I eventually got that sewing machine.
DC: So you saw out the rest of the war up in, back in Grimsby.
DL: Yes, yes I did. I mean it was still on of course, and so the job I got on the tailoring, it was an apprenticeship for making, I don’t know, I’ll call him an officer, but it was sailors’ uniform but it was the one, not where they wore the bell bottoms and the jumper tops, but a jacket and straight trousers and a peaked camp, but I just know it was an officer. And I was responsible for the two fronts and the lapels. Not to stitch, but to cut out and mark. And so I would pass them on this conveyor belt, but I eventually got on to doing the sewing and then using a button machine, putting, no buttonhole machine and I used to look at these buttonholes and I’d think I could do better ones than those by hand! Which I could! Eventually I left, whilst I was working there, there’d been a very bad raid that night, and there was a lot of bombing going on because they were aiming for Grimsby docks, and they dropped a bomb on a big department store on this corner, where I worked was on this corner, [sound of paper being prodded] all we lost was a bit of glass out of some windows, but the shop was flat to the ground, well more or less.
DC: A lucky escape!
DL: It was. And so we were able to stay at work if we wanted to, or if we didn’t want to because of the bombing. But I stayed, and it went on for a little while until it got to a time when I wasn’t very pleased about not being able to do a certain sewing job on these jackets, and so I thought I’ll look for another job. And it just so happened I saw a girl that used to go to my school and she told me where she worked and I said, ‘oh do they want anybody?’ Well they didn’t. But she says why don’t you go to Harrisons, on the corner of Town Hall Street, because they are doing officers’ uniforms there, but she said, ‘I’m happy where I am.’ So I thought I’d try it. So I went and tried and they said they well they could do with someone who was good at hand sewing because there’s lots of ribbons to stitch on and hand buttonholes. I thought that sounds good and so I said well I could do that because I liked hand sewing, so they said well that’s what we need, and so I was employed and so I was putting the ribbons down the trousers, round the cuffs, on the shoulders and doing the buttonholes. But the other thing was there were air force and naval officers uniforms we were doing and we were also doing what they called their tail suits. We used to call them penguin suits in those days. So there was a lot of sewing for me to do on those as well, so I used to love sitting there doing the hand sewing rather than on the machine. But it was considered war work so I was never in any of the forces and I carried on working, not at that same place, I went to the place that my friend had told me about to do men’s’ suits and so I went there and that was where I went on a buttonhole machine and a buttoning, button machine and I didn’t seem to get into the other tailoring, but it was very nice, but they opened, well I’ll call it a little factory, in Grimsby, not far from the one that I was working in, and the manager of the place where I was working was leaving to start up his own business on Cleethorpes Road, at, you know between Grimsby and Cleethorpes and so the manager for this other place was coming to take his place and they wanted someone across there to do something there. So they asked me if I would go as a charge hand. ‘Oh I said I don’t know if I want to do that.’ So they said you’ll be all right for it, you know, carried on talking about it, and I said well can I just go for a month’s trial: see if I like it? I finished up there until I was expecting Pat, working there because I went from charge hand to forewoman to manageress!
MC: Oh!
DL: So there I was, and of course I loved sewing so much I did a lot of my own dressmaking because I had cousins in Canada, that were on my mother’s side, she had two sisters over there, and they used to send a parcel every now and again. I used to get dress material and stockings sent to me and so I was always all right.
MC: Did you have any brothers and sisters?
DL: Yes, yes, younger than me. Yes.
MC: You were the eldest?
DL: Yes, yes, I was eight years older than my brother. Yes. But they’re no longer with us.
MC: So growing up, I mean there’s, the start of the war you’re thirteen, end of the war what you’re, nineteen?
DL: Somewhere about that age, coming up to that.
MC: That’s a marvellous age, you know, the teenage years, growing up to a young lady.
DL: Yes, yes it was.
MC: What sort of, you know, what was it like, you know?
DL: I suppose –
NC: I mean did you meet any of the RAF men?
DL: Oh you met a lot of them, because in Grimsby -
MC: I’m thinking you might have been a very popular lady.
DL: Oh I don’t know about that! [Laugh] My father was a bit strict anyway, about who you were going out with. And so, but I loved dancing, so there was a church that had a church hall and Saturday nights they had a dance there and the vicar would be there you see, not all the time, he would just pop home and then pop back again.
MC: So did the men from the RAF camps come there?
DL: Well, there was an RAF camp at Waltham, another village just away and there were a few of them came there. But I think maybe I did because they would come and ask you for a dance. They didn’t always have their uniforms on, in fact I don’t think, I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think they hardly came in uniforms, I think they were always in suits or jackets and trousers, you know, sports jackets. So I did get some dancing and then I got dancing with one young man one night, I thought he was probably from Waltham but he was a farmers’ son at Waltham, and he was a very good dancer, and so was I [emphasis] actually, and so we were regular dance partners and I was never short of a dance partner if he was there. He came fairly regular, except when it was harvest time or anything like that. And I met my husband there but, [emphasis] it took him a long, long time to come and ask me for a dance. So when we got to know each other I asked him why all that time he went to the dance why didn’t he ever come and ask me for a dance, I said, ‘you used to look across at me but never asked me.’ ‘Well’ he said, ‘I couldn’t I was frightened I’d stand on your toes or trip you up,’ he said, ‘I used to watch you with your partner that you used to dance with a lot,’ and he said ‘I couldn’t do those steps!’ So don’t know what, well this partner and I, we, there was a competition on one night and we won the competition for dancing the tango, and I’ve still got, it was a lovely padded coat hanger, hand made but it was lovely, and I’ve still got it, yes, my dressing gown hangs on it. I forget what he got, but anyway. So that’s what was happening then, and of course and then I noticed that this young man that turned out to be my husband in the finish, didn’t come any more and I thought oh he’s got fed up of coming and just standing about! Then eventually I go, I get two of the girls at work press me in to go to a dance on a Thursday night at the big dance hall in Grimsby. It was called the Gaiety. It had been an ice rink once, many many years before. I didn’t want to go, because it was too big, I liked the smaller places, but I went. They go off, and I’m waiting for them coming back and I thought I wonder if they’ve got dance partners whilst, I thought they’d gone to the cloakroom you see, I thought I wonder if they’ve got dance partners, so when the next lot of music started up, which was a waltz, I thought I’ll go and have a look, see if they’re on the floor, dancing. and I was standing there looking and I was like this and looking round, and I thought I can’t see them, then suddenly a tap on the shoulder – Eric!
MC: They’d set it up.
DL: And that’s where it started then. He wanted me to write to him so I did. And then he wanted a photograph of me and I sent him one and he sent me one, and when I got thisphotograph I thought isn’t he handsome! I never thought, sort of looked at it like that. But that’s -
MC: So I’m just going back to the war years and your experiences, rationing and things like that.
DL: Oh yes. You know you did pretty well really, working it out, well your parents did, I mean I don’t know how they worked it out, but I mean you had to give seven coupons for a dress or a blouse, and I think it was seven coupons for a shoe, a pair of shoes I should say, not a shoe, and then I don’t know how the food ones worked out because my mother took care of that, you, but you, each person in the household got an individual book of coupons for clothing. So you could only get what you had coupons for. So I was very fortunate that I received these parcels from Canada, which the lady, the cousin that was sending me the parcel, her husband was in the Scottish Highlanders, he, was the regiment he came in from Canada and when he had his leave he used to spend it with us. So I did meet one of them. Well then the other one just had the one son, Robert, he was a pilot in the air force and he was over here and he was, got some leave and he was going to come and see us and he never came back from the flight out that night, so we never met him and so she lost her only child really.
MC: Were you aware of the raids that were going on, the aircraft that were taking off, the bombers streams?
DL: Well they weren’t near enough to where we lived. I mean Waltham was one, Binbrook was another and Hemswell. Now before I came to live here I lived in the next village to Hemswell for twenty two years before I came here, so and my husband, he went in the REME because his apprenticeship he did was for, REME was if you don’t know, it’s the REME is the Royal Engineers Mechanical Electricians or somewhere round there.
MC: Yeah, I know it.
DL: Anyway, it’s in here somewhere. So he set up a business and he did a lot of the work on Hemswell when it had closed because they were selling off the, all the buildings, and the officers mess some people bought and that is where the antiques place is.
MC: Yes.
DL: And my husband did all the lighting in there. Then he went to a place that was selling German tractors, believe it or not, beautiful things, huge, [emphasis] and so he’d got quite a bit of work. Well, then when farmers started having the corn driers, they had to have the things put in for it, and he did those, at a lot of farms until he finished updoing work for a lot of farms.
MC: How long was he in the REME for?
DL: Just the two years’ service which he had to do.
MC: His National Service, that was just after the war?
DL: Yes, yes it would be. Yes, yes it was. Yes, because we were married in 1949 and we were going out together for about a year and ten months before we were married, even though we sort of knew each other beforehand, because he was still doing his army service and I was writing to him.
MC: Yes.
DL: Yes. So he’d be there until 1947 to 48 maybe. I remember he came out in the January, so, and I would nearly think that was 1948, I would think so, but that was, that was about it. With rationing, I think you, well thinking about at home, you did all right because my mother didn’t take sugar, I didn’t take sugar, and there was, for your dried fruit if you wanted it for cakes or Christmas puddings and things, you had to save it through the year, but my father did the cooking Christmas day because it was my mother’s birthday on Christmas day, so he did the cooking, having done, been the cook in the army. Oh, he made the most beautiful puddings, oh they were lovely, and Christmas cake.
MC: Out of nothing during rationing.
DL: Well yes, because you see we saved the fruit up didn’t have too many fruity cakes, probably just sponge cakes or he probably even bought them from the shop in those days. And when we were in Leicester there used to be, I can’t remember the name of the firm, but they used to come round in a van, selling cakes and bread and buns and all kinds of things, and he would take your coupons and so I think about once in three, every third week, my parents, either my father or my mother, would go out and choose some cake and quite often it was that, I’ve forgotten what it was called, but it was square with marzipan round it.
MC: Oh, Battenburg.
DL: That’s it, yes. about once in three weeks, because I don’t think it was cheap, but it was a treat, that’s what it was – it was a treat. But no, I think, I mean I look back many, many a time and think I was very fortunate to get through it without a scratch and to be able build your lives up, not that we had that feeling because we were too young when the war was on, but to think that, to look back and think what it was all about, and what you’ve read about in books.
MC: I often think that that age, from thirteen to nineteen -
DL: Yes. Is someone coming to my door?
MC: I often think being that age thirteen to nineteen during the war was a very impressionable age, you know, living and growing up during the war.
DL: Yes.
MC: It must have been an amazing experience.
DL: Oh yes. I mean I can remember that when they were dropping the bombs, and we were back in Grimsby by this time, they were going for the railway lines in Grimsby, and they missed and hit the end of our parish church and also because they were aiming for the railway lines, a whole row of terraced houses: they hit those. I was never told about that, or knew about that row of houses for a long, long time afterwards and that must have been dreadful, really dreadful. The part of the church that was repairable, I don’t think there was any things of importance damaged inside the church, but there was, I think it was a stained glass window that had been put in for someone special, I don’t know what, maybe for a bishop or something I can’t remember, and I used to go to that church on a Sunday with one of the girls from work. We became good friends and in the summertime when we came out we used to get on the bus and go to Cleethorpes, walk the full length of the prom up to the bathing pool, then get our buses back: she would get the bus to take her home I’d get mine, and in the winter time well, we more or less always just came home. But it’s one of those things that you can’t help looking back on some of it, which I do sometimes, and some things stand out more than others. Yes.
MC: Yeah, I think you tend to remember the good times as well.
DL: Well you do, and as I say, I often think wasn’t I lucky to still to be here, you know and I think one of my aunts, they lost a son in the war, but this is aunts that lived in our country. Now I had an aunt and uncle that lived at Portsmouth and her husband was a wireless operator on one of the ships or whatever, and they had one or two narrow misses, but he came home, yes, he got home, and his wife, my auntie Olive, she went to work and help in one of the – what did they call the canteens that they used?
DL: That’s it, yes, she worked in one of those quite a number of years, well practically all through the war. And so on the whole I suppose I can look back at it and think well I didn’t know such a lot about it as a child, it was as I got older and it was nearly ending. But it, it was an experience that you weren’t expecting, and looking back on it, well you just think how fortunate you are to be here.
MC: Indeed. Well Dorothy, thank you very much for that interview. It’s been very informative and it’s interesting to see what you did during the war and I thank you for taking the time out to talk to us.
DL: It’s all right I’ve got plenty of it to spare!



Mike Connock, “Interview with Dorothy Lusby,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 22, 2024,

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