Interview with Rosemary Dorricott


Interview with Rosemary Dorricott


Rosemary Dorricott is the widow of Leonard William Dorricott DFM. During the war years she was a young child in Skegness. She was six years old when war broke out. She recalls the air raids on the town and the rationing and blackouts that became a way of life for the population. The war particularly touched her life when a school friend was not at school one day and she learned that a stricken Lancaster had crashed into the farmhouse and the family had been killed. She often heard the Lancasters as they flew overhead and would say a prayer for them. On VE day she listened as a lone sailor sang a Vera Lynn song on the steps of the cinema.
Leonard, her husband, was a navigator with 460 Squadron based in Binbrook. She was with him when he was presented with his Bomber Command clasp in front of the two Lancasters at RAF Coningsby.




Temporal Coverage





00:59:19 audio recording

Conforms To


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JG: Ok. So it is just coming up on twenty to eleven on the 7th of October 2015. I’m at the home of Mrs Rosemary Dorricott and she is going to talk to us from the International Bomber Command Centre. I’m James Greenhalgh from the University of Lincoln.
RD: Childhood memories 1939 to ‘45. The spring and summer of ‘39 saw the end of our halcyon days. The spring was warm and heralded an early summer. I had my sixth birthday party in the garden that April. One of my friends brought me a pretty tin full of chocolate finger biscuits. Something I remembered all through the war years during austere rationing. I went to a party at a friend’s house. There was a young sailor there who gave me a sailor doll. I wonder what happened to him for the war broke out in the September of that year. My father went to London for an operation where he died. He suffered from the results of poison gas from the First World War. Butlin’s holiday camp was commandeered as a training ship for the Royal Navy renamed HMS Royal Arthur. This was a target for enemy bombs and a very bad raid close to where we lived made us make the decision to go to Skegness where Jo, my sister was due to go to Skegness Grammar School in September 1940. I left my lovely village school and the local garage where we bought palm toffee and where my mother took her best aluminium saucepans to help the war effort. We went on our bicycles to look for somewhere to live in Skegness and a terrible thunderstorm greeted us. We sheltered in a little Norman church, St Clement’s Church, where we eventually joined the choir and my sister Jo played the pumped up organ. My sister Jo was married there. The little bungalow we found was just the right for our needs. I went to the junior school then and later moved to the grammar school. Early 1940 the government decided that the children who could be sent abroad should be evacuated to Australia or Canada for the duration of the war. We had arranged to go to my mother’s friend, Jean, in British Columbia. The ship that went before we were due to sail on was torpedoed and all lives lost. All sailings after that were cancelled. Life had lost some of its charm during those war years but we came through and enjoyed our childhood in spite of its limitations. We were all in the same boat whoever you were. The war years passed without too much incidents. There was the odd air raid and I lost two friends in the bombing. This touched me deeply. As I have said we were all in it together and we had to get on with as normal life as possible. The maroon rockets would go off and the lifeboat would go out on a rescue mission. This happened often. Some poor soul shot down at sea or a ship torpedoed. One raid when my mother was shopping happened without warning and my mother dived under a nearby hedge for shelter. So did a little old lady and when the raid was over found her boots had gone. Blown off her feet. She was unhurt. We children waiting anxiously at home watched as my mother came cycling home as if nothing had happened. We blacked out our windows and put tape criss-crossed on them to prevent too much shattering of glass. The call from the air raid warden was, ‘Put that light out,’ should he see a chink of light showing. Another call was, ‘Dig for victory,’ to go grow produce where we could to help the rationing. The merchant navy who brought so much of our supplies through dangerous seas should be saluted. They took a heavy toll. Another call was, ‘Dangerous talk costs lives,’ so people had to be aware. We went to school in our gas masks, a fashion of the day. Cardboard boxes with string attached containing the gas mask to be taken everywhere we went. There was air raid shelters in the school playground where we were given horlicks tablets during a raid and shelters at the side of the road. We had identity cards and ration books. School proceeded as normal with the headmaster breaking into lessons to announce the latest news. Romantic songs were sung on the radio. Vera Lynn, Anne Shelton and many others. Big bands. The Squadronaires, the RAF band akin to Glenn Miller. ITMA was on the radio with Tommy Handley, Children’s hour with Uncle Mac. Wandering with Nomad, a nature programme where children took part. Henry Hall and his guest night, In Town Tonight, Monday night at 8 o’clock, a quiz show. Lunchtime Workers Playtime for those working in factories. Variety acts with the stars of the day. Comedy acts with Tommy Trinder, Arthur Askey, Max Miller, The Crazy Gang and many others and of course Gracie Fields. I still think it was the golden age of broadcasting. Of course there was the serious side to it too. And it was 1945, the war was over and we had to adjust. Many people lost husbands and fathers, brothers and sons. Also sisters, daughters and wives. Have I got the right? That’s right. Something they had to come to terms with so we weren’t the only family to lose a father. On VE day everyone gathered on the sea front. On the Parade Cinema steps was a crowd of sailors from HMS Royal Arthur. It was a still May evening. A lone sailor sang a Vera Lynn song. Beautiful over the night air. There was not a dry eye anywhere. London and the industrial cities suffered really badly from air raids. The blitz in London where so much of the east end and dockyards were destroyed. My aunt and uncle were bombed out twice and another uncle who worked in the London County Council offices was trying, with his colleagues, to get children from London and evacuated to the countryside as fast as they could. He’d lost his right arm in the First World War and re-adjusted to make a successful career in education. The operating theatre in London where my father went for his operation in September 1939, the month war broke out, was evacuated to the suburbs, to Barkingside. He died during this operation and was buried in the local churchyard. During the war my mother arranged for the grave to be tended. Soon after we lost contact and after the war we went to visit his grave only to find that the church had been bombed, the records lost and the location of his grave could not be found. The graves had been opened up to take victims of the blitz. Remembering the rationing we had dried milk, dried egg which was ok scrambled. A few fresh eggs were allowed. Butter, margarine, sugar, tea, coffee, extra sugar if you made your own jam and meat were all hard to come by and the allocated amounts very small. To help us deal with this the BBC broadcast a cookery programme with Grandma Buggins and it was from these recipes that carrot cake was made and is to this day. My friend had a recipe for substitute chocolate fudge made from cocoa powder and dried milk. It was good for we children who had very few sweets for so long. They were rationed too. We had clothing coupons. We lived at the seaside but were unable to enjoy the beach as it was mined and cordoned off against invasion. The hotels and boarding houses had the army billeted on them so the town was full of servicemen. Sometime during the war the large enemy bombers were replaced by remote controlled guided missiles. Doodlebugs. Advanced technology at that time. I remember the recognisable sound as they whizzed through the air then suddenly silence and somewhere there would be an explosion. They were nerve wracking. Land girls worked on the farms. They helped produce the food the nation needed. They were not all as glamorous as those depicted on TV. Some were. But strong for the job they had to do. Prisoners of war also worked on the farms and some stayed after the war. My aunt had a dairy farm. We children would stay there during the summer holidays. Italian prisoners of war were allocated to her. They worked so hard and had very little food. One piece of fat bacon and bread. My aunt sent hot cocoa to keep them going and in return they made us little baskets. They’d nothing else to give. We went to the harvest field and rode on the backs of beautiful shire horses as they pulled the large orange harvest wagons. At times like these the war seemed a long, long way away. At home we slept in a metal shelter erected in our bedroom issued by the war office that had a strong metal top and meshed metal sides to keep us safe should a bomb hit our home. We also had one that was dug out of the ground in the garden. This turned out to be useless as it kept filling up with water. One night during a raid, lots of noise and bright lights seen even through the blackout curtains. Mother looked to see what was happening. ‘Don’t look,’ she said. We couldn’t help but see. A plane had been shot down, on fire and some poor soul in flames. We didn’t know if it was ours or theirs. This was the reality of war and touched us from time to time. We knew fighting was going on across the sea on the continent but as children it was difficult for us to see or comprehend the depth of what this meant. We watched and -
[clock starts chiming]
Prayed for our bombers as they flew out at night and wished them a safe return. My sister Jo was four years older than me. She joined the GTC a prelude to being called up into the forces if necessary.
JG: Er Rosemary.
RD: She was fourteen.
JG: Rosemary, do you want to just [laughs] just give it a second ‘cause it’s going to happen –
RD: Do you want to close the door?
JG: It’s going to have all that on it. Actually we probably should shouldn’t we? Do you want to just give it, I’m just pausing this.
[machine pause]
JG: The tape was paused. We’re restarting from the previous paragraph.
RD: One night during a raid lots of noise and bright lights seen even through the blackout curtains. Mother looked to see what was happening. ‘Don’t look,’ she said. We couldn’t help but see. A plane had been shot down, on fire and some poor soul in flames. We didn’t know if it ours or theirs. This was the reality of war and touched us from time to time. We knew fighting was going on across the sea on the continent but as children it was difficult for us to comprehend or see the depth of what this meant. We watched and prayed for our bombers as they flew at night and wished them a safe return. My sister Jo was four years older than me. She joined the GTC, a prelude to being called up into the forces if necessary. She was fourteen. Uncle Syd was a major in the Home Guard. Uncle Jack produced the food for the nation as a farmer. So did Auntie Iris. My two cousins, Pat and Tony joined the Royal Navy, Pat as a Wren and Tony in the Fleet Air Arm on aircraft carriers. Both were commissioned officers and looked splendid in their uniforms. Mother took on an insurance round travelling on her bike to the neighbouring villages and most people did their bit on air raid duty. As for me I just went to school and did, as did my sister Jo. I was too young for anything else. One incident I must add. Every day I would go home for lunch from school. On the way back one day the sirens went and as I rushed along gas mask bobbing up and down on my back I looked up to see a dogfight going on. That is an enemy plane and one of ours locked in combat and this made me rush even faster. Although we were, there were air raid shelters at the side of the road, I saw an old man going into one and felt it was safer to carry on to school. I dived into the first shelter I came to in the school playground just as my mother arrived. She’d followed me so bravely through the raid just to make sure I was safe. So ends my recollections of my war in wartime Britain and it was not as bad as many people had and in a way we got off lightly compared. We had each other come what may, sink or swim, and we were so lucky. Our children are very interested to know about this time in history as are my grandchildren and yes my great grandchildren even. Through them this story will still live on, a fitting conclusion to my personal story and for those who fought and gave their lives to keep us free. My husband who died at Christmas 2014 aged ninety one was in Bomber Command navigating Lancaster bombers. My great granddaughter aged three says, ‘Grandad Len. Grandad Len,’ whenever she sees a plane. Memoirs recorded 2015. Rosemary Dorricott born 19th of April 1933.
JG: That’s marvellous. Before we go on to the next stuff is it alright if I ask you some questions about some of that? Would that be ok?
RD: Yes.
JG: Stuff I’m interested in. Where was it you were living? You mentioned that you moved or -
RD: Skegness.
JG: So you were living in Skegness.
RD: Skegness, because my sister was going to Skegness Grammar School so it was an ideal place to move to.
JG: So you mentioned air raids and I wondered if you might tell me a little bit more about, about them. What they were, what they were like perhaps.
RD: Well, I don’t think we really took a lot of notice. We just dived under the nearest, and just put our hands over our ears and hoped they wouldn’t attack us, you know. We didn’t really, you know you could hear bombs dropping but you just hoped the next one wasn’t coming near you but we hadn’t that many raids. Not like they had in the Midlands or we had in London. I mean they had it all the time. We just had the odd ones, odd raids, not a lot.
JG: Did you have a particular routine if there was a raid when you were at home?
RD: Oh we just dived. We had this Morrison, this shelter. I can’t remember if it was a Morrison or an Anderson. There were two different ones and we just used to get in there and that was it. We’d stay there and hope for the best and if we were outside we’d run in, you know. We’d get in as quickly as we could as soon as we heard the sirens go and it was a lovely feeling when the all clear went which was one high pitched long tone. [laughs]
JG: Now the other thing you mentioned was the blackout. Can you tell me what the blackout was like?
RD: Well we used to get very dark curtains, you know. Black material and covered over the windows with that. I remember my father doing that just before he went for his operation and we blacked out the curtains at the window so that you couldn’t see any light at all when the light was on inside and they also did this criss-crossing of tape over the windows to make sure that only small bits of glass would come through rather than really shattering should a bomb hit you or something nearby shattered the glass so that’s what we did there with the windows.
JG: And did, did it sort of change what you did, did it, did the blackout inhibit what you could do?
RD: Well, no, not really because that was at night. You only had that at night when you had to have your lights on but I mean during the day you would, we just went and carried on as normal as you did before the war, you know, you carried on as normal. Of course there was restrictions but you got used to that but you just lived a normal life. We played with our friends and we did all the things that children normally do.
JG: And the other thing that you mentioned was the air raid warden and I wondered if you had memories of air raid wardens that -
RD: Oh yes.
JG: You could share.
RD: They used to come around and if they saw a little chink just showing they used to say, ‘Put that light out.’ I remember that voice [laughs] very very vividly.
JG: Excellent. Right, so let’s then move on to yeah you also mentioned some of, some of the popular music of the time.
RD: Yes.
JG: And I was interested in, you mentioned Vera Lynn a couple of times, now did you listen, did you listen to Vera Lynn on the radio or what?
RD: Oh we heard Vera Lynn on the radio a lot yes and of course she was doing, they had these mid-day concerts you know for the, they used to have Workers Playtime and there were all these artists were on there, the variety acts and things like that to keep the spirits up of the people working in munition factories.
JG: Ok. That’s fascinating. Right so do you want to, what was, what sort of, what was rationing like? You talked a lot about what the food there so that seems -
RD: Well you could grow food in your garden. I mean there was fruit and potatoes and vegetables so there was lots of thing you could grow in your garden. People even dug up their front lawns to grow food to help the rationing along and we used to, we got innovation. As I said, Grandma Buggins on the radio. She was giving out these recipes that came from the War Office, you know. People from that. Or was it Lord, I can’t remember, was it Lord Woolton? If you look it up I could find out who was, who was in charge of the food. Well it was food and fisheries I think it was, or something. Ministry of Food and Fisheries. I think that’s what it was and he was from there and he was doing all, trying to help people make good, nice recipes out of what they had and it was amazing. I mean you used to get a little bit of butter and a little bit margarine and people used to mix that up to make it go a bit further but, and we used to always have our sweet ration and we’d eat the lot in one go. It was there for a month and then we’d say well we’ll enjoy it, we won’t get a little bit each. You know, we will enjoy it. What little bit we had.
JG: I also wondered, the other thing I wondered was, you talked about, talking about your experience of air raids, do you remember how you felt during air raids? Was it, you know how you, how you felt when you heard the siren or during the raids or -
RD: Well you knew what was coming. Aeroplanes. And you could always tell the German, the enemy aeroplanes because they had a drone. It was a sort of [imitates engine noise] whereas our planes were just one long and that was the difference. You knew, you knew that they were there. They were coming but it was a bit like a bad air raid, er a bad thunderstorm. You know you were like oh lightning you know and all that sort of thing how children are frightened of that. It was a bit like that. Like very bad thunderstorms. That’s how you felt about it and then you got used to, I mean it was a bit scary at first but you didn’t know quite what to expect but as the war went on you were sort of, it became a bit of the norm and we were very lucky. Very lucky living where we were.
JG: Did, so you said that you often used the Morrison shelter in the house.
RD: Yes.
JG: And you didn’t use the Anderson shelter.
RD: Oh we didn’t use the one outside -
JG: ‘Cause it was full of water.
RD: ‘Cause it kept filling up with water.
JG: Did you ever use public shelters?
RD: No. I don’t think we ever did because we used to either go to school or somewhere like that. Not that I can remember. I don’t think I can remember. We might have done. I don’t know. Its little things lost you know in the past. You know, you can’t remember.
JG: And that then leads me to the question do you remember the bombing of Hull because that would be close to you?
RD: Yes it was close but I don’t think, with communication, like it was then, you weren’t really aware of it and we were far enough away for it to not affect us. Our, you know our parents well I only had my mother then but the parents they probably were aware of it more than we were.
JG: Sure.
RD: Because I was only a little girl. I mean I was only six when the war broke out so dolls and things like that were the most important things in my little life.
JG: Ok. So, I think you’ve got some, so let’s, moving on to some of this other stuff that you’ve got.
RD: That’s all Len, all mine, this is Len’s. This from Len. Do you want that bit?
JG: Yeah. Sure. Absolutely.
RD: Flight lieutenant L.W. Dorricott DFM. Len joined the air force aged seventeen as a volunteer. He was accepted at seventeen and three quarters after basic training in this country. He was sent to Canada and the University of Miami, Florida where he gained his commission as a navigator. He flew in Lancaster bombers on his return to England. He was attached to several squadrons. The one that had the most impact was 460 squadron, an Australian squadron that was based in Binbrook, Lincolnshire. The affection he had for this squadron was because the plane he did several sorties in was G for George now housed in the Canberra War Museum. A gift by our government to the Australian government in recognition of that they did. It lives on and I hope to gift his logbook to be kept side by side with his beloved G for George and the Australian people will share in this gift. Len was on several missions. One was the dropping of supplies to the starving Dutch people in occupied Holland where they flew at two hundred feet or less so that the supplies would reach their targets in good condition. As it was nearing the end of the war an agreement was made for hostilities to stop whilst this was taking place. Len said as they flew so low they could see the soldiers with their rifles on the ground and hoped the ceasefire message had got through. People were waving and standing on rooftops cheering and waving flags. This has been cherished and remembered by the Dutch people to this day and the seventieth anniversary of this time was commemorated by the planting of four thousand bulbs gifted and specially grown by them for this occasion. They were planted in front in a form of a mosaic showing a Lancaster and two parachutes which would show in the spring when they bloomed. Len and I were at the ceremony on the east lawn of Lincoln Cathedral. Sadly Len passed away before he could see them bloom but I was there with my daughter as were many old veterans and their families with so many stories. It was magnificent. The name of this mission was Manna from Heaven and was one of the proudest moments in his wartime career. Another of his proud moments was the repatriation of twenty four prisoners of war. This was called Operation Exodus. Apart from this Len did not talk much about his wartime experiences and it was only when the Bomber Command War Memorial in Hyde Park and the Memorial Stone was laid in Lincoln Cathedral that he took an active interest. He was presented, along with other veterans, with his Bomber Command clasp in front of the only two flying last Lancasters. One the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the other from Canada which came to tour this country. A very great honour. This was at the Coningsby. The home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and todays RAF. The other parts of his wartime missions he kept to himself and how he felt. He was awarded the DFM but we never knew what for. For bringing the plane back safely was all he would say. He lived to the grand old age of ninety one and had a successful career in, ‘Civvy Street’ and a brilliant hobby in photography. His interest in this began during the service career and flourished from them on. He survived triple heart bypass and a repaired aneurism after which he lived a further twenty one years leading an active and interesting life right to the end. He died on the 22nd of December 2014. His funeral was a celebration of his life. The crematorium filled to overflowing with a lovely service by the vicar and a reading of the Australian prayer dedicated to all 460 squadron personnel who had passed away. It was all very moving and afterwards we made our way to the Dambusters public house and RAF museum where those who could make it were treated to a hot buffet and an exhibition of Len’s prints. This public house is in Scampton, home of the famous Dambusters squadron and todays Red Arrows. At 4.15pm the landlord of this inn arranged for two of the Red Arrow team to do a flypast. They were practising anyway and they finished with the Pass for Fallen Heroes. A fitting end to the wonderful life of my husband, Len. The family flowers only were in the form of the 460 squadron badge, “Strike and Return,” and donations were made to the Bomber Command Memorial Trust. The funeral ended to the strings of Nimrod as he went on his way. We thought a befitting finale to his life until the Red Arrows. That’s that.
JG: Well done. Do you want to read me the other bit that you read me earlier on?
RD: Oh here.
JG: Yeah that would be lovely thanks. So you started off -
RD: Was that one?
JG: Well you started off with the from the you started I think you started right at the start which was part of your own childhood memories and then -
RD: Yes. Oh, yes.
JG: And then talked about the day at the, the day when the Canadians brought Vera over.
RD: Oh dear. Where have I, I can never find it when you want it.
JG: I think it was at the front possibly.
RD: Yeah. Somewhere here. [pause] Childhood memories.
JG: Yeah, I’ve got them.
RD: And also at the tarmac.
JG: Yes please. Yeah.
RD: Yeah.
JG: That was lovely.
RD: We stood, childhood memories, we stood in the garden in silence and waited as dusk drew near and the heavy throbbing of engines broke into the tranquillity of a summer’s night. It was wartime. A time of austerity and uncertainty but the beautiful summer’s air belied the horrors of what war could bring. Those heavy engines roared over our heads as they gradually rose in to the night sky to their deadly destinations. It was hard to believe those beautiful graceful machines could be the bearers of destruction but that was war and the means of our salvation. We thought of those young men going into the unknown whose mission it was to successfully accomplish the task they so bravely took on. We counted each majestic machine, heavy with their bomb load and said a prayer for each one and then the summer’s night returned to its tranquil peacefulness as if there had been no disruption. It was dawn before we heard the first sounds of aircraft returning. The sounds had changed. Some with spluttering engines as they limped home. Large gaps appeared in the order of their flight and we knew as we counted them back that some would not return. Dedicated to the Lancaster bomber, Bomber Command. World War 2. 1939 to ‘45. August the 8th 2014. Over seventy years later I stood on the tarmac at Coningsby with my veteran aircrew husband and my family. It was a day to commemorate those airmen who flew on their missions during the war. Coningsby is the home of today’s air force and also the base for the Bomber Command Memorial Flight, City of Lincoln Lancaster bomber together with the Hurricane and Spitfire. These were joined by the only other flying Lancaster that had come all the way over from Canada to tour this country and the day was made more special and memorable by their presence as the two Lancs sat side by side on the tarmac. We were gathered there together with many other veteran airmen to receive their well-deserved clasps in recognition of the service by Bomber Command. The summer weather had been lovely and we hoped this would continue for this special day but the British summer lived up to its reputation and the heavens opened so the planned flight of two veteran aircraft was unable to take place. They continued to sit side by side on the tarmac. Seated in front of them were the veteran airmen. One by one they were called to receive their clasps. A short synopsis was made of the wartime exploits of each one. Then they were photographed in front of the planes. Those who could stood. Others in wheelchairs. We were able to talk to and meet the crews of the two Lancs. A very great honour and it was so moving to see the light in the eyes of those old airmen, some infirm but that sparkle of adventure was still there. It was a privilege and an honour to share this day with them. A day I will treasure and remember for the rest of my days. Rosemary Dorricott, wife of Flight Lieutenant Leonard William Dorricott DFM.
JG: And did you also say that you had, there was something after that that you had -
RD: Well, Lincoln Spires.
JG: No. It was the, I think it was from the funeral. I think you said you’d got something said that was said.
RD: Oh yes. Yes I have that one. See I’m not sure if I’ve brought the right book here through.
JG: I think it might have been directly after what you were just reading.
RD: I think I brought the wrong book through.
RD: Can I just -
JG: Oh yeah. We’ll just pause. We’ll just pause now.
JG: Restarting the recording.
RD: Len, my husband. A quiet man, a gifted man who performed courageous acts during the Second World War. Hardly more than a child he trained and volunteered for the RAF and so started his adventures through life. Bomber Command took men of great bravery for the mammoth tasks they undertook and Len was one of them. Gaining a DFM for his courage. This determination took him through his life with artistic gifts in photography particularly with the bromoil branch of this. He gained a degree in engineering [MI McKee?] and was principal engineer specialising in the performance of gas turbines. He lectured and judged. He demonstrated his favourite bromoils as well as other forms of photography and exhibited profusely. Many an accolade he received for these feats. Len did not stay that adventurous teenager. Like all of us old age has seen him take a more peaceful and restful existence with cryptic crosswords, his continuous love of books, his weekly visits to the Camera Club and Friday lunchtime visits to the Dambusters Public House in Scampton with his great pal Richard. Bomber Command Memorial occasions have taken a great part of his life recently and he is now receiving great recognition for what he and fellow RAF Bomber crews did during the war. Much deserved. And not because of all this I love and cherish him for the man he is. My Len. Rosemary. August 2014.
JG: That’s lovely. So let’s, if you don’t mind, I just want to get some more background about Len and stuff that you knew about him when he was joining the RAF and stuff. Is that ok?
RD: Well. What do you want to know?
JG: Well, if you don’t, you know, I just wondered if he ever talked about how he came to be in the RAF.
RD: Oh he always wanted to be in the RAF. He volunteered as soon as he could. He was seventeen. I know they didn’t take him until he was seventeen and three quarters but he really wanted to be a pilot but they wanted navigators so he took that course instead but I always think he was a bit frustrated as he wanted to be a pilot but then again he might have been in, on a Spitfire or something like that and then I probably wouldn’t have had him all this time. So, that, in one way I’m glad he wasn’t a pilot. Mind you he might have piloted a bomber you know. You don’t know.
JG: And you were telling me earlier on about his, how he trained. Where he trained and I wonder if you might just tell us some more about that.
RD: All I know is that from what he, the letters he wrote home were very interesting. They’ve got it in the archives. They took that. So it’s all in there. All his letters home. Very interesting. Mostly about the amount of food he’d like to have if he could. You know as a young man, a young boy. His mother sending him sweets and stuff like that. It’s on there.
JG: And so where, so he spent a lot of time with, was it 460?
RD: Pardon?
JG: Was it 460 did you say?
RD: Well 460 squadron was one of them.
JG: Yeah.
RD: But his logbook will tell you. He’s got loads of entries in there. He was with several. 460 was the one that he was, because of his plane being in the Canberra War Museum of course, that took his heart because he’d, you know flown so many sorties in that but if you want to see his logbook I’ve got a copy of it.
JG: Well we can, we’ll just stick just -
RD: Yes.
JG: Stick to chatting for now.
RD: It will tell you what other squadrons he’s been in that’s all.
JG: That’s ok. We can look up that. That’s fine.
RD: Yes we can find that.
JG: So did you, you mentioned that he was, he was, he talked about Operation Manna.
RD: Yes.
JG: And I wondered if you might say a bit more about that. The sort of stuff he told you about it.
RD: Well he didn’t talk very much. Len was a very quiet sort of man. Didn’t divulge very much but that was something that he said. It was lovely to see them standing there and the people waving and you know he said it was wonderful to see and he said that was the most marvellous part of the war that he was helping somebody. I think the rest of it, the reason he didn’t say very much about it was because he never knew quite where those bombs were hitting and you never knew quite what had gone on. You’d done your job and if you thought too much about it you couldn’t have gone on the next time, you know and I think they all felt like that and they all felt, but he, when they had been on a mission they probably would wind down by going down to the pub or the mess or somewhere like that whereas he would get his camera and go out taking photographs. That was his way of winding down with likeminded people that he knew.
JG: And just going back to you actually you mentioned that you often saw the bombers going off.
RD: Yes.
JG: What, you know, how did you, how did feel? I know you were only a child but how did you, how did you -
RD: Well -
JG: What did you get the sense that people felt about it at the time?
RD: Well you just knew they were going over. They were ours. You felt safe. As soon as you heard a Lancaster bomber you knew, you were, you felt safe. Just the fact they were there. Didn’t realise what they were going to but we knew they were going somewhere and that my mother was saying a prayer so we said one too and, but the only thing that really brought it home to me was when one of, this girl, a school friend, she was at school one day and she wasn’t there not the next and it turned out that a crippled Lanc had landed on their farmhouse and the family were killed so that really brought it home that these aircraft that were going out were coming back, a lot of them crippled but you still didn’t get the depth of it until you were a bit older. I mean six, seven, eight you know you’re not, you’re still playing with dolls aren’t you?
JG: So you would have been, you would have been twelve at the end of the war would you?
RD: I was. I was twelve in the April as May was the VE day.
JG: So do you think that the idea that there was, does it seem to you that the idea that there was, that Britain did have a bomber squadron was important to people during the war?
RD: Oh yes I definitely think so. We were, so much of the industrial areas were being bombed out they wanted something to give them back a bit of what they’d delivered because they didn’t bother about who was living in those tenements in London that were bombed out. Little babies and children that were being killed and when we discovered my father’s grave had been opened up to put victims of the bombing we, you couldn’t help but be well I think he would have loved that to think that his grave had been opened up to help victims because at least he died before all that happened although he’d been in the First World War and suffered greatly. He was in the London Scottish regiments and they were, went over in the First World War, they went over and they were greeted with all this poisoned gas. The Scottish regiments did get a lot of that.
JG: So what have you, did you, sorry let me start again because I just tried to ask you two questions at the same time.
RD: [Coughing] sorry.
JG: I just wondered first of all what have you made of all the commemorations and the Memorial in London and stuff.
RD: Oh I think it’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful and it was about time it was recognised because they did, I mean there’s been so much said about [coughing] there’s been so much said about you know, they shouldn’t have done it. They shouldn’t have bombed, you know, all the Ruhr and all that sort of thing and that Bomber Command and Harris was really, oh I can’t think of the word ostracised because of it which it wasn’t him it was Winston Churchill that decided on the bombing missions and everything didn’t he? And so I think that they deserved it. They started it. As each, as somebody from Bomber Command said, ‘Well they started it,’ and I mean they did. They bombed London homes. It was dreadful. And even Coventry Cathedral and things like that. So war is an ugly thing and there’s no way you can say it isn’t so that’s what happened. We lived through it and we hoped it would make life better but at the moment I’m beginning to wonder if it did. People have forgotten. That’s why I think this is wonderful to keep the spirit of what the youth of that generation did to preserve this country.
JG: Did, did you get a sense of what Len thought about this? The sort of belated commemoration.
RD: Oh yes. He thought it was about time too. He thought it was wonderful. He was very pleased about it. You know he was a great, he thought, really when we went when the stone was in the cathedral when that was first done. How many years ago? We went to that about, quite a few years ago. When we went to that and Hudson, what was his name? Hudson. He’s written a book. He was about ninety then. I don’t think he’s around anymore but he was there and you know there were quite a few old veterans there then and of course I can imagine a lot of them have gone now but he was there at that and he was thrilled to bits. Absolutely thrilled to bits to be there although he was very quiet and didn’t talk much about it and didn’t join Associations or anything like that but deep down I think he was extremely proud of being in Bomber Command.
JG: Why do you think he wasn’t interested in joining Associations and whatnot?
RD: Because I think at one time, you know he wanted to forget it. I think a lot of them did, you know. If you dwelt on it you were sort of probably wouldn’t get on and make new careers in ‘Civvy Street’ would you? You know, without, I mean he went straight ahead and got a good ‘Civvy Street’ career which if you dwelt on all the things that you’d been doing you’d never do anything would you? So that was the only way people did it was put it at the back of his mind, of your mind and as he always said and I’ve been thinking it since I’ve lost him, ‘You’ve just got to get on with it,’ he used to say, You’ve just got to get on with it,’ ‘cause he lost two sons and he said. ‘You’ve just got to get on with it.’
JG: Do you think, it’s hard to say, do you think that he, that the, the commemoration, the inauguration of the new monument in London and things -
RD: Yes.
JG: Do you think that that, do you think that that helps some of the guys start to feel a bit more pride in it? Or -
RD: Well I think he had the pride in it deep down that he’d done something for his country but the fact that you know that he lost so many friends. I mean he lost the people that had gone, he never talked about that but there were people that had gone and you know you don’t think about things like that. He was as proud of being part of Bomber Command as all of them are but but he was always just didn’t talk about it. I mean deep down probably felt as proud as punch and glad he did it but there was no sort of oh, dreading it, dreading the thought of it, you know, that he’d done it. The fact was he was quite proud of the fact he’d done it but just saddened by the loss of life.
JG: Ok. I’m just going to pause again. Just pausing.
[machine pause]
RD: Come up. You know you suddenly remember something.
JG: Yeah. Why don’t you just tell me that story again that you were just telling me there about the, about the planes going overhead for the -
RD: Well playing in the garden one day, my sister and I, a summer evening, we suddenly looked up. We saw these aeroplanes coming over and we thought, ‘Oh lovely,’ you know. Three, three together in formation. Three in the front, three behind and then mother said, ‘Come in quick,’ and she grabbed us both, pulled us in just as we heard the scattering of bullets hitting the roof and the one, the first ones were the enemy and the second one behind were our Spitfires shooting at them. Gosh we were, got over that one by the skin of our teeth.
JG: That’s marvellous.
RD: You don’t realise the, when you’re only six and seven years old, you know you don’t realise the, how the depth and the, oh what’s the word I want? The severity of what you’re living through. It doesn’t register. It’s just day by day as a child you know you just enjoy the sun shines, the grass is green, the butterflies are on the flowers, you know and all that sort of thing.
JG: Did you find that your daily life was, you know was the day to day? Was the war always there or was it actually -
RD: Well it was actually, how can I say? I can’t say we were thinking about it all the time or anything like that but you just knew when the sirens went or the rockets for the lifeboat to go out you know and things like that but you just had the, knew you couldn’t just go out and go and spend a penny at the shop for some sweets or anything like that. You just couldn’t get anything like that. It was lovely after the war when you got bananas and oranges again.
JG: Do you, do you remember there being, you know like you watch television and you watch things that were about the Second World War and you see that they always had lots of posters and things up. Was there actually like in Skegness because obviously outside of London at this point, outside of London in somewhere like Skegness, was there sort of the material signs that the war was on or was it, was it -
RD: Oh well of course because there were soldiers at the front, in the, billeted as I’ve already mentioned. There were billeted on the front. You got the sailors at Butlin’s Holiday Camp as was which was now HMS Royal Arthur, so they were all in the town and they were all around and about. People, blackouts and streetlights weren’t on, you know, things like that. There’s a song about that isn’t there when the lights go on around all over the world. That was at the end of the war. There was a song about that but there were no streetlights. Everything was dark at night. You know you had a torch but you couldn’t really use it because any little light could be seen from above so you had to, you had that sort of awareness that things were different. You hadn’t the sort of freedom like you had, you know, to quite the extent but then again our world, our personal world had changed with the death of my father which was in 1939. Just coincident, coincidentally it was exactly the same month so we sort of got a double whammy really there. War broke out and my father died.
JG: Just, I think, going back to what you were saying about the blackout did you, you said you had heavy blackout curtains.
RD: Curtains yes.
JG: Yeah.
RD: At the window.
JG: Did you do anything else to enforce the blackout like use particular rooms or -
RD: No I think we just, every room, every window in the house was blacked out. Awful. [laughs]
JG: Sorry.
RD: Happens to me [laughs]
JG: That’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Somebody’ll ask me one day what happened at that particular moment on the tape and I’ll say I got a bit of humbug stuck in my filling.
RD: Advertisement for the humbug firm. And when they read what I’ve written they’ll say, ‘Oh humbug.’ [laughs]
JG: Ah yes. Exactly. Exactly.
RD: Appropriate.
JG: They’ll do a word search. Humbug. What was I asking you? Oh I was just asking you what it was sort of, what was it like?
RD: Well, every room was blacked out. You just blacked out everywhere and you didn’t put lights on unless necessary because you didn’t want to chance anything. You had the radio on. We just had the radio then. We used to listen to that. Sit in front of the fire with books, you know. It was, in a way, it was, something’s been lost in today’s world because we just used to sit and draw or just sit and read books or conversation. Chat. Make jokes, play games, you know it was, we used to toast, toast bread on the fire, you know and things like that and we used to get hot potatoes and -
JG: And do you think, I mean do you think like what’s, what’s caused that change? Why is, why is it so different?
RD: Technology. And you can’t help but advance technology. As I’ve mentioned in my thing about the doodlebug. They were advanced technology at the time and Germany had a lot of advanced technology as you’ve probably found out and, but you can’t do anything about change and somebody’s going to do even if somebody if it’s not done by a certain batch of people somebody else is going to start looking into things like computers and the computer world so there’s nothing you could do to stop it and in a lot of ways I think it’s been a big advantage but in some ways, I think, it’s been too easy communication so that if anybody wants to cause trouble they can and there’s not really very much that they can do about it.
JG: No. Sure.
RD: But I mean I’ve got mixed feelings about it really. I mean I’m not computer friendly because Len wasn’t and we didn’t need it. You know, we’ve been retired a long time and if you’ve done it for jobs that would be different. I mean twenty five years of being retired technology had advanced no end in that time. I mean they were only just starting out when we left.
JG: Yeah. Well, I was about ten so -
RD: But when you think about it -
JG: Just a little boy. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
RD: So we’ve missed out on the working world of technology, modern technology but then we have the television, we’ve got the DVDs and things like that which as I’ve got them there.
JG: Yeah. Yeah
RD: And CDs and things like that. Easy communication is wonderful really if it’s used in the right way.
JG: Yeah, course.
RD: But of course everything has a good side and a bad side and if anybody wants to behave badly they will.
JG: Yeah you did say earlier on that you wondered whether some of the lessons of the Second World War had been forgotten. I wonder what you mean by that? Just -
RD: Well what I meant by the lessons of the Second World War that war doesn’t solve anything but if you have one war there’s always going to have another one. Somebody else disagrees with somebody else over religion or politics or something like that. It’ll always happen and animals only fight for food or for territory. If anybody invades their territory they’ll defend it but the man seems to be bent on war. Very warlike individual. I think they give, make difficulties to start wars. I think that happens a lot.
JG: Perhaps. Difficult to say.
RD: Pardon?
JG: It’s difficult to say.
RD: It is difficult to say but I think man is very very warlike. Always has been. Since the beginning of time.
JG: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
RD: You’ve got to go back through history haven’t you? Are you all right?
JG: Yeah sorry I’m just, I’m just very very bunged up. I’ve got bad sinuses at the moment.
RD: Oh no.
JG: And it’s, so -
RD: My friend Richard does.


Jim Greenhalgh, “Interview with Rosemary Dorricott,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 14, 2024,

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