Tears of joy as Légion d'honneur is awarded to Second World War wireless operator
PUBLISHED: 17:03 04 April 2019 | UPDATED: 18:30 04 April 2019
France’s highest medal of honour has been presented to a 95-year-old Norfolk woman who provided a vital lifeline to agents working behind enemy lines in the Second World War.
Dorothy Mann was given the Légion d’honneur at a small ceremony surrounded by family and friends at Halsey House, the Royal British Legion care home in Cromer, where she lives.
Mrs Mann was a member of the FANYs - then the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, now called the Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps - as a wireless operator.
Working strictly in code, she sent and received messages from Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents in occupied France, whom Churchill had ordered to “set Europe ablaze”.
Mrs Mann had a tear of joy in her eye as she received the medal from Commander Alex Milne, a serving FANY.
She said: “It’s lovely.
“We used to work in code so we didn’t really know what we were doing. It was a good team, interesting work and I made a lot of friends. “It was a good life.”
Cmdr Milne said: “We are enormously proud of the work that you did as a young woman in the core. I’m sure at the time it did not seem that the work you did was vital to the liberation of France or its successful outcome, but history tells us otherwise.
“The work that you and your colleagues did and the sacrifice of your generation means that my generation and my children’s generation have grown up in peace, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
Mrs Mann was a teenager living New Catton, Norwich, when war broke out.
Too young to join the forces, she became a light warden, walking the streets checking all was dark during black-outs to hide the city from enemy bombers.
Her father used to accompany her - not wanting his daughter out on her own.
When she turned 18, she trained in Dunbar in Scotland and Henley-on-Thames, before being stationed at the SOE’s Poundon and Grendon Underwood bases in Oxfordshire.
Mrs Mann lived in a vicarage with other FANYs, cycling to the station and working in shifts.
Rosemary Hepworth, one of her two daughters, said: “They had special listening times where they would have to be listening for any messages.
Sometimes they didn’t hear any because the agents couldn’t be at the sending point in time, but they had to be there to listen anyway.
“It would always be letters in columns of five and that would be sent onto the decoders. Then other people would give her messages to send back.”
Mrs Mann was demobbed in 1945 with the rank of Lance Corporal, and went onto work at Norwich City Hall and then Norwich Union as a secretary.
She married her husband Arthur in 1953, who worked in the composing room at Eastern Counties Newspapers (now Archant) and later as a sailing correspondent. Mrs Mann was made a Lady Freeman of Norwich.
She moved from the Catton area to Aylsham about 14 years ago, and Arthur died in 1998. She moved to Halsey House in 2017.
Members of Aylsham’s RBL branch were also there to congratulate her on the honour.
Julie Ashworth, their other daughter, said they were delighted their mother was finally receiving the Légion d’honneur.
She said: “She’s very pleased and we’re very honoured.”
Before cutting a cake, she was also officially presented with the War Medal 1939–1945.
The Légion d’honneur is the highest French order of merit for military and civil achievements.
A letter from the French ambassador, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said: “I offer you my warmest congratulations on this high honour.
“As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France.
“We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life.”