Second World War veteran Dorothy Mann, 95, was a VIP for the day when she was formally presented with the Légion d’honneur – France’s top honour – for her vital work during the conflict.
Dorothy worked as a wireless operator from February 1943 until the end of the war, supporting the Special Operations Executive (SOE), known as Churchill’s Secret Army.
SOE agents would carry out acts of sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines, fulfilling Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s order that they should “Set Europe ablaze!”
Dorothy, who lives at the Royal British Legion’s Halsey House care home in Cromer, was a wartime member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) and would send and receive Morse code messages from French Resistance agents in the field in the run-up to, during, and after D-Day.
More than 70 years after the end of the conflict, she and eight other surviving FANYs around the country have at last received recognition following a long fight for justice.
Dorothy lived in Jannys Close, Aylsham, from 2004 until moving to Halsey House in the summer of 2017. Her children, daughters Rosie Hepworth and Julie Ashworth, live in Aylsham.
They joined her at Halsey House, where others present included RBL officials, for the medal presentation by FANYS representative Commander Alex Milne, of the all-women PRVC who are on call 24/7 to provide support to civil and military authorities in times of national crisis.
Commander Milne said: “I am sure at the time it did not seem that the work you were doing was vital to the liberation of France or the successful outcome of the war but history tells us otherwise.”
A letter to Dorothy from the French Ambassador, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, thanked her for her role. He added: “We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life.”
Dorothy was also formally presented with her 1939-1945 War Medal by Commander Milne.
Born Dorothy Clapham, in New Catton, her father Bertie founded the Clapham and Collinge solicitors. Dorothy worked as a secretary at City Hall, Norwich, after leaving school. Her first role in the war was as a warden, patrolling the streets after dark checking that nobody was breaking the blackout by showing a light. Her father used to accompany her on these rounds as he didn’t like his young daughter being out alone at night.
She enlisted in the FANYs, aged 20, in February 1943, and was selected to support the work of the SOE. After her initial training, Dorothy was sent for wireless and telegraphy training.
In June 1943 she was posted to Buckinghamshire, where FANYs were billeted in a vicarage to cover 24-hour shifts supporting SOE agents.
According to her daughter Rosie, Dorothy would use the call sign of the day to contact agents and would then receive five-column letter codes from them which would be sent for decoding to places like Bletchley Park, the top-secret codebreakers’ base. “She never knew what the messages said or what they were. There were certain times of day when agents would try and send messages so she would be listening out for them,” said Rosie.
After her demobilisation, Dorothy became secretary to the general manager at Norwich Union. In 1953 she married Arthur Mann, an RAF Coastal Command veteran. He died in 1998.
Rosie said her mother had been “thrilled and overawed” by the presentation. She added. “It was a lovely occasion. Julie and I were so proud of her.”
Dorothy also has three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.