"There was a sense of comradeship and sharing" Dorothy, 99, tells of her life in the army in World War Two

There might not be many overlapping threads between the lives of Queen Elizabeth II and Dorothy Medd, but one thing they do have in common is time in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Dorothy Medd. Picture by Richard Ponter
Dorothy Medd. Picture by Richard Ponter

In 1940 at the age of 19 Dorothy, from Scarborough, signed up to the ATS - the women’s branch of the British Army during World War Two.

She remembers huddling around the radio when the war was announced, and people shouting “war has started” in the street.

“You didn’t know what you were going in to, no matter what the older folks said about the First World War."

Dorothy in uniform during the Second Wold War.

​Joining Up

“They hadn’t started conscription yet and I thought what shall I do?” she explains. “I was working at a hotel which was being used for evacuees from Hull and as a school for handicapped children, helping to feed them and change beds.

“Then suddenly I saw an advert about joining up and I think I filled a form in and got an interview in York.”

From there she was quickly sent for a medical in Durham, issued a uniform, sent to training and then began her service.

“On the first day we had to go and turn piles of blankets over.

“Then we were made to tear newspapers into squares and put them on a string to use for toilet paper - there I was going up thinking I’m helping King and country and I end up making toilet paper,” Dorothy said with a giggle.

Despite her 99 years, her mischievous sense of humour has not dimmed.

Life in the army

Her early life in the army was a bit of a shock; the uniform was itchy and the bunk beds “terrifying” - she was scared the girl above would fall through in the night.

Dorothy clearly loved her time in the army and recounts tales with glee.

“You had to look at it with humour, there was no point moaning about anything.”

She was stationed at Longtown Armaments Depot between Gretna and Carlisle and found time for a bit of fun during her half a day off a week.

Dorothy said: “During the war lots of girls discovered you could get married in Gretna after only three weeks.

“Before the war finished they had so many marriage certificates, we bought one and I sent one home and said I was Mrs Mactavish and my mother was frantic.”

At the depot - where stocks of ammunition were stored - messages would come in with requests and Dorothy worked in the control room helping to allocate stock and send it to the right place.

“We had a book about every aspect of every bomb and another one about cartridges.

“There were no computers - nothing doing work for you - everyone’s totals came to me.”

Though they rarely made mistakes she remembered an occasion when a truck was loaded with stink bombs instead of explosives and nearly left the depot.

“We had to be so careful,” she added. “Each morning the people that worked near the explosives had to be inspected for matches and cigarettes.

“One morning Major had gone down and found some people had made a fire in a tin container.

“If it had got loose they wouldn’t burnt all of Carlisle down - there was hell on. Luckily it was [civilian staff] that had done that.”

Dorothy has fond memories of Longtown, of camp dances, good looking officers and hitchhiking into Carlise to try out the latest snack bar, where occasionally the cook would whisper that they’d hidden an egg under her beans on toast.

When asked how she felt when war finished, her first response was “sad”.

“I know it’s awful to say when there was so much loss,” she said, “but I wanted to stay in the army. I often wished I’d stayed in.”

After the war

However, Dorothy returned to Scarborough and her work in hotels.

It was whilst working that she met her first husband Reg Berryman who had been in the Royal Artillery during the war.

He was a joiner and was making repairs at the hotel she worked in.

The couple had one son, Frank, and were together for almost 20 years until Reg’s death in 1964.

She then went on to marry Harry Medd in 1972 who she had known before the war, and ended up living down the road from in Eastfield when they both returned and got married.

“I was always really fond of Harry but when war broke out and he had to join up that was that.

“He said wherever he went he always looked to see who the ATS girls were to see if it was me.”

After Harry’s wife also died the pair rekindled their old romance and were married for two and a half years until Dorothy was sadly widowed again.

She added: “I’ve never said to anyone I hated the army because there was always something to laugh at and I can always see the funny side.

“I had some lovely friends, you met so many different people.

“If you got on a train from Carlisle to Scarborough suddenly a bag of food would appear and everyone would share. There was just a sense of comradeship and sharing - everything was for everybody.”

Honouring Our Heroes Campaign

In April The Scarborough News launched our Honouring our Heroes campaign, asking readers to tell us about veterans, particularly those like Dorothy (featured on the opposite page)who may not have received the recognition they deserved.

In this special year - the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War - we are seeking out those men and women who served in the Forces, or played a key role at home, whose stories deserve to be told.

If you know of someone from the Second World War or later, who deserves recognition, or if your business can help with our campaign, contact Corinne Macdonald on -01723 860164 or [email protected]