Paul Dolman comes of age during World War II
Paul Dolman was a schoolboy in September 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany.
Nobody wanted to join the army, no, but they knew they had to.
Days away from his 13th birthday, Dolman was living at home in Manchester with his mother, Francis, who worked as a health visitor. It had been just Dolman and his mum since he was 8 and his father, Arthur, died.
Dolman recalls those years being “a bit tough” but he won a scholarship to Ardwick Central School.
“I was very interested in maths,” says the now 94-year-old World War II veteran from his home in Nelson. “All the family are interested in maths. I don’t know why.”
Like many families of that era, war had already touched the Dolmans.
“My uncles were in World War I,” Dolman recalls. “When they were amongst themselves, they would talk about it.”
In the lead up to WWII, there was a lot of talk that “Hitler was rising”.
After Britain declared war in 1939, the associated chat among the boys at school centred around having to join the armed forces when they turned 18. Dolman does not remember any of his peers looking forward to the experience.
“Nobody wanted to join the army, no, but they knew they had to.”
It did not take long for the intense bombing campaign by Nazi Germany – the Blitz – to spread beyond London.
Industrial Manchester was a key target including the Metropolitan-Vickers works, where Manchester and Lancaster bombers were made during the war. The factory was badly damaged during two consecutive nights of attacks on December 22-23 and December 23-24, known as the Christmas Blitz.
We had to walk them home at night because in the blackout you couldn't see a hand in front of your face, you know, so I got to know my wife that way.
According to the Imperial War Museums website, on the first night of the Christmas Blitz, 272 tons of high-explosive bombs were dropped. Another 195 tons hit the city the following night. Almost 2000 incendiaries were also released over the two nights.
After the sirens sounded the all clear following an air raid, Dolman would head out to have a look at the damage. He remembers attacks on the Manchester Royal Infirmary and the city’s railway stations. Closer to home, Dolman saw the result of a direct hit on Gore Brook, near a house where he and his mother were living at the time.
“He [the bomber] hit the brook spot on, and then he hit two houses and then a water tower and another house,” Dolman says. “There was a tram opposite and all the windows were blown out. The RAF [Royal Air Force] ... got him; he never got back to Germany – they shot him down.”
Dolman has clear memories of the incendiary bombs.
“They dropped incendiaries for the local people. They came through the roof, and you had to have a bucket and a stirrup pump to put it [the fire] out.”
Those incendiary bombs were part of the reason Dolman refused to join his mother in the backyard air raid shelter during the German attacks.
“My mother went in, but I said: ‘No, I'm not going in it, I'm staying in bed.’ Then I can get the stirrup pump going right away, you know.”
Dolman didn't worry about the war.
“It was happening, so you just got on with life, you had to. I worried more about what would happen when I went in the army.”
At 14, Dolman left school to work as an audio and radio technician. He made radios and amplifiers, which he then fitted into factories, so the employees had music while they worked.
It was likely because of his occupation that Dolman was selected to be a signalman after his basic training with the British Army, which he joined aged 18.
“They decided I would be a signalman, so I did a signals course,” Dolman says. “That was a 26-week course.”
The Morse code he learnt for sending messages during the war is a skill Dolman has never lost.
“I see something written and tap it out, still.”
At one stage, Dolman was posted to Birkenhead, near Liverpool.
“The Royal Engineers were camped there and the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British Army] signals were there, and we took over from them and that's where I met my wife.”
Irene was working from a base on a hillside and was billeted in a nearby village.
“We had to walk them home at night because in the blackout you couldn't see a hand in front of your face, you know, so I got to know my wife that way,” Dolman recalls, admitting he would hold Irene’s hand in the dark.
Irene was sent to London where she worked underground in then Prime Minister Winston Churchill's War Rooms.
While Irene was in London, one of her colleagues contracted tuberculosis, so daily exercise was instigated.
“They ran every morning around London, and they didn't have any shorts,” Dolman says, adding the women had to wear long, black knickers for their runs.
“My wife said: ‘It was awful, and we used to run round and the American soldiers were clapping’,” Dolman remembers. “It was mortifying.”
Following the end of the war, the couple married and Irene left the armed forces “and she came up to Longsight [in Manchester] and lived with my mother for a while until I was demobbed, then we got a house down the road”.
Dolman was demobbed in 1948. The couple had two children, Carol and Yvonne.
In the forces, the first time we were away, we got homesick pretty bad.
In the mid-60s, Dolman was working as a TV technician when Irene, fed up with Cold War tensions, said she wanted to leave Britain.
“My wife said: ‘I’m sick of this, we’ve had the war [WWII] and now the Russians are playing up; we’re leaving this country’ and I said: ‘All right, where are we going’ and she said: ‘We’re going to New Zealand’.”
Dolman's skills as a colour TV technician were valued by the team at New Zealand House “so they flew us out to Motueka”.
“I knew colour, which was just starting here,” Dolman says. “It was 1966.”
Despite the Covid-19 lockdown, the fallen were remembered in Nelson on Anzac Day 2020 including at Anzac Park and outside the home of RSA patron John Beeching, 96, who flew with the Royal Air Force in World War II.
He spent the rest of his working life fixing televisions across the Nelson-Tasman region.
The couple never returned to Britain.
“We never wanted to go back,” Dolman says. “In the forces, the first time we were away, we got homesick pretty bad ... and when I got back I thought: ‘Why am I getting homesick about this place’ and I never had it [homesickness] any more. Same with my wife.”
As Dolman spent all of his service years in the Britain, he suggests his story might not be as worthy as other WWII veterans such as those who served in the North African campaign or the Pacific War.
“The RAF was fantastic,” he says. “The RAF were the boys all right and the navy, of course. I wanted to go in the navy; they put me in the army. I was supposed to go to Burma but two of us were a month too young.”
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