The 'little Welsh girl' from Gwynedd who caught a future US President's eye

Eighty years after the D-Day landings, a Gwynedd woman still has vivid memories of working with Churchill and Eisenhower on the preparations for Operation Overlord. Dorothy Dickie, originally from Bangor, is celebrating her 102nd birthday today (Wednesday, July 10).

The former WREN (Women’s Royal Navy) became a favourite of General Dwight D Eisenhower while helping to decode intercepted Nazi messages in Hampshire. Surrounded by tall Home Counties women, she stood out: smaller and bubbly with a distinctive Welsh accent. The D-Day supreme commander and future US president even gave her an affectionate nickname.

Dorothy recalled: “Eisenhower liked me because I had a different way to the other English women. He called me ‘the little Welsh girl’. He was saying, ‘Where’s that little Welsh girl ‘, I think because I was talking quite a lot. I was short, with dark hair and looked and sounded very different to the other women who worked there.”

READ MORE: The Llandudno lake that suddenly turned blue to leave it 'looking like the Med'

READ MORE: Massive change on second homes and Airbnbs in part of Wales could come in this summer

It was to Dorothy that Eisenhower often turned to when requesting a cup of tea. “She was nice to have around,” said a family friend. “She was a little different to all the other girls.

“We met Eisenhower’s granddaughter a few weeks ago and she was explaining how the mental trauma of sending so many men to their deaths weighed much more heavily than the pressure of organising D-Day logistics. Having Dorothy may have eased the tension at such a gloomy time.”

Her future husband, John Smith Dickie (known as Jack), also served in the Second World War. He was a Dunkirk veteran who never really appreciated the way the evacuation was later glamourised on film. They would later run the family’s marine chandlery and boat storage business in Garth Road, Bangor.

After studying at Ysgol Gramadeg Merched Bangor, Dorothy (maiden name Dean), joined the WRENs at the age of 18. Training in signal transmissions on HMS Mercury in Hampshire, she served with HMS Vectis on the Isle of Wight. Join the North Wales Live WhatsApp community group where you can get the latest stories delivered straight to your phone

In early 1944, she was transferred to Southwick House, near Portsmouth, which had been commandeered as the forward command post for the D-Day landings. Among her roles was to constantly update the positions of model ship on a huge wall map of the English Channel.

The map is still at Southwick House, where Dorothy would also carry messages and cups of tea for Winston Churchill and Eisenhower. “I worked in the Map Room,” said Dorothy.

“We had to put the right signals on the big maps. We pushed the ships with long sticks. But one thing I never got the chance to do was get on the ladder to change the map. I think maybe because I’m short.

“We played music all night, while we worked, to try to keep us awake. Eisenhower was not a terribly tall man, but taller than Churchill - he was more plump.”

Gen Dwight D Eisenhower and Prime Minister Winston Churchill shoot M1 Carbines during preparations for Operation Overlord
Dorothy began working at D-Day HQ at the age of 21

Being so close to the English Channel, the WRENs could look out to sea and even see bombs exploding in France. During one blackout, Dorothy warned her colleagues that a German attack was underway.

“You could see the Channel from Southwick,” she said. “We didn’t have the lights on and we had to watch out for twinkling lights in the distance.

“One time, I saw lights, and they said ‘you always see the lights!’ I said again, ‘I see the lights and I don’t think it will be long until they start bombing there again, on land in France’. And that happened, in the middle of the night.

“I said in a teasing way, ‘they don’t listen to the ‘little Welsh girl’!’ I had good eyesight then, I guess!”

Southwick House near Portsmouth, Hampshire, was chosen to be the forward command post (Sharpener Camp) of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. The large wall maps that were used on D-Day are still in place in the main map room
Gen Dwight D Eisenhower and Prime Minister Winston Churchill shoot M1 Carbines during preparations for Operation Overlord -Credit:US Army/Wiki

After the war, Dorothy married Jack Dickie in the city’s Cathedral in 1947. They had two sons, Andrew and Malcolm, who are both planning to join their mum for her brief birthday celebrations today.

Dorothy worked at Dickie’s boatyard in Bangor for many years. In 1962, the family moved to Beaumaris, Anglesey, where she lived until moving to a residential home in Y Felinheli a few years ago. Andrew is still in Beaumaris: his father, a war-time member of the Bangor Territorials, died in 1994, aged 74.

Andrew said: “Dad was a 21-year-old at Dunkirk. He never liked the way the evacuation was portrayed in the film starring John Mills and Richard Attenborough. He didn’t want to remember the noise of the Stukas dive-bombing the beach, the sound of bullets flying past and the loss of so many of his friends.

“Mum also has mixed feelings about the war, of course. She is proud of her contribution but she is also sad that so many people from all sides didn’t come back home.

“As a family, we are extremely proud of what they both accomplished over 80 years ago.” Sign up for the North Wales Live newsletter sent twice daily to your inbox

Find out what's going on near you