Tuesday, 21 October 2014

DOROTHY ROBSON, 1919 - 1943

      In February 1943, eighteen of us veteran bomb aimers arrived at RAF Station Manby, Lincolnshire,, for the month-long Bombing Leaders' Course #52.  We were composed of 11 from the UK, 2 each from Australia and Canada, and one each from Ireland, Norway, and Poland.
     What a surprise, and delight, to find  that one of our instructors was a beautiful young woman!  A few actually complained:  "What can a woman teach us about bombing?"  Among us was one DSO, 3 DFCs, and considerable experience.  But, with sparkling eyes, an easy wit, and a deep knowledge of physics and bomb sights, she soon convinced us that she was more than qualified.
     When I wrote to tell my friend, Vern White on 427 RCAF Squadron, also from Port Hope, Ontario, and also to become a POW, he replied that she had recently visited all squadrons in his area.  But, wherever she went, bomb aimers immediately became slow learners, forcing her to squeeze individually with them into the narrow confines of bomb aimer's compartments to explain the intricacies of the new Mark XIV bomb sight.  She well knew their motives but was a good sport in donating the extra time. 
     While the UK was a leader in accepting women in military roles it was easy to see the reluctance of employers and the waste of so much talent.  With female co-workers men spent too much time ogling them to the detriment of their work duties.  Unfairly, male preoccupations kept female ambitions quite restricted.
      Very rare for the times, Dorothy in 1940 earned a degree in physics from Leeds University.  She applied to the RAF but was rejected for being too short.  The Ministry of Aircraft Production then accepted her, posting her to Farnborough to top secret work on bomb sights.  She started visiting squadrons to interview bomb aimers on their return from operations to learn of their problems, then helped to design and produce the Mark XIV that was distributed throughout 1943 to squadrons where Dorothy became their most desired visitor.   
      On 03 November 1943 she was at RAF Station Holme on Spalding Moor, Yorkshire, installing a Mark XIV in a Halifax whose crew then took her on an air test as they were scheduled for operations against Dusseldorf that night..  Flying over the Yorkshire hills they became engulfed in fog and connected with a hill.  The crew consisted of 4 RAF, 2 RCAF, 1 RAAF, plus Dorothy.  Four were killed instantly, 3 severely wounded died later.  Dorothy died on 05 November, mourned by all in Bomber Command.  She requested that her ashes be spread by a Halifax over England.

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