Dorothy "Dot" Foster
Dorothy “Dot” Foster was born in 1925 outside of Manchester, England. When World War II began, she was fourteen, which was the age children typically enrolled in finishing school or got a job. She worked in a factory sweeping floors until she was old enough to help produce parts for guns and also lived through the bombings of the Battle of Britain. She later emigrated to the United States with her husband, who was an American GI.
In this interview, Dot speaks about her family history and her childhood in England attending primary school. She discusses her job in a gun factory and her brother’s experiences as a survivor of the HMS Hood, one of the most infamous British naval disasters of the war. Dot shares her memories of rationing, hardship, and her mother’s chance reunification with her long-lost brother. She speaks further about the differences between her wartime memories of fear and bombing in the United Kingdom, and her post–war experiences in the United States. Dot ends the interview by advising people today to keep their humor.
Working Class Kids and Education
Well actually, you could have gone on for another two years to a finishing school then. I don’t know how it is now, but you were through at fourteen, other than if you had the money or the time to go to a higher education. But working-class people, you went in to go and find jobs. Most girls were salesladies, you know, that type.
One of Three Survivors of the Sinking of HMS Hood
Mum had three girls and three boys, and Bob was the eldest. He’s the one that went into the Navy. And then two years below him was me, and I went to the plant, or the factory, as we called them. The others did manage to go to school, at least ‘til they were fourteen. But then, by that time, the war was over.
So it was just Bob and I, and he didn’t want to go to the plant. So he went to the Navy. He was on one of England’s largest battleships, HMS Hood, if you’ve all heard of that. That was England’s largest battleship. He was the signalman on that ship.
Well halfway through—I’m not good on this—but I think it was about halfway through, and the Hood got a direct hit on the magazine. Well, you know what that is. I think it was more in the North Sea. It got the direct hit.
Of course, there was very few boys saved. I can’t tell you right now how many were on that ship—hundreds of them. It was a massive ship. And he got saved. He got picked up and he was saved. And he was so bitter about losing all his buddies because they were like brothers to him—he was raised with them.
And during the war in England, to be in the submarine service, you have to volunteer because it’s very dangerous—especially during war. But he volunteered for the submarine service. And God love his little heart, he went all through with all kinds of battles, and didn’t die ‘til after the war when it was an accident—another ship, a Swedish ship.
They were patrolling. It was after the war. I was over here, and I think I’d had my first job by then. He’d still stayed in the Navy; he was going to make it his lifetime. He signed on for life. And they were patrolling the Thames and the Swedish ship—it was very, very foggy down there; very, very foggy—and the Swedish ship didn’t see it and cut that submarine in two.
They all went to the bottom like a ton of bricks. And I guess his time went up. Through the war we thought it was his time, but it didn’t; he came through without a scratch, and died in peacetime. It doesn’t seem right, does it?
Mother Raised Poor and Run Aways
Oh, that was Mum. She was raised very poor—very, very poor. And when the mother died, the daddy couldn’t take care of them. They had several children, and they were all put in homes, separated, different places in England. And she never saw them again.
And she grew up in that home. And the big wheels, as I call them, like preachers and people with prestige, would go to those homes and get servants. You know the little girls, you’ve seen them at the door in the little black dress and the little white apron, and they would open the door? It was just good, cheap labor, that’s for sure. But it did get them out of that home.
But anyway, she ran away. Mom was the one that run away from the home and got married and had six children, three girls and three boys. And the eldest was Bob; that’s the one that went to the Navy.
Growing Your Food in England in Wartime
See, the thing in England was, they do love the flower gardens. They do love their gardens. But at home, there was no such thing. You grew veggies. In other words, if you didn’t grow it, you didn’t eat. The only thing they didn’t was meat. But oh yeah, we had carrots and onions and potatoes and stuff like that.
[In the U.S.] we had Kroger’s and we had all beautiful big stores to go to. But see, you didn’t in England. Because see, England’s an island, and she relies on her import. Well, it was heavily mined; the waters were heavily mined and they couldn’t get nothing in. So if you didn’t grow it, you didn’t eat.
There Was Never War on the American Home Front
You know, though, hon, America was very, very blessed during that time. It touched on many thousands and millions of people in different countries. But America was not touched.
Now, I do know that there was [Neville Chamberlain saying], “There will be no war.” “There will be no war in our time,” I can hear that now.
Well, Roosevelt, he did send boys. And he did send help, I’m sure, with the guns and ammunition and stuff like that. But you never, you never had ‘em fight on your land. You never had to run through the village at night pitch black, dragging screaming kids to go to an underground shelter. It makes me want to cry right now. [chokes up]
Helping Mother Giver Birth During the Bombing
AM: You had to go to shelters many times?
Nearly every night. When they were in the Battle of Britain, they were going to break our spirits. They had made their mind up they were going to break our spirits, and boy, I think they came close.
You get Mum—Mum had just given birth. That sister of mine came over a few weeks ago; I helped give birth to that girl, and I was only fourteen myself. Mum was in the pitch black and went into labor, and we couldn’t get her out. We couldn’t get out. The shelter was having a terrible bombing, and all the lights and—
She gave birth by flashlight. And that little thing—she wanted to go to the bathroom, Mum wanted to. And we lifted her, Dad and I; I was only a kid myself, and here I am helping my mum give birth. Because we couldn’t get no doctors, we couldn’t get no nurses in.
And we lifted Mum out to put her on the chamber pot, and that’s where Margie was born. My sister was born in a chamber pot. We tease her to this day, but it wasn’t funny at the time. It was pitch black, and we had to feel where Mom was and feel where the baby was to lift them up.
We wouldn’t dare—if those planes going over saw one speck of light from a match or anything, any flashlight, they’d let loose of those bombs, buddy. You couldn’t let a light shine or anything, no, when they were going overhead.
When I was a kid—over here, my kids learned games, pretty games. We were taught the sound of a German plane. Dad taught us the sound of the drone of that plane. He said, “When you hear it like this,” he said, “Then you dive in a hole in the ground ‘til it’s gone.”