Dora R. Hannan (1909-2001): An Introduction

Dora belonged to a naval family, so was naturally born on the south coast in the naval town, Portsmouth. Her memoir acts as a dedication to her mother, as she applauds her for raising her and her seven siblings (two of whom died in early childhood) in a single parent household, as her father served away as a Stoker in the Royal Navy. Dora explains the reason why she speaks of her mother and her upbringing so admiringly, “I never realised till I myself married, just how hard my mother must have worked” [p. 6], celebrating her Mother’s hard work and dedication to the family. Dora does not mention in what year she wrote her memoir, but as she notes that she is married, the writing must have taken place after the year of her marriage in 1933, meaning Dora was at the age of at least 24 when she was writing. To explore some reasons as to why Dora wrote her memoir, check out the Purpose and Audience post!

A map of Portsmouth from the 20th Century

The memoir also acts as a celebration of the women who stayed strong on the home front during the First World War, while their husbands or fathers served away. “In the following pages, I have endeavoured to convey how wonderful women, like my mother, carried on against sometimes fearful odds, to rear big families unaided, and to turn them into good, well disciplined citizens” [p. 1]. The ‘Happy Highways’ that names her memoir relate to her childhood, her hobbies, her family and her time at school, and finishes when her childhood is over, as she is taken out of school, and sent into work. To learn more about her education, see the Education and Schooling post!

FreeBMD (2006) England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 Operations Inc: USA
Dora’s listing in the Civil Registration Birth Index

Dora displays her experiences of growing up in a working class family through her explanation of how her mother raised her family solely on her father’s income: “She must have juggled with the pennies to feed and clothe us. No state hand-outs or labour saving devices in those days, and yet she seemed to sing her way through life” [p. 7]. She discusses this limited amount of money through the way the family eat, the activities they engage in, and the opportunities that were available to them. This is specifically discussed in the Home and Family post!

Due to the raised school-leaving age, many families began to try having fewer children, as they had to be less reliant on the children’s contributions (August, 2007), and Dora’s accounts of knowing single children and two children families reflects this. Nevertheless, the King family were still to create a large family, and this would show the economic strain the family might have been under even more. However, Dora’s political views do not fall within that typical of a working class family, as she also explains the mainly Conservative area that she resides in: “Strange as it may seem, for people who were not well endowed either with money or worldly good, my parents always voted Conservative, as did most of the folks round about” [p. 23]

Painting of the warships from the British Grand Fleet and German High Sea Fleet clash, May 31, 1916

She writes the memoir around the First World War as we see her encounter the beginning and end of it in her childhood. Her involvement is at first hand, as she explains her experiences of her father serving away, under famous naval personal such as Admiral Jellicoe, and growing up in such a naval family populated area. Her retelling of the celebrations and merriment that happened following the end of the war, signify the involvement they all felt from the home front, particularly with her family and neighbours.

“The whole neighbourhood seemed to gather outside in the street, even though it was November, and till late in the evening we were singing, dancing, ringing bells, banging anything that would make a noise” [p. 26].

To read more about Dora’s experience during the War, have a read of the War and Memory post! Shortly following the end of the war however, her father leaves the Navy, and this not only changes the family’s dynamic within the household, but also affects their income, which again, Dora explains thoroughly along with her feelings and experiences.

Dora captures the essence of childhood within her memoir. Her writing makes it so easy for the reader to experience the happiness or sadness with her, and as she explains each memory page by page, we feel the nostalgia with her. It is easy to see how fundamental and comforting her childhood was to her life, “None has ever, or will ever, mean so much or spell out the word ‘Home’ to me as vividly as that little room in that terraced house, and our ‘MUM’ always there” [p. 5]. The ending feels quite sad, as we see Dora leave her childhood, and her childhood dream of being a teacher behind, and enter into the adult world, as she is taken out of school in order to work in a large store.

“So ended my childhood as I took my first tentative steps into the sad and disillusionment of the adult world, just how sad and disillusioning I would not even in my wildest dreams have guessed.” [p. 37]

To keep up with the posts, and discover more about Dora and her memoir, follow my Twitter at ‘wl_d_hannan’!

Works Cited

August, A. (2007) The British Working Class 1832-1940. Harlow: Pearson Education

357 HANNAN, Dora R., ‘Those Happy Highways: An Autobiography’, TS, pp.36 (c.20,000 words). Brunel University Library. Available at:


FreeBMD (2006) England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 URL: Date accessed 8th February 2018

A Vision of Britain Through Time (2018) Boundary Map of Portsmouth UA URL: Date accessed 8th February 2018

The Guardian (2016) Even Nelson Could Not Have Done Better at Jutland Than My Grandfather. URL: Date accessed 8th February 2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.