Dora R. Hannan (1909-2001): War and Memory

Personally, I was terrified of the war, having seen pictures of fierce looking Germans in spiked helmets with dreadful bayonets, the Kaiser with his bristling moustachios, and his son, the Crown Prince, commonly referred to as “Little Willy”, to some a figure of fun, but to me, part of an awful nightmare.” [p. 25]

Dora’s father, William’s Naval records, provided by Dora’s great nephew.

Dora had a very close experience with the First World War, as her father, William, served as a stoker (marine engineer) in the Royal Navy throughout. As stated in William’s records, his service in the military started in 1897 when he was aged 19, and during this time, he served on around 20 different naval ships at different rankings. In 1914, the year that the First World War broke out, William was serving on HMS Audacious: “I was only a few years old when the First World War broke out. Dad was serving on H.M.S. “Audacious”, and it wasn’t very long before this battle ship struck a mine off the Irish coast, and sank. Fortunately there was a Royal Mail steamship in the vicinity at the time, and this picked up survivors, including my father, though, of course, they lost all their belongings” [p. 25]. This accident happened on October 27th, and in efforts to help save the ship and crew, sister ship to the Titanic, the RMS Olympic, tried to tow her to land, as well as other Naval ships such as HMS Liverpool, Fury, Ruby and Larne responding to the SOS signals (Royal Navy, 2014).

The crew of HMS Audacious taking to lifeboats.

Efforts were made by the British media to keep the accident quiet. This was common in First World War Britain, due to the Defence of the Realm Act, in which one of its regulations stated that: “No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm among any of His Majesty’s forces or among the civilian population” (Greenslade, 2014). The aim was to prevent the publication of anything that could possibly undermine the morale of the British people (Greenslade, 2014). However, as one of the ships that offered help was a passenger ship, despite being held in Ireland for several days with communication being banned between the passengers and the shore, little could be done once the liner made its return journey. Passenger images were widely published, and Berlin knew that the ship was lost by mid-November 1914 (Royal Navy, 2014).

Being young during the war, Dora’s telling of the events are all from the home front. “Thus began four years of worry and dreadful anxiety for mum, which we were really too young to understand, or be able to be of much comfort to her. I used to wonder what “casualty lists” were, which the wives studied and then discussed from the local paper; the horror which the numbers of the killed and missing provoked in that homely little community, as well as in the rest of the world” [p. 25]. Tragedy never struck Dora’s family in this sense, but this was obviously not the case for all, and this post (Beighton, 2018) on one of our authors loosing his brother in the First World War evidences this.

An experience of Dora’s to discuss in particular is that of rationing. Agriculture was seeing a huge lack of resources as many animals and men were taken to aid in the war, which would lead to less food being produced. Due to the demands of the moment then, rationing began, specifically “with the introduction of food cards for bread and flour in January 1915” (Hardach, 1981). Following this, general rationing started in 1916 (Hardach, 1981), and the weekly entitlement per person was as follows: “3.5kg. potatoes, 160-220g. flour (partly as bread), 100-250g. meat, 60-75g. fats, 7 litres milk, 200g. sugar, 270g. ‘spread’ containing sugar (jam, artificial honey), 1 egg (when available), 120g. fish” (Hardach, 1981). Dora’s family however felt the full effects of the food shortages, evident when she tells of a time when her father was angered about the lack of potatoes:

A poster used by the Government to discourage wasting food.

“Once when he managed to snatch a few days leave, and came home quite unexpectedly, he was very angry because we couldn’t get any potatoes. He shouted, “What on earth am I fighting for, when my wife and children can’t get enough to eat?” He walked all over the town till he found a shop selling seed potatoes, and he signed a paper to say that he had an allotment, and bought some. I suppose he felt quite justified in telling a white lie, as of course, he had no allotment” [p. 25].

The war consequently ended, and Dora, her family, and the rest of the town all celebrated together, despite the interruption from a disliked neighbour, a ‘Labourite’ who disapprovingly did not go into any fighting services when the war broke out. “Came the great day when the hostilities ended, and the world went mad, not the least of these were the people in our road. 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 … Bedtime was forgotten for once, but in the midst of this happy din, the front door of “Mr: Labourite” opened, and out he stormed, demanding to know what the racket was all about and for how long it was going on. He was a very brave man, daring to face all those sevicemen’s wives, but they were in a joyous mood, the war was over and their men would soon be home, so Mr: “L” was shouted down good humouredly, “Shut up, get back indoors, mizzer!” and so on, and the jollifications continued till we were tired out” [p. 26].

Dora’s family was to stay close to the military as the eldest child, Steven, joined the Navy at 16 years old as a junior canteen assistant, until he could properly sign on. Following this, William, at 11 years, was accepted into a school that provided education for the children of the deceased or disabled seamen, even though he did not fall into that bracket. He progressed to another training establishment in Suffolk after this, where he then consequently joined the Navy as a man.

A photo of Dora’s older brother, Steven, in his Naval uniform, provided by Dora’s great nephew.

To know when the next post is live, follow me on Twitter at ‘wl_d_hannan’!

Works Cited:

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

Beighton, L. (2018) Joe Ayre (b. 1910) War and Memory. Writing Lives. [blog] URL: Date Accessed: 25/4/18

Greenslade, R. (2014) First World War: How State and Press Kept Truth of the Front Page. The Guardian. [online] URL: Date Accessed: 12/04/18

Hardach, G. (1981) The First World War: 1914-1918. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Royal Navy. (2014) The Sinking of HMS Audacious [online] URL: Date Accessed: 12/04/18


BBC Schools (2018) What Shops Were on the Highstreet, Rationing. [image] URL: Date Accessed: 12/04/18

Royal Navy. (2014) The Sinking of HMS Audacious [image] URL: Date Accessed: 12/04/18



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.