Margaret’s medals are a dream birthday gift
'AM I dreaming, or is this all really happening?'
Those were the poignant words of Margaret Doddington as she received special recognition of her role in the second world war, 70 years after she served her country.
There were smiles, and tears, of joy as the champagne corks popped to celebrate Mrs Doddington's 92nd birthday at Squirrel Lodge residential care home in Pakefield last Thursday – because, unbeknown to her, she was also about to receive an extra-special surprise along with her cake, gifts and cards.
Former soldier Rob Whitehead, from Lowestoft, was on hand to present Mrs Doddington with the war medal and the defence medal in honour of her efforts as a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) .
It came after months of effort by her friend Philip Moore and his wife Patricia to secure them for her.
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Mr Moore applied to the Ministry of Defence for the medals and even arranged for Mr Whitehead to present them on Mrs Doddington's birthday while wearing his former Army uniform. As well as the two medals, she has also been honoured as a life member of the Women's Royal Army Corps.
Before making the presentation, Mr Whitehead, an Iraq war veteran, told her: 'The under-secretary of state for defence (armed forces) presents his compliments and by command of the defence council has the honour to transmit the enclosed awards granted for service during the war of 1939-45.'
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On receiving her medals, a delighted Mrs Doddington who has lived in Lowestoft for 72 years, said: 'Oh thank you so much – you have overwhelmed me. It is a dream. I can't believe it.'
After being conscripted into the ATS in 1940, aged 20, Mrs Doddington arrived in Lowestoft from Sunderland.
'I had never even have heard of Lowestoft until we got here,' she said. 'I was with 558 Battery, 161 Regiment, and we were the first mixed battery of the ATS. We took over from an all-male unit on the golf course.'
Recalling how she and her fellow conscripts were based in evacuated houses, three to a room, she said: 'They kept moving us around, and I remember going to Derby for a 'rest' once.
'The unit was eventually disbanded and I went to the Pay Corps in Edinburgh instead.'
She added: 'I do remember the Wrens in Lowestoft used to get free bus travel, but us ATS girls had to pay! On our rare evenings off we used to go across the road, take our cap badges off, and pinch apples from the orchard.'
Among those at the presentation was Mrs Doddington's eldest son, Eddie, who said: 'I'm extremely happy for mum.'
Echoing those sentiments, Mr Moore said Mrs Doddington had a 'heart of gold' and deserved her honour.
Mr Whitehead, 30, said he was delighted to be asked to play a part in the presentation which was 'absolutely brilliant.'
Hailing from Doncaster, he joined the Army aged 20 and after serving all over the world – including in Germany and Iraq where he completed two winter tours. He also worked with a specialist sniper team in Iran for three weeks.
After finishing his service in September 2010, he joined the US Army in Kuwait before coming to live in Lowestoft.
A fortnight ago he was at the Remembrance Parade in Lowestoft when he was approached by Mr Moore and asked if he could help with 'a special presentation'.