I recently made the chance discovery whilst researching my family tree that I’m distantly related to Sir Roy Hardy Dobson (we share a common ancestor several generations back). Sir Roy was an unsung hero of World War Two. This is his story.
Roy was born in Horsforth in 1891 and grew up at Newlaithes. His parents wanted him to be a schoolteacher or a clergyman but he longed to be an engineer. After leaving school, he went to live with an aunt in Manchester where he took an apprenticeship with an engineering firm.
Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Roy went to work for legendary aviation pioneer, A V Roe, the founder of Avro. He quickly established a reputation as a ‘doer’ and developed systems and processes that greatly increased the efficiency and speed of production.
By the start of the Second World War, Roy had worked his way up to managing director and entered the defining stage of his career. As well as overseeing a massive aircraft production operation, Roy convinced Churchill’s government to invest in Avro’s new, four-engined bomber, the Lancaster (an improved version of its earlier Manchester bomber). When he saw its first test flight, Dobson exclaimed “oh oh boy, what an aeroplane!”.
More than 7,000 Lancasters were built during the war and they became the RAF’s principal long-range bomber. Although almost half were lost in action, Lancasters carried out more than 150,000 sorties and dropped more than 600,000 bombs. They are most famously remembered as the planes used in the Dambusters raid of 1943.
Approximately 700 Lancasters were built at the Avro factory in Yeadon. At the time, it was the largest building in Europe and 17,500 people worked there (it is even said that several Avro babies were conceived during night shifts!). Its roof was covered with turf on which model cows and sheep were placed to disguise its location from enemy aircraft.
In 1945, Roy was knighted for his services to the war effort and went on to become the boss of Hawker Siddeley. He died in 1968.
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