The Early Days
Dennis was born on the 26th November 1917 to Elsie and Frederick Riley of 38, Collington Street, Beeston, Nottingham. He had two older brothers and two younger sisters. Unfortunately, his upbringing is remembered as being very unhappy due to his father’s cruelty not only to himself but his mother too.
Happier days were spent at the Chilwell School on Meadow Lane from 1922 – 1932. He enjoyed subjects ranging from geography, history and woodwork, but he excelled at drawing. His hobbies included reading the flying magazine “Flight”, rebuilding engines, camping and cycling. After the war, he enjoyed riding his new BSA A7 motor cycle all over England.
Leaving school at fourteen, he applied for a job in the saw-mill at Ericsons the telephone company in Beeston. As there was not yet a vacancy, he refused an offer of a job in another department and was adamant he wanted to work in the saw-mill. The manager was impressed with the youngster’s determination and knowledge of woodworking tools and noted his name and address, telling him that he would send for him when a vacancy arose.
Dennis’ uncles, cousins and his father all worked in the woodworking trade at a firm called Hofton’s. He could have easily obtained employment at this firm but he wanted to be well away from his domineering father and refused to apply for an interview.
A friend helped Dennis to secure employment at the Raleigh Cycle Works in Radford where he worked at a variety of lathes. This was not his chosen occupation but he knuckled down to the work involved and gave his best.
Three months later to his delight, the postman delivered a post card to him informing him of a vacancy at Ericsons. After a successful interview he was offered the job of making telephone, radio and speaker cabinets. Walter French, a departmental manager, was to be his mentor and teach him his trade. He was to start work the following week.
Dennis left Raleigh with the foreman shouting after him that the youngster didn’t realise how lucky he was to be working. But he was happy now that he was in his chosen occupation.
It would be sometime in 1939 that a foreman, Tommy Clark, approached Dennis who was working at his band saw and pulled him to one side. He told him that the work situation was slowing down and he was to be laid off work for two weeks. Walter French got to hear of the foreman’s decision and immediately came to Dennis’ machine. He was to tell him that as he was such a good worker he was going to overrule the foreman’s decision and he was to stay in work.
The dark days of 1939 ended with Britain now at war with Germany and Dennis joining the Home Guard.
The postman was to call again, this time with a card telling him he was to be conscripted into the army. The card was shown to his foreman, Jack Adams, who told him that he was in a reserved occupation on war work and he did not have to go in the forces.
But Dennis refused the offer, as he was sick of the cruel treatment he still received from his father at home. This was to be a way out for him.
On the 26th November 1939, standing a little less than 5’ 7” and weighing in at 119 lb Dennis passed his medical examination as A1. The medical officer asked him where he would like to serve.
“As far away as possible”, he replied, happy at the prospect of finally leaving home.
Little did he know he would get his wish, and of what was to come.