Bernice and Doreen Lumley were born at Grey Lynn, Auckland, on 29 August 1921, the identical-twin daughters and first of three children of William Lumley and his wife, Annie Mabel James. A Londoner, William had served in the Royal Marines before emigrating to New Zealand, where he worked for the Auckland Harbour Board. Annie was born at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Her father was a North American Indian, of the Gay Head Wampanoag tribe; her mother was of European origin.
Bernice and Doreen showed considerable promise as athletes when, as pupils of Westmere School, they set records at the Auckland primary schools' sports. At Auckland Girls' Grammar School they were prominent in a variety of sports including athletics, swimming, tennis and basketball. They were also musicians and artists. Dark-haired and slim, the twins were known at school for their cheerful natures and harmless acts of mischief. They were very popular with their schoolmates. After leaving, both went to work in an office, Doreen as a shorthand typist for Perkins and Sons at the Auckland City Markets.
In 1937, at the age of 15, Doreen Lumley finished second to title-holder Ida Campbell in the national 100 yards championship. She was also a member of the victorious Auckland 4 x 110 yards relay team. In 1938 she represented New Zealand at the British Empire Games in Sydney, accompanied by Bernice. The sisters were very close and their parents thought that Doreen would perform better if her twin were present. Doreen finished second in her 100 yards heat to ultimate champion Decima Norman of Australia. She was eliminated in the semifinal and disqualified for running out of her lane in her 220 yards heat.
In 1939 Decima Norman, who had won five gold medals at the games, made a short tour of New Zealand. Before racing with her, Doreen Lumley was trained by Allan Elliot, a joint holder of the 100 yards record. He worked with Lumley to help her to develop a smoother sprinting style and stop her jumping out of the start. On 11 March, after maintaining an unbeaten record on her tour, Norman appeared as a guest at the Auckland championships, which were held at Carlaw Park. The surface of the grass track was uneven and sloped slightly uphill so that conditions were hardly conducive to top-class sprinting. After one false start, the women's 100 yards field was dispatched in a perfect line. Doreen Lumley, in the inside lane, was the first to show out and was clearly ahead at halfway. The Australian began to gain on her but the local girl reached the tape inches ahead, causing a sensation by equalling the world record of 11 seconds. This was a remarkable achievement for a young woman of 17, especially under the conditions. Bernice Lumley finished fourth. (She was usually about three yards behind Doreen.) At the New Zealand championships on the same ground two weeks later, Decima Norman reversed the result, but Doreen Lumley took the title as the first New Zealander to finish. She also won the 75 yards and was third in the 220 yards. Bernice also competed.
During the winter of 1939 the Lumley twins represented Auckland at basketball and Doreen was the Grey Lynn Returned Soldiers' Social and Cricket Club queen in a carnival arranged to raise funds for needy ex-servicemen. On 1 October the twins were passengers in a small car that collided with a cream truck at Mt Wellington. They were rushed to Auckland Hospital where Doreen died shortly after admission. Bernice died just before midnight.
The tragic death of these two popular girls devastated sports people nationwide. Over a thousand people attended the funeral, and in 1940 the Auckland Amateur Athletic and Cycle Club, of which they were members, erected a stone over their grave in Waikumete cemetery. Their memory is kept alive by the Lumley Sisters' Memorial Shield, which is awarded each year to the team gaining most points at the New Zealand Women's Amateur Athletic Championships.