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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII
The war was a frightening time. I was 15 years old when the war started, my maiden name was Phyllis M Allen, I was born in the Midlands in a town called Leicester. I was one of five Children having three brothers and one sister. I worked in a shoe factory making shoes for the land girls or the solders I started to work at the age of 14, I had my schooling all done by then.
My dad was in the first world war and he used his experience from that war to try to protect us, he dug the footer for that shelter down to almost eight feet, the Goverment gave every household corrigade steel shelter and instuctions on how to build it, we all had a fairly decent back yard so that is where it was put.
Early in the war I didn't go out on the evenings very much as I was too young and because of the blackout. About a year after Dunkirk I started going to dances at the only dance hall in the town, there where a lot of GIs just outside of Leicester several camp to be exact now at that time the war was really getting rough, I mean we lived in a air raid shelter for almost 5 years, it was not very pleasent believe me.
I am going to make a long story short, as you will have guessed by now that I met my then husband to be when I came out of the dance, I always went with my sister she was a year younger than me, friendship at that time was easy made because out own boys had gone to war and only the GIs where there and they treated us really nice, I met a solder who was in the Army Airforce, John J Staherek, he was a very nice person at that time and we got along fine, I was 19 when I met him in March of 1944 and we where married the following October since he had to get shipped out he was in Motorpool, so he was needed to fix anything that broke down he went to France just after Normandy and was hurt when he and three other GIs lifted a jeep out of a ditch, well not every one shot there are other ways to get hurt. After the war I moved to America with John and we had four children together.
Phyllis M Beaver
Evacuation to Kenilworth
One of the first things Mrs Roke spelled out was that no cooking or eating was to go on under her roof. A sitting-room and a bedroom she would provide, available to us between the hours of six in the evening and eight in the morning. For the rest of the time, she implied, we could go to the devil for all she cared. She showed us first into the vast front room with its chilly marble fireplace and hard slippery chairs. Then she led us up a gloomy staircase covered with worn matting to see the bedroom. This was also at the front of the house, along a cold corridor with closed doors on either side … It contained a lumpy double bed, a huge wardrobe and a horsehair couch on castors. The couch, Mrs Roke indicated, would do for me, and she pulled some moth-eaten blankets and a stained pillow out of the wardrobe for me to use. On the floor, marooned on the pale green linoleum, were several peculiar fur rugs, the pelts of strange, rough-haired animals, and I knew I would never dare to tread on them. Framed bible texts hung round the walls and I read these while my mother, Aunt Madge and the old woman discussed terms and rules. 'Wait upon the Lord' - no laundry provided - 'Thou, God Seest Me' - no food in either of the rooms. 'Vengeance is Mine, saith the Lord' - no pets, no wireless, no noise of any kind …
'You'll be back at six, then?' Mrs Roke concluded briskly. 'Pay now, shall you? Never know these days,' she added with gloomy relish as money changed hands.
We settled in and crept about the stairs and corridors, talking in whispers and walking on tiptoe. We got round the 'no food' rule with flasks of tea and sandwiches, packets of biscuits and pre-cooked sausages toasted at the gas fire, brushing the crumbs through a crack in the floorboards. Our laundry - bed-linen and sheets - we had to carry home a few at a time to wash in Shelley Street, and though the horse-hair sofa was uncomfortable, I stopped slipping off it every night once I turned it round so that the back-rail prevented me from falling on to the floor. It was a bizarre, makeshift sort of life, but we made the best of it.
Before long, life in the ruined city settled down to what in wartime passed for normal, and soon we were travelling in by train each morning, my mother to keep house and get the rations in for my father, while my aunt along with Doreen headed for the box factory and I caught the school bus. At the end of the day we all met up again to return on the train to our bleak refuge at Mrs Roke's.
Chuck had joined the army as a boy soldier … On one of his early leaves he had helped my father to build the Anderson shelter at the end of our garden, ready to share with the Peakes when air-raids started. Mr Peake, elderly and lame, couldn't be expected to do the heavy digging that was required, but Chuck and my father soon got the deep hole dug in the sticky clay soil in time for the delivery of the corrugated iron for the shelter itself. This was supplied free by the Government, the sheets bent ready to shape, to be sunk into the hole and bolted together to form a small underground room, with a hillock of earth piled on top and sandbags stacked up to protect the entrance … When the air-raids began we had coped well enough, huddling together on makeshift benches as the planes droned overhead and the bombs fell. Only an occasional bright beam flashed through a chink in the doorway as searchlights swept the sky, showing Mr Peake snoring with his mouth open, Mrs Peake taking a nip from her bottle of brandy and Josie curled up in the corner. When the 'All Clear' wailed, we scrambled out, thankful to go back to our beds for an hour or two before morning.
We also had air-raid practice at school, in case of day-time raids, though most of the bombing happened at night. Glad of a break from lessons, we filed with our gas masks into the dimly-lit passages dug below a piece of waste ground behind the school building. Once down, the registers were called and we all filed out again, please to be back in the fresh air.
It was a nightmare journey.
The 'All Clear' sounded just after six o'clock and we set out almost straight away, my mother finally being convinced it was time for us to go. The raid had gone on all night, starting so early we had no time to get to the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden which we shared with our neighbours, the Peakes. Instead, we huddled in the cupboard under the stairs as the planes passed over and the bombs rained down. While my mother and Aunt Madge whispered together - 'That sounds like the BTH got hit!' 'No, it was further away,' - I read my 'William' book by the light of my torch. I liked being under the stairs better than in the shelter. The Peakes wouldn't let me use my torch, for fear I gave away our hiding-place to the German planes, so we sat in the pitch darkness, listening to old Mr Peake snoring and Mrs Peake whimpering with fear every time a bomb fell near us. In the cupboard, though, we were on our own and could please ourselves, drinking tea from a flask and nibbling biscuits. When the steady tones of the 'All Clear' rang out at last, we came out into the kitchen, brushing off crumbs and the flakes of whitewash dislodged by the jarring of the explosions. The raid, I realised, had lasted for eleven hours.
'Doreen,' said Aunt Madge. 'We'll go to Doreen. She'll have a room, perhaps, and if she hasn't she's sure to know somebody who has. The sooner we get off, the better, or they'll all be full up after this.'
I can remember now the smell of burning as we locked the front door behind us, the smuts of ash and the rubble under our feet. We passed several houses on fire, for many families were already 'sleeping out', as we said, travelling each night to lodgings in the countryside to escape the raids, and no-one was home to tackle the incendiary bombs before the fire caught hold. We took a roundabout way, avoiding the city centre, and there was no chance of transport - the railway station was out of action, the tramlines buckled up, half the buses destroyed and the rest requisitioned by the emergency services - but at last we came to the Kenilworth Road. There we joined a procession of families trudging into the darkness, the sky red behind us from the light of the fires. Most of the crowd carried bundles, but some had suitcases neatly packed - like going to the seaside, I thought. For the most part they were quiet and orderly, except when a child wailed and was coaxed into silence. I remembered newsreels I'd seen at the cinema of refugees in Europe. Now we were refugees, too, I supposed, in a way. I had my satchel slung over my shoulder, full of school books, and a brown paper carrier bag in my hand, with our spare shoes. My aunt had wrapped her few treasures up in newspaper - her father's gold watch-chain, two old five-shilling pieces and a silver locket - and poked them down into the toes of the shoes before she put them inside the carrier. Sneak-thieves would hardly suspect me of being given anything valuable to look after …
My mother's face was grim. We had left my father behind in the ruined city, on duty with the Police War Reserve. In uniform, he was in his element, ordering civilians about and arresting looters. She hardly gave him a second thought, but what she hated was the idea of going among strangers. All their lives, she and Aunt Madge had 'kept themselves to themselves', as they said, and now she feared the worst. The raids had been going on for days, until this final night of devastation, and we were all worn out from lack of sleep. Aunt Madge stumbled along with the heaviest bag, her eyes red-rimmed and wide with alarm. Doreen Phelps, a workmate in the box factory, lived in Kenilworth, five miles away. Like my mother, my aunt prided herself on never asking favours, but now there was no choice. It was time to leave, and we were all still alive.
The November night was clear and cold, with hoar-frost covering the woods where the summer before we had picnicked among the bluebells. My legs ached, and we seemed to have been walking for hours. At last relief workers met us on the outskirts of the town, with a mobile canteen set up at the side of the road, handing out tea and buns. To my disappointment, my mother gave a faint smile and shook her head, so we plodded on. Before long we met up with air-raid wardens handing out maps to show where the rest centres were, Scout huts and church halls hastily prepared to cope with the new influx of evacuees. My mother ignored them, too, but Aunt Madge took a map and peered at it anxiously in the dim light outside the ARP post.
'Annie,' she said wearily, 'we've got to tidy ourselves up a bit before we go to Doreen's. We can't turn up there like this. Anyway, Patty needs a rest - we all do. Come on, we'll go to the reception centre at the library. That'll be all right.'
Luckily, the library was in the part of town where Doreen lived with her widowed mother. Its windows were shrouded in blackout curtains and criss-crossed with wide sticky tape, but there was a chink of light from the doorway as we made our way over the frosty grass. Inside, camp beds lined the walls, and I sat bolt upright on one of them between my mother and my aunt, who had no intention of lying down in a strange place. There were plenty of blankets piled up on tables at the end of the room, and I looked at them longingly, but my mother shook her head.
'Fleas!' she hissed, and that, I knew, was that. Again, she refused even a cup of tea till Aunt Madge insisted, giving me a few sips as well, once the rim had been carefully wiped with her handkerchief.
Around us, most of our companions slept in sheer exhaustion, some whimpering, as if they were dreaming of the relentless rain of bombs. Others, like us, were tense and wakeful, checking their bags and bundles to make sure nothing had got lost or stolen on the trek from the city. A few with blisters after the long walk were patched up by the Red Cross, while others, weeping and shaking, were given a sedative and eventually lulled off to sleep. By now it was getting light outside and Aunt Madge led the way to the cloakroom. I flinched as she scrubbed at my face with the icy cold water, but it woke me up and I felt better afterwards. My mother tidied her hair and straightened her hat in the mirror. Outside, we rubbed our shoes on the grass to get rid of the dust, and set off down the quiet suburban street.
Extracts from 'Yesterday's Child' (A Coventry Childhood in Peace and War) by Pat Watson
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One man’s RADAR.My years in The Royal Air Force during WW2
The year before I was to take the Cambridge Senior School Certificate, that would enable me to go to Cambridge University, my parents had contacted an electrical manufacturing company in nearby Norwich, that had agreed to sponsor me. Once I had acquired my degree in electrical engineering I would be bound to work for them for so many years. I passed the Cambridge entrance exam “with distinction”, but unfortunately WW2 started just before I finished high school. My opportunity to go to Cambridge University disappeared when the sponsoring company geared up for wartime production. I immediately volunteered to join the Royal Air Force, but the recruiting officer told me that I was too young and advised me to go home and find a job in the “wireless” field until I was a year older. I went to work as a service mechanic for a radio dealer and somehow managed to keep his repair department above water until I was old enough to enlist. This gave me some much needed practical experience in electronics, ---- and I also taught myself how to drive. In those days no test was required to acquire a drivers license and by the time I joined the RAF I had enough experience to pass my RAF driving test with ease.
When I was called back to the recruiting office, I said during my interview that I wanted to be a “wireless operator/air gunner”, but I also mentioned that my hobby was “Ham Radio”. I was immediately whisked off for a trade test although I explained that my only training was from the equipment I had built and the books I had read. After the oral test an officer explained that I had passed with very high marks and therefore I was now a “Radio Mechanic”. He went on to explain that he did not know what the job entailed but I would not be allowed to fly, it was nothing whatever to do with signals, and if asked I was always to say that I was a “Radio Mechanic”, not a “Wireless Mechanic”.
A week or so later I boarded the train that took me to the RAF camp at Cardington. I remember little of the two or three days I was there, except for the shortages when it came time to collect my uniform. There were no boots my size and I was given a pass to wear my shoes until the correct boots were available. There were no military gas masks and we had to walk around with the little square cardboard boxes on our shoulder that contained the gas mask that had been given to all civilians. For some reason we all felt this was somewhat demeaning and were very glad, a few weeks later, to receive our military version in the khaki canvas haversack. Cardington had been the HQ of the British airship service between the wars and it was here that the huge dirigibles the R100 and R101 had been based. The monstrous hangers were still there but now were being used for other purposes. We were allowed to walk through this little bit of history and we could but marvel at the enormous size of the buildings. This was only a holding area and I was soon in the train again on my way to Bournemouth on the South coast of England, for my six weeks of basic training. We were billeted in a private home with RAF beds packed into the bedrooms. We were given a meager breakfast, then we were expected to be out of the house until we returned to sleep in the evening. Most of our training took place in the streets or parks, and we were lucky that the weather that autumn was mild and dry. Here I learned the first and most important lesson regarding military discipline. Never argue with a senior officer. On the second day the drill sergeant inspected us all closely. He found something wrong with everyone, and when he reached me he walked around and finally said, “Go up into town and get a decent hair cut, your hair is far too long”. I started to say that I had it cut only a day or two before leaving home, but was cut short with a scream of “Don’t argue with me, get it cut NOW”. So I set off to the town center and spent the next two hours looking at the shops, and then had afternoon tea in a little restaurant, a walk along the sea front through the beautiful gardens and back to my billet.
The next morning the Sgt. carefully inspected me and then said, “Now you look like an airman, don’t ever let your hair get as long again”. I was happy and I guess the Sgt. felt he had made a point. Another moment of pleasure came when we went onto the firing range to shoot our mandatory five rounds. Like most of the young men there I had never used a firearm and we spent one day learning how to take it to pieces, clean it and so on. On the second day we were shown how to shoot with it. Like most radar people these were the only shots I ever fired throughout the war. The instructor said that to make the lesson more memorable, he always turned this final exercise into a competition. We would each put a little money, (I can’t remember the exact sum) into the hat, and the winner would take it all. He also said that he would join us in the competition to give us someone to beat. I strongly suspected that this was one way to make a little spare cash as he was firing every day. We duly went up to the range and after very careful instruction fired our five shots. To everyone’s surprise, not least my own, I achieved the highest score and walked away with the prize. On the third or fourth morning we had to march to the medical center and stripped to the waist, hands on hips, we had to pass between several medics who gave us the required inoculations in both arms simultaneously. Some men fainted, some shouted from the jabs, and the medics were not known for their sensitivity. A few days later many of us did not report for training. The usual advice from the medics, who came around the billets, was to stay in bed and drink plenty of water. I was up and about after only one day in bed. Finally our training was over, we had a march past with our CO taking the salute, had a pep talk from him and we were again on the train.
I had to report to a large block of apartments in London. When I arrived no one seemed to know what to do with me and I just hung around for a few days. Finally I was told that I was going to No: 1 Radio School at Cranwell. Once again no one could tell me what I was going to learn at this school, except to emphasize again that it was nothing to do with radio or any form of signals. What made it even more intriguing was the fact that Cranwell was well known as the RAF College and an officer’s training unit and I was not intending to become an officer. RADAR, and Cranfield, 51 O.T.U. My introduction to Radar was far from the movie idea of entering a secret world, although RDF as it was then known, was probably one of the best kept secrets of the war. I found myself on a dark and raining November night, standing on the railway platform in Lincolnshire en route to No: 1 Radio School at Cranwell. There was little light because of the “black-out”, but I soon discovered another five or six new airmen also waiting for transport to the camp. After standing around for a while, a young woman in uniform called out that she had brought a truck to take us to the base. This was late at night and we were all looking forward to a meal and a warm bed. But this was not to be and once we had been checked into the camp, we found ourselves, complete with all our kit, in an almost empty “Nissen” hut. Not totally empty, along one wall was a table and on the table stood a stack of bibles. We had no idea what was ahead of us, but eventually a young officer came in and after checking our documents told us each to take a bible in our left hand, raise our right hand and swear an oath of secrecy. He then told us that if we mentioned to anyone anything of what we were about to see or do, we would be immediately shot.
After that introduction we were marched under escort to a nearby ground RDF station and watched the “blips” from German aircraft that had taken off from France and were approaching to bomb the UK. At this time the system was officially known as “Radio Direction Finding” (RDF), in an attempt to misdirect anyone trying to find out the technology involved. Only when the USA entered the war was the name changed to RADAR.
The RAF was desperately in need of technical people and after only a few weeks of training on the newly developed airborne RDF system called A.I (Airborne Interception) Mk:4 we were sent off to our respective stations. We stayed at Cranwell for just over six weeks and two items brightened the time. First of all we were told that we were sleeping in the same hut that Lawrence of Arabia lived in when he joined the RAF to get away from the publicity of his exploits in the Middle East. It was certainly the right camp, he lived there as “Aircraftman Shaw”, but I have an idea that the same story was put out about all the other huts in the camp. The second item was the “airplane without a propeller”. Cranwell had a very large airfield, and when the weather was fine, for exercise we would walk the perimeter track. In the far corner of the field was a single hanger with several armed guards standing around. One day one of our fellows said that he had seen an airplane wheeled out of that hanger like no plane he had ever seen before. It had no propeller, but the mechanics started it up and it went, in his words, “up like a rocket”. There was general laughter and disbelief all round. Whoever heard of an airplane without a propeller? Years later I learned from a lecture given by Frank Whittle that these were the first successful trial flights of his jet engine, --- and I missed them!!!!
Once my training was completed I was sent to my first RAF station at Cranfield in Bedfordshire, now the College of Aeronautics. The facility had been built for the RAF prior to WW2 and therefore was comfortable with a full range of facilities, although 30 men slept in barracks designed for 15. Here I first came in contact with men from around the world. In our section we had Canadians, Jamaicans, New Zealanders and Australians, yet we never had any but minor arguments, although we agreed that there would be no discussion about religion or politics in the barracks. I quickly found that race, color and religion were of little consequence. We all felt the comradeship that is difficult to explain but comes from sharing hardships and danger. We were literally fighting for our lives. We could stand on the airfield at night when the weather was clear and see the flames from the bombing of London, lighting up the night sky. Every day we saw the effects of the scarcity of skilled men and materials, and heard of comrades and family members missing or killed. Almost every week we had to tackle the gruesome task of removing the radar systems from crashed aircraft. Cranfield was never directly bombed but we were hit by a flying bomb on one occasion. Fortunately no one was hurt. Looking back to those days, it is extremely difficult to understand why Britain was convinced that it would win the conflict. Germany had taken virtually all of Europe; their army was massed on the Channel shore preparing to invade us.
Every night the bombs fell on our cities and factories, the U-boats were sinking our ships, yet there was never a single mention of defeat, we all seemed to know instinctively that eventually we would win. We had all been instructed on what we had to do if an invasion took place. Our people were split into three groups. Group one was to be airlifted to Scotland and from there to Canada via Ireland to continue the war. I was in Group two, and we were to take a truck and try to make our way up to Scotland, where every effort would be made to also get us to Canada. Group three was to join up with the local defense forces and try to hold back the enemy as long as possible.
Cranfield was an Operational Training Unit (No 51 OTU), and our primary task was to train night fighter pilots and radar observers in the use of A.I. (Airborne Interception RDF). They were also always available for operational use as and when required. Theoretically these were all trained aircrew, but many had only a few weeks of training, and little flying experience. Crashes were very common and frequently fatal. Before the wrecked planes could be picked up, we had to remove the secret equipment to a secure place. Although the dead and wounded were removed immediately, working in the blood stained wreckage was hard and brought home to us constantly the cost of this war in men and planes. Working on the squadrons we knew the pilots and observers personally. Usually the aircrews stayed with us for one month of training, and then we had a week to carry out major maintenance on the equipment before another class arrived. At this time we had many volunteers who had escaped from the countries of Europe that had been overrun by the Germans, For some unknown reason one class was held up at the completion of their training, and was still at 51 O.T.U. when the new class arrived. We accommodated the newcomers while continuing the training of the previous class, as we all recognized the need for as much training possible. A few days after the new class arrived, two of our old students disappeared with no explanation. Later that we learned that one of the students of the new class recognized them as ardent Nazis and reported them to the military police. They admitted that they had planned to take one of the RDF-equipped planes and fly it to Germany as soon as they were proficient in operating the equipment. We heard several weeks later that they had been shot.
Part of the aircrew training was done on our “Synthetic Trainer” as we called it in those days; today we would use the term “Flight Simulator”. It was one of the first computer controlled devices, using analog computers hooked together into a complex system. It was difficult to maintain and I was given the task of looking after this equipment that was housed in its own special building. One morning an officer walked in, I stood to attention and asked what I could do for him. “Nothing” he said, “I’ve been sent to help you in any way I can”. He was very willing to do anything I asked of him and after a few days we became good friends. His story was typical of many unsung heroes. He was a radar observer in a Beaufighter and had been flying with the same pilot for several years. They had been very successful as a team in downing enemy bombers; they were very close friends and had confided in each other their very personal fears. My friend was very frightened of drowning, while his pilot colleague was scared of becoming so badly burned or injured that he could no longer function normally. One bright moonlight night while tracking a bomber over the English Channel they were badly shot up by its rear gunner. From his conversation over the intercom it was obvious to my friend that the pilot was badly wounded and the plane damaged. He could not physically reach the pilot however because of the locked armored door leading to the cockpit. The pilot told him to get on his chute and be ready to jump. “Don’t worry”, he said “You won’t drown I’ll get you over the land”. “Unlock your door and let me into the cockpit so I can help you” replied my friend, but the pilot said there was nothing he could do and “Get out while you can, I’ll be all right”. By now the pilot had brought the plane over the cliffs of Dover, above the mainland and my friend bailed out. After he jumped he hung in his parachute over the cliffs well inland and watched as the plane turned and flew back out to sea. Then the nose pointed straight down with both engines screaming flat out as it plunged into the ocean. He realized that the pilot was badly hurt and preferred a quick death to a life as a cripple. But he had also remembered his promise to his friend that he would never let him drown. Because of this incident this officer could not face getting into a plane again. He had been classified as LMF (Lacking Moral Fiber) and taken off flying duties. He stayed with us for several months while his case was considered and then he was moved to other duties. Here were two more of the unsung heroes of the war.
One afternoon we had a lone Flying Fortress circle the field at a low altitude. We had many American squadrons stationed in adjoining airfields, so thought little of it until it refused to respond to our radio calls. It had no markings and was painted a matte black. We sent up one of our planes to try and find out what this bomber was doing. Unfortunately our plane was neither fast enough to do more than follow, and was unarmed. Our pilot followed the bomber until recalled, but said the rear gunner kept his guns constantly aimed at him as it flew on out to sea. No one was able to identify the plane but it was believed to be a captured aircraft sent out on reconnaissance.
A few days later I was crossing the parade ground around midnight with a colleague. We had just closed the station cinema and were heading off to bed after a late supper. It was very overcast and we heard a plane overhead. We could see nothing because of the low clouds and commented that it was a filthy night for flying. Suddenly we saw a flame in the sky and the comment was made that “The poor devil’s on fire”. We suddenly both realized it was a flying bomb and dived for the shelter of the mess hall wall. A few seconds later the engine cut out and there was a mighty bang that made the ground shake. Fortunately it fell behind the officer’s mess and except for a large hole in the ground no damage was done. It had been launched from a German aircraft over the North Sea.
I was next sent to Twinwood Farms, a satellite field to Cranfield that was about 10 miles away. It was one of the sites for working with the new centimetric Mk 10 A.I. radar. Twinwood Farms was far from the luxury of Cranfield, just a few Quonset huts set down alongside a long runway and perimeter track out in the fields and farms of Bedfordshire. However in many ways it was a much freer way of life with much less discipline. There was little in the way of entertainment but I enjoyed spending the evenings in the radar workshop which was in one room of the large hut that held the headquarters offices. I would build radios, read, listen to the BBC, cook and eat my evening meal. It was an opportunity to get away for a little while from being continuously surrounded by people. The Adjutant or second in command of the camp was somewhat of a martinet, and had visited our workshop one afternoon and created hell. We had received some equipment from Cranfield, delivered by truck with a WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) driver. It was a cold day and we had invited her into the workshop for a hot cup of tea. Strictly according to the regulations she was not cleared for our level of security and was supposed to sit outside in the truck until all unloading was completed. We all received a tongue lashing from the Adjutant and a lecture on security. Because of the highly classified magnetrons we were using in the radar systems, all doors had to be kept locked and the workshop was never left without at least one armed radar mechanic. We took it in turns to sleep in the workshop and a few nights later I was alone on duty there, getting ready to go to bed, when I heard a shuffling sound in the corridor outside. I grabbed my sub-machine gun and cocked it as I waited to see what would happen next. The handle of the door turned. Someone was gently pushing it back and forth to the extent the bolts permitted. I quietly pulled the bolts back and when the door was next pushed I let it swing wide open. There stood the Adjutant, with my loaded and cocked machine gun pressed gently into his belly. He looked a little surprised when I neither moved nor pulled back the gun. “Everything all right” he asked, “Yes sir” I replied standing my ground, “Oh well, just making sure” he said and with a little wave walked off. I locked the door, went to bed and wondered what repercussions awaited me.
Sure enough the next morning I was told to report to the Commanding Officer. I walked into his office and saluted. He was sitting behind his desk writing, and looking up said “I understand you nearly shot my Adjutant last night”. I was at a loss for a moment, then replied “Yes sir”. He smiled and waved me away “O.K” he said, and as I reached the door added “Bloody good show”. From that day on we were left to work on our own. We all recognized the need for security but also wondered why armed sentries were stationed at the road leading into the camp during daylight hours, but were replaced by two wooden poles across the road at night.
The C.O. at Twinwood Farms was a great character. He was a fighter pilot who had been shot down early in the war and wounded, loosing a leg. However he had returned to flying and was permitted to fly with his radar observer in his Mosquito on intruder missions over France. Shooting up trains was his major skill. He had quite a sense of humor and often on take off; he would keep low and slip into a neighboring valley. The control tower would loose sight of his plane and call out the crash tender and fire engine. He would circle around the camp at a very low altitude and come back from the opposite direction at maximum speed, flying along about ten feet off the ground along the main street that passed through the camp, only zooming up to miss the control tower. To those of us stationed at Cranfield or Twinwood Farms, the nearest center of civilian life was Bedford. Before the war this was a very quiet country town, supported by the surrounding farming communities. With the advent of war and the many airfields within a few miles it became the center for thousands of allied servicemen. On a day off I would cycle the ten or so miles into Bedford, park my bicycle for a few pence at a little shop on the outskirts of the town and wander around the streets. A bookshop was usually my first port of call, and a stroll along the park by the river. Then lunch, such as could be had without food coupons and the afternoon was usually rounded off by a visit to the rather luxurious cinema. I would sit in the balcony and enjoy the tea and cakes that were brought around in the interval between the two films that always made up the program. A slow cycle ride back to camp, a pint at the local pub and back to work for another week. Not terribly exciting but a relief from the restrictions of camp life. In the summer I would cycle around the neighboring villages with my best friend Dicky Dix. We could usually find a sandwich at a local pub and spend time exploring the old churches and wandering some of the country pathways. The BBC Symphony Orchestra had been moved from London to escape the bombing, and we found that it was now operating from the “Corn Exchange” building in Bedford. We also found that service men and women in uniform were allowed into the hall for the performances and rehearsals. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear a world famous orchestra without having to queue up for seats or suffer the crowds, or pay for the privilege. In the manner that was typical of the old BBC, the announcer always appeared in white tie and tails, and said that the concert was being given from “Somewhere in England”. Similarly the orchestra was always in evening dress although no one could see them except the comparatively small audience of service men and women.
Not far from Cranfield was the town of Bletchley, and near Bletchley was a large country mansion that had been taken over by the Government. We met some of the WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) who worked there and they in turn visited us at Cranfield. They came to our movies and stage shows, used our canteen and in turn they would invite us to their parties. We knew they were working on some classified program, but by this time we were so used to the restrictions of security that we never asked them about their work and in turn they did not ask us about ours. It was only several years after the war was over that we discovered they were members of the Enigma team breaking the German codes and sending false messages to the enemy. One day while cycling to Bedford I heard an aircraft overhead with engine screaming. I looked up at the overcast sky just in time to see a fighter plane of some kind diving vertically with engine flat out and flames streaming behind. It disappeared behind some buildings and a mushroom of flame for a moment marked the spot. I cycled as hard as I could in the direction of the crash and after a while came to the place. The plane had dived between two rows of houses into the gardens between them. Miraculously no damage had been done to either the property or the people living there and only a slight disturbance in the soil and a few small pieces of aluminum marked the spot. The plane was flying through a thundercloud and was believed to have been struck by lightning. Digging was begun to find the plane, determine the cause of the crash and remove the pilot’s body. After digging about twenty feet the tail was found, but the condition made it clear that further excavation would yield nothing and the hole was refilled. To the best of my knowledge it is still there, an unmarked and forgotten grave.
Later in the war we had a message to say that a Russian military mission wanted to visit a radar night fighter airfield, see our equipment and watch it in operation. Twinwood Farms was chosen as the site, but we were warned that on no account were they even to be told of the existence of any centimetric radar systems. All our up to date machines were flown off to another airfield and replaced by aging Beaufighters and Blenheims fitted with the old Mk 4. We had to go through the workshop and clean out every vestige of centimetric equipment, test gear and so on. The Russians arrived; we showed them around and found them to be quite pleasant individuals all speaking perfect English. They left after thanking us for our help but commented “We know all about this old equipment you have shown us, we came to see the new centimetric radar”. We in turn had to lie and say that we knew nothing whatever about it. Just prior to this our RADAR workshops at Cranfield had been moved out of one of the hangers into an isolated hut on the far side of the airfield. It contained all the secret centimetric equipment not installed in the planes and we were told that it was mined and could be blown to smithereens from the main guardhouse. I must say it felt a little scary for a while, and we hoped the switch was clearly marked!!!!
Generally life in the RAF was not bad, long periods of utter boredom interspersed with a few exciting episodes. The worst problem was the inability to see what lay ahead of us. Initially the outlook was at best a long and protracted struggle, with only the bare necessities of life available. Remember that in the UK rationing was extremely tight, even for clothes. There was no gasoline for private use and few if any of the many things that we normally feel are necessary for a full life. At the worst the enemy could eventually overrun us. Later, especially when the USA entered the war the outlook improved, but the shortages continued and the length of the war seemed uncertain. To young men who should have been training for their future, the end of the conflict merely signaled the beginning of the personal struggle to find a job or the education that had been passed by. We all recognized that the world would be a very different place and we found it difficult to see where we would fit into the peace time society. I know that I found it difficult to accept civilian life after five years in the service. Many others who had a much tougher war than I did had much greater hurdles to overcome.
Life On Camp At Cranfield the maintenance and operation of the radar equipment was initially serviced from a workshop in one of the hangers, (No 3), but this was eventually moved, primarily for the sake of security, to a large hut on the opposite side of the field. It was well over a mile away and the bicycle was the normal mode of travel. However it was only a few minutes walk from the workshop to the village of Cranfield and Pam’s restaurant, which somehow always managed to have eggs, chips (fries) and sausages in spite of rationing. Of course we were not supposed to climb the barbed wire perimeter fence, but Pam’s was always full of hungry airmen. Cranfield was built as a permanent air base several years before the start of the war and a modern cinema had been built in the nearby village primarily to cater to the needs of the service people stationed there. It was the only cinema for miles around, and was always full of men and women from the camp. But tickets were expensive for the comparatively lowly paid “Erks” (Newly recruited airmen and airwomen). The commanding officer of Cranfield at that time was Group Captain Fullergood who was said to be ex Indian Army and was every bit the typical officer as portrayed by the movies. A large moustache and a tall upright figure, he could instill fear into anyone who crossed his path. He was a strict disciplinarian, but fair with a keen sense of humor, and Cranfield was a happy and well-run camp. It was reported that Fullergood visited the cinema owner in the village and suggested that a reduction in ticket prices would assist morale especially as the huge increase in personnel now provided full houses at every show. The owner declined and Fullergood immediately began construction of our own camp cinema. A workshop that had been used for the repair of the old fabric covered planes was gutted and rebuilt. The result was a modern and very comfortable theatre holding around 600 people. The projection equipment and seating were rescued from a London cinema that has been bombed. Movies were shown twice each night Monday to Saturday and stage shows on Sundays. I worked there in the evenings as a volunteer and learned the skills of the cinema operator. We ran the projectors during the week and on Sunday we helped put on the stage show. We had a choice of every film available, and the cinema was almost always full no matter what was showing. The winner of all times was “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby. Every few months we would become inundated with requests, and once again we would show “White Christmas”. One fascinating film we received was the original movie taken on Scott’s last expedition to the South Pole. It was a rare opportunity to view history and we had to treat the film with the greatest care. On the stage we had whoever was sent to us, with little choice. It did not matter; we always had a happy evening whether it was a well-known star or hard working amateurs. One memorable evening we enjoyed the talents of Gertrude Lawrence and it was fascinating to watch her bring the entire audience under her spell. A very beautiful woman and a true professional she turned down an invitation to a party given in the officer’s mess following her performance, commenting that she had come to entertain everyone not just the officers.
After Pearl Harbor we had the comradeship of our neighboring American airbase, and their airmen were also welcomed at our shows. We were all very excited when we learned that Glen Miller was to perform at their base but although our people were invited I was on duty and not able to get to the show. The next day Glen Miller drove over to our little satellite field at Twinwood Farms took off and was never heard of again. G/C Fullergood was a strict disciplinarian but was also had a sense of humor. On one occasion the duty officer found a man on sentry duty asleep in the middle of the night. Fullergood had him immediately locked up in jail and sentenced him to be shot the next morning. He even had the guard ask him what he wanted for his last breakfast. By now the poor guy was shaking and in a desperate shape. Fullergood gave him a stern lecture and sent him back to his work. Fullergood inspected the barracks every week and on inspection day we were not supposed to go to bed until the inspection was completed even if we had been on night duty. One morning I had been on duty for 24 hours and was too tired to be concerned with discipline so went to my bunk. I awoke with the Station Warrant Officer shouting for me to get up and I saw the usual inspection entourage standing around my bed. “I’ve been on duty for 24 hours” I explained as I sat up and noticed that the S.W.O was about to explode. Fullergood stepped forward, pushed me back down into my bed and pulled the blankets around me, “Sleep well” was his only comment.
At that time we had a regular Air Force WO (warrant officer) in charge of our radar department, who had been about to retire but was retained when war broke out. He was a very quiet pipe smoking man who was a very effective NCO. We were in need of a pole on which to mount the antennas for testing equipment in the workshop, and it was unobtainable in the normal way because of the wartime shortages. He went to seek some assistance from Fullergood who happened to be very busy at that moment and brushed him off with “Don’t bother me man use your initiative”. Now Fullergood had an enormous three section white flagpole outside HQ where the flag raising ceremony was practiced each morning. This was Fullergood’s pride and joy, but one night a few days later the top section disappeared. At about the same time a freshly painted brown pole was erected outside our workshop complete with all the necessary antennae for our test facility. For the next 24 hours the military police ransacked the base looking for the missing flagpole with no success. A week or so later Fullergood was making a formal inspection and arrived at our workshop. He looked around and noting the pole approached our WO. “Warrant Officer”, he asked, “Where did you find your antenna mast”. “Sir, I used my initiative” was the reply. Fullergood pursed his lips and stood silent for a moment, then he smiled briefly, “Very good Warrant Officer” he said, “Carry on”.
At one end of our workshop was a hatchway let into the wall. Beyond lay a training room where aircrew could come and practice on our small simulator to become acquainted with the airborne equipment. One of the problems with the early Mk 4 A.I. was the enormous ground returns that had a shape rather like a firtree. Our WO was standing near this hatch one day at the end of December when a young officer stuck his head through the opening. “Warrant officer” he called out, “There’s something wrong with this equipment there’s a tree on the display. (Referring to the ground returns that were seen on Mk:4 A.I. ) Our WO peered through the hatch, looked at the display, then removed his pipe from his mouth and turned to the young man. “What do you expect” he said quietly “it’s fxxxxxg Christmas ain’t it “.
For most of the time I was at Cranfield we worked a normal day in the workshop where we repaired and serviced the equipment that was removed routinely from the aircraft for a thorough check. A team was attached to each squadron to check the radar on the aircraft before the day’s flying began and when any problem arose. They also had to arm the IFF (Identification Friend or For) equipment immediately prior to take off. Power for checking the radar was supplied by a gasoline powered generator mounted with two large batteries on a two-wheeled cart that we pushed from plane to plane. The squadron teams had to be available whenever aircraft were flying, which could involve very long hours when the weather was fine. When the weather was bad they often enjoyed a great deal of free time, and we all listened for the call over the loudspeakers. “ Flying for tonight is cancelled”. There were other duties to be carried out, running the various air crew training devices, maintaining navigation equipment such as beacons and so on, but inevitably when flying was cancelled we all had more free time.
As “D-Day” approached the work became harder and the hours longer. Eventually we all worked a 24 hours on and 24 hours off schedule, and that spring and summer I frequently slept out on the airfield while waiting for returning aircraft. On one occasion no one called me and I woke covered with dew, to find all the aircraft had returned and everyone left for their quarters. There was concern that the start of the invasion could trigger off commando raids on our airfields and a machine gun post was built outside our radar section, in case there was an attack. We were all supposed to take a course in operating the weapons, although I managed to avoid it. It was manned for several weeks around D-Day but when nothing happened it was dismantled
. Of course we did not know when D-Day was to take place although it was obvious that something was afoot, especially when all leave was cancelled and no one was allowed to leave the camp. A few weeks earlier a huge glider had landed in some fields nearby and to avoid it being seen by too many people it was retrieved quickly. There was no time to dismantle it so it was towed along the road to camp, the telephone poles at the side of the road being pulled down to allow the wings to pass without damage. It sat on the field for a few hours and was then towed off. Very early on the morning of D-Day formations of planes began flying over the field. We stood in amazement as they filled the sky for hours stretching from one horizon to the other.
When I first joined the service, the idea of women doing anything but serve in the cookhouse, do office work, or assist in the medical center would have been considered impossible. They had for some time operated the ground radar stations and control centers, but these were all considered “women’s work”. Several lost their lives during bombing attacks, and the male radar mechanics had a high regard for their skills and respect for their tenacity under fire. It was not long before we had WAAFs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) driving trucks and taking over more and more of the tougher duties on the squadrons. I remember my surprise one day when going to service a plane in one of the hangers to find a woman clad in coveralls working on one of the engines. We had always had WAAFs carrying out ancillary duties in the radar section and very soon we began to receive the first women radar mechanics. Going from an “all male” operation required some changes in behavior and attitude, but it was not long before they became an accepted part of the service in almost every task. Inevitably from time to time the natural reactions between the sexes overcame the comradeship and we would loose one of our girls who had become pregnant. Life varied considerably from camp to camp.
Cranfield was self-contained although rather overcrowded, with an excellent library, the cinema, a good canteen and facilities for sports and hobbies; Food was excellent, the catering officer being in civilian life the chief chef from the Savoy Hotel. Much of the credit for all of this went to Group Captain Fullergood, a strict disciplinarian but a fair and effective leader. I experienced several different camps during my time in the RAF, some for only a few days, but I always found that one rule applied. The stricter the discipline the better the facilities and the happier the camp. Twinwood Farms provided the minimum necessities of life but offered a great deal of freedom with few service restrictions.
TRE was also completely different. There I lived in a very small encampment beside the road at the base of the Malvern Hills. TRE was essentially a civilian operation and of the thousands who worked there, the RAF contingent amounted to only about 150 people, and many were billeted with local families. There were five or six Nissen huts on the open sloping hillside on one side of a quiet road, and on the opposite side the RAF had taken over a large house which contained the dining room, offices and a tiny library and recreation area. The huts were heated by coal stoves and in the winter those far from the fire froze while those near it were in danger of being cooked. One of the huts contained toilets and showers. It was not a very comfortable life, especially in the winter or when it was raining, but it was a very free existence compared to the usual RAF discipline, indeed in many respects it was comparable to civilian life. There were a wide variety of shops in Great Malvern and an excellent service club run by the ladies of the town. Great Malvern in peacetime was a very exclusive area, with many very wealthy residents, and it provided excellent facilities for entertainment, with a theatre, two cinemas and frequent stage shows and concerts.
TRE was based in the prestigious Boys College, which had been taken over when it was decided to move the laboratories away from the coast and the jeopardy of commando raids, and all the school buildings had been converted to laboratories and workshops. All the stories about the “tough” educational system of the major public (private) schools in the UK were correct, as shown by the additions that had to be made to the buildings when they were converted into research labs. The college originally had no central heating, only an open fire in each public area. The buildings were three stories above ground but the toilets were in the basement. There was no hot water available in the basement bathrooms; even the showers only had cold water. Yet they turned out many of the leaders of government, industry and society. Additional huts had been built on the sports fields and finally the Government had taken over a considerable part of the town. Several streets were now behind the barbed wire curtain that surrounded TRE, and the houses on either side of them now became additional workshops, offices and laboratories. About two miles away, out of the town proper was built a huge factory as the primary manufacturing facility for new projects in the prototype stages.
Each morning we would walk across the hillside to the College, check in for a day’s work in the labs and walk back at night. There was hardly any of the regimentation and discipline of service life.
When the weather was good the surrounding Malvern Hills provided miles of walking trails in peace and solitude. For other entertainment at the weekend I would take the bus to Worcester, a delightful old town, and spend an afternoon walking around, looking at the shops that had anything to sell, and I always visited the Cathedral. Worcester Cathedral is a massive old building, glorious in it’s architecture, and just walking around looking at the centuries old building was a delightful way of relaxing. However quite by accident I found the times that the organist practiced at the week end, and would sit and listen to the glorious music resonating through the building. There were actually three organs of various ages, all connected to one console and the organist was terrific. He would end his practice with “all stops out” and the huge bass pipes produced sound that could be felt rather than heard. Life in the service varied tremendously depending on the location; it also depended very much on the individual and a determination to find the best in life. Everywhere there were things of interest to occupy the time away from the job. Everywhere there were people who were very willing to help the serviceman who was far from home and family. I found the Salvation Army to be an organization that offered much and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for them. No matter where I went I could always be assured of a meal, or a cup of tea, a place to sleep and a friendly word at the “Sally Ann”.
Aircraft. Our first A.I (Airborne Interception) night fighter aircraft were twin engine Blenheims. They were rather slow and were soon replaced by Beaufighters, which were a very different “kettle of fish”. With their huge Bristol radial engines, four 20mm cannon and six machine guns they looked and were very tough planes and fast for their time. They were not difficult to fly but demanded attention at all times on the part of the pilots, many of whom had little flying experience. We had one or two crashes and murmurs started among the aircrew, who were changing over from other much less sophisticated aircraft, that it was a dangerous plane. One rumor, which began to be voiced openly on our three squadrons, was that these aircraft could not be maneuvered or landed on one engine, A few days after the rumors began, all aircrew were called one afternoon to parade on the airfield outside one of the hangars. No one knew the purpose of the parade and once all were present they were stood at ease chatting and asking each other what this was all about. After a few minutes a single Beaufighter roared in low over the horizon. It came over the field a few feet from the ground climbed almost vertically and performed every aerobatic stunt in the book. The pilot then shut off one engine, feathered the propeller and repeated all the previous maneuvers with one propeller stationary. The plane landed, also on one engine, taxied around the perimeter track and stopped close up in front of the assembled aircrews. The engine was shut down and the pilot climbed down the ladder from the plane. The pilot was the only person in the plane, a very young woman, with her blonde hair blowing in the breeze as she walked over to report to the control tower. Not a word was spoken and the Squadron Commander dismissed the assembled aircrew. No one ever complained again regarding the performance of the Beaufighter.
Later in the war we changed over to an American twin engine high winged monoplane that we called the Boston. It had an American type number, which I have long since forgotten. It was a solid, sound, aircraft that performed well and was liked by all the aircrew, although it lacked the “bull-dog” appearance of the Beaufighter. This was also the first plane we had with a tricycle undercarriage. However like the previous aircraft it lacked the speed advantage that was required for the night fighter to be really effective, and this only came about with our next plane. The De Havilland Mosquito was our final night fighter. At first this small dainty aircraft with it’s two Rolls Royce Merlin engines appeared to be far too delicate to replace the Bostons or Beaufighters, but once in service this idea quickly changed. It turned out to be the fastest plane in service at that time and could outrun almost anything the enemy (or the Allies) could put up. It was highly maneuverable, and could carry a bomb load far greater than suggested by its dainty appearance. It was of all wood construction but proved much tougher in combat than many metal planes, and it’s armament of four 20mm cannon and six machine guns equaled anything in the air at that time. In one corner of the field there were often one or two Mosquitoes painted a beautiful pale blue and polished to remove anything that could disturb the airflow. Unarmed, they flew weather missions over Europe every day, relying on speed and altitude to keep them from harm. Some we were told also flew to Sweden to collect ball bearings that were badly needed for the war effort. Sometimes they even delivered passengers who had to be strapped into the bomb bay and lay on their backs with oxygen mask and electrically heated clothing for the long flight. Not “first -class” travel, no meals and no movies. One aircraft that was often seen tucked away in one corner of the field was the Lysander. A very large single engine plane with a high wing, it was slow but agile, being designed for battlefield reconnaissance. It was capable of very slow flight and could keep airborne at around 45 miles per hour, and even go backwards in a high wind. The two or three that occasionally occupied one corner of the field were painted a dull black with no markings whatever and were completely out of bounds to all personnel. From time to time a closed car with blinds drawn would drive around to the Lysanders, the occupants would quickly embark in one of the planes and take off. Sometimes it would be weeks before the planes returned.
Eventually we heard that they were ferrying spies and their equipment into occupied territory. We always wondered how and where it was possible to hide such a large plane from the enemy for so long. They were occasionally used to check on the performance of the coastal radar stations, and the story was told of the operators at a particular coastal ground station who were calibrating their equipment by the flight of a Lysander over the English Channel. They saw an enemy plane coming out from France and called a warning to the Lysander on the radio, but being so slow it could not get away from the oncoming German fighter. The two radar signals merged and then there was only one. There was gloom in the radar station until they noticed the echo of the remaining aircraft was coming directly toward the station and was showing the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) signal indicating it was one of our aircraft. It was the Lysander, and later that evening the pilot was asked how he managed to survive an attack from a top line fighter, an ME109 that was many times faster. “Well” he replied. “The observer watched for him to dive on us from behind, and as soon as he told me he was getting close I put out the air-brakes, slowed down to 50 mph and shot him as he flew past the front of our plane”.
One day a Boston aircraft arrived at Cranfield with a peculiar modification. The nose had been cut off flush and a large circular searchlight fitted, that was about four feet in diameter. A massive bank of batteries powered the light and completely filled the bomb bay. We were told that on no account was the light ever to be switched on when the plane was stationary as the heat generated by the lamp would set the plane on fire. We equipped this aircraft with the old Mk 4 radar and provided a trained pilot and observer. Two Spitfires arrived and we were then let into the secret. Because the night fighters of that period were comparatively slow it had been suggested that the Boston, using its radar would locate and track the elusive night bomber. Once in range the light would be switched on to illuminate the enemy, the Spitfires, which were flying just behind and above the Boston would then dive down and shoot the enemy out of the sky. This was apparently the idea of one of the senior allied leaders and therefore had to be tried out although the more experienced fliers had rejected it. It was obvious to us all that the person who dreamed this up had never attempted to fly in formation at night without navigation lights. The first mission went well until the searchlight was switched on when it was discovered that the Spitfires had lost contact and were nowhere to be seen. However all returned to their bases safely including the enemy bomber. On the next mission the Spitfires again lost the night fighter. However this time the bomber shot up the Boston using the light as an excellent and easily seen target. Fortunately it landed safely and the damage was only minor. Fluorescent strips were then painted along the trailing edges of the Boston’s wings for the Spitfires to sight on. The final mission did not go well. The Boston found the enemy, switched on the light, and in the turmoil the Spitfires shot up the Boston. Fortunately it once again landed safely, and no one was hurt, but that was the last of the tests and within a few days the entire program was dropped.
Of course other planes occasionally landed, sometimes simply because at Cranfield we had some of the longest runways in the area. Damaged planes coming back from attacks over Europe would be directed to us, and at times when the dawn broke the airfield looked as if it had just been attacked, with wrecked planes littered all over the field. One bomber landed with part of a German fighter still hanging from the fuselage. How it managed to fly back and actually land was a credit to the tough design of the bomber and the skill of the crew. We were constantly astounded at the damage many of the bombers sustained and yet still flew back and landed. We saw planes with rudders almost completely destroyed, sections of wings missing, and large holes in the fuselage. These were just a few of the quite common signs of the hammering these planes received. Although we were in Fighter Command we all had the greatest respect for the bomber crews. Their aircraft were not pressurized or heated and the crews had to spend 10 to 12 hours wearing an oxygen mask, sitting in a cold dark bomber being shot at by fighters and anti aircraft guns. This demanded a lot of courage and plain guts. If they got back safely they immediately started to prepare to do the same thing all over again, --- and again.
Technical Stuff. My introduction to radar was fast with little time to absorb the overall affect this invention would have on the war. We were literally pitched into the fray with a minimum of training. Our radar tuition lasted six weeks and assumed that we knew all the fundamental theory of electronics. Meanwhile those who had the ability but not the basic knowledge went through almost twelve months of training. Security was strict. We were forbidden to mention anything about our work to friends, family, or even discuss it with our colleagues outside the radar workshop. To anyone who asked, we were responsible for maintaining the radio equipment to help our aircraft navigate, or any similar such nonsense. It was embarrassing when parents or other family members asked the questions but after a while no one asked, and our families accepted that what we were doing was secret, at least for the duration of the war. The Synthetic Trainer Not long after arriving at Cranfield and following a few months working on the squadrons, I was sent to take care of our new “Synthetic Trainer”. Today it would be called a “Flight Simulator” and to the best of my knowledge was the first such system ever made. One of the difficulties of training operators and pilots in the skills of radar night fighting, was the cost in fuel and manpower. It required two planes and crews, one to act as the target for the other. Although the initial training could be done in daylight with the observer shut up in darkness in the plane and forced to rely on his radar system to direct the pilot, the final operational training required flying at night. This in turn needed the services of the area central control system and local controllers. All of this had to take place while trying to fight the war in the same skies.
A new building was put up at Cranfield which at first we found extremely strange. One room was a cube of about 30 feet on each side and painted matte black inside. The remainder of the building adjacent to this large room was two floors of normal height. Eventually it began to make sense, and I was sent to TRE (Telecommunications Research Establishment) to learn all about the system. In the large black painted room, a huge white concave concrete dish occupied one wall. Centered on the dish was the front section of a Mosquito fuselage. On the top floor behind the fuselage facing the dish was a projector room. Here was fitted a mechanical marvel of optics and motor drives. Under this projector room was the control room. It contained about twelve feet of floor to ceiling racks of electronics, (all tube driven of course), an instructors control panel and a huge glass topped table over which two “crabs” crawled, marking the tracks of both friend and enemy. In operation, the trainee pilot and observer got into the cockpit, all external lights were extinguished and they went through the normal take off drill. When the throttles were advanced appropriate engine noises came from banks of large loud speakers, and as they took off the horizon was visible on the screen and obeyed every move of the controls.
In the control room the instructor “flew” the enemy and directed the students to the appropriate course. If the students followed his instructions correctly, they would eventually pick up the radar contact and if they then worked together as they had been taught, they would eventually see a tiny shadowy silhouette of the enemy plane. As they closed the range they had to identify the silhouette and get into the right position to shoot it down. Of course the instructor could see everything that was going on and could make the interception easy for the beginners and extremely difficult for those completing the course. He could change weather conditions, bringing in fog or cloud; he could have a full moon or only starlight. He could change the course and speed of the enemy, climb out of range or dive to be hidden in the ground echoes. The engine noises and the swinging horizon made the entire experience extremely realistic. Once in the right position and within range the pilot fired his guns with appropriate deafening cannon fire and flashing lights. If he was on target the enemy was successfully destroyed and there was the blinding red flash of an explosion. Being totally operated by vacuum tubes, and utilizing analog computers, this was an extremely complicated system to set up and maintain. It was inevitable that some tubes would fail when the system was shut down or restarted and it was a major task to find the culprits out of the very many tubes in the system. As a consequence we avoided shutting down as much as possible. Starting up again also required trimming the circuits to balance the many “long tailed pairs” and other parts of the analog system. This all had to be carried out very carefully and required adjusting numerous sets of potentiometers. We could never have foreseen the tremendous advance in Flight Simulators that would become commonplace with the development of digital computers. We had reached the practical limits with our analog system and although we desperately wanted to improve the performance at that time we believed there was nothing more that we could do.
Mark 4 A.I. Our initial Mk 4 A.I. airborne radar was quite crude. In one black box was the receiver that consisted of an RF amplifier taken from an early commercial TV set. It had been built by the Pye Company and consisted of a row of metal tubes that had been the RF amplifiers for the straight TV receiver. It was now used as an IF amplifier in the radar receiver and an “acorn tube” RF amplifier and a tiny triode oscillator were attached on a small chassis at one end. At the other end of the long receiver strip was a gas filled tube that generated the time base for the indicator box. The indicator had two cathode ray tubes one with a horizontal trace and one with a vertical trace. On the aircraft there was a transmitting antennae in the shape of an arrow on the nose. There was one receiving antennae above and one below the left wing to indicate the relative height of the target and one on the leading edge of each wing, each with a reflector, to show its horizontal position. The transmitter consisted of two forced air-cooled tubes clamped to silver plated tubular lines. They operated at an extremely high voltage and air was blown down the lines to avoid overheating. The weak links in the system were two motor driven switches. One connected each receiving antenna in turn to the receiver. The other switched the output of the receiver to the respective deflection plates in the cathode ray tubes. Setting up the system required bending the silver plated contacts, to accurately synchronize the two switches. But the settings were far from constant, and if not perfectly adjusted it was difficult for the operator to determine the true position of the enemy. In addition huge echoes were received from the ground so the range was limited to the height of the aircraft, which was usually less than 20,000 ft. In practice a range of about 4 miles was the maximum that could be expected.
The ground controller used the information from GCI (Ground Control Interception) radar stations to provide a picture of all the aircraft in his sector and would then attempt to bring the fighter within range of the enemy. The fighter was then given the order “Flash your weapon” and he would switch on his A.I. and hope to pick up the signal from the bomber. Initially the results were terrible and few if any bombers were destroyed. But as both the operators and controllers became experienced in using their equipment, the numbers of “kills” slowly increased until the system began to show it’s capability.
At about the same time we started to receive the first centimetric RADAR system, the Mk: 7 A.I., which was completely different from anything we had seen before. More about this under Centimetric Radar and Boot and Randall I.F.F. (Identification Friend or Foe) Form the very beginning of RADAR; it was obvious that it would be necessary to identify the signals received as being from “friend or foe”. IFF was therefore developed very early in the war and stayed more or less in the same form for the entire duration of the conflict. A gray box about 18 inches square, it was fitted to every aircraft. The controls were on a separate much smaller box about the size of a thick paperback book that was generally located within reach of the pilot. The theory of the system was very simple. When the IFF picked up the pulse from a searching transmitter, it sent out a return signal. This signal was coded so that at the receiving station the echo would be seen to vary in size according to a pre arranged code. The pilot through his control panel could enter this code. Echoes from friendly aircraft would then show, for example, three long and one short increases in signal strength every time the radar beam swept over them. A motor generator that provided the high voltages for the system swept the entire radar frequency band through a system of gearing that turned a variable capacitor. It was inevitable that an IFF would quickly find it’s way into enemy hands and make the system useless. The boxes therefore were fitted with an explosive charge that could be detonated either by the pilot pushing two buttons simultaneously or by an inertia switch that detected the shock of a crash of the aircraft. The charge was located between the two chassis that formed the system, which were separated by about two inches. When it exploded it was designed to burn up all the components that were used to determine the frequencies and codes being used. The charge was slid into a small drawer like compartment in the front of the box; the connecting plug inserted and a clamp tightened to hold everything in position. It was one of the jobs of the squadron radar mechanics to check the wiring of the push buttons and the setting of the inertia switch before every take off and only when satisfied all was well did they load and connect the charge.
When the Boston aircraft first arrived at Cranfield their IFFs suddenly began to blow up at the slightest touch. Slamming the hatch cover or even a hard landing would kick off the inertia switch and the first flight of the new squadron left the radar section filled with burnt bulging gray boxes. We soon found that the inertia switches had been badly made and everything was grounded until we could strip them all out of the aircraft and file off a ridge that had accidentally been machined on the pendulum that controlled the operation of the switch. The noise and shock of the exploding charge convinced the radar observer in one plane, that they had been shot up. The fact that in those aircraft the IFF was also used as the seat for the radar operator probably explained his concern. It was only after he had walked around his plane and found no holes or other damage that he could be convinced he was not engaged in a battle with the enemy. There were few if any test fixtures available for checking the inertia switches and so we made our own. From a blown up unit we took a meter and from the thick tough base plate of the charge, using scrap aluminum, we made a box to mount it. When a squadron was scheduled for flying, we would go in pairs and check the system. One radar mechanic: would climb into the cockpit while the other would get into the observer’s position. The meter would be plugged into the charge wiring and at the shout of, “OK push it” the man in the pilot’s seat would push the two emergency buttons while the mechanic in the rear would look for 24 volts on the meter. If all was well he would then trigger the inertia switch and check for 24 volts, then set it up again and make sure there was no voltage on the connector. He would then inset the charge, pug in the connector, clamp the cover, sign the log, and all was ready for flight. On one occasion the mechanic in the back of the plane without thinking accidentally picked up a charge instead of the meter box, and called out for the mechanic in the cockpit to push the buttons. We all heard the bang and rushed over to find his right hand a bloody mangled mess. The baseplate of the charge was deliberately made of very thick steel to deflect the charge upward to the critical components under the upper chassis, and this saved his hand. He was extremely fortunate and only lost the top of his thumb.
Beacons, Gee and Oboe. Landing at night or in bad weather was a constant problem for our night fighters. We had a huge floodlight, (The Chance Light) that could illuminate the runways, but none of the ribbons of light we see today. Someone quickly realized that in the Mk 4 radar system we had a navigational tool, as the system could tell the relative position of the received echo. We received a “do it yourself” instruction kit describing the way to modify an IFF set into a homing beacon. We removed the gearing from the capacitor drive so that the unit was always tuned to one frequency. We built from copper tubing and wood a highly directional antenna array and put the entire contraption in a small brick hut we built out in the fields a mile or so from the end of the runway. Surprisingly it worked extremely well. While it was far from the accuracy of today’s blind landing equipment, it was superior to anything seen up to that time. The radar operator switched on his A.I. when he was a few miles from the field, his transmission triggered the beacon, the beacon signal could then be identified by its code, and distance and direction read off in the normal manner as if it was a target aircraft. The only problem was the lack of electricity out in the fields so every few hours the large lead acid batteries had to be changed. This provided a brief relief from working on the airfield, and a chance to visit “Pam’s”.
Later in the war we were introduced to the radar navigational system called “Gee”. This was a tremendous advance for all aircraft. Until this time navigation had been carried out by visual means or by “dead reckoning” or radio direction finding when the ground was not visible. As a result a high percentage of bombs fell in the wrong place, fighters missed the bombers they were supposed to be escorting, and other similar fiascoes occurred. Now for the first time the airman could find his position with an amazing degree of accuracy. Several chains, each of three ground stations, were set up operating in the VHF frequency range. They sent out synchronized pulses that were displayed on a cathode ray tube. Once locked into the system, this provided the figures that could be quickly translated into position on a special “Gee” map. This capability was soon installed on almost every aircraft, and although it did not have the spectacular results of some of the other systems, it increased dramatically the overall effectiveness of our air warfare. The receiver measured the distance of the aircraft from the three transmitters, and as it was a purely pulse system, and one transmitter triggered the other it was almost impossible for the enemy to interfere with the accuracy of the system. I personally never worked on OBOE, but it was a very ingenious system and provided an extremely accurate method of pinpointing targets. It was used very successfully with the “Path Finder” Mosquitoes. By fitting a small transponder on the aircraft, a specially designed radar station could very accurately measure distance up to a comparatively long range. On the ground two mobile stations were set up at points determined by the situation of the target. Once airborne the plane’s range was monitored by station number one. The pilot listening on his headset would hear a single tone when at the correct range; a series of dots when too close and a series of dashes when too far away. By flying along the circular path of the single tone, he knew he must fly exactly over the target. The second station produced a similar course almost at right angles to the first, so that the pilot would hear another series of dot or dashes as he approached the target and when he heard two single tones he knew he was exactly over the spot. Later systems were automatic and triggered the bomb release at the right moment. This gave the pathfinders the ability to place bombs within a few yards of the required spot. On one occasion it was used successfully to bomb a French prison housing a large number of “Freedom Fighters”. The walls were breached and the guard’s quarters totally demolished, allowing all the prisoners to escape with very few casualties.
Centimetric Radar and Harry Boot and John Randall. The change from the old “long wave” Mk4 A.I radar to the new centimetric Mk7 signaled the time when airborne radar finally came into its own. Instead of the many antennas mounted all over the aircraft there was only the spiraling dish mounted in the nose with its smooth black Plexiglas cover. Inside the aircraft the radio observer watched one Cathode Ray Tube which had a spiral time-base, synchronized with the rotating antennae and showed the exact relative position of the enemy aircraft. Range was measured by the distance of the echo from the center of the scan. When the target was directly ahead the CRT showed a completely circular echo; as the angle to the target increased the sector on the tube grew smaller until it became only a bright dot. Maximum range was about 10 miles and the display was very easy to read. The heart of the system was of course the cavity magnetron. Two men were responsible for this invention which literally changed the course of the war, in fact changed the course not only of warfare but also of daily life forever. I personally believe they have never received the honor and recognition due to them. (If only we honored the people who really deserve our praise as much as we do the people, who can hit, kick or throw a ball.) Harry Boot and John Randall developed the cavity magnetron at Birmingham University in the U.K. The allies all knew that radar would only reach it’s full potential when it could operate at extremely short wavelengths, and all over the world people were seeking ways of generating these very high frequencies. The cavity magnetron that they developed is exquisite in its simplicity, its remarkable performance and its efficiency. It can generate powers of several Kilowatts at wavelengths of only a few centimeters, yet can easily be slipped into a jacket pocket. It is after all the heart of every microwave oven, every modern radar system and a multitude of commercial and medical devices. Mk:7.A.I. was the first practical airborne night fighter radar system, and soon showed that reliable night fighter protection was not only possible but could prove extremely effective. With the experience of the MK 7 it was not long before an improved version became the standard for night fighter operation. This was the Mk 10, (SCR720), made in the USA.
The Mk 10 was installed into the Mosquito and served the remainder of the war proving to be a very potent weapon against the night bomber. This system had a helical scan instead of the spiral scan of the Mk7, and a twin tube display with range and elevation on one tube and azimuth information on the second. One of the advantages of the helical scan was the ability to control the scan limits. For example when searching for a target the operator could scan the entire area ahead of the aircraft. Once the enemy had been located the scan could be reduced to concentrate on the target area. One problem for us ground mechanics was the very tight security that surrounded the cavity magnetron. Each magnetron had it’s own wooden carrying case and before the squadron took off we had to take our boxes of magnetrons out of the radar section strong room and fit one into each of the designated aircraft. Once installed no one but the operator was permitted to handle the equipment, and if, for example, a plane had engine trouble, the magnetron had to be removed by the radar mechanic before any other crew could work on the aircraft. When a plane crashed, the magnetron had to be removed before anyone except the medical team could approach the wreckage and as a result many of us had gruesome experiences we preferred to forget.
In the radar section a reinforced concrete strong room about six feet square was built which only opened into the radar workshop and was kept locked except when transferring magnetrons. As the workshop was out of bounds to anyone except radar personnel this was thought to be a secure storage area. However now the section could never be unoccupied, and we all took turns to sleep in the workshop with a loaded sub-machine gun beside the bunk. This level of security was impossible when the bombers began using H2S, the centimetric bombing radar. It was inevitable that some planes would fall into enemy hands and the magnetron was virtually impossible to destroy. Attempts were made to fit an explosive charge to the magnetron that would destroy it if the plane crashed as was done with the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe), which had an internal charge that burned up all the circuitry, and was detonated by an inertia switch. However this was found to be impossible in the case of the magnetron. Even after using a charge that blew a large hole in the side of the aircraft, the cavity magnetron could easily be identified and all the details revealed. After all it consisted on nothing more than a carefully sculptured piece of solid brass, with a filament, and output probe. Until these tests the Allied leaders had been reluctant to send any magnetron equipped plane over Europe, and even limited the field of operation of the night fighters. However they soon realized that there was no way to prevent the design falling into enemy hands. The advantages of the magnetron were so enormous that its use could not be delayed.
Up until the advent of H2S, only a very tiny percentage of bombs ever fell near their target. After its introduction no matter what the weather or enemy activity the bomber could always hit the right spot. The development of H2S was carried out at T.R.E. but was delayed for several months when a bomber carrying a trial system crashed in the Welsh mountains during a test flight. The equipment could be replaced, but unfortunately almost all the engineering team was on board the plane and lost their lives. These were a few more of the unsung heroes of WW2. Largely because of this accident, strict orders were issued that no technical radar personnel were to fly under any circumstances. All flight tests now had to be carried out by the radar operators. On the squadrons it had been common for the radar mechanics to check the equipment in the air when a difficult problem arose, although strictly speaking this was contrary to orders, but this was now stopped.
This is the Army There is an old service tradition that says, “Never volunteer for anything”. However I was getting a little bored with my life at Cranfield and when the call went out for volunteers from the ranks of radar mechanics for a special but unknown task, I forgot the old service motto and put my name down on the list. A few days later I found myself temporarily transferred to the army. I packed up my kit, headed for the train station and duly arrived at the headquarters of an army anti-aircraft group located in the middle of England. It was housed in a mansion sitting in the middle of a large park. The park had huts for the soldiers but the officers lived in the mansion. The RDF field was relatively small in those days and I found many old colleagues and friends among the thirty or so airmen in our small contingent. We were all housed together in the hayloft over the now disused stables alongside the mansion. The accommodation was terrible. Very old wooden bunk beds were crammed so tightly together in the loft that it was difficult to find space to stand. This was wintertime but there was no heating of any kind and the loft was lit only with kerosene lanterns. There were holes in the broken flooring, and no windows to let in daylight or fresh air. The toilets consisted of trenches dug into the ground outside in the park with poles to sit upon. An army officer called us together and explained that we would only be there for the short time it would take us to become acquainted with G L (gun laying) radar and to overhaul the sets we would then be taking into the field with us. We were divided into teams of five to each set of G L radar. Once satisfied that the equipment was operating correctly, we were to set it up at a one of the many Royal Observer Corp (ROC) posts in the country. There we were to train their personnel so that they could ultimately take over and operate the system. Once this was done we would return to our respective RAF stations The ROC posts were manned 24hrs a day by civilian volunteers and dotted the country, forming a network of observers who were linked by phone to their local Command control center. Their task was to locate and report every aircraft that came within their visual range. To date the visual reporting, combined with the ground radar chains had been adequate. Now that our night bombing of Germany had begun, there was a concern that enemy bombers were hiding in the returning bomber streams and would then strike at the bomber bases when they illuminated the airfields for the returning aircraft to land. This had already happened on a few occasions. We were to take a set of GL radar to a selected ROC post and train the civilian observers, so that at night they could monitor every aircraft that passed them and check for the correct IFF (Indication Friend or Foe) signal. First we had to parade and meet the army commanding officer. He told us in very clear language that we were now soldier’s first and radar specialists second. We would have to participate in the military drill and similar exercises, and we would be expected to behave like soldiers. He thought that we looked slovenly and we would have to “pull up our socks “ or suffer the consequences. He then made the biggest mistake in his military life. He told us that he had no authority to punish us and anyone who misbehaved would simply be returned to his unit. Most of us knew each other and had met at some time in our RAF career, the radar community being comparatively small and closely knit.
That evening in our cold hay loft we talked over the commanding officer’s words and decided that we were there to take care of the radar and get it into the field as quickly as possible, not to spend hours marching up and down. The soldiers we talked to were terrified of their commanding officer (CO), an old time regular soldier and a tyrant. He made it very clear that he could not see the point of all this technology and believed that man to man fighting with the bayonet was the only way to win the war. The technical officers we came in contact with were totally resigned to spending hours each day marching up and down while the equipment and technical training was almost completely ignored. The next day we were told to report immediately after breakfast in full dress uniform for a morning of drill. We ignored the order to wear our dress uniform and instead went in our working gear and overalls. We were thoroughly “chewed out” for this but just stood and ignored the reprimands. When the drill finally started and we were told to “right turn” some turned right, some left, and some totally ignored the orders. This and similar “dirty tricks” quickly turned the drill into total chaos, and after a short while the RAF contingent was dismissed and we went off to our respective radar sets. For the duration of our stay we were never asked to drill again. This began four or five weeks of harassment against the military discipline. We made sure that our technical work could not be faulted but ignored any orders that would take us away from this task. We were hauled up in front of the CO several times for such crimes as going into the neighboring town in the evening, which gave us an opportunity to complain to him about our rotten living conditions. We were rebuked for minor disciplinary infringements, such as not saluting or jumping to attention in the presence of an officer, actions that were almost completely ignored in the RAF. We even had the duty officer come to inspect our beds in the loft to see if our blankets were correctly folded. This also ended in chaos with all the complaints about the holes in the floor, leaking roof, lack of heat, and toilet facilities, and so on. Finally we demonstrated that our equipment was in order and we were ready to move out.
Each team had an enormous diesel generator, a large caravan containing the transmitter and a smaller one containing the receiver. They were hauled by three large diesel trucks and into the leading one we piled our kit and prepared for the journey. The CO appeared with his accompanying officers to send us on our way. His parting speech was short and to the point “Good bye and good riddance. I have never had such a miserable time in my entire army career”. With those parting words our team left laughing for the village of Halesworth in Suffolk. We arrived late in the afternoon, and three of us were lodged in a tiny attic room at the local pub. The other two had somewhat more spacious accommodation at the house of the manager of the local hardware store, where we also all went every day for our meals. The equipment was hauled up a sloping meadow to the crest of a hill just outside and above the village where the ROC had their post. This consisted of nothing more than a small hut let a few feet into the ground with an adjacent circular area surrounded by a thick wall of sandbags. Here was the crude optical spotting device and the telephone link to the command plotting room. We put up the transmitter twenty or thirty yards away so as not to spoil the daytime line of sight from the post, with the receiver to one side. We knew that any incoming enemy aircraft would most likely be coming from an easterly direction, and arranged them accordingly. The diesel generator was put far enough away to prevent the noise interfering with the operation. Starting the diesel was our worst daily task, especially when the weather was cold. The monster had to be hand cranked and the drill was to open the valves on all cylinders to remove the compression and then turn the crank to bring the engine up to speed. It took two of us unless the engine was already warm, as we had to get it above a critical speed if it was to start. The inertia was very high as the massive rotor of the generator was permanently fixed onto the engine main shaft. Once cranked up to speed a handle was banged down restoring the compression. There would be a shudder and a pause and if all was well a mighty thud as the first cylinder fired, followed a moment later by the second followed by the others at an increasing speed until the entire machine was steadily thumping away. Once started it was extremely reliable only requiring fuel and lubricating oil. Even when the canvas cover was ripped off by the high wind during a torrential rainstorm, it continued operating quite normally.
Training the ROC people was not difficult, they were eager to learn and we soon had the system up and operating, leaving us little to do except be on hand in case of technical problems. We took turns to be available on site and that left plenty of time off to enjoy the hospitality of Halesworth. Each night one of us would man the transmitter and one the receiver. The remaining three were responsible for the training and daily maintenance. The transmitter was a monster; with two large air-cooled transmitting tubes delivering several hundreds of Kws of power, operating at a plate voltage of over 15Kv. A large turbine fan blew cooling air through holes in the external brass anodes of the tubes, which sat on large glass insulators and were about nine inches in diameter. The hot air was normally channeled outside via a large canvas trunk, but when the nights were cold we removed the trunk and slept very conformably on a blanket behind the transmitter bathed in the delightfully hot air. We used a 60-watt tubular lamp for a hand torch around the transmitter caravan, made by simply winding five turns of wire around the glass body of the lamp and soldering it to the end terminals. (I have to wonder at the fuss made today about radiation, when almost all radar people were literally washed with high power radio frequencies for 12 or more hours every day). The transmitting antenna sent energy over a wide area and only needed swinging around occasionally, acting on instructions from the operators in the receiver van.
The transmitter van was a large four-wheeled trailer and the antenna was mounted on a mast at one end and could be turned by a large hand wheel from inside. The receiver caravan on the other hand was raised up and sat on four widely spaced legs. The entire van was rotated to provide an angular position measurement. The operator could swing it around, with antennas spread like wings, by turning a hand crank that protruded from the floor between his legs, and would seek the largest signal, This provided quite accurate range and bearing. Height on the other hand was not so accurate, but provided an indication of the position of the target. Occasionally an inspecting officer would turn up from the army, but they were operational and technical people and only interested in seeing that the equipment was operating correctly and we were fit and well. Our only other contact with the military was the pay officer who brought us our wages every other week. We were not highly paid compared to civilian rates, but surprised the pay officer who was used to the extremely low pay in the army. We were craftsmen first grade, and were paid more than any other RAF non-flying personnel; and he initially held back part of our pay until he could check, as he was certain some mistake had been made. Once the set was operating correctly and the operator training completed, this was a very quiet and pleasant time for us. We were away from the bombing, living almost as civilians, with little or no military discipline. Two incidents reminded us of the war.
One night a target was picked up that did not give an IFF signal and was identified as “unknown”. A night fighter was sent to intercept it and identified it as one of our own bombers. The fighter tried to get the attention of the bomber pilot, but could raise nothing, and continued to escort it as it slowly turned towards the Atlantic Ocean. As dawn broke the fighter pilot could see no signs of life in the bomber. He was running out of fuel and had to return to his base. Last seen the bomber was heading straight out into the Atlantic where it must have crashed for lack of fuel. We never heard what had happened, but it was suggested that either the crew had bailed out for some reason, or had been killed by gunfire that had not caused major damage to the aircraft.
The second incident was a trifle more humorous and was heard over the phone line to central control. “Control, this is ROC post xxx, we have an unknown on our radar, range 35 miles bearing 220”. “Post xxx this is Control A few minutes later. “Control this is post xxx, we still have that target and it’s still not showing IFF”. “Post xxx, we repeat, we have identified that aircraft as friendly” “A short while later. “Control this is post xxx, your friendly aircraft has just shot up our diesel generator”. It was rather scary to watch an unknown aircraft flying directly towards your radar site, knowing that the Germans had equipment that could home in on the radar transmissions. At the army depot we had seen a receiver caravan with a row of bullet holes across the back wall. It had been shot up and all the personnel killed.
We enjoyed a very warm relationship with the local people during our months at Halesworth, and those of us living in the pub soon found out that licensing hours did not apply to us. The pub closed legally at 10pm, at which time the public was sent home, the front door locked and the bar closed. We just moved into the back room, usually being joined by the local policemen and a few other people “in the know” and often continued drinking and talking until midnight. After a few weeks we were known by almost everyone in the small community and enjoyed their hospitality. Our time at Halesworth ended all too quickly and I was returned to Cranfield.
Telecommunications Research Establishment. (T.R.E.) I first went to TRE for a few weeks, to work on the Flight simulator or “Synthetic Trainer” as it was called in those days, (See “Technical Stuff”). This was primarily to get experience in maintaining this equipment. prior to the installation at Cranfield. A short while after the equipment was set up and operating correctly, I was sent back to TRE. I had no idea why I was told to go back, but it later appeared that one of the scientists I had met wanted me to work in his lab. I stayed there for about two years, and only returned to the RAF proper as the war in Europe began to wind down. Not until I finally returned to my unit did I realize that as far as the RAF was concerned, my mentor had kept me at TRE illegally. I had been missing from the official records for almost 12 months, but the system was so jammed up that only when I reported to my new squadron did I know anything was wrong. My new CO told me he had been looking for me for months as I was supposed to be on his staff. Several times during my stay at TRE I had been called to the RAF office and told that I was to be returned to my unit, but when I reported this to my civilian boss he always told me to “Forget it, I’ll take care of it”. On one occasion I was in his office as he lifted the phone asked for Fighter Command and then for “The man who posts people”. Then he mentioned that I had received orders sending me back to my unit and ended the conversation with “Well he’s not going” and banged down the phone.
TRE was a top-secret civilian establishment, the center of all research into radar and associated technologies. It had little or nothing to do with radio communications that were taken care of by civilian companies such as Marconi, G.E. and other well-known corporations. Everything at TRE was classified, and therefore security was extremely tight. A high and wide barbed wire fence encircled the entire area. It was based on the Malvern Boys College, a famous British private school, and included several streets of houses that had also been taken over. We were given passes that had the appearance and feel of a large bank note. We could be challenged entering or leaving the property and be searched or detained for further interrogation. We realized that we were being scrutinized 24 hours a day, when some individuals were arrested and disappeared for talking about our work in public. We accepted the need for secrecy and security, we understood the importance of our work and knew that the lives of many people would be endangered if the enemy knew of it and even the outcome of the war could be jeopardized. Indeed as the war dragged on it became obvious that it was developing into a competition between the scientists of the opposing forces. As well as the four or five large buildings at TRE that comprised the boy’s college, the authorities had taken over several neighboring streets in the town of Great Malvern, converting all the houses into labs, workshops and offices. The total civilian labor force ran into several thousand people, but the RAF contingent was a very small part, and totaled only about 150 men and women. The Government had recognized very early in the war that large numbers of people would be required for this scientific and technical work and had adopted a very different philosophy from the normal government policy in selecting the staff. There were in any case very few people who had much knowledge of the technologies involved, so they looked for individuals with innovative thinking. The staff at TRE therefore, both civilian and RAF were at least “different”. The entire atmosphere was “different”. There was a minimum of rules, regulations and official policies. There was only one objective, to turn out the best and most effective radar systems.
In fact the flow of ideas was fantastic, nothing was considered impossible. As an example of the type of personnel we attracted, I worked in one lab with an engineer who had been trained in chemistry and pharmacy, but had taken to electronics at the start of the war, like a duck to water. A small man with a totally bald head and steel framed glasses, he stood at one of our routine afternoon tea breaks, when we all collected together for fifteen minutes of relaxation, and explained to us in detail the theory and practice of building an atomic bomb. This occurred at a time when such a device was not even believed to be possible. People worked all hours of the night and day, there was little formality, and of course military discipline barely existed. One airman wore a large beard quite contrary to air force regulations and was said to sleep outside or up a tree when the weather was good. We were hardly military minded; towards the end of the war in Europe there was to be a public march past in the town to celebrate the victory.
The RAF Commander called us all together one morning and explained we would be expected to join in the parade. There were cries of anguish and he commented, “I know it’s tough and I’ve tried to get out of it but we have to go, so we’ll drill for half an hour every morning for the next week”. We tried hard, but most mornings ended up in a mild chaos. People just did not know right turn from left turn, stopped to argue if they thought the drill sergeant was wrong, and generally lacked the “snap to attention” attitude required for a smart marching group. The big day arrived and first in line were our American allies from the neighboring air bases. Then came the Army followed by the Navy, the Home Guard, the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and other groups. The RAF contingent came in at the rear and closed the parade. To make matters worse, the American army band that was providing the music for the affair obviously had never heard of the RAF March Past written by Sir Walford Davis. We swung past the assembled public, completely out of step, to the music of “Nothing can stop the Army Air Corp”. One lady dashed out of the crowd, clutched my colleague to her breast and kissed him with a loud cry of “Brave young men”. I guess she had a son somewhere in the RAF.
It was very surprising to see the high level of collaboration that existed between the USA and Britain a long time before Pearl Harbor. Theoretically the USA was neutral during the first years of the conflict, but in fact there were quite a number of US service men working at TRE. My colleagues in one of the labs were two US officers helping in the development of the “Synthetic Trainer”. We became quite good friends, and eventually I was asked if I would be prepared to go to the USA, set up the first installation, and train the service people in the technology involved. I agreed willingly, my bags were packed and early in December I was waiting for the orders to arrive from the USA. I could well have become an American citizen in the 40’s, but while waiting the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In the turmoil of the following weeks it was decided that the American service men would now be coming to the UK and they could just as well be trained here. My trip was called off and I was transferred to other projects. I also remember a visit by a very high ranking US officer some time before the Japanese attack. I believe he was a Major General Sikorsky, or some similar name, but he was heavily involved in aircraft production. We took him around our demonstration hall which contained one example of every type of radar system then in use, except for the CH stations, one of which would have filled the hall. He was duly impressed and then collected some of us together and gave us in return a talk on American aircraft production. He lamented on the lack of an in-line engine and the negative impact this was having on US fighter aircraft design. He explained that they badly needed the authority to build the Rolls Royce Merlin. Of course there was little we could do, but apparently he got his message across in the right quarters, because not long afterwards the Merlin started to be made in the USA in large numbers and was incorporated into some very good American fighter aircraft.
On one occasion T.R.E. had a visit from the King and Queen. They sat on easy chairs in the demonstration hall while Jimmy Rowe; the Superintendent explained the wonders of radar. It was obvious that neither of our royal guests had the faintest idea what Jimmy was talking about. The only other sound that echoed through the hall during his talk was when one of our scientists clumped up the wooden stairs to the projection room in the hob nailed boots he always wore and dropped a large wrench with a loud “Jesus Christ”. Later the royal party toured the labs to review the latest developments, but the King was more intrigued by one of the old mechanical calculators that were then in use. He was shown how to key in the figures and then pull the handle that added them together and printed the result. He was absolutely fascinated and held up the entire entourage while he tried out the machine.
Towards the end of the war the existence of TRE was made public, and we were told that a film was to be made of our exploits. Shortly afterwards we were asked to take the director of the forthcoming movie around the demonstration hall and explain to him the technologies involved. A young army private in a very sloppy uniform arrived with one or two civilian colleagues. The young man was introduced as the director of the new film who had been released from the army for this purpose. His name was given as Private Ustinov, later known as Peter Ustinov. He was little known in those days but we took him around and explained those things that we were permitted to show him. I am sorry to say the movie was absolutely awful. It was called “School for Secrets”, and had no resemblance at all to the work done at TRE. I am sure Mr: Ustinov would like to forget that episode. Of course it was extremely difficult to describe to anyone all the work that was being done at TRE. Those of us who lived and worked there only knew a very small part of the total.
Working on a “need to know” basis it quickly became second nature not to ask questions and never to discuss anything related to the job except with very close colleagues. One of the reasons for setting up the demonstration hall was to provide a way of showing our products without trailing people around all the laboratories. The items on display were carefully selected, and rarely represented the latest technology. My time at TRE without doubt gave me the finest technical education I could have received. Always stretched to the limit while learning new and comparatively little understood technologies, yet always with some of the finest brains working alongside to help and encourage. There was little formal pressure to get the job done, all the drive came from colleagues and a spirit that said anything is possible if you really put your best into the task. In spite of the poor living conditions this was probably the happiest part of my time in the Royal Air Force Fighter Command H.Q.
Another order arrived at TRE for me to return to my unit and my civilian boss could no longer prevent this move. However my old unit at Cranfield had been disbanded and I found myself at a remote camp on the Scottish border near the North Sea coast. The reception here was far from friendly, my new C.O. telling me “Now I’ve got you you’re not getting away again”. I found there was really little for me to do, and I wondered why I had been taken away from my productive work at TRE. However, within a few days I was ordered to report to the Radar Specialist Party at Fighter Command Headquarters and supervise the installation of some training equipment. I was told this should only take a day or two and I would be expected back within a week. When I arrived at Fighter Command another surprise awaited me. The officer in charge of the Radar Specialist Party was the first officer I had ever worked for in the RAF at Cranfield. He was now also in charge of the movement of all the radar personnel in Fighter Command. He welcomed me with open arms and first asked me how I liked my new posting. I told him that I was not too happy there and made the comment, “I wish I could find the idiot who moved me from TRE”. He grinned and said he was the idiot, but had done it because he thought it was time I was promoted to sergeant, and this could not happen until I was back at my home unit. I told him I would much prefer to stay a corporal at TRE until the end of the war, and there was no way that my new CO would ever promote me. He said he was sorry it had turned out this way but he would see what he could do to rectify the situation. The next morning he called me to his office and explained that he was very sorry but as the war in Europe was obviously coming to an end in the not too distant future, he was not permitted to return me to TRE. However he asked me if I would like to take over as sergeant in charge of the Radar Specialist Party at Fighter Command H.Q. He had discussed this with the Air Commodore in charge of all of Fighter Command radar and he had approved the posting. I accepted on the spot and the next morning returned to Scotland and my home unit to obtain my clearance. I reported to the CO and handed him my papers for his signature. He just threw them back at me across his desk and told me to “Get out, you’re not going anywhere”. I pointed out that I was acting on the orders of an Air Commodore and therefore he was outranked. He grabbed the phone and called Fighter Command. He talked to various people and made it clear I was not leaving his command, and then stood for a moment waiting. “Yes sir” he finally said, then “Yes sir” once again, a final “Yes sir” then banged down the phone. He scribbled his signature on my clearance form, threw it across the desk and told me to “Get out”. I never found out the reason for his hostility, but now I was free of his control, and took the next train back to Fighter Command.
Fighter Command Head Quarters was housed in Bentley Priory, a magnificent old mansion, situated about 20 miles NW of London, that was reputed to have been used by Lord Nelson and his mistress Lady Hamilton. It stood in several hundred acres of parkland, now dotted with temporary buildings to house the staff. It was also the location of a vast underground bunker that contained the control center for Fighter Command and was in fact the room from which much of the Battle of Britain was conducted. Nothing could be seen on the surface except a slightly raised embankment. On top was a runway that was used by small planes to ferry important people to headquarters. The main entrance was via a long stairway that exited just outside the priory. This “Ops Center” was by this time no longer operational. It had been returned to the way it had been during those hazardous days of the Battle of Britain, in preparation for the time when it could be opened to the public. However, aside from the operations room, the rest of the underground facility was still in use, many people still worked “in the hole” as it was known and I was frequently called on to service their equipment. The officers and administrators had living quarters and offices in the main building, All others were housed in Nissen huts ranged in rows in the park, together with a quite luxurious Sergeants mess, a spacious cinema, motor pool and so on. This was virtually a self-contained town, invisible and unknown to the general public, surrounded by a high brick wall. The only entrance was through the tall iron gates complete with armed military police guardians. Under the main building was a warren of cellars and passageways, so many that it was extremely easy to get lost amid the branching corridors and interconnecting rooms. Here the Radar Specialist Party occupied an area at the front of the house overlooking the lawns and fountains. Our workshop was under the main reception hall and from time to time when visiting officials were present for lunch or dinner, and the weather was favorable, the RAF orchestra playing outside on the lawn would entertain us. It was just visible and audible through the narrow ground level slit windows that illuminated our below ground workshop.
The Radar Specialist Party had a variety of tasks. Much of our time was taken up with assisting squadrons that had encountered technical problems, setting up radar beacons and checking their calibration. We also from time to time investigated captured German equipment. As we were often away from Bentley Priory for several days at a time, we were provided with passes, signed by the Air Chief Marshall that permitted us to “Go anywhere, at any time, without a pass, route form or any other document”. It was quite amazing the effect this had when I was occasionally stopped by military police and asked for my papers. I was also provided with a Bedford truck, quite a powerful “go anywhere” brute that consumed a gallon of gas for about every nine miles I drove. It was quite an adventure to drive in those days, as all the sign posts had been removed in case of invasion, so it required a keen sense of direction and some good maps in order to find the way. Fortunately most of the installations I had to visit lay in the East of England and I had grown up in that area and knew many of the routes. This also gave me the chance to unofficially visit my parents much more frequently. There was a great shortage of radio receivers at that time, and as a hobby I used to make small sets from components I bought in the junk shops in London and then sold them to colleagues and friends. I never made a profit but enjoyed the occupation as a hobby.
One night I was working on this task alone in our workshop in the cellars. It was winter, dark, with a wind howling around the slit windows. Across the middle of the room was a short supporting wall open at each end. As I worked I was convinced someone else was in the room, in spite of the fact that the door was locked, and the windows were too small for anyone to crawl through. I got up and walked around the wall, the room was empty. Now I had the idea in my head it would not go away. Perhaps the intruder had dodged around the wall as I went around the other end. I went and looked again. The room was still empty but I could not get the impression out of my mind. I realized that my imagination was running wild and finally switched off the lights, locked the door and went to the Sergeants mess for a beer. Perhaps it was the ghost of Nelson looking for Lady Hamilton.
I soon became involved, as a volunteer, in operating the station cinema. One morning I had a phone call from the Commander In Chief’s office ordering me to prepare the cinema for a show to be given that afternoon for the top echelon of Allied commanders. I was clearly told that none of the female operators were to be present, the film would be handed directly to me, and I was to operate the projectors myself and personally see that the film was returned to the people who were presenting the program. I had no idea regarding the nature of the film but merely followed orders. We loaded the projectors and shortly afterwards a small cavalcade of staff cars arrived carrying twenty or thirty high-ranking officers and I was told to start the show. It was, to say the least, a horrifying experience yet in many respects it summed up what we had been fighting for. The allies were now rapidly advancing across Europe and these were the films of the capture of several concentration camps, taken by the British Army cameramen and rushed back to Britain, The tears of gratitude and the smiles on the faces of the living skeletons as our medical teams brought them food and drink, brought tears to our eyes. The grim look on the faces of our soldiers showed their anger as they guarded the former prison staff now collecting and burying the hundreds of dead inmates. The captured prison commandant, somewhat battered and bruised, was clad in nothing but his trousers which had been stripped of belt or suspenders and which he had to hold up with his hands. He was paraded at the end of a bayonet past the hundreds of inmates lying dead and dying. He was being spat upon as he heard the curses of the living and saw the hatred in the masks of the dead. The man who had held the life or death of thousands in his hands, was now being prodded by an ordinary foot soldier carrying a rifle and bayonet, through the stinking huts until finally forced to carry some of the dying to the waiting ambulances. It was impossible not to feel some gratification at the obvious terror on his face. A horrifying movie to watch yet something that must never be forgotten. These images summed up in very simple terms the true purpose of the war. To rescue these people and many more like them. To smash the society that started it all, and was prepared to continue in this way. Here was everything laid out for the world to see. Here was the reason why tens of thousands of perfectly ordinary young men and women gave up their youth and many their lives to eliminate any possibility of this happening again. Let no one ever doubt that all these terrible things actually occurred. I never saw the film again in its entirety; it was really far too horrifying to be shown to the general public. I have subsequently seen several edited clips in which much of the horror had been removed.
Bentley Priory was in many respects isolated by the surrounding wall and the acres of parkland, but a mile or so away was the Underground railway station with direct trains to the city of London, and for many of us the destination of choice for our weekend entertainment. With the war winding down there was much less pressure and the nightlife beckoned. One of our WAAF drivers in the motor pool was the daughter of the owner of a famous London theatre, home of a well-known burlesque show and she provided us with free tickets. It was considered risqué in those days, as the dancers occasionally appeared bare from the waist up. But the show was extremely tastefully presented, popular with the troops, and many of the famous artists in the 50’s and 60’s made their debut at this theatre. There were also many canteens and other diversions for the men in uniform who took their leave in the city. This also gave me an opportunity to see some of the cultural attractions, the museums, the parks and art galleries, and the classical concerts that were available almost every evening.
The war was now shifting towards the Far East, and as my demobilization date approached I was asked to volunteer to serve for another three years. If I agreed I was promised an immediate promotion to a commissioned Pilot Officer. I hesitated and the Chief Warrant Officer took me to one side in the Sergeants Mess that night and explained to me just how great this promotion would be. I was cautious and explained that I had no desire to end up fighting the Japanese in the Burmese jungle for the next three years, I was looking forward to resuming a technical career in the new and expanding electronics field. He continued to urge me on; “Look at me” he said “I’ve spent nearly thirty years in the service”, he had been about to retire when war broke out, “I’m signing on again, they’ll never send three year people overseas”.
I decided to take my chances in civilian life and a few nights later I saw “Chiefy” sitting at the bar in the mess, and told him my decision. He nodded, but seemed rather depressed “Well I signed on for another three years” he told me, “And today I’ve got orders to sail for Burma”.
One day I was told to take some classified documents to an officer at a site in the West of England. I had no difficulty in finding the address that was a large country mansion, but the guard there told me the officer was at the site “Down the road”. I followed the directions until after driving about ten miles I came to a grass-covered field with a small hut in the middle at the edge of a large car park. I could not imagine that this was the place but parked the truck and walked over to the hut. Inside the entrance was a guard at a desk, and when I explained my mission he told me to wait in my truck and he would get hold of the officer. As I sat and waited I was amazed at the number of people who appeared to be working in the small hut, but then the guard called me over and introduced me to the officer I was looking for. He in turn said, “Let’s go down” took me through a door, and the number of people leaving the small building was quickly explained. The hut was at the top of several lift shafts and we quickly descended several hundred feet. At the bottom was a wide brilliantly lit roadway, and we took a corridor to a group of offices. Having completed my business we went to a very well equipped and furnished cafeteria for a meal and an opportunity to find out more about this place. I was told that the Romans who found the rock provided excellent building stone had originally quarried these miles of passages. Some was used in the construction of the Roman baths in the city now known as Bath. Throughout the centuries these workings had been used intermittently for this purpose, but with the advent of war they had been put to more serious use. I was told that the caverns extended over several square miles and embraced an underground storage area for aircraft, hospitals, food storage, and accommodation for several thousand people. I was told to look, as I drove back to London, for a similar hut in a field about six miles away that was at the eastern end of the caverns. I looked for it and sure enough at around six miles there was the hut in the middle of a similarly large car park, in the middle of a field. My visit was prompted by the rocket attacks on London. Although our underground operations block at Fighter Command had 20 to 30 feet of concrete and earth above and was safe against any normal bomb, there was some concern that a V2 rocket might penetrate the cover and explode below completely devastating the facility. Plans were therefore made to move Fighter Command to this underground city, but before this could be completed the V2 launching sites were captured and the problem no longer existed.
My time at Fighter Command was interesting and enjoyable, the danger of bombing now scarcely existed and the threat from rockets was soon ended. However with the war in Europe winding down the military environment was changing. In place of the drive to win the war, no matter what the cost, the old disciplines were returning. Now I felt it was time to make the transition back to civilian life and try to pick up some of the lifetime experiences that I had lost because of the war.
Five years had been taken out of my life and at times the war had seemed likely to go on forever. Yet I had much to be grateful for. I had received a technical education that would keep me employed for the rest of my life. I had met many different people from many races and religions, and found that we are all basically the same. I had seen fantastic cases of heroism from perfectly ordinary people, many of whom were never recognized. I had experienced many things that have stayed with me for the following years.
The following is an excerpt taken from a family history text and is based on childhood experiences in the town of Kettering, Northamptonshire.
".... for the duration"
Unlike the rush ''to the colours" at the beginning of the World War I, when compulsory conscription was not introduced until 1916 - and only then for unmarried men, the more cautious approach of eligible males in 1939, made conscription inevitable at the outset of World War II.
Initially, compulsory military service was little more than a gesture with a 'one off' call-up of 'militia men'. They were conscripted in July, 1939, to receive six months training as preparation for their real call-up. The first conscripts were the 'militia men' and the, hither to part time, members of the Territorial Army, many of whom had only joined the T.A. to supplement their income.
My father, Phil, conscripted into the RAF in 1941, was stationed at various locations in Britain and from 1942 served in India, Malaya, Singapore and Burma, not returning to the U.K. until the winter of 1946/7. As with many more of my generation, I was robbed of my dad "for the duration".
Rationing, austerity and the bleak days of food shortages, during and for several years after the Second World War, might have appeared of little relevance when this family history was written, yet people coped with meagre rations of meat, eggs and butter, plus a total absence of many foods taken for granted a generation later.
For those of us born just before the war, rationing was the norm. The health of the nation was surprisingly good during the war years, despite the physical and emotional stress so many had to endure. Infant mortality declined and the average age at death from natural causes increased. Part of the reason for this may have been the new eating patterns. For many of the poorer sections of the community rationing introduced more protein and vitamins, while for others it involved a reduction in the consumption of meat, fats, eggs, and sugar. This diet was very much in line with the message of doctors and nutritionists fifty years later, in their campaign against high cholesterol and for high fibre in food.
Perhaps this is a good place to recall the rations, which varied slightly, from month to month, as foods became more or less plentiful.
Per adult per week:
Bacon and ham 4 ozs (100 g)
Meat to the value of Is. 2d. (6p).
Sausages were not rationed but difficult to obtain; offal was originally unrationed, but sometimes formed part of the meat ration.
Butter 2 ozs (50 g)
Cheese 2 ozs (50 g) sometimes it rose to 4 ozs (100 g) and even up to 8 oz. (225 g)
Margarine 4 oz. (100 g)
Cooking fat 4 oz. (100 g) often dropping to 2 oz. (50 g)
Milk* 3 pints ( l 800 ml) sometimes dropping to 2 pints (1200 ml). Household (skimmed, dried) milk was available, This was 1 packet each 4 weeks.
Sugar 8 oz. (225 g)
Preserves 1 Ib (450 g) every 2 months
Tea 2 ozs (50 g)
Eggs* 1 shell egg a week, if available, but at times dropping to I every two weeks. Dried eggs-I packet each 4 weeks.
Sweets (confectionery) 12 ozs (350 g) each 4 weeks.
* Eggs and milk rations were allocated to shops and dairies in proportion to the number of people registered.
People would swap rationed items and anyone producing their own eggs could do quite well. My mother, Rose, regularly swapped a tin of Golden Syrup for six eggs, with a lady who kept chickens. Some of the animal flesh that was consumed could never have been considered as food years later, as pigs' brain, cows' udder, whale and horse meat were all eaten. Indeed, we once had whale meat, but only once, it had the consistency of rubber and tasted very salty.
Clothes became rationed from June 1941, the objective being to allow each person to have one new outfit per year. Utility clothing was introduced; best described as fashionless, men's trousers were all the same style and without turn-ups, women's skirts were short and straight with no trimmings. After clothing came utility furniture, which was very plain, but serviceable.
Queuing became a national pastime and housewives had to stand regularly for food and other necessities. It was true that if you saw a queue you joined it, regardless of what was for sale.
Safeguards for Children
Babies and younger children, expectant and nursing mothers, had concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil from Welfare Clinics, together with priority milk. This milk was also available to invalids. School meals were started during the war, to make certain that school children had the best possible main meal (many mothers were working long hours for the war effort) .
All school children received milk (1/3 pint), cod liver oil and orange juice, which was administered daily. I was a pupil at Henry Gotch Infants School, Kettering, where children received one teaspoon of cod liver oil, followed by a much more palatable teaspoon of concentrated orange juice. We queued for this ritual every school day morning, each dose administered from the same spoon and without the spoon being cleaned between recipients. Milk monitors (children from the top class) distributed the milk during the afternoon.
Rose-hip syrup was also given to infants. It was considered so rich in Vitamin C that 1 oz.(25 g) was sufficient for one child for one month. The practice of giving it to young children continued for many years after the war. We were encourage to collect rose-hips from the hedgerows, for which we were paid 9d (less than 4p) per pound (0.45 Kilo). I can vividly recall that the dried contents of the rose-hips made very effective itching powder!
Schools received food parcels from Canada, consisting of various goods in short supply including; apples, chocolate, powdered chocolate, other confectionery and even American style comics.
Imagination & Invention
People were encouraged to use their ingenuity when it came to using food resources and hundreds of new and varied recipes appeared. The following recipe was taken from the war-time wireless by Rose and became such a family favourite that it was also used by further generations of the family into the 21st century.
Cheese Pie for 4 people
4-6 ozs of stale bread, 3 to 4 ozs of cheese, good sized onion, 2 ozs. margarine, salt and pepper.
Soak bread for a few seconds, squeeze out excess moisture and crumble. Chop onion as small as possible, grate cheese and place in a mixing bowl with the bread and onion. Melt margarine in a baking tin and add to the ingredients. Add salt & pepper, mix thoroughly with a fork, return ingredients to the baking tin and bake in the oven at 450 degrees for 45 minutes until golden brown. The cheese pie was accompanied by, baked potato, dried peas (having been soaked overnight) and gravy.
Society was encouraged to grow and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. 'Dig for Victory' was one of the major campaigns of the war. All able bodied men and women were called upon to cultivate an allotment in their spare time. Chickens, rabbits and pigs were reared in back gardens. Lawns and flower gardens were turned into vegetable plots. The flower gardens and lawns, between the Henry Gotch infants and junior schools, probably measuring 100 x 50 metres, were turned over to vegetable production and did not revert back until many years after the end of the war.
Fruit and vegetable preserving became an annual event for many households, there were no freezers in those days. Root vegetables were stored for winter use, apples were 'laid down' and tops of furniture became storage areas for 'eaters' and 'cookers' alike. Peas were dried, runner beans were part boiled and salted down. Blackberry picking became a day out in the country and the resultant haul made into jam.
Most home deliveries, including; milk, coal and bread were delivered by horse and cart. Keen gardeners paid 3d (1.2p) for each bucket of horse manure, collected by yours truly.
"Make do and mend'' was another slogan that focused the minds. Old cloth and rags were used, along with a hessian backing, to make floor covering (clippy mats). Internal home decoration consisted of distempering walls with a cloth; by rotating the cloth in a certain way an acceptable effect was achieved. The process was called stippling and each room was decorated in a different colour.
Rags and waste paper were reprocessed and metal railings were requisitioned for the 'War Effort'. Collection points were set up for old aluminium cooking utensils, which were recycled for the aircraft industry. We children eagerly returned jam jars to retail outlets for the reward of one farthing, bottles proved more lucrative at 1/2d. Wherever possible, old clothes were not discarded, but darned, patched and repaired. Woollen gloves, socks, scarves and balaclava helmets were all home knitted.
Those Air Raid Shelters
Air raid shelters appeared in many different places; Anderson shelters in back gardens, underground concrete shelters at schools and on waste ground. Many communal shelters were built. There were two in Southgate Drive, Kettering, one of which was built outside numbers 15 and 17; yes, the Wood residence. There was a door at each end and householders of 15 & 17 were responsible for the key for the door at their respective 'end'. Rose always kept the key for the 'Wood end' under a clock in the front, downstairs room, a safe place she had reasonably assumed. On one occasion, when there was an air raid warning, the key was missing, apparently I had found a better place to hide it. The resultant situation was not well received!
During one summer morning in 1944, I was playing with a friend in the grounds of Henry Gotch school and noticed that a manhole cover, one of the escape routes from the underground shelter, had been lodged open with half a house brick. "That does not look right," I thought to myself and tried to retrieve the offending object, managing to trap my foot under the heavy cover. Attempts to rescue my foot resulted in the foot being replaced by the fingers of my right hand. My 'friend', after standing on the cover in an attempt to lift it, ran to fetch Rose. She lifted the the cover off to reveal a middle finger, no longer straight, but following the profile of the lip of the manhole cover. The finger also had three greenstick breaks.
Rose borrowed a neighbour's bicycle and pushed the bandaged finger to the hospital, which was at the opposite end of town. This escapade was before the National Health Service and no-one called an ambulance unless it was, literally, a matter of life and death. As far as public transport was concerned, this was virtually non existent. At some stage of the journey, Rose was stopped by a policeman and was told that she had no right to be pushing a bicycle on the pavement, she was made to push the bike, a bloody bandaged finger and boy along the road. The nail on that finger never grew properly again and is a lasting testament to that shelter, long after it was demolished. Around 1950, Henry Gotch Comprehensive School was built on that site.
Life Went On
No one went anywhere without their gas mask, which did nothing to flatter the appearance and could look somewhat alarming. To allay the fears of children the Government issued more brightly coloured masks, resembling Disney characters, and affectionately known as 'Micky Mouses'. Regardless of the appearance of the gas mask, my most lasting memory is an unmistakable smell of rubber.
There were no street lights, except at traffic lights, where only a slit of light was allowed. Vehicular lights were illegal and blackout curtains were fitted to all lighted windows.
Television services had been suspended during hostilities, not that working people had ever seen a T.V. Wireless was very popular and Churchill used it, to deliver his famous and stirring messages to the nation. The wireless also kept people aware of food prices and availability. Comedy programmes like ITMA (It's That Man Again), starring Tommy Handley, were very popular. Children's Hour, too, had a tremendous following, particularly during the winter months and every wartime child remembers Uncle Mac. (Derek McCulloch) . Sincerely Yours was originally created especially for the troops, but soon became a vehicle for linking the armed forces with their womenfolk back home. The programme was hosted by Vera Lynn, the forces' sweetheart, and its signature tune was her song of wartime separation, We'll Meet Again. Wireless weather forecasting was also suspended for the period of the war.
Cinema was popular, mostly American films, of course, and the Pathe News was almost exclusively dedicated to the war effort. Rose took me a number of times and I particularly remember Meet Me In St. Louise, with Judy Garland, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman and, The Bells of Saint Mary's (1945), with Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby .
The evacuation of children, from London and other major cities, has been well documented; Southgate Drive had about four. However, some adults were sent into the provinces and imposed upon those householders considered to be able to accommodate them. As 17 Southgate Drive had only Rose and one small boy, a nurse, named Freda, was our guest for a while. After Freda left, a mysterious Mr and Mrs Smith arrived. Very little was seen of the elusive pair, he had a striking resemblance to a furtive George Cole and she to Robbie Burns' timorous beastie. One Friday evening, Mr and Mrs Smith went back to London for the week-end, saying that they would return on Sunday evening. That was the last that was seen of them. They never returned and left many personal belongings behind - all attempts to trace them failed. As can be imagined, the disappearing act set the tongues wagging. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that they may have been victims of Hitler's bombs!
An End to Hostilities
Victory in Europe finally came when Germany surrendered, on 7 May, 1945. The war weary nation celebrated V.E. Day the following day and Southgate Drive had a day-long street party. That evening, there was a bonfire and the burning of an effigy of Adolph Hitler. World War II finally came to an end on 14 August, the same year, with the surrender of Japan.
Despite all of the efforts of the armed forces, without the endeavours of those involved on the 'Home Front', victory would never have been achieved. Not just for overcoming the difficulties experienced at home, but also for ensuring that industry, agriculture and the entire economy produced the support the country needed, "In this, our darkest hour".
Austerity and hardship did not finish with the end of the war, rationing was progressively removed from daily life, but it was 3 July, 1954, that the Government officially announced the end of rationing, when meat finally became 'off the ration', almost nine years after the war had ended. The harsh winter of 1947 was met with a huge coal shortage. Heavy snowstorms and sub zero temperatures, combined with the serious fuel situation, brought Britain to its economic knees. Over 4 million workers were laid off because of power cuts. Coal trains were unable to battle through 20 ft. snow drifts and thousands of homes were without heat and light.
Phil was demobbed from the R. A. F. during that winter and, after several years in South East Asia, he found the extreme cold difficult to come to terms with. The father of my best friend had his own timber and log business, as a direct consequence of which the Wood family did better than many for winter fuel. That was one little chap's first positive contribution to life's existence and life's first lesson learned, "It's not what you know..............."!
More than a decade of difficulties and harsh conditions brought people closer than at any time since. There was a collective spirit, a communal determination and, above all, a kindred courage. Humour shone through adversity, I recall a shop front, blown out by overnight bombing, and the written message, 'more open than usual'. Such was the resilience of the people.
Finally, following the death of my father in 1995, I was more than moved to discover a small, 1944, calendar with the following inscription, "With love to daddy from Andrew, Christmas 1943". I don't know where in South East Asia my dad was during Christmas 1943, I only know that he had kept that small calendar for more than 50 years, so it must have held very special war-time recollections for him.
Andrew P Wood
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