RAF Bawdsey (cont.)
"What did you do in the "Cold War" Dad?"
Part 2 - Master Radar Station
Bawdsey was a wonderful place, much loved by all who served there. The area was wooded and there was a lovely path along the cliff with secluded grottoes where one could get some peace and quiet; it was wonderful courting territory! The officers mess was housed in the manor house, a magnificent building with fairy tale towers, beautiful wooden wall panels, grand stairways and comfortable rooms set in amongst a peaceful surrounding of trees and shrubs. There was a walled garden and near by a small pond complete with real live ornamental ducks that tested your brakes when they strayed out in front of your car. (The only other stations with ducks that I came across was where 202 Sqd. search and rescue helicopter flights were stationed.) The manor house was completed in 1904 and was the home of the Quilter family until it was purchased by the Air Ministry in 1936, complete with 168 acres of land, out buildings and estate cottages for £24,000 pounds sterling.
In contrast to the comfortable officers quarters we "erk's" lived in prefabricated concrete barrack blocks housing up to 10 men or women (but not both!). Our accommodation was simple; two four man rooms which were just large enough to hold a bed, wardrobe and bedside cupboard for each man, two single rooms for corporals (most of whom were married and lived off camp so we used the rooms) and an ablutions room with a shower, a bath and a couple of toilets. When the accommodation was built it was considered to be a vast improvement in living conditions for the troops. The rooms were heated by central heating radiators, and although they were temperamental they were a vast improvement on the pot bellied stoves used by our predecessors who lived in Nissan huts. However, by the early 1970's they were classed as "Sub Standard" so we paid less accommodation charges (it's an ill wind... as the saying goes). Male and female personnel had separate accommodation, a white demarcation line painted on the paths indicated the point beyond which no man should venture; however, no one can disrupt the path of true love (or lust?) and I can vouch that the line was crossed on many occasions. The rewards of success greatly exceeded the risk of getting caught by the RAF Police or a WRAF SNCO; I recall the "Snowdrops" (RAF Police) lurking in the bushes after a NAAFI dance, hoping to catch one of us as we sneaked, SAS like, across the lines. Their white topped peak caps stood out quite clearly in the dark so they were easy to spot. I never figured out if this was down to the fact that they didn't realise how easily they could be seen, if they were giving us a chance to retreat back to our own lines or if they were warning us to try another route. This black and white photograph was taken from the WRAF lines, looking up the hill towards the men's lines. The NAAFI is just out of frame to the right.
Royal Air Force radar stations are usually sited in remote rural locations and R.A.F. Bawdsey was no exception to this rule, being situated at the end of a peninsular, separated from Old Felixstowe by the river Deben which gave its name to the airman's NAAFI, the Deben Club. The only way to get to Felixstowe, other than by driving some forty miles around the Deben estuary via Ipswich was via the motor boat ferry operated by the Brinkley family. The stories describing the exploits of those who missed the last ferry after a late at night in Felixstowe are legion and could possibly make up a book of their own. In the thirties the ferry was operated by Mr. Charles Brinkley, who had lost his right hand in an accident. It seems that everyone who served at Bawdsey in those days remembers Mr. Brinkley with affection and recall the steel hook that replaced his missing hand. RAF Bawdsey also named the tool we use to discharge large capacitors and high voltage circuits. The tool was devised in the electrical workshop and consists of a hook attached to the end of an insulted rod. The hook was connected by a length of insulated wire to a suitable earth. Otherwise known as a "De-Bollocking stick", the "Brinkley Hook" or "Brinkley Stick" is still used today but few know how it got its name!
Provision for off duty entertainment was poor, there were some television rooms next to the NAAFI but the signal was so poor that it was hardly worth while watching TV. Additionally, several thousand radar "experts" had tried to adjust them over the years! BFN, the Bawdsey Forces Network, provided some piped entertainment around the billets; the studio was quite well equipped with three turntables and a couple of tape decks. The record library was extensive, up to date and covered a wide range of genre's whilst specialist programme broadcasts were supplemented by records from our own collections. The "Natter Box" was sited next to the studio, separated by a glass panel. With this arrangement an "engineer" could operate the equipment whilst an "announcer" could introduce records, speak and so on from the "Natter Box". Latterly the DJ's did their own engineering and announcing from the turntables. We used the Booker T & the MG's number, "Time is tight" as the station signature tune, whilst the B. Bumble And The Stingers' number "Nutrocker" featured at the beginning and end of my show. I'm transported back to those heady days at Bawdsey on the rare occasions that I hear them played on the radio.
Old Felixstowe had a couple of pubs that were popular with the troops, the Ferry Boat Inn (the Feebee) was frequented by "Giles" the cartoonist, who painted a cartoon mural on one of the walls that depicted local characters. The Victoria was the name of the other pub. I also recall "Grotty Tom's" in Bawdsey village, where "Tolly" ale could be consumed in large quantities, if you were so inclined (and you usually were inclined when you left!). There was a choice of "Tolly Mild" and "Tolly Bitter". We often couldn't tell the difference and we reckoned that the landlord only had one barrel of beer, connected to the two pumps via a "T-piece". The ceiling in Tom's pub was quite low with black beams running across it and six foot tall folk like me had to duck down; during one particularly heavy session I found it safer to keep my scooter crash helmet on until I'd got my pint and sat down at a table again. By the time we were thrown out there were several black streaks caused by the old black beams going across the top of my helmet. The pub at Ramsholt was frequented by the yachting fraternity and we "erks" were not welcomed there, as we discovered when half a dozen of us turned up on motorcycles and scooters one day and were told to leave before we'd even darkened the doorway!
I recall a few names from those days; Paul Broad (who sold me the best scooter I ever had, a Lambretta GP150 called "Avenger" complete with all the chrome and mirrors - the full Quadrophenia works!), Tony Marriot, Bob Clayton (who ran the incredible "Black Widow" soul disco and had the finest collection of soul records I ever heard), Doug Canham, Eve Richardson (Eve and Doug are married and living in Norfolk), John Elliot and Andy Towell. There was an engineering officer nicknamed "Joe Ninety" on account of his resemblance to the puppet character of that name on TV (it was his spectacles that did it!). The NCO in charge of the watch I was on was Pete Jackson (he's still around and hopes to be retiring to sunny Spain one day soon).
If you are interested in the story of RAF Bawdsey and early British radar development then I can highly recommend Gordon Kinsey's book "Bawdsey - Birth Of The Beam" published by Terence Dalton Limited, Lavenham, Suffolk, 1983 ISBN 0 86138 017 7. The book contains many anecdotal accounts and photographs of Bawdsey.
Constructed by Dick Barrett