Oral History
Herbert Hall
 
 

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Employment

A personal memoir of the Second World War

By Herbert (Henry) P. Hall

(Continued - 2)

To our surprise and some consternation we were questioned about our identity and were informed by the Station Adjutant that he knew nothing of our posting. As this was an Air Ministry Experimental Station and as such highly secret, we would have to be considered suspect and could not remain there. We were therefore quickly rushed off the premises by truck to the nearest RAF station, the fighter base at Martlesham Heath, near Ipswich. Here we spent the next two days unhappily on cookhouse fatigues, continually washing up stacks of dirty plates, and all this without the benefit of modern detergents! I have never seen such piles of washing-up and our constant efforts never seemed to diminish the quantity, for one meal followed upon another. It was then with great relief that word eventually arrived that formal authorisation for our entry into Bawdsey Manor had been received, so off we went leaving the sergeant in charge of the cookhouse to seek the assistance of other unfortunates!

During the next two months we learned that the odd-looking aerials that we had espied on our first visit were those of the new extremely secret radar system, at that time euphemistically called RDF for Radio Detection Finding. The name RADAR was later coined by our American friends as an acronym from the term RAdio Direction And Ranging, and which is now adopted universally. The training consisted of formal lectures interspersed with practical work on the intricacies of this new electronic medium, utilising many of the techniques of television with which some of us were quite familiar.

Being only a training school establishment we were allowed weekend leave and naturally we made for our various hometowns. I well recall the miserably cold journeys in overcrowded trains from Felixstowe to Liverpool Street station in London and from thence by Underground to North Harrow, and back again on the Sunday night. We sometimes left the return very late and had to walk or take a taxi from Felixstowe the four miles to the river crossing, only to find we had missed the last midnight ferry and were thus forced to remain huddled in one of the yachts on the beach, trying to keep warm until we could cross on the first morning ferry and report for duty.

After our initial training at Bawdsey my friends and I were posted to various operational radar stations along the south and east coasts of Britain. Some of these stations had been constructed as early as 1938 but of course the outbreak of war had considerably expedited the building and manning of the main Home Chain of stations covering the most likely direction of attacks by aircraft from Germany. It was an extremely large project to undertake and to weld it into a fully workable and effective operational air defence system, so it was most providential to have those first few months in the so-called 'phoney war' period to complete all the details of the organisation. I am proud to have been able to play some small part in that system.

My BBC colleague Brian Meakin and I were sent on 6th February 1940 to our first operational radar station at Dover, situated on the high cliffs overlooking the Pas de Calais and the English Channel, and not very far from Dover Castle which had been built nearly 900 years earlier to confront enemies from the European continent at that time. We did not find the work very exciting as it consisted mainly of simple maintenance on the equipment in the early hours of the morning when the station was permitted to close down for a couple of hours. Neighbouring radar stations maintained watch over our sector as coverage overlapped all along the coastal chain. A new type of radar equipment called CHL had just been introduced at Dover designed to detect low flying aircraft and supplement the coverage of the main CH chain stations, which had the major task of detecting very long-range medium to highflying aircraft. The new equipment was very crude mechanically and the rotating aerial arrays were turned by hand chain driven mechanisms rather similar to an ordinary pedal bicycle except it was hand operated instead of by feet. It was therefore hard tiring work and there were many breakdowns, some caused by over-zealous operators but also by the very strong winds that were prevalent on those high cliff sites.


 

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Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

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