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convenient base and so the Air Ministry bought Bawdsey Manor (Fig. 4), a large house with grounds of 180 acres, isolated but accessible, on the coast not far from Orford. Having completed the first stage of their work the team, now growing in size, started to move from Orford into the Manor early in 1936. Bawdsey Research Station, as the Manor was now called, became an Air Ministry establishment devoted entirely to the development of radar and in August 1936 Watson-Watt was appointed its Superintendent.

Over the front door of the Manor is carved in stone,

PLUTOT MOURIR QUE CHANGER

an appropriate comment on the administrative methods of the Air Ministry but ludicrously inappropriate to Watson-Watt. We owe the miraculously rapid start of radar not only to his imagination and drive but also to his skill in cutting red tape.

In those early days Bawdsey Manor was a magical place to work-I know because I joined the staff in August 1936 and lived there. The Manor and the grounds were paradise, the work was intensely interesting, the administration was friendly and, of course, there were very few people. Watson-Watt treated us like a large family: he talked and listened to everybody - you may say that is easy to do with such a small staff but it is not given to many to be so pleasant and at the same time get so much work done by so few people! We worked long hours to be sure, but things weren't rigid; for example we would knock-off work to swim at high tide.

As has already been said the detection and location of aircraft had already been demonstrated at Orfordness before the start of Bawdsey Research Station. It remained to demonstrate that this information could be used for air defence. We must remember that Watson-Watt's immensely valuable achievement was not simply the invention of a new technical gadget - radar - it was the successful application of radar to the urgent problem of defending Great Britain against enemy aircraft.

First air exercise using radar

The first demonstration of the military uses of radar was nearly disastrous. It took place in September 1936; an air exercise was planned in which a formation of bombers would approach the coast and a chain of five radar stations would report their position to Fighter Command so that they could be intercepted. In the event the only station ready in time was the one at Bawdsey Manor, which had only just been completed and hadn't been properly tested. It worked on a wavelength of 23 m a receiving array consisting of a vertical stack of three sets of crossed dipoles and a six element transmitting array mounted on 75 m wooden towers.

As I was present at this alarming occasion I will quote from my own book, 'Boffin'6:

'On the first day of the exercise the scene in the old stables of Bawdsey Manor was impressive. A line of three radar operators, Wilkins, Dewhurst and myself, sat silently in front of our cathode-ray tubes; silently because there was nothing to report. Watson-Watt hovered about anxiously giving a running commentary on this non-event. Behind us in semi-darkness stood a row of VIP's looking over our shoulders. Of the people in our audience the only ones I can remember were those standing behind me, Lord Swinton, Harry


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Updated 18/12/00

Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 Dick Barrett

The right of Dick Barrett to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.