In the first post of this blog, I said that it was unclear how Broody had come to join the RAF. There were, of course, anecdotal tales that the family, collected over the years, but nothing concrete enough to post here. In the past couple of weeks, my mother has found a document which I think is the first part of some recollections of Broody’s time working with Ground Control Approach Radar (GCA). There is a brilliant first-hand account of the lead up to, and the initial stages of Broody’s time in the RAF. These are my grandfather’s own words, in his own style. Any typos are mine – I hope he will forgive me!
I first tried to satisfy the Aircrew Medical in 1940, shortly before my 18th birthday, having arrived at Cambridge in October to read Mechanical Sciences – as Engineering was then quaintly described there. The “difficult” parts, according to contemporary teenage legend, went without a hitch, but the Ishihara test said that I was “Colour Defective Unsafe” – unable to distinguish between red and green. My protests that a Japanese test was not to be relied on for BRITISH aircrew met with no encouragement whatsoever.
As I was most reluctant to enter any service other than the Royal Air Force and was “reserved” as an Engineering undergraduate, I convinced myself that I was being just as useful staying at the University and offering myself to the service in a couple of years as a qualified engineer. This was, of course, a fallacy, as a visiting Squadron Leader Engineer made very clear indeed later on. In a spirit of patriotism, or something, I managed to arrange to skip the first year, so that I would complete the Tripos in two years and receive a degree after a further year’s War Service.
Meanwhile I spent a great deal of my time – probably far too much – with the University Air Squadron, who had a very convenient mess tucked in behind the Engineering Department, complete with bar and Link Trainer. We had a number of Honorary Members of the Mess – up to Air Vice-Marshal Sir Norman McEwen, Regional Commissioner and a great character, complete with Boer War decorations and a very pretty daughter, who had taught the then Air Chief Marshall “Maori” Cunningham to fly. Of more direct interest, the Senior Medical Officer at RAF Cambridge was an Honorary Member and I spent no little time playing him at backgammon – with red and green counters – often in dark corners of the Mess. Whilst there was, initially, absolutely no ulterior motive – playing him was much more rewarding than reading about matters technical – it occurred to me one day to remind him that he had declared me colour defective in red/green and had lost rather a lot lately. He gave me a further test – with a crowd of medical students as a witness – and confirmed the verdict. However, he was interested enough to send me to the RAF Eye Hospital at Ely, where I spent a full and quite eventful day. Late in the afternoon, the Chief Consultant sent for me, gave me a beaming smile – presumably thinking that he was communicating glad tidings- and told me he was able to certify me “Fit for Non-Operational Passenger Flying”. This has been, of course, a great comfort in later life when flying by regular airline!
Shortly before Finals (yes, I did finish up with an Honours Degree) my luck changed with a letter from a former CO, now at Air Ministry (as MoD(AIR) used to be known) to say that a new aircrew job had been created for which a special medical category could apply and he though I would be eligible. From this point onwards, and until nearly a year later, the whole thing was shrouded in impenetrable mystery. Confirmed as “A3B(Radio)”, I went to a Selection Board, where the aptitude tests seemed quite meaningless until I finally met A.I. Radar, and the President (a Group Captain) went to great lengths to be utterly discouraging, in terms of the intolerable stresses ad strains of the (undescribed) job. To be fair, whilst the impression at the time was to test commitment, I did learn when I got into the Night Fighting world that the early crews did have a very hairy time. However, off to Cardington, and I emerged as AC2 Radio Observer U/T, whatever that might prove to mean.
Deferred briefly for Finals – and a whole ten days to prepare – I arrived at ACRC, having become an LAC before even doing anything, by virtue of passing out from CUAS! There followed the most remarkably disjointed training programme. It all started at ACRC, where, as I understood it, some mishandling of my chest x-ray produced a shadow on the lung, so a further shot had to be taken. Being the Service, x-rays only took place as part of a weekly programme, so I stayed a third week for a satisfactory re-check, so losing all sight of every single person with whom I had started my RAF career. Moreover, as U/T aircrew, were handled in batches of 30 and as I was not to do ITW, I became a sore thumb. Posted to Brighton, then known as Air Crew Disposal Wing and later renamed after questions in the House about waste bodies, as Air Crew Training Wing, I embarked on a regular weekly “training programme” – the schedule being identical from week to week, even down to the precise Aircraft Recognition film. I am fairly certain that my stay there exactly coincided with the time my contemporaries spent at ITW.
Next step to EANS at Eastbourne and the actual beginning of some effective training. We were billeted in the Mostyn Hotel and enjoyed the occasional visits of FW190’s, who came in at low level, ran up to the Railway Station, dropped a bomb and scuttled away, whilst a second aircraft stood off over the pier. We believed that these gentry were from a fighter-bomber training unit on practice flights. We had a Vickers K-gun on the sea front, which never hit anything, which is not really surprising. One of the features at Eastbourne at the time was a permanent air raid warning situation, the approach of our friends being signalled by a “warble” – the two notes of the siren being sounded alternately. How, one wondered, did they know that the attack was imminent? Much later we heard of Radar. However half-way through the course, we moved unexpectedly to Bridgnorth, where we arrived early on a cold morning, had an FFI in an icy cold barn of a shed an took over the station from a WAAF Receiving Depot. This move had its merits – not long after we left Eastbourne, one of the Luftwaffe bombs, so we heard, came in through one of the windows of the Mostyn, to the sad detriment of some WAAFs who had succeeded us. From Bridgnorth to Harrogate (home of soul-destroying hills for marching troops), to await deployments.
When a development came, it was in the form of a day on a troop train, which eventually disgorged us at Brighton: only because one or two of us had been there before did we know where we were – nobody told us. For some unexplained reason, we had, by then, been issued with flying kit, so the march from the Station with two kit bags on top of marching Orders was arduous. Life continued on its weary way, enlivened by our posting from the Metropole Hotel to the Grand Hotel next door with all the attendant formalities at each end.
The day came again when we were shovelled onto a train and found ourselves, eventually, in Liverpool, where we spent a night in a Blind School, requisitioned as an Embarkation Centre. Our journey next day was by Manx ferry and we ended our travels – pro tem – at Jurby Air Observer School (AOS). This was something of a surprise, as all our predecessors had gone to Staverton, for a special shortened course in practical navigation, before learning what we were actually there for. Arrived at Jurby, we were paraded in front of the Station Commander – one of the characters and, if memory serves, Group Captain Gibson-Craig-Alford, who informed us that he ran a school which turned out navigators and, as we had only been allocated two months, instead of the usual three, we were going to work a great deal harder. It was beneath his dignity to produce half-baked aircrew – and so on. Work we did – and saw our first fatal crash involving one of our number on a low-level cross country – but the final outcome was more intriguing. At the end of two months – and as it was late spring, it was no great hardship – we were treated to a passing-out parade, reviewed by an Air Vice-Marshall, presented with Navigators’ brevets and made up to Sergeant. This had repercussions shortly. Incidentally, much later on, I had a communication from Air Ministry that showed I was not a Sergeant for some time afterwards – but I had been paid my gratuity by then in the rank and they did not reclaim it. Today, I suppose they would!
After a week’s leave, we reported back to Usworth (now the site of a vast Japanese car plant), which had expected 30 LAC’s and the Sergeants’ Mess was a bit overcrowded with 30 extra and singularly unwelcome Sergeants. Here at last we found what we were for – first being intrigued by Ansons with what looked like harpoons on their noses. With doors shut and under threat of dire consequences of any leakage, we were introduced to the theory of “Radiolocation” – it took the Americans to condense it to Radar. Training on Ansons and Mark IV Air Interception followed – with an interruption while the unit was moved to Ouston – we seemed fated not to complete a period in our careers anywhere in one go – and we finally emerged with Radio Observer (RO) brevets as real Sergeants.
OTU on Mark VII AI Beaufighters followed – being crewed up with pilots from the beginning – at Cranfield and Twinwood Farm and so to Operations. A commission and promotion almost immediately to Mark VIII AI Mosquitos ensued and after a notably undistinguished career with 488(NZ) Night Fighter Squadron in 11 Group 2 TAF, I was posted to Cranwell on a Signal Officers’ Course.