Reminiscences of Yatesbury RAF Radar School by a Canadian Radar Mechanic
In response to an urgent request from Britain for help, the Canadian government began a recruiting program to supply 5000 trained radio technicians to be sent to Britain immediately. The employment of these technicians was generally a secret but the reason was to assist in the development and manning of Britain’s defense systems. The first recruits were men possessing experience in the field of electronics. These included radio servicemen, theatre projectionists, home handymen, hobbyists and radio amateurs. The latter were approached instantly since their government-issued licenses had been withdrawn due to the declaration of war and because there was a record in the Department of Marine of all of these operators and their qualifications.
2.The First of the Five Hundred
By Christmas 1940, several hundred Canadian Leading Aircraftmen were gathered at the RCAF Manning Depot at Toronto and in January, drafts were proceeding to Britain by ship from Halifax. The first, known as the Leopoldville draft went directly to RAF Yatesbury. The second, known as the Nerissa draft attended the next course at Yatesbury commencing April 1, 1941. Additional groups followed the same path to Britain until in 1942 the RAF established a “radar” school at Clinton Ontario. In total about 6000 Canadians were involved in this “RDF” program, now to be known as “RADAR”, thanks to the Americans.
3.Leading Aircraftsman R75908 William Barrie
RAF Yatesbury for me as for many others was the introduction to radar. Here was the big, early radar as discovered and promoted by Watson-Watt. I learned about pulse circuits, synchronizing circuits, data presentation, high power amplifiers, antenna feed lines and was introduced to many of the techniques developed in Britain through the early television development. It was fascinating. Located in Wiltshire, the school was not a place of great charm. The square-bashing was a bore and the camp discipline was not endearing to a new recruit. Starting with drill in the morning my class responded to “get fell in youse guys, the whistle’s went” by being as difficult as possible, and succeeded in bringing the discip corporal to tears on the parade ground.
For me there were two memorable events. The first was having a 28Mhz receiving system to play with. I climbed the tower of the CH system, noting the antenna array, following which I tuned the RF7 radar receiver to discover that I could hear the transmissions of American Radio Hams. Lucky fellows, they were not yet at war. The second event that remains fixed in my mind was the bombing of Bristol. By virtue of being chosen to be fire picket I watched from the school roof in the night as the Luftwaffe were destroying the center of that great city from which in 1497 John Cabot sailed across the Atlantic to Canada.
That was over seventy years ago but I will never forget the after-lights-out banter in our hut. Forty humorists sought to make fun of the “strange” customs and environment of Britain. Accents: there were Taffys, Geordies, Cockneys, Haggis- Hunters, all dealt with in turn by Canadians who were ”completely” without any accent themselves.
Money: it was all funny money made up of threepenny bits, tanners, bobs, farthings, quids. Food: it was chips, pies, biscuits, cookies, puddings, and bully-beef.
Transportation: petrol, lorries, goods trains, double-decker buses, all traveling on the wrong side of the road..
4. The early graduates of the Yatesbury Radar School found themselves on radar sites far from Britain. Wherever there was a radar site, whether fixed, mobile or in airborne radar one was likely to find Canadians. Some were lost in the rapid advance of the Japanese through Indonesia, Singapore and Burma. Some perished as Japanese POWs. Like the leaves before the wind, as much as a third of the radar personnel in the RAF were Canadian by the end of WWII.and were stationed world-wide.
It is difficult to tell the entire story of radar at Yatesbury but in addition to the early basic training based on CH and CHL there were numerous highly classified courses presented on such systems as Oboe, 9000 and electronic countermeasures, as these systems came into use.
5. The contribution to RADAR training during WWII was of immense value to the Allied cause. Yatesbury was the most important of the of three major RADAR schools in Britain.
It has been said: “RADAR did not itself win the war, but without RADAR we would assuredly have lost”
William H. Barrie May 9, 2012
Bill has just written to say that the Canadian War Museum, after years of effort had
invited the Ottawa Radar Research Committee was to an unveiling last Friday (07/09/2012)
of a display recognizing the service of 6500 Canadian Radar personnel who were attached
to the RAF during WWII. The unveiling and the official reception was attended by about
50 cane carrying and walker-pushing ex Radar types and their guests.
I was present proudly wearing my Yatesbury lapel badge.