World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Dennis Faulkner's Story

MY LIFE AND TIMES AS A BBC ENGINEER 1942-1945 Part 1

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: DENNIS FAULKNER, Ron Gittings, Mr. A M Sellick, Mr. Bull, Mr. P C Lindsey
Location of story: Churchdown (Chosen) Hill, Gloucester
Background to story: Civilian

 


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Dennis Faulkner.


CHAPTER 1. GLOUCESTER
CHAPTER 2. CARDIFF
CHAPTER 3. MAIDA VALE, LONDON
CHAPTER 4. DROITWICH TRANSMITTING STATION
CHAPTER 5. TATSFIELD RECEIVING STATION
CHAPTER 6. CROWSLEY PARK, OXFORDSHIRE
CHAPTER 7. OUR LIVING ACCOMMODATION AT `GREAT OAKS'
CHAPTER 8. A VERY STRANGE AFFAIR
CHAPTER 9. THE LAST DAYS
CHAPTER 10. POSTSCRIPT

CHAPTER 1. GLOUCESTER.
A letter written on 28th February 1942 (my 16th birthday) by the Engineer-in- Charge of the BBC transmitting station situated on top of Churchdown (Chosen) Hill near Gloucester, asked me to go there for an interview the following day, a Sunday, at 9.OOam, "in order to see if I would prove suitable for the vacancy". This had been instigated by a school friend, Ron Gittings, who was employed there, and was to be posted elsewhere, thus leaving a vacancy for a 'Youth-in-Training (Transmitters)'. Ron had previously discussed this with me and asked if I would be interested. INTERESTED! I should say so!

Therefore on the Sunday morning I prepared myself in my best clothes and cycled the six or so miles to the bottom of the lane leading to the summit of the 154m (505ft) 'Chosen Hill', so called as the result of a legend concerning The Devil and the parish church which stood up there in a very isolated place. Apparently before the Water Authority built the road, coffins had to be carried all the way up. No mean feat! I then pushed my bike up this steep narrow road and eventually reached the wire fence enclosing the two semi-underground Gloucester & Cheltenham water reservoirs. A push of the bell button brought someone down the flight of steps from a little Cotswold cottage type stone building perched on the top edge of one of the reservoirs. He asked my name, unlocked the gate and escorted me back to the little building. Once inside I was quickly introduced to Mr. A M Sellick, the EiC, and asked to sit in his tiny office and asked why I wanted to work for the BBC. I can no longer recall the details of the interview, however it was successful. The same day (March 1st 1942), Mr. Sellick wrote to me again "to confirm that the British Broadcasting Corporation offered me an engagement in the grade of Youth-in-Training (Transmitters) at a weekly wage of £1-7-6 (£1.37p) plus 3/- (15p) Cost of Living Bonus".

I was to "release myself from my present employers at the earliest possible date and inform him when I could commence my duties."
The next day, Monday 2nd March, I handed in a week's notice to the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Works. I had started there in the Electrical Department on leaving the Gloucester Central Technical School for Boys in the previous June as an unindentured apprentice to an electrician.
Our work was not however on railway carriages, but on `Churchill' Tanks. My particular job was to install the army type 19 wireless set in the turret prior to the tank leaving the production line and going on field trials. I often went with the tank, standing in the turret, wearing headphones and microphone to let the driver know of any hazard he was unable to see from his restricted viewpoint. From the works in Bristol Road Gloucester, to the testing ground at the top of Horsepools Hill on Edge Common was some six or seven miles from the city. Once there, I operated the wireless on a UHF frequency, to convey commands from the Ministry Examiner (who watched from close by) to the driver. For a youth of not quite 16, it was a very exciting job. When the tank was accepted, it was driven through town to the railway for shipment to Boscombe Down for its gun firing and hand over to the army.

One day it was announced that the factory was to receive a Royal Visit, from HM Queen Mary (the widow of King George V). She was `evacuated' to live at Badminton, near Chipping Sodbury, the Gloucestershire home of the Duke of Beaufort, and so was relatively close by. She was to witness a newly completed `Churchill' Tank leave the production line and roll out under its own power. I was designated to stand in the turret as this monster moved slowly past HM. I was so awed that I was uncertain as what to do. In the event I just looked down at Queen Mary, a tall regal figure in her 76th year, and she looked up at me! Goodness knows what she thought seeing such a young chap up there apparently "in charge" of this thundering clanking monster!

It was here at the 'Wagon Works' that I became more interested in `wireless'. As many of the electricians were 'old hands' at building wireless sets and amplifiers etc., some gave me all sorts of bits and pieces and circuit diagrams and encouraged me to build my own wireless. This I did, starting with a crystal set and progressing to thermionic valves. My interest in `wireless' was now firmly fixed and was to continue throughout my working life, becoming my profession.

I left the Wagon Works at the end of the week and was due to start with the BBC on Monday 8th March 1942. In the event I received another letter from Mr Sellick asking me to report for duty on Sunday the 7th at 9.00am until 5.00pm. "Better the day, better the deed", indeed!!

So it was that my time with the BBC started at this little Group `H' Transmitting Station perched on the top of `Chosen Hill'.

The small stone building (like a little cottage with leaded windows) was actually an access point to the reservoir underneath, and there was a continual noise of moving water, to which one quickly acclimatised. Along one side of the building was a steel protective barrier and handrail and behind it at floor level a series of steel removable access plates to the cavernous reservoir. On one occasion the water was emptied for inspection purposes and we were allowed to go down the long flight of concrete steps below the gratings to see this vast space, which normally held many millions of gallons of drinking water pumped here from the extraction and purification plant on the river Severn at Tewkesbury.
On 'our side of the rails was a bench with the transmitter/modulator and a small desk, for the likes of me to sit at, with one of the two telephones. One of my duties was to answer the `phone. There was one extension to the EiC's office, and another to an underground bunker within the perimeter fence,
which was manned by the local detachment of the `Home Guard'. They manned it during the evening and night and at weekends. We were unguarded during the day!
Each hour I took the transmitter logbook and carefully listed all the readings of the various meters and informed the duty engineer (the only other person on shift) if there were any notable variations from the previous readings. How exciting! There never were any. The engineer I was most frequently on shift with was a Mr. Bull (old Bull), who was an ex Merchant Navy Officer. He had an annoying habit of continually pacing back and forth for hours on end! A habit from a ship's bridge, no doubt.

The rest of the time on shift (apart from sweeping up and making tea, I spent in study on a course set for us by the BBC Training School and also a correspondence course chosen by the EiC. (The BBC paid the subscription to the British Institute of Engineering Technology). The EiC oversaw these study courses when I was on day shifts. It seemed remarkable that, in the middle of a war, one could still do a correspondence course.

Something else that proved the `power of the BBC was that when my father purchased a 150cc Velocette motor bike for me, the corporation obtained official sanction for me to use it to journey to the station 'on essential war work'. They also obtained petrol coupons. My route was specified, so I could not use the bike for other `unofficial' journeys.

During day shifts there were three people in the little house and not much room to spare. Mr. Sellick's office doubled as a tiny studio for use in emergencies and in the event of an invasion by the enemy. It was intended that `Local Government' would issue instructions to the populace from here. These low power (100watt) transmitters were all on the same frequency of 203m. (1477Kc/s., later KHz) They were sited in all large towns and cities throughout the country. In the larger cities such as Birmingham or Bristol the power was increased to 1000watts. They retransmitted the BBC Home Service, (what today would be Radio 4). When I started work there, the programme was received `off air and rebroadcast. Later on we had Post Office music quality telephone landlines installed and the programme came in via those from another `H' station in a brick works in Worcester.

During the setting up procedure for these `music lines' a BBC Lines Engineer arrived to carry out the `equalisation', which meant visiting the Post Office Telephone Exchange in Gloucester, (where the lines were connected into the BBC's Network) and carrying out frequency tests. If necessary, 'equalisers' were made up and connected to correct any errors in the frequency response. I was despatched with him to watch and learn how he performed this task. There was also a 'tie' line, (a direct telephone line to Worcester) and I spent quite a bit of time on night shifts nattering to my opposite number on duty there when our transmitters were "off the air".

1 had to sign an Agreement of Employment and produce my birth certificate after a week or so. I was also given, `for information and retention', BBC Wartime Staff Instructions Nos. 61/2/3 & 90, an official BBC Pass and Badge, and a Notice concerning Official BBC Passes. I was also issued with a copy of BBC Staff Regulations, and was required to sign for all these things, plus a copy of The Official Secrets Act!

I also received a civil defence steel helmet and gas mask. Although I never actually carried them anywhere, leaving them hanging on my coat hook at the station. However, whenever I was moved to another establishment 1 had to take them with me.

Some while later the EiC called me in and asked why I had put down the wrong date of birth on my original application form. Pardon? You have put down 28th February and your birth certificate shows the 20th, how do you account for this heinous crime? But my birthday IS the 28th. I will have to ask my Mum! Having not even so much as looked at the certificate given to me by my mother, 1 simply handed it over as requested, so what is the answer? Well ... it seems, according to her, that my father and the Registrar were friends of long standing, and he and my father had probably been "wetting the baby's head" a little too diligently and between them had entered the wrong date in the register!! However, according to the BBC (and all those in positions of authority) my birthday henceforth would be the 20th, and that was that!! So it was and so it is. I retired and commenced to collect my pension eight days early! However I now claim to be like the Queen, I have an official birthday and a proper one!

I continued to work three shifts, days, evenings and nights up there at Churchdown. Night shifts, from 10pm to 9am, were spent on routine maintenance when the transmitter was closed down at the end of the day's broadcasting. There were laid down procedures to be followed, and over a period every component was checked and logged. For instance, valves had a label indicating when they had been first installed. After a prescribed number of hours of use they were replaced as part of preventative maintenance.

Once per month on a specified date and time we had to "run up" the transmitter on plain carrier, without any programme modulation. After a few minutes the `phone would ring and a voice at the other end would say "This is Tatsfield, would you please adjust the frequency of your transmitter (this way or that) please". This done, the voice would say, "Thank you, you may now close down, Goodnight". This was then logged in the book. This particular event fascinated me, a young and inexperienced Youth-in-Training. Who were these people at Tatsfield? Where was it? How do they do that? Some time later I was to find out, and what is more I would become that voice at the other end of a telephone! Magic!

In due course someone was moved on and another vacancy occurred for a YiT at Churchdown. This time I made a recommendation, and as a result my cousin Gilbert joined the staff. He and I had been very close ever since we were children. We now spent most of our off-duty time together, and both joined the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) the part-time arm of the National Fire Service. We were both based at Gloucester 'C' Station at the `Wagon Works' Sports Ground, the home ground of the Gloucestershire Cricket Team. We were 'Messenger Boys'; whose job was to attend any incident and act not only as messengers and runners, conveying information back to the Control Room, but to assess the capacity of nearby water sources and emergency water tanks. We were issued with full uniform including a Fireman's Axe, steel helmet and gas mask (another set!). We spent nearly all our off duty BBC time at the fire station including nights. We were well looked after and the food was good too! It was exhilarating riding on a Fire Engine and often being allowed to ring the bell! It was also exciting at the scene of a fire, for a young man, but deadly serious too. Fortunately Gloucester suffered no enemy action whilst I was in the fire service. All our calls were domestic with some forest fires in the Forest of Dean. These latter were very dirty jobs.
1 did not altogether desert the Boy Scouts, as I was Troop Leader of the 1e Gloucester, (St. Paul's) Group and continued to attend as many meetings and Courts of Honour as I could, even getting in one or two weekend camps at Cranham.

So life continued, until in May 1943 I was despatched to Broadcasting House Bristol, for an interview with a Mr. P C Lindsey from the Engineering Establishment Office in London. This was on the recommendation of my EiC who had put me up for promotion based on his assessment of my progress. This was probably the strangest interview/examination that I ever had. Question "Do you know what so and so is?" "Yes sir". "Good. Do you know what this and that is or does?" "Yes sir". And so it went on without me actually giving an explicit answer. Later a memo from the Engineering Establishment Officer in London confirmed that I was to be promoted to Technical Assistant (Class 2) on the un-established staff at a weekly wage of £2.10.Od (£2.50) plus the Cost of Living Bonus of 4/6d. (22P).

I was transferred to Cardiff Studios with effect from the 16th August 1943. This meant I had to resign from the AFS with regret, and say goodbye to cousin Gilbert and my parents. Actually when 1 was moved I also received an extra allowance of 10/- (50p) to help pay for digs! Later they also added a further 9/- (45p) allowance. I was now in receipt of the magnificent sum of £3.13.6d (£3.67) per week! This was actually quite good in those days.

 

CHAPTER 2. CARDIFF.
My mother was apprehensive for her only son being moved away from home at the age of seventeen and a half, (only six months short of military age) and so it was, that on the day of my travel, my father was instructed to go with me to Cardiff, to see "that the boy is settled in". Before leaving home she gave me a note with the name and address of a cousin of hers in Cardiff and told me to contact her if I encountered problems there. My mother came from an extensive Welsh family and she had quite a few kin in South Wales, none of whom I knew.

I had a travel voucher from the BBC and thus my father and I travelled by GWR to Cardiff. On arrival we left the railway station and my father enquired if I knew where to go. My reply was that I did not, but I would find it! He then astonished me saying, "Right you go off then, and come back here at 4.Opm before my return train goes, to let me know how you get on. I am going to a pub"! In retrospect, my father was being canny in that he wanted ME to sort things out for myself. My years in the Boy Scouts helped me a great deal from now onwards. I never was 'homesick', although I did miss it and my friends. I was able to fend for myself!

Enquiries led me to take a tram from the station to near Cardiff City Hall, the BBC being in Park Place close by, which I found easily, carrying my suitcase.
On arrival, and proudly showing my BBC Pass I was taken to see Mr. Haddock, the EiC Studios. He told me to find some accommodation and report for duty on the day shift at 9.OOam the next day the 16th August! And that was that! Any accommodation? See the commissionaires, perhaps they can help. They could not! So, leaving my case behind, I trudged round the local streets knocking on doors. All to no avail. Nowhere could I find lodgings in the area near the studios. What seemed hours later and with nothing to eat, I remembered my mother's note. Enquiries put me on the same tramline back to and beyond the railway station, over the river Taff to a residential area and to my mother's cousin. In answer to my knock on the door a lady appeared, and before I could open my mouth, said, "You must be our Ivy's boy?" Good God! We had never met before!

"Come in! Have you had anything to eat? No?" Before I could say `knife', I had one and a fork and a cooked meal!! She was so kind, but explained that she could not put me up, but she knew someone who could! She put on her hat and coat and was off, leaving me to fill up on this lovely food. Shortly she returned, collected me and hiked me to the top of the road to a dairyman, Mr. Davies, whose wife let rooms. So I was installed on full board at £1.5.0d (£1.25p) per week! I had to share a room with another young chap (we had separate beds and cupboards). He turned out to be a lad from Gloucester, just the next road from ours, and he worked for the BBC!! How is that for coincidence? He and I were on different shifts so our paths crossed and met only on odd occasions. His name was Urwick and I had never met him before. He too had been at Churchdown, and had left before I started, Work at Cardiff Studios was very different. There were three engineering staff on duty each shift, and depending on the shift, different duties to perform. During broadcasting time one of us sat in a small monitoring room and listened to the Home Service with a script for each broadcast in front of us. It was required to read the script in unison with the broadcast and if anything unscripted happened you had to hit a red censor switch `a bit sharpish'. If you did there would be panic stations. It never happened. This was to cut off anything unscripted being passed on to the transmitters controlled by Cardiff. We had a 'tie-line' to Bristol from whence we received our programmes, and we had to liaise with them for everything that was out of the ordinary, and then log it timed to the second, e.g. "1416hrs. 57secs. two unscripted clicks were heard." That particular duty was the most painfully boring!

On day shift, on first taking over from the night shift, the job of the junior TA (me), was to visit each studio in turn, including the sound effects studio in the attic, in order to test all the equipment, microphones, gramophone decks etc. This you did whilst your next grade up listened in the Control Room to detect anything unusual such as clicks or interruptions as you pulled on cables, spoke into microphones whilst moving them gently, and played a particular record on each gramophone deck. These were in a desk in pairs and could be faded in and out. They were very sophisticated, with a very accurate device that enabled any particular track on a record to be picked out. The pick-up arm moved along a geared track horizontally to the turntable, not in an arc as on domestic gramophones. All this had to be carefully checked. In those days the only records were 78rpm hard shellac and the 'pick-up' used steel needles.

The BBC Chief Engineer had laid down that one side of one particular record would be used for testing gramophones because it had a very wide range of frequencies and acoustics. That particular record was "The Teddy Bears Picnic" played by Henry Hall and his band and the singer was Hal Rosen. We had piles of these blessed records, which were well and truly wom by the heavy pick-up and steel needle (which had to be discarded and replaced after each playing!) One became very fed-up playing this and one day, just for devilment, I put the reverse side on, which was "Hush, Hush, Hush, here comes the Bogey Man!" My colleague in the Control Room must have been listening to my antics on a loud speaker and not headphones as was the usual practice, and due to this, the SME (Senior Maintenance Engineer) on duty must have heard, and using the intercom system over the studio loudspeaker, a voice boomed out "Faulkner, put the other side of that record on!"

When the studios were in use for broadcasts there was considerable activity in `plugging up' the various series of equipment required for the broadcast, ensuring that everything was ready and that the broadcast went ahead without problems. Other people called 'Programme Engineers' were responsible for using the equipment in the studio control box, as they watched through a window and monitored the results on loud speakers. The producer and his staff also sat in there. We were not connected with those people and remained `out of sight' in the main Control Room making sure the end result went on its way via land lines to Bristol and eventually to Broadcasting House in London, from whence it was then routed to the transmitters throughout the country.

Night shifts here were similar until after broadcasting had closed down for the night. Scheduled routine maintenance was then carried out. Once this was finished we were allowed to relax. 1 would often curl up in the cover of a grand piano in studio 1 and have a nap! One of my colleagues would insist on practising his tenor saxophone, a noise up with which I could not put! So I took myself off elsewhere during these painful renderings! He also practiced his clarinet. This was slightly more tolerable. Ever since I have had an aversion to the saxophone!

During the early part of WWII the ringing of church bells was reserved to warn of an enemy invasion and thus they were all silenced. However, when the threat of invasion had receded, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, decided it would be good for morale if all the church bells in the kingdom were rung. This was during my time in Cardiff, and in order to `gain more experience' I was detailed to go with the `Outside Broadcast Team' to St Mary's Church and help to set up equipment so that the ringing of the bells could be broadcast. That was very interesting too.

My period at Cardiff was quite short. However I did manage to `get out and about' and particularly liked Roath Park. All tram rides cost 1d. (Less than a half of 1p.) and this was put in a slot on entry. The system was called PAYE! (Which equated to Pay As You Enter).

On the 27th September four of us received a memo from the EiC Cardiff posting us to The BBC Training School at Maida Vale in Delaware Road London, W9. This was to be with effect from the 4th October 1943 for a period of four weeks to attend a so-called A1 Training Course. So I packed my bag, and said goodbye to the Davies's who had been very kind.

CHAPTER 3. MAIDA VALE, LONDON
Another TA 2. who travelled with me from Cardiff was called Dave (DWD) Ovenden. His BBC career also started in a Group H Transmitter, in his hometown of Margate. We were to team up and remain close for the duration of my time in the BBC. We also kept in touch during our later military service and for some years after that.

We were all billeted out at various locations in London. Dave and I were in the BBC hostel in Grosvenor Square! It is now The London Marriot Hotel, on a comer next to the US Embassy. We were there on a Dinner, Bed & Breakfast basis and received an extra £2.2.0d. (£2.10p) per week towards our keep. My bunk was in the cellar along with various other assorted males who worked for the Corporation in one way or another. Apart from sleeping and eating we spent very little time there. Free time was used exploring London! In the dining room each place was allocated, therefore each morning I had the same companion. Mine was Dorothy Summers, the actress, who played the charlady Mrs. Mopp, ("Can I do you now sir?") in ITMA ("It's That Man Again"), The Tommy Handley Show! She was a charming person.

Maida Vale studios started life as an ice rink, so one can imagine what a large building it was. The training school's lecture rooms were housed in various parts, principally three floors up: There was an amalgam of all sorts of staff from many different disciplines. Some lectures were collective, and others split into the various jobs we were ultimately to do, e.g. Studios, Transmitters, Control Rooms, Overseas Broadcasts, Outside Broadcasts and so on. We were on the Transmitters course.

There was a canteen there, which quite deservedly acquired the reputation of all BBC canteens, "rubbish"! Problem was that the canteens had to be able to serve both hot and cold food at all times of the day and night. It must have been a daunting task for any canteen manager, especially in wartime with severe rationing.

On one occasion I was detailed to spend a Friday evening and night shift in the Control Room at the top of Broadcasting House in Langham Place, "to broaden my experience", again! This was very interesting indeed, and to be at the actual pinnacle of the control of all BBC domestic broadcasting was exciting for me. The night went quickly. The following day I grabbed a few hours sleep.

I rose about mid-day and took myself to `Studio One', an Oxford Street Cinema showing "Fantasia", a classical music cartoon film by Walt Disney. It was a long film. In the event I saw very little, due to having fallen asleep!

Across the road, at 200 Oxford Street was a large departmental store that had been requisitioned by the BBC for use as a foreign broadcast studio complex, controlled from Bush House. I went over there for a meal. The canteen was subterranean, in the sub basement. The standard of food was the usual for BBC canteens, if not marginally worse! The BBC transmitted many foreign language boadcasts on both medium wave and short wave from high power transmitting stations situated all over the country. There could be as many as twenty or thirty transmissions taking place simultaneously, and most of the foreign nationals broadcast from here. This was the active part of the BBC's Motto, "Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation". However, there was a great deal of wartime propaganda too, and many broadcasts contained coded messages for the resistance movements in occupied countries.

Our training went well. Dave and I passed the weekly and final exams without too much stress. Although, having said that, any pass mark of less than 75% meant instant dismissal from the BBC! We completed our A1 course at Maida Vale at the end of October and received our marching orders once more. This time we were to report to the EiC at Droitwich on the 1st November, to take the B1 training course. We were able to have a short weekend at home. I left Gloucester by Midland Red bus for Droitwich on the Sunday afternoon.


CHAPTER 4: DROITWICH TRANSMITTING STATION.
I was billeted within walking distance of the station, in a farm at Upton Warren near Bromsgrove. The station is actually about halfway between Bromsgrove, and Droitwich near the village of Wychbold. Four of us shared a bedroom. We each had a single bed and a cupboard. There was however no heating, and as the weeks went by, towards Christmas, it became colder and colder. The hostess was a very good cook and the meals were excellent and plentiful. Pudding was always the same, hot sponge and custard! It was very good and we all enjoyed it. Some weekends I offered to help on the farm. On one of these occasions I had to assist the farmer to cover a cow with the bull!! Other weekends we were allowed home. A Midland Red bus stopped outside the station and terminated in Gloucester. Very handy.

The Droitwich Transmitting Station had just two transmitters; the main one was on a very accurately controlled frequency of 200Khz (1500 meters) Long Wave and was very powerful for its day at 400Kws. The accuracy of its carrier frequency was so precise it was used as a frequency standard, and was continually monitored at Tatsfield. (That name again!). It transmitted the "Home Service" (today's Radio 4). This transmitter could, and still can be heard all over Europe and further a field. The output was taken to aerial arrays strung between two enormous masts. The second transmitter was in a separate building and used a `mast radiator' for the "Forces Programme", (today's Radio 2).
We were there to learn how to run and maintain this station.

Power was derived from the mains supply. In the event of a power cut there were two stand-by generating sets driven by enormous marine diesel engines. If the mains supply failed they were automatically started using compressed air and what a racket! They caused so much vibration that they were mounted on `floating platforms'. These were huge blocks of concrete let into the floor and mounted on rubber. It was quite remarkable to step from solid ground onto the platforms and be juddered to jelly! Each part of the transmitter required a different form of power supply, from the filaments of the valves, through bias voltages to the extra high voltage required for the large output valves.

The station building had mains driven rotary converters for the lower voltages, arranged on the ground floor. Above, the first floor was a mezzanine and the various transmitter cabinets were arranged round this. The control room and the SME's offices were on this floor. The extra high DC voltage for the output valves was derived from transformers and mercury-arc rectifiers situated in special cages on the ground floor at the rear of the building. Here was produced 25,000volts! This was very powerful and dangerous stuff, and not to be taken lightly! All this power was fed to the cabinets on the mezzanine floor.

The output valves were about four or five feet high and very heavy. They were mounted in wheeled cradles for ease of movement when required. Each of these became so hot in operation that distilled cooling water was pumped through a metal water jacket in which they were contained. The hot water was then fed outside, to the front of the building, where it passed through cooling radiators mounted over a large pond. Water from the pond was pumped up over these radiators to cool the cooling water.

The cooled water was then re-circulated back to the valves. In cold weather steam was rising from the pond. At the mezzanine floor level, mounted so that it could be seen from both the upper and ground floors was a ‘cooling water flow monitor’. This was a device, where a sample of the cooling water from each of the high power valves, flowed from a small open-ended pipe and was collected in a funnel about six inches below. It was lit from behind to illuminate the water. Now, if one bent down and placed a finger over one of the flow pipes, thus cutting off the water, an immediate alarm rang in the Control Room. If we noticed that the SME was absent and the shift engineer was a little, shall we say drowsy, this action had an immediate effect and brought him running, by which time we had disappeared! There was no danger in this prank.

Our training continued apace. Each Friday, after lunch, we sat a written exam. Later, when the marking was completed, we were interviewed and put through an oral exam. As at Maida Vale, a mark of less than 75% in either or any exam meant instant dismissal! I must say that considerable stress did build up as the weeks went by. I do not think any of us were immune to it. There was so much relief when you had passed another benchmark.

On 11th December 1943 I had to register with the Ministry of Labour for Military Service. However, under an agreement with them and the BBC, it was stated that I was not due to be called up before my nineteenth birthday, being `in a partially reserved occupation on essential war work'.

Toward the end of December notices were put up advertising various vacancies that we could apply for in various locations. Dave and I noticed one for two TA's in the transmitting station at Brazzaville in the Belgian Congo. Shall we go for it? NO! There was another for two TA's at the short-wave transmitting station called OSE 9, (Overseas Extension of Daventry) at Skelton, near Penrith in Cumberland. This was a very big station with two transmitter buildings and some 250 staff. We decided it was too big and too far away in remotest Cumberland!

This decision was prompted when my eyes focussed on another one; for two vacancies at "THE BBC RECEIVING STATION AT TATSFIELD!!". Tatsfield! That was it!! We applied.
We were appointed, and had to report to the EiC there on the 3rd January 1944. We all then went home for Christmas.

CHAPTER 5. TATSFIELD RECEIVING STATION.
When I should have been travelling to Croydon, where I was to find accommodation, I was home in bed with `flu! Dave had gone as directed, and was in digs there. A week late, on a Sunday, I arrived at West Croydon Station with my belongings, and started the task of attempting to find digs, again! This was fraught with the usual difficulty and total lack of success, as was my first experience in Cardiff. This time I had no note from my mother! In the end, I made my way to the house where Dave had written to me from. The lady there was kindness herself. Dear Mrs. Jones. She had no vacancies, but as I was obviously at the end of my tether after a day of travel and street walking, she invited me in and gave me a meal. She said that one of her `men' was on night shift, thus when he vacated his bed to go to work, I could have it for the night!

Next morning after a full breakfast, (how Mrs. Jones performed these miracles with severe food rationing, I will never know!) Dave and I walked to the pick-up point near West Croydon Railway Station from where the BBC Transport would take us to the Tatsfield Station. It travelled south to Selsdon, then via Sanderstead and Warlingham to the Station. This was exactly on the border between Surrey and Kent on the highest part of the Surrey Hills. The approach lane was in Kent. Once through the gate you were in Surrey! The location was nearer to the village of Titsey (which is now less than a mile from the M25). The actual village of Tatsfield was about a mile or so below the station near Biggin Hill, where the famous aerodrome was. We picked up others at various points en route, until the full shift of some dozen or so were on board. Introductions took place then. There were some women TA's too. As it was the `day shift' there were some female office staff also. The EiC, his deputy and all the SME's lived locally, as did a few other staff members including the canteen staff.

On arrival, the commissionaire checked our BBC passes, even though he knew most of them! Once there, I had to report to the EiC (Engineer-in-Charge), a Mr. H V Griffiths, a more mature person with a very serious persona. His office, and that of his deputy, together with a couple of secretaries, was in a small single storey building next to the entrance gates. He was very good at his job, in reconciling all the information collected, and preparing a Report for the government, which was despatched each day by courier. He `lived, ate, slept and dreamed' about his work, and nothing else whatsoever seemed to occupy his mind. He was no personnel manager, and had a very condescending attitude to everyone. His memos, which were posted in your `pigeon hole', giving remarks about your log of events on the previous shift, also included a mini `lecture' in a very patronizing way. Whenever one of these was received, it made you feel belittled and angry at the unthinking attitude of the man, who showed no appreciation of your efforts to try to do a good job. He was not well liked. Fortunately, he hardly ever showed his face in the Main Building, the `sharp end'. His deputy, L G Shuttleworth, was very different, a friendly, intelligent and clever man. He also had a good sense of humour, totally lacking in HVG! He was easy to get along with and was a good mentor. We respected him. After an induction talk with the EiC, I was placed on the same shift rota as Dave under our SME, Mr. Calway. This meant we always had the same free time and were able to enjoy our social life together, and also with other members of our shift.

The main building, situated about 100feet from the entrance, was also of a single storey construction consisting of a rectangular main part, which had basements. In these, some of the more bulky and sensitive equipment was housed. A longer narrow section extended from the back of the main building and consisted of a series of small rooms arranged each side of a central corridor. Each of these small rooms was equipped with a communications receiver, monitor loudspeaker and an internal telephone. Under normal duties, the loudspeaker was not used. We all had our individual headphones. We carried these round the neck at all times ready for use anywhere we were. They were called `cans' due to being constructed mainly of metal.

An aerial feeder entered through a window insulator from the aerial arrays that stretched away from the buildings for a considerable distance.

The main aerials were strung between three 100 ft. high self-supporting lattice masts. At the end of the corridor was another small office where the SME on duty took his watch. He had a bank of more sophisticated and sensitive equipment. All the time I was there I never really knew exactly what he did! He could however, listen-in to what everyone else was doing!

Formality took a nose-dive here. On all previous stations a serious 'pecking order was the way of things. Everyone one grade up, was addressed "Mister". Above that, they were all "Sir"! Here it seemed that everyone was given a nickname, mine was "Faulky". Even the deputy EiC, Mr. L G Shuttleworth was called "Shut" by everyone! Our shift 5ME, Mr. Calway, was 'Cal'.

The station ran four shifts with some very odd hours and days of work. Each shift had to arrive half an hour before the departing one for "hand-over" and continuity of operations. The worst changeover came four-weekly, when you completed a period of 'Evening' shifts at 10.30pm, getting back to the `digs' at something after 11 pm, having chipolata sausages on fried bread for supper! (Mrs. Jones insisted that her `boys' should have a good meal, even at that time of night!), and then up early the next morning, to arrive at Tatsfield before 9am on `Day' shifts!

The official name of the station was "The Engineering Department, of the Overseas Engineering and Information Division of the BBC Monitoring Service': What a splendid title! Abbreviated to OEID.

Now to the trade secrets. As I said much earlier, what does this station do, and how does it do it? Basically, it monitored every long, medium and short wave broadcast that it was capable of receiving on its very special communications equipment. 'Broadcast' was any station transmitting speech and/or music etc. for domestic or other listeners anywhere. Tatsfield was not interested in the programme content; this was listened to by foreign nationals at the sister station of the Monitoring Service, located at Caversham Park, near Reading. Tatsfield carried out technical measurements on the station frequency, signal strength, location and identity. It swept the wavelengths continually for any changes from the norm, particularly in enemy or enemy occupied countries. Such changes would often be an indication of events taking place in or near the studios or the transmitters themselves. This could, and often did, provide valuable intelligence when placed in context with other information being gathered here and elsewhere. Stations had to be identified by their opening announcement. We all became very expert at this and were able to identify many different languages. One quickly noticed a change in the announcement and even the people making it! If any previously unheard station came ,on air, we had to identify what it was, where it was from, verify it with the SME, and then notify Caversham to listen to it.

Another interesting job was to 'pick-up' and relay to BH London, low power transmissions from BBC War Correspondents in far-flung locations. To do this we employed specially designed aerial arrays directed to where they were.

As I have stated earlier, the BBC transmitted many foreign language broadcasts as well as English intended for occupied countries, and others! Broadcasts in French and Dutch often contained coded information for the Resistance Groups. The enemy did not like this very much and instigated a programme of "jamming", by transmitting a strong signal on or very near to the same frequency as that used by the BBC. They would modulate the transmission with all sorts of noise. One of our jobs was to monitor all BBC overseas broadcasts and record the type of jamming signals. They had very odd names like, "Quacks", "Gulls", "Warbles" etc. We had to estimate the strength of the 'jammer, how well it covered the wanted signal, when it started and when it finished. Strangely, at the start of some broadcasts, in say French or Polish, the jamming would cease, and then commence again at the start of the next programme.

We also checked all BBC's stations for `home' use to ensure they were on the correct frequency. This particularly applied firstly, to Droitwich on 1500Kc/s. This had to be maintained very precisely as this was a `Frequency Standard', used by many organisations to check the accuracy of their own equipment. Secondly we checked all the `Group H' transmitters. This is where we have been earlier. On one particular duty, it was MY turn to `phone a `Group'H' station in the middle of the night and request them to tune their transmitter, which I was now monitoring! NOW I knew how it was done!

 

By now I was an Honorary Member of the "Association of BBC Engineers", a sort of `in-house' trade union. Originally I had been a member of the "Staff (Wartime) Association". The two had now amalgamated. From time to time the secretary published a Report for all members. The last one I received stated that the annual membership fee had been increased to 12/-(60p)! This was paid by a quarterly deduction of 3/- (15p) from one's wages.

I also carried a "BBC Club" card. The club sports ground was at Motspur Park Surrey, not much use to us! There were club premises across the road from BH in Portland Place. We did manage to go there a few times. However it was not much to the liking of young folk, who liked to be out and about. We used the large fast trams that ran all the way from Purley, through Croydon and on up through South London to the West End, or `Up West as the locals called it.

We were fortunate however in that an arrangement had been agreed with the "Old Mid-Whitgiftian Association" of Croydon, who had offered that we should take the fullest advantage of all the very nice facilities at Sanderstead, which included sports fields, cricket pitches, tennis courts and indoor sections. This was indeed very good, and we certainly made use of it. I managed to purchase a second-hand tennis racquet and became a team member. We also made use of the Purley Ice Rink. Here too I managed to acquire a pair of ice skates. So, all in all, our `free' time was well filled with all sorts of activities. Cinemas were open too, and concerts took place in their respective places. We had an allocation of free tickets to some studio broadcasts and concerts. These were all `live' in those days. Specialist recording equipment was available in a few locations, but not usually for entertainment programmes. When it came round to tickets for the `Proms' at the Albert Hall, one of my shift colleagues, Esme Miller and I would make a bid for them and off we went, even if it meant `swopping' a shift to do so. Esme was married to an engineer whose job was to maintain the equipment at Tatsfield. She too was a TAIL They lived in Tatsfield village. She was to become a classical music mentor for me, dragging me off to concerts, the ballet, opera, and of course the Proms! I had become a collector of classical records and her advice was excellent. One could still purchase gramophone records (78rpm) in those days. However they were quite expensive, attracting triple tax. If one considers that say a symphony was on four discs and each one cost 10/- (50p). When LP's came in, many years later, a symphony would be on one disc at £1. Work and leisure filled our lives and I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As the spring of 1944 approached the RAF commenced setting up `Barrage Balloons' in the area all along the top of the hills very close to our station. Indeed one was just across the lane from our gate in a corner of a field, literally yards from the office building. It was mounted on a concrete base with a motor driven winch. The three airmen who manned it lived in a tent.
We were officially informed that this was a defensive measure to counter a new type of enemy aircraft that was expected to be launched against London in the coming months. We were reminded of the `official secrets act we had all signed.

A Klaxon hooter alarm was installed in the building. The operating button was on an outside wall in the car park. From the beginning of June, as I recall, one of us had to take a turn outside, to watch for these `planes' and raise the alarm if one came too close for comfort. 'D-Day', the allied invasion of Europe, commenced on the 6th June and the air was filled with aircraft, all going out! A week later, at about 6.OOam. On the 13th June, I was `on watch' and heard the most extraordinary noise coming from the southeast. It was unlike any other aircraft I had heard and was a sort of pulsing sound of low frequency. Searching the sky my eyes lit on a small aircraft with a tube mounted on top and to the rear. Coming from this tube was a sheet of flame. It was flying quite low above our altitude, and passed over and continued in a straight line of flight. I watched it until it was out of site. Others had heard it too and came out to investigate.

This was probably one of the first pilotless German V1 `Flying Bombs' to be launched against England. It was a small, unmanned aircraft, powered by a 10ft long pulsejet engine mounted on top of, and to the rear of the fuselage. It was 22ft long with a 17ft wingspan and carried an 18701bs high explosive warhead. Its cruising speed was 400mph and flew at an altitude between 800 and 2300ft. The engine was powered by kerosene and had a capacity of 130 gallons.

Due to the unique sound made by the engine, they quickly earned nicknames, either "Doodle-Bug", or "Buzz- Bomb".

The aircraft was launched from a mobile ramp, with a pre-determined course and altitude maintained by a gyroscope. The actual amount of fuel carried was determined by the estimated distance of travel, from the launch site to the target, London. The early launches took place in the Pas-de-Calais region of France, moving further north into Belgium and Holland as the Allied Armies advanced.

The knowledge that these weapons existed and were being developed, and also the V2, had been known since they were revealed by aerial reconnaissance in 1943, which resulted in the subsequent Allied air raids on their manufacturing and development site at Peenemunde in North Germany. This explains the installation of the Barrage Balloons and also the move of most of the Anti-Aircraft guns from around London, to the coastal areas. These were replaced, locally, by newly developed antiaircraft rocket launchers.

About two weeks later, I was again doing a period of "Doodle-Bug" watch, when I witnessed one heading directly toward our position. However, even though it was quite low, it did not appear to pose any threat, as its engine was on full power, and was intended to fly onwards towards London. To my horror I saw its port wing stub hit the balloon cable, near to our gate, and commence spiralling downwards toward the cable anchorage. I think I was mesmerised with alarm and failed to hit the klaxon. In seconds my whole visual field was enveloped in enormous sheets of flames of every conceivable colour. It was then I was engulfed in tremendous heat and was thrown back against the wall behind me. I cannot recall hearing any explosion. My next recollection was of my colleagues assisting me and fussing around. I was, in fact, totally unhurt, but badly shaken. Others dashed across the road to where the balloon had been tethered. There was nothing left except a large hole. The airmen, their equipment, and the bomb had vanished. We were, all in a state of shock. Strangely enough, there was very little damage to the station buildings.

These weapons continued to be launched against London until 4th September 1944. In all, some 8,070 were launched, of which 2,300 evaded the defences and fell on Greater London. Of all London Boroughs, Croydon suffered the most, with 100% of all properties suffering some damage or destruction. The widespread damage was due to the way in which the blast travelled laterally.

Mr Jones, our landlord, was a retired builder and had a yard at the rear of the premises, (where I spent time building amplifying equipment for my gramophone etc.). He was called upon by the Civil Defence, to assist with 'first-aid' to buildings that, although damaged, were still habitable if made safe and waterproof. During our worst period, on returning to the `digs' from night shifts, and finding Croydon and our area had suffered badly, after breakfast instead of retiring to bed, we would go with him to assist with putting tarpaulins over roofs, boarding up windows and whatever else he was doing. We carried on with this routine for a whole week, taking a couple of hours sleep in the afternoon, before going off back to Tatsfleld. On the Friday we finished our period of `Nights' and commenced a few days leave. The area was relatively quiet and we were not needed for Civil Defence work. We were therefore able to go to bed and asked Mrs. Jones to wake us at 4.OOpm. We had decided to go to the local cinema in the early evening (incredible to think that during all the turmoil and uncertainty, cinemas and theatres were still operating). I was first to wake, with no sign of Mrs Jones. I woke David, and we eventually went downstairs, and seeing a newspaper, found that it was now Sunday! We had slept for something over 50 hours, completely losing a Saturday!

The BBC had been making preparations to evacuate Tatsfield Receiving Station for some time, however the facilities we were to move to, were not ready until the end of June.

CHAPTER 6. CROWSLEY PARK, OXFORDSHIRE.
On 7"' July I was in the vanguard of a move, with some of our equipment, taking most of a week, in order to maintain, as near as possible, continuity of operations. The place we went to was called Crowsley Park situated `in the middle of nowhere' about two miles from Sonning Common in South Oxfordshire. It lay about six miles north of Reading, which is in Berkshire. The BBC had requisitioned the whole of the park, and manor house. Here, a new single storey station had been built some 400 yards from the manor house itself. New aerial masts and arrays had been erected and the building was fully equipped, furnished and ready to receive our equipment and us. We moved in piecemeal until nearly all our equipment was in and working and the shift system maintained. One larger frequency measuring set had to be left behind. It was, however, located in the basement and relatively safe. One of the more elderly engineers who lived near to Tatsfield stayed behind to man this position.

Crowsley Park had once been one of the largest properties in South Oxfordshire and surrounded by a vast deer park. It was built in 1734 and had had a succession of owners. It had, what was described by the 19th century landscape architect, William Robinson, as an exemplary "wild garden". This consisted of a huge range of species in an arboretum, including palm trees and exotic shrubs from all over the world.

In a small part of the Georgian Manor House, we were told; some of the family were still in residence, one of whom was in poor health. There were two bachelor brothers, Geoffrey Baskerville, MA, F.R.Hist.S, a historian, who wrote many books and articles, also his brother the Rev. Humphrey, and a married sister, Mrs Capel Young. Their father had been Col. John Baskerville, who had hounds on his family crest. The family had purchased the estate in 1845.

The entrance gates were awesome. Each of the large stone gateposts was topped with a stone 'hellhound' with a spear through their mouths! According to an ancient Norse legend, if the spears are dislodged from the mouths of these symbols of suppressed evil, the crack of doom will ring out the end for us all!!!

Above the front entrance porch over the Coat of Arms was another large hound. On entering the black and white tiled hallway, a wide oak stairway rose on the left to a large landing. The handrail had carved hounds heads at intervals along it. This place, even in summer, made me shiver and feel cold. Fortunately we were not required to go there often. The EiC and his staff had rooms on the upper floor, and the canteen occupied some of the ground floor with a door directly to the outside. Other ground floor rooms were used by the BBC Valve Department, to store the large, expensive transmitter valves.

Outside, along one side of the driveway, was a large elaborate brick kennelling block with a capacity for many hunting hounds in a series of pens with both internal and external runs. It was all sadly neglected and overgrown. On the other side of the driveway were substantial stabling blocks. The one nearest to the driveway housed our emergency stand-by diesel powered electrical generator. In the event of mains supply failure, it would start automatically and switch over. It was the duty of the incoming Night Shift to stop here on the way and test the generator. It made quite a noise.

There were still deer in the park. However they no longer had the freedom to roam, due to our presence, and were in a large enclosure to the rear of the house for their safety. As I recall they were mainly Fallow deer. It was interesting to see them towards dusk. They formed a tight group with the does surrounding the fawns all lying down, with the dominant and other stags patrolling round the perimeter.

Thus we were ensconced in our new premises and work continued as before, except that during breaks we now had the opportunity to explore this fascinating environment, the park and its buildings.

 

CHAPTER 7. OUR LIVING ACCOMMODATION AT `GREAT OAKS'
We had to live somewhere. The BBC had earlier requisitioned a large two- storey Country House called `Great Oaks' which was situated at a cross roads called `Cray's Pond'. The road to the south led to Pangboume, about two miles away. The road to the west led to Goring-on-Thames, also about two miles away. About a mile and a half north was the village of Woodcote. We understood that the house was the home of the chairman of a well-known sauce manufacturer who had had to leave it with all its furnishings etc. intact. There were two driveways. The main one, from the Pangbourne Road, was not used other than as a footpath. The second was `the service drive' which came to the rear of the house from Cray's Pond. Here, there was a large stable block, which had been converted into dormitories, bathrooms etc. All the males from Tatsfield, (apart from the EiC, SME's etc, who were billeted in and around Henley-on-Thames), slept here. Each shift had its own area in order that there would be little, or no disturbance to those sleeping during the day. For all other purposes we used the rear driveway to the house where we spent our off-duty time. We ate in the dining room in `shifts' at different times to suit our working pattern. Interestingly, along one side of the dining room was a long table upon which dozens of small saucers were arranged. Each one contained one person's weekly butter ration and was labelled with each individual's name. Such was the trust we each had for each other, that no one had any fear of his ration being used by anyone else.

Our `ladies' slept upstairs along with a large number of others who were employed at the Caversham Monitoring Station. These were nearly all typists and stenographers as well as secretaries. Many of these worked shifts too, in order to prepare the Monitoring Service Report, which was despatched to the government in London early each morning, by courier.
At any one time there were not all that many people around, due to the shift system, there was however, a lot of 'coming and going'!

The grounds were considerable, having a beautiful sunken rose-garden with arbours and seating, two full-size tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, and, most wonderful, a large oval shaped swimming pool complete with changing rooms. The Corporation had obtained permission to fill the pool. The summer of 1944 was hot, and we were therefore able to spend many happy hours there.

Inside, there was a large lounge with a `minstrel's gallery' on which was the most modem autochanger gramophone manufactured by `Dynatron', noted for their quality. Esme Miller and I put on a classical music evening once per week, shifts permitting. On another evening the jazz fans had their turn. A small lounge had a large sofa, deep comfortable armchairs and a lovely fireplace, a sort of `snug', with a door to the patio. Upstairs was a games room with a full size snooker table and all the necessary equipment. We really were spoiled for choice and comfort. It was marvellous living there. Everyone respected the fact that they were living in someone else's house, and treated it accordingly.

As the weather was so good, some of us also went for walks down the lanes, especially to Goring, where we would indulge in some liquid refreshment at one of the hostelries! At Cray's Pond was our `local', only yards from our `stables'! Strange that we slept in the stables, when the horses were outside!

Life and work proceeded along its pre-determined path, with no trials or tribulations. Whist we were aware of the massive conflict taking place in Europe, and were fully informed, ours was a peaceful and almost idyllic life. Some felt a sense of opprobrium.

CHAPTER 8. A VERY STRANGE AFFAIR.
On Friday 21st July my shift were on `nights'. We left `Great Oaks' in the BBC transport as usual, and travelled to Crowsley Park. As wk stopped at the stable block, in order to carry out the routine testing of the diesel generator, an elderly man, who stated that he was a retainer for the family, approached us. He told us that one of the `gentlemen' in the house was very ill, and requested us not to test the generator, due to the noise. I should point out that the night was hot and balmy. Sound travelled well in these conditions, and could be heard from miles away. There was a brief discussion and it was agreed not to test the generator. When we arrived at the station, we reported this to our SME and he could make the final decision. He acceded and no test was made.

By this period in the war, when the threat of direct air attack from the Luftwaffe had receded to almost zero, the government had reduced the total 'black-out' to what was known as a `dim out'. This allowed some diffused light to be shown, such as through curtains. Inside the station, it was very warm, and all the windows were wide open, with curtains drawn.
We took over from the evening shift who then departed back to `Great Oaks'. Our shift carried on as normal.

On night shifts, we all had the chance of a break about 2.00am. This was due to the fact that most networks closed down for some hours during the night. Only those on frequency measurement had to have a relief. The first couple of engineers, whose networks closed down, had the extra duty of going across the park to the manor house, to our canteen. Here, the kitchen staff had left a meal prepared for the night shift. It required only to be heated and when ready, a telephone call to the SME brought the gang over for their food.

This particular night, now early on Saturday morning, it was the turn of Dave and me to go. It was very dark, warm, even hot, and still. One could hear sounds of trains passing through Reading, and other night sounds from far away. We had to walk some 400yards. When we were about halfway, we heard the sound of some dogs barking from the Harpsden side of the park, far off. The sounds grew louder and nearer and nearer. It was now the sound of a large pack of hounds in full cry! We felt terrified, shivers went up our necks and we took to our heels and ran, as though for our lives, until we reached the canteen door, opened it in haste, went inside and slammed the door shut! The hounds continued their hue and cry and passed by the door and carried on down the drive towards the kennels, until we could hear them no more. We were both severely shaken by this event in the middle of the night. Where did they come from, and where did they go? We composed ourselves, did what we had come for, and sent for our colleagues. When they arrived, we must have been white faced, for they asked us if we were alright. Explaining what had happened, none of them believed us. They had heard nothing! However, remember that they would have been wearing headphones. Even so, we would have expected some of them to have heard, especially as all the windows were open! So the night shift passed, we went back to our beds and no more was said about our experience.

The following evening, as we approached the stable block, the old retainer came to the vehicle again. This time he thanked us for not testing the generator the evening before. He told us that Mr. Geoffrey Baskerville had died at 2.10am in the morning! Dave and I gasped, this was the time we had heard the hounds, and told him so. His remark, "so you heard them did you"? amazed all of us. When questioned, he said, "I will tell you a story".

This is it:
"It appears that many years ago, an engagement party for the eldest son of the family and his fiance was taking place in the mansion. It is just possible that this was to be a marriage of convenience, because it transpired that the young lady did not want this marriage, and was in fact in love with the younger son. During the party the young lovers decided to elope. They quietly left the party, mounted a horse, and rode off into the park to the far side, intending to escape through a minor exit. However, their disappearance was soon noticed. The head of the family ordered that the hounds should be given the scent of the son and released in order to track them. This was quickly done, and followed by a posse of riders, all in full cry, set off in pursuit of the hapless couple.

It was not long before the hounds overtook the couple, felled them, and set about the younger son, tearing him to pieces by the time the followers had reached them. The father was so distraught, and so remorseful that he ordered that all the hounds should be immediately destroyed.

Since that time, whenever a Baskerville dies, the ghosts of those hounds run through the park in full cry!

Thus ended his story. Be it fact or fiction we do not know. What Dave and I know is, that he and I did hear them!

South Oxfordshire doesn't look much like Exmoor, but it is more than likely that it is here that Arthur Conan Doyle got the idea for "The Hounds of the Baskervilles."

The manor was at the time in the hands of a certain Colonel Baskerville, who had hounds on his family crest, hence the grim gateposts.

Apparently Conan Doyle lived for a while on a neighbouring farm, and not getting on too well with the colonel, could not resist the temptation of notoriously immortalising him.
Baskerville, it is said, was not amused and got decidedly irked at being repeatedly greeted with "Hallo, Baskerville, how are your hounds?"

Life at Crowsley Park and `Great Oaks' continued until the beginning of November 1944, when we were informed that we would all be moved back to Tatsfield.

CHAPTER 9. THE LAST DAYS.
So it was that on 6th November I was again in the vanguard of a move, this time in the reverse direction, back to our own station at Tatsfield. This again was accomplished over a week. We were now back as though we had never been away. The routine of life and shift work carried on as before. The terror of the Vergeltungswaffe Eins ( V1 Flying Bomb) was now over. There was however a newer, and in a way more deadly one. On the 8th September 1944 the enemy launched the first of over 500 V2 weapons to fall in the London area. One that fell at New Cross killed 160 people. These were large high altitude rockets with a one-ton high explosive warhead that detonated on impact. The whole thing was 46 feet long, with a max. diameter of 5ft.5ins. It weighed 12.8 tons at launch. It travelled at over 3000 m.p.h. reaching a height of 60 miles. There was no warning of the approach, as the engine was no longer running on decent. They created massively deep holes. These weapons continued to be launched at London until the last one fell on Orpington on the 27th March 1945, only a few weeks before VE Day on the 8th May 1945.

On the 9th November 1944 I was promoted to TAI and my wage was increased to £4.10.Od (£4.50) plus 14/- (70p) in allowances. This grade was just one below becoming an ME, with establishment as a permanent employee.

No sooner had this happened, than I received notification from the Ministry of Labour that 1 would be "Called Up" on January 6th 1945 for National Service. This was in fact two months before my `Reserved Occupation' ended on my birthday at the end of February. The bigger shock was that I was to be drafted as a "Bevin Boy" into the coalmines! The name "Bevin Boy" was taken from the name of the Minister of Labour in the Government at the time. It was a panic move due to the fact that all miners of military age had been `called up' and now there was a serious shortage of coal! Bevin had decided that each month every tenth name on the 'Call Up' list would be diverted from the armed forces into the coal mines whatever his occupation. It seemed to me that the better way would have been to demobilise the miners and return them to their pits.

The BBC Engineering Establishment Officer advised me to appeal against this decision on the grounds that, I was
1), a skilled wireless engineer with the BBC, on specialised work at their receiving and measuring station, involving the use of delicate and very accurate equipment, used for measuring carrier frequency, field strength and direction finding.
2), The information obtained as a result of this work, concerning the activities, powers and wavelengths and positions of world broadcasting stations (including enemy stations) has been of value to the war effort.
3), Such being the case, my skill could be better employed in the National Interest on similar work, rather than on any other work unconnected with wireless.

It was thus that I attended a Tribunal in Croydon. The chairman was an elderly man as were his two companions, one of whom was female. No one else was present. I was asked to state my case for the appeal. A written one had already been submitted. It was therefore a reiteration of that, as above. At the end of this, and with little or no hesitation, the chairman stated that my appeal had not been allowed, and that I would therefore be required to report for duty as a "Bevin Boy"!!

I was quite certain that it would have been upheld, and that I would then be drafted to join the army, as I had requested.

The tribunal ended, and we all proceeded to leave. As we did so, I enquired from the chairman why, with all my evidence, they had reached this decision? His answer was amazing, "It's more than I dare do, to uphold an appeal"!! My response was to enquire why we went through this charade, to be told, "THAT WE LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY"!!!
I spent my last Christmas on evening shift, after a sort of celebration drink with some of my colleagues in some local hostelries in Croydon. It was a far from happy time for me, filled with foreboding. I packed those belongings I needed to take with me, to a hostel near Pontypridd in South Wales. The rest I packed into a large parcel, to be sent to my home in Gloucester by rail. In the event this parcel never arrived, and was never found. It contained all my BBC course notes, textbooks and many other personal items. Another blow! I had to work right up to the day before my departure, and did not even have the time to go home to see my parents before leaving for the mines.

On Monday the e January 1945 I said my goodbyes and left Croydon to catch a series of trains to Cardiff, (where I had been earlier with the BBC), and then by bus to the "Bevin Boys" hostel at Rhydyfelin about ten miles from Cardiff.

Thus ended my employment with the BBC.

Later, during periods of leave, 1 was able to go back to Croydon, and Tatsfield, to pay visits, and attend their annual dinners, to meet with old friends and reminisce.

POSTSCRIPT.
My time in the coal mining industry at `Deep Duffryn' pit in Mountain Ash, was a truly awful experience, which I will never forget. It was, however, cut short when I became quite ill, with stomach problems. After medical assessment came discharge and recuperation. When I was fit I did go into the Army, into the Royal Corp of Signals, where I was able to make use of the skills I had acquired with the BBC. On my eventual demobilisation in September 1948, my old job with the BBC was available to me under the terms of a government job re-instatement ruling. However, I was now married. Housing in London was very difficult to obtain and expensive. My salary would have been about £6.0.0d per week. We could not have managed on that in the London area, and accommodation for married couples was very difficult to find. So, with great reluctance I lost my opportunity to return to my old job with The British Broadcasting Corporation.

In late 1950 I became the Station Engineer for a newly formed company who were to develop the world's first Television Relay Station (later to be known as Cable TV). It was in my hometown of Gloucester. The following 28 years were most gratifying.
These experiences form other stories!

 

 

MY LIFE AND TIMES - THE BEVIN BOY'S STORY 1945 -


CHAPTER 1. ARRIVAL AND TRAINING.
I stated in My Life and Times as a BBC Engineer, that I departed from Croydon by rail for Cardiff on the 8th January 1945. This was a Monday and a bus was waiting to transport me, and a motley selection of other poor unfortunates that had fallen victim to the irrational Wartime Order issued by Ernest Bevin, a Labour Politician and himself a Welshman, serving as Minister of Labour in Winston Churchill's wartime coalition Government.

I mentioned in my first volume that this Order was to redress the acute shortage of coalminers, most of whom who were of Military Age had been called up into the armed forces. The effect of the Order was that one in every ten on the call-up lists was to be diverted to coal mining irrespective of their trade or profession. Hence we were known as `Bevin Boys'. The procedure was a lottery. Ten slips of paper, each bearing a number from 0 to 9, were put in a hat by Ernest Bevin, who then called one of his secretaries to make the draw. Every youth of 171/2 whose National Service registration number ended with the number drawn HAD to go into the mines, whether or not he wanted to. From 1943 to when the scheme ended in 1948, some 45,000 had been drafted this way. Many had never experienced heavy manual work, and to be drafted into the toughest industry of any was simply ridiculous.

'Bevin Boys' had no privileges and received a pay rate as a Trainee (or apprentice), of about £3.10s per week gross. From this was taken National Insurance, Union dues (we all had to join the mineworkers union), and even Income Tax! We also had to pay for our 'lodgings' at £1.5s. per week. This rate of pay was far less than the skilled miner they were working alongside, and for the most part, doing the same dirty, filthy hard graft.

Some misinformed people openly abused us as `Shirkers' or `Draft Dodgers'. This hurt, as we had no control over it, and in most cases would have been happy in the armed forces.

The bus took us to a specially constructed hostel at a place named Rhydyfelin about ten miles from Cardiff on the Pontypridd road. It consisted of a number of unconnected single storey buildings. One was a reception and recreation area with the mess hall, and a lounge plus a library, and a small shop for toiletries etc. Most of the others were dormitories sleeping about twelve or so, together with adjacent lockers. There were shower rooms etc. for each dormitory block. They were all heated, which was just as well in January! The accommodation was quite good. I cannot remember much about the food, so it obviously made no impression on me one way or another! In those days you ate anything put in front of you. In addition there were laundry facilities, staff quarters, and a sick bay with a matron and a couple of nurses, or orderlies.

The following day we had an introductory talk, and told the routine etc. We were then bussed to Oakdale near Blackwood in the Ebbw Valley, to the Training Centre.
Here was a disused pit that was now a training school for Bevin Boys. We saw our first sight of Winding Wheels, Engine Rooms, Shaft Heads and all the other paraphernalia that made up a coal mine. In the `stock room' we were each kitted out with overalls, a belt from which to hang your safety lamp, safety boots with steel toe caps and a safety helmet. In future, each morning on arrival we went through the `Bathhouse Procedure'. Here we entered the `Clean Area' where we stripped off completely, placed all our clean cloths into a designated locker, collected our soap, scrubbing brush and towel and whatever else was required, and then processed naked, along the corridor round the shower room to the 'Dirty Area'. Here was another locker from which you dressed in your working cloths and boots, left your shower goods, and proceeded to work.

There were classroom sessions, Ministry of Labour films, tours of the surface areas, and underground operations with all the many dangers being pointed out. The operation of the `Roads' was explained and the need to keep all 'air doors' closed. This is in order to maintain the correct flow of air through the workings. We were shown the operation of the winding house, the cage and the multifarious surface machinery. None of this was in actual use so there was little dust and dirt about.

We a!1 had to do PT in order to `strengthen us up and get us fit'! This was not a deep pit, the journey to the bottom of the shaft being quite short and not fast. The `roads' along which we were taken were not at all dirty, so that when we returned to the surface we were all quite clean! This was not to last when we started at our designated pits later on! On one occasion a small group of us were taken into the pit yard where there were large piles of small coal. Given shovels, we were told to move it all from point 'A' to point `B', a shovel throw away. This took an hour or so, and when completed, were told to shovel it all back again! A few blistered hands ensued.

The week's training finished on a Saturday at mid-day. However quite a few decided to go home on Friday evening, and I was one. I went home to Gloucester to see my parents on the very first weekend, returning to the hostel on Sunday. There were no recriminations for being absent without leave. As we were civilians, the worst they could do was to deduct a day's pay.

On the Wednesday of the second week I sprained my legs during strenuous PT and had to have time off. I was however fit enough to go home again at the weekend!

Very heavy snow fell on the Sunday following and continued for several days. By the Wednesday road traffic was unable to run, we thus had a day off. The next day we awoke to find three feet of snow reaching up to the window sills! The hostel was beginning to run short of food and coal. We were told that if we could make it, we should attempt to go home. I trudged through this deep snow to the little local railway station. The line was fortunately on a high embankment and had very little snow lying. As I enquired if there may be a train running to Cardiff from Pontypridd, a small tank engine slowly arrived with one composite coach! It proceeded very slowly and eventually arrived in Cardiff where there was little snow. I arrived in Gloucester six hours after I had set out! A distance of only some fifty miles.

I returned to the hostel the following Monday, the 29th January to find the snow frozen hard and still no transport to the training centre. I also developed a sore throat and a high temperature. A doctor diagnosed it as tonsillitis. I was whipped into quarantine in the sick-bay and given only fluids. It was an awful time. The following Monday, the 5th February, I was feeling better and allowed up and about. About mid-day I was told I had a visitor. My mother had turned up! I found this to be quite extraordinary, as she had no idea how to get there other than making enquiries. 1 think she was very courageous. After an examination by the doctor I was allowed to go home with my mother, on 'sick-leave' for a week. Without her intervention I would not have been allowed out.

A day or so later I was feeling much better. I decided to travel to Croydon for a few days and visit BBC Tatsfield. I even went in with my `old' shift on a night shift. This was a very nice time for me and took away some of the depression I had.
I returned to the hostel at the weekend and on the Monday was put into my fourth training week, even though I had missed so much time. Shrove Tuesday came on the 13th and went by without any pancakes! That week completed my so-called training. I then had the weekend at home before returning to my real posting.

At the Labour Exchange in Pontypridd, on Monday 19th February, I was assigned to and 'signed-on' to work underground at 'Deep Duffryn' pit in the small mining town of Mountain Ash, which lies about half way up the Aberdare valley. Just a short distance over a hill to the east of Mountain Ash is Aberfan, in the Merthyr valley, where, in 1966, that awful disaster took place when a whole mountainside of slag slid down and overwhelmed a school and houses. Of the 144 dead, 116 were children.

I was assigned to lodgings with an Irish family who lived in Cliffe Street. Mr. Keheller was a miner who worked in a different pit. Mrs. Keheller had a green grocery next to the house. They had two married daughters, and a school age son, Joseph. One daughter lived in Aberdare and had recently had a baby. The second, Kathleen, lived at home. Her husband was a prisoner of war held by the Japanese in the far-east. She worried a lot about him. One could sympathise with her concerning his treatment, as the news that came from there was awful.

So there I was, an Englishman, lodging with an Irish family in South Wales! They were very kind and understanding

CHAPTER 2. AT THE SHARP END.
Tuesday 20th February, my 19th official birthday, was my induction to `Deep Duffryn'! I was roused at 6.Oam, had breakfast, given a tin `snapbox' with my sandwiches and a two-pint water bottle. I also took a bag containing a large towel, some soap, a scrubbing brush and a comb. I had been allocated lockers for my gear the day before; and had been shown what I needed to know about the procedures. I then walked to the pit-head. On arrival I followed the others and changed into my working clothes and headed for the lamp room. On entry you collect a `tag', then pass through the lamp room where you exchange your `tag' for a hand lamp. This is a heavy metal safety lamp about sixteen inches high with the actual lamp chamber at the top. It weighed about eleven pounds and had a large metal carrying handle. It was switched on when it was given to you by a twist-switch in the base. All of this took place before 7.Oam, the time allocated for decent to begin.

I followed the others to the pit-head cages. There were two of these, side by side; as one lowered, the other raised. They were used for transporting men at the beginning and end of shifts only. At all other times they carried the coal trucks. They were large enough to hold four coal trucks. I seem to remember that about twenty men were squeezed in.

The inner gates slammed down, then the outer ones. The journey started slowly at first and gradually increased speed until it was moving down at about sixty miles per hour! The air rushed past, almost taking your breath away. Looking up, you could see the lights at the top becoming smaller. On arrival at the bottom of this 1000+ feet deep shaft you were in a very large well-lit area, with white- washed walls. I was introduced to the pit 'Deputy', who was the boss down here in the bowels of the earth. He introduced me to a smallish chap with whom I was to work at the coal-face. (NOTE: In later years , when a member of The Bevin Boys Association, I learned that very few Bevin Boys were employed directly on the coal-face. Only some 13.4%)

He was, apparently a single man who lived with his mother. He also had a reputation of being very keen and wanted to move as much coal as possible in a shift. He was not satisfied unless it was more than twelve tons. This earned him a big bonus. The bonus earned was all paid to him even though we had both worked for it. He would then give me whatever he considered was reasonable. I can confirm that the amount I received at any time did not make me rich! I had to go to the miners working men's club on a Sunday morning to collect this, otherwise I did not get it! The club was the only place open on Sundays in Wales that served alcohol, as all the public houses were closed that day. If he was in a good mood he would buy me a small cider, sometimes! Fortunately we were assigned to a six-foot seam, so we could at least walk normally and stand up when at the coal face. Others were not so fortunate and worked in seams only three feet high, on their hands and knees! How the devil they did not go mad I do not know. I think I would have done. It was bad enough as it was for me.

I then followed my 'Butty' (Welsh for mate) to the roadway along which we were to walk to the face. We passed the stables, which were also large, whitewashed, and well lit. I was surprised to see the size of these 'ponies'. They were the size of carthorses! I was warned that these beasts would not stop once in motion along a roadway. If you were in one and heard them coming, you quickly found a safety chamber in the wall of the roadway, and waited for them to pass.

The roadways were unlit, and had a railway line on sleepers in the centre. In between there were hollows where the ponies laid their great feet. These often contained water, or horse deposits! One attempted to walk on the sleepers, however the spacing was not conducive to a comfortable pace and took some getting used to, especially as the distance to be covered by us was over one mile from the pit bottom. As we approached the face the roadway split several times. Different pairs of men proceeded along each one and we were no exception. At the end, and adjacent to the six-foot seam face was an empty coal wagon awaiting its load. Here my companion had a small pickaxe (called a mandrel), one or two shovels and a crowbar. For me there was a large scoop of about twenty inches square, with a hand hole on each side at the rim.

He took off his coat and standing his lamp on the ground near his working area, proceeded to return the coal, cut and dropped by the nightshift, to me. My job was to fill the scoop with coal and lift the thing up and over the edge of the wagon and dump the coal in. It was quite heavy, and this was hard hot dirty work. The dust showered all over me as I did this. As the fill came to about a foot from the rim of the wagon, I then had to select very large chunks of coal, and build a wall around the edge of the truck, up and over the rim. This done, I then piled in more coal with the scoop. As the wagon filled, this became more difficult, due to the height of the lift required, and he wanted large coal on the top. He expected me to load the twelve tons well before the end of the shift. He would then chalk his mark on the wagon and call for it to be taken off and an empty one brought up. We then started all over again until the end of the shift.

The face was a long one and there were other pairs of men working close by to right and left, each with their own wagon and short roadway leading back to the main one.
At the appointed time everyone stopped work and gathered together in small groups, sat on the ground, with their snap (sandwich) tin and water bottle. One told me to take out a sandwich and then close the tin immediately. This was to prevent the rats pinching the food! I asked if this were true, that there were rats all the way down here. He told everyone to switch off their lamps. This done, he placed his lamp a yard or so away and told me to watch. He then threw a piece of bread at the foot of the lamp and within seconds several large rats descended upon it! I was horrified to think they were all around us and in such numbers. I learned my lesson! Another was, that if, at this juncture, one experienced `the call of nature', then it was off into a dark corner and do it there!

At some time during each shift the `Deputy' came round to check on roof and other safety factors. He also tested for gas with his safety lamp. He must have walked miles during his shift.

2.30pm marked the end of the shift, tools were stowed away safely out of the way of the afternoon shift and the night shift. The afternoon shift carried out roof work, extended the carriageways further into the spaces left by the removed coal and other maintenance tasks. The night shift brought in cutting gear with which they undercut the seam along its whole length, and dropped it to accommodate removal in the morning.

We returned to the shaft bottom, were taken to the surface where we handed in our lamp, collected our token and went to the bathhouse and eventually back to our respective digs. When I looked in a mirror I was alarmed to find that I had two 'black eyes'. The coal dust had penetrated so much into the soft tissue surrounding the eye that it could not be washed away. When, at last, I was released from the mines it took several weeks before my eyes were clean.
On reaching the digs Mrs. Kelleher had a good wholesome hot meal waiting for me. I was exhausted, and was in bed early that evening.

I can honestly say that that first day was the most awful, dirty, backbreaking experience I had ever had, then or since.

I worked each day until the Thursday and took a day off on Friday, going into Aberdare to do some shopping. I returned for the Saturday shift. No one mentioned my absence! How my mate managed on his own 1 do not know, and did not ask. You will note that the working week was of six shifts.

The second week included my `actual' 19th birthday. I was not feeling too well, with stomach pains, and decided to take that day off. On the Friday I decided to go home, and returned on the Sunday. After a few more days down the pit the stomach pains worsened. I visited a local doctor who diagnosed `Gastritis' and signed me on the `sick list'. I was prescribed medicine that was a mixture of kaolin and morphine. (This was to be repeated many many times during the next forty five years until a correct diagnosis was eventually found in 1989 and treated!)
I resumed work in the pit a few days later. However a few days later the stomach pains returned together with vomiting and I felt quite ill, and again had to consult the doctor. He signed me off work again, this time for two weeks.
I had to register this absence with the pit and the Labour Exchange in order to avoid prosecution for prolonged, unreasonable absence. Some Bevin Boys were actually fined and/or imprisoned for absence. There was a lot of absenteeism, and some desertion. Who can blame them?

RIGHTS OR WRONGS?
A Bevin Boy had no rights. He was a civilian, but without the freedom of movement. He was issued with no uniform or insignia from which he could be identified, and as I mentioned earlier, this often led to unkind remarks, such as, "Why are you not in the Armed Forces?". The only leave he was entitled to was one week per year, plus Christmas Day and Boxing Day! He was not allowed to use NAAFI canteens or any of the Volunteer canteens set up for the armed forces. No other facilities were made available to him at all. It all made for very bad feelings on the part of these unfortunate conscripts. This was to continue through to the end of the scheme. When it ended and `demobilisation' came, most took their leave from the agony of working in the pits, in spite of a letter from the newly formed National Coal Board (1s` January 1947), appealing to them `to consider favourably remaining in the industry'.

For over forty years the Bevin Boy received no recognition at all. Even the humble Air Raid Warden was presented with a National Service Medal! Not so the Bevin Boy. Even the British Legion prevented the Bevin Boys Association, when it was formed, from taking part in the Annual Service of Remembrance in London for nearly fifty years. This was in spite of many high profile attempts to gain recognition of the Bevin Boy in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and also included people such as Lord Rix, CBE, DL, and Sir Jimmy Saville Kt., OBE.,KCSG.,L.LD who were both Bevin Boys.

Years later, Arthur Scargill, the then President of the NUM, speaking on a TV programme `Bevin Boys - Flukes of Fate' called it 'A Monumental Blunder'.

CHAPTER 3. THE LAST DAYS AS A `BEVIN BOY'
For me there were periods of work, followed inevitably by periods of quite severe stomach pain and biliousness. This continued into April when after another serious case of nausea at the shaft bottom I was taken back up by a first-aider. He was also a union representative. He checked my records and decided that this routine could not continue and that he would make representations to the Ministry of Labour for my case to be reviewed, with the object of my being released from the mining industry. In the meantime I was to be on sick-leave again and await to be examined by a medical tribunal in Pontypridd. This took place and I was certified as "medically unfit for work in the coal mines". I was sent home by the Labour Exchange to await the outcome of their review.

On the 30th April 1945 1 was called to attend another full military medical examination board, this time in Gloucester. I was passed as "A1"!

On the 7th May I was released from the mines and was required to return to Deep Duffryn in Mountain Ash to hand in my bits and bobs, hand in my clearance papers and collect my Employment Card. This I did with great relief. I then said my goodbyes to the Keheller family and returned to my home in Gloucester, signed on at the Labour Exchange and requested my BBC job back. And so ended the most traumatic event in my life thus far, and ever since.

THE NEXT DAY, MAY THE 8th 1945 WAS `VE' DAY.
THE END OF THE WAR IN EUROPE.
There was much rejoicing, street parties and huge bon-fires in the streets. King George VI broadcast on the wireless. I went on a Church Parade with the 12th Gloucester Scouts to St Paul's church in the evening, where there was a service of Thanksgiving.
For me the thanksgiving was a double-edged event.

I did not get my job with the BBC back. On the 5th June 1945 I arrived in Carlisle to report to Hadrian's Camp en route to Omagh, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland to begin three and a half years in the Army with the Royal Signals!

THAT is another story!


PR - BR