- Graham Fielder -


Whilst amusing myself on my computer by accessing web sites connected with my period of National Service in the 1950s (RAF 1955-57) I decided to search for RAF Ventnor. I was delighted to find much material about the former station and was particularly interested in the article about your time at Ventnor. Your article gave an interesting dimension on life there during the 1950s. Unfortunately, I was not at Ventnor myself but at RAF Sopley near Christchurch - another radar station with Types 80, 7, 13 and 14 equipment. I believe Ventnor was linked to Sopley which was a larger station of some 300+ personnel.

At the time my family lived at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight and I would travel home on the Southampton to Cowes ferry every month. I knew there was a radar station at Ventnor but I was never able to satisfy my curiosity as to what it was like there.

My period of National Service in the RAF was from September 1955 to August 1957and my limited service career covered the following RAF Stations: Cardington (Bed.) , Hednesford (Staffs), Middle Wallop (Hampshire), Sopley (Hampshire) with short detachments to Bawdsey (Suffolk) ,Warton (Lancs.), Stanmore (Middx)

The Operations personnel at Sopley consisted of radar operators and fighter plotters (the two trades were eventually amalgamated as 'air defence operators').

The trade (Fighter Plotter) I applied for was influenced, irrationally, by the fact that the training station was at Middle Wallop and reasonably close to the girlfriend I had at the time. How ridiculous when there were so many more useful trades to go into! I never really liked the trade and regretted that course of action. However, I made good progress and eventually reached the rank of Corporal. I was always very amenable to service discipline and still get a good feeling when I see any form of service station. They were well organised and almost self contained communities.

However, pay was poor for a National Service man and it was only in the last six months that I really felt that I had some money to spend. Nevertheless, frequently many of the lads managed to get themselves 'stoned' on the rough scrumpy cider at the 'Three Tuns'. Their noisy return to the billet was feared by those who had stayed on site to go to the cinema (Astra - of course!). Deliberately waking the sleeping and letting off fire extinguishers was a common occurrence.

In retrospect, RAF Sopley was a good station and the only problem was it was quite a way from Bournemouth. The domestic site was actually near Bransgore and about a mile away from the radar site (or hole). A local bus called at the station every evening at 6 p.m. to collect those who wanted to go into Bournemouth and returned them some time after 11 p.m. If you are interested in your parent station do have a look at RAF Sopley on the internet - I was amazed at the amount of material and I learnt things about the station that I was not aware of during my time there. There is quite a lot about the technical side of the radar, including Type 80. Regretfully, it is not my area of knowledge.

Just a quick response as you mentioned the Peter Twiss Air Speed Record of March 10th. 1956. It was indeed 'controlled' from Sopley. Some time before the event I remember being in the Rest Room on the Ops site when a couple of members of one of the radar cabin crews talked about an aircraft they had been monitoring on the screen moving at an unprecedented speed across the tube. It was,of course, the Fairy Delta 2. A radar cabin crew was assigned to the aircraft's runs and we heard nothing more about it until the record run. It was a good feeling to know that Sopley had been involved with the record (1132 mph). Subsequently, all members of that cabin crew were given specially designed mugs with the details of the record. The aircraft was never developed further and, according to a web site, the record was bettered in Dec. 1957 by a USA F101A Voodoo.

Back in the 1990s some friends in the New Forest were able to arrange for me to have a quick tour of the old domestic site and it was sad to see that so many of the buildings were neglected and becoming dilapidated. I took some photos. Sopley closed in 1974 and information on the web site suggests that more use is being made of some of the buildings and it may become a small industrial estate. The operations site remains underground and I believe it is being used for storage purposes by a private organisation. Sopley was built in the early 1950s and was on two levels - and to think that it had to be dug out before construction! At Ventnor there was a very good cross country runner who would travel across for the Island to join the Sopley team for race meetings. I can't recall his name but he was the best runner in the team by far, but he was not the runner you mention. The person I knew of came over to Sopley to run in the period 1956-57.

It is always a source of much nostalgic pleasure to remember those times when we were young and doing our National Service, although we did not always realise how the experience would be seen in the future. I have always had a great love for the Isle of Wight and visit it from time to time from my home near Chichester.

2768395 Graham Fielder RAF Retd. !!!!!

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Text © 2006 Graham Fielder