RAF Ventnor was a happy camp, possibly because 'bull' was not a major preoccupation of our Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Bell. Parades were few and brief, and could be attended only by those off-shift and not sleeping. However 'bull' was the order of the day on the occasion of a visitation from high ranking NATO officers. My responsibility was to make the Type 80 modulator room sparkle like new and to take part in explaining the machinery.
The most amazing part of the gear and our star exhibit was the twelve-phase mercury arc rectifier which supplied the modulator. This was known as 'The Mekon' as a result of its resemblance to an evil Venusian strip cartoon character. A large glass dome contained twelve anodes each connected by a curly wire and was filled with glowing purple mercury vapour which a dancing electrode maintained by drawing a hissing arc from the mercury pool at the bottom. The whole thing was mounted within a cabinet at chest height on a sort of throne. Imagine my delight when with a dramatic flourish I flung open the doors and the NATO party emitted a combined gasp and stepped back in shock.
NATO provided another memorable experience. During combined exercises the site was to be attacked by 'enemy' planes. We quite naturally spotted them coming on our low-looking Type 34 and I was on the upper gantry of the Type 80 as they approached across the Channel at zero feet. The three Hunters seemed bent on suicide but at the last possible moment lifted above St.Boniface and swept past the Type 80. Yes, level with it, not above it, I swear.On the occasion of the visit of a Russian naval vessel to Portsmouth, a fairly severe form of interference appeared on our radar screens. The very next day two mysterious civilian men from RAE Malvern appeared in the Radar Office bringing with them their own oscilloscope and other measuring devices. Within two days they had constructed an electronic filter and fitted it into our our system, and this adequately suppressed the interference. It was reported that the belief was that the interference was accidental and not deliberate, coming from the ship's radar, and indeed it disappeared entirely when the vessel departed.
At some time during that summer, "anaprop" conditions existed whereby sunspot activity caused the reflective layers of the atmosphere to change their height and characteristics. The fixed coil consoles had a range switch and the maximum setting allowed for targets being up to 420 miles away but this setting was not normally used. But using it, for a few weeks occasional targets were plotted close to the edge of the screen. They did not need to be high fliers due to the reflective layer acting as a mirror revealing what was well below the curvature of the earth. But of course, but there was no way in which the actual heights of those targets could be ascertained.
Another brief excitement was caused by an unexpected test flight of a supersonic prototype and holder of the airspeed record at 1132mph, Fairey Delta 2 piloted by Peter Twiss, the only aircraft in the world that could fly at over 1000mph. I happened to be in the Radar Office at the time and our Consoles fitter called me into the Operations Room to witness this remarkable event. The target flew along the South Coast and against all the rules the flight had not been notified to the radar stations in advance. Our Operators stared in fascination at the way the target which had appeared from the west, hopped across the screens twice as fast as any operational fighter. Strangely the officer in charge did not seem unduly perturbed, probably because the Russian Bear bombers were not capable of that rate of progress and missiles, if any existed capable of the range, would not have come from that direction. After the target descended near Salisbury the word was that it had been Peter Twiss again.This UFO sightings site has this report of how Ventnor tracked two fast unidentified aircraft and guided a Javelin fighter in an attempt to intercept them. The report ignores the possibility that Fairey Delta 2 might have been involved despite the fact that the whole nation knew of its capabilities as it had taken the world record in March 1964, just a year earlier.
However the report does show that intercepting aircraft were scrambled whenever deemed necessary.
One sunny Saturday morning I clambered up the iron stairs to the Type 80 cabin and witnessed a most spectacular sight. The sea was covered with the sails of many hundreds of yachts, from the far west to around the corner at Bembridge. This I found out later was the annual 'Around the Island' race for yachts of all sizes, the larger taking a few hours and the smaller most of the day to complete their return to Cowes.
The summer passed away in the pleasant manner already described and one cold autumn day, after the holiday makers had left and most of the attractions closed, one of my colleagues happened to remark that to endure the sheer boredom of The Island in winter one should find oneself a local girlfriend with the object of 'getting one's feet under the table'. I could see the sense in this and pondered on how it should be achieved. A week or so later a gang of us were enjoying the putting green at Flowersbrook, when Bob Turton strolled by with his latest girl on his arm. He didn't stop for introductions but I found myself thinking what a lucky chap he was and that his girl seemed a cut or three above his usual type.
Bob slept in a bed adjacent to mine and a few nights later he was telling me that he was getting nowhere with this nice local girl and that he was trying to think up a way of terminating the friendship without upsetting her. Oh serendipity! A couple of nights later it was I, not Bob who came down the steps of the bus from Ventnor and met Janet underneath the arches in Newport, and she didn't mind at all. Well over fifty very contented years have passed and my wife and I sometimes wonder the fate of the happy-go-lucky Turton from Tadcaster.
Another pleasant character sharing my room was a National Service fitter from Bristol, Graham Bowden. He had a local girlfriend who was a cub reporter for the Ventnor Mercury weekly newspaper and he was scheduled to take up a degree course at Manchester University when his service was completed. He was an athlete and pleased the CO by coming third in an open cross country event held in Portsmouth, beating many a hairy matelot and marine. Graham was a caver and he got me interested in it too, so we planned to go caving together in The Mendips during Christmas leave. Graham said that I needed to get fit so we embarked on a training programme of runs and cliff climbing. In the end it all came to nothing as one morning in early November I was required to report to Station Headquarters. In one week's time my services were needed elsewhere. Together with Consoles fitter Geoff Carter who worked on another shift, I was to report to RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. What on earth did they want us for? Leeming was a flying station!
A final incident occured shortly before my departure which caused momentary panic, but which now seems rather amusing, and it demonstrates the officiousness and zeal of the Service Police. One morning I was asked to report to Flt Lt.Barnes, the Technical Officer, in his office in the bungalow, and as I recall, the interview went something like the following. After very gravely handing me this letter and allowing me to read it, he asked me what I had to say. Panic! I went bright red with confusion. Surely I would be for the high jump, put on a charge, or worse for this?
"Er..it was in my smallpack sir, hanging on the hooks at the foot of the stairs. I was taking it from the Type80 down to the domestic site. It..er..seems it must have fallen out." "Well the Sergeant believes that what has happened is a breach of security, Adams, and that you must realise is of course indeed a most serious matter." I pondered that briefly then said in my best Abingdon School voice "Well sir, ever since I have been here I've gained the distinct impression that the whole site is a secure area, and beyond the police gate is an extremely secure area, that is if they are guarding it properly. If I'd dropped the book in the street, then that would have been a breach of security." The Warrant Officer who was sitting slightly behind the TO smiled and raised a thumb. The TO continued, "Adams, you know you musn't bandy words with me. The whole point is that you have been very careless and a civilian found the book' 'But sir, the cleaner must be trustworthy otherwise he wouldn't be employed here', I replied. The Warrant Officer continued to grin. The TO said 'Adams desist! Say no more. You stand rebuked. Make it certain that you are much more careful in future. Now dismiss.' He handed me my notebook and I was very happy to escape.
The day before I left, when bidding farewell to the Warrant Officer, he told me that the pair of them had discussed the matter prior to me being called in. In the interests of Service discipline they were obliged to endorse the action of the Police Sergeant, but at the same time had concluded for the very same reasons I had stated, that a formal charge would be neither fair nor necessary, as the cleaner had of course been 'vetted'. I considered that I was very fortunate to have had those two decent men for officers and that I was lucky in having escaped from the zealous Police Sergeant's disciplinarian action so lightly. I would have dearly liked to have pointed out to him his thrice repeated misspelling of 'Ventnor'. I recalled the refrain from a popular RAF pub song---"All coppers are barstewards!"- or something sounding very much like that.
I was very sorry to have to leave Ventnor as I had really enjoyed my time there and if it could have been guaranteed that I would stay there, I would have willingly signed on for a longer period of service. Little did I know that the site would be dismantled and closed down within two years.
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Footnotes: Graham Bowden has made contact and reports that he managed to become both the Isle of Wight cross country and mile champions in 1958 and when demobbed duly graduated at Manchester securing both a first class degree in Physics and a PhD in Magnetism. He continued with his athletics and successfully competed at University level at Manchester and in New South Wales, where he spent 30 years in Sydney working at the highest level in Nano Magnetic research. To my amazement he now lives a mere six miles away at Lymington (as a seagull flies, that is ), but despite being over the age of 70 continues his work as Visiting Professor at Southampton University. Graham and his wife were able to visit me at the end of April 2007 on their way to an inter-university nano magnetic seminar he had organised at.......where else but Ventnor! I have been sent a photo of a couple of RAF lads,one or both of whom may have served at Ventnor. Does anybody remember them? I have also received photographs of a mysterious small bunker situated to the north of the radar site.
The daughter of Flt. Lt. Barnes mentioned above, is seeking information regarding his RAF Service.
Graham Bowden has made contact and reports that he managed to become both the Isle of Wight cross country and mile champions in 1958 and when demobbed duly graduated at Manchester securing both a first class degree in Physics and a PhD in Magnetism. He continued with his athletics and successfully competed at University level at Manchester and in New South Wales, where he spent 30 years in Sydney working at the highest level in Nano Magnetic research. To my amazement he now lives a mere six miles away at Lymington (as a seagull flies, that is ), but despite being over the age of 70 continues his work as Visiting Professor at Southampton University. Graham and his wife were able to visit me at the end of April 2007 on their way to an inter-university nano magnetic seminar he had organised at.......where else but Ventnor!
I have been sent a photo of a couple of RAF lads,one or both of whom may have served at Ventnor. Does anybody remember them?
I have also received photographs of a mysterious small bunker situated to the north of the radar site.
Text © 2006 D.C.Adams