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15 October 2014
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My Life and Times as a BBC Engineer 1942-1945 Part 3

by actiondesksheffield

Contributed by 
People in story: 
DENNIS FAULKNER, Mr. H V Griffiths, L G Shuttleworth, Mr. Calway
Location of story: 
DROITWICH, Upton Warren, Bromsgrove, TATSFIELD
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 November 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Dennis Faulkner and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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 afield. 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 was 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.

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 was 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 100 feet 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!

Chapter 1 can be viewed at

Chapters 2 and 3 can be viewed at

Chapter 6 can be viewed at


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