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The Battle of Britain

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147 Bridge Company RAS - Peter Strachan

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Peter Strachan
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21 September 2005

This story was added to the website on behalf of Peter Strachan by Farah Iqbal with Peter's permission.

On the 3rd of September 1939 a letter comes through my Mother's door, I was now to report to Aberdeen 15 miles away to a school. I was 15 years old (I had fibbed and said I was 17) and now I was in the infantry. But the trouble was in those days, nobody knew where we had to go. So being in the Gordon Highlanders we were moved from one place to another, no one knew where to put us or what to do with us. One time I was sent down to Aldershot, next time I was sent up to the Orkney Islands. But then it was getting nearer, the Battle of Britain, days when France was getting overrun by the Germans, Churchill began to think “Yes the Battle of Britain, the German aeroplanes will be coming across any minute now.” So I was transferred from the Gordon Highlanders then to 147 Bridge Company Royal Artillery Service and I was put on searchlights. There were 23 of us and we had a rifle with six bullets and the idea was (and this is no joke!) that if a German parachute comes across we had to shoot him with one of these six bullets and then one of us could run and pick up his rifle and we would have two rifles.

In those days all the equipment we got was from the First World War. It was ridiculously out of date because in the First World War planes flew at something like 60 MPH, while in our day they were travelling at 140 MPH and coming across at 10000 ft. Before we could switch the searchlights on, we had to listen to see where the aeroplane was and then we had to workout if it was 10000 ft up in the air, we had to say to ourselves “Sound travels at 1100 ft per second, so the plane will be that much further forward.” And by this time the aeroplane was always past, they had a gateway had the Germans in those days. The enemy planes were travelling at such a high speed in those days. The German pilots just used to come in dressed in their dinner suits, drop the bombs and then ran back home and went straight after their dinner. They never got knocked down with any of our searchlights or with any of our equipment, they were still flying in. But I had read in a paper about a crazy chap with an old van going out on the moors, this was before the war. People said he was a little strange; this was between the two wars. His name was Watson Wyatt. But as time went on we were trying to stop the enemy planes.

A dispatch rider came with a message “Would three of you be ready to be picked up by a lorry?” (The three included me!) It arrived and it was closed in so we couldn’t see where we were going, I don’t know to this day where it was. But when we got out of the wagon all I could see was canvas dense, it just looked like toilet canvas dense. Looking in we saw small green boxes and there was someone with a model green aeroplane. We went into this tent with the green boxes and practiced for a full week at 15 hours a day following this model plane. The boxes in the tent after the week were finished; we had to call this equipment Sound Locating Control (SLC). I got back to our searchlights again, fastened to it were these boxes by remote control. We now waited for the enemy planes to come in because we didn’t think it would work. But to our excitement some came in and we dashed to our tents with this equipment and tuned it in. The first time we switched it on, straight away it lit up the incoming aeroplane. Later on the equipment was fitted on to our fighters and we could now have them say “Tally Ho!” through our microphones, meaning that they could see the enemy, then we had to switch the lights off. Then our aeroplane fighters would knock the German aeroplanes out of the sky.

Six months later the equipment was known by its proper name, it was RADAR. And if we had mentioned it the name Radar in those days we would have been taken into prison because we weren’t allowed to call it Radar. So as time went on with the Germans coming across, Mussolini meanwhile thought that all the aeroplanes he had would easily knock out Britain, so he didn’t build anymore aeroplanes. But in this country here we were building aeroplanes at a terrific rate and within 3 or 4 months Mussolini had lost nearly all of his aeroplanes (which of course he did!) And now the Battle of Britain was more or less nearly over.

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