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15 October 2014
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In the Royal Observer Corps

by Hitchin Museum

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
Hitchin Museum
People in story: 
Alex Tooley
Location of story: 
Offley, Hertfordshire
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 October 2005

During the war after being invalided out of the army and put back on the road to recovery I joined the Royal Observer Corps.

I completed 3000 hours of tracking enemy fighters and bombers with special equipment and feeding information to Royal Air Force Fighter Command. I had to have first class knowledge of very many aircraft, British, American and German and the sounds of their engines for night work.

In those days the skies of Britain were one mighty roar day and night. The most planes we plotted in one lot was 500 B17F Flying fortress USA bombers (daylight operations) and on many occasions at night over 1000 in waves - Lancasters, Halifax and Short Stirling bombers (all British). When they returned home the Germans used to fly above them on bombing raids, so it was difficult to know who was who; this is where our training in the sounds of their engines was useful.

Many of our planes were in a terrible state after bombing the Germans, I have seen them without wheels and parts of wings missing: sometimes they were on fire; a Halifax bomber in serious trouble and lost crashed into a farmhouse (Offley) half a mile from our post and killed the occupants of the house and most of the crew. The best sight was to see German planes crashing in flames; how wicked to be able to think like that, but when one heard of all the cruel things they did to people they deserved no mercy.

We were known as the “eyes and ears” of the Royal Air Force, our Group No.17 Able 1 which covered the whole of Offley and Kings Walden parishes, Hertfordshire and also portions of London North of the Thames, Essex, Middlesex, Herts. Beds, Bucks and Berks. including Windsor Castle. Post 17/E.4 on the Brunswick Tower were visited by the King and Queen at 22:10 hours Sunday June 18th 1944 together with the Princess Elizabeth and the Queen’s nephew the Hon. Andrew Elphinstone. At the time, flying bombs V.1 were crashing in the vicinity.
It took 40 seconds for our plots to go to RAF fighter stations, guns and searchlights.

My observer post was known as Able 1 Offley, at 500 feet above sea level with a commanding view of the skies and countryside. In fact one night I noticed a twinkling in my night glasses and reported anti-aircraft gunfire. I was informed of no enemy activity in the British Isles; it was actual gunfire coming from German guns at Calais (France) shooting at our returning bombers. There was a battery of searchlights on the Hoo Road Offley manned by ATS personnel who were kept very busy at times.

May 29th - Hundreds of British bombers passing over Kings Walden parish. First 1000 bomber raid.
May 31st - Another 1000 bomber raid
July 28th - Air raid 6 to 10 am bombs near Dunstable
August 3rd - Hundreds of incendiaries North of post
September 7th - Heavy bombing raids London and Home Counties
March 27th - Heavy night raid on Berlin flying over post. We lost 33 bombers
April - Several air raid alerts Kings Walden Parish
April 24th - German bomber shot down in flames near London
May 24th - 2000 tons of bombs on Germany. Very busy. Lost 38 bombers.
June 15th - 175 Flying Fortress bombers USA and 145 protecting Thunderbolt fighters. Daylight raid low over Kings Walden and Offley
June 23rd - 600 bombers over post at dawn
October 3rd - Several German bombers overhead at midnight
October 7th - Huge RAF raid on Germany and two hour enemy raid on London; saw German plane in searchlights surrounded by hundreds of bursting shells to the South of our parish
October 8th - Air raid 8.30pm Germans using Chandelier flares, countrysidelike moonlight. October was a bad month for air raid warnings.
December 5th - Cluster meeting of posts at American Air Force base Bassingbourn, Cambs. Wonderful day; we were challenged to recognition tests by them and won with flying colours. During the war they were never very good at recognition. The lunch provided was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding smothered in thick marmalade (American way) plus plenty of drinks.
Jan 15th - Heavy air raid 7.45pm bombs London area; terrific anti-aircraft barrage.
Feb 20th - Plotted German bombers 22.55 hours saw one shot down. Many fires in London.
Feb 21st - British Lancaster bomber crashed at Pegsdon North of Offley 6.30pm
March - Having been on duty for 7 hours in brilliant moonlight in a period when German spies parachuted into this country I thought I saw one moving about in a nearby field; after much discussion it was decided that a visit from us would be appropriate so off I went covered by my partner with his rifle peeping over the top of the post. Low and behold it was a giant Scotch Thistle waving in the wind; the episode was duly recorded in the log book for posterity.

Another episode in Offley Parish close to Observer post — an American Army lorry with 5 tons of bombs collided with a petrol tanker and caught fire on the A505 by Glebe Farm whose occupants fled; the driver of the lorry rushed about trying to warn people; it duly exploded with a hell of a bang and killed three people on a double Decker bus which did not stop. The farmhouse was demolished.

June saw my demise from active duty as a sudden breakdown in my health necessitated a very long stay in hospital.

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