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15 October 2014
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Big Ben and Doodle Bugs

by Scoutie

Contributed by 
Scoutie
People in story: 
Marie Ebbesen
Location of story: 
Felixstowe and Sidmouth
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A2036170
Contributed on: 
13 November 2003

I was serving on a CH station as a radar operator, it was in 1943 and we were opposite the coast line of the Continent. We were in a direct line of the Doodle bugs, we were infact able to "plot "them on our screens . We could always tell them as their signal moved much faster than a plane. We worked in an underground bunker, but we could hear them as they flew over making a sound not unlike a rattly motor-bike! We had an Ack Ack site nearby and their job was to try and shoot them down before they crossed the coast, not that easy ,a small target and very often flying low down. Now as long as the ack ack guns were firing away with their frightful noise we felt secure it was when they suddenly went quiet that we would listen with bated breath in the bunker or for that matter anywhere on the station because it meant the Bug was heading for us at a low level ! Oh the relief when it chugged on past us to fall somewhere in a field ! On one occasion, I had been out in Felixstowe and was waiting for a Taxi in the railway station, with its usual Victorian glass framed roof, to take me back to my station Bawdsey Manor, I was entirely on my own ...blackout and the lot when I heard the dreaded sound of a Doodle bug. Then suddenly I see the wretched thing , very low, spouting flames from its rear....I remember thinking no point in throwing myself to the groung it was too wet and as for th glass roof, well it did not dare thinking about it ! So I stood looking at it as it flew past and then actually smelt it...a smell of parafin ! I heard its dull thud some minutes later, but heard later that no-one had been hurt.
Re the Big Ben part, before being stationed at Bawdsey I was at Branscombe, near Sidmouth in Devon, there our masts were opposite the Cherbourg peninsular. It was an important station, so much so that we had American troops camped around us. There was the fear that once the we embarked on D day we would risk being counter attacked by the Germans. Our radar was important to the effort. I had the luck to be on night duty June the 5th 1941, there was so much going on on our screens that we could not real;ly mak out friend or foe and we were doing our best but exhausted ...as we emerged into that glorious sunny morning at 7am at the end of the shift all we could see as as far as the eye could reach, were planes at all heights all going in the same direction it was awe inspiring their steady drone moving over our heads. Normally we would then go to bed , but that morning our CO asked us all to come to the Mess Hall as he had something very important to tell us....he then infront of us opened a packet that had been in his safe for some time and read out the contents which was a personal message to all serving men and women in the armed forces, that we were now embarking on the Great Crusade to liberate Europe, it was a most moving "speech" from General Eisenhower. What was so incredible that we were each given a copy and mine is now still safely in a photo album.
Now to Big Ben, because we were a somewhat seasoned group of radar operators two of us were chosen to go to London for a special briefing. Once there we were sworn to secrecy and where asked to try and operate a very strange an different screen, We were then told that Intelligence had discovered that the Germans were going to launch a rocket that would reach London and that in its warhead there was over a ton of explosives...this was 1943, it seemed unreal that a rocket could go that far. The strange screen was to be able to plot the rocket and at our side we, the operator. could press a button that would set off the sirens in London, giving people a chance to takr shelter. However there was only a three minute time gap before the rocket would have landed...so finally that plan was ditched. The code name was Big Ben and that and the Doodlebugs were known as V1 and V2 !

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V-1s and V-2s Category
Women's Auxiliary Air Force Category
Devon Category
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