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by CSV Action Desk Leicester

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
CSV Action Desk Leicester
People in story: 
May Chamberlain
Location of story: 
Sileby, London
Article ID: 
A8440670
Contributed on: 
11 January 2006

When War broke out I was living in Sileby.
There were rules made by the government about what girls had to do.
If you were in a reseved occupation you stayed where you were, if not you could go onto what was commonly called ‘war work’ or go into the armed services.
Because I was already working in the shoe industry you signed up for the Royal Airforce.

I would have been on the first meteorological course but I was ill so it was delayed and I eventually joined the 12th Course.
At the outbreak of war the met office which had been part of the technical branch of the civil service was taken over by the admiralty and the royal airforce.
So the training office in London was under the Royal Airforce.

The training consisted of learning to do an observation, including a night observation, learning the reporting codes and how to plot charts and the other material that you would have to learn about. The met. Traffic system was by tele printer.
The station construction was from air stations which all belonged to their own group which in turn reported all their data to the met. Headquarters so reporting was in three things.
So the out stations reported to the group HQ’s — this is where the actual airforce operational work was (where the aircraft where) and the group was a collection of all the out stations and in turn at the back of all this was the met office HQ at Dunstable.

We were frozen in the land registry where we attended most lecturers and we were ‘cooked’ in our living quarters - he block of flats which has been bombed and the windows having been almost bricked up.

Then having finished with the actual training school in London we were then posted to an RAF station.
There we were under the supervision of the Duty Assistant because that is what we were going to be.
By the time we had finished our training — probably two or three months — we were then sent to an actual station and had to take on a shift on our own.

A shift meant you worked round the clock in turn.
The group where I was sent was an Operational Training Group with Units (OTU) It’s main function was the continued training of aircrew after the completion of Initial Flying Training and being fully operational. The aircraft were mostly twin engine Wellingtons, there was an insufficient number of 4 engine bomber aircraft available for anything except operations.

In our Training School period we had learned the plotting codes for charts, plotting of Radiosondes (these were appliances used by various stations and they recorded Upper Winds and Temperatures).
The winds were listed on a special form and the Temperatures plotted on a somewhat complicated graph. There was also special met. Flights the one over the North sea being of paramount importance as we were part of bomber command.
We were known as met. Assistant.

Every hour we had to do an observation which was coded and sent on the teleprinter network to the group HQ and subsequently to the HQ of the met. Office at Dunstable.

The cloud formation was divided into low, medium and high clouds. We had to assess wind speed and direction, check temperature and barometric pressure.
The coding we had to learnt to describe present weather.
Weather in the past hour and any special phenomenon — this was coded into groups of 5 figures and from a station you waited to be rung by your group HQ and then you sent it.
In turn the group HQ having collected all the observations of the group would transmit it to Eta — this was the HQ of met material (in fact it’s head office).

Eta would then collect all the observations from the group HQ and re broadcast it by about 8 minutes past the hour. The groups had a certain order of re broadcasting and from this the met assistant plotted the charts.

We should have worked three eight hour shifts but we didn’t — the late shift was the shortest and the night shift was longest. Whilst on the night shift we would have the basic rations of two slices of bread and margarine and tea. The night duty assistant collected these before going on duty. We all became experts in making toast on whatever lent itself to this task.

I did this for 4 and a quarter years. 1941 — beginning of 1946

In addition to having to do the observations which were transmitted to group and then to Eta, charts were plotted every three hours. The four main charts were plotted at 0001, 0600, 1200 and 1800 gmt.
All relevant material had to be plotted and in addition reports from radio sondes and met. Flights.

I still remember the code names of the flights.
Rhombus was the one over the North Sea.
Bismuth was the one from Northern Ireland.
Epicure was later done by the Americans who also had to report into our group.

Rhombus was particularly useful to bomber group as it was used as a forecast for that nights bombing raids.

The met flights and radiosondes were plotted on the main charts at the four full synoptic hours.
The radiosondes were called PRAWTS (Pilot Radio Ascent for Wind and Temperature)
There was also a PRAT from Cornwall (For Temperature only)

As ours was an operational training group various flights were undertaken over the British Isles and at the end of an air craft course. One sorti over enemy territory would be required — this would also serve to divert enemy aircraft fire from the bombing target of that night.
The navigators normally collected the forecasts which were compiled mostly by the group HQ.

Weather was always happening so there was always something to do.

We had to watch out all so for sudden deterioration or improvement and send these via the group HQ to Eta.

When war finished we continued much the same as usual apart from there being no raids to see to.
I was told I was ‘released’ not de-mobbed.
The release depended on a combination of your length of service, age and occupation.

I came back to Leicester and worked in accounts.
If you were in a trained job you were supposed to go back to it for 11 months at least.
I returned back to the shoe industry and worked my 11 months.

Pre-war there were few occupations open to girls and the war gave opportunities there wouldn’t other wise have been, but you almost missed a part of your life.
I don’t regret my years during war time.
It was hard work and the living conditions left much to be desired.

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