- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jack (John) Tinsley and Phyllis Tinsley
- Location of story:
- Baddesley, Near Romsey, Hampshire
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 May 2005
Operation Starfish — Baddesley Common Decoy Site and others in Hampshire and further afield and the Servicemen and Women who worked on them in World War 2
Until recently very few people knew about the unsung heroes of Operation Starfish and the Starfish Decoy Sites that service men and women ran the UK and abroad during World War 2. One of the more well known leaders of these unsung heroes was a Colonel Turner. Not too long ago in 2003 there was a programme on BBC2, Time Fliers with Mark Horton Head of the Department of Archaeology at Bristol University. The programme visited a decoy site in the North of England and set up a reconstruction of the decoy lights that were set at night to lure enemy bombers away from Northern Ports like Hull and Newcastle, the reconstruction was very effective and it could be clearly seen how effective and lifelike it was. The programme explained that the lights and camouflage that were set on the ground were so well laid out that enemy fliers were convinced they were bombing the target ports. The programme interviewed a gentleman who had actually helped set up the site in World War 2. I have also seen a programme about WW2 decoy sites in the desert where lives were saved through skilful Starfish style camouflage. Proper recognition for the work done in the War has been sparse and a long time coming for the people who, quietly and under a veil of secrecy, risked their lives to save others.
The Baddesley Common Decoy Site - 1941
The above site was important in luring away enemy aircraft from Southampton in 1941 and there were several similar sites throughout Hampshire and elsewhere. One was at Lee (Romsey — and even until recently, my mother Phyllis tells me, still being used as a Fisherman's Hut on the River Test). Also one at Botley which is still standing on Water Board land near Manor Farm, although derelict now. Others were at Longdown, Beaulieu, Durley, Chilworth and many more. Obviously Southampton, Portsmouth and all along the South Coast there were prime targets for bombing so everything that Operation Starfish personnel could do to lure enemy bombers to country areas like Chilworth, Rownhams, North Baddesley and Scragg Hill where the bombs exploded without damage to our main cities and towns, saved the lives of many more civilians and servicemen alike. Although saying that, we must not forget there were civilian and service personnel casualties from the enemy bombing decoy sites. The civilians who were killed or injured and whose property was damaged or destroyed (Rownhams Lane, Chilworth etc) were all quite unaware of why enemy aircraft were dropping bombs and mines in their country areas, how could they know at that time the bigger picture!
My father, Leading Aircraftman Jack Tinsley, was serving in the Royal Air Force during World War 2 in Hampshire and well remembers travelling from site to site to carry out his many duties activating the various installations. Night duties had to be carried out, but there was also much maintenance to carry out during the day. Dad never really spoke about the War a great deal to the family and I often wondered why not but have since learnt from history programmes on TV that everything had to be "hush hush". Obviously the nation was fighting for its life and "careless talk costs lives". This was taken very seriously and many servicemen have never spoken about their experiences so a wealth of history and knowledge is lost.
The Staff Headquarters of the Starfish Unit involved in the Hampshire area was in a large private house in Heatherlands Road, Upper Bassett, Chilworth which was vacated at the end of the war. My Mum and Dad visited the house not too long ago and spoke to the occupiers who were really interested in the war-time history of their home.
Mum and Dad have tried to find out more about Operation Starfish and the Decoy Sites but have really come up against brick walls. Hendon Museum had no real information when my mother Phyllis Tinsley tried to find out more. Is there an organisation somewhere for people that were involved in Starfish Decoy Sites I wonder? Unfortunately the people involved in Starfish are getting older and, many not able to use new technology to surf the Web or put their story onto a Web Site. Mum did write to the BBC to put Dad's story on the Web but the facilities are not there for people unable to access computers. This is a great shame as fascinating stories must be being lost as older people often do not have computers or easy access to the computers in the Libraries.
Anyway I've put this little piece together for my Dad, Leading Aircraftman Jack Tinsley and my Mum, Phyllis Tinsley, to thank them for all the unsung work carried by Starfish personnel and civilians during World War 2, they helped to give us the freedom we have today.
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