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'They Also Serve Who Only Stand and Wait': The Royal Observatory Corpsicon for Recommended story

by East Ayrshire Libraries

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East Ayrshire Libraries
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Contributed on: 
12 November 2003

No! This is not the cry of a disgruntled commuter whose train has been cancelled for the second time in a week, but the motto of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC). This group of dedicated volunteers spotted anything that moved in the skies over Britain for many years, including those between 1939 and 1945. My father was the leading Corps observer in New Cumnock during World War Two.

Keeping an eye on the sky

The ROC posts were dotted around the countryside. They were placed, for obvious reasons, where the men could have all-round vision, sometimes in a farm stockyard, sometimes on a little knoll. They were often unnoticed, in spite of the fact that they were manned 24 hours a day, and men came and went at three-hourly intervals.

The posts had to provide shelter and warmth for the two men on duty. At the same time they had to allow constant surveillance of the skies, which was their prime reason for being there.

A tribute to man's ingenuity

A post in this area was a tribute to man's ingenuity. One section provided all the comforts of home, or at least most of them. The other, open to the sky, contained a structure that would have been the delight of any small boy allowed to sample it. A heavy metal tube was stuck into the ground, and on its upper end was a revolving crosspiece, on the ends of which were two seats.

The seats were made from car steering wheels, well padded of course, which revolved individually. Between them was a round table, covered by a large-scale map of the area.

With phone near by and binoculars at the ready, one man was always up aloft, ready to spot, identify and track aircraft, and report it to group headquarters. From there information could be passed on to the Royal Air Force.

The red spitfire award

Aircraft recognition featured prominently in training and in exams held annually at group headquarters in Prestwick. Happy was the man who could acquit himself well enough to be awarded a 'red spitfire', worn proudly on the sleeve of his airforce-blue uniform.

The ROC member's pride in their contribution to the war effort, and loyalty and devotion to their own post were of very high order. More than one British Empire Medal (BEM) was awarded for services to the Corps, including my father.

It was many years after the war before the ROC was reduced in numbers and activity, and eventually disbanded. Perhaps, in view of some of the things that continue to happen in the air, in spite of sophisticated methods and tracking, it would be no bad thing if the eyes of the Royal Observer Corps still scanned the skies.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Royal ObserverCorps

Posted on: 06 November 2004 by Boab74

Aye--"Hotel one" wasn't it? I helped to man the same post in the early post-war years! Spent some idle time watching the herons catch perch in the Moss Well, mind you. Not many hostiles around by then-----
Lochside [?]

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