Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
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Illustrated Radar Mech

Been brooding over those radar books you left—guess I found the Nissen book, and the Latham, Stobbs et al recollections most of interest. My RAF years in this country were spent on CH and CHL sites as a ground radar mechanic; when I went to India we trained on mobile gear, but after VJ-Day were switched to manning the Gee navigation chain stations being established in the vicinity of Poona and Delhi.

Most of the now unemployed ground-mechs scattered over the country were gathered. and. pushed through GEE courses at 51 Radio School at Adgodi, outside Bangalore. (It was more like a reunion party, as I met up again with folk I'd known in Blighty, and others who'd been on the boat coming over. We radar-mechs were a relatively small select bunch). The "course" proved a shambles; as the war was over we were more concerned with the progress of demob and getting home, so most of us found it hard to work up any interest.

That was when I caught a fever—the RAF doc initially treated me for malaria, then panicked and sent me to Bangalore Army Hospital as a suspect typhoid case. While I was confined, most of my mates were shipped up to man the Delhi chain I eventually emerged from hospital with the recorded fact that I'd had a UDF (undiagnosed fever). Wow!

After a pleasant spell in a convalescent hostel in Bangalore, I reported back to Adgodi and to my amazement was given a fortnight's sick leave by the RAF doc—which was spent exploring the Nilgiris, tramping round Ootacamund, Coonoor, Wellington and other fleshpots of the old British Raj.

After celebrating Christmas (1945) at Adgodi, learnt that the Radio School was to be transferred to Ceylon, and that I'm posted to 145 AMES at Poona to work on the GEE chain. I travelled up, arriving at the 'drome in the middle of an official visit by Lord Wavell, and had to hang about the guardroom until his departure. There was some confusion—some thought 145 AMES had been disbanded, most were unaware of its existence—eventually I was sent to a billet on the outskirts of the camp where some stray radar mechs were temporarily housed..

Fortunately I met up with several acquaintances, also bound for the 145 unit, at Purundhar Fort, a hill-site some twenty miles south of Poona. We were wafted out next day, given a pep talk by the CO at Purundhar, impressing us that we were pioneers getting the navigational chain working in India, but his audience didn't share his enthusiasm.

In due course we travelled a further sixty miles south to Mahableshwar plateau, where we took up residence in Government House, one-time retreat of the Governor of Bombay, during the coastal hot season. However the place had been in use for years as a jungle-training school by the army, and was in an advanced state of neglect: stairways blocked by 'Building Unsafe' placards, and the upstairs floor out-of-bounds because floors were liable to collapse. There were no lavatories: we used temporary latrines put up out-of-doors.

Government House, Mahableshwar, by Harry Turner

The course was also something of a shambles, being run by people newly arrived from England., who didn't seem very familiar with the gear anyway, who lectured us with their noses stuck in an SD. At the start the classes were crammed., and then absenteeism became the order of the day, as our gang found it more rewarding exploring the jungles of Mahableshwar...

Came the day when we were finally shifted back to Poona, allegedly trained., and then sent on to Pokhari Ghat, where we learnt about the equipment the hard way, by just being left to keep it working.

Pokhari Ghat radar camp, domestic site, by Harry Turner

Prompted to dig out a few pics taken in India (mainly with unsophisticated Brownie box cameras !)... Above is a pre-monsoon view of the domestic site from the track leading up to the tech site of the Gee chain installation at Pokhari Ghat, up in the hills well north of Poona. Not recommended as a holiday trip. Here are a few views taken on the way up...

Road to Pokhari Ghat radar site, Harry TurnerRoad to Pokhari Ghat radar site by Harry Turner

Mercifully, the decision to close down was taken before the monsoon season really set in. The twisting "roads" were difficult enough to negotiate during the dry season—after a few monsoon downpours it was virtually impossible to manoeuvre the big articulated vehicles round some of the bends, and we had to rely on the smaller trucks for supplies. Our problems really began when we finally got the order to dismantle the tech site and all the heavier gear had to be packed and sent down to the base at Poona 'drome!

A couple of shots of the operating gear—guess I wouldn't be able to find my way round it nowadays... even with a manual: still, the experience of servicing and keeping it operational, not to mention sweating over the diesel generators, prepared me in many ways for the hi-fi and computer eras to come!

wartime GEE radar set in Indiawartime GEE radar set in India

Was intrigued by some of the memories of the Yatesbury inhabitants in the Latham & Stobbs book... can't imagine how I was left out! I note there are a few passing references to Cranwell, though it doesn't get shown on the map. (A relic of wartime rivalry?) There's surprisingly little said about the transmitters—MB2 etc.—for most CH and CHL stations... (a bias to operational staff memories?)

I found them among the most impressive items of equipment. We were supposed to use a neon at the end of a stick to test if functioning; though it was easy to slip into the habit of applying a thumbnail near to a feeder cable to get a spark—apt to ping a hole in your nail—though this was verboten as one or two mechanics had been frizzled when the vast glass condensers filtering out radio waves developed a fault and the aerial cables were live....

RAF Yatesbury

Also made an enlargement of the map of Yatesbury—my memory is befuddled by the passing of time; can't locate which hut I was occupying, though I know it was in the vicinity of Corporal Arthur Clarke's billet. We spent some time together before he departed on a course to get his commission, and I often helped him out at the turntable when he gave record (78s!) recitals at the music group in the NAAFI.

envelope addressed to Harry Turner at RAF Yatesbury

Was at Yatesbury from New Year 1943 first for the course, then spent a period doing routine maintenance at the technical site (which was some distance from the main camp), before being posted to Cranwell Radio School as a maintenance engineer. From there I toured a few coastal stations—Bempton, Little Dimlington, Easington, etc come to mind.

Gosh, you've really stirred up the memories... ■

letter to John Butterworth, September 2003.

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