I saw an elderly man slowly walking along the path, carefully supporting himself with his stick. The day was sunny and windy on the Dorset coast and the man sat by the Radar Memorial near Worth Matravers. I left my post at the National Coastwatch Institution lookout because I wanted to take a photo of the flypast of Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Lancaster bomber with the Radar Memorial in the view. As I approached the man sitting down, I just knew this was a very special person - he was there for a reason - this was a precious place for this man to be at this time. This man was Dr Bill Penley - the man mentioned on the memorial. He was there that day when the memorial was unveiled by none other than Sir Bernard Lovell.
You see something very, very special went on in the early part of the war at Worth Matravers. Something 'Most Secret' that was to have far reaching importance, not just for victory in the war, but for Radio Astronomy as well. At this location Dr Bill Penley (now just 98 years of age) told me how he built the first hut. Scientists were brought in - 2,000 of them to this remote part of the coastline. Many became world famous during their careers - Nobel Prizewinners and the father of Radio Astronomy, Sir Bernard Lovell. Together, these scientists developed radar, bouncing radio waves off the coastguard buildings and off a cyclist peddling along the coast path - the first radar view of a moving target!
We chatted and it was wonderful to listen to Bill sharing those memories of one of the most vital scientific breakthroughs of wartime Britain. Bill's team of clever minds meant that those airmen that went into battle, "The Few", were given warning of the enemy approaching. Those vital minutes notice provided by the new radar system were the difference between success and a failure too ghastly to ponder.
With Dr Bill Penley and the Radar Memorial
I told Bill of my Dad being on guard duty at the radar base at Worth Matravers. Churchill realised that after the Bruneval Raid to capture German radar receiver equipment in late February 1942, the establishment at Worth Matravers was wide open to a tit-for-tat raid by the Germans. Bill spoke of how Churchill ordered the whole of the radar research to relocate to Malvern College 'before the next Full Moon'. Pickford Removals were commandeered and the move was made. At around this time Churchill called on mathematicians to train in the new radar and radio systems. Dad trained at Malvern College and in 1943 went out to serve in Burma, tracking the Japanese behind enemy lines and radioing back their location. This put a stop to the surprise attacks on allied troops that were causing so much harm. Dad returned home to Lincoln in January 1946 - mission accomplished.
How amazing to meet Bill today. We owe him and his team so much. I was able to give him my thanks. The planes never came - the weather was against them. My day was incredible for other reasons. A few weeks ago I had been with friends visiting the world famous Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope (also the headquarters for the Square Kilometre Array). What started out as ideas in great minds at Worth Matravers led Sir Bernard Lovell to realise that radio/cosmic waves were entering the Earth's atmosphere from space. A whole new branch of Astronomy was to begin just as soon as the war was over.
The 76 metre dish at Jodrell Bank