Light from the top of one of the pylons, currently displayed in Darsham Village Hall
The last four steel transmitter radar pylons built in 1939 on the Brakes Lane Farm land, 360ft high, were demolished in December 1958, and the Control Room and it associated buildings in the early 1960's.
Four wooden receiving pylons stood on the field beside them on the opposite side of the road, and two of the lights from the top of these pylons it is believed went to Sir Guy Hambling of The Rookery, Yoxford; another was given to the Police Museum at Police H.Q. at Martlesham, and is now on indefinite loan to Darsham Parish Council. A wooden section of one of the pylons is incorporated in a barn at Priory Farm, Darsham. These pylons were the last wooden pylons in the County, and possibly in the country.
The Radar Station straddling the A. 144 road to Halesworth was known as R.A.F. High Street, probably because place names were not generally used during wartime and this area of the Parish is known as Darsham High Street.
The main accommodation, administration and underground transmitter site know as "Buried T" on the north side of the road and the receiver site on the south known as "Buried R."
A Guard House stood at the gate together with two houses for senior personnel; a MT (motor transport) section housing a Hillman pick-up truck and a Bedford QL lorry; a small sick bay and recreation room which was also used as a cinema.
The front page of the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich, Wednesday, December 10th, 1958, headed End of Suffolk Landmarks gives a photograph of the four steel pylons being demolished on the previous day.
From East Anglian Daily Times Thurs. 11th Dec, 1958
Under the heading Darsham's Last Tower — "The last of the four 360ft high Wartime Radar Towers was demolished at Darsham on Tuesday."
The Control Room of the station appears to have been demolished sometime after 1960.
The W. A. A.F personnel were initially billeted at Bramfield House, Bramfield but later moved to nissan huts in Haw Wood. Some of these are still there in the grounds of High Lodge, Hinton
The R.A.F.High Street station was protected by four Bofors anti-aircraft guns -
1 - On Brakes Lane Farm.
2 - Opposite the A. 144 junction.
3 - A short way down Willowmarsh Lane.
4 - Near the pylons
The following is an exctract from a book written by Jim Dumouchelle about his father Albert Dumouchelle.
Albert was a volunteer in the Royal Canadian Air Force in which he served as a Radar Technician. Between August 1944 and November 1945 he was posted to RAF High Street and the extract is about his work and life on the base.
This has been published with the kind permission of Jim. The extract is only a small part of the book which wonderfully describes Radar during WWII and the life of his father who it must be remembered was a volunteer and did not have to put himself in harms way.
I have a full copy of the book in PDF format and if anyone would like to read it in full I can email them a copy. Email Derek Reeve
I thank Jim for supplying this material
Albert Dumouchelle RCAF
Arriving at RAF Base - High Street, Suffolk
Dad was assigned to a RAF base located near the village of Darsham in the county of East Suffolk. This station was a Chain Home (CH) type station commissioned on February 23, 1940, and numbered CH28. It went online just before the start of WWII. It monitored the approaches from East Anglia and the southern North Sea. As one of the earlier stations in the Chain Home system, it had 4 steel transmission towers of 350 feet and 4 wooden receiving towers of 240 feet. The two transmitters were of the Metropolitan Vickers Type T.1940. The receivers were of the Cossar RF8 type.
I was able to acquire the original logs from the construction period and they demonstrate that the application of the very new RDF technology came with lots of problems. Transmission waveform issues and serious reflection problems plagued its testing phase. There are even entries where Sir Watson-Watt himself spent a significant period of time at the site to analyze and effect changes to the antennae to deal with the issues.
Since England was under threat of invasion during the early years of the war and this base was well within the range of the Luftwaffe, the High Street station had the transmission and receiving areas separately fenced and included guard houses, pill boxes with machine guns and 4 anti-aircraft Bofors gun emplacements. While approximately 40 “technical” staff operated the RDF station, the guns were manned by 2 officers and 60 other ranks of the ‘C” Coy Home Defense force and 1 troop of the 84 light Anti-Aircraft Battery. These men were also responsible for the evacuation of the technical personnel from High Street in the event of an emergency.
Both the transmission and receiving equipment were located in buildings with re-enforced concrete ceilings. The side walls had additional protective walls and dirt mounded up to provide blast protection. To provide the staff some additional safety during their off hours, the barracks for the WAFs, the mess, the infirmary and the NAAFI (a commissary where service personnel could buy personal items) with a nearby recreation area were located in another wooded area 2 miles away. The location of this facility was in an area known as the Haw Woods. It is believed that the male servicemen were billeted in nearby houses in the nearby village of Darsham.
The station was part of the RAF Fighter Command's 11 Group sector. Its detection capability was augmented with the addition of a CHL station at Dunwich just 5 miles away on the coast. There was also an emergency backup mobile RDF station located at Hinton that could be put in operation if High Street was damaged. This station had a much more limited range (50 miles) with only a 105 foot tower but would be useful in filling a gap in the case of a long outage at High Street.
The giant towers were known as "The Darsham Pylons" and stayed as nickname thoughout the 20 years of their existence. The general consensus was that they were some form of "Death Ray" and fertile mines elaborated on this theme. A popular theory originated from the car driver who's vehicle inexplicably stopped on the A12. He blamed it on the "Pylons" which must be there to stop the engines of German aircraft - it stood to reason. From then on it only took another driver to report truthfully or not, that he to had experienced the sam situation for the theory to become almost a fact. So "Darsham Pylons" enetered East Suffolk folklore, and they became regarded with minor trepidation by passing motorists who breathed a sigh of relief on passing them without incident.
Bessie Thomas WAAF
Bessie Thomas (nee Shackley) - An Introduction
Using a veteran's website, I found a reference to a young WAAF that was stationed at High Street while Dad was there. I replied to the site for more information and much to my surprise I received a response. Bessie's daughter Marilyn Cunningham replied and was kind enough to act as an intermediary. At the tender age of 88, she took the bold step to call me from England several times to talk about her activities at High Street. She remembered Dad very well. She described him perfectly from memory and she is the only person that I have found that is still alive that served with him.
Bessie is a sharp lady and without her great memory and Marilyn's patient assistance, the details that are contained in this record of Dad's overseas service would not have been possible. In our first conversation, she related to me some of her antics as a 20 year old girl on her own for the first time. She even admitted she got tipsy on VE Day. Marilyn and I wrote regularly, exchanging questions and answers and we also have gotten to know each other through visits in 2014 and 2015.1 think Dad would have been happy to know that the effort to document his service has led to new friendships. I have included an excerpt from an article she wrote about her WWII service in the appendix. This document provides a lot of additional information about the High Street station.
Dad's Service at High Street
Dad arrived by train from Bournemouth to the station at Darsham at the end of August 1944.From there, he would have to "ring up" the base and have a transport pick him up. It was a trip of about 2 miles. According to Bessie, High Street was the smallest of the stations that she served at. As such, it had an informal nature about it. It was rarely visited by the higherranks and the officers present at the base were not focused on the rigid application of the spitand polish rules of RAF discipline. You worked 8 hour shifts, 7 days a week unless you got a leave. There were no parade marches etc. that were common at the other stations. Meals wereserved in the mess and accommodated the rotating shifts of the personnel. A mess sergeant was responsible for the preparation of the meals and when asked, Bessie said the meals there were unremarkable. You ate what was served which was limited in variety due to severe rationing. The NAAFI was the place that you could acquire special items to augment your food choices like biscuits and when available, personal items like cosmetics. There was also a recreation building that had a dart board, a piano and a ping pong table and miscellaneous chairs.
Upon Dad's arrival at High Street, he went through a series of inoculation shots. These were given at the infirmary on base. Based on Dad's Service Book, the shots were done by a local doctor since the base did not warrant a full time medical officer.
The High Street site was divided into 3 main areas. The receiving block was located very close to the 4 receiving antennae and housed the equipment which displayed the return echoes from aircraft. Eight WAFs would be on duty at all times watching their scopes for blips, analyzing the information and passing it on to the Filtering Stations. The equipment in this area, due to its lower power requirement, did not require constant attention and Dad would only be present when routine maintenance was required or periodic failures occurred. The 240 foot antennae would also require the same attention. The transmission bunker, located close to the transmission towers, was where Dad spent the vast majority of his time while on duty. The system was significantly different from the CHL unit he serviced at Bell Lake NS. The higher wattage and lower frequency configuration of the CH transmission equipment meant that Dad had a fast learning curve to master. There were redundant transmitters at High Street due to the frequent failure of the high power tubes and the need to switch to an alternate frequency if jamming was used by the Germans. When one tube failed. Dad would have to do a quick changeover to the redundant system then identify the defective component. The high wattage of the system required the use of a water cooling system for the output tubes so Dad had to be part mechanic to effect repairs. The high output tubes would have to be brought back to standard air pressure (they were operated in a vacuum) torn apart, the defective component identified and replaced. The tube would then have to be rebuilt and the vacuum re-established and placed back in the standby transmitter in order to bring the unit back online. This process took over an hour to complete. A multitude of systems (Fruit Machine and Big Ben for instance) were present at this base and it was the responsibility of about 8 LACs like Dad to keep it up and running. Besides the equipment in the bunker, the four, 350 foot tall transmission towers and the 240 foot tall receiving towers would need regular maintenance and repair. Since they were in constant use, care had to be taken when working on them. One LAC said that just getting near the power feed cables or the antennae wires would create a tingling sensation as an arc often jumped to your hand. No doubt direct contact when a 750,000 watt transmission pulse was released would be felt a lot more. Some of the tubes operated at 30,000 volts which would be deadly.
Bessie describes Dad as a quiet man, tall, with wire rim glasses who mostly kept to himself. It appears that their shifts did not line up very often so their off-hours rarely occurred at the same time. Only one of the other 7 LACs at the station was a Canadian. She thought Dad spent most of his spare time with the LACs. The men were kept strictly segregated from the women's quarters so much so that Bessie was not even aware of where the men were billeted.
Service at High Street was no doubt very routine but it was not without some excitement. Bessie recalls that she once monitored a VI rocket that came right for the base. She picked it up after it had been launched and monitored it all the way in. For a long time, it appeared thatit was going to make a direct hit but by luck, it passed overhead and the 2,000 Ib. warhead exploded in a field nearby rousing the residences of High Street and Darsham. Bessie told me that if it had hit, Dad would have had a lot of work to put the towers back in service.
While Dad never mentioned the incident with the VI, he did relate that an American bomber crashed near the base while he was there. The High Street station was virtually surrounded by British and American air bases. Looking up the records for planes lost by the US during the war, I found the record of this crash. On February 6, 1945, a Bl7 bomber named "Lil Edie", serial #38054 from the 490th Bomber Group crashed in the Hill Woods near Darsham about 1 mile from Dad's base. It was on a bombing mission when engine fires developed shortly after takeoff and the crew was forced to bail out. Dad went to the site of the crash just as the aircrew returned from being picked up. He said they were nothing but "a group of very scared kids". This statement was made by a man who was just 29 years old himself. As typical bomber aircrew was made up of 18-22 year old servicemen, Dad's observations were right on.
As you will read in her memoirs, Bessie's description of the food served at the mess was neutral, however Dad's impressions were not as kind. He developed a real hatred for the food, in particular dishes that were made of mutton (mature sheep). He disliked tea and of course that was a staple drink in England. After the war started, many cheese factories were shut down due to a shortage of milk and the only cheese available was either very old cheddar or a kind of synthetic cheese in tubs. Neither of these appealed to Dad and he didn't get over his hatred of cheese till the 1990s. No doubt, whenever possible, Dad would have supplemented his diet with biscuits etc. purchased at the NAAFI. Bessie, in discussing the food at High Street, said that most British service personnel were more understanding about the cooks. She said they were conscripted to do a job that they probably hated. Few cooks received any training and not only did they cook at all hours, they also had to clean up after each meal. Other than the goods that they negotiated from local farmers or the nearby USAF bases, there was strict rationing in place which limited the variety of foodstuff available. Basic cooking ingredients like milk and eggs were powdered. So, I guess when you combine bad ingredients, with poorly trained and unmotivated cooks, you get meals of questionable quality.
I do remember Dad telling me a story about eggs. He said that one day they got a shipment of "fresh" eggs and all the men lined up for breakfast at the mess to have a fresh egg breakfast. Well it turned out that the eggs were far from fresh. The men stood in line while the cook cracked one rotten egg after another trying to get one decent enough to cook. Dad was really glad that he could not smell as apparently the odour was absolutely overwhelming. He did get his egg breakfast however and was grateful for his determination and his lack of smell as most men couldn't stand the stench and just left.
This routine of regular watches, crummy food and poor accommodations continued month after month. Three events however occurred during Dad's stint that must have brightened his stay.
The first was the birth of his second daughter on February 7, 1945 about 4 months after he left Canada. Named Lois, she also was born via Caesarean section but with fewer complications than Elaine's birth 13 months earlier. Just like his earlier letter, Mom kept Dad's first letter after Lois' birth which, while shorter, again professes his love for her, expresses hope for a speedy recovery and again says it's ok that it's a girl despite their hopes for a boy. I have included his letter in the section labelled "Letter Written After Lois' Birth". While he was genuinely happy at the birth, he proclaims that he cannot wait for "this horrible war to end".
Also evident from this letter is the lack of excitement from his fellow service personnel about this happy event. His first letter from Bell Lake describes a big party underway in his barracks and cigars being passed out and the feeling of camaraderie was obvious. Dad's second letter makes no mention of the staffs reaction and Bessie recalls nothing about the event. Even though the High Street station was much smaller than the one at Bell Lake, I believe Dad felt much more alone.
The second notable event was the visit of his brother to High Street. Uncle Bob served in the RCAF as an ERK (slang for Ground crew) and was in Europe when he received a leave and used the opportunity to travel to Dad's base. Uncle Bob, in my discussions with him, remembers the visit and talked about how he was treated like a hero while he was there. They went to the Fox, a local pub, for a drink. They also attended a dance at the base that evening. Bessie remembers the dance. It was the only one they had while she was there. Bessie was at the dance but does not remember meeting Bob.
Finally, the milestone arrived that everyone was hoping for. On May 8, 1945, Germany sued for peace and the war in Europe ended. There was a celebration on the base for all off duty personnel as the constant threat of death and the long separation from love ones would finally end. Bessie wrote that: "When VE Day came about we celebrated by lighting a bonfire next to the campsite and were allowed into the Sergeants' mess that night to have a drink in celebration. This was beer with a red hot poker to warm it up! This is the one and only time I have been tipsy which worried me as I wondered what my mother would have to say if she had seen me!"
Life at High Street wasn't all work. Dad mentioned that he did get the occasional leave. Records show that he received a 1 week leave in early June 1945 and another from October 22, 1945 to October 28th. A picture survives that shows him and an unidentified corporal in front of Buckingham Palace. He also told me that he did get opportunities to swim in the North Sea. That water never warms up so Dad must have been pretty desperate to go swimming. Playing bridge also filled some of his spare time. He also told me that he played tennis at the courts at Wimbledon. The courts were open to servicemen during the war.
While the RCAF personnel did have a difficult time while on foreign deployment, there were support organizations working to make their lives easier. One of these groups that made a direct contribution to Dad was The Salvation Army. I was unaware of their great contribution till I noticed that the letter Dad sent Mom after Lois's birth had a Salvation Army logo on the envelope and the letterhead was the same. Additional research showed that in May 1940 the Salvation Army established leave accommodation for the men in London at the former West Central Hotel. There, soldiers could obtain a bed, breakfast, and bath for less than 50 cents a night. By early 1944, 70 Red Shield supervisors operated 30 centres and 55 mobile canteens in support of Canadian army and air force units. In all, Red Shield services provided Canadians with more than 270 million sheets of writing paper and envelopes, 38 million hot beverages from mobile canteens, and 35 million meals served in huts and hostels. More than 68 million people attended Salvation Army films and concerts. The letter from Dad used a Salvation Army envelope and paper and there is little doubt that he stayed at their hotel while on leave. It was a generous, freely given benefit that must has been greatly appreciated by all.
While May 8, 1945 was the official end of the war in Europe, there were millions of servicemen and women overseas and getting everyone home took a significant period of time. Dad had two strikes against him in this regard. First, he arrived in England relatively late in the war and the policy was that RCAF personnel who had been deployed the longest were sent home first. Secondly, even though there were no more enemy flights to track, there was a tremendous amount of air traffic to monitor. Bessie stated that after the VE party, their lives went on as normal. They served their shifts as if the war was still underway. This time, their role was to assist in air traffic control as there were a huge number of rescue and relief flights underway. Germany had starved the civilians in the Netherlands and food flights were underway on a priority basis. There were also numerous flights returning personnel from the mainland to England. High Street was ordered to monitor these flights, assist in tracking arrivals and departures plus monitor for emergencies and aid in rescues.
This surveillance effort kept High Street open until mid November 1945. Bessie remembers its closing and being sent to a Personnel Depot where she waited for months for her final release from service. Dad left on November 1, 1945 and went to #25 Aircrew Conditioning Unit for processing where he received a one week leave from Nov. 1st to Nov 8.