RTDF & Homer


Peter Smith

Before I start telling of my experiences I will explain a little about the terms used, RTDF - Radio Telephone Direction Finding, which I think is self explantory.

Homer---when aircraft flew off from airfields they would need bearings to return especially in cloud,fog etc. The word homer describes perfectly the equipment used to guide them 'home'. Airfields had static homers usually sited in line with runways so that the bearings they gave would be roughly in line for landings. In my case we had a mobile homer with the equipment housed inside and the direction finding aerials would project through the roof.
My pals were corporal Mike Woolard, SAC's Len Holt and Norman Cox. Mike was from London and is probably still there, Len originally from Burnley and Norman from Edgware could be anywhere.

I tried to locate my old RAF pals but without success, a pity as I have lots of photos from that time. So where do I start? I was quite keen to get in the 'mob' and was determined to make the most of it, I wanted a job that had something to do with aircraft so when RTDF was mentioned I fell for it--although it was 3 years. Not to worry I thought--whats another year with a little bit more money. I reported to Cardington where we were kitted out, got to know RAF procedures and down the pub most nights. What a jolt to the system on arrival at W.Kirby, this was early November 1954 and it was wet and cold.I was in total despair that first week and there was always the thought that if you did'nt come up to scratch--you would be back-flighted. But as you know everyone is in the same boat and towards the end you get confident and things start to look better.

Seeing that photo of the main gate reminded me of my guard duty stint. I fell asleep in one of those boxes and in the morning the whole camp was covered in fog. As you know you had to give a butt salute or present arms to officers arriving in the morning, I'm afraid a postman on a bike was very happy to get the full works from me and I'm sure it was a source of amusement to him coming every day and wonder how the guards would respond. Anyway after leaving there it was a spot of Xmas leave before going to Compton Bassett, I do not remember much of my time there other than going down to the A4 with lots of others to try and hitchhike home to N.London.

Stradishall, again not a lot to remember except being driven out to the Homer for live practice, there were a lot of aircraft there mostly Meteors and Vampires. At some point we were given a card to fill out, we had to give 6 choices of posting and my first choice was the far east then the middle east and so on until I was just left with the sixth choice. 'Put down home posting' said a sergeant. Well you guessed it I got home and my pal who had put that as his first choice and he got Hong Kong! I think they did it deliberately. Everyone looked on the map--some had got glamour postings--Biggin, Tangmere etc. I got Pucklechurch, Pucklechurch? even the sergeant did'nt know where it was, but it was eventually found and is near Bristol. When I reported there I could see hangers but no airfield (apparently it was an old WW two balloon station) Pucklechurch was a ground radio servicing station and I was told to report there but nobody seemed to know what to do with me so I just tried to lose myself and avoid NCO's.

Eventually I met another RTDF chap who had'nt a clue either, one day a scruffy corporal found us and told us we were to set up a mobile df unit and be part of a service team that would visit all the flying stations in the south and whilst the service team dismantled the CRDF we would provide the df--this was better and so for the rest of my time this is what I did. We spent roughly a week at each station and then moved on to the next, it was good--no more parades,kit inspections etc. We sometimes did night duty (with many a reciprocal being given whilst half asleep)

Len atop the Homer ------------Len on the left with me right.

We visited Lyneham several times but it was not our favourite as like Abingdon it was pretty awful--bad accomodation and food etc. The best was Benson, a very clean camp, good food and even a decent cinema. We seemed to have many adventures--some good,some bad and one I will never forget was when we were in South Wales and had sited the Homer in a field near Llandaff and unusually it was at the end of the runway. The airfield although operational was packed with Lancasters and Lincolns covered in mothballing material, it was a night duty job and the tower had said it was unlikely there would be any traffic but were to listen out anyway. Two of us were on one particularly foggy night and it was pretty eerie with the ghosts of the aircraft. Then we got a call on the RT, a Lincoln was lost and wanted bearings to land, tower advised of poor visibility but apparently he had to land, we gave our bearings and the pilot started his approach. My pal who was on the wheel said 'get outside and see if you can see him' I peered through the fog and saw his wing lights, he touched down but seemed off-centre so I yelled to my pal to get out of the Homer, we ran and threw ourselves in the grass outside and at the last moment the pilot saw the Homer and slewed round with a wing passing over the top and then taxied off up the runway.

We reported to the tower and then had a brew-up both very shaken. Later we both jumped as the door was opened and there was the pilot who came in and said how sorry he was etc and as he left he said he could'nt help laughing as he had seen us both jump out and disappear in the grass!

Came 1957 and de-mob and in a way it was all very sad, very mixed feelings, I was glad to get in and glad to get out.
One final ridiculous thing on my final day and I was 'clearing' and went to the medical officer who was just about to sign the card when he said 'hang on you have'nt had your jabs' ( I had been told I would have them when I got to a permanent camp). Do you know I had to have the lot before he cleared me and I travelled home with a very sore arm.

My wife and I went to Pucklechurch some years ago and it too is an HM prison. By the way and you may know this already, that there is a book called 'West Kirby and beyond' which I purchased off the net.
I am retired and spend most of my time doing family history(and other peoples) and am involved with a local history group in the village where I live in Bedfordshire.

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