Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Clyde Walker & Saxa Vord

Clyde Walker was never posted to Saxa Vord and he was never in the RAF. However, he did visit the Station on a number of occasions. In the late 70's Clyde, and his then girlfriend Ali, worked for several years with an ex RAF serviceman called Bill Borthwick in Hertfordshire. Bill had completed a tour on Unst in the early 60's and Clyde remembers Bill mentioning a remote posting he once had and that he'd played in a band - the details didn't sink in at the time!:

Early in 1983 Clyde and Ali got married. They moved to Somerset a few months later when Clyde got a job with Thorn EMI. At about the same time Bill decided to return to Edinburgh, his home city. Clyde had joined Thorn EMI as a Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer but, when a planned project was delayed, he was assigned to another project known as ASR894 (ASR= Air Staff Requirement). For sensible reasons the scheme was known as ADLBS (short for Air Defence Ground Environment Data Link Buffer System). In July 85 Clyde was to gain experience of Unst for the first time when he was sent to perform a QA assessment on the recently installed ADLBS System at Saxa Vord.
He was scheduled to fly from Heathrow to Edinburgh and then transfer to a Loganair Flight to Shetland (a Shorts 330 to Tingwall and then an Islander on to Baltasound) As many of you will know airline schedules are not always dependable. The flight was late leaving Heathrow, Clyde missed his Loganair connection and had an unexpected night-stop in Edinburgh. He managed to get in touch with Bill by phone and it was only in conversation during that night out that Clyde discovered that Saxa was the place that Bill had referred to years earlier.  On completion of this trip to Unst Clyde returned to Thorn EMI and soon was reallocated to a new post:

" In 1986 I left the QA department and became the manager of the contract that had, by then, come into force for the support of the ADLBS (still at Thorn EMI).  I was therefore in charge of the task to replace the Link antenna / tower that had collapsed during the infamous storm of 1992 – although I wasn't part of the on-site team.  We had to get a new tower manufactured and used a spare Link 11 antenna for the replacement activity; meanwhile the antenna that had collapsed was returned to Somerset for refurbishment by the original manufacturer.  The Link 11 antennas don't look that big when they are up on the towers but they are over 9m long and weigh over 500 kg!"


It was a number of years before Clyde returned to Saxa:  "My next visit to Saxa Vord was in 2005, when I was part of the on-site team installing and commissioning an update to the processing equipment used in the ADLBS.  I still remember walking up the 278 steps between the top and middle sites on a daily basis!"  Fortunately, he had a camera with him and he took the following sequence of photos on that trip:


The final picture in this group shows the Type 93 Dome and was taken between 29 Mar and 8 Apr 2005. The significance of this is that the photo will be among the last taken of Saxa when there was actually an operational radar on site. The Type 93 was dismantled and left Unst in the autumn of 2005.

Clyde returned to Saxa Vord in 2011 and , in his own words, "Sadly, in 2011 I was part of the team to switch off the ADLBS at Saxa Vord for the last time, remove all the electronic equipment, racks and console and drive it all back to Somerset for repair / test, so that it could be used as spares for the remaining ADLBS sites (by then Buchan, Boulmer and Neatishead)".  Luckily, Clyde had a camera with him on this visit too. 

In June 2012 the Operations Site (Mid Site) at Saxa was auctioned, with the RAF retaining the Radar (or Heads) Site. However, preparations for the auction were made well in advance and, by the time of Clyde's visit in 2011, a new chain-link fence had been constructed to separate the Heads Site from the Ops Site. Amongst other things this necessitated the dismantling part of some of the covered walkway between the two sites. Evidence of this change can be seen in the following photos:

The next photo has what looks like the old Type 13 plinth in the foreground (if I'm wrong I would be very happy to be corrected!)

The building in the next picture is much more modern and I'm sure it was used in a ground defence role:

The empty Type 93 dome can be seen in the background of this next photo but my particular interest is with the low structure in the foreground, which looks as if it has been made from locally manufactured blocks. It looks old & it may well have been intended for a different purpose when it was originally put together - if anyone knows its history I would be very pleased to hear from them.

One object, which was in situ long before the first RAF servicemen were on site, was the trig point. It became a familiar sight to many, especially in the days when the mast alongside was the home for an anemometer.

All UK Ordnance Survey Trig Points are individually numbered and the one on top of Saxa Vord is no exception:

In 2014 Clyde was made redundant ."By then, Thorn EMI had gone through several incarnations as Racal then Thomson-Racal then finally Thales - but when I left I was still in charge of the ADLBS support contract, having been associated with the project continuously for the 31 years of my employment there. "
Clyde's wife, Ali, had often said she would like to visit Unst and the two of them finally travelled north in Sep 2016 and took this last, long range photo of the Saxa top site:
 Clyde and Bill Borthwick lost contact for about 30 years.  However, during their visit to Unst, Clyde & Ali were amazed to see a photo of Bill and of his band, The Hustlers, taken by Denis Coutts in 1964.  Knowing the name of Bill's band was then the key to them finding this blog and the information on Bill.  Clyde & Bill have now re-established contact.
My thanks to Clyde for allowing us to share some of his memories & pictures.