Sunday, 31 March 2019

A History of RAF Skaw (AMES 56) - Some service anecdotes

In this section I have included the first-hand experiences of a few of the RAF servicemen who were posted to RAF Skaw. I have tried to put them in a chronological order but some of the accounts contain vague dates. A number of incidents have been recalled by more than one person and there are  occasional conflicts in the details given regarding events and equipment. It has been difficult not to make corrections regarding "facts" but a long period elapsed between the incidents and the memories being  recorded. I have resisted the temptation to alter accounts - they are as remembered by the people involved.  Most of these accounts were collected by my late mother-in-law in the 90's  (Lexie McMeechan, nee Sutherland) and by Squadron Leader Mike Dean, MBE, in the early 90's - I am grateful to them.

A list of these anecdotes is below and it should be noted that the last two people listed (David St George and Derek Lucas), although living in the RAF Skaw Domestic site and participating in the pursuits available at the CH station, were actually posted in to AMES 713, the Loran unit nearly a mile north of the Skaw CH station. (Left click on pictures to enlarge)
A Thorp, Radar Operator, Nov 40 to Apr 41
Frank Wells, arrived Nov 40
WF Badcock, LAC Radar Mechanic, 1166940, arrived Nov 40
Freddie Flowers - Wireless Operator,  Nov 40 to Mar or Apr 41
Harold Fisk - Radar Mechanic (Cpl) - 1940/42?
Cyril Cripsey - Radar Operator - arrived May '41
Bill Tanner, arrived Jan 1942
Don Wright, Aero Engine Fitter, Mar 42 until the end of WWII
Robert Moir, Radar Operator, Sep 42 to Mar 44
Maurice Blair. Radar Mechanic, Winter of 42
Ron Simkin, Radar Mechanic, Skaw 1943 - 44
Colin Dawson Reed - Radar Operator (RDF Mech after leaving Skaw) Date uncertain, about 1944
David St George - Radar Mechanic - Ames 713 (Loran), 1944/45
Derek Lucas - Radar Mechanic (LAC) - AMES 713 (Loran), 1944/45

A Thorp, Radar Operator, Nov 40 to Apr 41

First , I recall that we formed up as a unit at Wilmslow in October 1940 and proceeded by train to Aberdeen, marching though the streets to the docks where we embarked on a ship for Lerwick for possibly the most ghastly 24 hours of many of our lives - all so seasick we would willingly have died. We were then billeted in Lerwick for a short period before joining a cargo ship which carried both the personnel and all our vehicles up to the station. The voyage to Baltasound in the hold of that ship holds no special memories, so it was obviously not a repeat of our nightmare trip from Aberdeen. It was probably November by the time we arrived at Skaw and contractors men were still on site for some time. To the best of my recollection the three tall metal masts for the transmitter arrays were more or less complete but I can recall nothing about the receiver masts except they were the standard wooden jobs. I vaguely recall watching an aircraft (a rare event), which I was told was doing fights for calibration. So it is probably correct that we were not fully operational until January 1941.
As to the receiver itself it was, I believe, the same rather primitive equipment in a wooden hut, similar to what we had in a trailer at Carnanton in mid-1940. Could it possibly have been called an RF7?  At the time we arrived at Skaw, Saxa Vord existed as a Naval CHL on the top of a hill about a mile away.  It was run by a very small complement of sailors and we had little to do with them, though I have a vague idea of having visited them once. Another thing I particularly remember about Skaw, although I do not know how it first came up. There used to be a publication (perhaps still is) called the CD 200, which listed all RAF units with their correct postal address and nearest railway station. For the latter, there was only one truthful answer and that was Bergen in Norway!

I well remember the Christmas 1940 period. On one particular day we had an evening meal on long dining room tables, set out in our hut, (as distinct from the Airmen's Mess) and attended by the CO, Sqn Ldr Swinney and the Adjutant, Flt Lt Slater - who was a lawyer in private life (actually a Flt Lt and a Fg Off). The latter turned out to be a humorist who was the life and soul of the party, which totally belied his appearance.
We also had an England v. Scotland football match on Christmas Day. I know Scotland won 4-2. I was left-half for England - our goalkeeper was Cpl Wilkinson (RAF Police) and I believe Freddie Flowers played. I remember Cpl Stewart played for Scotland and their goalkeeper was named Finlay.

It was probably shortly before then this that we were shot up by a JU88 from Norway (no casualties but many narrow escapes) and we were then given rifles and a small amount of ammunition each for our protection. This led to groups of us going out along the cliffs and taking pot shots at anything that moved. Locals were very thin on the ground in those parts but, nonetheless,  protests came in very quickly. With the arrival of a detachment of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to give some kind of A.A. protection, our rifles were rapidly withdrawn.
My only recollection of anything specific in the radar field was a night watch when we plotted an FW200 (Condor) for a considerable distance out into the Atlantic. It gave a marvellous response and was immediately identified by our plotting room (this might have been Wick or even Pitreavie) but, much to our disappointment, they soon lost interest and told us to cease sending any more plots.  We seldom saw aircraft, either on the screen of in the air. But, sometime in February 1941 there was a Walrus seaplane that came up to Baltasound or Haroldswick for a few days and in this period I was sent for by the CO (Sqn Ldr Swinney) to be told that my brother, who was under aircrew training at Blackpool, had died. The CO said that he would not attempt to send me to his funeral because it was too far and could achieve nothing. I remember they could have squeezed me into the Walrus and got me down to Sumburgh or Lerwick. It was around this period (Jan/Feb 41) that we were completely snowed up and had to manhandle all our supplies by sledge part of the way from Haroldswick. We used to have working teams of six sent out to do the necessary. It was one hell of a winter up there.
Relief came when we were told that it had been decoded that, in view of our isolation,  our tour was to be limited to some six months. As we had all arrived together we were to have a grand draw to decide the order in which those various groups of trades should depart. I was fortunate to come out as No 1. of the Radar Operators and we were given a tumultuous send-off.

 I feel reasonably sure the CO was Sqn Ldr E Swinney (he was a Flt Lt at the time). I have a September 1943 Air Force List which shows him as Sqn Ldr Tech (Signals) at 1 Jun 42 and in a !975 Retired List he is shown as having retired as a Wg Cdr in May 1955 at the age of 48. But, of this first group of 4 or 5 chaps who left then I can only remember the name of the Radio Mechanic, who was a Cpl or LAC Fleming. We were told by the CO that he was unable to grant us any leave but that we should apply for it when we reached our new unit. This was regarded as diabolical, since none of us had had leave since Mar 1940 and we had been through a tough period. I endeavoured to convince my colleagues on the way down from Skaw that, since we were coming from the distant north, no one at our new Units knew how long it would take and, if we all spent a week at home, we could all arrive at roughly the same time - if anyone thought to check up. For instance, if we missed our boat connection at Lerwick for Aberdeen, it would in any event be a week to wait. I was bound for RAF Rye and there was some surprise when I eventually arrived as the signal notifying my posting was by then somewhat old.  I stuck to my story of being held up in Lerwick for a week - sod knows if the others had the effrontery to do the same.

Frank Wells, arrived Nov 40

I have attached a list of all the crew who arrived with Flt Lt Swinney in 1940/41 (?). I, and the people on the list, suffered "the awful" voyage from Aberdeen to Lerwick as I frequently recount how, lying on the deck of the boat,  a colleague drew my attention to the fact that my rifle was sliding away to the water - my response to his comment is unprintable!  The equipment for Skaw was loaded onto a fishing boat at Lerwick and the weather compelled us to stay just out of Baltasound until it was more favourable - at this stage the crew had to make the best they could for the night and, I remember, a few of us slept in the back of one of those 3 ton lorries. With the skill of servicemen we soon found that this lorry carried rations and we regaled ourselves with tins of fruit.

The steel masts at Skaw were, in fact, two that had been dismantled from Ventnor - at the time when  the aerial systems were being altered to be slung between two transmitter masts only. The MB2 and associated Receiver  were operated from two transportable masts during the whole of my stay. The station had several visits from enemy aircraft  during this time, apart from the regular passage of a German Condor returning from its Atlantic trips almost every day. On one occasion a civilian, working on the construction site, had an enemy bullet pass through the back of the roll-neck pullover he was wearing - I always understood that he was then required to change his pants! Another bullet passed through the bed of a member of the RAF Police, a few beds away from my own. Having been on night duty, he had only just left that bed! Several more bullets were fired into the occupied dining hall but no one was injured.  It was standard practise to scramble behind  an adjacent stone wall and fire rifles at these planes when they came over quite low.

Flt Lt WDA Smith was the CO at the similar station at the southern tip of Shetland and he came to visit Skaw on one, or more, occasions. I served under Smith subsequently in India and I am still in touch with him, meeting him now and again. We were aware of the Royal Navy, who certainly had a CHL unit operating on Saxa Vord during the whole of my six month stay at Skaw - we could of course see the aerial but, strangely enough, never met any navy personnel or heard of any contact with that unit. I believe I am correct that the Muckle Flugga lighthouse operated throughout WWII with the understanding that they did not communicate any information about shipping movements to anyone. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders certainly joined us to defend of Skaw - what a tough bunch they were! They supplied us with .303 ammunition for our rabbit shooting excursions - all of which were unsuccessful!

List of People in the initial contingent:

Ainsworth ?

Aldridge GW

Badcocck WF - RDF Mechanic

Barnard W

Brown JB (John)

Burke J

Dibblin S (Stan)
Feasey G (George
Ferguson W (Bill)
Fisher C (George)
Findlay W (Bill)
Fleming G
Flowers F - Wireless Op
Ford G
Gray L
Harris G
Hart J
Hartley GF
Hawes G
Hewitt ?
Howie J
Hyde RC- RDF Mechanic
Jones RA
Johnson D
Kay W
Latimer W
McGeachy J
McGeown B
Matlow ?
Medd G
Mottram JR
Muir J
Monroe AF
Murdoch D
Norman R
Parker B
Partington N (Norman)
Ramsay J
Reid W
Rich RW
Rowley ?
Saul FS
Shand WS
Sharman J
Simmons CW
Slater AD - Adjutant
Stewart c
Swinney E - First CO
Tabb RE
Tamblin  C
Taylor-Neale D
Thorpe A - RDF Operator
WF Badcock, LAC Radar Mechanic, 1166940, arrived Nov 40
I was one of the party that left Aberdeen that cold and wet afternoon in Autumn 1940. We embarked on the Ben-My-Chree - an Isle of Man ferry boat quite unsuitable for the North Sea crossing to Shetland (he made one more trip and was lost). She rolled like a barrel and made about 5/7 knots I should  think. I believe there were about 500 servicemen aboard and there was no accommodation except the decks. (See below for picture of the Ben-My-Chree, she was not lost but took part in the D Day landings and then continued in service until 1965).
During the night, in a severe storm, water cane aboard and washed us down to the lower decks - bruised and very wet. I finished up as near as I could to the engine room for what warmth and dryness there was to be had. It was the most horrific  journey I have ever suffered and many times during that long and frightening night I thought we might never make it. We had been issued with rations, corned beef, chocolate and biscuits but few of us could use them. The crew did make some tea but most of it was spilt before it could be drunk. I do not recall much of our landfall in Lerwick, except that we had to stand off for most of the day before the weather abated enough for us to continue our journey to Baltasound. Here the unloading of essential equipment and stores was the No 1. priority. The landing quay was a long way from the camp site and most of it had to be man-handled. I recall "borrowing" a gate from a farm to use as a sled - I don't suppose they got it back!
The domestic camp site had nissen huts and very little else, it was just as the riggers and builders had left it.  I noticed that the huts were anchored with cables right over the tops - these were most definitely needed as we had gales of 100 to 120 mph and anything not tied down took off. A 40 gallon barrel of diesel oil was lifted over an 8' fence and came to earth 50 yards away. It was quite impossible to walk upright outside - a visit to another hut had to be done on hands and knees.
At Christmas, days are dark from 4pm to 10am and we saw heavy snow. The locals said that they never had snow at Christmas so we must have brought it! The radar people had much to do in getting the station operational - the non tech types died of boredom, in fact one went berserk and had to be sent back - others tried it without success!  Many were town lads and they couldn't cope with the environment - a lesson here for personnel selection surely.
With the station on the air and the watch system working smoothly we settled down and then the first enemy action was noted. A German Condor came over at first light on a photographic flight - looked around and left. Up till then our CO had treated us civilian type airmen gently - no bull - get the job done and we did. That he insisted on a flag-raising parade each morning we supposed was because Kings Regs said it should be done. The very next day our Condor came back as usual and shot up both sites - some damage but, luckily, no casualties. The most serious damage was to the Tech Site ablutions, quite illegally made by the Mechs out of driftwood and oil drums to avoid the early shifts panic at the Domestic Site. The ablutions there were cold, inadequate and overcrowded - the best you could hope for was some privacy behind a rock which had not been used before! The Condor machine-gunner must have thought that our little hut on the cliff edge (for easy disposal of wastes) had some special significance for he shot it across and across, severing the seat so painstakingly fashioned  with primitive tools during long night watches. It was lucky that he was too early for anyone to have been in there.
The only real damage that happened at the Tech Site was a bomb, dropped from the same aircraft, which exploded close to the base of one of the 356' wooden towers and blew away the lower portion of one leg. Two radio mechanics were at the top at the time doing aerial maintenance.! Their descent is said to be the fastest time recorded! (The wooden towers were 240' tall). We had no more aircraft visits after that, but small boats from Norway with people escaping from Nazi occupation during the night made landfall near us and were passed over to the Navy for sympathetic processing.
The spring of 1941 was quiet and pleasant by comparison. I spent my spare time fishing in the burns - small trout were plentiful and easy to catch on a hand line - and trapping rabbits on the cliff to augment our diet. We also tried Eider Duck but these were definitely for the bedding and not for the pot! I got o know local people - I got many invitations to tea as I could fix their wireless sets - a great asset. I remember the reports of German submarines lying up at night in the shelter of the lighthouse at Muckle Flugga charging batteries, because they were safe there under international law.
From Unst I was posted to Devon. I would like to have gone back to Skaw but the opportunity never arose and I'm not likely to now. I'll rest on the memories.
Freddie Flowers - Wireless Operator,  Nov 40 to Mar or Apr 41
I was posted to join the initial party, to set up and operate RAF Skaw in October/November 1940. I was at the time an 18 year old Wireless Operator AC 1, with one years experience of working on CH type Radar. Our C.O. was a Flt.Lt. Swinney, an engineer. Unfortunately I can't remember any of the other personnel.
We sailed to Lerwick from Invergordon in one of the pre-war cross channel ferries, taking with us the Radar Tx and Rx, diesels, Communication equipment, stores etc..
On arrival in Lerwick, we were billeted on the local inhabitants until a suitable coaster type ship could be found big enough to take us and our equipment to Baltasound and which could dock them. This happened after a week.
On arrival at Baltasound, all the equipment had to be lifted onto the jetty and the Tx and Rx was moved some considerable distance on wooden rollers until it could finally be manhandled onto a local farmers tractor and trailer and transported to the tech site at Skaw Point. This took most of the day in driving rain and sleet and on arrival the equipment we found to be full of sea and rain water. While the technical staff attempted to dry it out, the rest of the personnel were employed as labourers getting the diesels, diesel oil, technical equipment and stores from the jetty to the site. We were issued with sheepskin coats which were so stiff and heavy and came down to our ankles so it was impossible to work in them. They were alright for just standing in. Also we were issued with a daily tot of rum throughout our stay on Unst.
On our arrival at the site we found that the masts and technical blocks had been built on the Point, also the road from Baltasound to the site had been very such improved if not completely rebuilt. The domestic site, which was about half a mile inland from the point, consisted of about 7 large nissen huts and one small one. Four of these were our billets, 2 were stores huts and the remaining one was 2/3 the dining- ball and 1/3 the canteen. The small one was the C.O.s quarters. For the whole of our stay there we had no entertainments, film shows etc and each evening was spent in the canteen which sold draft beer, cigarettes and toilet requirements only. I remember that late each evening the canteen floor was awash with beer.
We had been on site for 3 or 4 weeks, when one morning we were all indoors keeping warm when suddenly a Dornier appeared at about 500' machine gunning our living quarters. He circled us two or three times and you could clearly see the gunners shooting at us. At the first shots we rushed outside with our rifles which were the only defence we had and I like most of the others took cover behind a small tuft of grass and returned his fire. Our C.O. was rushing about firing his revolver into the air and shouting take cover. Behind what I am not sure. The technical site, which was not yet operational, was not attacked. On checking the damage, we were amazed to find that no one had been hurt. Our billets were full of bullet holes and so were our clothes and equipment which was hanging on the walls. The worst was the dining hall, the tables were riddled with bullets, bottles of sauce, glass and crockery were in pieces. If we had been eating at the time of the attack we would have had many casualties.
As a result of this attack, a detachment of Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders ware sent to defend us and two or three machine gun posts were established. About a week after their arrival, one evening they broke into the storeroom and drank the entire stock of rum. The snow was about three feet deep, and we had to search the area in the dark and get then all inside before they froze to death. We were not pleased, but I'm pleased to say that the rum was replaced.
At this time we had Hurricanes stationed at Sumburgh and a squadron of Walrus's at Sullom Voe. Any urgent supplies or equipment we needed was flown us to us by a Walrus, landing in the bay at Baltasound. I remember having to row out and collect the stores on the odd occasion. I don't remember when we become operational, but as the only W.Op I controlled the Blenheim doing the calibration flights. As these flights went out East for some distance towards Norway, a close watch had to be maintained for any attacking enemy aircraft. Fortunately there were none.
The next thing which may be of interest, was that a Sunderland force-landed in the sea off the west coast of the island. Fortunately the sea was reasonably calm and the C.O. and I spent the night on the cliff top talking to the crew by aldis lamp, being a W.Op. I had become useful again. The following morning a rescue launch arrived and it was decided to attempt to tow it into Lerwick. A quantity of large fish barrels were therefore obtained and lashed to the wings to help to keep it afloat. This was successful and it made it safely to Lerwick. I'm sure that you could get additional information of this from the local press at that time.
About this time the Navy installed a Radar on the hill behind us. I think that it was one of the 5000 series but as I didn't see it I can't be sure. During my stay on Unst, a number of small boats came across from Norway to escape the Germans. In particular I remember one very small boat arriving with a husband and wife and one child. In the rough seas, the child had been lashed to the mast for most of the journey of two to three days.
Finally in March/April I left Unst and had to wait in Lerwick for about a week for the next boat to the Mainland. During my stay there, I heard that the technical site at Skaw Point had been attacked and one of the masts destroyed by a bomb. This I can't confirm, but I'm sure you can confirm this from the local press.
I hope that these recollections of my stay on Unst in the early days may be of some use to you. Although the facts are correct and the year, the months may be slightly out. As a matter of interest, I returned to Unst in 1977 as a senior member of the TAC EVAL team for Saxa Vord. During my stay I visited the Point and wandered around what was then left of the original buildings.
Haraold Fisk - Radar Mechanic - 1940/42!
The following is part of a transcription from a cassette tape sent by ex-Cpl Harold Fisk, who was stationed at RAF Skaw 1940/41 as a Radar Mechanic. Mr Fisk says he is now aged 84 years old  (in 1997).
When I was posted to RAF Skaw in autumn 1940 I went to a nearby library and got a map and found Skaw on the Shetland Isle of Unst, so I knew where I was going.
We went to Inverness, then to Aberdeen, where we went down to the docks and were put on a boat called the St Rognvald, which was a cargo boat going up to Lerwick. On board were several cows, a couple of motor cars, civilians, Army people, all sorts. As we left Aberdeen the cook down in the lower part of the boat had opened his window (porthole), forgot blackout regulations, and a slit of light was showing,  so we were attacked by a Dornier (a German plane). He dropped about five bombs, the first one close to the boat, and the other ones far away, so we managed to dodge that lot and got to Lerwick. After reporting there we were told to wait for a boat going to Unst. I found Lerwick very pleasant, went to the pictures, there was a little cinema with a gallery.
Next day we got a boat, which was a fishing drifter called the "Thistle", a very small boat, it bobbed about like a cork. We arrived at Baltasound where a lorry was waiting for us and transported us to Skaw.
RAF Skaw hadn't been going for long, and wasn't very organised, there were various huts with hawsers at the top, anchored down to big concrete blocks, to stop them being blown away. I was in one of them with 15/20 other air force men. It was very cold and wintry.
The Radar Units consisted of two big buildings and wooden towers which held the Radio masts The Transmitters were the MB2, the mobile Broadcaster, and the receiver was the KN3A.
I only remember two air raids while was at Skaw and one at Saxavord, which was a Naval Station up on the hill behind Skaw.
At about 7.30 one morning we saw a plane flying at Burrafirth on the North side of Unst (a narrow inlet with high cliffs ) where the plane was flying underneath, then it flew up towards the camp. We put out a red warning to the guns, which were manned by Army people and they only had small machine guns in a sandbagged encampment. Then the plane flew over Skaw and opened up with his guns, and dropped about half ­a dozen bombs. They dropped in the peat and bounced two or three times, so instead of having one hole per bomb we had four or five, which was very difficult, as later we had to dig the bombs out. They sent a demolition squad up from Kidbrooke? - (I think it was), they came and had the slow job of defusing the bombs. They had to put a clamp on the nose of the bomb to stop the mechanism from ticking, this consisted of a magnet powered by a couple of 12v batteries, which actually jammed the mechanism from ticking. The explosive had to be heated and drained off and then soap pumped in and, I remember now, it was the old yellow Primrose bars of soap that was used to pump in  to force the Amatol out (I think that's what the explosive was called). It was a tedious job There was no damage done to the Radar Section at all, but one or two of the bombs dropped among the civilian workers caused a bit of trouble. The main damage was caused in the various bathrooms where the wash ba­sins and lavatory howls were blown off the wall and considerably damaged, much to everyone's annoyance.
About Xmas 1941 we were attacked by a Ju88 which came up from the south. I think he'd been to Fair Isle first and chivvied them, then came and machined-gunned Skaw, didn't hit anything of vital importance and went back to Fair Isle where he was shot down by a couple of Hurricanes.
After several months I applied for leave, and it was granted. I was just turned loose outside RAF Skaw with no transport, made my way to Baltasound and got on a fish­ing boat which I think was called the Lord Keith?, and was taken to Lerwick. After a wait I got on an Army troopship leaving for England, it was completely for Army people and, as I was in RAF uniform, I was not officially allowed on. They were mainly Scottish troops and some of them were in a very happy mood, and one was having trouble with his rifle and kitbag so I grabbed his rifle and slung it over my shoulder and helped him up the gangway, so I got on the ship and disappeared. We went to Invergordon.
After I got home to Southwold I went to where I'd worked when I first left school. There I used to do duplicates on a big Roneo? It was still there in the cellar unused, so I got the proprietor to let me have it for use at the Skaw station. We had to take it to pieces and send it to Unst in separate parcels.
On the way back I called at the Roneo Firm in Edinburgh and explained that I'd need paper for duplicating and I'd want about 100 sheets a week. They said as it was war­time they weren't allowed to sell any paper at all. After a bit of discussion they said they would GIVE us some paper and we would GIVE them some money, and that was how it was done. They used to send us about 100 sheets of paper and 1 would send them the odd 10/- now and again.
Anyhow back at Skaw we put the Roneo all back together. I'd got the paper, for copying, some of the blokes were good on the typewriter and we had several artists, so we got this magazine together which we called the "Outpost" and made about 20 copies a month. It was kept going for a long time. When I left Unst I gave the dupli­cating machine to the local parson, who used it for hymns and prayers.
I made some friends among the local people, I used to visit a family called Hender­son, and exchanged Xmas cards with them for some time. There was also a family called Mouat at Norwick. I liked being in Shetland.
The food was ordinary and to supplement that I went to the little shop at Haroldswick. We used to get a big canvas float and attach a long line to it with hooks and baited it and let it drift out in the bay and usually got several fish to go to the cookhouse, and we got gulls eggs.
At Xmas 1940 I went with a party to Muckle Flugga lighthouse, at the North end of the island. We hadn't been in touch to say we were coming, but they were very pleased to see us, we took some Readers Digests and other magazines. We stopped there and had a meal, it must have been very lonely being out there. They could only cross in fair weather and, at times, it was so rough they had quite a job to get supplies.
I don't remember any ENSA concerts, or the like, but I do remember the Moderator of the Church of Scotland paid a visit, a very large bloke, very pleasant. He brought a little team with him and stayed the night. They had a good feed all laid out special, but we didn't get any extra at all.
There was a very comical interlude when a message came through to send a lorry down to pick up the Countess of Ayr, so 2 or 3 boys polished up their buttons and got ready to meet the Countess. When they got to Baltasound all they saw was a little bloke in a bowler hat and he said, "Well, what do you want" and they said they were looking for the Countess of Ayr. He said "I don't know anything about the Countess of Ayr, but I am the County Surveyor," which went down rather well!
During my spell on Unst I remember going to crofters houses and repairing their vari­ous wartime radios.
I pass on my kind regards and best wishes to the Shetland people who were so kind to me when I was up there.

Cyril Cripsey - Radar Operator - May '41
I believe it was May '41 when 3 of us Radio Ops were posted from Newchurch to Skaw. We were given 48 hours leave before having to report to the RTO at Inverness. Of my two companions, one lived at York, the other in the East End of London. The latter, a most persuasive character, talked we two into taking an extra days leave and to meet on York Station.
Incidentally no servicemen knew the location of Skaw, including the RTO at Inverness who arranged transport for us to a country house near Invergordon. On our arrival we were given a real rollicking but it soon came to light that, had we been on time, we would have travelled on the boat which, somewhere between Aberdeen and Lerwick received a direct hit from a Jerry bomb, it was either the St Sunniva or the St Oliver. Our own voyage was not uneventful - Jerry spotted us and dropped a stick of bombs which straddled the ship without causing damage or casualties.
I must admit that I had not expected my RAF service to take this particular course and, after a splendid B&B in Lerwick, my bewilderment was further confounded. About six of us boarded a Navy requisitioned trawler loaded with stores for various islands. Although we had little protection from the elements I consoled myself by thinking that if  a fisherman could do this for a living then we stood a good chance of making landfall. After a number of calls we eventually tied up at a small jetty at Baltasound. Nearby we saw a submerged vessel which was identified to us as the original Earl of Zetland.  The last leg of our journey was completed in a canvas-topped Standard 8 RAF truck.
My recollections of Skaw are centred on the non-technical aspects rather than the technical. After a few weeks I found myself asking were we serving and useful purpose, remembering that at Newchurch we were continuously tracking hostile formations.
Up on the hill behind us was a Naval CHL type station - "HMS Fox". We lower ranks had no contact, either technically or socially, with this outfit. We were situated near Muckle Flugga Lighthouse - the Tech Site comprising two wooden huts individually protected by tall brick walls next to two 90' wooden towers on a point stuck a quarter of a mile out into the North Sea. The Domestic Site of Nissen huts was situated where the spit joined the island itself. A construction firm was in the process of building a more modern set-up - a CH with 200' towers.
On duty we would track the big Condors, seeking the Atlantic and Russian convoys. We often saw them with the naked eye as they flew low in a north-westerly direction. On three occasions (I believe) we tried to shoot them down - each time unsuccessfully - they were well armed and we lost one plane at least. Occasionally we would pick up a faint blip just beyond the Ground Ray approaching very slowly, It would be a Norwegian fishing boat crowded with escapees plus, usually, a Quisling. On landing they were sent post-haste to Aberdeen.
It was interesting that, whereas life on duty was pretty boring, as far as I was concerned that was not the case off-duty. At the risk of boring you or, referring to incidents you may already be aware of, I will refer to a few. After lunch could be an exciting time. Junkers 88's from Denmark (I believe), would seek allied shipping but, if one was out of luck,  rather than take home his bombs he would drop them on us. If off-duty we would be lying in our beds when we would be disturbed by the roar of a kite passing nearly overhead very low. It was the cue for a very smart exit through a door or window to shelter behind the adjacent perimeter dry wall next to the road. Some chaps by accident or, more often by design, would be in the gorse a little way up the hill. Their view best describes what was taking place. The Junkers, sitting on the waves below our radar, would lift up over the cliffs and drop a couple of large bombs. Having such a low trajectory they would hit the peaty ground and bounced passed the camp either continuing into the opposite bay or, burying themselves. By this time the 88 had done a tight left hand turn and returned to blast us with his machine guns - he usually made two runs. On our exit some of us would grab our Lee Enfield rifles and, from the shelter of the wall, would fire off a number of rounds in the general direction of the plane.
These incidents disrupted what was, generally speaking, a well-regulated lifestyle! What was amazing was that no one was killed during my stay and only one who was injured as a result of Jerry's attention - that was yours truly. I was leaving camp to walk to Haroldswick with a colleague when Jerry tore over. Having no walls to protect us we dashed up the hill. As Jerry passed on his first machine gun run I felt a bang on the back of my neck and fell into a peaty bog. I had been hit - not by a bullet but by a Bonxie (Skua), I had strayed too near its nest. As it came again I ran for my life, careless of the fat that Jerry was coming round again. Picture of a Bonxie (Great Skua) from the Scottish Wildlife Trust:
As I said, to my knowledge, there were no injuries - though  the civilians went on strike and a number of RAF personnel suffered nervous disorders. You will appreciate everyone got a little bit fed up with this treatment - it might have helped if we had known they were coming! Actually we did have an old machine gun but it was pretty ineffectual - especially when it worked! The CO asked the powers that be for more protection emphasizing in his request not the bombing but the fact that the Destroyer that had lain off the island  when we arrived had been withdrawn, presumably for,  more urgent business . One day the excitement that greeted the wagon when it brought the mail etc was increased when two large wooden  crates were unloaded. The opening of the crates was greeted with hushed amazement. One crate contained rough pike heads and the other heavy duty Air Ministry broom handles. A number were assembled and we danced around like Dervishes, thrusting the pikes high in the air. Had Cpl Jones been around one would have heard the well known words, " they don't like it up 'em!"
Down in Haroldswick was a little wooden general store run by Mr "Yes Yes" . Two memories of my first visit came back vividly. Firstly, the sight of tins of chocolate digestive biscuits, long since disappeared from shops down home. My friend and I bought a tin each to send home to Mum! Secondly, Mr Anderson, the proprietor. His every sentence contained up to four "yes's". Example:
Customer -  "A fine day today Mr Anderson".
Mr A. - "Yes -yes, yes - yes, fine indeed, yes".
From then on - but not to his face - it was "Mr Yes, Yes"
I must relate that a stroll to the shop was a ritual.  On a really fine day it was a delightful, marvellous views. Birds of every kind, ladies in black carrying peats to the rear of the crofts. For companionship we normally went in couples. We strolled along the rough road and as we drew level with the first croft a lady might appear in the doorway. We exchanged greetings and then the standard invitation - "Will you take a cup of tea and a baskat?" Naturally we accepted, crossing the threshold into a dark interior to be seated at a scrubbed pine table. After a few moments our eyes became acclimatised and shadows would clear into objects. The old American Organ, skate tails strung on lines between nails either side and across the chimney breast.. Grandfather dozing in the corner. Meths would be poured into a tin lid beneath the cast kettle - it was already hot from the smouldering peats in the hearth in the corner. The biscuit tin was placed on the table - the old boy was awakened and soon we were chatting away. They in their delightful Shetland dialect - yes we knew we were nearer Norway than mainland Scotland. No excuse need be made to leave, both parties had observed a courtesy and we were on our way.
I  think there were five crofts by the route - one night we called in at one other on the outward journey. Shopping done we would commence our return, contemplating which crofters, being previously away, would waylay us . Word travels fast in out of the way places and, without fail, at one of the crofts we would be greeted with "Ye did not tak the tee and baskat". Such hospitality as I have not experienced before or since - delightful people.
The wind blows strong on Unst. Our huts were tied down with steel hawsers and each entrance had a lobby. In high winds heaven help anyone who, on entering, opened an inner door before closing the outer. I recall one 24 hours when wind gusts exceeded 100mph. Our watch left in the Commer for the 18.00 to 23.59 watch - we just made it without being blown over. During the evening the wind strength increased  and, had we not had the protection of brick walls round the Rx and Tx huts, we might not have survived. The previous watch had not advised us to take a supply of coal as the stock for the tortoise stoves (one in each hut), was practically nil. We advised the Domestic Site.  Later we were to learn that the Commer tried to reach us with a couple of bags - it was blown over. Two SP's tried to reach us with a wheelbarrow - it was impossible. It soon became obvious that we would not be relieved and the temperature was dropping rapidly. Around midnight someone had the bright idea of opening a large earthenware container of Navy rum - the raison d'ĂȘtre for which no one seemed to know. The Cpl i/c obtained the OK from the Domestic Site. I volunteered to take a good measure to the mechanic in the Tx hut - fortunately only a few feet separated the two buildings. On my return I took my measure - that's the last I remember of that watch - I was not the only one. I came to when I was being half carried to the wagon around about 8am. The storm had abated sufficiently for the relief watch to reach the site. This severe weather often affected supplies when heavy seas prevented the trawler reaching us.
One day we were discussing the monotony of the canteen menu and a Corporal suggested looking into catching fish and in sufficient quantities to feed the whole camp.. An elderly crofter offered us the use of his rowing boat and a Corporal and I, using simple tackle comprising a pole, line and a hook dressed in silver paper and pony hair, caught great quantities of Mackerel. We just rowed around an adjacent bay close to the rocks trailing the "flies" behind. From Mackerel  we progressed to Cod fishing with the help of the old crofter through advice and the provision of tackle - this was more complicated. Two weighted buoys were joined to each end of approx 100' of heavy twine. Every six or so feet was tied a six foot line with a hook baited with a Mackerel strip. Having paid the whole across the mouth of the bay we would heave-to for 20 minutes, then start lifting the lines. On a good day we would catch sufficient fish in a couple of hours. There were a couple of alternatives, either none or Dogfish. If the latter we brought into play our secret weapon, a three foot long cudgel - a very stout stick. One fellow would lift the Mackerel half out of the water, the other would administer one almighty clout to the side if the head - it usually fell off. Dogfish were never eaten by the Shetlanders.
I will always remember rowing back to the beach after a good haul - my Corporal smoking his filthy pipe in the stern - when I saw two rectangular objects 30 yards to the rear and approaching steadily. They came each side about ten feet away, now just triangles about nine inches tall, Sharks - never have I rowed so fast. When we told the old crofters they were highly amused and told us to send a truck down to the beach the following afternoon. This was done and a 12 foot shark was displayed outside the guardroom for a couple of days before it had to be dumped over a cliff.
From Cod we tried to progress to Skate and Halibut but the locals firmly and politely refused to divulge their methods. The stories we were told of the size of the fish were tall to say the least and we were never able to confirm or deny the statistics.
I was fortunate to watch wool being dyed in barrels, spun, woven and knitted in a half-light by  unwatched magic fingers into much sought after garments., I bought a jumper for 15/-, a beret for 5/- and a pair of gloves for 2/6.
On a fine day I found nothing more pleasurable than lying on a cliff edge watching the thousands of birds - gulls, cormorants, shags swooping down to sea but, more interesting, were the puffins. They would waddle to within three feet, have a good look at one, move to the cliff edge, fall off,  glide downwards then return to its take-off point and stand there, apparently awaiting applause.
Well Mike, these are a few scribbled snippets concerning my stay on Unst. No doubt I could delve deeper and recall more - be it sufficient to say that from Skaw I was posted overseas. My next overseas port of call was Durban, followed by Cairo, Jerusalem, Jericho, Amman, Alamein. Mersa Matruh, Sicily, Italy - right up the east coast to near Cortina d'Ampezzo, Klagenfurt then home to Hopten.

Bill Tanner, arrived Jan 1942
In November 1941 I was called up  and went to RAF Cardington. From There I was sent to the Bournemouth area for initial training. In mid-December I was posted to the Shetlands via Aberdeen and a nearby RAF Station but, because I arrived too late for the boat to Lerwick, I was sent on a fortnights leave. When I returned I was sent to Invergordon, where I spent a night in an Army Transit Camp. At about 6 o'clock on a Tuesday evening, I boarded a boat for Shetland. I was carrying papers for myself and another chap, we had a rough crossing.
On arrival in Lerwick the next day I reported to the RAF Transport Centre. I went to a cafe for a meal with some other personnel and the found the private lodgings I was to stay in. On the Friday morning I boarded the old Earl of Zetland but the ship did not sail that day and we had to return to our lodgings. We tried to get away the next day but the skipper said that the ship still would not depart. Finally, on Monday, the Earl left the harbour.
We arrived at the Baltasound pier at 6 o'clock that night - it was very cold, dark and there was snow around. We had to wait whilst a lorry was loaded with stores, then about 10 of us (including the General Duties guys who had loaded the lorry), clambered up on top. My hut was alongside the police accommodation and in front of the Decontamination Building, which was there in case of gas attack. Across the main road from us was the cookhouse and dining room, plus a games room. The next day we could see that the site still had trenches for cables which had not been filled in. I remember the cable trenches well - one dark morning I fell in one!
At the time when I arrived there was a detachment of Gordon Highlanders with their own accommodation at the northern side of the camp, together with a kitchen next to the NAAFI. When the Gordons left we moved up to that kitchen There was also a boot repairer in that area and the Officers' Quarters were east of and close to the NAAFI. Much further away, at the east end of Lambaness, were anti-aircraft gunners with their own huts. Later on during my time at Skaw a cinema was added to one of the mess halls and some musical instruments were provided. This is a very rough sketch of what the camp looked like when I arrived:
The numbered huts at the bottom of the sketch were allocated as follows:
No 1.  Cooks, Radar Mechanics, Radar Operators and Service Police (until new Police accommodation was built at the back of the guardroom),
No 2. Radar Mechanics, Radar Operators, General Duties.
No 3.  M.T.
No 4.  Radar Mechanics, Radar Operators and the boot repairer was either in  Hut 4 or close by.
Don Wright, Aero Engine Fitter, Mar 42 until the end of WWII
Don Wright was serving in the RAF as an Aero Engine Fitter at RAF Benson when, in Mar 42, he was posted to RAF Skaw (a slight change from the Wellington Bombers he was used to). He remained on Unst throughout the rest of the War, eventually being put in charge of the Power House and attaining the rank of Flt Sgt. He was the first RAF man in WWII to marry a local girl, Maggie Thomson from Setter, Haroldswick - which probably explains his long spell of duty at Skaw!
His first trip to Shetland was by troopship from Invergordon to Lerwick. He was accompanied by two other airmen, Frank Smith (an Electrician) and Fred Fothergill (also an Aero Engine Fitter). Fred Fothergill was eventually to become the best man at Dons wedding. They had to spend 3 days in local billets in Lerwick, where there was sleet and snow, before heading to Unst on the "Earl of Zetland". On arrival at Baltasound they were met by an RAF truck, which transported them to Skaw. Don remembers that they were amazed to see ponies run along the road in front of the truck on the way north.
Don recalls the kind welcome airmen got from local folk when they ventured out to buy eggs; being taken in and sat before a warm peat fire, given tea and bannocks spread with home-made butter. Eggs were bought at two shillings and sixpence per dozen (12 & a half pence in today's money). Eggs were a tasty addition to the camp food and fine gifts to send home where families were rationed to one egg per week for each person.
He remembered dances in the Haroldswick Hall where it seemed strange at first to see the Tilly Lamps being pumped up and swaying in the roof whilst dancers stamped and cheered below. Don played the Drums in the RAF Skaw band with Tom Anderson on the Fiddle - Tom, a well known Shetlander was  in the RAF at the time. Others who played on the band included Sgt Len Ash (trumpet), Maurice Gould (piano), Tim Acum ????(saxophone, clarinet or accordion). Of course the band members changed as personnel came and went on posting. An Airman, who had been a dancing instructor in civilian life, held dancing lessons in the hall to help local girls, who had never done modern dances before. They learned the foxtrot, quickstep, tango etc - the lessons were well attended and enjoyed by all. Don thought that the instructors name was Cunningham and that he had worked at "Dicksons Dance Academy" in Edinburgh before the war. The local girls had only seem Scottish dances before they arrived so it was a big change for the local girls - the local young men were all conscripted to the war.
Entertainment on the camp was often supplied by the airmen organising concerts and plays, performed by all ranks. One play called "White Cargo" was a special success, the star being a young airman, Clem Dobbas, who acted the part of a native girl called "Tomdelyeo" (see below for the programme). ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) parties visited the Skaw camp.  One group, with Dougie Robinson, arrived on  a Friday on the Earl of Zetland with most of the cast too sick to perform on arrival, after a rough trip from Lerwick. The Earl left next day without them and didn't return for a week. During the time the party was there the camp enjoyed a week of shows but that ENSA group vowed never to return!
Don remembered  some airmen occasionally borrowed a boat from some Scott men, who lived at Norwick. The idea was to catch fish but one day they were caught on an out-going tide and had badly blistered hands by the time they managed to row back to safety. They had been observed and called before the CO - they were forbidden from going to  sea again in a small boat during their time at Skaw. One night there was a severe gale and a scheduled dance at Haroldswick was cancelled but Don cycled down to Setter to see Maggie. When he headed back he claims that the wind was so strong it propelled him up the Floggie road and he didn't have to pedal until he reached the bend at the top! He reckoned it was just as well that the camp huts had ropes over them that night. He also recalled how the windows and doors rattled in the wind. In a letter to Unst after the war he mentions another Power House at Outer Skaw that he was in charge of - this must have been intended to  serve the Remote Reserve for RAF Skaw and/or the Loran site AMES 713 from late 1944.
After the war Don and Maggie emigrated to Australia, where they settle and raised a family.

Robert Moir, RDF Operator, Sep 42 to Mar 44
September 1942 brought a posting to RAF Skaw and, to my surprise , 11 days embarkation leave. Four of us  disembarked from the SS Amsterdam at Lerwick and, on the way to 70 Wing Detachment a few hundred yards along the dockside at Mitchells Yard, I decided that Shetland was not for me. On arrival at HQ I immediately volunteered for an overseas posting, the end result was that I spent 18 months at Skaw. Travel from Lerwick to Skaw was by the SS Earl of Zetland, an all day trip on what was reputedly the oldest ship on Lloyds Register. I can well believe this to be true. In passing, I never sailed a yard on this boat in good weather.
Skaw was a culture shock. The domestic site was built on what can only be described as a peat bog and the most noticeable thing was that down each side of the huts were concrete blocks with a wire cables over the huts and bedded down in the blocks - to keep the roofs on during the ever present gales.
First off we were issued with gear required for living there. There were seven blankets, which were never changed or cleaned in our 18 months, roll-neck pullovers and sea boot stockings, because we were never out of gumboots, sleeveless leather jerkins and watch coats of canvas, sheepskin and oilskin - all of which went onto the bed in winter!
Operationally, most of our time  was spent looking at a blank screen, with the odd bit of excitement. For example, the day the filter room at Lerwick asked if we had anything at a range of 60 miles and, if we did not could we get it quickly as it was bombing the hell out of the harbour there! Unfortunately, we were a CH station and it was too low for us. Our best customer was what was referred to us  as "Weather Willie". Apparently it set off from the west coast of France, out into the Atlantic and on to Norway at our extreme range. This happened to or three times a week.
Somehow, when the travelling aerial riggers arrived to do maintenance, I was "volunteered" to assist them. I can recall the most important part of the equipment was a broad leather strap or belt. This tied one to the aerial  masts in high winds, The day I was sent up the 360' transmitter array in a bosuns' chair in a howling gale is best forgotten.
Presumably because of boredom, characters abounded. There was the Canadian mechanic who, for a bet, did a handstand at the very top of the 240' receiver mast. Another who organised a race from the domestic site - up to the top of the 360' aerial and back and who had to be rescued because he froze half-way up. My particular pal, Leo, got a 48 hour pass and went to bed for the two days. the same chap had me on a cliff climbing expedition on which we were marooned on a sheer face for hours. Another hero decided to clear the flue of the billet stove by firing a rifle up it. A week later we were still clearing soot from our bedding and clothing.
Organised entertainment consisted mainly of films and ENSA shows. The films were very up to date but the ENSA effort was dreadful. These shows usually consisted of four people - in peacetime they would be enthusiastic amateur entertainers. However, there was usually a pretty girl, which was reason enough to attend them.

Food was not too bad , but the Christmas menu was NOT typical of the daily fare (see below).
 Eggs could be bought from the locals and the local shopkeeper was not too fussy about ration cards with regard to things like bacon. Occasional fish were caught and all of the above was illegally cooked in the billets. Once per week a ration party was made up from the off-duty watch and driven to Baltasound to unload the supply drifter. Less often, a large party was made up to discharge coal or coke from the same boat - not a favourite occupation.
Eleven days leave were granted every six months. In my case I left Skaw at 5am on Tuesdays and reached home (Dundee) on Fridays. I don't know how long one Cornish laddie got at home. It was with no regret that I left Skaw for the last time in March '44.
Maurice Blair. Radar Mechanic, Winter of 42
I was a Radar Mechanic attached to a rigging party that visited the CH Station on Unst during the winter of 1942, m in fact we were there at Xmas time.
We were installing the Dipole and Reflector arrays and feeder tubes on the four wooden towers. I can't remember exactly how long we were on Unst, but it would have been a number of weeks.
We also did similar work at Sanday Island in the Orkneys, that was before going to Unst. I spent one year with the aerial riggers and the rest of my five years in the RAF was as a Radar Mechanic on several different AMES in England. My RAF career finally took me to Germany and I was demobbed from there in 1946.
Our depot was at Kidbrooke in SE London, so we travelled by train to Inverness, then flew in an old, 2 engined biplane, these were First World War bombers converted to 14 seat transport planes! - they were called Harrows. We landed near Sumburgh Head, travelled by road to Lerwick, then by road and sea to Unst. I'm afraid I don't remember the exact route. When we arrived the camp seemed to be well established, all personnel appeared to be there and all huts and towers were complete. No attacks by enemy aircraft took place during our stay at Skaw.
The only local person that I remember was an old man who used to come and watch us working. We had a very long tent in which we used to assemble the feeder tubing. At Christmas I only remember the camp people. That's WAAFs and RAF making merry in the NAAFI canteen, some of them too merry.
There were four steel towers for the transmitting aerials, these were 365' high and the aerials were slung between the arms of the towers. The receiver towers were 247' high and contained 91 tons of timber. the legs were of 10 inch square oak - we were fitting the aerial arrays to these towers. The actual aerials were brass tubes mounted on insulators and the feeder tubes were of copper. We had to assemble 22 foot lengths of tubing with a copper wire inside them into 225 foot lengths and then haul them up the towers and, of course, fix them. Each tower had eight of these 225 foot lengths. There was a lot more to it than these brief details but I guess that's all you need to know. It was a bit like a plumbing job as all the wires and tubes needed to be soldered.
During a 5 year period in the RAF Maurice served on around 19 radar stations and it is likely that some of the information in his recollections was confused.
1. The Harrow aircraft Maurice refers to is actually the Handley Page Harrow II, which first flew in the 30's and , during WWII, operated from the Inverness area to Shetland. Although in modern terms it looked antiquated, it was a high wing monoplane, as this photo from the Imperial War Museum shows:

2. To the best of my knowledge no WAAFs were posted to any of the Shetland radar sites during WWII

3. The later CH site at RAF Skaw  had just 2 transmitter towers and 2 receiver towers, all a few feet shorter than Maurice mentions

Ron Simkin, Radar Mechanic, Skaw 1943 - 44

The following notes were gleaned from correspondence in the 1990's  between Ron Simkin and my late mother-in-law, Lexie McMeechan.

Ron Simkin was radar mechanic at RAF Skaw from Apr 1943 until Apr 1944. His previous posting had been at a radar station at Goonhilly in Cornwell, so it was literally one end of UK to the other! He travelled from Aberdeen to Shetland on a pre-war liner called the "New Amsterdam", which was being used as a troopship. They  left in the evening and were escorted by two destroyers, to fend off any lurking German U-Boat attacks. Those bound for Skaw spent the night in Lerwick, then travelled to Unst on the "S.S. Earl of Zetland". He remembered the porridge they were served for breakfast and how the ship seemed to do everything but turn over, all the way! They called at various ports on the way to Unst to deliver cargo, including several cows which, he says, were put over the side into the sea - presumably to swim ashore.

They landed at Baltasound, where RAF transport took him and his kit to Skaw. He began to suspect the worst when he was issued with gumboots, leather jerkin and duffel coat. These items were put to good use in the winter when wind, rain and snow appeared. Two things which remain in his memory - a dance in the Haroldswick Hall at which the RAF supplied a mobile generator to power electric lights and the eightsome reels danced that night. He also remembers the cinema shows, held in the Cinema Hut, to which he recalls, local people were invited to attend.

"As to the Transmitter Block, they had a telephone to the Receiver Block, a desk, chairs and a workbench, also a rack with Thompson Sub-machine Guns to repel invaders I guess; personally, I only ever fired one burst from a Sten Gun and the results were pathetic, to say the least!  Another room housed what they called the "Calculator",  which made a loud clicking noise, caused by the automatic telephone equipment from which it was constructed.  We called it "the fruit machine". It processed information from the receiver into map reference positions and the height of the aircraft being picked up - actioned by the operator pushing switches. (Before mid 1940 this was done manually using arithmetic and trigonometry).  The racks, which were suspended from the ceiling, carried cables to this equipment. The Transmitter block had two hoods above two transmitters. The transmitters were about 6 feet high, 8 feet long and 3-5 feet wide with sloping fronts containing electrical meters etc. They had glass portholes in the front to see through to the big transmitter valves pushing out enough power to light a car headlight bulb on a circular piece of wire. These transmitters were painted grey, of course, and we jokingly said that they looked like fish & chip frying machines. We also had facilities for making coffee (Camp Coffee, in bottles - no granules in those days)".

Ron remembered one shop on Unst, one tractor, one car (the Doctors)  and a croft close to the camp where a lady did his laundry for a few shillings and supplied him with two sheepskin rugs.  Ron also recalls a Naval radar site on Saxa Vord which was supplied with electricity by the power station at RAF Skaw.  He quite enjoyed his twelve months on Unst, and, in the end, he was sorry to leave. In his own words, "The Air Ministry decided I was needed elsewhere - this time all the way from Unst to the South Downs, by Brighton in Sussex - they told me I was needed for the invasion of France - well to help anyway, on a different radar to Unst, but that's another story. My last memory of Unst was catching the steamer to Lerwick and being transported to Sumburgh and flying to Inverness via the Orkneys (because we got lost in the fog!)". Ron returned to Skaw after the war to visit his old haunts and eventually produced an excellent sketch map of RAF Skaw, as it was during his tour. This map has appeared on the blog ( and, and has been copied by the Shetland Amenity Trust and by the Unst Heritage Centre. Sadly, Ron died in Mar 1999.

Colin Dawson Reed - Radar Operator (Radar Mech after leaving Skaw) - Date uncertain, about 1944
Colin Dawson Reed joined the RAF during WWII, initially as an RDF Operator and later re-mustering as a RDF Mechanic. He wrote some notes about his wartime service before he unfortunately died in  2011. The notes reproduced below appertain to his early service, his time at Skaw and his travel from Shetland at the end of his tour.

 A personal fill-out to the scant references to the Radar Stations in the North.
Radar Operator? Aircrew medical. Wax removed from ears clumsily and I fainted. That decided it. UNFIT FOR AIRCREW. Go along and see the careers officer. What do you want to be? In RDF. Then how many degrees in a circle? - 360 - you will be a RDF operator. RDF school, Cranwell - huts containing  simulated RDF sets and simulated enemy to plot.

Leave then posted to 60 Group, Peterhead. Then on to Skaw - the ultimate north. Train to Invergordon. Transit camp. Personnel for the Islands assembled before joining Troopship. Issued with Kapok lifebelts and sailed to Lerwick. Lerwick - the harbour for  the Earl of Zetland, which would work the Islands but only departed twice a week. So to billets, awaiting departure. The Earl of Zetand - small steamer built 1877 and had been recovered s from the scrap yard when needed for the war. Stopped at Islands on the way up to Baltasound.

Met by RAF van then came to Skaw. Newly built bur still using some early  equipment in a small hut. RM3 receiver:
and, for defence. on the wall was a rack like billiard cues of PIKES (not my weapon of choice). The new station was up to the minute. We plotted mostly RAF but occasionally a jerry recce. In the winter the Aurora Borealis displayed each night. The Aurora was an electrical phenomenon  that affected the TRACE (the CRT line which depicts the 360 approach). An aircraft shows V, two aircraft show a beating pair of V's.  But, more than that and the green line broke into confusion. The Aurora messed up the whole screen. One evening on coming on watch the I/C was handed a message. All stations to stand by. The message was read and not even digested before somebody shouted "They are here already!" We also plotted aircraft over the convoys going to Russia and felt sorry for all on board. Once a plane was spotted coming in and then we heard it overhead and then plotted it going away and it suddenly went from the screen.
One amusement on Skaw was to make a foursome, walk to Norwick Bay to hire a boat and a tray of fishing hooks. Then spent the morning baiting the hooks (about 100) and laying them across the bay.  In the afternoon, row out, take in Plaice, Saithe, Pollack, Gurnard and Dogfish. These were given to the cookhouse.
I fancied learning more about RADIO and applied for the course for mechanics. That was approved and I had to find my way south. First, by hitching a lift in a Navy M.L. to Sumburgh, then by the vegetable run with  the Handley Page Hampden, which had fewer instruments than an Austin 7. Landed at Doncaster. Very humid compared to Shetland. After registering, then to Padgate for an interview.
Colin Reed was successful with his retraining and spent the rest of his service career in many places, including at 2 more Chain home stations (RAF Loth in Caithness, RAF Broad Bay in the Hebrides) and was eventually posted to India
David St George - Radar Mechanic - AMES 713 (Loran)
I was working on the CH transmitter as a Radar Mechanic after a spell of four & a half years in the Middle East (just to be near home!!).  I was introduced to Loran whilst there and only remember the "staircase wave-forms" and hundreds of 6SN7 valves!  I bought a lot of these valves after the war intending to make an electronic organ (how things have progressed!); alas. the keyboard and chassis, with 88 valve holders, is still in the loft - I got married instead.
I remember the accommodation was quite luxurious as we were well under strength, almost a hut to a body!
I well recall the camp cinema to which civilians were invited and much hand-holding and snogging went on! Every film was introduced by the waltz from Serenade for Strings and, every time I hear it, my heart goes back to the dear old Shetlands. One day I climbed up the 365 foot tower (it took 20 mins), using the 30 foot ladders which were lashed to the mast top and bottom (they swayed somewhat when one got to the middle) and, when I reached the top, I stood astride the aircraft-warning light with nothing to hold onto as I was at the highest point! I must have been quite mad but it was all good fun. The mast used to sway a bit in the wind too - a great feeling!
We used to send home sheepskins, dyed to our own requested colours, in large biscuit tins at 30/- a time. "Crofting" was a popular pastime. It involved getting to know a local family with a view to seducing the daughter!! This was usually successful  as there was a shortage of men on the islands as they were all away fighting our war!
Apart from the excitement of middle-eastern service, this was the most interesting and peaceful period of my service career. I'm only sorry that I didn't study the wildlife whilst there. One point worthy of note - our local post office (Haroldswick) was the most northern in the British Isles.
 Derek Lucas - Radar Mechanic (LAC) - AMES 713 (Loran), 1944/45
Let me recount briefly how I came to be posted to Skaw (certainly not without misgivings having consulted an atlas!).  Following service on GEE (7000) as an LAC Radar Mechanic at RAF Windyhead Hill, New Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, I was sent to Port Errol, Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire on a LORAN (700) Course. The CO was a Flying Officer Hosker and 2 Canadians, a Corporal and an LAC came over to give instruction and  I learnt from them that ours was the first course to be held in the UK. Previous ones had been held in the USA at M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) . I thought myself hard done by to miss so narrowly such a treat. It was much later that I learned that the output from those earlier courses had gone to the Far East! Thus is our fate decided. There is no justice in these matters, just luck!
After the course I remained  to maintain and operate Port Errol. We worked with other stations whose names I cannot remember, but occasionally we worked on sky wave synchronisation with Bizerta and Oran, thus straddling the continent. It was very difficult to maintain sync. with the ionospheric layers heaving up and down and I formed the impression that the operation was not a success.
It must have been in the autumn of 1944 that the N. Atlantic LORAN chain was completed, stations being located in Newfoundland,  Greenland (I think), Iceland and the Hebrides. There was to be one other, and the first suggestion was Rockall. When it was found that at times this island was totally submerged, Skaw was substituted. The equipment for the new station arrived, well crated up, at Port Erroll and I was appointed to escort it to Skaw. Two aircraft were needed and they flew from some local airfield, with a bumpy grass runway and, because of the heavy load, the pilot held the plane down until the last minute. How we cleared the hedge I don't know, but clear it we did.
My first weeks at Skaw were spent helping to assemble the two transmitters, (main and spare). Having worked on the British MB2, both on radar and, in a modified form, for use on GEE, I was amazed at the light weight American gear. It went together like Meccano, mainly with commercial receiver type  components. As an example, the main 25Kv smoothing capacitor in the MB2 was oil-filled and made of quarter inch steel plate - it needed lifting tackle to get it out of the transmitter. The American equivalent was like a giant paper capacitor. One man could easily lift it into place and connect it up. I know because I did it! Other men were assembling the receivers, called timers, as their main function was to receive pulses from the other stations in the chain and generate timing pulses to trigger our own transmitter. The timing of these pulses was derived from a quartz crystal oscillator. The crystal was in a multi-layer wooden case, like Pandora's box. The crystal was in the middle, then came the thermostat and finally, near the outside, the heaters. If I remember correctly all stations had similar equipment so that any station could be master. The relatively high crystal frequency was then divided down by step dividers which needed constant adjustment to keep each stage in the middle of its working range. One might ask why we needed a crystal oscillator when we were locked to another station.  I can only imagine that a soft lock such as that would mean that we would not lose sync. if interference interrupted reception of the incoming pulse. Also, if all stations were similar, any one of them could be master.
One of the special projects I was given was to make an aerial change-over switch, so that either of the two transmitters could be connected to the aerial with minimum disruption of service. We got this operation  down to about a second, with practice. The photograph shows the right hand timer, the other being to the left of the central bay.
 On the left hand scope would appear the pulses of the master and all the three slaves. Since we had a map, which included the Loran hyperbolae, we were able to derive our own position from the slaves' pulses. All very reassuring (and rather like Pilot Officer Prune's claim that his navigation was so accurate that ground stations took fixes on him to find out where they were!). On the right hand scope would be magnified images of our own pulse superimposed upon that of the station to which we were locked.
The device to the right of the desk with two knobs and a meter is "George", who could keep us in step with the master automatically. A difference between the received pulse and our own, one side or the other,  would show on the meter and, at the same time, tweek the phase knob, thus moving our pulse.  The phase knob was mechanically geared to the frequency control so that repeated corrections to one side would shift the frequency to reduce their need,  this made the device inherently stable. My own contribution to all this was the  idea of deriving a brightness pulse from the incoming pulses so that they could more easily be seen on the tube. I think the suggestion was numbered RAF 700/7.
Perhaps I should not dwell on technical matters as my memory might be defective after all these years and, in any case, I'm sure it must all be written up and available to researchers. Whilst I was at Skaw I continued studying radio engineering and taking City and Guilds examinations, which were supervised by the CO. I remember that the last one was to be held on 8th May 1945, but it was postponed because it was V.E. Day! Little did I realise it at the time but those exam passes were later to get me into the BBC and a most enjoyable career in the Engineering Division.  I retired eight years ago as Technical Manager of Telecine (the department t hat transmits film). *These memories were written early in 1991, so Derek probably retired in 1983.
I have copied the top right hand corner of Ordnance Survey Map 1 and marked on it the exact location of the Loran station.
The mast was atop the small rise and the technical building was a short distance inland. Nearby was a small building which housed the Lister diesel generating set. This was used in the event of a mains failure and I remember warming it up each time I was on the "night bind" so that it would start easily if needed. There was no electric starter and it needed a good man on the handle to get it going. Loran worked (and indeed did so until a few years ago) at about 2MHz and the aerial was a quarter wave end fed dipole.  This would make the mast (or, strictly speaking, self-supporting tower) about 120 feet high, which accords with my memory. The aerial was a single wire running up the middle of the tower, with a matching unit in the dog-house at the foot. Checking for standing waves on the feeder and balancing them out in the dog-house was one of the maintenance routines. In order to improve the aerial's performance we dug channels radically from the foot of the tower and buried copper strip. This improved the ground conductivity which was rather poor owing  to the rocky  sub-soil.
The building marked "The Haa" was a working farm which we understood to be the most northerly inhabited dwelling in the British Isles. We would buy meat there to send home and, in order to catch the Monday morning boat, we had to have the meat fresh on a Sunday evening. The farmer would let us have it but insisted on our leaving the money under a stone as he could not take it on a Sunday! Back at camp we had made a fumigating chamber called, reasonably enough, Belsen where we exposed the meat to sulphur dioxide to preserve it. We would be sending home many weeks rations at a go!
I have marked the approximate position of the camp site. In bad weather the truck would go from camp to technical site via the road, but otherwise we would walk over open ground and reduce the distance. I show this with a dotted line. There is a building marked on the map where the technical  building was so, I wonder if it is still there. I have a photo of the CH masts too, which I did not take myself. 
The scale can be established from the 360 foot transmitter masts, which makes the spit of land about 0.4km wide. What is the land in the background though, or is it merely a bank of clouds?
The journey from Aberdeen to Skaw was quite an adventure! I remember that, according to regulations, one was entitled to a rail warrant to the "nearest railway station" when returning from leave. Since the nearest station to Skaw was Bergen, in German hands at the time, we waived this right - preferring to go via Lerwick! The S.S. St Magnus left Aberdeen during the afternoon and arrived at Lerwick the following morning, too late to catch the ferry round the islands. Following an overnight stay in Lerwick, where we made our own arrangements in order to avoid the less pleasant official ones, we would board the Earl of Zetland which made a round trip of the islands. This was said to be the oldest ship on the Lloyd's Register (1867 I think), and bore much evidence of this. Passengers, humans, pigs, cows or goats were all carried, as were goods such as farm equipment. There were few piers and as the ship wended its way northwards .It would stop at bays and inlets on the various islands so that passengers and goods could be taken off in dinghies. In bad weather this could be quite exciting, particularly knowing your own turn would come! Cattle were lowered over the side by a winch, after which they had to swim for it. Lesser creatures were just dumped overboard without ceremony! Sometimes the journey to Unst ended at Uyeasound (pronounced Yoo-ee), where there was no pier, and sometimes we went right round to Baltasound. This was much more comfortable. At some time in 1945 the old Earl of Zetland was replaced by a new ship of the same name. This was a great improvement of course, but I would not have missed travelling on the old one for anything!
The theatre programme attached is interesting because it names a few of my contemporaries. I remember that show, performed in the NAAFI, was very competently presented.

The coat-of-arms is particularly meaningful. Sheep and sea gulls, a pick and a shovel and the wind and the rain paint a very vivid picture of Skaw. If there was anything "plus ultra" none of us were  unfortunate enough to have to visit it. The pick and shovel remind me of the arrival of a ship loaded with coke and coal for us, which we had to unload ourselves. Everyone joined in the job, and the whole thing was done in a morning, leaving us black from head to foot. My job was to operate the ship's winch, hauling up the containers of coal which had been filled in the hold below, and swinging them over the side into the waiting lorry. To see this being done by amateurs would have made a trade unionist's hair curl and, as to the safety officer ..... well, of course, safety officers  had not then been invented!
Situated at about 61 degrees North Latitude, Skaw was quite interesting astronomically. The increased elevation of Polaris was quite evident and the brighter winter stars were visible mid-morning and again in the afternoon. During the summer the middle of the night (2am with double summer time) was no darker than twilight. We also saw the Aurora Borealis more than once.

The Late Lexie McMeecan
Squadron Leader Mike Dean, MBE
The Gentlemen listed at the beginning of this article who were good enough to record their memories of RAF Skaw