Monday, 29 March 2010

Three Steps to Heaven (or Two Hundred & Twenty-one Steps to the Radar Heads)

The view from the top of Saxa was so spectacular that the MOD was kind enough to provide special access for the Tech/Eng Staff. An exclusive set of 221 steps were constructed so that they could enjoy their watches gazing at the panorama all around them. In the old days they were even allowed to use this route in inclement weather. The poor operators in the R101 – R10 never heard a complaint, well hardly ever – come to think of it some of the Techies were very ungrateful for the privilege they had been given. I have attached a few photos of this scenic highway to provide memories for those who used to use it (ie, the days when they were fit). (Left click on pictures to enlarge).
Following one or two light breezes and some attempts by the staff to imitate the birds and take flight, the authorities decided that the view should be ruined by providing a covered walkway. After that the route was only suitable for Station Commanders and children.


Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Type 80 is Off (Literally) - 27 January 1961

Most servicemen posted to Saxa remember “The Big Storm”. The funny thing is that they are often remembering different events. There was a bad storm whilst the radars were being erected and before the camp was opened. There was another one in 1961 which is the subject of this section. I have more information on damage caused by storms in 1963, the late 70s and again at the beginning of the 90’s. Once I have gathered enough data I hope to publish information on those events as well.

Towards the end of January 1961 the winds increased – no one knows what speeds they eventually reached, at that time the anemometer only went up to 100mph and it was certainly well over that speed for a long time. It was unsafe for personnel to venture outside. On the 27th the T13 Height finder suffered major structural damage, one support fractured and the other was badly strained. The hinge broke and a number of reflector rods were torn out and loosened.

However, the event for which this date is most famous is the Type 80’s attempt to leave the site. The entire rotating assembly above the turntable broke away. The scanner caused damage to the motor platform and alternator room before coming to rest upside down a short distance away. If I remember correctly the T80 aerial measured 75 x 25 ft (about 23 x 8m) and must have weighed a considerable amount. The Type 80 was off the air until September and needed outside assistance and heavy lifting gear.

The much smaller Type 14 survived but it too had to have its antenna replaced in March. The Type 13 was repaired on site, coming back serviceable in February.

The Unit role was reduced to “Standby” until April with the Type 14 being used to cover RAF Buchan’s daily routine maintenance periods when the winds permitted. After April and a change of Type 14 Aerial the Unit returned to 24hr operations using the Type 14 but it’s performance was nowhere near as good as that of the Type 80.  Operational efficiency also suffered because the Type 14 was not used when the winds got above 25knots (not unusual at Saxa).

In those days occurrences such as these were treated with great secrecy – whilst the whole episode was common knowledge throughout Unst and beyond – there was no coverage in the media. Following the episode higher authority decided that the Type 80 should be housed in a radome.

Pictures of the damaged Type 80 are below: (Left click on pictures to enlarge).

Monday, 22 March 2010

The Hustlers (Updated 12 Mar 2011)

Whilst many servicemen from Saxa attended dances in the local halls it was a two way traffic. Many entertainment events were held on camp and attended by both servicemen and civilians. For much of the time Saxa was open there was at least one camp band on the go.

As far as I’m aware the first of these bands to make a big name for itself off camp was a group called the Hustlers. The Hustlers consisted of four airmen – Dave Joseph, Geordie Henderson, Bill Borthwick and Jim Barber. They were playing in Shetland in the 1962 to 64 era and covered much of the contemporary hit parade material, especially Shadows tunes.  Apart from their gigs on base they played in the Unst Halls and were a fairly regular feature in the Planets Dance Hall in Mounthooly Street, Lerwick. How they managed the logistics of round trips to Lerwick in the days of the Earl and the old overland is beyond me. They were very popular and there are people in Shetland who remember them today

Harry Cairns, an officer on camp, was nominally their Manager (more a point of  contact)  and he still visits Shetland on a regular basis. Attempts were made to keep the group together when they were due for posting but the RAF was not particularly sympathetic; but, eventually perseverance paid off and they were all posted to RAF Boulmer in Nothumberland

The newspaper article below is from the Shetland Times and the 2 photos are by Dennis Coutts. (Left click on pictures to enlarge).
Another photo, showing 3 of the Hustlers playing in the Officers Mess in 1964, was sent to me recently , the drummer is out of frame: copy is displayed below:


Friday, 19 March 2010

A Day at the Beach - Raft Race

One reason why many people have happy memories of Saxa is the number of events arranged for entertainment and/or charities. For whatever reason community spirit was more in evidence and inhibitions were less obvious.

The photos below are all of the same family event on the Norwick Beach. I’m not sure when it took place but I would guess it was in the early 8
0’s (shows what I know about dates - see comments at the end of the section!). It would be a normal summer’s day for Unst – no swimsuits but the occasional parka and fleece on view. If any of the participants would like to get in touch to give me more information I will happily update this section.

I am afraid that I have been unable to find out who took these pictures. If he/she reads this I will add the appropriate credits or remove the photos if necessary. I have published them as I believe they could provide a few happy memories. (Left click on picture to enlarge)


Monday, 15 March 2010

Cresta Run 1985 - SAC Tony Isherwood

In 1985 the Daily Mail decided to hold a competition to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the famous Cresta Run. The paper called for applications from the public to participate in the Daily Mail Challenge Trophy, a timed race on the famous Run. From the applicants a group of 50 were picked to undergo tests at the Hendon Police Training Centre. At Hendon the 50 were whittled down to a party of 12 lucky(?) individuals who were taken to St Moritz in Switzerland.

The party were in Switzerland for 2 weeks and underwent training before taking part in the race. SAC Tony Isherwood from Unst was one of the volunteers lucky (?) enough to take part in the event. The cuttings below have been taken from newspapers at the time. (Left click on pictures to enlarge).

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

AOCs Inspection 1967

In 1967 the Commanding Officer of RAF Saxa Vord was Sqn Ldr RG Sparkes MBE, DFC. He was quite short in stature and perhaps not the most popular man I’ve worked for. The Annual Inspection was carried out by Air Commodore EV Stokes CBE BSc who was Air Officer Engineering at HQ 11 Gp. As far as the Sqn Ldr Sparkes  was concerned the Inspection must have been successful as the was promoted to Wg Cdr rank the following year and posted  to take over as CO of RAF Western Hill (on the Island of Penang, just off the west coast of mainland Malaysia). Having visited Western Hill twice I can confirm that it could not have been considered a punishment posting!

The article below is from the Shetland Times and the photos below were taken during the Annual Inspection. (Left click on pictures to enlarge):-