THE history and development of radar was the theme of the talk by Paul Hickley at the January meeting of the U3A in Shipston, with special reference to its role in the Second World War. His direct contact with it was with Vulcan aircraft, followed by training at Boscombe Down on a variety of planes.

Showing airspace maps of arrivals and departures over London, he then described how they became so complicated that they were almost impossible to use, and how radar with the cathode ray tube simplified everything and radar became fundamental to any aerodrome. Because the system designated exact spots, “Chain Home Antennae” were developed to show the direction of the aircraft, in and out.

The beginnings of radar were in the 30s, two of the names associated with that time are Sir Henry Tisard and Robert Watson-Watt. Technical developments were also taking place in Germany in this between-the-wars period including the Graf-Zeppelin, but development was halted by Hermann Goering, who could not understand it, so therefore would have nothing to do with it.

Films made about the Second World War often showed the Control Room where the many young women (always women) followed the German planes, their direction, how many, speed and targets. With this the British were able to place their limited number of fighter planes always in the right place; this made the Germans think that the RAF were much more numerous than they were in reality.

After the war development continued and many new uses were found. One was a “crowd dispersal” ray which, while not doing any harm whatsoever, made each individual feel uncomfortable and uneasy, therefore deciding to stop or go somewhere else. This was never proceeded with and used, not for ethical reasons as it was harmless, but only for reasons of expense.

A light note appeared at the end with a story of one of the pioneers, who, when driving in Canada after the war, was caught in a radar trap. With his fine he produced the following:

Pity Sir Robert Watson-Watt, strange target of this radar plot.

And thus, with others I can mention, the victim of his own invention.

His magical all-seeing eye enabled cloud-bound planes to fly.

But now, by some ironic twist, it spots the speeding motorist.

And bites, no doubt with legal wit, the hand that once created it.

If you would like to know about Shipston-on-Stour Area U3A, please contact our Membership Secretary, Jackie Finlay telephone 01608 663413 or email

The next meeting is on February 23, 2 pm at the Townsend Hall, when the speaker will be Adela Thomas from the Heritage Motor Museum at Gaydon.