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Employment

A personal memoir of the Second World War

By

Herbert (Henry) P. Hall

Before the war I was employed by the BBC as a Junior Engineer at the London Control Room, in Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London. To some extent I was privileged to being in the forefront of the news whilst at the BBC's main control room doing monitoring duty on reports from correspondents around the world, political commentators broadcasting their analyses, and the latest official announcements. So I could see it all caning and it was therefore with no great surprise when the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made his statement that we were at war from that Sunday the 3rd September 1939.

I had just returned home from a night shift at the London Control Room and had told my parents what to expect as we had just changed over to the emergency operations room three floors below street level in Portland Place. I usually went straight to bed after a nightshift but that morning I stayed up until Chamberlain's broadcast at 11 o'clock and went to bed right afterwards. I remember telling my mother that if I was going to have to go to war I would need all the sleep I could get! Of course this didn't help my dear mother wondering and worrying about what might happen to her two boys, and it didn't do anyone' s morale any good either when shortly thereafter the first air raid warning of the war sounded. My mother thought we ought to be up and about to expect heaven knows what, but I was too tired and said I was prepared to die in comfort in my own bed! Later it was learned that the air raid warning was a mistake, for which everyone was greatly relieved.

After a week or two I was posted away from the London Control Room to the BBC transmitting station at Washford on the north coast of Somerset. This was my first experience of working with high powered transmitters but I found it extremely boring as there was little to do during broadcasting hours except to monitor the correct operation and logging meter readings. It was with considerable relief therefore to receive a letter from the BBC Engineering Establishment Manager in London to say that as it was going to be impossible to retain the services of the younger engineers such as me, our names had been passed to the Air Ministry with the request that we be used in some useful technical capacity rather than be called up into the Forces when our turn came. Shortly afterwards I received a letter from the Air Ministry saying in effect that if I cared to volunteer to join the RAF my technical abilities would be put to use in some new secret project and I would be enlisted as a Wireless Mechanic (Special Duties). Needless to say this appealed to me and several other BBC colleagues of around my age of 20, so we jumped at this chance to avoid conscription into the Army, and so on the anniversary of the First World War Armistice on 11th November, we enlisted at the nearest RAF Recruiting Office, in my case the one at Acton. After a medical examination at which I was pleased to be classified Al, I and the other recruits were taken to the No.1 RAF Depot at Uxbridge on the western outskirts of London.

There at Uxbridge began the rude awakening to service life, and the doubtful pleasures of early reveille's, parading in the cold November morning darkness to be marched off to breakfast with hundreds of others, and then spending the rest of the day being kitted out and learning to drill, and all those other introductions to discipline of the Royal Air Force. However, it was only eight days later my BBC friends and I received our orders to go to a training school at Bawdsey Manor on the Suffolk coast. To reach it we travelled by train to Felixstowe and then by bus to the river Deben, where we were informed by the local inhabitants that a rowboat ferryman would soon arrive to take us across the water to the RAF guardroom on the other side. After two trips to take us all over, we were marched under Service Police escort up the long approach drive to the Station Headquarters in what used to be the Manor House which we later discovered was once the home of the composer Roger Quilter.


 

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Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

The right of Dick Barrett to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.