Celebration for RAF's 'eyes and ears'

At Back: Geoffrey Saunders. Back row: Tom Allfrey, Paul Norris, Frank Miller, Peter Norfolk, Penny Norfolk, Murriel Hurrell.
Front row: Ruth Norris, Enid Hayward, Pam Saunders, Sheila Blye

A GROUP of volunteers from the Horsham district, who were part of a unique organisation which became the RAF's 'eyes and ears' during World War II, are celebrating the 80th anniversary of its foundation.

The Royal Observer Corps (ROC) was a defence warning organisation which came into existence in 1925, although it originated during the first world war to monitor the movement of Zeppelins.

Pam Saunders, chairman of No 2 Group ROCA, explained that at the outbreak of World War II in 1939 the corps was put on a full-time footing, and observer posts were established at strategic points within a ten mile radius of Horsham, including one near the Brighton Road and one at Dunsfold aerodrome. The posts were manned by civilians who reported in to a central location, where aircraft movements were charted, and it became a vital part of the country's defence force.

Sheila Blye, who served with the corps at the age of 18, from 1944 to 1945, explained that she was a 'plotter', based at the rear of Horsham's Drill Hall in Denne Road, to whom the information was passed.

The information of aircraft locations would be given to her over a set of headphones and she would map their movements on a big table.

Mrs Blye said that the set up looked exactly as it did on the old black and white war films, in a control room with plotters moving models around with big 'pushers'.

She said: "We covered the whole of Sussex and the Isle of Wight. It was a very responsible job and it meant we knew where everything was and where everything was where the aircraft were coming from."

Mrs Blye said that she and her colleagues were kept very busy when, in addition to the ordinary bombers, 'divers', or pilotless aircraft, began being launched by the enemy from the French coast

Mrs Saunders joined in 1961, her husband Geoffrey having volunteered In 1958. She explained that In 1945 the ROC was stood
down, but was recalled again in 1947 at a time of international uncertainty and during the 60s it undertook nuclear reporting tasks, which continued until 1990.

She said: "A small band of members was retained to assist the armed services, but they were finally stood down in 1995." Many former members of the corps, including trustee Paul Norris and his wife Ruth from Steyning, continue to meet up locally throughout the year.

There is also an annual national reunion in Chester this month, followed by an 80th anniversary celebration in November.

Battle of Britain Parade in Horsham

Second from right is Geoffrey Saunders with the 2 Group Standard. Pam Saunders laid a wreath

[18apr06 23:45]