Originally written for the Croydon Airport Society Newsletter of August 2004

The Genesis of the Royal Observer Corps

During World War I, arrangements for the tracking and reporting of aircraft were somewhat primitive. Major General E B 'Splash' Ashmore, who obtained a pilot's certificate, Number 281, in September 1912 on a Bristol Boxkite at Brooklands, took a great interest in tracking and reporting of hostile and friendly aircraft, at an early date.

Ashmore was critical of procedures during the Zeppelin raids, attributing failures to a combination of damage to the telephone system and the poor quality of the troops operating the reporting system.

Further concerns arose when a Maurice Farman aircraft penetrated the airspace above a chateau, where King George V was being entertained, without warning.

With the aid of Field Marshal Lord French, a change occurred when the Air Ministry took over on the RAF Operational Command. After the war, in 1924, a committee of the Imperial Defence Council was appointed to advise on air raid precautions.

In 1925, an exercise for aircraft tracking from Cranbrook in the Kent and the Weald area, was successfully accomplished. Subsequently, the Observer Corps was set up with volunteer members and Special Constables being involved. Their uniform comprised simply a blue and white armband bearing the words 'Observer Corps' in red.

Observer Corps members were ready to go into action all over the British Isles in September 1939 and excelled themselves during the Battle of Britain.

Later, in recognition of their services, King George VI bestowed on the Corps the title of Royal Observer Corps, and an Air Force blue uniform was instituted.

When the night blitz came, my headquarters at Bromley was destroyed. However, 19 Group were only out of action for a short. time, as a second HQ had been lined up.

The ROC also helped with night tracking, often observing friendly aircraft such as, 'Lancs' , Halifaxes and Wellingtons when they carried out mass raids.

Later, a secret and confidential letter reported observers spotting an aircraft with a jet engine flying at 1000-2000 feet at 400 mph. Members of the ROC at Dymchurch had plotted the first VI flying bomb.

At the instigation of A V M Trafford Leigh Mallory and the Operation Overlord Committee, volunteer members of the Corps served as aircraft identifiers on board ship to stop friendly fire shooting down friendly aircraft. Over 700 members became Royal Navy Petty Officers at £1 a day while seaborne ..

The men and women members of the post-war Royal Observer Corps went on to staff underground bunkers, training to track fall-out from nuclear bombs during the Cold War period.

With the end of the Cold War, the Royal Observer Corps finally stood down in 1991, although members still meet in the Royal Observer Corps Association.

It is surprising that the Zeppelin raids of the First World War should have led to such development!

Our grateful thanks are due to Society member Leslie A Leney, who served in the Royal Observer Corps, for providing the notes from which this item was compiled.


Further experiences by Leslie A Leney  from the...

WW2 People's War

My Observer Corps        http://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar/stories/21/a8908121.shtml


[13jul09 22:15]