March 2023


For this instalment WAAF Wednesday, we are telling the story of Jean (Sally) Semple. Jean joined the WAAF in March 1940 and was trained in using the radar receiver equipment.

We were lucky enough to interview Jean as part of our oral history project. She told us that interpreting the information on the receiver equipment wasn’t always straightforward, with interference from tall buildings on the ground like churches:

‘On the screen there’d be a whole lot of blips, looking a real mess. The left side showed blips like planes beating out but these usually turned out to be permanent echoes like those of church steeples and our radar towers. The first five miles of signals were usually ignored.’

She also remembered the complex calculations that were done by hand in the early years of radar. She said:

‘We did a lot of working out on paper and there was a hit or miss formula for determining the height of the plane.

You established its range, multiplied that by 100, and then added two-thirds of the actual range squared. This calculation was meant to take into account the curvature of the earth’.

The work undertaken by Jean and the other WAAFs at Bawdsey was top secret, with each radar operator given a revolver to use to shoot their equipment to destroy it in the event of an invasion. There were also lead tanks filled with acid kept nearby so any maps and plans could easily be destroyed.


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