Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

On the radar

Aged 19, Peggy Hamilton from Bromborough on the Wirral in Merseyside joined Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), training as a radar operator on heavy Ack-Ack guns

“The doodlebugs were difficult to track as they were travelling at great speed and once their motors cut out, you couldn’t see them”

“At first my mum didn’t believe what I’d done until I showed her the call-up papers,” Peggy Hamilton remembers.

“First we had to go for a medical and then on to a special training course to find out what we were good at. I was chosen for radar so spent six weeks training. When we had finished they burned all our books – anything to do with radar was very secret and nobody could afford to take any chances.”

When she completed her training Peggy was assigned to the 631 Mixed Heavy Ack-Ack Group where she travelled up and down the country as part of a mobile gun battery setting up vital defence positions against German air raids and missile attacks.

Operating from inside a radar cabin about the size of a small shed that contained a radar computer machine known as a ‘Mark I’, Peggy’s job was to monitor high frequency electromagnetic waves on a large screen to search and track approaching enemy targets, plot their position and pass on details to the nearby gun control command centre.

“We operated in 30 minute shifts sitting in darkness watching the radar screen,” she says. “It was a feature of the cabins that you could rotate them 165 degrees to sweep for aircraft positions – the guns would then pick them up until our fighters went up. Then we had to stop.

The doodlebugs were difficult to track as they were travelling at great speed and once their motors cut out you couldn’t see them. The V-2s were terrible – you couldn’t pick them up at all; they just whizzed across the screen. But at least you knew they were coming.”

Always on the move, Peggy’s unit set up defence stations in Anglesey, Northern Ireland, and the coastlines across England. But the raids got heavier, and in 1944 the unit was sent to defend London, setting up batteries on Dollis Hill, Clapham Common and Bromley.

“I remember being at Anglesey and having to climb high up a steel ladder in freezing winds and rain to clean the radar aerials. We lived in barracks wherever we went. It wasn’t too bad.

“When we were in London we used to dodge the redcaps (Royal Military Police) and sneak out into town, usually to the Royal Albert Hall or dancing at one of the army clubs. But you didn’t do that too often as the raids were horrendous and it was very dangerous.

“As well as the Doodlebugs and V-2s there were also the firebombs. I think if the Germans had been able to keep up the V-2 bombing we would have been in a terrible state.”

In spring 1945 the Ack-Ack units were disbanded, and Peggy was transferred to a vehicle reserve depot in Shropshire where she worked in communications. It was here at 4am in the morning that she took a call bringing the message that the war was over.

“That morning I grabbed some things and went home,” she says. “I just wanted to be with my folks.”

Now 87, Peggy used her Heroes Return 2 grant for a commemorative visit to the National Arboretum in Staffordshire and a tour of the London World War Two defence sites.

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