Extracts from the late Lord Bowden of Chesterfield

The following extracts were sent in by the children of the late Lord Bowden of Chesterfield (Dr. B.V. Bowden) who worked with radar during WW2 and with Robert Watson-Watt in the post war period

From ‘Pioneers of Radar’ by Colin Latham & Anne Stobbs. Written by Philip Woodward.

TRE was a revelation. Here was real research with a real purpose. The establishment was imbued with a single-mindedness that came straight from the top man – A. P. Rowe. At that time, February 1941, he would gather the whole of TRE together on Friday afternoons for a meeting at which we were all privy to fundamental matters of radar policy. This arrangement had the advantage and purpose of making every member feel privileged and responsible. I particularly recall the quiet learning of Dr W. B. Lewis and the more aggressive interventions of Dr Bowden. When he returned from the States to England after the war, Vivian Bowden (later Lord Bowden) joined the Atomic Energy Authority for a short time. He then became a partner in Sir Robert Watson-Watt’s firm of consulting engineers, one of whose clients was the Rank Film Organisation. As consultants they were trying to reduce both time and cost of film making by developing various technical aids.

From ‘Boffin’ by Hanbury Brown.

When he was on form you couldn’t resist Watson Watt. He was the most persuasive person I have ever met; selling refrigerators to Eskimos would have been child’s play to him, and the fact that Great Britain had a defensive radar system in time to fight the Battle of Britain owed a lot to his powers of persuasion. In the summer of 1947 he talked me into leaving the scientific civil service and joining him as one of three junior partners in a firm of consultants – not ordinary consulting engineers, mark you, but something much rarer, consultants on research. One of the junior partners was Vivian Bowden. Vivian was a good person to have in a firm of consultants because he liked tackling difficult and unusual problems and his knowledge was encyclopaedic. On the other hand he had no respect for commercial secrecy and always told people what they wanted to know! The other partner was Edward Truefitt; he had an extremely clear mind who could listen to hours of complicated discussion and waffle then summarise the principal arguments in a few crystal clear sentences. One amusing anecdote about W-W: Apparently W-W was hoping to be given the ‘Award to Inventors’ by the Royal Commission for his work on radar, but other collaborators felt that he should not be granted the award just for himself. On one meeting of the Commission Sir Robert was in full flood telling the Commission about the many important things he had done. He came to the part he played in introducing the WAAF’s as radar operators and although the Chairman, Lord Cohen, looked as though he had gone to sleep, he suddenly stirred, and putting up a finger interrupted Sir Robert to say ‘Just a moment Sir Robert – do I understand that you are claiming to have invented Women?’

The following article on TRE would appear to be just what father ( Lord Bowden) wrote himself from his own memories and was not published anywhere else to need clearance.

Telecommunications Research Establishment (T.R.E.) and
Identification Friend or Foe (I.F.F.)

The history of I.F.F. is interesting, unfamiliar and complicated. As soon as the first aircraft had been detected by radar, both engineers and the RAF realised it was necessary to identify friendly aircraft. The first operational I.F.F sets were patented by Watson-Watt in 1939. On a memorable day in September 1939, while the Prime Minister was broadcasting to the nation telling us we were at war with Germany, a single French aircraft flew over the Channel. It could not be identified so it was assumed to be hostile; the sirens sounded for the first time and everyone went into an air raid shelter. Next day a British squadron of Blenheim fighters bombed the docks in Hamburg. They flew home over the Thames and were thought to be hostile so the anti-aircraft guns opened fire. Fortunately these guns were not very accurate so the Blenheims landed safely, but the incident was very bad for morale. These were my first experiences of the terrible consequences of failure to identify the aircraft you were plotting and was one reason why I spent most of the war trying to produce a system to make identification more reliable. The system for identifying aircraft was known as I.F.F. (Identification Friend or Foe). Even today every aircraft which flies in the western world carries an I.F.F. set. I was responsible for introducing the first system (Mark 111) into this country and in 1943 I went to Washington as head of the British team in the Combined Research Group, assembled to produce Mark V using all the resources available of the American Navy.

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