Veteran Stories:
Elizabeth E. Riley (née Holden)

Air Force

  • A group of Royal Air Force (RAF) Radar Operators in England, circa 1943-44. Elizabeth E. Riley is third from the right.

    Elizabeth E. Riley
  • Royal Air Force (RAF) Radar Operators doing field work establishing a new radar/receiving station, England, 1943. Elizabeth E. Riley is on the far right.

    Elizabeth E. Riley
  • A No. 60 Group, Royal Air Force (RAF) receiving tower, England, circa 1942-44.

    Elizabeth E. Riley
  • Sergeant Elizabeth E. Riley, Royal Air Force, 1945.

    Elizabeth E. Riley
  • Cover of the Service and Release Book of Elizabeth E. Riley (née Holden), first issued to her upon enlistment in the Royal Air Force, 1940.

    Elizabeth E. Riley
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"I must say that after leaving the war and going home, I decided there wasn’t anything that would ever bother me anymore. That if I managed to get through all that, I could get through anything."


I finally found out that we were going to learn to be radar operators. And it was very complicated learning the whole business of how you got heights - somebody who knows nothing about it, to tell me that I can see something in the sky when there’s nothing there is pretty hard to take, if you’re not a technical or that sort of person. So that was my first problem, how could you start telling me you’re detecting something in the sky that isn’t there; there’s nothing there. And so then, of course, they tried to explain how they found this and how you do it, which is quite complicated. And so, nearly a month’s training got on and learning how to calculate heights and below and so on and so forth. And learning of course the machines itself that you had to use which, at that time, we called it the tube, which is now the same sort of thing that controllers in your airports have. But we just had the round tube with one line going across, which was the little things that, if you’ve seen controllers, they show around and planes coming in. So we just have one little line going along, which you saw on what we called the tube, which is like I suppose your television today. And so what you would have to do was if a plane was coming in, the line going along, you get a little blip, would come down a little different from the others that were already on there, this line with all little sort of blips, a little white line. And then you would see it would have another little blip you’d have to notice that, so that’s why your eyes were very good. And then you would think, ah, that’s a blip, so you would, we had a machine, the handle, when you were, you were only allowed an hour on the, what we called the tube, the machine, because you had to concentrate on this. And so what you did when you saw the little mark, you would use the handle which is called a goniometer, goniometer was the name, and you would turn that to what this little blip to see if it would be moving forward, coming in across the sea. And then you would give a reading of what you were getting. And you had six other people, you were on the machine and there was a person who on the first station that was on, which was in Essex, the end of Thames, inland, they had another station which was near the coast. Because all that we could receive from the station were planes that were coming in at a height. But some planes might come in low, coming in underneath. And so you had a substation that would be giving us information, if they were getting anything that seemed to be coming in low, underneath our radar system. So we had somebody getting that information, being telephoned to them. We had somebody who was on the telephone to 60 Group. [No.] 60 Group was the place in London that had the whole of England in a huge big room on a table. And with girls all around. And they would take our information and they would be plotting what we were giving them and so you would see where the planes were coming into and whether they were going to London or Coventry or some other place. And that’s, so you would have to give that information. We also had a person plotting on our own station that was going. So that was the general operation, once we’re now in a station, I’ve gone past part at the beginning where we were training, once we got trained and we were out. So that was the operation. You were an hour on the tube, then you would have an hour off to rest. Then you would start again and you would go on these operations that would be phoning 60 Group, phoning in and making your own lands. I was at the end of the Battle of Britain. During the five years of my time, things improved, there was always something new happening that was improving the radar station. And so you would have to go down, sometimes help what was going on. I must say that after leaving the war and going home, I decided there wasn’t anything that would ever bother me anymore. That if I managed to get through all that, I could get through anything.
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