Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Rotary Club of Henley Bridge

THE Rotary Club of Henley Bridge was delighted to welcome Ian Lowry to its Zoom meeting on January 27.

He gave a talk about RAF Medmenham during the Second World War, when it was the tri-service Allied Central Interpretation Unit, linked to RAF Benson and Nuneham Courtenay.

The historic building is now the Danesfield House Hotel.

Ian Lowry is a graduate of Dublin University, (Trinity College), where he read history and philosophy.

He then taught history and English at boys’ schools for more than 30 years. He was also a rowing and rugby coach for many years

Since retiring 15 years ago, Ian has been a guide at Bletchley Park, Christ Church College and Cathedral (Oxford), and Reading Abbey ruins.

He has appeared as Henry I on various occasions at the re-opened Reading Abbey ruins.

Alan told the audience that the RAF intelligence branch moved from Wembley to Medmenham in 1941 because of bomb damage and a lack of space.

When the unit was first moved it had 231 staff and at the end of the war had 1,700, many living in Nissen huts around the grounds.

The aeroplanes used by the RAF were the Spitfire and Mosquito, which were fast. These were fitted with the latest camera equipment but to ensure the aircraft were not too heavy to take off, had all their guns removed. Not helpful if they were attacked!

Medmenham’s photographic interpreters or PIs, worked with basic stereoscopes, a device for viewing two offset images separately to the viewer’s left and right eye, which the brain would unconsciously combine to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth.

This allowed PIs to extract far more detail from the images than was possible with a single two dimensional flat photograph.

Medmenham produced reconnaissance reports which helped plan missions but also assessed photographs taken by Bomber Command.

Cameras were fitted to bombers which had a time delay calibrated to take photographs when the bombs detonated, capturing images of their impact.

Medmenham had many female officers who were very capable, one of whom remains well known today, Constance Babington Smith.

She had been a journalist for an aircraft magazine before the war and she felt that her knowledge of aircraft would make her an excellent volunteer for the WAAF.

She led a section who were studying photographs for evidence of aircraft production and newly designed planes.

She was the first person to identify a new type of rocket which came to be known as the Doodlebug.

Another famous woman to serve at Medmenham was the Churchill’s daughter, Sarah Oliver. She was a plotter of photographic sorties, popular with her fellow workers as she was diligent and never used her father’s name to pull rank.

The Medmenham Collection, a history of aerial photographs is held at the Military Intelligence Museum at Chicksands in Bedfordshire and the Medmenham archive is held at Wyton, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

The club was also delighted to welcome three members of the Henley Rotary Club, Phil Fletcher, Peter Thomson and Dennis Craggs, and two members of Didcot Rotary Club, Jane Milne and Sue Silcock.

If anyone would like to attend Henley Bridge Rotary talks, please call Annie Lathaen on 07769 687326.

Annie Lathaen

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