NOSTALGIA: Beachy Head played part in wartime effort
A new booklet by Eastbourne Local History Society member Michael Ockenden tells the story of Beachy Head’s role in the Second World War.
The booklet is called Wartime TV Pictures from Paris at Beachy Head.
Michael writes, “The height of Beachy Head and its position just across the water from occupied France made it an ideal wartime site for radio and radar installations.
“The Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force all took advantage of this superb location.
“In the summer of 1942, WRNS operators started to pick up unidentifiable signals apparently coming from Paris. The mystery waveforms were photographed and sent to RAF specialists, who realised to their astonishment that they were television transmissions.
“Yet the fledgling French TV service with its transmitter at the Eiffel Tower, like the BBC’s at Alexandra Palace, had gone off the air in 1939. So what on earth was going on?
“Two officers were sent to Eastbourne to investigate. On their way they called at a factory to scrounge some TV sets and aerials but the initial results were disappointing – in those early days the coverage was a mere 40 miles around Paris and London.
“However, it became apparent that the occupying Germans had put the Eiffel Tower transmitter back on the air for servicemen at military hospitals. This was of interest to RAF intelligence, who suspected TV newsreels might show the effects of allied bombing on French industrial targets. A massive high-gain aerial was designed to give pin-point accuracy on Paris and this brought in good pictures at an RAF monitoring station that was set up near the Beachy Head Hotel.
“Then, in 2014, the wartime diary of an RAF technician who always claimed he had served “at Beachy Head radar station” was found in the false bottom of a trunk in a London attic. The family wrote requesting details of the radar station and meanwhile the son transcribed the diary and brought it to Eastbourne.
“This was a revelation for it showed the supposed work with radar was a front – in fact his father had served at a top-secret intercept station staffed by German-speaking WAAFs. This was situated in a compound above the Eastbourne Downs Golf Club.
“The operators were exiles – mainly Jewish women – whose task it was to copy Luftwaffe signals traffic at long range via short wave. Their logbooks were sent the following day to Bletchley Park by dispatch rider. The women also listened out for Luftwaffe pilots and their controllers across the Channel; at times they might even transmit misleading information to confuse the aircrew. The TV monitoring facility near the hotel was later moved to the compound of the intercept station.”
Wartime TV pictures from Paris at Beachy Head, researched in Britain and Germany by Michael Ockenden, tells of this little known episode in Eastbourne’s wartime history.
It is available (£3 + £1 p+p) from Liz Moloney, 18 The Moorings, St John’s Road, BN20 7NL, or by email at [email protected] Cheques should be made out to ELHS.
It can also be purchased over the counter at the Heritage Centre, 2 Carlisle Road, which is open on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from 2-5pm, Saturdays 10am-4pm and Sundays 2-5pm.
Details of Eastbourne Local History Society and its meetings can be found at www.eastbournehistory.org.uk. For membership enquiries, contact Diana Guthrie on Eastbourne 419181 or [email protected]