Thursday, 28 February 2008

Night-duty in the radar bunker

My grandfather told a story from his time in national service, which he spent working at RAF Ringstead Radar Station, in Dorset, circa.1950. This is what my mother and I can remember of it:

At Ringstead there was a radar bunker built into a hillock in the middle of a large wooded area. It was manned 24 hours a day by one person at a time working in shifts. The over-night shift was notoriously unpleasant due to the isolation from the rest of the camp and the darkness of the forest.

One night the man on night-duty, who had been working the shift for some months, made a radio-call to the camp. He asked to be collected at once. The job had got to him, and the following day he left the station altogether, taken away for psychiatric treatment.

Others were reluctant to take his place, and it came as a surprise that the only volunteer was a young man who was known for being what my grandad referred to as "effeminate". This man went on to work the night shift for a long time without complaint.

When asked how he endured the nights spent alone in the bunker buried in the woods, he replied, "The only thing that irritates me is that the slightest breeze causes the door to rattle against its frame. So I leave it unlocked and slightly open."

Unfortunately, his apparent fearlessness did not last. Eventually he "cracked", as his predecessor had, and was likewise relieved of the post. From then on a new policy was put in place: that the night shift would always be worked by two people at a time.

These photographs are of the RAF Ringstead Radar Station after its closure in 1970. From grandad's description, I'd guess that this bunker is the one from his story. The surrounding area seems to have been partially deforested, and the bunker itself is stripped. However, with a little imagination it is easy to envisage how unnerving a night alone there could be.

(photographs courtesy of Shaun Churchill at


diynick said...

my father was C/O at ringstead in the early 1950's, i remember going there to a christmas party that could have been in 1954 or 1955, and remember the crt screens and the big towers - no trace of anything today. I have tankard presented to my father when he left, it is inscribed to "Ringstead's last station master"

David said...

I was stationed at RAF Ringstead in the 1950's before being transferred to RAF Verne Portland.On coming off night watch at the radar site very few would opt to walk back to upton camp thro' the woods which were reputed to be haunted.Served there with a Doug Gardiner who became a policeman in civvy street.Nothing much left of Upton Camp bar the Co's and admin Hut and the cookhouse.From Dave steer (ex LAC1)

diynick said...

david - get in touch -


Laurie Coker said...

I was stationed at R.A.F. Ringstead in 1956 as a police dog handler I remember the bunker well it housed the telephone switchboard and at that time it was only manned by one man but I also remember they always seemed pleased when my dog Baron and I dropped in for a cup of tea. close to the woods there were ruins which were supposed to be of an ancient abbey and in a field nearby could be seen crop marks circles of what had been a village. The story was that the Vikings raided raped and pillaged, burnt down both abbey and village and on certain nights the figure of a monk with his habit on fire could be seen running through the woods. One night when on patrol and going through the woods I smelt burning but thought nothing of it probably a bonfire nearby but then my dog stopped dead in his tracks and all his hackles rose and he was starring at something further up the road and refused to move forward but after about thirty seconds he carried on as if nothing had happened then I realised that the burning smell had gone. I should point out that there was made up road through the woods lighted with street lamps at that time. I saw nothing at all but Baron did and he did not like what he saw. Laurie coker S.A.C. R.A.F. Police 1955 to 1959