Geoffrey Fynn (jnr.) shares his father’s story.
The comment that the “Locals thought they were conscientious objectors…” was what initially caught my eye in the article in The Mail on Sunday, 14th March 2021. For years during the Second World War and afterwards, my father’s sister would not talk to him as she assumed that he had indeed been a Conscientious Objector. He had been fit but had apparently not “joined up”. Little did she know what he had been doing…
Also by co-incidence I spotted an article that same day in a local history magazine, mentioning a memorial to the crew of an RAF Handley Page Halifax which crashed near Goodrich in Herefordshire on 7th June 1942. The aircraft had been on a test flight from RAF Defford; carrying test radar equipment and a number of scientists; including an Alan Blumein. In total there were 9 on board including the crew of five, none of them survived. The cause of the crash was given as: “a servicing fault.” So the life of a development scientist was also fraught with the dangers of war.
My father, Geoffrey Wilfred Fynn, was a Malvern “boffin” but not in the academically qualified way. He was, so I have been told, much respected in his various fields but without any “formal qualification” that I can find!
He was born in April 1918 (on Hitler’s birthday!) to parents who were Master Tailors in Cambridge. I have their accounts which reveal many well known people of that time to have persistently ignored their tailor’s bills as was the fashion at that time!! Geoffrey was educated to the age of 14 years at the Saint John’s College Choir School. He then joined The Cavendish Laboratory and later the Mond Laboratory as a Laboratory Assistant in those steamy times of far reaching physical science discoveries. He worked under J.D Cockcroft who signed a best wishes note when he left to go to Worth Mantravers. He would regularly remind me that he was paid 5 Shillings (25 pence) a week “… and that came from whichever scientist’s own pocket for whom he might have worked during the week.”
In 1939, he received his call-up; not to the armed services but to the Civil Service. He was posted to where he always described as “Christchurch” but that could have where he had “digs” or was a “blind”. I have some negatives of pictures taken by him at that time of places such as Lulworth which is only a stone’s throw from Worth Mantravers. He used to talk about having to move from there because they would get “Daylight Raiders” putting cannon shells through the roofs of their labs and wrecking weeks of work. Whether this was before or after the Allied raid on France to “pinch” the German radar sets I don’t know, but after that raid he found himself moved to Malvern College and later to Pale Manor.
Shortly after being “called up”, he worked on radar sets out in the field and recounted being on the coast in County Durham during the winter of 1939-40 which was a very bad and cold winter. He told me that their fingers were so cold and without feeling when making and re-making sets, that they were tightening 4BA and 6BA (very small to tiny) nuts and bolts on the sets with their thumbs. Not an easy process. A request to be relieved over Christmas that winter in order to recover was refused at the highest level (or so he was told)!
At Malvern he later transferred from radar itself to I.F.F. (Identification Friend or Foe) and to H2S mentioned by others.
My mother was also called up to a scientific task. She was trained at Walthamstow Technical College to conduct x-ray photography – not of people but of fuses – shell and bomb fuses. I’m not quite sure why this was done but I guess it was to determine any development or production faults. Either way, the daughter of a recently ordained Church of England Vicar found herself moved from the University of Durham to Pale Manor, Malvern via London and the rest as they say is history.
The only thing that I can remember about the I.F.F. was that some years after the end of the 2WW (I was born in 1949!) and that was when he presented me with an I.F.F. chassis and a soldering iron. I was invited to de-solder the whole thing and recover as many re-usable components as possible. I will remember the smell of the process for ever. But by his own means, when we lived in Suckley, Worcestershire, we had the only tiny handmade television set in the whole village. They descended on us for the Coronation!! Few houses had electricity but Dad set up windmills in our orchard to charge Ex-WD batteries from which we had lighting and wireless, a gramophone, and television. The latter failed during a performance of Hansel and Gretel; not to be replaced until I had completed my O-Levels 10+ years later.
At the end of the Second World War, my father was at the then named R.R.D.E and was on the Basic Techniques Group. Quite what they did I have no idea but it was obviously quite important. I have a group picture from that year. My father is central in the front row in shorts. He always wore shorts!! But two men to his right is a “B. Pippard” who later became Professor Sir Brian Pippard, Head of Physics etc. etc. at Cambridge University. He would have been 25 in the picture. My father was 27. There are plenty of other names that I recognise; not just from the fields of science but also from our family social life during the 50’s and 60’s. It was far from a mad social whirl, but I can remember being taken along on the pillion of his motorbike visiting his friends in houses throughout Malvern including Leigh Sinton Road and Pickersleigh Road for example. Dr John Ashmead worked with my father at the Mond Lab in Cambridge prior to the war. He is seated just behind my father in the picture.
After the war, but I do not know at what point, he came home one evening and said that we might be moving to West Wales, to Aberporth. His job had changed and he was working in the Guided Weapons Section. In the end we didn’t actually move house! Not much was spoken about these things but later I found it to be work on the guidance systems for “Bloodhound;” a ram-jet surface to air missile and later on Blue Steel and Blue Streak. Blue Steel was an air-launched, rocket-propelled nuclear armed standoff missile. Blue Streak was an intermediate-range ballistic missile but was (in)famously cancelled by the then government and he was “on the move” again. But before he moved, another Section picture was taken in the late-ish 1950’s. My father is at the far right of the front row. If you then seek out the Army Colonel and move four men to his left you find one Jimmy Diamond!! Did we know he was into the Cold War nuclear missile development? Again I recognise the names and some of the faces. Jim Powell (back row 6 from the left) later co-wrote a technical tome with my father titled, “The Cutting and Polishing of Electro-optic Materials” of which more later
So dad was on the move again… This time to South Site in Saint Andrews Road. I’m fairly sure the new section was “Physics”. I’m also fairly sure that he started his foray into LASERS. He developed machines and methods of cutting and polishing laser crystal materials. I’m not sufficiently qualified to say much more. He was promoted to Senior Experimental Officer on January 1st 1964. He co-
wrote a book as mentioned above on cutting and polishing laser crystal materials. Copies still sell for huge sums in the US and on Ebay. During this time he also developed a means of drilling “very small holes”. I understand that his methods feature in “chip” production to this day. He retired in 1978 and I still have his signature on his Official Secrets Act leaving papers. I think he was always a bit miffed that he didn’t make Scientific Officer grade but without any written qualifications, he decided that it was a forlorn hope!!
The third and final group picture is one of a retired ex-RRE reunion at some date in the early ‘00’s. My father seems to be in his 80’s and is seated far left. I only recognise a few of the others including one who had been one of “dad’s apprentices” during the late ‘50’s/early ‘60’s.
My father died in 2012 at the age of 94. He had led a full life and even up to the time that he started to suffer from vascular dementia, he was still grinding and polishing lenses for his own astronomical telescopes. They are even now in effective use when time allows.
Guided Weapon’s Section
Basic Technique’s Group