October 27, 2021

Karen remembers her father – Charles Ditchfield

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My father won a scholarship to Cambridge University in 1939 & his arrival there was delayed by 3 weeks because of the outbreak of WWII. He obtained both a BA & MA in Natural Science & was hoping to stay on at Trinity Hall & do his PhD but in July 1942 the University was visited by Winston Churchill who told him to report to the station the next morning. He arrived in Malvern which had already had a large influx

Charles Ditchfield

of people in May, the only Billet available for him was outside Malvern down the road to Storridge. The owners of the house were not at all pleased to have him thrust upon them and wouldn’t even allow him to make himself a cup of tea. This was hard for a young northerner who came from a close knit family where the kettle was always on the boil on the range. His parents wrote to him weekly but had no idea where in the country he was. He had to get up in the morning & walk to the British Restaurant which was situated off Como Road in the centre of Malvern before he could buy a cup of tea & some breakfast before walking to the Malvern College site where the Scientists were based.

Charles had joined the Home Guard while at Cambridge, so belonged to the one at Malvern College when he arrived in Malvern. The setting up of the Home Guard unit there was not

really popular with the authorities who thought it a distraction to the work being carried out there. He worked on ground & airborne radar & often tested equipment in the back of planes taking off from the Defford airbase. On one particular flight returning to Defford the plane came in lower than it should & sliced the tops off a row of apple trees in an adjacent field. The pilot managed to land safely on the airfield but thought he better go & apologise to the farmer. When he arrived at the farmhouse the farmer’s wife said her husband had just come back in from the orchard talking gibberish. Apparently, he had been picking fruit when his wife brought him a flask of tea. He climbed down from his ladder, went over by the hedge to drink it & the plane came in low right where he had been standing at the top of his ladder & removed all the tree above the ladder.

Home Guard at Malvern College

The war over, he turned his attention to millimetre radio waves & invented a new waveguide mixer that was patented & produced in large numbers giving Britain a World lead in the field. He then turned his attention to millimetre wave radiometers, using one to measure radiation from the sun during a total eclipse in 1954.

He then went on to supervise the development of Green Minnow, the World’s first multi- channel airborne radiometer. This work was what he was doing when I was born. My mother was in hospital for months afterwards, they were so keen on Dad being at work that clearance was given under the official secrets act for him to take me into the South site of the Establishment. Not sure what secrets I as a baby of 3 weeks was supposed to be of concern, but I was well looked after by his secretary.

C R Ditchfield

He was then moved on to maser research & became a world expert on the maser & produced a major breakthrough in its development. He wrote many papers on his work both individually & in collaboration with others. As an 8-year-old again clearance had to be given again for him to take me with him during my school summer holidays as my mother was in hospital again. This time he was working at Defford & I was left in the hut under the scanner there to do my colouring.

In 1968 at the request of Technology Minister Tony Benn he was put in charge of a new team to create national standards for all microwave devices. With the help of Jim Taylor & Bob Wormald they produced the World’s most accurate microwave piston attenuator, amazing the world’s experts with its ingenious design.

Charles left RSRE on 30th April 1981 after nearly 40 years, he was a firm believer in trying to keep home life & work life separate but at times they did have to come together but he hardly talked about the war years so I was quite surprised when at the age of 11, I went to school in Worcester & many of the children knew a lot about WWII. Before then all my friends except two were the children of fathers who worked at the radar establishment. The first 5 years of my life had been spent in a ministry house in Pickersleigh Road, so all the neighbours worked there too.

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