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Field Services

Page history last edited by Ian Gillis 2 weeks, 6 days ago





A compendium of personal stories and installations.


A new spreadsheet of personnel details covering 1950 to 2000 which is being updated as further entries come in. This has revealed an enormous depth of information about a usually hidden aspect of the work of the Company, and particularly the personal input that its people made to its success from the earliest days and throughout its worldwide operations.    


Input by Geoff Merriday

I was a Technical Apprentice starting in 1969 at the princely salary of £365.00 p/a.  Also I would like to point out that not all Marconi Apprentices attended Mid-Essex Technical College and School of Arts.  I was one of four in my intake that attended Colchester and North East Essex Technical College and School of Arts, where a parallel course was offered, mainly for the Post Office (later to become British Telecom), for ONC and HNC in Electrical Engineering.  The Pit was still the same and we met up with the other Apprentices in that first year in the Marconi Training Center at New Street.


It was still Marconi Wireless and Telegraph Company when I joined but during our apprenticeship the company split into Marconi Radar and Marconi Communications, at which point we were asked if we had a preference.  I was interested in digital electronics and said that ones and zeroes are the same in any world so I did not have a preference.  I was assigned to Marconi Radar.  After my apprenticeship was completed I joined Section 234 in Great Baddow (Digital Control and Data Handling) under the leadership of Julian Ryley (section leader) and Harry Fancy (group leader) where I worked on SSR Decoders and Plot Extractors.  After four years at Baddow I transferred to Field Services (they were very glad to have me as Marconi had just won the contract in Saudi Arabia that included the new digital plot extractors even though we only had the prototype running).


Before I was shipped off to Saudi I was sent to Yugoslavia, to train the Yugoslavian Air Force on the S600, Ray Wombwell was in charge,(May 1977) and from there (directly!  Do not pass go do not collect £200) to Iran to set up the IBAC air traffic system that had been in storage for many years.  To travel to Iran I had to have Cholera vaccinations and it was not easy convincing the Yugoslav Air Force that I needed it. I was taken to the Immunisation Center in Sarajevo and still have the Immunisation record all in Serbo-Croat! 


The IBAC system was an old Elliot system, built prior to the acquisition by Marconi, using DTL logic components (we were all into TTL logic at that time and hating the fact that Texas Instruments had flooded the market with cheap 74 series chips making the far superior Fairchild chips too expensive) on wired boards.  I was the 'best expert' because when I was asked if I knew anything about the IBAC system (I had seen it at Rivenhall) I answered "you mean the units with blue flashing lights" and that apparently qualified me as an expert.  They had three identical SSR plot extraction systems, one for the remote head, one for the local head and a hot spare that could be patched to either head.  This was where I met Alan Tustin, who was the site Engineer, although I had spoken with him many times when he was at Boulmer (one block of my apprenticeship was spent at Writtle Road as Don Reed's assistant when he was the chief inspector for Field Services).  I still remember the Alnwick (pronounced Annick) phone number for some reason).  Also in Teheran were Don Bloomfield, Ron Chambers, Dick Owen and Martin (Wag) Wager.  Adrian Kirk was also in Teheran at the same time but was working with the Iranian Air Force and not on the IBAC contract.  Now there was a character if I ever met one!  He and his charming wife Karla had an apartment in Teheran while the rest of us stayed at a rented house in Tajrish. It took 6 months to get one of the SSR Decoder/Extractor racks running and then 3 months for the other two.

I also met Maurice Warburton, who was the RME in Mashhad, when he passed through Tehran.


After Teheran it was off to Saudi Arabia (1978) for three and a half years.  I started in Riyadh where Don (Super Duper) Cooper was the site Engineer and then I was sent to Tabuk, where Jim Waddell was in charge, but not for long!  He abandoned us!  I recall he had some issues at home and Head Office said they would send a replacement and I was to be in charge temporarily.  I was 26 at the time and I'm still waiting to be relieved (pushing 65 now)!  Tabuk was the first 40T2 to be modified (digitally enhanced by replacing the Analog processors with Digital processors and adding plot extraction) and the contract stated that if we could match or exceed the original Flight trial results they would not require Flight trials on the other converted sites so it was important to get this one right.  We had a slew of experts come through Tabuk including John Ellis (on the hardware side) and Paul Dawkins (on the software side).  I remember Arvid Lium and Cyril Froggatt coming out for the flight trials and I especially remember Arvid bashing out Norwegian cusses on an old typewriter to relieve some of his frustration with the Saudi Air Force!


After Tabuk was done Mike Courtney and I went to Dhahran to calibrate that system ready for acceptance but not before myself and one of the site technicians (Paul Barry) drove the site GMC Suburban from Tabuk to Jeddah.  Eight Hundred miles in twelve hours!  I also did a short spell at Ta'if where I again met Maurice Warburton and Tony Brain.  Tony was another character (Field Services was full of them!) who I have seen order two pints and two scotches, when last call was announced, and finish them off in the 10 minutes drinking up time and this was after God knows how many pints he had consumed already.  I do'n't know how he survived in Saudi but I'm sure his liver appreciated his time there. I had met Maurice briefly in Tehran as he was passing through.  He had been the site engineer at the military radar site in Mashhad when I was in Iran.  He told me that during the uprising against the Shah his landlord had smuggled him out of town rolled up in a carpet in the trunk of his car.  The Iranians were stringing up westerners from lampposts at that time.  The only Radar site i did not visit was the one in Khamis Mushait and the only one I can find on Google Earth is Ta'if (21,349097,40.267633).  This site is on the edge of the Escarpment,15 steps out the back door of the Radar building was a steep drop.  I recall sitting on top of the SSR antenna (which was on top of the 40T2 antenna) eating a sandwich and watching the eagles soar below me!  On a clear day you could see the holy city of Makkah (with the Christian bypass going round it!) and almost to the Jeddah coast some 2,000 feet below.


After Saudi I spent a good amount of time at Rivenhall End (with a number of other Field Services reprobates).  The time was spent being board and downing too many pints at lunch time!  I had always said there was no way I'd be happy with a maintenance contract.  I liked to get the systems up and running and then move on.  There was no challenge sitting around waiting for something to go wrong or just doing system maintenance.  I would go into Writtle Road whenever I could and make a nuisance of myself looking for something better to do.  After about six months I was so bored that I accepted an assignment to Oman (Maintenance contract!) and was there for another three and a half years ending up as the Senior Engineer South in Thumrait.  When I first arrived I was a shift engineer on the Radar site.  The site engineer was Kevin Bishop, who is there now as the Resident Engineer, and Ray Wombwell was the overall manager.


My first week in country Eddy Eagles (another Apprentice in the same intake as me), who was the onsite mechanical engineer, asked if I would like to join the Marconi darts team and I thought my prowess in that art must have preceded me.  I was wrong again.  In Oman there were no open bars and people were not allowed to buy drinks in private clubs, which were allowed to have bars, so the deal with the darts competition was that you played your opponents at home and away.  When they were in your club you had to buy their drinks and when you went to their place they hosted you.  I found out latter that this team had just about drunk the place dry when they played on Marconi turf, so Eddy was putting together a drinking team as much as a darts team so we could reciprocate. Well we won the darts game and did a good job of depleting their Bar stocks!


After Oman, I went back to the UK to learn about the Martello system, which I did but I also had a trip to Turkey with Mike Banfield.  I referred to this as the fishing trip, we were the bait!  There were moves to sell NATO gap filling Radar systems, which included Turkey, and they were complaining about an old S600 system, particularly the Height Finder, and we were sent out to “make them happy”.  We were to meet the Marconi agent in Ankara and take it from there (wherever it may go!). We had a flight to Ankara, with a connection in Istanbul. Istanbul was where it started to get interesting. We passed through customs and immigration and were heading to our connecting flight when we were approached by two people who said we had to go with them. No explanation was given. We were taken back to immigration and the entry visas in our passports (the ink was barely dry!) were cancelled! Again, no explanation given, so we were beginning to wonder what was going on. Apparently, someone decided that we should pass through immigration in Ankara and not Istanbul.  We were taken to the connecting flight and had new visa stamps when we got to Ankara.  Most bizarre and a little worrying.


We met with the agent, who took us to Airforce Headquarters in Ankara where we met with various officers.  We were assigned an Airforce translator, a young Lieutenant, Çhetin Güven, who was to accompany us wherever we went.  We were told that we would meet Lt. Güven at the Officers Club in Çanakkale in two days.  It was suggested that we fly back to Istanbul, rent a car and drive. Lt. Güven would be taking a bus from Ankara. We were advised to travel as far as we could on the European side of the Sea of Mamara and take a ferry at Eceabat to Çanakkale.  This we did and remarkably we found the Officers Club where we met with Lt. Güven, who then took us to the local Airforce base to meet with the Commander.  It was here that we discovered that the S600 was deployed to the island of Gökçeada and we were cleared to take the military ferry the next day. The island was under military control and you could only get there with military transportation. I asked if I should take the rental car and was told it would be necessary.


On the island, we were billeted in a small fishing village on the South coast. We had a room that was just big enough for three beds (if our suitcases had not fit under the beds there would have been no room for them!).  There was no running water and the only “facility” was a hole in the ground outside the house.  Mike, who had laughed at me for packing a number of toilet rolls, was now very appreciative that I did!


Each day we drove up to the Radar site, which was on the highest point of the island, and joined the Airforce for breakfast (you have not lived until you have had breakfast, or any other meal, from a Turkish Airforce field kitchen), which consisted of strong coffee, soup and fresh bread. Here we started work on the S600 height finder. Never have I seen so many blown fuses wrapped in cigarette box metal foil! It was in November so the weather was not the best and it was cold and windy. The Magnetron in the C Band was bad and we had to wait for a new one to arrive and then we worked on the height computer (a bunch of diode boards).  We were making progress but then the weather turned bad and we were stuck there for a month as the ferry stopped running because of the weather.


With no running water at our lodgings after three days I decided we needed some attention to hygiene. I asked Çhetin what the Airforce did and he said they went to the Hammam (Turkish Baths) in the village, so I told him that is where we will go tonight. A downside to this was that I contracted Pseudomonas aeruginosa, due to bacterium in the water.  This would not be realized until my return to the UK, where it felt like someone was twisting a dagger in my ear!


While we were on the island, the base was visited by the Turkish minister of defence and we were invited to dinner with him at a local farm house. Mike was not happy about this and said we should not go. I asked the Major if it would be a problem if we turned down the invitation, saying that we were there to help fix the Radar and that should be our first priority. He said it would be OK.  We managed to get some good results from the system and luckily the weather cleared and we were able to get off the island.


One interesting situation that occurred was with respect to the Captain in charge of the Radar.  We were introduced and told that all Turkish officers spoke a second language and the Captain spoke French and did not understand English. Working on the Radar with the Turkish Warrant Officers was a challenge so I tried to joke with them and basically break down their barriers so we could communicate honestly. They were very suspicious of us in the beginning. One day the Captain walked by with a screwdriver in his hand and I said to the WO’s: “What is the most dangerous thing known to mankind?”. Getting nothing but blank looks I pointed to the Captain (who they all hated by the way) and said: “An officer with a screwdriver”, which made them all laugh but the Captain (who did not understand English?), turned and came at me with the screwdriver. I was grabbed and drug out of the room while the Captain was detained and we never saw him again.


Having finally got off the island and into an Hotel in Çanakkale we were glad to be able to shower and have a beer. We went to the restaurant in the hotel and found that a section of the restaurant was screened off so I asked our waiter what was going on and he said the Minister of defence and his wife were having dinner there. I asked the waiter to deliver a message for me and explained the dinner invitation that we had turned down. The waiter was very nervous but he disappeared and a military officer came to talk to me.  I explained the situation to him and asked if the minister and his wife would accept a bottle of the hotel's best champagne as a gift and hoped that we did not appear rude for turning down the dinner invitation. Off he went and then the head waiter came back and said that the minister was very pleased with my gesture and he would send the champagne immediately. Mike thought I was overstepping here and was very uncomfortable.  Dinner was otherwise uneventful and pleasant. After dinner we were invited to join the minister and his party at the bar for cognac, which we did, much to the discomfort of Mike.


On the drive, back to Istanbul, we were stopped by the police in a small village and this is where we discovered the registration had just expired on our rental car (we had rented for 3 weeks and it was now 6 weeks). I had called Hertz from the Hotel in Çanakkale and the rep said there was no problem, they just wondered where I had been (“we are missing you Mr. Merriday”). The police officer was waving the vehicle paperwork and in broken German he was telling me “kaputt!” and that I had to go directly to the Police Station in Istanbul. I did what comes naturally and played dumb, shrugging my shoulders and just saying “Hertz, Hertz”. He eventually gave up and let us go. With Istanbul airport, just a couple of miles away we rounded a curve to find a Police speed trap.  We were pulled over again and this time I knew we were driving a vehicle with expired registration. With visions of “Midnight Express” in my head, I was directed to a police car where a senior officer, who spoke excellent English, informed me that I had been caught in a Radar speed trap and he then asked if I knew what that was. I decided to play it cool and not make any smart remarks, gladly paying the on the spot fine, while hoping they never asked to see the vehicle papers, which they never did. Our next stop was the airport to get rid of the car!


One more night in Istanbul and then Home! I had to convert my left-over Turkish Lira to Deutschmarks as they had no Pounds Sterling at the airport (my expense report got very complicated!). We were booked on Lufthansa, through Frankfurt to London but the flight was 4 hours late leaving Istanbul.  Mike was worried about missing our connection in Frankfurt as it was the last flight out that day. I recall he was going to his sister’s wedding the next day so for me an extra night at the airline's expense in Frankfurt was not a problem but Mike was in a different situation. I told Mike we should speak to the stewardess when we were in radio range of Frankfurt but until then there was nothing we could do. This was when we found out what customer service is all about. I told the stewardess about Mike’s situation and she said she would talk to the pilot to see what could be done.


When we hit the tarmac at Frankfurt an announcement was made that we would temporarily stop before the gate and to please stay seated with the seat belt fastened. When we stopped, the stewardess came down the aisle and asked us to follow her. Air stairs were at the cabin door, which was opened and we told to exit. We were met on the tarmac by a Lufthansa crew who were already unloading baggage.  We were told to identify our luggage as soon as it came off. With our luggage, we were escorted to a waiting Mercedes that whisked us to the other side of the airport, where we gave up our luggage and were boarded on the London flight, which was now 20 minutes late because it was waiting for us. Lufthansa are the best!! We even made up time to land on time in London.


After working on Martello at Rivenhall, I was assigned to the Bornholm system, I decided that I had had enough of Field Services so I made a move to Systems, working for Gerry Valentine. This only lasted six months as I had been seeing an American lady (introduced by Allen Tustin’s wife and also her cousin) and things had become serious so I decided to quit and move to America and get married! 32 years later I’m still here with my wife Celia and our two daughters. I tell people now that I have lived in my house in Orange County, CA longer than any other so I guess it’s home.


Jerry told me that if I had not quit I would probably be going back to Turkey as the “Fishing Trip” had been successful and the Turks wanted me back.




Comments (1)

Bryn Morgan said

at 9:48 pm on Feb 8, 2017

Brought back lots of memories Geoff maybe I need to download on the many places / countries I visited + the stories with the many Techs and Engineers I worked with on many of our Radars.

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