Published: April 20th 2012April 20th 2012 Guy Fawkes made his mark in history with a bang, not quite how he intended, and it feels almost cliché that we continue to commemorate his capture with dazzling displays of fireworks and bonfires. Yet, when it comes to explosives our fascination doesn’t just stop with a handful of fiery fireworks, or the chemistry lab of a school, no. It’s deep and rooted. Rightly or wrongly, our history is splattered with the use of these materials that detonate, and the Isle of Man is no exception.
Historic Isle of Man Travel
West on The Isle of Man is the beautiful sunset city of Peel and a little beyond Dalby. Here you can discover a whole new outlook on the Second World War.
Donald and Margaret Watterson of Creglea Farm, in Dalby used dynamite to help clear their farmland shortly after the Second World War, around 50-years ago.
“There were four steel Pylons or Radio Defense Systems (RDS) in this area [on the west coast of the island]” recalls Mr. Watterson. These Radio Detection Findings (RDF) or Pylons, nicknamed “Radars” from the American slang, were hoisted across the rural seaside villages of Dalby, Cregneash, Scarlett and the Bride from 1939-1945. They were the world’s first comprehensive radar systems and crucial to winning the war. However, their skeletal presence of protruding aerials was an eyesore, and after the war had ended, the Pylons no longer had any significant use, so slowly began to fall into disrepair.
Historian Alan Cleary wrote in his story of radar on the Isle of Man: “There is now agreement that British radar was a major factor in preventing a German invasion following the Battle of Britain in 1940 by allowing a small force of fighter aircraft to be directed to the appropriate positions for attacking incoming aircraft.”
Mr. Watterson hands me some correspondence letters from historian Mr. Clearly and his discoveries of the importance of the radars in this location. It becomes clear how this chain or network of detection and location radar stations proved an effective air defense for gathering information quickly and accurately relating to enemy aircraft.
Mr. Watterson reflects back to his youth, smiling, he recounts when a group of local village folk gathered in his field. Detonators in one hand, explosives in the other, it was a man’s job to work the land, or clear the fields during this time, and what better way than with a load of dynamite.
“The explosions went off in two legs” says Mr. Watterson. “However, we once had to go back four
times to bring this one wooden aerial down, it just wouldn’t budge and the wind was getting up a bit. We used wooden ladders and no hard hats to get to the top of the aerials and bring them down. There was no safety during this time! We used a fuse, wire and detonators.”
He adds: “It was dangerous work. I remember driving to the area, with the detonators hidden under my vehicle seat. We were sat right on top of the explosives and detonators. If the detonators had been triggered…” Shaking his head, he then tells me of how the steel transmitter masts were demolished.
“They then sent a crew of riggers to demolish the steel transmitting masts…We couldn’t do it ourselves. The metals were then auctioned, because they were very useful during this time.”
These aerial rods were mounted to hold 240ft MK II wooden and steel towers. Meanwhile, technical buildings (the land moulds you can still identify on the current farmland) were placed between the towers and covered with earth. They were camouflaged by draped netting over angle-iron struts to disguise the shape of the buildings. A few lighter, makeshift “Dummy” or “Q” buildings were also built to draw away enemy fire from the technical radar stations. You may have
noticed a range of small peculiar land moulds scattered across Dalby. Camouflaged, this vestige of Second World War history is a unique reminder of the Isle of Man’s position in global politics.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Watterson explains how they put to good use these parts of the aerials that were demolished.
“We’re still using the wood from the aerials and the huge nuts and bolts in our house.” The house is a beautifully converted coach house. Mrs. Watterson then eagerly takes me outside to view the surroundings. They have a lavish garden, planted, pruned and cultivated with a series of scented flowers and a grocery of plump fruit and vegetables. This farmhouse neighbours the series of small radar stations.
John C. Hall, who lives in Peel, was one of the many who worked at these Second World War radar stations on the Island. Mr. Hall was in the RAF working as a radar mechanic at Dalby in 1948. However, during the war it was largely the WASPs (Women Air force Service Pilots) who formed the workforce in these radar stations.
According to Mr. Hall: “There were four steel masts measuring around 350ft and two wooden ones at 260ft…Once the Cold War ended the metal masts were sold to the USA…well that‘s what I heard. We kept the wooden ones though.” Mr. Hall then tells me of the explosives used to blow up the wooden masts. “It was Donald who blew them up in his field with some other people. I was‘t there at the time, but I remember packing the boxes which contained dynamite into the car and helping Donald. Of course I didn’tknow at the time that it was
dynamite, until I opened one up to my surprise!”
Today you can still see the historic remains of these once very important stations and radio Pylon aerials. Even though the radio aerials towering the countryside, like the Eiffel Tower took up farmland, and had a controversial standing in society, they nevertheless proved a valuable asset to winning the war against Germany and the ultimate boy toy to blow up!
By Desiree Capstick