RAF Cardington Camp

Balloon Command Signals Unit

Sent in from Mr J Miller is this fabulous photograph taken in May 1944 of the Balloon Command Signals Unit based at Cardington. I personally was not aware of this unit so it was an absolute pleasure to receive this picture and information.

Balloon Command Signals Unit 1944

The Balloon Command Signals Unit in 1944 - Mr Miller is on the fourth row from the bottom, third in from the right. Centret front row is CO Sqdrn Leader Foy.

Mr Miller served as a Despatch Rider in 1943 and 1944. He was billeted in one of the huts near the Gas Plant and remembers the corporal in charge Bill Chessham from Bedford. His duties as Despatch Rider delivering messages took him to London, Biggin Hill, Herne Bay and other places. He also recalls his CO Sqdrn Leader Foy and Warrant Officer Diprose from Malta. He recalls that the winter of 1943 was particularly harsh and remembers picking up Jamaican RAF recruits from Bedford railway station who found the cold temperatures hard to bear. The Unit folded in Oct 1944 which would perhaps reflect signs that the war was beginning to draw to an end. He went on to serve in SO53 Squadron Airfield Construction in the Middle East.

Luckily for us Mr Miller had also retained a song sheet from the farewell party held at Cardington on October 12 1944 when the unit was disbanded. Here are two of the songs from the sheet which throw up some nice little snippets of information.We learn from the first song that the unit has operated for four years. I think the second song goes to the tune of Uncle Tom Cobley and gives away a few of the serving men's names.

" My Old Dutch”

We’ve been a Unit now for four long years,
And our work’s been a task of joy,
There ain’t a C.O. in the RAF,
As we’d swap for our dear old Foy,
There ain’t a C.O. in the RAF,
As we’d swap for our dear old Foy.

If you know anyone who served in this unit or recognise any of the names in the songs please get in touch.

Reginald Hinchcliffe - a Corporal in the Unit

I always counted myself fortunate to have been given the information and photograph above from Mr Miller as up to that point I had no knowledge of this particular Unit. So this month when I heard about Reginald Hinchcliffe from his grandson Simon Buchanan in Canada I was really thrilled. Reginald was a corporal in the Unit and had kept a few documents from his time in the RAF, we are lucky that these have survived and that Simon had shared them with us. These are terrific items and probably are the only ones around today. Fantastic! Here is Reginald's story.

Reginald Hinchliffe, Corporal, Radio Mechanic: BCSU and 38th Airborne Unit

"My grandad was 25 when he was called up in June of 1940. He was a printer, by trade, working for Netherwood Dalton publishing and I think the level of his qualifications made him a candidate as radio mechanic in the RAF. At the time he still lived at home in Huddersfield. In the mad rush to mobilise for the war he was sent to Warrington where they had absolutely no idea what to do with the new recruits. He was ultimately destined to balloon command signals unit at Cardington and after training (square bashing as I've read it being called) he was posted to Falmouth to maintain the radios on the barrage balloons. He almost came to serious injury during that time when replacing radio batteries on the boats that tethered the balloons. On rough water he was pitched out of his motor launch while carrying batteries and luckily landed on his back in the balloon tether boat, but injuring his knee in the process.

He kept meticulous notes on the radio sets and how to maintain them (his note book has come in to my possession). Some of this meticulous note taking can be seen on the scanned document shown below. This is the back page of an address book he kept. The back page he kept track of his postings from 1940 to 1944. I believe most of his postings were to maintain the radios on the balloons but by late 1944 he was posted to the 38th Airborne unit and likely would have been maintaining radios on aircraft."

He was injured there with shrapnel from a doodle bug. As the story goes he and his unit were in their hut when they heard the motor cut out. The shout went out to get in the trenches, my grandad was the last man in with his foot sticking out and he picked up a fragment in his ankle. He was married five days later. Now as the story unfolds, the shrapnel severed an artery in his foot but it took several weeks for this problem to come to light. That was towards the end of 1944; my mom was born a year later.

Signal unit June 1944 Hinchcliffe

This ticket allocated to Reginald tells it's own story as we can see that by June 1944 the Unit had been in operation for four years. This is such an interesting item.

Simon continues:

"After the big push for D-Day his duties at RAF Gravesend came to an end and he returned to Cardington. After Cardington he was posted to Great Dunmow and here is where his record keeping comes to an end. There is a note in a pay book that he kept which states a lot of his kit was lost during an air raid. The pay book was lost too and then found/returned some time later. I suspect that his record keeping came to an end because of what he lost during this air raid.

Most of the stories my grandad told me were of the people he briefly met throughout England. He did keep in touch with a family in Falmouth that he billeted with; he would visit them during the '50s. My grandad was a very avid gardener, an above average gardener. From this family he took a cutting of a succulent which has been growing in his conservatory ever since; right up to his passing. My wife and I brought a cutting of this plant home with us several years ago and it's thriving. Funny by-product of history that unfolded seventy years ago."

Signal Unit reunion dinner 1947 signatures   (2)
Signal Unit reunion dinner 1949 (2)
Signal Unit reunion dinner 1947 page  (2)

I can't thank Simon enough for sharing his grandfathers story and items with us. Above is a menu from a B C S U Reunion Dinner held in London in 1947 which Reginald attended. It's wonderful for us that he had the foresight to keep these documents. Hopefully Simon will be able to locate a photograph of his grandfather soon so we can show him here. Thank you Reginald!

William Richard Shaw Balloon Command Signals Unit 1944

Leading Aircraftman 1497511 William Richard Shaw

February 2020.

Many thanks to Stuart Ralphs who has made contact and has been able to identify one of the men in the group photograph at the top of this page as his father in law William Richard Shaw. Stuart is also seeking help in finding out what else his father did in the war and what his role as a wireless operator entailed. He explains:

“I am currently researching family history for my wife and was amazed to see the photo of the BCSU on the rafcardingtoncamp website. I have a copy of the same photo in an album compiled by my father- in- law during his service during WW2. I can identify him as the 7th person in from the right on the second row from the back. Zooming in on the image, he has his right arm folded across his chest.

He was Leading Aircraftman 1497511 William Richard Shaw and he was a wireless operator. I have obtained his service record from the MOD and it would seem that after his initial training at Warrington he was attached to different squadrons although I have no idea in what parts of the UK he saw service apart from some time at Scapa Flow in 1942. I do know that towards the end of the war and into 1946 he was posted to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

I don’t know if you have any access to any archives but it would be really interesting to know where he was within the UK and to understand a little more about what role wireless operators performed alongside barrage balloons. Kind regards
Stuart Ralphs.

If anyone has any information about William Shaw and where he was stationed or what his role as a wireless operator entailed please get in touch. It would be great to be able to help Ralph in his research. – Thanks Jane.

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