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Don Bennett and the RAF Pathfinder Force


A meeting with Winston Churchill and Robert Renwick
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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Well, Churchill admitted to the Secretary for State for Air on that very day, 7th June 1942, saying he had heard good reports of progress and how he got good reports, I don't know but there you are because there was nothing good about it, but he... when he heard of the crash, he demanded to see us. And so a few weeks later Dee, who was our division leader... he and I were summoned to the... to Downing Street to meet Churchill and he'd assembled in the cabinet room a whole galaxy of cabinet ministers, Secretary for State for Air, the Chief of Bomber Command, the Deputy, his advisor, Cherwell and Shonberg, who was the Head of EMI, who had the contract for making 200 equipments and it was a very extraordinary meeting. He was told what had happened and he repeated his demand that he must have two squadrons by October, to light up the target, and Shonberg said, 'Prime Minister, even if we had all the details we couldn't possibly make 200 equipments by October', and Churchill got very angry and said, 'Look here, we don't have objections in this room', and then I had the misfortune to say, 'Prime Minister, we have just lost our bomber with the only equipment in it'. And he turned to me and he said, 'Young man', he said, 'You've just lost one bomber, don't you realise that last night we lost thirty over Cologne and you've just lost one. You go into that ante room and don't come out until you tell us how you're going to do it'. And I could see his unlit cigar being whipped over his shoulder into the place in the shelf behind him, and that was Churchill. And he... so he was really asking for the impossible. He said, 'Don't you realise this is our only means of hitting the enemy?'

Of course we were isolated and we'd just lost Singapore and the situation really did seem hopeless. Well, what happened then, we had a frantic weekend of going around various firms and Churchill then appointed Renwick. He wrote to the Secretary of State and said he wanted to put a superior person in charge of this development who would report directly to him, and he said he heard good reports of a man called Renwick who was the Chairman of the London Electricity Board, I think, so that's how we came in touch with Sir Robert Renwick. He later became Lord Renwick, and by that means we really did have immediate contact with the Prime Minister.

Now, Renwick... he appointed a person we called a winger, a Canadian called Sayers and if anything went wrong or if we wanted anything and Sayers couldn't put it right or couldn't get the thing we wanted, he'd report to Renwick and Renwick would report immediately to Churchill. That's the sort of priority we lived under in those days, and I can tell you it was pretty unpleasant. At the same time the Bomber Command reorganised itself and CMC Bomber Harris was at the meeting and Saunby, his deputy, and they scarcely said a word and the situation was quite dramatic because General Ismay, who was the secretary, kept coming in and being summoned by Churchill, and he came in and said, 'Prime Minister, the Cabinet are waiting outside'. He said, 'Tell them to wait'. That sort of attitude. Anyhow, I must say he made a tremendous impression on me and he appointed Renwick and that situation was thereafter nearly every day Renwick would phone me and he'd say, 'Any news? Any problems?' That's the sort of life we lived.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Megan Argo Alastair Gunn

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Tags: Downing Street, Electric and Musical Industries, Cologne, Singapore, London Electricity Board, Winston Churchill, Robert Renwick, Lord Cherwell, Isaac Shoenberg, Bomber Harris, Hastings Ismay, 1st Baron Ismay

Duration: 4 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008