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Cambridge and meeting Bertrand Russell


My time in Canada with the RAF
Richard Gregory Scientist
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I got posted to the most boring posting in the end because I didn’t go to the Gold Coast, where, mark you, I would probably have got some rotten disease or something, it was very dangerous, the Gold Coast at that time actually, and I went to Canada. Why did the RAF go to Canada? Because it had training command and pilots would be trained in Canada. There were half a dozen very large airforce bases in Canada and I was posted onto training command and I went to a place called Debert which is Nova Scotia, which is absolutely in the wild, and I was there for a long time actually. Very, very cold and we got snowdrifts ten foot high and that sort of thing, and the aircraft would kind of blow away in the middle of the night, you know, it really was something actually, it really was. Nothing there but sort of Christmas trees everywhere, incredibly boring place, I thought, I must admit. But I had quite a lot of fun there because I tested out radar and airborne radar, did a lot of flying actually in Canada and I actually rather enjoyed it in many ways. It was totally away from the war zone. The only thing I ever did which was faintly brave was pulling a chap out of a burning aeroplane which actually was rather brave, I’m quite proud of myself looking back at it. I was standing on the petrol tanks in the wing of the burning aeroplane, you know, actually pull this sort of sliding thing open and we got him out. Other people rushed up and we got him out. He lived, he never walked, oh, he walked again but he never flew again, that’s right, his legs were cooking in this thing. It was an extraordinary sight actually. Standing on this aeroplane, all these flames around this chap’s legs, you know, how are we going to get him out? Are we going to get blown up and so on? It was a dodgy situation. But when I compare that with actually being in a war zone, which I never was, I mean it’s pitiful. It was the one event in the whole war, apart from this air raids and so on, where I was ever in any particular danger, you know, honestly. The only time we ever saw a German was when we were flying over the Bay of Fundy and there was a German submarine and the chaps were swimming around the submarine and we didn’t have a depth charge with us. We normally carried depth charges but we didn’t have one on that occasion so we waved to them and flew off. That was my war experience, you know, for almost six years, it’s crazy really. And then I went to Kingston, Ontario, which is an absolutely beautiful place on the Great Lakes and that was lovely. I had my own racing dinghy and did a lot of sailing there. That was really nice, so I had a rather sort of soft war, I have to admit, really. And I tried to teach myself physics. I used to make atomic models with wire and beads. I used to go to haberdasheries and get beads and make models and one has lockers to put one’s possessions in. Mine was full of these atomic models, you know, which was quite fun.

The late British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, Richard Gregory (1923-2010), is well known for his work on perception, the psychology of seeing and his love of puns. In 1978 he founded The Exploratory, an applied science centre in Bristol – the first of its kind in the UK. He also designed and directed the Special Senses Laboratory at Cambridge which worked on the perceptual problems of astronauts, and published many books including 'The Oxford Companion to the Mind', 'Eye and Brain' and 'Mind in Science'.

Listeners: Sally Duensing Adam Hart-Davis

Sally Duensing currently is involved in perception exhibition work and research on science and society dialogue programmes and is working with informal learning research graduate students and post-docs at King's College, London. In 2000 she held the Collier Chair, a one-year invited professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, England. Prior to this, for over 20 years she was at the Exploratorium, a highly interactive museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco where she directed a variety of exhibition projects primarily in fields of perception and cognition including a large exhibition on biological, cognitive and cultural aspects of human memory.

Born on 4 July 1943, Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance photographer, writer, and broadcaster. He has won various awards for both television and radio. Before presenting, Adam spent 5 years in publishing and 17 years at Yorkshire Television, as researcher and then producer of such series as Scientific Eye and Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers. He has read several books, and written about 25. His latest books are Why does a ball bounce?, Taking the piss, Just another day, and The cosmos: a beginner's guide. He has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He is a keen supporter of the charities WaterAid, Practical Action, Sustrans, and the Joliba Trust. A Companion of the Institution of Lighting Engineers, an Honorary Member of the British Toilet Association, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Merton College Oxford, and patron of a dozen charitable organizations, Adam has collected thirteen honorary doctorates, The Horace Hockley Award from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, a Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Medal from the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, and the 1999 Gerald Frewer memorial trophy of the Council of Engineering Designers. He has no car, but three cycles, which he rides slowly but with enthusiasm.

Duration: 3 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008