The Association was established as the Medmenham Club in 1946 to maintain the camaraderie enjoyed by the photographic interpreters (PIs) of all services who served in the Allied Central Interpretation Unit (ACIU) at RAF Medmenham during the Second World War.
Now of course I was too young to participate in that particular conflict (or to be truthful any conflict) but during my time in 21 Intelligence Coy Int & Sy Gp (V) I did qualify as a PI as can be seen from my certificate below and I’m lucky to be a member of the association today.
I used to love to drive to RAF Wyton in my Pfizer company car and pretend I was an army officer to the RAF guards on the base (the army ID for some reason didn’t specify your rank) and gratefully took the salute as I passed through the security gate…
The core part of the training was to use stereoscopes to look at imagery in 3D and identify the vehicles, aircraft, buildings or ships and gain intelligence about their activities for passing up the command chain.
As part of the training I got invited to RAF Mildenhall & RAF Alconbury, both operated by the USAF. At the former I was lucky enough to witness one of the last SR-71 Blackbirds literally take off like a rocket (it was one) and at the latter was treated to the sight of U2 spy plane coming into land after a mission probably over the Baltic.
I had always envisaged a cushy number in some nuclear bomb proof bunker looking at satellite imagery, unfortunately after qualifying, reality set in and I found myself attached to the Royal Artillery training in Dartmoor at the weekends or in Hohne range in Germany on the annual camp!
This was tough going as it was near front line operations and our signal footprint being based at a battalion HQ was such that we had to practice regular setups and moves to avoid being the recipient of a dose of “Soviet” MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems – from memory). On Dartmoor one wet and windy weekend this nearly led to the near mutiny of the cold and drenched artillerymen as they were pretty much abandoned to their fate by their senior NCO’s and officers, quite an eye opener for me at the time.
I on the other hand, as one of only two green beret Intelligence Corps specialists (“green slime” was our nickname – Ken S pictured below was my WO2) had my own heated Land Rover with a photographic dark-room attached for processing of the images captured by “drones” sent over the front lines and returned via parachute! Not the sophisticated drones in use today with real time digital linkups in those days!
In fact, the drones were so expensive and dangerous to launch, on Dartmoor we used Gazelle helicopters to simulate the drones by having camera’s attached to their skids and yours truly had to sit next to the pilot with map on hand telling him where to go. Now my map reading skills are such that had satnav not come to the rescue between Debbie and I when driving we probably wouldn’t have made our silver wedding anniversary. So it was in the Gazelle with the pilot pointing out to me that I had the map the wrong way round and that we’d be taking images of our own troops and firing on them if i didn’t buck my ideas up!
Now it concentrates the mind taking criticism from an Army Air Corps officer who’s flying at great speed about 2 feet above the tops of trees and with no intention of going higher… In Germany we also used helicopters during the day and the image below is one I took and kept for some reason.
At night we launched the real things and halfway through the mission the drones automatically dropped flares to illuminate the target, unfortunately the route taken was slightly out and these fell on a German village and a significant amount of compensation had to be paid I heard.
Interesting times! 🙂