Monkey Watson and the Luftwaffe

During WW 2 the school was provided with brick air-raid shelters, sufficient to accommodate the whole school. These were in the playing fields, close to the main buildings. At first, whenever the sirens sounded, everybody adjourned to shelter until the “All-Clear”. This was a common occurrence and it soon became clear that it constituted an unacceptable waste of school time. To minimise the disruption, a policy of selective sheltering was adopted, being ordered only if danger seemed imminent. Accordingly, the assistant headmaster, Mr. Watson, invariably referred to as “Monkey” (although not to his face), undertook a training course in Aircraft Recognition and joined the Royal Observer Corps. By means of a mixture of telephone contact with the observer network and personal observation he could decide whether or not to order evacuation.

Later on, a small, open, square, brick-built emplacement was built for Monkey, in which to conduct his spotting duties. It was situated beyond the Tuck Shop, about where the right-hand-side of the road south to the new school now is, and a little beyond the rear building line of the old buildings. It was equipped with a seat, a telephone and a simple optical altitude & range sight. It was at once christened “Fort Monk”.

In the later stages of the war, about 1943-1944, the German air force, no longer capable of massed daylight attacks, began to stage “nuisance raids” in which fast fighter-bombers, usually Focke-Wolfe 190s, operating singly or in pairs, below cloud, came in fast and very low over southern England, dropped a few small bombs, seemingly at random, and fled home. This was a difficult tactic to counter. Radiolocation (later, “Radar”) was of little use in the circumstances of low height, high speed and few aircraft. Similarly, the Observer Corps could not help; by the time they had spotted a 190 and lifted the telephone, the machine was long gone. New counter-measures were needed. To this end, the observation posts were equipped with powerful rockets, electrically operated. These were not anti-aircraft missiles, but were to be fired when an enemy plane passed nearby. Patrolling R.A.F. fighters, in clear air, a few thousand feet up, could follow the course of the cloud-obscured enemy by observing the emerging chain of signal rockets and might hope to intercept. Fort Monk was duly equipped with its rocket.

At this time I held the post of Lab Assistant. This was a dogsbody job, involving a couple of hours of work a day, after school, clearing up in the three laboratories and preparing materials and apparatus for next day’s practical lessons. As I recall, it brought in two guineas (£2.2s.0d or £2.10p)a term. One evening, in the chemistry lab, I was engaged in my duties when I suddenly became aware of aircraft noise. It very rapidly increased to a loud roar, the room shook and the plane thundered over the school. As it did so, there was a sudden very loud ‘whooshing’ sound. At that time, immediate action was preferable to careful assessment of possible danger. It was advisable to act first and evaluate later — if there were a later. I duly found myself under the thick workbench. A few seconds assessment and all was clear. It must indeed have been a 190, but the whooshing sound was not a bomb coming down (you were said never to hear the one that hit you) – Monkey had fired his rocket! His trigger thumb must have been itching for months.

Tony Deacock (1937-1945)