Working Lives

From Air Defence Operator to Warrant Officer (1972-2004). Despair, delight, tragedy.

Location: Neatishead

Dai speaks about his life in the RAF, which he joined as an Air Defence Operator in 1972. He had three tours at Neatishead, with his third and final posting there as the Warrant Officer Operations (WO Ops) and Bunker Manager.


Photo: Chris Taylor Photography. Cley Mill.

Early life

I was born in 1951 in the Rookery, a maternity home in Ebbw Vale. I was born David, but once I got to school David became Dai. So, I’m a David and a Dai, and I answer to both. I lived with my mother Barbara, my father David, and my younger brother, Philip, who was named after his great uncle who fought and died in the Second Battle of Ypres. His body was never found, but his name is on the Menin Gate and the Abertillery War Memorial. Philip has a really good name.

We were working class people, and in the years after the war, money was tight.. Most kids went out and got a job when they were old enough, so I did as well. I had a paper round. A wallpaper round. In the Valleys, when you’re taking six rolls of paper up to the top of the mountain and you forget the border, you really start to make sure you’ve got your ducks all in a row before you set out.

A friend got me a better paid job in Woollies on a Saturday. I went to a grammar school, where they played rugby in the winter, cricket in the summer, and if you were unfit for sport, you could play soccer. I was in form five, and on 9th April 1967, due to take my GCEs, when my father suddenly died, aged 46. My mother was left to raise two boys with no income.

Working at the steelworks

I left school a few weeks later after my GCEs. My cousin Keith helped me get a job at RTBs, a steelworks in Ebbw Vale. My mother remarried after about a year and that was a difficult for me personally. Near enough to be despair. I left RTBs because it was abundantly clear that it had a short lifespan left. Some years later it closed and an estimated 20,000 jobs disappeared

Before that happened I moved across the Valley to a place called Brynmawr to work with RCA, an American company making computer discs. It was the week before Christmas 1971, just 18 months since I’d begun working there, when they closed the factory one morning with no notice. Christmas 1971 started my real despair. No redundancy, not many decent jobs and no money coming in, in a flat I couldn’t afford.. Not to mention a £5 overdraft with the Midland Bank.

Christmas 1971 I had to go back home which was something I didn’t want to do. Washed up with no future I had no idea what I wanted, but the Valleys back at home didn’t offer me anything. Despair just didn’t cut it.

Joining the RAF

My dad was an RAF Wireless Op/Gunner in the Second World War, and he survived in Bomber Command. So I went down to the Careers Information Office (CIO) in Cardiff to see what jobs the RAF had to offer. A short chat and the sergeant t suggested I look at ‘Air Defence Operator’ and I liked the idea. You could join up for three, six or nine years, with the difference being the pay. I thought, ‘If I’m going to go in, I’m going to go in for the best money possible. So, I signed up for nine years.

I took the oath of allegiance on 18th April 1972, and I went off with two other fellows from Cardiff to a place called RAF Swinderby for boot camp. Six weeks later I have a uniform, know how look after it, I can march, salute, bull shoes and boots and recognise ranks. Best of all a lot of sport and fitness.

The cost for accommodation and your food was taken out of the pay before you got your hands on the money. I didn’t have any other responsibilities to use that money for, and there was no time or place to spend it. The RAF kept you very busy in the first few months. The £5 overdraft with the bank disappeared in a fortnight.

So that first six weeks was a big test, successfully managed and on to the next step.. No despair either. Socially, financially and career wise it was all looking like a delight.

RAF Bawdsey

Next step was training as an Air Defence Operator, or scopie. Training was at RAF Bawdsey near Felixstowe, the most beautiful RAF unit. It was a historic site, with links back to the Watson-Watt developing radar and designing an integrated air defence system that all Air Forces throughout the world now use. The research and development made victory in the Battle of Britain possible.

The School of Fighter Control (SofFC) was based there. The various courses, trained thousand of air defenders, learning the basics. All of a sudden, all this classified stuff was being put in front of us. Learning the jobs, about long range/early warning radar. We had the Photographic Display Unit (PDU). These are the things you see in the movies with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs) and their big pointed sticks. We learnt all the technological improvements since the Second World and we all worked in secret bunkers and learnt to write backwards. We were immersed in the concept of operations of the air defence of the UK (and NATO Area 12). was now a tangible fact. Hearing fast jet pilots doing their thing for real. Definitely no despair.

We had the Type 80 radar. It was the first new type of radar since the Second World War. The aircraft we worked with and used for defence were Lightings from Coltishall, Wattisham and Binbrook (all bases that no longer exist). There were ancient AEW Shackletons and the RAF Marham refuelling tankers. We had a class of 20 fledgling operators We all passed out and everybody went to different places, mainly Buchan and Boulmer. I was the only one to be posted into Bawdsey and very happy.

Sport, teamwork, and fitness is at the core of what they want out of the service personnel while you build a career through hard work. For that a good sense of humour is essential.

RAF 11 Group Cup Final April 1973 (West Raynham)

The other reason Bawdsey is very close to my heart is that I met my wife there. She worked in communications. And because the chances of us being on the same unit again after Bawdsey was non-existent, and they wouldn’t co-locate you at the time, she had to leave the service. Which she did, when we got married in August 1973. Fifty years married this year. I’m bottom left in the photo, sitting down looking happy – one year in and a sport medal.

To Neatishead

After the wedding I got sent off to a place called Patrington. And then, in April 1974, I was posted at Neatishead.

The original base had a R3 bunker, had been burnt down because of arson in February 1966, and three Norfolk firemen had died. It was a terrible tragedy, but a lot was learnt about how to handle fires underground, so they didn’t die in vain. Mistakes had been made on both sides, the Air Force and the Fire Brigade. The flooring was wood using paraffin based polish, so when it caught fire, it was fierce. The curtains and furniture weren’t inflammable. Changes were made nationally. The man who committed the arson went to jail for seven years.

The unit was being reopened. The R30, which later became the Cold War Museum, was the new operations rooms, but above ground. Unlike Bawdsey and Patrington, which were master radar stations, Neatishead was a CRC/SOC. The CRC was Control and Reporting Centre. The Control side was the use of mainly air assets and land based missiles. The reporting element was maintaining a recognised air picture. A recognised air picture is the core of what we do. Any aircraft that’s entering, leaving or crossing our area of responsibility, would need to be recognised. This was Cold War era and if Soviet or communist world aircraft entered our area we would intercept them with our defence fighters and other assets. Spy planes tested our defences. And if there was something that needed investigating, we could scramble off the fighters, the Lightnings from Coltishall, Wattisham, or Binbrook. They could have a Shackleton get launched to extend our radar coverage, and maybe a tanker for support for the fighters. This was the Quick Reaction Alert Force. It still operates today Different airplanes, different people. Same job.

The SOC part was Sector Operation Centre. The UK had its sovereign air space, which is one area, and then there was NATO Area 12, which was a bigger area stretching way above the Faroes. It was about a million square miles and from sea level to infinity. The areas were broken down into two sectors. South of 56 degrees north of Newcastle was Neatishead area and north of 56 was Buchan area.

New technology, new training

At the time I joined Neatishead, we were going from analogue driven radars to digital and computers, which meant the training was all brand new. It was like stepping off a spaceship and landing in a different place altogether. There was computer generated symbology on a radar, this is 1974, we’d never seen anything like it. It was in its infancy, and had a long way to go, but it was phenomenal to see this change.

Mind you, when tracking an aircraft, the symbology would only go in a straight line, so you would have to have an operator intervention to make sure it got around the corner. You had to be trained on this and you needed to be able to do something like eight to ten tracks per 15 seconds. The area we worked was very busy airspace, you could be updating 22 tracks in 15 seconds. That meant you had to be pretty quick and pay attention.

Quarter issues

While the training to take on operations again went fine, the domestic side did not. Hundreds of us were descending on the unit from the closure of Bawdsey and Patrington. There were no quarters available for the families, so the married chaps had to be accommodated at Coltishall in the barracks. The few quarters for Neatishead were in Old Catton in Norwich. RAF Coltishall had plenty of spare housing, which was not shared with Neatishead married personnel. In essence your family would not be able to join you for several years.

Well, when you’re telling your wife that there’s no chance of getting a quarter for the next number of years, people get quite upset. It got really bad very quick.. There were people going AWOL, having to be brought back by the military police. Fuel got thrown onto the flames when an Officer who came in to warn us off causing a stink didn’t know what Excess Rent Allowance (ERA) was. An essential element to rent a home on the commercial market would need a swift change as it was pitifully inadequate. RAF pay was low in the mid 70s in comparison to civilian job. A lot of the junior ranks were in receipt of social benefits.

The issue seeped into the national press. My wife, who had chosen to go back to Scotland to wait until we had quarters, was as active as any other wife. I was asked to go see an Officer in Station HQ. His first question to me was, ‘who wears the trousers in your house?’ My answer was, ‘I don’t have a house.’ And I said nothing more throughout the ‘chat’.

Eventually there was a quick resolution. It only took one Senior Officer in London to turn around and say that Coltishall, and Neatishead will share quarters. Problem solved overnight. Furthermore they built more housing in Norwich.

Domestic life in Neatishead

When my wife came down from Scotland, we shared our first anniversary in August by renting a car to go and explore the Norfolk coast. So we went to Blakeney. We mistook a sand bar for a beach and got up to our knees in mud, and ended up spending more time cleaning ourselves off when we got back to the rental car. It was a lovely day nonetheless..

I played rugby for the combined Coltishall and Neatishead team. It was a way of getting to know the local teams and people, who were absolutely marvellous. My wife got a job in Health and Safety in Norwich. One day she opened a parcel and there was a thumb in it. Good old farmers in Norfolk!

‘Irish’ pay rise

Young married airmen with children needed a second wage to make ends meet. Many were on social benefits. What happened was, if you lived in quarters or barracks for the single people, you paid rent. If you ate in the mess, you paid for your food. When a pay rise came along, they were called ‘Irish’ pay rises because those bills rose more than the pay rise! It was alleged that London bus drivers were earning more than a V-Bomber pilot. Morale was low for years. We had no political voice. Her Majesty’s Armed Forces were badly treated by the country.


I had a Qualified Driver B-class (QDB). Only Motor Transport Drivers (MTDs) would get the A-class licenses, but sometimes there were duties that required a driver to collect or drop off something, somewhere. That’s where QDBs came in. We had a vehicle or two available. I did a lot of driving around the Neatishead/Coltishall/Norwich area. It was smashing to get out and about during the shift.

The Q(DB) qualification is registered with the posting and promotions agency to assess personnel to be suitably qualified for a new posting if drivers were need. When it came to postings, the drafter would look at what the posting required, look at the people on the top of the list, and then work down the list until he got the person with the right qualifications. I was posted to RAF Brüggen in Germany, onto a flag carrying 25 Sqn, a Bloodhound squadron. They required personnel holding a QDB. That was me.

25 Sqn Bloodhound, RAF Brüggen. RAF Germany. Dai Harrhy rear rank, second from left.

Back to Neatishead as a Corporal

I’d been posted at Bawdsey, Patrington, Neatishead, and overseas to Brüggen. By now I was considered a Senior Aircraftsmen (SAC) with experience. So, after a successful three-year tour in Germany, I was promoted to Corporal after seven years of service.

I was posted to West Drayton in London at the ADDC and joined the escape committee which got me posted back to Neatishead. Chapman Pincher the journalist later exposed the problems with the ADDC and it was closed down after a few years.

I knew my way around Neatishead so I was soon working days as a Manning Corporal. There were 23 different Ops jobs to allocate to the junior ranks. A busy job and new Cpls always had to do their stint at manning. You learnt to supervise, delegate tasks, some not nice and allow or deny leave. Manning Corporal was a make or break job, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Sport in the RAF

Another duty of a Manning Corporal is when the JR (junior ranks) wanted to book leave, holidays. If they requested absence due to sport (and there were many) again it was through the Manning Corporal. HM Armed Forces are just the place you wanted to be if you were good at sport.

There was one Senior Aircraftswoman (SACW) who bought a horse for show jumping in 1980ish.for about £8,000, a huge amount back then. She appeared at my desk one day and asked for a week off to go show jumping in London. She’d been selected to represent the RAF against the Navy and the Army in Great Windsor Park in front of the HM Queen. A very senior officer would pick up the horse and rider and take her to the event.

Representative sport at that level was a given. HM the Queen was a big clue! Once you achieved representing the RAF or higher levels it was automatic absence. When she got back, I asked her how she got on with the show jumping, she replied, ‘Not very well. I fell at the third, and the horse ran off into the VIP tent, where Margaret Thatcher and the rest of the VIPs were located. So, I curtsied to the Queen and then ran off after my horse.’ This is an opportunity she would never have had without being part of the RAF. To perform in front of the Queen, our boss, even if you fall off.

There was also a fellow Corporal who was a three handicap golfer. He held the bat as a left-hander even though he was right-handed. He’d been selected for the RAF championship and asked me if he could go. Again, if you’re playing at that level, the answer is yes. At the end of the week, he phoned me up to say he’d been selected to represent the RAF against RAF Germany at RAF Brüggen in Germany. I can’t say no. He asked for five days off to play golf, and it ended up being a fortnight. Such is the importance of fitness and teamwork.

Other duties at Neatishead on second tour

At Neatishead as a Corporal one of the other jobs I had was as the deputy to the Warrant Officer Ops Assistant. This meant I would go and cover for him. The Warrant Officer is a man who says ‘jump’ and you say ‘how high’. He was a smashing chap when you worked for him in his office. If you weren’t in his office, stay well clear.

I was also moved from the manning section into the training section. I was the Corporal in charge of operational training of all new arrivals for fire and safety, no matter what rank they were. I also had to set phase tests and mock exams in preparation for the annual round of the promotion exams, updating and writing local training briefs. All of this was classified, of course. Total job satisfaction reinforced when ten out of ten operators passed their promotion exam.

Assessment for 22-year service

Once you get promoted to Corporal, you’re automatically offered a 22 years’ service pension. A main objective achieved.. I had to go down to the medics to be assessed to be fit for further service. Both the doctor and I played rugby for Coltishall. Having checked vitals the doc made me a coffee and had a chat, when he remarked my fitness on the rugby field was enough evidence as fit for a pension.

Air Officer Commanding NI. Dai on the right receiving his LSCGC Medal for 15 years of service.


TACEVAL deployment to Hopton in the 1980s. Dai on front row on the left. Next to him Dick Ivers one of two controllers deployed.

Weybourne detachment

I would take new arrivals to Weybourne and show them the site and the work we did up there. We used the radar for low level coverage, which was a good asset to have. We used an ex-army radar. They had to self-cater for meals. The catering section would send them food that they’d have to prepare and cook on a properly fitted commercial sized kitchen. They’d have to peel the spuds, cut them up into chips. Cooking the chips in water was not a good idea. The Engineering Chief in charge of the site was not happy.

Technology advancement

In my second tour at Neatishead, F4 Phantoms replaced the Lightnings Tornadoes would eventually replace the F4. The difference between a Lightning and the Phantoms and Tornados was huge. Longer sorties, bigger and varied weapon loads and better radar and avionics.

The Phantoms and Tornados could easily stay on cap for two hours, where the Lightning usually lasted no more than 15 mins. Fantastic pieces of equipment. You stayed on the sortie as long as it was there. If it refuelled you could be there for four hours. So, the improvement in the aircrafts was not necessarily welcomed by all.

Cold war Operations Room, Air Defence Museum RAF Neatishead, RCHME 1998.

 Technology too had come so much farther forward that now we could see all the radars that we wanted to, even the continental radars. We could look at radars at the top of Norway, and they could look at us. And we could watch Soviet aircraft coming out from their bases in Murmansk, and if they crossed a trip wire, we’d know that the Russian spy planes would come south. The Norwegians would intercept them there, and they’d come further south, where the Americans would launch from Iceland and intercept them. The Norwegians would be with them all the way down until they got to our area, which was north of the Faroes. There we’d have fighters, tankers, and AEW aircraft sitting ready and waiting for them. That was the task during the Cold War.

Notable events at Neatishead on second tour

A couple of things happened at Neatishead during my tour which were quite interesting. One was that a Soviet Fleet came up the channel over Christmas time. Our Quick Reaction Alert Force was swamped, as was the CRC, because this fleet took three/four days to go from the Bay of Biscay up through the English Channel and up into the North Sea. The first time the Soviets deviated from going the long way round Ireland. It was Christmas, so the bulk of the Air Force was on leave. It was a difficult time with loads of unpaid overtime and the airframes used needing service with limited resources. The operational task of shadowing the fleet was achieved. It was real and it was serious, because they were spying on us. The Soviets also sent Bear C spy lanes to escort the fleet. The spy plane came down about 15 miles off Great Yarmouth, outside territorial waters, just.

Another incident concerned an exercise incident overnight; we’d sometimes have (military) intruders, testing the guards.. About 3am on one particular night we arrested a man in one of the favourite spots to breach the fence. We walked him across the site at Neatishead to the R12 building where the police had their post. The path to that post was across the site which was essentially a square trench for cables with concrete lid over the top, placed every so many lids there’d be a metal handle you could lift to get to the cable. The prisoner tripped over one of these handles, broke his nose, blood everywhere, and when we march him into the RAF police, the first thing we get is, ‘Who did it?’ When you say he tripped it doesn’t sound like you’re telling the truth, even if it is the truth. We got a real ticking off that night.

Coltishall had an air sea rescue helicopter and they were always looking for volunteers to be dunked in the North Sea for them to rescue. One of our radar operators was a small chap who looked 14, and he volunteered. The helicopter took off from Coltishall with him in the back after he completed all the tests and training, and it was transiting out over Cromer when a real call came in. You can’t take spare passengers on a real call. So, they dropped him off on the cliffs at Cromer and flew away with strict instructions for him not to go anywhere, that they’d come back and get him. Some concerned civilians came across what they thought was a little boy, in a too big safety helmet and oversized flying suit, sitting at the top of a cliff. When the couple asked the young lad if he was he ok, the RAF chap replied he was waiting for the helicopter. The couple called an ambulance and police. He eventually convinced the emergency workers he was genuine.

The best news from that tour is that towards the end of it, my wife fell pregnant.

Back to Neatishead as Warrant Officer Operations

It’s July 1997 now. I’ve been overseas at the Integrated Air Defence System (IADS) in Malaysia. We were part of an international team, helping to train the five nations in cooperation in a conflict. It was the best posting in my 34 years. I also worked part time for the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur. An additional task and not part of my main duties.

The Defence Attaché’s office requested I arrange the hotels, cars etc for visiting RAF aircraft transiting SE Asia, through Butterworth airfield. I was stationed there. Logical of course. Tremendous fun in the sun or usually torrential rain on a Sunday evening waiting for a big bird.

My wife was a parent governor at the international school Uplands and our son attending as a day pupil. David qualified to be a diver at age 12. But at the end of my 30-month tour, I was posted back to Neatishead on promotion to Warrant Officer. I couldn’t believe my luck. There’s a big difference in rank, it’s a deference.

My third time at Neatishead, needless to say I knew the area; I knew the unit. It didn’t take me long to settle in it all. The only thing was, I had seven years left of my RAF life to do, so it would be a case of looking for a house for life after the Air Force.

The main operational difference this time was the R3 bunker was now the base of operations with another upgrade in technology. Same job, different kit and different people.

I was the Bunker Manager and Warrant Officer Operations. There were an awful lot of other jobs that went with that, as well. Basically, what I inherited was 185 operations staff, ranging from 16½ years old to 55 years old. There were 50 Officers on operations, most of them were Flight Lieutenants or below, and under Queen’s regulations appendix 25 it was my duty as a Warrant Officer to counsel them in the ways of being an Officer. Which I did, so did every other Warrant Officer in the RAF. As long as you called them sir or ma’am you were alright.

I delegated all the personnel out when they arrived to the most needy area on OpsWg. I’d have a chat with them, with our expectations and opportunities. The job description ran to four A4 pages and I’m not going through it all.

The Russians were our friends now, and the Russian military collapsed under corruption and God knows what, so there was a big question mark over air defence at the time. The two SOC/CRCs became one, and Neatishead was it. We were responsible for about one million square miles from sea level to infinity, air defence wise. Space was a job on other units. This included the national region, and also NATO area 12, which had taken in the Faeroes, which was Danish.

I was also the H & S rep, I was on the Ops Executives Committee, where the heads of sheds would discuss operational problems and things that were happening. Y2k was an issue as our upgraded system which used computers. Luckily despite robust contingency plans if the computers failed, we like the rest of the planet eased a sigh of relief when all was ok.

I was the Chairman of the Messing Committee, CMC, which meant I was in charge of the Warrant Officers and Senior NCOs’ mess. Our main Mess was at Coltishall. However, we did hold formal lunches at Neatishead to acknowledging those leaving the Service or being posted out or well anything that looked like a good excuse. Self-funded of course, but it’s good for morale. And it’s a chance for all the Warrant Officers and Senior NCOs to get together. Of course, you always invited a Senior Officer to give a talk. They had to sing for their supper.

RMAF Base Butterworth. Formal dining night.
(Not RAF pattern uniform but RAAF. It was so much cooler than the issue of the RAF kit.)

There were plenty of times where you’d have to speak to an Officer about their conduct. One Officer was responsible for looking after a visit to the bunker by the Wives’ Club. He turned up in civilian clothing and a beard, which was against regulations at the time. The Station Commander was wandering around the bunker downstairs. I advised the officer to shave before going downstairs. It was not a request. Another Officer would take the ladies on tour. The Officer without a beard now returned after having giving himself a shave in his car with an old Bic razor. He went downstairs, and an hour later he returned to my office to thank me, as the first person he ran into was the Station Commander.

All equipment in the bunker was on my inventory and a good assistant regularly did checks on everything. Every desk, every chair, every filing cabinet, even the fire-retardant curtains, everything.

Because I was the Bunker Manager, I had to review and revise orders and regulations, consulting other stake holders, such as the MOD Firefighters, the Police and other Subject Matter Experts (SME), the Crypto Custodian, and most importantly the Barrack Warden, all played their part in keeping the R3 operational. The deaths in 1966 of three firemen meant new ways were brought in to fight fires underground and the importance of fire retardant materials.

JNCO crew room in the R30 at RAF Neatishead, now part of the museum. Now the entrance/reception area of the Museum. Dai Harrhy, Cpl Bernie? Cpl Taff Jones. (Crown copyright)
Dai Harrhy and JAC Mick Davies, Training Office. (Crown copyright).

Manpower shortage

There was always a manpower shortage, as often I’d have a lot less than the 185 personnel on the books. We were the biggest bucket of manpower for radar operators in the UK, so often we’d had to deploy staff to fight fires, kill sheep, guard aircraft overseas, go aboard ships for Exercises/JMC in northern water in the winter to use ASMA, an RAF computer system, and many other ad hoc duties.

The Falkland Islands had to be manned and we had more than our fair share of staff in the South Atlantic. Indeed the Station Commander returned to the unit after the rededication of HMS Southampton after a refit, a ship twinned with Neatishead. The navy invited to send a few of our staff to go aboard for a trip to the Falkland Islands. A jolly? We managed to spare one operator. First stop Gibraltar, across to the West Indies, stopping in a couple of South American ports and disembarked at Stanley for a couple of days and flew home. Not all deployments were a hardship. A couple of operators spent a couple of weeks near Las Vegas, another two for a few weeks in Australia. One naval detachment wanted two RAF operators to join them for a world cruise. I split the trip for two bods outbound to Singapore and changed them over for another two for the return leg. Spread the happiness and the Navy were paying. Finally the young lady detached for the Festival of Remembrance. She did everything to get out of it. On return she begged to go again. Only after return did she realise what an honour it had been. Some of the life experiences were at times exceptional. They were an opportunity to see how others’d work and play.


I was sitting in my office, and a civilian registry clerk came to my office. He said, ‘A plane has flown into the twin towers in New York.’ I went and watched the tv news and saw the second plane crash. Obviously no accident. I got the Station Commander across to the bunker. We secured the bunker, closed the doors and the unit. Bear in mind, that we were the sole ground radar unit responsible for the air defence of the UK (in a little field in Norfolk).

Everybody pulled their weight. The professionalism was superb. Everyone wanted to be on a console. We were making big decisions in moving assets that those decisions were endorsed after the fact by Headquarters 11 Group. They were in the dark as much as everybody else. We used air and sea assets assigned to other tasks to extend our coverage. Thankfully none of the returning civil aircraft were a problem.

Honours and Awards

A new OC Ops Wing had a robust plan for recognising exceptional service, actions charity work and such things outside of normal work expectations. There were nine enlisted personnel awarded RAF Honours (helps greatly in promotion prospects) and one Officer. While this effort took several weeks and a great deal of secrecy, so no one would suspect they were being considered for a nomination, it worked so well that I never realised the boss wrote me up for an MBE. My wife, son and Uncle came along too. We enjoyed a marvellous day at the Palace and for me seeing my son in dress tartan and HM The Queen pinning a gong on my uniform was one of those unforgettable special moments.


5th November 2002. Dai receiving his MBE with son David and Uncle Owen.

Leaving the Service

The Air Force that I joined in 1972 had a strength of about 130,000. Now, today, as I am speaking in April 2023, it’s about 33,000. Much of the real estate has gone, as well.

Neatishead ceased operations in 2004. It remained the longest serving radar station in the world. Indeed the move of the radar from Trimingham to Neatishead ensured that record continues. English Heritage visited us as buildings and personnel were reduced. They made Neatishead an exemplar site. There were 12 buildings that were listed by them. The R12 building because it held the largest air con they had ever seen.

My last day of service I was wheeled out of Trimingham, which is now sadly closed. It has been a wonderful and successful journey, a delight indeed. It wasn’t all roses.

It was worth it just in meeting so many wonderful people from around the world. Who would have thought that an unemployed working class 19 year old lad would be given a gong by HM the Queen, the boss. My wife earned that gong as much as I did. Military wives are a very special class of lady.

We bought a house, I became a Registrar in North Norfolk and took part in close to 600 weddings in some beautiful locations around Norfolk. My wife helped to recruit large numbers of teachers for Norfolk and Suffolk. Our son went to University and accepted to become an IT teacher at Aylsham High School.

It was all because of my family. I would never have had so much fun and laughter without the support of my wife and son. David once said to me, ‘Can you get a proper job dad, like a taxi driver?’ Sadly, a few months after leaving the service my son David died, and my wife and I suffered and continue to suffer the worst tragedy imaginable.

Dai with son David. Photo by RAF photographer Bob Thompson

David (Dai) Harrhy (b. 1951) talking to WISEArchive on 27th April 2023 in North Walsham.

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