Met Office Timeline

  • Aug 11, 1969

    RAF Pitreavie Castle, Dunfermline, 1969

    Straight from school, wee boy aged 16, first posting before shipping off to Met. Office training College at Stanmore, London for basic training in Synoptic meteorology.

    Pitreavie Castle was essentially an RAF station (grounds and house are now a luxury hotel), amongst other things the Search and Rescue HQ in Scotland, and one of the communications hubs for Scottish Meteorology stations, the other being Prestwick airport. 

    Lodgings at Selvage Street, Rosyth.

    Memories recalled;

    • Walking across Forth Road Suspension Bridge (build completed 1966-ish) out of curiosity for the first of its kind in Britain
    • A couple of weekends with brother Norris and his wife Doreen at RAF Leuchars, by bus from Dunfermline
    • Visit to Uncle Jock & Susan in Glenrothes for a weekend during which Jock spontaneously decided to take us on a flying visit to Elgin
    • Films 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' and 'Oh What a Lovely War' in Cinema in Dunfermline
    • Cold pies for lunch from the NAAFI store
    • At work, mountains of paperwork (telex, teleprinter, and facsimile weather charts of large dimensions), internal communication by vacuum tube with RAF operations, etc. etc.)
    • Missing brother Robert and Jean's wedding due to being in London with no travel warrant available
  • Jan 1, 1970

    RAF Kinloss 1970-1972

    Near to home in Elgin, Kinloss was where Bill was first interviewed for the Met. Office job.  It was an RAF coastal command station (Strike Command) and home to 120 Squadron Shackleton bombers, very reminiscent of the WWII Lancaster bomber in look and sound, but slightly smaller aircraft.  During Bill's time there the Nimrod aircraft were introduced, and the Shackletons gradually decomissioned.  Both were used for defence reconnaisance and submarine detection and tracking purposes - it was towards the end of the cold war - as well as sea search and rescue duties.

    Memories:-

    • First exposure to the 'continental' shift system widely used in the Met. Office :- day shift --> evening shift --> morning shift --> night shift x 2.  The bonus of 3 or 4 days off between shift patterns was enjoyed to the full
    • The office location was integral to the air traffic control tower, historically prevalent in RAF and some civilian airfields where the prime purpose of the office was liaison with air traffic controllers and aircrew briefings /debriefings before and/or after flights
    • Weather observations, hourly or more frequent depending on weather conditions - Kinloss, like all coastal stations, was prone to mist and low cloud or fog, as well as North Sea haar with onshore winds during spring and summer particularly
    • Assembly and presentation of weather data and information to forecasters
    • Lenticular cloud formations, often layered, peculiar to areas of Scotland and some other countries with mountainous regions
    • Close up internal tour of a Nimrod and its electronic paraphernalia
    • Military exercises often lasting several weeks involving American, Canadian, Dutch, and German aircraft and aircrew (cold war legacy)
    • Met personnel involved in voluntary Royal Observer Corps work - a uniformed civil defence organisation intended for the visual detection, identification, tracking and reporting of aircraft over Great Britain (also providing assistance in nuclear attack early warning capability)

    People:-

    • Forecasters - Bill Canavan;  Bill Macmillan (station boss and senior scientific officer); Sinclair Ross; Ewan Scott;  Bill Cameron, plus others drafted in from e.g. RAF Pitreavie during military exercises
    • Non-forecasters - Ken Sutherland (scientific officer and station administrator); Peter Allen Fraser (a Shetlander who joined the Met. Office at the same time as Bill and attended the same initial training); James Merson (Mex);  Mike Byrne from Northern Ireland;  Roddy Kelly from Findhorn;  Peter Buchanan;  John Sutherland from Hopeman;  Ian Barrie; Bill Pike
  • Apr 1, 1971

    RAF Macrihanish 1971

    Temporary posting to Mull of Kintyre due to staff shortage (Tom Keay had left to join Weather Ships).

    Memories:-

    • Outward journey by bus from Glasgow Buchanan Street - about 6 or 7 hours.  Return journey by air - first ever flight on a Vickers Viscount - from Macrihanish to Glasgow Airport
    • Lodgings in Campbeltown, travel to and from work by hired bicycle 
    • Just turned 18 - the White Hart hotel and local dances feature high in memories
    • Decimal currency introduced - no longer Pounds, Shillings and pence
    • Runway at Macrihanish one of the longest in UK therefore visited by large aircraft
    • Nearby farm owned by ex-Beatle Paul and wife Linda McCartney (song Mull of Kintyre inspired by the area and filmed locally there) 

    People:-

    • There were others but only clearly remember Les Thomson who Bill also met at two other locations.
  • Oct 1, 1972

    Met. Station Hemsby 1972

    Inspired by a sense of adventure and tales of colleagues who had already served on weather ships, volunteered for service and was posted initially to weather station Hemsby in East Anglia for initial training in upper air meteorology.  Hemsby was an operational station which doubled as a training centre.  The small village of Hemsby is close to the English North Sea coast and just a few miles from Great Yarmouth. 

    Memories:-

    • The end of the holiday season meant Hemsby was pretty much closed down, but amongst the advantages of that was quiet sandy beaches for brilliant weekend walks.
    •  Two pubs, one for younger people with live music and dancing, the other for locals where darts and other traditional pub games and pursuits could be found.
    • Full board accommodation initially in a comfortable Guest House, moving to a rented furnished house with two colleagues after a couple of weeks for the remainder of the time there. We quickly realised that self-catering is not that easy for young lads, for example mushrooms in a pan boiled in water do not magically make mushroom soup!  We lacked nourishment some of the time.
    • Trips into Great Yarmouth were good and the Christmas Market and pubs in Norwich were a new experience.

    People:-

    • Course Colleagues: Tony Chaplin; some others now forgotten, to be added as and if recalled
    • Station Colleagues: Sid Hall; several others now forgotten, to be added as remembered
  • Oct 1, 1972

    Met. Station Shanwell 1973

    The office at Shanwell no longer exists with the site now just concrete and tarmac where the buildings once stood.  Shanwell was actually in Tayport Fife, just across the river Tay from Dundee.  Bill stayed with brother Norris and his wife Doreen in their married quarters at RAF Leuchars, a few miles from St. Andrews for the few months duration of the posting, which was to consolidate the training from Hemsby with practical on the job experience in preparation for going to sea.

    Memories:-

    • Leuchars was more or less home to Doreen who came originally from nearby Gaurdbridge.  Her father was a railway signalman at Leuchars station.  Their posting to Leuchars came on return to the UK from Penang in Malaysia where daughter Karen was born during their 3 year posting there.
    • Bought an aged Volkswagen Beetle from a dodgy seller in Dundee.  It was legal but probably only just.  Doreen's father was an insurance agent as well as railway employee, and arranged the insurance cover.
    • Back to shift working, an essential part of round the clock operational meteorology
    • Great hospitality from Les Thomson (we first met at Macrihanish) who threw a house-warming party which unfortunately resulted in staining on the new living room carpet.
    • Dundee was very much a city in decline by the early 1970's with many derelict buildings.  Happily it is now a city reborn in its fortunes and favoured by the tourist for its various art and museum installations, and well known for being the home of the Abertay University which started life as a technical college in the city.

    Colleagues:-

    • Les Thomson, Tom Keay, Hugh O'Kane, Mr Beyers (the Senior Met Officer - name spelling may be incorrect, he was a Dutchman), Jock Malcolm, Fred Marsh, others to be included as recalled.
  • Oct 1, 1972

    Ocean Weather Ships 1973-1974

    Click here for a link to a website dedicated to Ocean Weather Ships - follow the link and scroll right to the bottom of the page for a picture of yours truly.  These were converted Royal Navy Castle Class Frigates specifically for Met Office purposes with a parallel primary role as support for air and sea search and rescue activity when and if called upon.  These were still the days before technology in terms of computing and communications capability became as sophisticated as we now have, so radar, morse code and radio telephones were very much in use, with radio-sonde devices delivering data signals of upper-air pressure, temperature, and humidity readings to equipment (called Cintel machines) giving graphical print-out of of the signals on continuous rolls of paper.  The resultant analysis and coding of the print-outs (as well as surface weather and sea-state observations) were relayed to global weather communications centres via Met Office HQ which at the time was Bracknell in Berkshire. 

    More (American this time) information on weather ships - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

    A few memories:-

    • OWS Weather Monitor - 4-5 week trips duration with 2 weeks leave in between.  Other ships were the Weather Reporter, Weather Surveyor, and Weather Observer.
    • Crew of 52 men, mostly ex-Navy or Merchant Navy guys, including Captain (Captain Wem from Montrose or Arbroath) , three Bridge Officers i.e. first, second, and third officers, Chief Engineer and Chief Electrician, Bosun, 6 Met office personnel, 4 or 5 Radio and Radar Operators, and the various catering and engineering/seamen ranks required to keep the ship operational
    • Seamans Mess, Petty officer Mess, and Wardroom (Officer's Mess).  Sole occupancy cabins for Petty Officers (yours truly) and Officers.  Superb catering to high standard, beer rationed to two beers a day (draught beer for the Officers).
    • Atlantic stations India, Juliet, Kilo (mid-East Atlantic) and Alpha (north Atlantic near Iceland).  Trip over Christmas 1974 on station Alpha experienced severe gales and huge seas (30+ foot waves) resulting in damaged mast and abandoned trip with a long slow journey back to Greenock.
    • 3-day lead time to sailing in order to load supplies - cold cabins and no catering due to engines shutdown until closer to sailing
    • James Watt dock in Greenock and the nearby 'Norseman' pub and Ristorante Arlecchino were well attended by ship's crews.
    • Great camaraderie and fun amongst the crew
    • Playing Bridge every night for hours of endless fun when off duty - Thanks to Willie McKechnie for teaching me to play.
    • Alastair Mars (Lt Commander, WWII submariner) sailed with us as First Officer on a couple of trips. Author of autobiographical books ('Unbroken' and 'Court Martial'), one on his court martial after challenging the Admiralty for personal reasons despite having a heroic career during and after WWII.  Makes for gripping reading if interested in nautical or naval stories.
    • Occasionally accompanied on trips by associated scientists e.g. Oceonographers
    • Only radio for personal entertainment in cabins (poor reception, few channels), or cassette tape audios.  Occasional home made entertainment (amateur musicians including yours truly).  Films (current releases) and projectors courtesy of the entertainment wing of the Air Ministry - a couple of film shows per trip.

    People:-

    • Rod 'Bas' Basingthwaite, the senior meteorologist on board the Monitor, and Oscar Binner, the onshore admin meteorologist
    • Other Met crew - Mick Blandford (Londoner), Dave Jenkins (Liverpudlian), Dave Rudge (Welshman), Chris Griffiths (Welshman), Fraser Kaye (home town Auchterarder), Pete Hoare (Englishman from Dundee), John 'Tubs' Hall (Englishmen with global 'Sugar or Banana Boats' (commercial) experience as meteorologist)
    • Other ships crew most associated with - Bob MacKenzie, Charlie Elliot, Willie McKechnie, Bob Anderson, John Gibson, Bob Russell, Wille Felgate and others whose names have been forgotten but can be seen on the Weather Ships link - see above - which gives a pretty comprehensive overview of personnel involved over the years (some of whom served with onshopre as well).
  • Oct 1, 1972

    RAF Gan, Indian Ocean, 1975

    Click here and here for a link to websites all about RAF Gan.  Other details to be added below,

    Memories:-

    • RAF VC10 aircraft were used to ferry military and associated civilian travellers between the UK and the Far East. - aeroplanes with impressive perforrmance and safety records probably still unmatched even to this day if fuel consumption is ignored.  Travelled from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire with a fuelling stop in Cyprus on the way out, and Dubai on the return home.
    •  The Blue Lagoon - the entry and exit point for travellers through Gan.  Waited in the transit lounge at 3am to see brother Brian pass through on his way home from a 3 year posting in Singapore (Gan was a long-haul fuelling stop from the Far East) - but he wasn't on it.  Obviously our wires had got crossed at some stage.  We had met in Singapore where I spent a 2 week leave period from Gan, courtesy of the RAF.  Staying with Brian in the army barracks a few nights (with a trip into Malaysia), a week at Maggie Weston's sailors home in Singapore, and a few nights in the Mandarin Hotel. Singapore.  Also had a week in Hong Kong (Kowloon City) during this posting.  Accompanied by 'big Al' Davies from Gan on the Hong Kong trip.
    • Moonies - untanned white flesh of new arrivals.  Most people developed at least an impressive proper tan which is only possible from daily exposure to tropical sunshine, the outdoorsy types becoming deep bronze.  Sunbathing naked by some people on inshore beach rafts was called 'mooning', with white buttocks appearing as rising moons against a blue background, in an attempt to get that all-over tan before gizzome trips (trips home, usually to the UK).
    • 5-a-side football competitions between civilians and RAF guys.  My stint as goalkeeper resulted in an 11-0 score in favour of the RAF.  Funnily enough that was the last time I was asked to play.
    • Dhoni racing (Maldivian fishing boats with oars), again civilians versus RAF.  Think we did OK there.
    • Cray fishing at evening low tide by moonlight and/or torchlight - shallow water wading near the coral reef.
    • Occasional outdoor film shows in the balmy tropical evenings in the civil service mess forecourt (no television reception, and no video machines in those days much less DVD or any other digital entertainment media).  Cinema film shows at the Astra cinema.  Occasional live entertainment 
    • Bicycle the official form of transport.  The island measures approx. 2 miles long by 1 mile across but despite that there were in the order of 20 bars to cycle between for change of scenery, not all accessible by civvies.  The scenery could be varied but two beers were pretty much only available - Tiger beer from Singapore, or 'Charlie' (bottled Carlsberg).  Some who preferred wine arranged for supplies of Cyprus Commandaria (known on Gan as common diarrhea) to be shipped in on visiting VC10s.

    People:-

  • Oct 1, 1972

    Lerwick Observatory 1976-1978

    Not entirely certain how the posting to Shetland came about other than being on a wishlist from me at the time.  Perhaps a surprise to some at Lerwick Observatory when I arrived unexpectedly straight off the St Clair from Aberdeen after a couple of weeks in Elgin following return from RAF Gan.  The observatory is operated by the Met Office as a meteorological station carrying out routine synoptic observations and upper-air measurements. Other work includes detection of thunderstorms, measurement of solar radiation, ozone and atmospheric pollution levels, and chemical sampling. BGS (the British Geological Survey) uses Lerwick as a seismological station, recording data from a local three-component seismometer set, and the BAS (British Antarctic Survey) used the observatory in my time as a very short-term pre-Antarctic destination perhaps for training purposes of new graduates or young scientists en route to the frozen south.  Lerwick Observatory is situated on a ridge of high ground about 2.5 km to the SW of the port of Lerwick. The surrounding countryside is moorland comprising peat bog, heather and rocky outcrops as is true throughout the islands.  BGS also operate in Antarctic and personnel (one of the two at least) at the observatory had personal experience there.

    Memories:-

    • Wind, rain, and lower than (UK) normal temperatures even in summer.  On the plus side, slightly higher than (UK average) normal temperatures in winter, and less snow unless really cold.
    • Warm hospitality from Shetlanders. 
    • Mid-summer daylight extending maybe 22 hours per day (not quite at arctic circle latitude).
    • Impressive visual aurora borealis events, can be full-sky displays (also evidenced on photographic magnetogram recording developed manually in the observatory dark room daily).
    • Road accident induced by carelessness and lack of respect for Shetland weather!  A rear-loaded volkswagen Beetle driven at speed over the brow of a hill into the teeth of a Shetland gale lifts like an aeroplane wing and loses steering traction - and veers off the road!  No medical casualties, but not big and not clever (perhaps a fitting description of the author!).
    • Fewer trees grown than might be expected by a 'southerner', although more recent photos of Lerwick show otherwise.
    • Loch trout (rod) fishing resulting in wet clothes after accidentally taking a seat in the loch at knee-depth!
    • Ling (small boat and line) fishing
    • Trips around Shetland - Sumburgh hotel visiting Lesley Leslie (Lomax as was) from Elgin who worked there.  RAF Saxa Vord, the most northerly point of the UK on the island of Unst, Scalloway, Hillswick, Puffin watching, etc. etc.
    • Historic archaeology and the legacy of Viking occupancy.  (When later working in Denmark (an IT job) and visiting the viking ship museum at Roskilde saw it from a different angle).
    • Shared air ministry housing accommodation with Customs and Excise personnel
    • Dances in Lerwick, The Thule Bar, The Lounge Bar
    • The Garrison Theatre and Cinema

    People remembered (to be updated if recall improves):-

    • Met Office: (Peter) Allen Fraser (previous colleague at Met Office college and RAF Kinloss), Mick Blandford (previous weather ship colleague), Ken Brown, Terry Rogers (now passed in Shetland), Colin Richardson, Denis Bulter (husband of now deceased Rhoda Bulter, Shetland poet of note), Fred Marsh, Peter Jeffries (Senior Met Officer), George Williamson, Gilbert Blance, Harry Tait, Pete Davis, Vic Tansley
    • Other: Willie Johnson (driver and observatory support worker), Tom Brain (Customs & Excise)
  • Oct 1, 1972

    Aldergrove (Belfast) Airport Northern Ireland 1979-1980

    Belfast Airport at Aldergrove, situated near the town of Antrim to the North of Belfast, is now called Belfast International Airport and comprises civilian and RAF (Aldergrove) as well as (in my time at least) Army Air Corps airfield operations.  The main met office is in the International Airport terminal building, with an 'outpost' positioned in the traditional air traffic control building for operational observation and reporting purposes.  In the city centre there are still flight services provided from Belfast City Airport, now called George Best City Airport, for commercial and private aircraft.  There was no met office presence in the heart of Belfast.

    In the late seventies Northern Ireland, or 'the six counties' to give it its alternative chosen name was still at the height of political and military sensitivity, and whilst terrorist activity was a daily occurrence most people could go about their business in the normal way restricted only by ubiquitous security checks and military armed patrol procedures accepted as routine and necessary for public safety. 

    Memories:-

    • Slowly exploring the six counties by driving around them on rest days, North to South and West to East
    • Learning to sail in Carrickfergus, then joining Antrim sailing club situated on the South East of Lough Neagh, the largest fresh water loch in the UK, sailing a wooden Streaker
    • Living in a flat in Antrim, a small market town
    • A friend from the sailing club was also a private pilot, so experienced taking control of a Cessna aircraft on one of his flights maintaining hours required for his pilot's licence
    • The met office has a network of volunteers providing weather observations throughout the UK.  These observations feed into the global weather reports and are seen as valuable in the sense they can provide local data informing forecast detail which might otherwise be unavailable from a wider perspective.  Regular visits by the professionals helps to maintain enthusiasm and commitment as well as giving training and assistance if necessary to keep the network alive.  Visited an elderly volunteer in County Antrim, a friendly and gentle old man who lived alone and had been providing weather data for many years and whose commitment was beyond question, but whose welfare and equipment needs was simply being assured. 
    • In the summer of 1979 father and mother McKay spent two weeks on holiday in County Antrim with auntie Ethel Coull from Keith. They had holiday accommodation on a farm near the town of Crumlin and drove a bright orange Volkswagen Variant and as a holiday highlight experienced first-hand a flying roadside security check by an army patrol who descended by helicopter as they travelled around Bushmills in the north of County Antrim.
    • A friend from weather ship days, Derek Ogle, a native of Bangor, County Down, worked at Long Kesh met office (providing upper air weather data).  It may sound familiar because of the notorious Long Kesh prison with the infamous 'H' blocks in close proximity to the met office.  We met up socially in Bangor, and I frequently drove past Hollywood barracks to get there, where brother Brian had been billited with the Gordon Highlanders during his service there.

    People:-

    • Harry Westwood, Paddy Eastwood, Pat Smythe, Jim McCullough, Bob Dickie, Gerry Cleary, Gerry Kilfeather, John Fraser (originally from the Black Isle), John Connelly, Eddie Cahill (senior met officer), and others to be recalled.
    • Bumped into Pat Smythe in a Strathbungo street by chance in Glasgow several years after leaving the met office and I was working in IT at the Queens College.  We had a catchup dinner.  Pat had branched out into business partnership (as a sideline) whilst still forecasting for the met office.  Spookily, his business made use of a DEC VAX computer which had become my area of expertise.
  • Oct 1, 1972

    Aberdeen (Dyce) Airport 1980-1982

    Having returned to Synoptic meteorology at Aldergrove, decided to continue the path by returning to the NorthEast to try to put down more permanent roots in Aberdeen.  Dyce airport (now Aberdeen International Airport) in 1980 was a small but busy airport where a large section of it was given over to servicing Oilfields and platforms in the North Sea.  Normal civilian services in 1981 to and from other UK airports including Sumburgh in Shetland and the western isles on small commercial aircraft with some european services has seen it grow to (in 2019) a larger global presence connecting with longer haul flights.  The met office in 1981 was located traditionally in the air traffic control tower (nicknamed the wedding cake because of its design), reached by driving or walking across helicopter pads.  The control tower in 1981 was recently built with 'future-proofed' contemporary accommodation and technology to match.  

    Memories:-

    • Meeting Customs and Excise personnel previously known from working in Shetland
    • Flat in Great Northern Road Aberdeen, just a few addresses from the hotel where a McKay family reunion had fairly recently occurred but before my time in that area
    • Airport closures overnight except for mail /cargo aircraft.  Now a 24x7 airport ?
    • Being introduced to Fortan computer programming as part of a met office maths and physics training course in Reading, thereby unintentionally sowing the seeds for a future away from the met office

    People:-

    • Douglas Paterson (senior met officer), Peter Stuart, Peter Buchanan (known from RAF Kinloss), Jim Watson, Matt xxx, Hugh Cummings (met officer and civil service union rep. met briefly at Belfast Airport on union business), Bill Mathieson, Bill xxx, Hazel xxx, Colin Scrimgeour, Graeme xxx, James Merson (known from RAF Kinloss), others to be recalled if possible
    • Brian Gardener, security guard at the control tower and ex-Gordon Highlander known to brother Brian and also in Singapore at the time I visited in 1975.  

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