Campaign to put unsung hero of Second World War back on radar

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The Independent Online

He was the man who helped win the Battle of Britain and whose invention went on to lay the foundations for a host of modern life-saving technologies. Yet more than 30 years after his death, Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the father of radar, is almost forgotten - one of the great unsung heroes of the Second World War.

Now, an international fundraising appeal has been launched to commemorate his achievements. The recently formed Watson-Watt Society wants to raise £50,000 to build a memorial statue in his home town, Brechin in Scotland, to the man who is officially credited with creating the first workable radar system.

A descendant of James Watt, the engineer and inventor of the steam engine, Watson-Watt's method of using radio waves to detect objects helped tilt the balance of air superiority in 1940 when the overstretched RAF was able to intercept enemy bombers in all weathers and at night. Without it, Britain would have probably lost the battle and perhaps the war.

His system of "radio detection and ranging", which was later shortened to "radar", came about by accident as Watson-Watt had initially been involved in trying to find a way of predicting thunder and lightning to warn aviators.

An unassuming man, Watson-Watt was born in Brechin, Angus, in 1892 and was educated at Damacre School in Brechin and Brechin High School before graduating with a BSc(engineering) in 1912 from University College, Dundee - which was then part of the University of St Andrews.

At the start of the First World War, he was offered a post at the Meteorological Office, which was interested in his ideas on the use of radio for the detection of thunderstorms.

Lightning gives off a radio signal as it ionizes the air, and he planned on devising a method of detecting that signal in order to warn pilots of approaching thunderstorms. However, while carrying out experiments he found that aircraft could also be detected without being seen and - as a result - discovered the underlying science of radar.

The Scottish physicist first developed a working radar system in 1935 but it was not until 1937 that the Chain Home radar system became operational, linking stations along the south coast of England in a relay that could detect aircraft approaching the UK at a range of more than 100 miles.

In 1942, Watson-Watt's work was officially recognised with a knighthood and in the 1950s he moved to Canada and later lived for a short time in the United States.

Eventually, he retired and returned to Britain, living in London during the winter and at Pitlochry - where he was buried after his death in 1973 at the age of 81 - in the summer months.

Brian Mitchell, secretary of the Watson-Watt Society, said Sir Robert's contribution was "hugely significant" but until now his connection with Brechin has only been marked with a small plaque on the wall of his birthplace in the town's Union Street. Mr Mitchell said: "Watson-Watt's work was extremely important during the Second World War and has been further developed into today's air traffic control systems.

"It was feared that German aircraft would be able to flatten every town in the country as their bombers could approach Britain from altitudes that were out of reach to anti-aircraft guns. Watson-Watt developed the system to detect and locate the threat by radio methods.

"A statue or sculptured stone monument will be a fitting memorial to our most famous son," he added.

Scottish pioneers

Television

Born in Helensburgh, John Logie Baird (1888-1946) was the first person to transmit a picture, pioneered colour television and was involved in a host of other experiments for the military between the First and Second World Wars, including early radar, many details of which are still top secret.

Fax Machine

A son of a Highland crofter, Alexander Bain (1810-1877) was an apprentice watchmaker with a fascination for time. While working to develop a system to send signals around the world to synchronise electric clocks, in 1843 he developed a telegraph that printed in plain type - a device now seen as the first facsimile.

Telephone

Born in Edinburgh, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) invented the telephone while devising a method of communicating with deaf people.

Bicycle

The son of a blacksmith in Dumfriesshire, Kirkpatrick MacMillan, right, (1813-1878) first built himself a "dandy-horse" in 1837, propelled by the rider pushing on the ground with their feet. He fitted a crank system to create the world's first pedal cycle.

Road Surface

Ayrshire born John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836) paved the way for modern road building in the early 19th century when he started making roads out of crushed, graded rock with proper drainage.

Penicillin

Born in Dalry, Ayrshire, Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) discovered, in 1922, the protein lysozyme that has bacteria-killing properties. It was not until 1928, returning from holiday, he discovered a culture plate was deadly to bacteria.

Pregnancy Scanner

Paisley-born Ian Donald (1910-1987) developed an interest in ultrasonics as a diagnostic technique after learning about radar in the RAF. While Regius Chair of Midwifery at the University of Glasgow, which he took up in 1954, he developed the first contact ultrasound scanner.

The Waterproof

The son of a Glasgow chemical manufacturer, Charles Macintosh (1766-1843) hit upon the idea of using dissolved India rubber to glue together two sheets of fabric which became impenetrable by water.

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