Lady Renie Adams nee Warburton

Whilst researching the additions to the Bolton (Bakers) Clan sent to me by Martin Warburton I noticed his father had a sister Renie born in 1920. When Martin confirmed this was indeed his aunt he mentioned she became Lady Adams.

So I Googled Lady Adams and discovered an interesting life. One source was the Penley Radar Archive (http://www.purbeckradar.org.uk/penleyradararchives/introduction_www/index.htm). Its page on Lady Renie Adams states:

Renie Adams (née Warburton) was one of the first WAAF Radar Instructors at the training school set up by Jack Ratcliffe in Forres School in Swanage in 1941. She married John Adams in 1943 who later became the Chief Scientist for Civil work in the Ministry of Technology and subsequently was Director of CERN in Geneva.

There were also links to Reminiscences, Photographs, and Letters, but none of these now work.

I found a fuller tribute on the CERN Pensioners Association Site (https://www.gac-epa.org/History/Tributes/2002/RenieAdams-en.html), written by Norman Blackburne, and including a photo. 

Renie Adams — 1920–2002

Renie, Lady Adams, who died on 30 September, was the widow of Sir John Adams, a former Staff Member and Director-General of CERN. As a beneficiary of the CERN Pension Fund, she was a member of GAC and took an interest in its affairs. In 1998, Renie was elected as one of the Auditors of our Association, but was unable to take up this appointment because of ill health.

In 1974, she founded the CERN Women’s Club, which, in addition to its normal club activities, has since helped many newcomers’ wives to settle into the Geneva area. She played an important role in supporting her husband in his contacts with CERN personnel at all levels, with the CERN Council and its committees, as well as with visiting dignitaries from all parts of the world.

Renie was interested in everything around her and was always ready to help her friends and family alike. Her warm personality and easy manner will be missed by all those who knew her.

I found more about Renie’s role in founding the CERN Women’s club on the History page of the CERN Welcome Club site (https://club-welcome.web.cern.ch/Default.htm). The first few paragraphs follow:

It all got under way in 1974 with a small group of dynamic young ladies who wanted to make contact with newcomers to the region and to help them settle in.

The foundation of our Club is due mainly to the late Renie Adams, now Lady Adams, the wife of John Adams, a former Director General of CERN. For a long time she campaigned to obtain a meeting room, a barrack – any space whatsoever for the wives who came here with their husbands. It was not easy to find a space where they could all meet.

At that time, CERN was swarming with keen young physicists and there was no space for us. Initially, Renie created a group of volunteers to help the newcomers. For example, Pat Pattison invited all the English-speaking newcomers to her own home for coffee. In this way she was able to help them meet other people. They knew that Pat could help them with their telephone calls to doctors, dentists, etc., and could provide information about the buses, shops, schools and local customs.

Things changed after the construction of the new restaurant (at the start of the 1970s) “Chez Tortella” which was the name of the flamboyant manager. We were finally able to use two rooms on the mezzanine floor. That was how it all began. At first it was hard work on every front.

l found Renie’s Reminiscences on the Bournemouth University Oral History site (https://histru.bournemouth.ac.uk/Oral_History/Women_in_the_War/Waaf/remie_adams/adams_page1.htm). It acknowledged the Penley Radar Archive site. It commented that the Bournemouth Oral History Research Unit is no longer active, though the site is currently being maintained, albeit my browser gave warnings of its invalid certificate. In the circumstances I am delighted to provide an additional home for her story.

Women in the War

Lady Renie Adams

Reminiscences of a WAAF Officer 

My arrival at Swanage in 1941, along with nineteen other women all dressed in Air Force blue and sporting a single narrow white band on our cuff showing the rank of Assistant Section Officer, was the final stage in a six month training course on a highly secret weapon. We had been chosen by Watson Watt himself from about 200 science graduates for this special work, sent on an officers training course at Loughborough, on an RDF (Radio Direction Finding) operators course to Cranwell, and then to an operating CH station. I had been with a colleague to Ventnor which had been ‘off the air’ for more than a few hours. Strangely enough, although all the stations on the coast to the east had been bombed Worth Matravers, which seemed to be next on the list, had luckily escaped bombing on that occasion. These stations were easily identified from the air by their line of high pylons and concrete blocks nearby which housed the transmitter and receiver. Here we learned about the chain of home stations all round the South East and Southern coast that had been busy 24 hours a day keeping watch and tracking enemy aircraft. Each operator was directly connected by a telephone headset to the Filter Room to which they reported all aircraft within coverage. The Filter Room received information from several CH stations and here it was evaluated, given a code name hostile or friendly, and then passed directly to the Operations room where it was plotted on a large map and could be seen by the Chief of Staff conducting operations.   

          Sir Robert Watson-Watt

We learned of some of the difficulties that had been experienced by the severe radio jamming put out by the Germans during the air raids on London and other towns and cities and some of the mistakes in identification of aircraft, and we were told that all these were being counteracted by the ‘boffins’, mysterious people usually civilians, who appeared from time to time with advice and sometimes extra equipment to help keep the station ‘on the air’. The operators told us of times when aircraft had been plotted miles off course over the sea because of difficulties of navigating at night. This was completely transformed later by the inventions of the research staff at TRE who enabled the Pathfinder Squadrons to direct our bomber force.

Renie met her husband John, who also worked at TRE, at a ‘hop’ in Swanage. The picture was first shown on the Penley Radar Archives website. 

When we were posted to TRE Worth Matravers for a three-month course on electronics, we were last to meet some of these ‘boffins’ who were at the centre of the research on what is universally known as RADAR. Our commanding officer was a Flight Lieutenant Ratcliffe and we were taken to our billets at the Grand Hotel Swanage. We were to have very special treatment. We were soon taken to Forres School, a prep school that had been evacuated during the war. It was now a school under the direction of a J A Ratcliffe, specialising in courses mostly for operational personnel. We soon found out that we had come to a unique place. Scores of physicists all working on RADAR research had been stationed in the town and occupied labs in barracks up at Worth Matravers, or in empty school buildings, wherever they could be found. Many were billeted with local residents with whom they soon fraternised. Everything was ‘hush hush’ and nobody would tell you what they were doing.

We were kept very busy with lectures on electronics, circuitry, detectors and amplifiers, transmitters and receivers, transmission line theory and antennae. It was quite a difficult course for non-physicists. They had only been able to find perhaps half a dozen women with physics degrees, the chemists and botanists worked hard at the exacting course, at the end of which there was to be an exam, after which we would be posted to operational duties.

Being at the Grand Hotel we used to have informal dancing on Saturday nights called ‘hops’ and here we often met the young men from TRE. They were very interesting people, although their style of dress was somewhat bizarre with their tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows and brogues on their feet. A few had old cars with long narrow bonnets in which we were sometimes driven around when they had petrol. It was at one of these ‘hops’ that I first met John Adams, my future husband. He helped me a little to master transmission theory and I must have done rather well in the exams as after a brief stay at Stanmore, 60 Group Headquarters, I was posted back to Worth Matravers to lecture at Forres School. Most of the other members of the course went to Wing Headquarters to keep an eye on the operations of a group of CH stations. We were all promoted to the rank of Flight Officer.

I was to help on a course of RADAR supervisors run by two civilians, John Whitehouse and Johnny Clegg. These were courses for chosen RAF and WAAF Radar personnel, often non-commissioned officers who had been in charge of operational ‘watches’. I soon found out the calibre of these people coming from all walks of civilian life. You would find secretaries and hairdressers, solicitors and clergymen, all working together and keen on their jobs. They were splendid and spent the time at the school working very hard indeed at aerial theory, counteracting jamming, identification of aircraft, estimation of number, and enough electronic theory to know when the transmitter or receiver needed attention. Some evenings we had to lock them out of the classrooms to make them take a break from work. They all realised the importance of their work in giving advance warning of air raids to both civilian and RAF flying personnel and they worked with a remarkable will to succeed. They were usually rewarded for their labour for, if they passed the course, and after a dreaded interview with Squadron Leader Scarf who decided whether or not they made the grade, they were commissioned before being sent back to man all the CH or CHL stations now covering the coast from Firth of Tay to Lands End. The CHL stations had been brought into service to spot the low flying aircraft that had been stealing in, flying low and undetected, by the CH stations.

Forres School continued to grow as more and more courses were necessary. J Radcliffe left and Len Huxley became the new Director. Soon there were courses for new entrants to TRE mechanics courses, courses for supervisors on CHL stations and for Ground Controlled Interception stations. I eventually took over the supervisors course and later the CHL and GCI courses. We wrote an instruction manual based on the supervisors course which was studied by all RADAR personnel on ground stations and was known as the operators ‘bible’.

It is difficult to stress too highly the immense importance of TRE and its immeasurable contribution to the war effort. It was, therefore, not surprising that our intelligence services received evidence that a raid on TRE and Worth Matravers was imminent. We had already experienced many air raid warnings. The army sent troops to protect the area and TRE was evacuated to Malvern School, which moved for the second time to Harrow. Swanage was badly bombed days after the evacuation and my first billet near the station received a direct hit.

 

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