George May, G4RZF, July 2018

| April 29, 2019

George May, G4RZF, went SK in July 2018. During his time, he was not only a Voluntary Interceptor (VI) but worked for the Air Ministry/MoD and had a rush job figuring out how to and actually fitting the VHF transceivers into the Lancasters of 617 Squadron prior to the Dambusters raid.

He was 97 years old and had been living in sheltered housing in Royal Wootton Bassett: he had been in poor health for some time. I would see him at Royal Wootton Bassett Probus Club.

There will be a Memorial Service for him in Royal Wootton Bassett St Bartholomews Church at 1400 on July 15.

From Peter Chadwick, G3RZP



A copy of George’s eulogy, delivered by Paul Collins

George was an inspiration to me. George always encouraged me in whatever I was doing. I’m sure I will always be able to hear his voice saying “You’ve just got to get on with it, old boy” We were all referred to as old boys in his group. It is a great honour for me that George asked me to give a work-related Eulogy today.

I knew of George some time before I actually met him because George and my father were work colleagues. When I met George for the first time as my new boss in Radio Department in the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough he called me Dennis’ son. George and I had many things in common that were frequently chatted about during the working day. One of those was of course music and singing. The first concert my wife Marie and I went to after moving to Farnborough in 1980 was ‘A Sea Symphony’ by Vaughan Williams in The Princes Hall in Aldershot. George sold us the tickets because he was singing bass in the choir in the concert. Then to my surprise George told me that he listened to the daily morning service from Copenhagen Cathedral on the long wave radio every day. When I arrived at work George always asked me about the hymns that had been sung and the organ pieces that had been played that morning. George always knew the piece that was played if it was by J S Bach but the Danish composers were not as easy. At last he had someone to ask because Marie is Danish and understood the announcements on the radio broadcasts so I could tell him what they were when I arrived at work.

As George was very keen on amateur radio another thing we often discussed was Radio Hams as they were called because my father was also a licensed radio ham. Like my father George had built his own short-wave radio receiver and was listening to radio broadcasts from around the world as far away as Australia from his home in Leicestershire. We can all imagine George’s excitement and enthusiasm when he was asked to use his radio receiver to listen for five letter cypher signals from Germany during the war. George had to post his log-sheets to P.O. Box 25, Barnet where they were sorted and forwarded to Bletchley Park. George was given honorary membership of the Radio Security Service of the Royal Observer Corps and wore the ROC badge but did not know until 30 years later what it was that he had been receiving the signals from Germany for!

Job opportunities for school leavers were hard to come by in the immediate lead up to the Second World War so George worked as an Accountants Clerk in Leicestershire until a Government trawl of Radio Amateurs by the Admiralty led to his job as a Technical Assistant Grade III in Farnborough in 1941. George arrived in Farnborough without anywhere to live but managed to find some digs and quickly found the nearest church which was St. Mark’s Church where he sang in the choir. St. Mark’s is where Marie and I are now and we remembered George in the prayers last Sunday. George wrote an article for the St. Mark’s magazine a few years ago. He called it ‘Some memories of being a chorister at St. Mark’s, Farnborough during World War 2’.

George’s work in Farnborough was on radios and radar for aircraft and in 1942 he worked at Radio Department’s Radio Station which was in Cove, near Farnborough. George worked on measuring the performance of radios in fighter aircraft. The following year George moved to the Radio Interference Section.

This time last year George published an article about one of the most significant events of World War Two, the Dambusters Raid on the Möhne and Eder Dams on 16/17th May 1943. The article appeared in the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Museum newsletter that is read by nearly 1,000 members. George was a keen member of the museum which is the museum of the Royal Aircraft Establishment where he started his career in 1941. In his article George described the pioneering work that had been carried out at Farnborough on new radio telephones for aircraft by his boss Dr Bartlett. They were exciting times. Twelve days before the Dambusters raid was due to take place it was found that the existing radio telephones in the Lancasters were inadequate and so Farnborough was tasked with helping to fit the new radios to the 19 aircraft being used for the raid. This was all completed in time including training the aircrew and it is almost certain that the raid would not have been successful without the new radio telephones. Dr Bartlett’s Radio Telephone is still used for radio communications by civil aviation to this day.

The exciting times continued. A tail warning radar device called ‘Monica’ needed to be tested in Wellington, Lancaster and Halifax bombers, so George was tasked, as a flight observer, to assist with those flight trials and he actually flew in the rear turrets of the aircraft. Many other tasks were placed on Radio Department including during the lead up to D-Day. Then on D-Day Plus One a call had come from General Eisenhower’s headquarters. Help was needed with the radio located on Boniface Down near Ventnor on the Isle of Wight where a special link from Fighter Command Headquarters through southern England on to the beachhead was suffering from radio interference. On his own George had to modify the relay radios to suppress the interference. He thought that the aerials looked very temporary and wondered why. He was told that they were put up in the dark in order to not give away to the German reconnaissance aircraft the direction in which the aerials were pointing.

In 1944 George was flown to Bomber Command at RAF Conningsby in Lincolnshire to investigate why radar was interfering with radio communications after a Lancaster Bomber crew had experienced an unusual interference situation whilst on a raid over Germany. George was then sent to RAF Coltishall in Norfolk in a Mosquito aircraft to sort out a severe interference problem in the night fighters chasing the German V-1 ‘Buzz Bomb’.

In 1946 George was transferred to another section in Radio Department and worked on multi-channel radios and tested them in a Fairey Firefly. The same year George worked on a radio system for the Fleet Air Arm where a Firefly was used to relay messages from the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle to another Firefly that would otherwise have been out of communication range. Then suddenly in November all the work had to stop to deal with very urgent tests to simulate the possible interference from nearby radio transmitters at the proposed new airfield at Changi in Singapore. Back in Farnborough George finished working on the airborne relay radios and wrote to the famous Royal Naval Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown who replied to George that the relay system had been used during the Korean War.

The then Ministry of Supply had a stand at the Radio Olympia Exhibition in 1949 to show the Fairey Firefly relay radios but to George’s disappointment there was no interest in his stand because visitors to the exhibition were more interested in the latest domestic televisions and radios.

George also worked on Radio Department’s UK directional sonobuoy system. Sonobuoys are devices that detect submarines and transmit a radio signal that pin-points the location of the submarine. You can imagine the importance of this work. Sonobuoys had Cabinet Priority but progress on the work was hampered because a report had to be sent to the cabinet every week. Then in November 1950 George was part of the UK team that was sent to the US Navy Base in Patuxent River in Maryland to demonstrate the directional sonobuoy system. The system was criticised by the Americans but they were unable to make sonobuoys themselves and ended up purchasing the British design. The sonobuoys were also tested using a 5th prototype Gannett aircraft which George did not enjoy because the rear cockpit overheated. There was also a specially modified Hastings flying laboratory aircraft that allowed sonobuoys to be loaded in a canister underneath the aircraft to make sea trials easier.

During his career working in Radio Department, George flew in 68 different aircraft types including 19 by the end of World War 2. George’s first work-related flight was on 18 February 1943 in a Catalina Flying Boat from Beaumaris in Anglesey when he was working on a new American radar system that interfered with the aircraft’s radio telephone.

From 1958 to 1965 George worked at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham as a Senior Experimental Officer. In 1964 George taught United States Air Force Technicians at nearby RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. George wrote many documents while at Shrivenham but was very pleased to get a transfer back to Farnborough.

In 1966 George worked on and published papers on how satellite communication to aircraft would improve communications, particularly on long distance routes.

George also spent some time working in Government Headquarters in London as a Chief Experimental Officer dealing with and setting up and monitoring research contracts between the Farnborough Departments and the defence industry but like the Shrivenham job he was again pleased to return to Farnborough in 1974 when he became the UK representative on International technical committees. George went to the Hague to set up a committee called ANN that was the Anglo Netherlands Norwegian committee to investigate long range radio communications problems up the long Norwegian coastline that were due to the aurora. Our friend and colleague Henry Spong remembers the aircraft radio trials in the artic Norway between the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment and Farnborough when George would fly to Norway to chair the progress meetings and Henry used to take the minutes. Henry is very sorry not to be able to be here today. He asked me to recall when in 1967 Henry and George learnt the art of bell ringing together at All Saints Church in Crondall. They reached a high standard and rang for weddings and to welcome the New Year in.

George also went to Australia as the UK representative of an International Technical committee and recalled how on one occasion he had heard the song of the kookaburra bird in Australia from his home in Leicestershire using his homemade radio receiver little realising that one day he would visit Australia as a UK government official.

George retired in 1981 and in order to keep in touch with his friends he arranged an annual get-together for retired members of Radio Department. The group met locally for a pub lunch. Marie and I joined and I have now taken over the organising. Without the Radio Department group that George started we may have lost touch with ex-colleagues and friends so thank you George for keeping us together.

I mentioned that George was a keen member of the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Museum which is where I do my voluntary work. In February 2011 when George was 89 he was invited to give a talk on his work in Radio Department at one of the museum’s evening meetings. It was because of the Radio Department group that George’s had started that we were able to invite his old colleagues from Radio Department to his talk. My thanks to Mike Halliwell for helping George with his presentation and for transporting him to Farnborough and back for the museum meeting. There were about 200 people at the meeting and it was reported in the local Farnborough News and Mail.

George passed a lot of information, knowledge and personal experience on to the museum and will be greatly missed. He used to say to me on the phone or write to me in his many letters about Farnborough ‘do give me a ring if you have any queries’. George was a friend and a great and generous man and it was a privilege to have known him.

Category: Silent Keys