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Chapter 1 - The Founder


Raymond George Hart was born on 28 February 1899 at Merton in Surrey. He joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as a Cadet in January 1917 and was commissioned in March of that year; on completion of flying training in January 1918, he was posted to No 15 Sqn at Lechelle in France to fly RE 8 aircraft11.

On 11 April 1918 while on an artillery observation patrol over Bouzincourt he won the MC for his part in one of the most remarkable combat victories of the First World War.

Lieutenant Hart's aircraft was attacked from below by four German scouts. The slow and unwieldy reconnaissance aircraft would normally have had little chance of escape in such circumstances. Indeed, an early burst from one of the enemy machines shot away the RE 8's elevators, and Hart started to bring his aircraft down in a sideslip. Unperturbed, the observer, L F Handford opened fire on the enemy fighters with his single machine-gun, shooting down one aircraft in flames and sending another out of control; a third scout was also forced down. So quick was the action that two of the fighters crashed within 25 yards of each other. The fourth enemy continued to attack and the RE 8 subsequently crash-landed; both occupants were wounded but, thanks to Hart's flying skill, survived.

In Nov 1936, Sqn Ldr R G Hart was attached to "Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment" at Bawdsey12. He was to be trained with one FS, one sgt and one cpl. The establishment was deliberately kept away from an aerodrome to aid secrecy. In May 1937, following its successful establishment as the first RDF station, Bawdsey was handed over to the RAF. Hart's instructions were to "study radar with a view to ensuring that he had sufficient knowledge and staff to train any Service personnel necessary for maintaining and operating radar equipment, so that immediately anything was made by the scientists the RAF could use it". It is interesting to note that at around this time, he used the nickname 'Firefly' when referring to his baby son; until 1997 'Firefly' was used as the callsign of the SFC. He was also required to give advice to the scientific staff on the operational use of aircraft and the operational application of radar information, and was made responsible for the administration, operation and maintenance by Service personnel of the radar stations erected around the coast for the protection of the UK. These tasks included both participation in operational trials and the development of the operational techniques necessary to exploit the potential of radar to the full. In particular, Hart developed the Filter System which made it possible to combine information from several sources "to provide a comprehensive, accurate air picture"; a phrase that should be instantly recognisable to all Systems Officers and even Display Controllers!

Thus, Hart not only founded the forerunner to the SFC, but also created the reporting procedures that have evolved into those used by the Branch today. His contribution to the Dowding System was critical to its success in the Battle of Britain and, consequently, to the survival of Great Britain as an independent nation. On 11 July 1940 the now Wing Commander Hart was awarded the OBE for the operational control he had exercised over the ever increasing number of stations being opened whilst he was based at Headquarters Fighter Command. As the threat from night bombing increased during the Blitz, Hart was closely involved in the development of Air Intercept Radar Mark IV13 and the AMES Type 714.

In September 1943, after a spell as Chief Signals Officer of Fighter Command, the now Group Captain Hart was appointed to Special Duties, helping to plan the invasion of Europe at Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Air Force. Two years later Air Commodore Hart was made Commander of the Legion of Merit, of the United States of America, and in 1948 Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur of France.

In the 15 years after the Second World War he held a variety of posts at the Air Ministry, and was AOC No 27 Signals Training Group and AOC No 90 Signals Group.

On 13 June 1957 Air Marshal Hart was dubbed Knight Commander of the British Empire. On 16 February 1960 Air Marshal Sir Raymond Hart KBE, CB, MC was tragically killed in a gardening accident. He is buried in the churchyard at Aston Rowant, Oxfordshire15.

A more detailed history of the founder, with some photographs and memorabilia, can be seen in the entrance to the current SFC at RAF Boulmer.

Continue to the next part of the history ......