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Significant Scots
Sir Robert Watson-Watt

Sir Robert Watson-Watt was born in Brechin, Angus and was educated at Damacre School in Brechin and Brechin High School. He graduated with a BSc(engineering) in 1912 from University College, Dundee which was then part of the
University of St Andrews. Following graduation he was offered an assistantship by Professor William Peddie who excited his interest in radio waves.

In 1915 Watson-Watt started as a meteorologist at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough with the aim of applying his knowledge of radio to locate thunderstorms so as to provide warnings to airmen. During this period Watson-Watt recognised the need for a rapid method of recording and display of radio signals and in 1916 he proposed the use of cathode ray oscilloscopes for this purpose, however these did not become available until 1923.

In 1924 Watson-Watts work moved to Slough where the Radio Research Station had been formed and in 1927, following an amalgamation with the National Physics Laboratory (NPL), he became Superintendent of an outstation of the NPL at Slough. After a further re-organisation in 1933 Watson-Watt became Superintendent of a new radio department at the NPL in Teddington.

Following an approach from H.E. Wimperis of the Air Ministry, enquiring about the feasibility of producing a 'death ray', Watson-Watt, with the help of his assistant Arnold Wilkins, drafted, in February 1935, a report titled 'The Detection of Aircraft by Radio Methods'. This was presented to the newly formed committee for the scientific survey of air defence, chaired by Sir Henry Tizard, and on 26th of February 1935 a trial took place using the BBCs short-wave (about 50 metres wavelength) radio transmitter at Daventry against a Heyford Bomber. The trial was a success and on 1st September 1936 Watson-Watt became Superintendent of a new establishment under the Air Ministry, Bawdsey Research Station in Bawdsey Manor near Felixstowe. The pioneering work that Watson-Watt managed at this establishment resulted in the design and installation of a chain of radar stations along the East and South coast of England in time for the outbreak of war in 1939. This system, known as Chain Home and Chain Home Low, provided the vital advance information that helped the Royal Air Force to win the Battle of Britain.

He moved to Canada to set up an engineering firm, before retiring back to Pitlochry in Perthshire, where he was buried after his death in 1973, aged 81.

It was in Canada though, in 1956, that Watson-Watt got a glimpse of a less popular application for the technology he helped develop - when he was pulled over for speeding by a policeman using a radar gun.

According to Mr Herriot: "He said, 'My God, if I'd known what they were going to do with it, I'd have never have invented it!'"

Sir Robert Watson-Watt died at Inverness on the 5th December 1973. At the Scottish Episcopal church  Holy Trinity  at Pitlochry there is the headstone of  Sir  Robert Alexander Watson-Watt and his wife;   In memory of  Robert  Alexander Watson-Watt  Kt , CB, LLD , DSc, FRS , 1892 - 1973  father of radar and his wife Katherine  Jane  Trefusis  Forbes   OBE , LLD  1899 -1971  Air Chief Commandant  WAAF.

See article on the BBC

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