Bright outlook for school station

Opening of Weatherfield Weather Station
Opening of Weatherfield Weather Station

The most momentous days in the history of a Dunstable school’s site were those leading up to D Day in June 1944.

So staff and students at Weatherfield Academy in Brewers Hill Road researched the role played by the Central Forecasting Office (CFO),which was based there from 1940 to 1961.

The information was gathered before last week’s unveiling of the academy’s own weather station.

Memorabilia was collected that enabled them to discover more about the people who worked at the CFO and the historical importance of the site.

Despite months of meticulous planning for D Day, there was one aspect that Second World War military commanders could not fully legislate for and which would play a crucial part in deciding whether the massive invasion would succeed – the weather.

Due to the size and logistics of the operation it could only be launched on certain days, each providing a small window of opportunity to launch the massive mobilisation of Allied forces.

A team of meteorologists would advise Operation Overlord’s overall commander, General Eisenhower, on when would be the correct time to launch the invasion and help decide the fates of thousands of soldiers. Top secret information was collected and collated on the current Weatherfield Academy site.

The CFO opened in Dunstable in 1940 as the previous office in London was deemed to be at risk of bombing. ETA (Evacuation Temporary Accommodation) was the name given to the station.

Some key names were highlighted in the research compiled at Weatherfield Academy. Group Captain Sir James Martin Stagg is the name that has become synonimous with the decision to delay the D Day landings by 24 hours.

C. K. M. Douglas, the master forecaster, was a pilot during the First World War and suffered injuries in action.

It is reputed that he could recall data from an almost photographic memory about weather systems.

Robert Radcliffe, leader of the wartime operation Air Bench, and Sverre Pettersen, an ex-Norwegian officer who was a pioneer in weather plotting, maintained links with forecasters in occupied Europe throughout the war years.

The Dunstable site had strong links with Station X at Bletchley Park. Code-breakers were able to send information about weather picked up via communication being decrypted from U boats in the Atlantic and therefore the Navy, Air Force and Army had a very accurate forecast that could be relied upon for operations.

Communication between Station X and the CFO was overseen by armed motorcycle outriders to maintain secrecy. One story that stood out from the research was that of an outrider who on an icy evening travelling back to Dunstable from Bletchley along the A5 had to keep both feet on the ground to maintain balance. When he eventually made it back with important documents, he had worn through his boots.

More than 40 guests attended the opening of Weatherfield Weather Station, including South West Beds MP Andrew Selous, Rob Varley from the Met Office and friends of the academy.

Also present were Mary Chapman, Pat Mitchell and Joyce Samuel, who all worked at the CFO.

They were asked to open Weatherfield Weather Station so that pupils can follow in the footsteps of those who served their country during the Second World War.