Moffat Town :- Air Chief Marshal Lord Hugh Dowding
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Air Chief Marshal Lord Hugh Dowding :
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Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, - known more often by his title than his first name, - was the son of Moffat who achieved lasting fame in this century. He was Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command from July 1936 to November 1940, seeing two vital years of service when 'The Few' fighter pilots went up in their Spitfires and Hurricanes against the Messerschmitt 109s and 110s of the German Luftwaffe. Possibly most important of all, he fought vigorously in the corridors of power for the introduction of improvements in aircraft, radar, aircraft control systems and airfields. He has been compared with Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Horatio Nelson in terms of his key role in the defence of Britain; like them, in his lifetime he had as many detractors as supporters.
St. Ninian's Boys Preparatory School, Moffat
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The family had moved to Moffat in 1879 when his father left Fettes College in Edinburgh after three years as an Assistant Master. Arthur Dowding and his colleague, a Mr. Churchill, established St. Ninian's Boys Preparatory School in Moffat. Hugh Dowding was born in Moffat in 1882, living in Moffat for his first fifteen years. He went to Winchester College on a scholarship and later joined the Army. His family moved in 1897 down to England, where by 1901 Dowding was able to note the achievements of the early aviators such as Orville and Wilbur Wright and Louis Bleriot.
Dowding's military career goes to show that his foresight and competence were largely responsible for the organisation of an effective air-defence system for Great Britain. The Luftwaffe had more aircraft with a greater performance, but Dowding had tied visual observation of aircraft together with radar to direct fighters onto attacking formations by using radio. It took the Germans over two years to try to copy this system, which they never completely succeeded in doing. Being at the right place, at the right time, with sufficient force brought to bear, was the key behind RAF success in the Battle of Britain.
The essential humanity of Dowding and his desire to help the rank and file was again manifested in the care given in the postwar period to those disabled by war. This is recalled in the Royal Air Force Association Dowding House in Moffat, converted from the private school buildings in which his father had taught, and considerably extended. The better-known national memorial is the Dowding Room of the Sussexdown Home in Storrington, Sussex.
During the First World War of 1914-1918, Hugh Dowding served in France as a member of the Royal Flying Corps, which later became the Royal Air Force. He became a Flight Commander of the Wireless Squadron, air spotting for the artillery, later moving to Brooklands with the Wireless Experimental Establishment. He fully appreciated the importance of developments in aircraft radio, but by 1930 had gone onwards and upwards in the RAF and became Air Member for Supply and Research (later, Research and Development). He wanted the rapid development of fast monoplane fighters such as the Spitfire and the Hurricane, and from 1935 was encouraging research into radar. For airfields, he wanted hard, all-weather runways, but in this faced opposition from those still wedded to biplanes and grass airstrips.
The nickname "Stuffy" Dowding was a result of an event early in his flying career. Although this was later used in reference to his attention to detail, in fact it was a reference to an event that occurred in 1916. He protested to a senior officer over the fact that virtually untrained young men were being sent to his Squadron and then ordered into battle and massacred by experienced German pilots. The legendary reply, "Don't be stuffy, Dowding," may have been behind his efforts to care for his men; the RAF pilots of Fighter Command became known as "Dowding's Chicks".
Promotion on 14th July 1936 to Air-Officer Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command allowed Dowding to concentrate on Air Defence, but it also marked a period of hard work in the face of Hitler's re-armament of Germany. The obvious and necessary preparation of the Royal Air Force to resist German air power took place against complaints about expense and provocation. There was only the embryo of a radar system, fourteen incomplete fighter squadrons, an incomplete Anti-Aircraft Division and the understaffed volunteer Observer Corps. His report on the 'Ideal' solution of 9th February 1937, wanted 45 fighter squadrons, 1,200 anti-aircraft guns, 5,000 searchlights, radar, radio control of aircraft and a massive expansion of the Observer Corps. Unwisely, the report was ignored until after the folly of the Munich Crisis of 1938, when Neville Chamberlain held up 'a piece of paper' and spoke of 'peace in our time'.
Moffat had only a modest place in Dowding's arrangements, but it is worth noting that from October 1939 there was at Beattock the Observer Post K1 of the No. 32 Carlisle Observer Group, on watch for all air movements. From then until the end of the war in Europe, the Post had to be constantly manned. The site was kept in peacetime, moving twice in line with operational needs. Observer Corps posts saved many lives by monitoring movements of Allied aircraft, releasing warning flares to warn those approaching high ground. Later, the Royal Observer Corps Post at Beattock was built to monitor the effects of nuclear weapons, an underground concrete box where two or three men and women would monitor the effects of nuclear attack by missiles. It may be a far cry from monitoring aircraft, but up till 1991 the Royal Observer Corps gave the faithful service Dowding had required from its volunteers.
Hugh Dowding did look into the pay needs even of the lowly Observers, who despite his best efforts received no more than £ 3 per week for 56 hours on duty in all weathers and in any hour of the day or night. However, his main concern was for the effective operation of systems of radar and observer reporting to allow his control rooms to vector (guide in) fighters to enemy planes as fast as was possible. After some sad mistakes, the system was working well enough by 3rd September 1939 to respond thereafter to attacks by the Luftwaffe. It is ironic that the first bombs fell on Scottish soil and waters at Rosyth on 16th October 1939. Dowding held to two basic convictions: the first, that the RAF would need to be desroyed before an invasion of Britain could be attempted, the second, that his Observers were there to provide the RAF with intelligence on aircraft movements over land, where radar was less effective. History shows he was absolutely correct.
Dowding's pre-occupation with radar and the Observers ensured that Britain had a good defensive network, but his care was not respected in high places. To further complicate matters, his Group Commanders Park and Leigh-Mallory argued bitterly over tactics; whilst Dowding was working up the vital Night Fighter Force, their contention did Dowding considerable damage. Night fighters had initially limited successes, although Dowding had set them up on the right lines, but that combined with disputes to make Churchill replace him. On 25th November 1940, he handed over his Fighter Command to Air Marshal Sholto Douglas. This was on the eve of the victory that should have crowned his career. Others (notably and unfortunately, including Churchill), felt that Dowding had missed opportunities to bring the Luftwaffe to battle, and that his Observers were 'Stone Age'. In fact, he had kept away the enemy and made it possible to gather forces to attack the Luftwaffe on its own ground, as well as ensuring that Britain did not commit too many aircraft overseas and so lose all its own means of active air defence.
For two years, Dowding served in the United States for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, but in 1942 retired at his own request. Belatedly made Lord Dowding of Bentley Priory, he was left to watch as others reaped the success due his preparations. Churchill eventually acknowledged that Dowding had been correct, remarking "We must regard the generalship here shown as an example of genius in the art of war". At Dowding's Memorial Service in Westminster Abbey on 12th March 1970, the term 'Architect of Deliverance' was used. The ashes of Lord Dowding now lie very fittingly in Westminster Abbey, one of those buildings his Fighter Command helped preserve from destruction.
St. Ninian's School closed in the 1980s and by 1985 was dilapidated and threatened by demolition. Irene Park obtained the property but she and her friend Margaret Fisher had no guarantee that the building could be restored as a monument to Dowding. The Royal Air Force Association finally reimbursed Irene Park in December 1986 and restored St. Ninian's as Dowding House. The Appeal needed to carry out the work involved the RAF Benevolent Fund and raised £ 1.6 million to convert the building into sheltered housing for ex-RAF personnel and their immediate dependents. Renamed Dowding House, the building was opened on 1st October 1988, with 12 double and 14 single flats. Dowding still cares for his "Chicks", even if only in memory.
Dowding House in Well Street, Moffat, remains the largest memorial to this great man, but Moffat's Station Park holds a rather lovely sandstone and bronze memorial by Scott Sutherland to his memory. The Royal Air Force Association's home for disabled RAF personnel at Sussexdown, Storrington, Sussex, also has a Lord Dowding Room funded by an endowment from the Lord Dowding Appeal.
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Moffat Town Website started 12th December 1999.
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