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
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
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