Muir Adair – notes from a conversation (February 2007)
Peter Best writes: In 2007, I had the huge honour of going to Canada and meeting two of the veterans I had traced who were then still alive. One was Muir Adair, living close to Vancouver, and the other was Bill Firby, who at that time lived at Victoria, on Vancouver Island. I wrote up the notes and attach these.
Notes from a Meeting with Muir Adair held at Muir’s Home in Langley, British Columbia, Canada on Friday 23rd February 2007
When did you join up and what age were you?
1941. The Spring. Muir was 23 years old.
Before joining up Muir started his professional life as a singer and musician. He began when he was 16, and played and sang with the Paul Prescott Orchestra. He had three years’ performing with this big band who were quite famous and playing primarily in Florida but also in other parts of the USA. The band leader was offered a job in Hollywood, writing and performing music for the movies, and on their way to Hollywood the Band Manager had organised a variety of gigs starting in Florida and on to California. One of those gigs was in Detroit and on seeing the road signs in Detroit giving directions to Canada, and his home in Toronto, Muir decided to leave the band and return home.
By this time, he was 19 and became a music teacher but soon realised that teaching was not his profession, and after only three months he moved into sales with the Bell Vue Company. There he worked for 2 years rising to be a District Manager in the company selling musical instruments and sheet music.
At the outbreak of war he was keen to join the RCAF as a pilot. Muir had always been interested in flying, and first flew solo in 1936 when he was only 18 years old. Regrettably he failed his medical on the grounds of his eyesight and was not accepted as a potential pilot. 18 months later he re-applied and was accepted but for non-flying duties.
Were you always interested in radar?
“No, radar did not exist.” At the recruitment stage, part of the questioning by the Recruiting Officer was whether or not Muir had made radios at school or college. When Muir responded positively he was asked to join the RDF section of the RCAF.
Where were you trained?
First of all, at the RCAF Manning training depot, the CNES “Horse Palace”. CNES signifies the Canadian National Exhibition Stables. This is where he carried out his basic RCAF training. He was then sent to the University of Toronto where he undertook an intensive cramming session on radio and radio technology, culminating in him passing all of the exams and becoming an LAC.
When did you come to England?
After training, Muir came to the UK in the autumn of 1941.
What did you do before joining 15082?
When Muir first arrived in the UK he went to RAF Cranwell and to their radio school. Further training was then undertaken in ground radar and the operation of CH and CHL equipment. On completion of this training, Muir was a fully-qualified radar mechanic. His first posting was to a site in Northern Ireland which was a CHL Station. This posting was to Lisnaskea (County Fermanagh). He was there until the Spring of 1942 and whilst there he applied to become an RAF pilot, believing that the RAF standards for eyesight were less than the RCAF. However, he was unsuccessful. He was beginning to find being a radar mechanic at a CHL Station was somewhat boring. The equipment was very good and did not break down, and Muir wished to find a more exciting part of the service. However, he found that every time he applied for a different position, the fact that he had radar knowledge went against him as it was somewhat of a “closed trade” – i.e. if you were good at it, you were not going to be moved away. His next posting was to Wales which was a new CHL Station at Aberleri, close to Borth (mid-Wales). By now he was a Corporal and this was a new CHL Station chosen to provide cover for incoming enemy aircrafts flying between Liverpool and Birkenhead. Whilst at the station at Aberleri, he met a young Scottish WAAF who subsequently became Mrs Adair!
In early- to mid-1943, the threat to Liverpool was decreasing, and an opportunity came to join the combined operations section of the RAF and be part of a newly-created Mobile GCI Radar team. He was made a Sergeant when he joined what became 15082.
Where were you stationed before joining 15082?
What were the dates of your promotions?
Corporal in 1942, and Sergeant in the summer of 1943. F/Sgt on April 14th 1944
Were you with 15082 from start to finish?
Muir joined 15082 on its creation and was with it up until November or December 1944. He was not sure whether this was when 15082 was disbanded but it was close to when the unit came back to the UK.
When were you de-mobbed?
After Muir left 15082 in November / December 1944, he was posted to the Navy radar at a site in Scotland at a place called Cobenspath (Cockburnspath?, in the Scottish borders, on the coast between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh). Muir was always outspoken and described himself as “making a lot of noise”. He was frequently described by others as an “insubordinate colonial”. However, Muir liked the life in the Combined Ops because there was a feeling of independence and pathfinding away from the stuffy rigours of normal service life. He was always conscious of a big class distinction and had a feeling that the RAF wanted to make them all British. During his period at 15082, Muir and the senior officer, Trollope, did not get on very well. Muir recalled a story where he and a Mechanical Engineer invented a new hinge which made the assembly or dis-assembly of a radar receiver aerial much easier. This receiver needed a series of large panels which had to be erected before the equipment could be used and Muir organised a simple hinge system which speeded up this process. However, one day when the CO saw the modification and the fact that it led to some of the men being idle for parts of the erection process, Muir was castigated by Trollope for not only damaging Government property, but also for not organising his men to be occupied all the time!
Muir did not last too long in the Navy and he did not like the class demarcation. He was then posted to the Shetland Isles at Gautness but this he found boring and anyway the War was finished by this stage. He was eventually repatriated and demobbed in August 1945.
When did you return home to Canada?
Can you remember any of the names of 15082 personnel?
Muir cannot remember many of the names of the others in 15082. Being a Flight Sergeant, he was very conscious of neither being an Officer nor in the ranks, and really only mixed with members of rank close to his, which were the other NCO’s. Muir gave Peter a photograph of himself and three other NCOs at the time of 15082’s return to the United Kingdom and their names were:
Flt. Sgt. Muir Adair
Sgt. Tom Spears
Sgt. Bill Simpson
Sgt. George ??
Was 15082 under 85 group?
Muir doesn’t know. His main reporting route was to the second Tactical Air Force. 15082 seemed to come under many different commands at different times.
Where was its base?
Initially 15082 was crewed up at Swanage, or to be more precise Renscombe Down. It spent quite a lot of time based there, carrying out various training procedures, before going to further training with the Commandos close to Spean Bridge and landing craft training near Troon in Scotland.
Was the ‘team’ for 15082 drawn together in August 1943 or were there later additions to the ‘team’?
Yes, most of the crew from 15082 were established together in August 1943.
In the run-up to D-Day, where were you based?
Anywhere and everywhere! Although on intensive training, which in his case included motor school training, lorry driving, weapons training and even flying again – there was at one time a possibility that they would have an Auster plane allocated to their GCI to assist in locating good positions for setting up.
Can you recall the nationality of the LCT crews?
Muir can only confirm that his landing craft was crewed by Americans.
When did others from 21 BDS arrive?
Muir doesn’t know.
What photographs do you have of 15082 or 21 BDS?
Muir gave Peter copies of the majority of the photographs that he had, and promised to forward another one on at a later date. The photographs on D-Day were all taken by Flt. Lt. Hitchcock. Ned had been given a camera from 60 Group Headquarters. Muir thinks that it was a Leica. Ned took some photographs of the landing craft, and was supposed to take these official photographs on behalf of 60 Group. However, when their lorry came off the landing craft and subsequently stalled due to high water, Ned gave the camera to Muir for safe keeping. Subsequently, it got completely soaked as Muir struggled ashore and the images were thought to have been lost. Muir gave the camera back to Ned two days after D-Day and was surprised to learn that the boffins at 60 Group had been able to salvage some of the images.
When did you first meet Ned?
Just before D-Day.
As Flight Sergeant, Muir had some influence on how his men were organised and although Muir could drive, he felt that it would be a good move on his part to have with him on the landings the best and most capable Corporals from the MT department. Muir organised such a Corporal to be his driver when he disembarked from his landing craft. He already knew that they were going to be the lead landing craft and that he was going to be one of the first vehicles to leave that landing craft. He wanted the best man driving him, to give him the best chance of getting ashore. He was therefore extremely cross that, just before D-Day his cunning plan was overruled, and that he was ordered to take a “boffin”. Muir recalls that he was quite shirty towards this tall, thin New Zealander, called Ned Hitchcock, and felt that he was carrying a passenger who might not be able to make his weight up! He should have had no worries on that count as subsequent events proved, but at the time he was not best pleased!
What were your memories of Ned?
Both Muir and Ned were colonials. Even though Ned was an officer, they came from the same “school” and were practical, considered men. He was less class conscious and less stuffy. Muir recalls Ned as being a tall, thin, slight man. He was fit and someone that you would not want to pick a fight with! At this point Muir also remembered the Control Officer of 15082 “Hoppy” Highfield. This officer was the main controller for 15082 and he got his nickname because he had a gammy leg. Muir could not remember how he got his injury and on hindsight was surprised that he was with a combined ops section given the fact that he had a disability. Muir remembers seeing one of his operators being hit and subsequently die.
When the LCTs began to go ashore, were all 5 together?
In theory and according to the briefing that they had had many times before D-Day, they were supposed to go in in a wedge formation. The first LCT (LCT 649) was in the lead and Muir recalls seeing one to his left and one to his right prior to them disembarking but he cannot remember seeing the other two.
Did you have a sense that the Coxwains knew where they were?
Yes. Muir was confident that the Coxwains did know where they were and also recalled, as has been confirmed by others, that the timing of the arrival on the beach was controlled by US Navy patrol boats as a mixture of traffic wardens and traffic cops.
Did you see the other LCTs land?
Can you recall the other landings?
You were first off – did your vehicle immediately ‘drown’?
No. When the vehicle left the landing craft, it descended into water that was only two or three feet deep, and they moved away from the landing crafts, but the problem was that instead of the beach becoming easier they had landed on a sand bar and the water became deeper, eventually flooding the engine. They saw on the beach a lorry with a winch, maybe a Diamond T, and Ned suggested that he would wade ashore and get the winch and pull out the wire, attach it to their truck and have it towed in. All the time there was shelling and they could see the carnage on the beach. However, the tide was coming in quickly and although they got the rope attached to the vehicle, the tide had come in, over the cab of the lorry and was up to the steering wheel. Muir had no alternative but to leave the lorry and swim. This was extremely difficult. Muir was not a great swimmer and was convinced that his life was saved by a combination of the gas mask and respirator which acted in some way towards being a flotation guide. Muir commented that he was at the absolute limit of his strength when he was able to stand and was in his depth – partly due to the weight of the equipment he was carrying and partly due to the sodden uniform he was wearing. He also knew he had ended up some distance away from the original landing place. Perhaps as far as 600 yards to the east, where the tide had forced him.
In your vehicle, was it just you and Ned?
Yes, the vehicle was an Austin and it carried the diesel generator for a Type 11 radar set.
Did you see what happened to Ned?
No, Muir did not see Ned again until D-Day +2.
After swimming and being carried east, was your beach under machine gun, mortar, sniper or 88mm fire or all of them?
It was still being fired on, mainly via 88mm shells, mortars and single rifle fire. Muir cannot remember hearing or sensing any machine gun fire at this stage.
Were there any other 15082/21 BDS men close by?
No, Muir recalls there were men from the US Navy, US Engineers and US Rangers where he took shelter on the shingle bank but mostly they were infantry men. Where he came ashore, his motley crew consisted of 8 or 9 men.
Can you recall which US units were on your part of the beach?
Did you get any support from them?
Once Muir had got his breath back and had time to come to terms with the environment, he realised that he was probably the most senior personnel member. He certainly had his stripes and identification clearly marked which was contrary to the experience of Norman Best and Ned Hitchcock. Muir had been equipped with a Stenn gun, but this had been lost when he swam ashore, and started equipping himself and others by first picking up a carbine and then finding a rifle. He has no idea of how long he was on the beach before trying to leave nor what time of day it was.
Did you suffer any injuries?
Did you get off the beach via a draw or up the bluffs?
Muir and his colleagues made their way off the beach through some barbed wire and made their way up a hill into the bluffs. (Muir has provided a detailed written account of his D-day experiences which describe graphically this period of the day’s events.)
Can you remember where you spent the night of D-Day?
In a German slit trench.
You recall seeing one of your Radar Op’s bodies. Where was that? On D-day or D+1?
On D-Day. Muir saw him close to where Muir had come ashore.
What was the scale of the isolation that you felt?
Terrible isolation. It was one of the worst parts of D-Day even up to and including D-Day +1 – the feeling of isolation and solitude was stark. This was made even worse when they met up with an American Captain on D-Day +1, and they were relayed the news that the overall Commander of the Omaha Beach operation, General Bradley, was considering that they may have to abandon the landings due to the casualties and setbacks which the Omaha Beach operation was suffering.
He was aware that survival was paramount but so many men had lost their rations, water, ammunition and weapons and the fact that they were still being pretty constantly shelled made it a desperate predicament. Muir recalled the story that during the evening of D-Day when they were trying to clear the German trenches of the enemy, that he came across a French lady and her two children. He recalls vividly the look of terror in all their faces. She could not understand what was going on and with Muir’s limited French he at least was able to give her some reassurance that they would try to protect her. Muir gave the children his chocolate from his K ration and promised to leave a French speaker that was within their group to look after and stand watch over them that night. Muir had no idea of where she had come from and no idea of what became of her or the children, as all three of them were gone in the morning.
Where were you on the morning of D+1?
On D-Day +1, Muir’s group, that had now grown to about 20, met up with the US Captain who organised them into three platoons. Their task was to try and clear an orchard of snipers and other enemy resistance. Gradually, through fierce fighting they were able to advance through this, and it was during this advance that Muir stumbled across lorries from 15082 which were coming from the other side of this field and orchard. He was mightily relieved to see them.
Did you have anything to defend yourself with? Rifle, pistol, etc?
Muir was equipped with a Stenn gun. The Stenn gun was a particularly effective weapon, one which was good in short to medium range, it was highly effective and fast firing. All of 15082 had weapons training and all were armed. (This is in marked contrast to some of the later arrivals of 21BDS who had not had weapon training.) Having lost his Stenn gun coming ashore, Muir picked up anything that he could find.
Had any other RAF personnel met up with you at this time?
The first time he met up was what he believes to be early afternoon of D-Day +1.
What was the sense of relief when you met up with the others?
Was it only then that you found out about the scale of losses?
Muir said that in fact it was only during D+1 night that he had a chance to talk with the other members of 15082 about their experiences and what had happened. Muir remembers that they had an excellent Sergeant who was in charge of domestic matters called Tommy Spears and from somewhere, and with what equipment Muir had no idea, Tommy managed to cook a hot meal for them that night. D+2 was the first night that they actually slept in tents and from then on there was an air of domesticity.
Do you recall the Padre?
Do you recall the Doctor?
What happened when you met up with the rest of 21 BDS?
Muir and his platoon of miscellaneous American soldiers, rangers and Navy personnel came across 21 BDS and the remaining lorries of 15082 following their clearing an orchard and field of the remaining Germans. He was mightily relieved to meet up with his colleagues but he cannot remember formally leaving his American colleagues and rejoining 21 BDS, he just assumed that this would have happened.
Was there still shelling/sniping after you had met up with the rest of 21 BDS?
Muir believes that there was no further shelling of his area after the night of D+1.
When was it that ‘calm and order’ prevailed?
Once their tents went up! They had a huge amount of work to do because, although the Type 15 was basically intact, there was still a lot of damage to repair caused by shrapnel, water and other damage. Fortunately Muir said they had two very good Corporals who were able to begin repairing the equipment and this activity took their minds off what had gone on in the past, as they had a job to do and at least had the opportunity of carrying out their task.
The first site may have been mined. Do you remember the story of a driver taking a lorry and driving fast up and down it?
Yes he does remember this story and it is true. His memory is that the driver was from the Motor Transport Section and that at the time it seemed quite a sensible thing to do, but on hindsight it was completely barmy!! The lorry could have been blown up at any moment and although it was quite funny looking back then, but it could have had tragic consequences. Nevertheless it did prove that the field was not mined and they were able to set up shop and begin the process of getting the equipment set up and working.
Was LAC Reid small? What was he like? Was he Scottish?
Muir confirmed that LAC Reid was indeed a small man and was Scottish. Muir said that he was a remarkably strong and fit man for his size, and had completed all of the combined ops training including the Commando training and landings.
Muir had a photograph of him and gave a copy to Peter.
I know you moved onto the original site on D+4. Can you identify exactly where it was?
No. The site was originally selected before D-Day as a potentially good site to set up their radar equipment and would give them the necessary possibility of uninterrupted vistas. However, as with all radar sites the exact spot to set up is very much for the Operations Officer or Technical Officer, and in this case the final site was chosen by the Polish Officer Effenberger. Muir felt that according to his memory he left 15082 soon after they set up at that location which is close to (Saint) Pierre-du-Mont.
How long were you there?
That site was the one originally chosen for them and they were there until July 1944. It was a good site and they had great success identifying enemy aircraft. 15082 became one of the most successful GCI units in the RAF. Muir commented on the fact that, once they had their replacement equipment, they had very few technical problems and were able to quickly settle into a routine of efficiently recognising incoming enemy aircraft and giving excellent guidance to Allied Fighters in intercepting them.
Where was the next site?
Muir cannot remember exactly where the next site was but between early July 1944 and August 22nd or 23rd they probably had two different sites before entering Paris. Basically their job was to follow the front line and be as close as possible to it to give ground interception cover against incoming enemy aircraft.
Do you recall F/O Pine?
Peter asked Muir what his Commanding Officer was like. Muir said that their CO was Wing Commander Trollope. The best way to describe W/C Trollope in Muir’s eyes was that he was a “typical British Officer”. Muir did not think that he was a “mucker-inner!” W/C Trollope wanted to be more distant. He wanted to deal with Officers and not other ranks, and Muir felt that the senior NCOs were often kept out of the picture. Muir also felt that this was against the spirit and purpose of Combined Ops – units where speed and fast decision-making were often quite important. Muir felt he was a good Controller and certainly knew his RAF stuff. He was tall, stiff-backed and was well thought of by the other Controllers. However, Muir also felt that he did not give sufficient regard to the NCOs or the men under his command.
Muir also commented upon the level of training which 15082 had to go through in order to become competent as a Combined Ops Unit. They had to be self-sufficient and tough, as well as having all the radar and technical skill necessary to operate sophisticated and advanced equipment. The members of 15082 were hand-picked to give a combination of physical durability as well as leaders of the use of the equipment which they needed to operate in battlefield conditions. It was partly through the vigorous training which 15082 had to undertake that it was such a surprise when “others” were deemed to be necessary to be added to the complement, seemingly right up to D-Day. Partly reflected in why he was initially so disgruntled at having to take a boffin with him on the actual landings!
Notes made by Peter Best and revised by Muir Adair, 6th March 2007