Desmond King-Hele: on making decisions on the four minute warning

Desmond King-Hele remembers guiding RAF Fylingdales Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station.

And of course, I don’t know whether I mentioned this before, that I was in daily contact with the Fylingdales Early Warning Station in Yorkshire. Yes, well they very much relied on me, ringing me up really, to ask me if something funny happened, was this – could this possibly be a missile coming towards us, you know, this was – I had to answer immediately ‘cause only four minutes allowed. And I always said, ‘No, it’s something else,’ I couldn’t even get … I didn’t want them making the announcement that we’ve just got a nuclear attack, ‘cause the chances were that we wouldn’t have. So I had a funny attitude to nuclear things, really. [Laughs] 

Say more, a funny attitude, what do you mean? 

Well [laughs] I knew in a sense that it [laughs] I might have the power to decide one way or the other what should happen. And I always decided I was just going to say it wasn’t anything. 

So when they phoned up, what did they say that they’d seen or heard or?

Well they might have seen – they’d see something coming towards them, or a missile that they don’t know what it is. And sometimes [laughs] once I believe it was the moon, no it wasn’t I think, that wasn’t me actually, someone else had that one. But anyway, there was once when the moon rose, they thought that was it [laughs]. That was early days, I think. It had to be moving towards them. But it could be – well they could’ve been Russian aircraft of course, just coming over on reconnaissance that they happened to pick up. But they usually weren’t fast enough to be missiles and I was able to assure them, usually, that it was all right. It didn’t happen very often, this, but I knew it was there, waiting to happen. I always remember one day when I – they had a new, they’ve got it there still, the new sports centre, and I decided to go and do some weightlifting or something, you know, there. And suddenly my wife came in and said that Fylingdales were on the phone [laughs]. I thought oh my goodness [laughs]. But by the time I got through to them it was all over anyway [laughs]. So that was quite funny.

  • Interviewee Desmond King-Hele
  • Duration 00:02:19
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 7/5/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/13

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