Friday, September 1, 2023

Raymond ground observers kept town safe during World War II

By Ernest H. Knight

After the entry of the United States into World War II following Pearl Harbor, both civilian and military believed that any part of our country was subject to attack by our enemies to the east and west even though airborne carrier of destruction were of relatively limited range and capability.

Local civilian Ground Observers kept
a watchful eye on the Raymond skies 
looking for enemy aircraft during
Very early in 1942, the Ground Observer Corps was organized as a branch of the United States Army Air Corps. An observation post on Raymond Hill was one of 800 similar sites in New England with 50,000 participating volunteers nationwide whose purpose was to watch and report any aircraft coming within their sight and hearing.

The Raymond Observation Post was located on the property of Roy Raynor near the junction of Raymond Hill Road and Valley Road, in an open field where there was good visibility in all directions and accessible to the observers, helpful characteristics which were not available at higher elevations such as Tenney Hill or Pismire Mountain.

This post was code named 86B, a classified designation, with Roy Raynor as Chief Observer and the other observers mostly from nearby East Raymond to North Raymond, although there were some from Raymond Village or other sections of town.

The site of operations of 86B were no plush country club. Yet it was much superior to the first tiny shack that was the Ground Observers first post provided by Willard Libby as a donation to the effort.

All time and materials involved in the program were volunteer and free, except for the telephone for reporting and the paper forms provided by the government. As the post was manned 24 hours a day throughout the year, there was a stove for winter heat, and it was lighted at night by kerosene lamp. It had a large window set into the roof for use when the weather was bad outside.

Equipment used by Ground Observers consisted of pencils for detailing activity and the telephone with which to make collect calls to the next higher Ground Observer headquarters in Portland, from which decisions were made and action taken. The function of Post 86B was to watch, listen, and report.

The observation post schedule was every hour of the day and every day of the year which was continued throughout the wartime years with few occasions when there was no observer on duty due to weather or other reasons.

The observers took their responsibilities seriously, doing their part in the war effort to which the whole country was dedicated. This meant considerable sacrifices and strength of will by these volunteers who served their scheduled time periods along with their regular occupations and home activities.

From higher headquarters it was stressed that an observer’s first priority was to this duty above all other civilian activities and to a greater extent they abided by this maxim. Weekly rosters were made up with duty periods usually of two to four hours, sometimes longer if a relief observer was late or complications interfered, with night shift workers and women taking daytime hours and day workers putting in the dreary hours at night.

There was little time to relax, read or otherwise make it more pleasant as there was considerable air activity to report with all the training flights from military bases, commercial flights and special purpose flying nearby, not to overlook frequent snooper flights initiated by Ground Observer Corps headquarters itself to check on the efficiency and dedication of posts.

There was paperwork to keep up with, memos and bulletins to read and absorb, letters to answer questions and inquiries, visitations by inspectors, and supervisors and sightseers out on outings. Then to fill in off-duty times there were local and regional training sessions intended to maintain efficiency and bolster morale.

But there were some perks for Ground Observers other than the feeling of being of some help to the country and their community. There were increases in gasoline rations for travel to duty and meetings and eligibility for recapped tires when many vehicles were of little use to their owners for lack of these vital items.

Though the ground observers were out of the public eye when functioning in isolated country areas such as Raymond Hill and they did not have uniforms as Air Raid Wardens in cities or Red Cross personnel engaged in service work with military members, they were entitled to wear armbands when qualified by meeting standards of hours per month or total hours since Dec. 7, 1941. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.

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