PFF Staff – Thomas

M. J. Thomas, B.Sc.
Group Met Officer

Source: correspondence between David Layne and Brian Lyffe. Brian Lyffe’s long and interesting answer to a query of David is as follows:

Thomas was commissioned into the RAFVR on 1 April 1943 as a Flt Lt; he was subsequently promoted to Sqn Ldr on 11 Sept 1944, and later became Wing Commander (Acting). His work for 8 Group operations was recognised by the award of an OBE on 14 June 1945; the citation reading:

“This officer has been Senior Meteorological Officer of No.8 Group since the inception of the Pathfinder Force. His long and varied experience of forecasting makes him a valuable asset to the Group. On his work depends in large measure the success of the main bombing effort. This is a responsibility which he has accepted with outstanding success over a long period. He is a good organizer with a pleasant and tactful manner.”

In all 717 Met Office civilians were commissioned into the RAFVR (Met) on 1 April 1943, and were demobilised over a two year period after May 1945, the last group apparently being on 1 Nov 1947.

(The above comes from Peter Resmorah; the citation from Steve Brew via Hugh Halliday.)
The Met Office establishment had grown from about 750 in 1939 to 6800 in 1945, and therein lay a problem for all those hoping to be demobilised early. There were insufficient civilian staff to maintain met services after the war, so that as various groups reached their demobilisation dates those in the Met Branch were always delayed – hence many remained long after their contemporaries in other groups had returned to civilian life.

Some Background Information

Historically the meteorological needs or the RAF and Army in peace have been met by civilian forecasters; this goes right back to the very first forecaster at an airfield, Gordon Dobson at Upavon in 1913. From that time neither forecasters nor observers underwent any training course, all learning was done “on the job”. This was still the situation when the expansion of the RAF began during 1936, and in fact remained the practise until the beginning of WW2.

However, early in 1939 it was realised that the needs of the RAF were not going to be met by this amateur approach, and in May an RAFVR (Met Branch) was approved. The intention was for both RAFVR forecasters and observers to learn their trade at weekly evening classes – good idea, except that when war was declared in September no courses had been started.

The RAFVR observers were mobilised and sent to RAF stations to learn on the job; the first forecasting course started on 18 September. It consisted of 40 ab initio forecasters and lasted 2 months (the Met Office having always previously insisted a forecaster had to have 18 months experience before being considered competent).

Many of these forecasters went to fill overseas posts (couldn’t send civilians to war zones), which meant that most UK forecasting posts, at Command, Group and station level, continued to be filled by male civilians. The observing posts were increasingly filled by WAAFs as their male counterparts went abroad. This remained the situation until 1 April 1943 when all forecasters at operational stations became RAFVR (Met) personnel overnight.

Magnus Spence, Senior Met Officer at HQ Bomber Command, became a Group Captain on paper, although he continued to work in civilian clothes – at least until just before D-day when the Americans objected to a civilian briefing high ranking officers and being involved in top secret operations.

Forget the fact that all the wind forecasts for Bomber Command operations were produced by civilian forecasters at Met HQ at Dunstable, they (the civilians) weren’t to be trusted; little did the Americans realise that the actual forecast for the D-day landings was largely based on the advice of two civilian forecasters at Met HQ!

The RAF did have its own forecast service at the end of WW1, but political considerations meant it was shortlived, and following the formation of the Air Ministry the Meteorological Office became responsible for all military met requirements. That said the RAF did maintain an observing and forecasting commitment at overseas bases until about 1928.

Apologies for such a long answer to what appeared to be a simple question. I cannot quote a source for the above as it is largely based on my own researches – there is no definitive history.