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A Rough Justice

Updated September 29, 2012

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Click here to learn about automotive radar (in a different sense)

Here we present a poem by Scotsman Sir Robert Watson-Watt, regarded as the father of radar for his work up to and during WWII.

Watson-Watt received a speeding ticket in Canada when he was 64 years old. In his autobiography, The Pulse of Radar, he describes the experience. His wife is in the car, and she tries to pull the "don't you know who you're giving a ticket to?" trick on the policeman. Of course he doesn't know Watson-Watt, nor, it turns out, does he even know what radar is (he only knows what his "electronic speedometer" reads out), and Watson-Watt receives a $12.50 (Canadian) dollar fine. The story is hard to find, look on page 229.

Watson-Watt describes himself as:

...five-foot six, organically sound and functionally fortunate, if fat, after thirty years war of resistance to taking exercise. I'm a sixth rate mathematician, a second rate physicist, a second rate engineer, and a bit of a meteorologist, something of a journalist, a plausible salesman of ideas, interested in politics, liking to believe there is some poetry in my physics, some physics in my politics. Thirty years a Civil Servant, now a socialist in 'private enterprise'...

...Contentment is the Enemy!

Watson-Watt proves himself long-winded in his book, but the stories and quotable quotes are superb for any microwave/radar worker who is a history buff on the side. For example, one of the methods that the Brits explored for detecting enemy aircraft was merely a gigantic concrete "hearing aid" that collected and focused sound waves into a microphone!

His poem serves as a preachy warning to all defense workers: eventually you reap what you sow. When he later took up residence in New York, his writings probably put him on Senator McCarthy's list of pinkos worth watching. The poem was not included in his autobiography, but it dates back to at least 1959 according to Michael (see bottom of page). Watson-Watt died in 1973.

A Rough Justice

by Sir Robert Watson-Watt

Pity Sir Watson-Watt,
strange target of this radar plot

And thus, with others I can mention,
the victim of his own invention.

His magical all-seeing eye
enabled cloud-bound planes to fly

but now by some ironic twist
it spots the speeding motorist

and bites, no doubt with legal wit,
the hand that once created it.

Oh Frankenstein who lost control
of monsters man created whole,

with fondest sympathy regard
one more hoist with his petard.

As for you courageous boffins
who may be nailing up your coffins,

particularly those whose mission
deals in the realm of nuclear fission,

pause and contemplate fate’s counter plot
and learn with us what’s Watson-Watt.

Here's some information on when the poem was written from Michael, who heard Watson-Watt recite it..

In 1959 I attended a lecture by Watson-Watt at Cardiff University, during which he recounted the story and recited the poem mentioned on your pages. I do not however recall hearing the words in the second half, beginning, ‘Oh Frankenstein…” and feel sure I would have done, had he used them. So at least the first part was written by 1959.

Thanks!

 


 
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