The Air Raid Warden’s armband seen here belonged to Andrew MacGregor, a farmer who lived and whose family still lives on Vaughan Hill Road. He was just one of several Rochester men who “kept an eye to the sky” during World War II. Called the “Ground Observer Corps,” these men took turns stationed at a watchtower/post, one of many along the eastern and western coasts, keeping a lookout for an attack by German and Japanese fighter planes. At its height, these civilian observers numbered 1.5 million with 14,000 coastal observation posts. Rochester had one set on Vaughan Hill Road. Fairhaven’s tower still stands on West Island. It was part of an anti-submarine fire control system. Thankfully, the threat never came to our towns.
For those too young to know, the fear of attack was high on everyone’s mind. Towns organized groups of men who volunteered to be part of a Home Guard. The United States Civil Defense gave out printed handbooks to every volunteer. Duties listed in this booklet included going around town to ensure all residents were following guidelines set up by the government; for example, at night, all windows had to be blackened out so that no light showed through that could be used by “the enemy” to find their targets. Heavy dark draperies and roofing paper were two of the items used to do this. Car headlights were painted halfway down with special blackout paint so that the little light that could be seen did not point skyward and was just enough to see to drive. Many homes kept buckets of sand to use to put out fires that would be ignited by a bomb hitting the roof.
In writing for the Rochester Journal published by the Plumb Library, Barbara Besse, who grew up in town, remembered Mr. Rounseville driving down the road tooting his car horn three times at each home. That was the signal for the home’s occupants to put out the lights and pull down all shades. In this same journal, Virginia (Fuller) Decker noted that an observation post was located in one of her father’s brooder houses on Neck Road. If a plane was seen, the “spotter” would call a central number to describe the aircraft and tell which direction it was headed.
The Ground Observer Corps was disbanded in 1944 and revived in the early 1950s due to the Cold War. It was ended in 1958 with the advance of automated radar.
Rochester resident Art Benner remembers as a teenager in the 1950s manning the Vaughan Hill lookout with a friend. Their job was to spot planes flying overhead and reporting what they saw to a “filter center.” He remembers the lookout as being about 5-by-6 feet with big windows and having a couple of chairs. There were pictures of planes to help with identification. By this time, Rochester’s corps was headed by Hoyle Demoranville. Art remembers he would come to the station at night to check and make sure that they were on duty and not sleeping. He says, luckily, they were always awake. During this time, nationwide, there were 750,000 volunteers aged 7 – 86 with 16,000 lookout posts.
Thank you to all the Rochester volunteers for helping keep our town safe.
If you know of someone who was a member of the Ground Observers Corp during WWII or in the 1950s, please let the Society know by emailing Connie at email@example.com. We would like to have a list of the names of as many town volunteers as we can find.
By Susan LaFleur, Secretary/Librarian