Bill passed away peacefully on 27th January 2017 in Poole Hospital.  
More information visit: 


Bill Penley took a degree in electrical engineering at Liverpool University in the mid 1930s.  He subsequently stayed on for a PhD researching into the performance of insulators under high frequency and high voltage stresses.

Early in 1939, following the suggestion of a colleague Eric Seward, Bill applied for an appointment at the Bawdsey Research Station.  Following an interview in London, he was accepted for a post and told to report to Bawdsey Manor as soon as possible.

Bill continued work to finish his PhD.  In September 1939 war was declared.  In November he had an appointment with the Joint Recruiting Board suggesting he would like to join the Royal Engineers.  When they saw his letter of appointment to the Bawdsey Research Station, they looked in a reference manual - and said that the Bawdsey job had top priority - so he should take that position up as soon as possible.  Bill finished typing up his PhD as quickly as he could.

In February 1940 Bill joined the radar team which had now moved to the Teacher Training College in Dundee.  After learning about the background to the radar work, which was top secret, he started development work to improve the transmitter performance on Chain Home - experimenting on the tower at Douglas Wood.

In May 1940 Bill moved to Worth Matravers near Swanage.  He was assigned, with John Duckworth, to improve the performance of the latest version of the Chain Home Low (CHL) radar.  There was a CHL station on the south edge of A-site.  An experimental station was also set up on the clifftop at St Aldhelm's Head.  This showed that high, clifftop sites were much better for this type of radar, and so an operational station was then built on the cliff.

The 'radial time base' display was being developed by Geoffrey Dummer and others - the genesis of the circular map-like radar display we are familiar with today.  Bill was in the team which adapted a Chain Home Low radar to demonstrate the new kind of display.  Air Marshal Joubert saw a demonstration in summer 1942.  This was significant as the beginning of radar displays which could show attacking bombers and defending fighters on the same radar screen.

After the war Bill remained with the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE) through the name changes to the Radar Research Establishment and Royal Radar Establishment (RRE) becoming director in ?1960?  He stayed with the Scientific Civil Service holding various senior appointments including director RARDE (Royal Armaments Research & Development Establishment) and Chief Scientist for the Army.  In ?1976? he was appointed Controller Establishments Research - responsible for all the government research & development establishments - until his retirement from the civil service in 1977.

Work with GEC.

Bill retired to Swanage and in the late 1980s he started asking his wartime colleagues to write reminiscences of their time in Purbeck.  These have become the 'Penley Radar Archives'  - and some of the documents have been made available on CD-ROM.  Together with Tony Viney, he started the Purbeck Radar Museum Trust which had its inaugral meeting in 1991 - see background.  He has written booklets, given talks and helped with setting up exhibitions to raise awareness of the significance of the radar work to the war effort - see milestones.

See Bill's Penley Radar Archives biography for more information - link below.

Dr William 'Bill' Henry Penley CB CBE
born:  22nd March 1917
died:  27th January 2017  
more information visit: 

If you have additional information or materials - please contact the Radar Trust
Papers & Links etc.
Penley Radar Archives - reminiscences, letters etc.  
    [ index on www: ]
Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge is intended as the final repository for the complete collection of 'Penley Radar Archives'.
Group in March 1942:  Group 7 - Chain Home Low (CHL) 150 cm Chain, Ground Controlled Interception & Fighter Direction

copyright Purbeck Radar Museum Trust 2013  |  |  version 8f - 9 May 2015

Page last updated: 24 February 2017