Rennie WhiteheadBefore the war Rennie Whitehead studied physics at Manchester University, graduating in the summer of 1939.  A prospective academic career was pre-empted by the war, and an interview in London with C P Snow and Watson-Watt heralded the start of his wartime career in radar research.

Rennie joined the radar team at Bawdsey on 11th August 1939.  He started work on IFF (Indication Friend or Foe) Mark II - 'transponders' installed on aircraft which respond to radar pulses so as to identify the aircraft.  Within two weeks of starting, news came that the establishment was moving to Dundee.  Equipment was packed in crates and loaded onto the train on 1st September for the move - just prior to the declaration of war on 3rd September.

Rennie has written his of his experiences in detail - see the link to 'Memoirs of a Boffin' below.  

On 5th May 1940 the establishment moved again - this time to Swanage in Dorset.  Rennie continued work on IFF with FC Williams  which involved many flight trials from the Christchurch airfield.  As IFF Mark III development got underway, Rennie took on the responsibility for developing the transponder and went to Manchester to manage the project at Ferranti.  In May 1942 the establishment moved again - this time to Malvern.

In Malvern Rennie met Nesta whom he married in November 1944. While on honeymoon in Swanage, he unexpectedly received a telegram saying that he had been posted to Washington to liase with the Americans on IFF development. In October 1945 he returned to the Malvern where he was briefly involved on early work on millimetric radar before an academic interlude at Cambridge University from 1946 - 1951.

After a short time back in Malvern, Rennie went to Canada in 1951 for a job as professor in the Physics department of McGill University.  He went on to direct RCA Victor Co research labs and became Science Advisor to Federal Cabinet, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Honorary Member of the Club of Rome.

Rennie Whitehead
born 1917

If you have additional information or materials - please contact the Radar Trust
Papers & Links etc.
James Rennie Whitehead - 'Memoirs of a Boffin' -  www3.sympatico.ca/drrennie 
An edited version of this story appears in 'Pioneers of Radar' assembled by Colin Latham & Anne Stobbs - see the books page.
Group in March 1942:  Group 14  - Identification Friend or Foe (IFF)

copyright Purbeck Radar Museum Trust 2013  |  www.purbeckradar.org.uk  |  version 8f - 9 May 2015

Page last updated: 30 July 2011