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Filter Center

Jean: What the heck was the Filter Center? I have memories of going there with you on a Friday night in my black wool jumper you made me, I shaved my legs for the first time. Scraped the heck out of them. Too.

Ginny: You ask, “What was the Filter Center?” My memory may not be flawless and since that was a long time ago in the early Fifties, I’ll explain it as correctly as I can. It was only a few years after WWII ended. Kids no longer had to curl up under their desks during air raid drills, but the country was still keenly aware of the need for air security, so they enlisted the aid of the public to give a hand.  

I think the correct name was the Ground Observer Corps and radar had not yet been established country-wide. The GOC was a government organization using civilian volunteer plane spotters who were assigned to strategically located posts to watch the skies for aircraft that might pose a threat of invasion. They called in information about planes they spotted to a central position known as the Filter Center where a uniformed Air Force member supervised the operation. He looked down from his dais onto a huge table with a room-sized map painted on it. The map showed every town, farmhouse and landmark in the area, all identified by a number. Information that came in was put on a Pip which was laid on the map by a volunteer at the Filter Center. It indicated a plane was at that certain location at that moment.

A Pip looked like several rings being held on a long nail. Each ring was inscribed with specific information. The top one might have had North, South, East and West on it and if the spotter said a plane was headed north, the operator twisted that ring so north was visible and he laid it on the map, pointed to the north. The next ring called for another bit of information, such as “commercial” “military” “private” and so on. That little Pip alone didn’t mean much, but if the next outpost caller gave similar information on a second similar plane headed north, then a pattern was formed.

The airman had a hot line to the Niagara air base. If something looked like a military plane and it was not on the air force's list, they would scramble a jet to go look it over. To my knowledge, they never had to scramble one while I was on duty.

After the government established the radar network there was no more need for a GOC. What seems rather primitive to us now was probably a good idea for national security back then. Who knew if something might have managed to slip in?

After the volunteers’ shifts were over, everyone went downstairs to Santora's feeling pretty patriotic, and we had ourselves a beer.

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