98 not out. Retired physicist from cults says he ‘ain’t seen nothing yet’ as he eagerly awaits to come out of lockdown

98-year-old former research physicist Charlie Jason has seen a lot of things in his life.

Charlie was part of the team conducting the first real studies into ‘road research’ when, in the 1940s, some hare-brained invention called the car was beginning to become seriously mainstream.

He was a part of the planning teams in ‘Operation Chastise’ – the Möhne Dam bombing of World War 2 which developed the notorious bouncing bomb. Then Charlie came to Aberdeen where his research helped assist in the effective processing of fish in what was back then an abundant North-east fishing industry. But one thing Charlie says he’s never experienced in all his worldly years is the covid pandemic that has decimated life as we know it over the past 18 months.

Charlie was born four years after the 1918 flu epidemic but was, like all of us, caught-up in the 2020 coronavirus catastrophe.

Whilst research has shown younger people have a far higher resistance to covid, for people in Charlie’s age group the disease can be deadly, as has been demonstrated through reports of the virus tearing through care homes and retirement villages up and down the country.

Thankfully Charlie, who lives in Florence Court in the Aberdeen suburb of Cults, hasn’t experienced any affects of coronavirus other than being made to stay at home.

When asked what he was more afraid of – WW2 or the virus – Charlie, who at 98 is remarkably lucid with an intrinsic memory and a rather wicked sense of humour, answered by saying: “I don’t know. More people have died of the virus than they did in the bombing. But if you were caught in the bombing, that was final.”

School disrupted by war

Charlie was in the final year of secondary school when war broke out between the Allies and Nazi Germany in September 1939.

His role in the war effort was to become what was affectionately known as a ‘boffin’. Charlie did his PHD in physics and, whilst at the inconspicuously titled ‘road research laboratory’, once war broke out his department was reassigned from studying roads and traffic behaviour to looking into something a little more sudden. Charlie’s team were to use their scientific knowledge to study penetration affects of anything relevant to battle – from blast fragments to twenty ton bombs.

It was all part of the effort to help the Allies gain an edge over their German rivals in an arms race that would be vital in helping win the War.

“More people have died of the virus than they did in the bombing. But if you were caught in the bombing, that was final.”

Charlie’s university studies were put down the priority list. He would go to school – Birkbeck College, University London – at the weekends, and work out the impact of depth charges in the middle of fields, or why fighter plane’s wings were falling off in mid-flight, during the week.

Charlie said of the work: “The very first day I turned up expecting to do research on roads. I said ‘where do I start?’ They just laughed at me. I turned up with lab coats beautifully laundered and pressed, and they said go into a field and dig a hole nine feet by nine feet by nine feet. That was the first inkling I had of what it was all about.”

Le Carre’s spy thrillers that today take us away to a time of secrecy and espionage were very much the orders of the day for Charlie and his colleagues, working on projects they knew little about to protect against infiltration and sabotage.

1943. 21-year-old Charlie working on secret, need-to-know basis projects in the ‘road research laboratory’ during WW2

Charlie’s team were one of many who were discreetly transferred to assist in various operations, including the famous ‘Chastise’.

Chastise was set up with the objective of destroying dams situated in one of the heartlands of German industry, based in the Ruhr on the Western side of the country where Dortmund and Düsseldorf are located.

Chastise is one of the more well-known operations of the war, immortalised by Michael Anderson’s classic war film Dam Busters, depicting the notorious bouncing bomb. Charlie and his team’s role was to help scale up the dam and begin working out what needed to be done to destroy it.

The mystery of the fighter plane’s wings falling off mid-flight: Charlie and his team worked out that when planes flew close to explosions in mid-air a process known as ‘adiabatic heating’ took place. The immediate aftermath of the explosion heated the surrounding air to the point it could ignite petrol. This was causing the plane’s wings to explode and fall off mid-flight even if they hadn’t been hit by a bomb.

Operation Chastise’, immortalised by the film ‘The Dam Busters’, was an attack on German dams carried out on 16–17 May 1943 using a purpose-built “bouncing bomb”. The Möhne Dam (above) was breached, causing catastrophic flooding of the Ruhr and Eder valleys. Factories and mines were damaged and destroyed. An estimated 1,600 civilians – about 600 Germans and 1,000 forced labourers, mainly Soviet – died. Charlie worked on helping scale the project.

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After the war – ‘have you ever been to Aberdeen?’

Charlie got his PHD in 1950 studying the effects of cosmic rays. His research took him all around the world and into the company of some famous names in scientific circles including Max Perutz, an Austrian-British molecular biologist and Jewish refugee who is heralded for his work on DNA sequencing and who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Charlie first met Perutz during the war in meetings over a new project aimed at developing a floating airport on the Atlantic so that American fighter jets could get across ‘the pond’.

“I remember when I arrived (to Aberdeen) I said, ‘OK, what do you want me to do?’ and they replied back, ‘we don’t know.”

After getting his PHD Charlie was called up out the blue and asked to come to Aberdeen to aid the fishing industry. During the proposal Charlie was asked whether he’d ever been to Aberdeen before to which he replied ‘I’ve never been North of Manchester!’.

Initially declining the invitation Charlie was eventually convinced to come up and check out ‘the Deen’ and see what it was all about. The description of his arrival doesn’t sound too surprising.

“So I got on the sleeper and came to Aberdeen, and there I was greeted by a snow storm.”

Max Perutz was a Nobel prize winning molecular biologist Charlie first met during WW2

The booming fish industry

Charlie was wanted to help deal with the surplus of fish that was being caught the North-east – around one hundred tons a day.

Charlie was assigned to the Torry Research Station where he helped improve the production lines for assessing and processing fish, much of which was being dried and sent to Africa.

It didn’t run quite as smoothly as it’s written above. When Charlie talks about his work in the fish industry he looks perplexed, even today, at how the mysterious and complex macinations of fate manoeuvred him to the North-east.

“I remember when I arrived I said, ‘OK, what do you want me to do?’ and they replied back, ‘we don’t know.’”

Charlie (furthest right) originally got a PHD in physics from London University

Charlie’s work eventually became vital in helping improve the quality of fish that was being caught so majestically in the deep and plentiful fishing waters of Britain.

Some of his work is still relevant today including inventing an instrument used to accurately measure humidity.

Charlie (front right) in Aberdeen in 1954 demonstrating his research in fish processing techniques to various notable people including MPs and local councillors

Thought he’d seen it all and then there was covid

Charlie is still immensely curious and keeps up with all the latest scientific journals and research that is being published today.

He remarked that he “hadn’t seen nothing yet” in the advancement of human life which, for him, has included everything from the introduction of the television to seeing man walk on the moon to the development of the ‘i’ industry – phones and pods.

Charlie Jason of Florence Court, Cults, born 1922, turns 99 on May 28th

Charlie’s research also took him into an area that is relevant to pandemic’s and virus control. Charlie assisted in the studies of bacteria and their different strains and growth characteristics at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, so had some prior knowledge into how serious the breakout in Wuhan would be.

Charlie has had his first jab which he said went fine and is awaiting his second dose which he’s to receive in about ten weeks of this publication.

Throughout the crisis Charlie has been supported by his son and daughter who are in his bubble and who have been getting his messages for him while he remains at home.

Charlie (white shirt) moved to Aberdeen from London in 1951 where he was asked to assist the production of fish

The physicist and former ‘boffin’ is remarkably upbeat for a man who was facing the prospect of real peril when the virus began spreading and who has been made to remain in his flat, alone, for two months since the second lockdown was imposed.

On the whole experience Charlie said: “There’s light at the end of the tunnel now. We have a vaccine which is a great thing. If we hadn’t had that I don’t know what we would have done.

“I’m looking forward to getting out and meeting people and having people come and visit me!”

Charlie’s courage, patience and sincerity are perhaps a reminder to us all why we’re doing these lockdowns and that the more we stick to the rules the sooner all of us will be out of these terrible times.

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