Ralph Noyes: An Authentic MoD Voice Amid UFO Controversies


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Amid rising scepticism towards the UK’s Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) UFO disclosures, the legacy of former MoD undersecretary Ralph Noyes provides a contrasting glimpse amidst the current controversies surrounding Nick Pope, writes NEIL NIXON

Ralph Noyes
Ralph Noyes

It’s believed by some British UFO proponents that our Ministry of Defence (MoD) is a closed shop, withholding information and habitually spying on civilian groups.

Trusting what we know about MoD insiders may become an even more common conversational topic in the next few months since the highest-profile UK “insider” – Nick Pope – is currently facing a consumer fraud investigation in the US along with a few other US personalities, all in the sights of sceptic (that should be skeptic, since he’s American) Kal Korff, who intends to use the courts to call out claims these people make regarding their experience and knowledge.

Pope is regularly billed as the man who “ran the UFO desk” at the MoD. A visit to the nickpopewatch pages online will tell you a different story. The rest is now up to the US legal system.

Ralph Noyes, A Ufological Cult Hero

So, this might be an opportune time to celebrate a ufological cult hero who preceded the current controversies and has much to teach us about MoD operations. Ralph Noyes died a few days short of his 75th birthday in 1998.

He’d been a presence around UFO research and paranormal investigations for decades, and nobody disputed his credentials as a career-long servant of Britain’s MoD.

After serving as air crew in World War Two, Ralph Noyes worked his way through the MoD ranks, retiring in 1977 as an undersecretary (a role in which he briefed cabinet ministers on parliamentary answers and required a security clearance level fit to be across many restricted details).

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Ralph Noyes was also a dapper (frequently bow-tied), clubbable presence wherever paranormal discussions were held. I first knew him in Essex, where he was a regular attendee at EUFOPRA (East Anglian UFO and Paranormal Research Association) meetings. His knowledge of ufology appeared boundless.

If you dropped a name – say, Donald Menzel – Ralph might respond with an “Ah, yes…” after which the next 60 seconds would be a download of information denied to most of us in those pre-internet days.

Ralph’s openness and honesty about some MoD details were also at odds with the popular conspiratorial beliefs, then and now. He would readily state that in his working life the MoD had only got “excited” about three UFO events: those experienced during Operation Mainbrace in 1952, the 1956 Bentwaters incident and the 1976 Tehran Incident.

In all these cases, there were moments suggestive of hostile enemy action of an earthly nature. Ralph was adamant the MoD had spent much time pondering UFOs, concluding there were genuine mysteries to be solved and none of them proved extra-terrestrial involvement.

Finally, if the MoD ever release a handful of photos, still withheld or a brief gun camera film from an RAF Lightning fighter showing an airborne object, remember where you read this, because Ralph would happily tell people he’d seen these things during an MoD lunchtime briefing in 1970.  

Ralph Noyes’s MoD role included three years running ‘Defence Secretariat 8,’ the unit charged with investigating UFO reports, work that convinced him there were many events that defied rational and easy explanations.

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Unlike Nick Pope, there’s no dispute that Ralph was in charge! He’s commemorated now, partly with a page on the PSI Encyclopedia that summarises a life of free-thinking and his willingness to grapple with the most marginal ideas. I have fond memories of attending a EUFOPRA meeting in the wake of the 1989 Voronezh UFO incident, in which Russian witnesses claimed a landed UFO with strange humanoid beings had terrorised a town.

A truly perplexing case suspected by some to be little more than the TASS news agency – dealing freely with their western counterparts in those days of Russian “Glasnost” – monetising a surreal story told by local children. Ralph, by contrast, was excited and effortlessly quoted a handful of truly obscure references with reports of beings resembling the claimed ufonauts of Voronezh. He knew his ufology.

Ralph’s enthusiasm for a new case, or mystery, never seemed to wane, his final years saw him become a leading presence in the, then, hugely popular, and rapidly expanding crop circle community and in 1985 he published a UFO related novel, A Secret Property.

The tale is a thinly disguised account of the famous Rendlesham Forest case, his version explaining the case away as a head-on collision between secret weapons development and the military harnessing the power of paranormal forces. 

I’m motivated to write this short account now largely because of the current cases of consumer fraud. What I think obvious, and important here, is that Ralph Noyes – MoD insider as he was – remained “one of us” during the time I saw him, at heart an enthusiast, fired by new ideas and little troubled by his own ego.  

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