Please click on the title Newsletter 2017 above to open the full document with the index and on any picture in this newsletter to open a larger image.
Peter Turrall, MVA Chairman
The last bastion in our County City of Chelmsford where founder Guglielmo Marconi set up his Wireless Telegraph Company has now been sold to a commercial operator. For three months a local organisations the Chelmsford Society and Chelmsford Engineering Society set up a wonderful exhibition entitled ‘Marconi Science Worx’ of Marconi artefacts, large posters etc, in the original Marconi factory in Hall Street and invited the public to view these items, and knowledgeable people to give lectures not only on Marconi but also on other engineering facets.
This is a very sad blow for all the hard work this local Group put in to not only save the factory for a museum, but also a future educational establishment covering all aspects of engineering and communications.* The second Marconi factory in New Street Chelmsford opened in 1912 has been razed to the ground for a major housing complex. The only exception is the front building which has a preservation order on it. This is now completely refurbished and occupied by an American cosmetics company called Benefit which employs a large number of female operators. Whilst the building has been tastefully redesigned internally, it has changed from its original details. The outside of the building still holds a plaque denoting the world’s first wireless broadcast took place from the building in 1920.
The water tower running alongside Marconi Road is in the process of being converted. It is understood a local organisation hopes to produce community broadcasts from the building. The water reservoirs have been filled in and a new multi storey block of flats will soon be erected in the area once known as Building 720 with is wavy roof. The whole site has either one/two bedroomed flats or major three/four bedroom houses. Quite unrecognisable from its original 1912 complex.
Whilst there is no possibility of an ex-Marconi site being used for a Marconi Museum, there will be celebrations coming up covering various anniversaries – the opening of the BBC in 1920 when all Marconi equipment and engineering staff formed the British Broadcasting Company, later to be called the British Broadcasting Corporation. These anniversaries will wherever possible be supported by The Marconi Veterans Association and through the local and National Press people will be informed.
The Sandford Mill Museum run by Chelmsford City Council still holds a large variety of Marconi and other local industries items. The Marconi items are regularly updated and rebuilt by a faithful band of ex Marconi employees who spend their Mondays at Sandford Mill carrying out a wonderful task. They will always be ready to accept any unwanted Marconi items which will help them maintain existing equipment. If you have any items in your loft or you know of other people who have them, please ensure they are not thrown away or dumped. Get in touch with our Association and we will make sure they are transferred to the museum or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Please click on the title Newsletter 2016 above to open the full document with the index and on any picture in this newsletter to open a larger image.
Peter Turrall, MVA Chairman
Following the presentation of an Honorary Degree of Technology at Anglia Ruskin University on Wednesday 7th October, Princess Elettra Marconi Giovanelli, the daughter of our founder Guglielmo Marconi, accompanied by her son and daughter-in-law Prince Guglielmo and Princess Victoria Marconi Giovanelli with hosts Chairman Peter Turrall and his wife Jean toured various establishments in the Chelmsford area which had some connection in the past to Marconi’s.
At a dinner on Wednesday evening at the University where the Vice Chancellor and learned Professors together with the directors of Anglia Ruskin were present, Princess Elettra thanked all concerned in honouring her with the degree which she accepted with great pleasure.
The following day a rapid tour took place. First stop was the Marconi building in New Street, now the home of Benefit Cosmetics, an American-based organisation selling various cosmetics in the UK. We were received here by Ian Marshall the MD and his staff who gave us an excellent tour of their building. The original front reception area together with the Edwardian staircase is still present, but the whole of the inside has been completely brightened with light walls/ceilings etc. The front offices depict many wireless set replicas and photographs and it was a real pleasure to see how much recognition of the work of Marconi’s has been displayed.
All the staff were anxious to know the history of the Company and what took place in the building. Photographs and more details of our history will be given to the Benefit company which they will gladly display in one of the rooms.
There is a number of modifications inside the building. The Directors’ Luncheon Club has been completely renovated and the partition at the rear where small dining rooms were situated, together with the kitchen area, has been removed. The rear area has been blocked off and a small entrance door adjacent to the old surgery has been installed. The area where the old organisation for travel arrangements and part of the photographic department is now one very large room.
My old office, once used by Marconi himself, is a reception area and on the wall various wireless sets are arranged. The whole organisation from MD down were delighted to see the Princess and are eager to learn more about the work of the Marconi Company.
The next visit was to All Saints Church Writtle where Princess Elettra saw for the first time the Marconi/Platt coloured glass window which was opened by her son some fifteen years earlier. Due to a broken ankle at that time she was unable to come to the UK herself to perform the opening ceremony. Following this was a visit to Melba Court Writtle where Marconi had his experimental laboratories and where work started on what became wireless broadcasting.
Then a quick visit to Chelmsford City Museum in Oaklands Park where all the Marconi equipment including cameras, and other communication items were on display. It was then a short journey to BBC Essex in London Road to visit the plaque depicting the opening of the Chelmsford Station by Princess Elettra’s Mother, Maria Cristina Marconi. A final trip to the Marconi statue at the rear of Chelmsford bus station ended the very quick tour of Chelmsford before the Marconi family were driven to Heathrow Airport for their flight back to Rome.
As in previous years. a number of letters are from correspondents seeking information about former colleagues for research into their family history or for the preparation of articles, books, etc. If no contact detail appears with the letter then please direct your reply or any correspondence for the enquirer to.‘ Barry Powell, Secretary, Marconi Veterans Association, 22 Juliers Close, Canvey Island. Essex, SS8 7EP; 01268 696342; email@example.com or to the editor; Ken Earney, 01245 381235,” email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Certain items in this issue, particularly on this and the next page, are responses to letters or articles appearing in the 2015 edition which have already been posted during the last eleven months on the website. There is thus an inevitable but necessary duplication catering for those Veterans who have no possibility, or wish, to use the internet.
Finally note that. to avoid unnecessary repetition of the Association ‘s name in full, the initials MVA have in places been used.
Gary Mortenson, deceased former R/O
Richard Fernley, email@example.com,
4th June 2015
I would greatly appreciate any help you can give regarding a Marconi Marine Radio Officer – deceased. I have tried contacting various websites and the Radio Ofﬁcers Association plus Marconi Archive at the Bodleian Library at Oxford but I received no response from them. The person in question I trained with at Norwood Technical College in London from 1969 to (January) 1972. His name is Gary Mortenson, and he was killed on his ﬁrst trip to sea. He was killed in a car crash in I believe British Guiana or it could have been the Virgin Islands. He was buried out in British Guiana aged 19 years, in or around June-July 1972.
I would be very grateful if you could ﬁnd out any details of his death so that I and some of his colleagues can mark his passing and erect a ﬁtting memorial to him.
Daniel Murphy of Cork, Eire, former R/O
Aodhan O’Murchu, 3rd May 2015
My name is Aodhan Murphy and I am writing to inquire about getting information about a veteran of Marconi, My father, Daniel Murphy of Cork, worked as a radio ofﬁcer throughout the 19405 to 1960s before spending a spell working for Harrisons. He never kept a diary and, while he did speak about his time at sea, our knowledge of his career is quite limited. I’m just wondering if records are available of veterans time spent, which ships and lengths spent on board along with ports visited, are available. I have some of his log books but they don’t tell a complete story and what I would like to do is draw up a picture of his career. Please let me know what information I need to supply you with, date of birth etc, in order to avail of this information if possible. Many thanks in advance,
Le meas, Aodhan.
Barry Powell has advised Mr Murphy that we still have a D Murphy of Cork on our mailng list. To further pursue enquiries regarding his father is Marconi career he has been referred to the Bodleian Library.
Vendela Måseide, Fremstad, Norway, 30th October 2015
Vendela Måseide, Fremstad, Norway, 30th October 2015
I am Vendela Måseide I am looking for Allan Thustin. He used to be a radio technician. My father Karl-Johan Måseide and my mother Bjorg Måseide used to be his friend and lost contact. My father is 80 years old and I think Mr Thustin is the same age. The first time my father and Mr Thustin met was ca 1950 in Ålesund as an exchange student between the two cities. Allan came from Gloucester. They met again in Trondheim in 1954 (give or take a year). Allan worked for Marconi and he was working on a secret radar (or it was at that time ) on Gråkallen military area.
If he is still alive please let me know, and please forward my contact info.
Newsletter articles on the MVA website
With each issue it is often necessary to make difficult editorial judgements to cut the length of articles you send in – and limit how accompanying images are displayed – to accommodate them in a limited and even number of pages. Webmaster Chris Gardiner has no such limitation so can post the full length article and all its accompanying images, the item on the Heritage Weekend in Clifden in the 2013 newsletter being a case in point. Then all the images that Shane Joyce had sent were posted, and in colour of course.
Starting with this issue, I will supply Chris with the full length article and all its accompanying images. I hope that those of you not web-enabled wishing to see the ‘unexpurgated’ version may find a relative, neighbour or your local library, who can help you to do so.
The Marconi photo archive at the Essex Record Office
Little progress thus far in getting a volunteer team started in assisting ERO with the job of inspecting and cataloguing the former New Street photographic department’s collection of prints and negatives. The necessary precursor to this is to locate the results of a cataloguing exercise by Baddow photographic following the closure of New Street photographic department. This is proving difficult. It is hoped that more positive news may be reported at the reunion in April.
Sandford Mill Museum, Chelmsford – Open Day – Marconi Day – Saturday 23rd April, 10am – 5pm
Corrections and Comments – company names in 2015 Newsletter. Eric Peachy
Page 5 – David Griffiths
David never served as ‘Company Secretary at Marconi, latterly BAE Systems’ as stated in the Newsletter. However, he did hold the title of Company Secretary of Alenia Marconi Systems Limited (later called AMS Limited) from the 12th August, 2000 following my retirement from this position as a result of the closure of the Head Office of Marconi at Stanmore.
Page 6 – Graham Marriott
Graham refers to his employment with ‘Marconi-Elliott Avionics Systems Limited’ (please note there was no ‘s’ on the word Avionic) but this was only a Management Company with all trading and employment being carried out by Elliott Brothers (London) Limited. As the MEASL name was rather long everyone in Head Otlice at Chelmsford referred to it as MEASLS. In those far off days at New Street if you wanted an outside number (no G-Net then to other GEC Group sites!) you had to ask the switchboard operator to get it for you. On one occasion I asked the operator if I could have MEASLS at Rochester and she said “you can have measles anywhere”. I could only laugh. (Same article, p7, line 4 should read…transferred to Marconi Radar…Ed.)
Page 8 – John Brown
With reference to the NADGE Project a joint venture company was formed by the Marconi Consortium companies called NADGECO Limited registered in the Bahamas and subsequently liquidated. Similarly the competitors of the Marconi Consortium formed their own joint venture company called World Satellite Terminals Limited (WST). Once the Ascension Island Earth Station contract had been awarded to the Marconi Consortium our competitors no longer had a use for WST and it was sold to GEC on 15th July 1974, subsequently becoming a Marconi Company subsidiary on 2nd March, 1992. It went through several name changes finishing up as BAe Systems Oil and Gas International Limited in 2000. I am not aware of its current status.
Elliott-Automation Limited was created in 1957 for the purpose of creating a holding company for the Elliott Brothers (London) Limited Group of Companies. In 1966 GEC acquired AEI and in the following year English Electric bought Elliott-Automation (which included Elliott Brothers). In 1968 there was an aggressive take-over (politely called a merger) of English Electric. The Marconi Company, being an EE subsidiary since 1946, came within the takeover. However, at no time subsequent to this event did The Marconi Company become a direct subsidiary of GEC. It remained an EE subsidiary until its sale on the 30th November, 1999 to British Aerospace as it was then called.
Several Management Companies were formed on the 22nd October, 1969, amongst them Marconi-Elliott Avionic Systems Limited which did indeed report into the old Elliott headquarters at Rochester under Jack Pateman. However, Jack, as with all other MDs within the GME Group, reported to Bob Telford in his capacity as MD of GME (a Marconi Company subsidiary).
Bawdsey Radar has been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £1.4m as part of a £1.8m project to conserve the Transmitter Block building on Bawdsey Manor Estate in Suffolk. The Transmitter Block was built in 1938 and was a key building at RAF Bawdsey, the world’s first operational radar station. The major site construction work will start in September 2016 and an exciting new exhibition will open in September 2017 allowing all visitors to explore and find out about this pioneering radar site.
In addition Bawdsey Radar is fortunate to have been offered a grant of £196,320 by Historic England to help with the repair of this building at risk, as described by John Etté Principal Adviser, Heritage at Risk. East of England “Grade II Bawdsey Transmitter Block played a vital part in the development of radar technology during the Second World War, which also had a huge impact on post-war electronics and defence systems. Our grant will help conserve and restore this very important building by removing it from Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register. We have provided specialist support to help with the plans for a technically challenging conservation and restoration project.”
The condition of the Transmitter Block had been reaching the point where it would no longer have been possible to open it to the public but now, with the HLF and Historic England awards, it’s full steam ahead.
As well as plans for conserving the fabric of the building, Bawdsey Radar will be working to develop ways, physical and virtual, in which more people can visit the site and understand the importance of the radar heritage that the Transmitter Block represents. New displays within the Transmitter Block will tell the story of radar and its significance in WW2. Radar helped win the war by playing a vital part in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and it is estimated the technology helped shorten the war by two years. An important part of the project will be providing opportunities for learning about radar’s fascinating social and scientific history, and about how the early work at Bawdsey laid the foundation for our current age of electronics leading to inventions such as GPS, accurate weather forecasting, speed safety cameras and even the microwave oven!
I read the article by Jim Cole of his time in the huts in Writtle. It awakened old memories. I was an apprentice in the next door hut with Rowland, Clark, Nolan and Buxton under the direction of LG Kemp. (A character plus). I even impressed myself, just without thinking, banging out those names from the depths. I was there from 11th January 54 to 24th June 55. I don’t remember Jim by name but I do remember very well that one member of his hut was a sailing enthusiast. Time was spent by them in making a cannon to fire at the start, or maybe end, of races. Many experimental models were made trying to get a loud bang. Not to be left out my fellow apprentice, Mike Oldfield and I joined in the project and made experimental devices. One I made fired short pieces of Stubbs stainless steel lengths across the river in Writtle, to hit a sheet of aluminium on the other side.
Our experiments ended one lunch time when Mike blew himself up when mixing what he thought would be a faster more powerful powder. I was outside fixing my remotely fired cannon onto a big cable drum which I could roll to get the right elevation. All of a sudden there was a whoosh and smoke pouring out of the windows of our hut. I rushed in to find Mike, his glasses all white on the lenses. The powder he was grinding in a mortar had spontaneously ignited burning his hands, smoking up his glasses and burning his hair. He stood there saying, in his northern accent, “Ooh ‘eck, ooh ‘eck”. Lunch time – only us there. I rushed around, switched on the big extractor fan, swept up as much of his hair as I could, got him dressed in his coat, a scarf hiding his face, and gloves on his hands and escorted him out of the site, the gatemen didn’t see his face. Put some money in his gloved hand and put him onto a bus to go to the hospital in Chelmsford. I ran back, did a bit more tidying up and tried to look innocent when the engineers returned. The smell of burning hair was still in the hut. I can’t recall how I explained that. Needless to say our lunch time experimenting with gunpowder stopped. The next day Mike came to work with no hair on the front of his head, a sunburned looking face and his hands swathed in bandages.
I wonder where Mike and the others are now. I remain in touch with Colin Lewis with Christmas greetings, and I met up with him and his wife Pat when I was the Marconi Corporate representative in Riyadh, 1976 to 1979 and after when I remained working for a Saudi Sheikh until Jan 1986. Colin had come to Saudi working for the security forces. Later when I was working for Hughes Aircraft Canada as the contract manager for the Swisscontrol ATC system in Geneva, I took the train to Montpellier to meet up, and stay, with Colin and Pat in their retirement home in France. See what happens when memories are jogged!
Malcolm Frost ex Electro Optical Surveillance Division, Basildon
It was very interesting to read the article by John Wright in the January 2014 issue, it bought back a few memories of 1982. I was one of the four ‘specialists’ that John referred to and I spent four weeks in and around Baghdad. My trip started with the flight with Iraqi Airways from Heathrow to Baghdad – on a 747 Combi – I was sitting in the last passenger row just in front of pallets loaded with Coca Cola. The descent into Baghdad was interesting – all lights off (because of the war) and a tight spiral descent from 30,000 feet! First day there was to report to the Iraqi Air Force and to relinquish our passports, before then going to the British Embassy to ‘sign in’ so that they could help us with a quick evacuation if the war turned nasty. It was interesting that the war didn’t take place on Fridays as it was both sides, being Islamic, the day for prayers.
While watching the television it was interesting to hear about the war and who was winning etc. Of note was the headlines that the Iraqi forces had captured numbers of ‘shovels’ as well as tanks, field guns etc; the ‘shovels’ always had priority, so what was the ‘shovel’? It turned out to be what we would know as a big bulldozer – very important for digging trenches in the desert.
I was fitting equipment to the helicopters and instructing the Iraqi support team to do the same, all under the watchful eye of the German helicopter manufacturer’s representative. He was over in Baghdad for six months and had his wife with him. It turned out that his wife was confined to their hotel when on her own as it was too dangerous for any western woman to venture out on her own as many Iraqis people viewed all western woman were women of easy virtue! This was proved a few days later when a team from GEC Automation arrived at our hotel in connection with the Baghdad underground transit system; one of the managers bought his secretary with him – a tall lady – who decided to go out for a little walk one evening. Shortly afterwards she returned and obviously had been in some sort of skirmish! It transpired that she had been attacked by two Iraqi men within 100 yards of the hotel; her account was that she broke one mans arm and hurt the other in a certain place. It was a good job she was big and could look after herself.
On one Friday the Air force arranged for a driver to take us to see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon as well as some other sights (mostly tank and gun emplacements!), it was a good day out. On my leaving Baghdad I can agree with John that it was every man for himself in getting to the aircraft and getting a seat, armed guards with fixed bayonets meant you had to watch carefully what you were doing. I took a short flight to Amman in Jordan for a few days rest (including a visit to the Dead Sea) before the flight home on British Airways. No rest for the wicked as I was immediately sent to Manchester to measure up an RAF Nimrod to enable us to fit a large stabilised thermal imaging piece of equipment into it: we were now at war over the Falklands!
And welcome to 2016.
I always seem to be out when a Veteran calls – usually round the corner checking on my mother (she’s 95 now and still lives on her own) so the call is usually answered by my wife, Christine – otherwise known as the Secretary’s Secretary or ‘er indoors’. Now, as most of you know my ugly mug, I thought it might be good to include a picture of Christine so that you can put a face to the voice. I often joke that the last ‘Marconi office’ left is a cupboard at one end of our kitchen – well here’s a photograph to show what I mean.
With the new year comes a new venue for our committee meetings. Parking at our usual venue of Eastwood House has become extremely difficult of late, so we were pleased to be offered a new venue. The new tenants of the 1912 building on New Street are Benefit Cosmetics, a San Francisco based cosmetics company, who have kindly offered to host our committee meetings. At this point we would like to thank BAe for kindly hosting our meeting for the past 8 years and also the Marconi Club for their offer to accommodate us. We are all looking forward to coming home. Whilst on the subject, we must not forget to record our thanks to Selex ES who have kindly supported us for a number of years now.
With regard to the subscription, we are pleased to maintain the rate at £6.00 per annum and are also pleased to hold the cover price for the reunion at £25.00.
Please note that the date of the reunion is Saturday 16th April where our President will be Veteran Valerie Cleare who, for many years, was Secretary/PA to a number of Directors and Senior Management within Marconi Communication Systems at New Street, Chelmsford including the MD of MIMCo. Guest of Honour is Mr John Shrigley, Director of Personnel of GEC-Marconi Electronics Ltd during the second half of the 1970s. Last year’s reunion again passed off without any problems so I do not envisage any changes for this year.
With regard to the name tags, last year’s arrangements seemed to work quite well so we will, again, produce the name tags on A4 sheets which will be at the merchandise table so you can collect your label as you enter the hall. When you order your ticket, please indicate, in the box provided, how you would like your tag to read. If you attended the reunion last year, it will read the same, otherwise, the default will be to print your name as it appears on the first line of your address label.
Two of the frequent reasons I hear for not coming to the reunion are “I won’t know anyone” and “It’s only managers isn’t it?” To answer the first, I would think it’s unlikely that, out of the 170 or so Veterans at the reunion, there is not someone that you have come across in your 21 or more years with the company. In any case, everyone at the reunion is friendly and welcoming. Which brings me to the second reason; Marconi initiated the Association in order to acknowledge the contribution made by long serving employees at all levels. Any employee that has served for 21 years or more, at whatever level, is a Veteran and all Veterans are invited to the reunion and the ‘friendly and welcoming’ point above is just as valid. If you are still unsure about attending or have any questions, please give me a ring. I am always happy to talk and can give you names of those Veterans who attended recent reunions.
If you know of an ex-Marconi employee who does not receive the newsletter please urge them to contact me as soon as possible. It may be that they have moved or not replied to a confirmation request of a few years ago or that they left with 21 to 24 years service and have now become Veterans by virtue of the reduction in service requirement to 21 years. The ‘Friends of The Marconi Veterans’ Association’ has been set up to cater for anyone who does not qualify as a Veteran but wishes to be kept informed of things Marconi. Numbers are growing slowly with, currently, approaching 70 members and any more would be welcome. The three registers (the Main register, In Memoriam and Friends) are now published on the website so please have a look if you can and let me know of any errors.
Please note that I may be contacted at the address below. Finally, I would like to wish you all a very prosperous 2016 and hope to see as many of you as possible either at the reunion this year on 16th April or the next Open Day at Sandford Mill.
One final note – the 2017 Reunion will be on Saturday 22nd April.
Barry Powell, Secretary, Marconi Veterans Association, 22 Juliers Close, Canvey Island, Essex, SS8 7EP Phone: 01267 696342 (answerphone if we are out, please leave a message and I will ring you back) Email: Secretary@marconi-veterans.org
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The reunion took place on the 18th April 2015. Our President at the reunion and for the past year has been Basil Francis, ex-Chief of the IDO, New Street and the Guest of Honour was John Warwicker MBE, retired Metropolitan Police Officer and author.
The toast to the President was proposed by MVA Chairman Peter Turrall. In his opening remarks he noted that he and Basil Francis enjoy a friendship reaching back 64 years; Basil was best man at Peter’s wedding in 1954. During those years they have played golf and badminton together many times.he reunion took place on the 18th April 2015. Our President at the reunion and for the past year has been Basil Francis, ex-Chief of the IDO, New Street and the Guest of Honour was John Warwicker MBE, retired Metropolitan Police Officer and author.
Chelmsford born and bred, Basil started life with MWT in 1939 as a draughtsman and progressed through the company in installation design of broadcast equipment, retiring as Chief of IDO in 1989, throughout that time collaborating with our chairman on overseas contracts on many occasions
He opened by thanking the association for choosing him as its President for the year. He joined the company in 1939 in the Installation Design Division at Great Baddow after a brief spell working at Crompton Parkinsons. Shortly after he moved, with the IDD, to New Street, attended evening classes at METC studying for ONC and HNC in mechanical engineering whilst, mentored by senior draughtsmen, learning installation techniques . Studies interrupted by a break of five years until 1946 for war service as a pilot in the RAF on Catalinas, Wellingtons and Dakotas he then returned to work in the IDO, and resumed studies to gain ONC and HNC, further progressing through the IDO to retire as chief of the department in 1989. The IDO serviced all main MCSL divisions, and one aspect, outside broadcast television vehicles, was to become a forte.
He described a somewhat itinerant working life, with the IDO moving around various temporary locations at New Street before finally settling in a room on the first floor of the canteen. Work over many years involved making visits to customers overseas to liaise with their engineers and architects where buildings were to house Marconi equipment. He concluded by remembering a number of well-known names with whom he had the privilege of working over his 50 years, from B N McClarty and Douggie Smee through David Speake, Bill Barbone, Derek Griess to Tom Mayer, present at the reunion that day.
The chairman then introduced Basil’s guest, former Metropolitan Police Officer John Warwicker MBE. He has local connections, being educated at KEGS during the war years, and family connections with Marconi’s. The author of a number of books including one recently published entitled ‘An Outsider Inside Number 10’ describing his time as a close protection officer to three prime ministers, provided the theme for his talk.
Following school he spent a brief period at Lloyds Bank before entering the Metropolitan Police, in 1954 joining Special Branch at Scotland Yard, mainly involved then with anti cold-war activities, principally counter-espionage, protection of VIPs and dignitaries. After a period firmly established in this area he was transferred to Downing Street to take a lead role in the protection of the prime minister, at that time Harold Wilson, a role rapidly expanding in importance and authority.
This turned out to be one of the most entertaining times of his life and there were many funny stories to tell about it. How at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in Jamaica in 1974 Harold Wilson came out of a gruelling three hour long debate to be surrounded by a host of advisers, diplomats, press officers seeking comment or instant decisions on this and that. Pacing up and down looking increasingly anxious, it became apparent that he seemed to be the only one of Harold’s staff who realised that he was desperately seeking the gents’ and couldn’t find it. Finally finding it and entering he was followed by the entire posse who lined up with him at the urinals – and one his advisers dropped into the urinal a sheaf of official papers that had been clamped under his arm. As he was the only official authorised to have charge of them, he had the responsibility for recovering them and drying them out before re-presented them!
Apparently James Callaghan had no sense of humour and there were no really interesting stories to retell of that period, but everything changed with Margaret Thatcher. Like her or loathe her, she was an impressive performer, and in his view, unlike Callaghan, did have a sense of humour, although perhaps not a great one.
He related one memorable anecdote from this time when she was attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in Lusaka in 1979. This was not long after her assumption of the premiership, something of a steep learning curve which she had handled well. But this was the conference which led to the ending of white supremacy rule in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and on the fifth day, after a particularly gruelling session attempting to secure a settlement on Rhodesia, Mrs Thatcher, in the car returning her and Denis to their hotel, appeared very downcast, feeling she had let down the white Rhodesians, to whom she felt a special loyalty. Denis however had had a wonderful day visiting a game park, a copper mine, playing golf, being entertained royally, and he regaled her with a report of all this, then suddenly realised that she had obviously not had a good day and said “The only thing I’m really sorry about is that I haven’t seen enough of you today”. She looked across at John Warwicker and said “I don’t know what you think Mr Warwicker but I really don’t think there’s going to be time for any of that today, do you?” So it wasn’t that she didn’t have a sense of humour, it was perhaps not well developed.
Heavily edited extracts from the speeches to give a flavour of the proceedings. Full texts can be found on the MVA website.
In the 2013 newsletter we published an appeal from Desirée Martin for any information any veteran might be able to provide concerning the writer of a letter she had found in a second-hand book – Film Review 1956 to 57 – bought in a junk shop in Abbots Langley in the 70s. The writer of the letter was Edward Ginman, an English employee of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of Canada, working at that time in 1907 at a Marconi wireless telegraph station at Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. This of course was the same year that Marconi’s first permanent commercial transatlantic service was established between Glace Bay, Cape Breton and Clifden, in Connemara, Ireland. The Cape Sable station appears to have been concerned with local area ship to shore w/t traffic, i.e., out to about 200nm.
There was insufficient space in the 2013 edition to reproduce the text of Ginman’s letter, but we have in this edition, so here it is. With one or two exceptions, the spelling, punctuation, capitalisation and layout are as in the original, both the letterhead and Ginman’s text.
We have not yet heard from Desirée Martin as to the success or otherwise of her enquiries, but I have e-mailed her for an update, and two possible sources of further information about the Cape Sable station in Nova Scotia, the museum in Glace Bay and the community library at Clarks Harbour. Internet searches so far have yielded a little, but we might have further information to report next year. Ed.
Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company
of Canada Limited.
Cape Sable Station Jan 6 1907
Shelburne Co, N.S.
Dear Mr Dutton
I wish you all a very bright & prosperous New Year, am sorry I have not written you before, but, it’s the old tale, keep putting it off till another time.
Well, I am glad to say I am getting along first rate, good health, good job & the last & not least a good salary. I have been in the Canadian Co since last June, was at Halifax station six months & have been here since, so you see I haven’t been about much at present. This station is situated on a very small island on the extreme New York end of Nova Scotia, we have a passage to cross in a small boat to reach a larger island & then a team (wagon) ride of about 3 miles & then take a steam ferry to the Mainland, the nearest village is Clarks Harbour which is about 4 miles from the station, we have a mail every day so you can judge for yourself near about how we are fixed. The only other occupants on her are the lighthouse keeper & crew. We are four on the station all Englishmen, with a woman cook, so taking everything into consideration we are fixed up in good style.
How are things going down your way? I would like to have a look at you all, cant say when I will be able to come home, but must hope for the best. What sort of Xmas did you spend? We made the best of a quiet time, had turkey and Xmas pudding for dinner so we didn’t do so bad. Say, is old Dennis still knocking about down the bridge? the old fellow who built the houses over the bridge, I mean. We had some very funny weather here lately, one day cold & the next mild rain. We have had a little whaling, but not much at present, guess we have that to come.
Bert seems to be getting on well out at Muskegon, I received a nice letter from him on Saturday. My eldest brother is at the station west of us now, we do not communicate because he is in the American C/o & this is the Canadian Co, his little girl, (Alma), had to go under an operation a short time ago, but he tells me she is almost herself again now. Next spring, I guess, I will be shifted again, don’t know for certain where they will put me this time.
I have been away from home over six months now, but it don’t seem to strike me we are 3000 miles apart, guess we will soon be working wireless across the Atlantic, in about 6 months I guess.
Well I think I must close, am on night duty this week & the cook is getting breakfast so must quit
Wishing you and yours the very best of health & luck
from Yours Sincerely
P.S. A letter is always welcome, ha! ha! NAY
Allen Buckroyd (taken from Great Baddow Oral History)
Between 2000 & 2003 I compiled Great Baddow Oral History based on oral interviews of residents of Great Baddow, people later providing additional snippets of information. The following transcript of an interview with the wife of the local doctor is from an audiocassette provided by Diana Fawcus, (née Spencer-Phillips) grand-daughter of the interviewees. It was probably dictated around 1970 (since reference is made to Baddow bypass, built in the late ‘60s) to an unknown lady interviewer, possibly from a local newspaper or Essex Record Office.
The interview took place in the Dower House, built by the Spencer-Phillips in 1954 behind ‘Yews House’ (sometimes known as Youse), No 4 High Street, Great Baddow, former home of the village doctor for many years. ‘Youse’ and the Dower House are both now owned by Alan Thomson, who runs the local TV & radio business.
Vera Evans transcribed the two sides of the audiocassette on 20 December 2004. This was edited and, to aid comprehension, italicized text in red parentheses added by Allen Buckroyd on 15 January 2005.
Mrs Dolly Spencer-Phillips was born Dorothy Lister, the daughter of a well-to-do doctor who lived at Noakes Place, a posh house in Baddow Road. Hence she was one of the landed gentry. The following short extract covers her recollection of G Marconi. Earlier pages describe the family’s way of life, looking after the poor of the village, dinner parties with the upper set of Baddow society.
Dr Percy Spencer-Phillips’ family originally came from Danbury, although he was brought up in London. He came to Great Baddow in 1911 to join Dr Lister, and subsequently married the boss’s daughter and took over the practice.
Interview with Dr S-P
Q: You were saying that when you came back from the First World War the practice, and perhaps Baddow itself, was changing tremendously.
Dr: Changing enormously. Marconi had come in then. It was a different place. They were here when I came back from the First World War. (By ‘here’ he must mean Chelmsford, since my understanding is that Baddow Research was not built until 1937.)
Mrs S-P: Surely not before the children were born? (some debate over when Marconi arrived in the district)
Q: Until then it had been very rural?
Dr: It was very rural. It was a self-contained little community. Everybody knew everybody. If anybody wanted help they would go to one of the big houses and it was forthcoming. Everyone helped one another and everybody was as happy as could be. [Mrs S-P interjects: our village nurse was run by the surgery, with no help from the government].
Q: More nurses came when the (housing) development started?
Dr: When Marconi’s came they took over the farmland and started building on it. It has grown & grown & grown.
Interview with Mrs S-P
Q: There was one other thing. Do you remember Marconi?
Mrs S-P: Yes, I do very well.
Q: Can you tell me how you came across him?
Mrs S-P: I can just remember what he looked like. I remember so well, mother and father discussing Marconi who had just come to live here. He was living over a furniture store in Chelmsford. I’m absolutely certain about that. Have you seen Reg Spalding? (This probably suggests talking to the local farmer who kept a journal relating to the period in question). He (Guglielmo Marconi) came down as a young man (around 1899) and rather stirred up the engineers of the neighbourhood. I don’t know who they’d be. Clarkson or something like that. He built one of the first factories in Chelmsford. I can’t remember if they were Clarkson or one of that lot. Anyway he came down. I remember father so well, suggesting that mother should get in touch with him. It was just rather difficult because he was a foreigner, to begin with, and didn’t fit in with this neighbourhood. Then it was rather different. So he was ignored and nobody bothered with him. Our friends in Chelmsford said we ought to do something about it because he was rather a clever student and had great ideas. However nobody bothered very much with him.
Then of course after(wards), people would have given their (eye-teeth?) to look after him and said “you know, he is a very clever young chap and I think that we should get in touch with him”. I remember mother saying, “I don’t want to bother, he’s a foreigner”. So he was ignored. I think possibly she thought that I might fall in love with him. He certainly was not asked into our house and he wasn’t accepted around the place. He was a really clever man and it was the Pitseys(?) who looked after him, and said,” I think that there is something in that man. I think that he should be asked to dinner and to give him hospitality”. However we did nothing.
Then afterwards I remember this lovely countryside (on the outskirts of Great Baddow) where we used to pick all sorts of wild flowers. We were going for a walk one day with the children, and saw a huge bulldozer in the field. (Date presumably about 1937.) I said, “What on earth is it doing here?” “Didn’t you know, Marconi’s is putting up this enormous research station?” That grew and with that came the houses – rows & rows & rows of them. We can’t get out now. (She means ‘we cannot walk from our garden to Galleywood’, as the so-called Marconi estate is in the way.)
Although we didn’t have a report in the 2015 Newsletter there was one posted on the web site continuing with the work of the Marconi Heritage Group and the efforts being made to get better physical recognition for Marconi in Chelmsford.
The concentration of activity during most of 2015 was on the potential acquisition of the original Hall Street factory. Having discovered that a planning application had been made to convert it into flats considerable effort was made to mount an appeal to prevent this, but unfortunately this proved unsuccessful as at the planning meeting held in December 2014 the application was approved.
A prerequisite of the permission was that the building must be open to the public for 3 months following the refurbishment. As a result of the planning committee meeting the Chelmsford Civic Society set up a sub-group (Marconi Science Worx) to liaise with the developer about the possibility of purchasing the commercial space, 2000 sq feet, for a dedicated Marconi Heritage Centre and to that end a crowd-funding project was set up to raise funds; this proved to be a bridge too far and did not reach its target. Continuing discussions have resulted in a council-proposed three-month exhibition in the ground-floor area about the Marconi-related occupation of the building.
This will be a volunteer-led initiative, open every Friday and Saturday from 11th March to 29th May from 11am to 3pm, other days and times by appointment, and is being curated by Tim Wander. There is to be a private view on Friday 18th March for City and County Councillors and invited guests where Tim Wander will give a talk.
During the 3 month period the following talks will be given from 7pm. Tickets £5, to book go to: www.chelmsfordcivicsociety.eventbrite.com
18th March 7pm for 7.30
1st April 7pm for 7.30
Ray Clark BBC Essex
14th April 7pm for 7.30
Tim Maltin - Titanic historian and author - The role of Wireless in the Titanic tragedy
22nd April 7pm for 7.30
Dr Elizabeth Bruton - Oxford University – The Battle of Jutland
These are being organised in conjunction with the Chelmsford Civic Society with the support of the City Museum Service and BBC Essex and we are seeking volunteers to man the events, so if you can spare some time please contact their coordinator Pam Swaby – firstname.lastname@example.org This is probably the final opportunity to convince the local authorities to lend full support to the proper recognition of the contribution made by the Marconi Companies to the development and prosperity of Chelmsford and other Essex locations. Also to support the exhibition Tim Wander is producing a new book about Hall Street from its first use until the move to New Street. Copies will be available for sale. See details on next page.
On the Group website the wikis recording personal and company information continue to grow; to contribute you can register an interest on this website: <https://sites.google.com/site/callingoldmarconipeople/> then send material to the relevant editor, or email it to myself directly or via the MVA, and also apply for access to the wikis.
For the Changing Chelmsford Ideas Festival 2015 in October we again collaborated with the Chelmsford Science and Engineering Society in organising a lecture from Tim Wander our own historian, ‘Guglielmo Marconi’, telling the story of building the wireless age, as for over 100 years the Marconi Company’s work in Chelmsford and Essex dominated and defined the modern age of electronics, radio, radar, television and mobile communications with its massive impact on the working and social lives of tens of thousands of local people. Tim has recently published his latest book covering the first five years of Marconi’s work, which is featured on the MHG and MVA websites.
We also participated in the inaugural Industrial Heritage Fair organised by the Essex Industrial Archaeology Group in Braintree with a presentation that included working models of early Marconi apparatus.
There are also events later in the year commemorating the First World War being organised, including a showing of the film of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 with a live orchestra accompaniment. Another occasion of note this year is that of the 80th anniversary of the decision in 1936 to build the Research Laboratories at the Great Baddow site. Plans are being made to celebrate this event.
There does appear to be growing interest in the heritage landscape but success will depend on support by both active participants and interested visitors so please encourage anyone you can to visit all of the planned events.
This is the detailed story of Marconi’s intense, five year struggle from 1896-1901 to develop a reliable and practical wireless communication system. It was a constant search for distance and reliability, often in the face of appalling weather. Step by step Marconi overcame countless technical difficulties, battling seemingly insurmountable problems of physics and engineering as his embryonic system began to take shape.
It was also a battle for public, press, commercial, military and scientific acceptance. It quickly became a war of money and ideas as Marconi fought against international and state sponsored competitors who deployed every form of industrial espionage and legal challenge. Each was determined to claim a piece of the new science and try to take control of what soon became a new industrial revolution.
Twelve years in the writing and with fifteen years of research behind that – the goal of the new book was ‘simply’ to fully document the first five years of the young Guglielmo Marconi’s career. My long held passion was to pull the whole story together, step by step and site by site with as many photographs and sketches as possible. The new book tells the complete story of the difficult birth and desperate battles that took place to make a practical system of wireless communication a reality.
Throughout the story I have challenged the established history and time lines, visited every site, interviewed local historians, combed through local archives and of course recorded what still remains. I have also attempted, as an old-time wireless engineer, to re-interpret each experiment and try to understand what happened there. Hence the book contains an extensive ‘Then and Now’ appendix along with an extensive glossary and appendices that keep the technical sections out of the main text.
I have also included a personal chapter on Marconi the man – attempting to paint a portrait of this exceptional man that no one alive today has met – based in part on contemporary accounts and on his reaction to the struggles he overcame. But this is not just Marconi’s story – credit is given to all the pioneers of wireless whose names have largely been forgotten, but each of whom played their part in the amazingly rapid development of wireless communication.
In the end it was only Marconi who won through. He had the vision, self belief and force of character to build a working system and prove it under the harshest of climates. In doing so he built a huge company and a whole new industry, straight from the laboratory bench. But it was a close run thing. Many times during the first five years he nearly lost the race to tame Heinrich Hertz’s wireless waves. But what he achieved on bleak windswept cliffs and basement laboratories around Britain’s shores changed the world as we know it.
Now available. 750 pages, over 750 photographs – many of them never published before.
Hardback. RRP £24.95 plus p&p (£3.90 signed/tracked/insured).
The first 50 copies will be signed, (dedicated if asked) and numbered by the author.
Offer to all Marconi Veterans and members of the Marconi Heritage Association – a signed/numbered copy of the book for £25 including postage and packing. Please email the author direct at email@example.com for details or order through the website marconibooks.co.uk (add comment that you are a MVA or MHA member).
Also available through Amazon.
Chelmsford Science and Engineering Society is presenting an illustrated talk at Anglia Ruskin University,
Queen’s Building (Que101), Wednesday, 2nd March 2016 18:30
Speaker: Michael Barton (formerly Controller BBC Local Radio)
This talk will include archived recordings, to trace the story of Guglielmo Marconi and his role in the development of the BBC. It will give Marconi’s own account of the first transatlantic signals, capture of Dr Crippen through radio, sinking of the Titanic, formation of the BBC, Dame Nellie Melba’s broadcast and 2MT from Writtle.
Open to anyone who wishes to attend. Entrance free. Car parking on the University campus car parks is free after 4.30 pm. The most convenient car park is the one in front of the Sawyers Building accessed from Hoffmans Way (1st left turn), take ticket at barrier and re-insert it into machine to lift barrier when departing.
‘The Marconi Companies and their People’ Volume 1, Number 1, August 1950
Would anyone happy to loan an unbound copy of the very first edition of the house magazine for a short period. If so please contact our webmaster Chris Gardiner, 01245 441274, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marconi Instruments Heritage Group is trying to digitise its whole set of 20 volumes and cannot locate an unbound copy.
Malcolm Frost – principal mechanical designer and project leader ASETS
During one of many company name changes – this time in the mid 1980s – from Marconi Avionics to GEC Avionics the Electro-Optical Surveillance Division at Basildon competed for a contract award from American Electronic Laboratories Inc (AEL) from Philadelphia to design and develop a one-off stabilised platform to be fitted on the underside of a USAF C130: this platform and all the electronic backup systems became known as ASETS.
Although there was much apprehension amongst senior management the contract was awarded and the development got under way. A team was set up under the leadership of Mel Bennett to enable this very exacting project. It was the first time that EOSD had obtained a contract direct from the USA. The main reason we were chosen was based on the expertise (probably the world leaders at the time) with airborne stabilised platforms based on experience with the ‘Heli Tele’ and other platforms being developed for the MoD.
This particular platform had some very onerous specifications to meet. Notwithstanding the conventional environmental requirements it had to house an interchangeable payload which was the size of an old fashioned dustbin! This payload (developed by AEL) was to house various missile seeker heads to evaluate their accuracy under flight conditions. Such missile heads were from the Sidewinder and Maverick missiles and at times in various combinations. The impact on our platform design was to achieve very exacting stabilisation parameters and also to get 500 plus power and signal wiring across all three fully rotational axes to the payload sensors.
The design and subsequent manufacture resulted in a platform weighing in excess of one ton and measuring 4 feet in diameter and standing 6 feet tall, at the time a record for any stabilised platform for airborne use. Manufacture and the system design (slip rings, electro-magnetic torque motors and bearings) pushed the technology available to the limits. The production engineering department was heavily involved in selecting various techniques that could be produced in the timescales. Some of the big castings used came from a foundry that normally specialised in F1 racing car wheels using high tensile alloys, and all parts were subject to X-ray examination to ensure integrity.
Another big challenge was to complete the customer acceptance criteria and specifically the environmental testing. The first hurdle was finding test houses capable of hosting a large structure, the second was transportation and logistics but British Aerospace came to the rescue at facilities in Stevenage and for the large wind tunnel testing at Weybridge.
Although we had many new problems to solve, so did AEL! The platform was to hang underneath the fuselage of the C130 on centre line and they had to develop a very sophisticated retraction mechanism inside to be able to deploy and retract our 1 ton plus monster! As the deployed platform was outside of the aircraft ‘dimensions’ special fail-safe safety designs had to be fitted to the mechanism These included an old fashioned block and tackle as back-up to the motorised design and also, as a second back-up, explosive bolts were fitted to enable the complete platform to be jettisoned in the event of the aircraft having any problems! Allegedly someone had even suggested that a long trough be dug along the centre of the runway to allow for landing with the platform deployed! This idea was soon dismissed when someone pointed out that the C130 had a centre line nose wheel!
The whole project was a success and led to more contracts related to stabilised platforms being awarded from the USA.
I wonder how many people remember seeing the large system being developed and built; also even the transportation from Basildon which included a large airport-style low loader lorry to enable sliding the whole package directly into the aircraft hold at Gatwick.
Mel Bennett comments: It certainly was a challenging programme and I recall doing the first presentation to AEL (with Bill Blount, Arthur Humphries and Malcolm) just after a massive snow storm in Philadelphia: we were up against tough competition and Wally Patterson was amazed when he heard we had been selected. Then he asked me if we could really do what we offered. Just shows what an A team it was in those days!
Last July, with my wife on a four day visit to Lincolnshire with our village horticultural society, I took a day off from gardens (only so many gardens a man can take in four days!) and made a long overdue visit to Lincoln. On climbing up The Strait towards the cathedral I came across J Birkett’s, the sort of ‘ex-Gov’ shop we knew in the 50s in Lisle Street in Soho, an electronics Aladdin’s Cave, a view into a bygone age. (One of the items I spotted in the window was a TR1985 which I had worked on in the RAF in the 50s.) Back home, I found Lincsbodger’s posting on a UK Vintage-Radio.net discussion forum. He’s obviously not ex-Marconi, but please forgive me for including his interesting reminiscences. Thanks Lincsbodger – Ed.
Posted by: Lincsbodger (location Lincoln) re: Birkett’s in Lincoln
I stumbled on this forum whilst looking for info on an HMV 1126 valve radio.
I used to work for Birketts in the early 1970’s. It was a fabulous time to be 18 and a fabulous place to work if you were mad on electronics, like I was.
The shop (J Birkett Radio Components) at 25/26 The Strait is incredible. When I was there it went up 3 floors and back at last 150 feet. There was literally a couple of hundred tons of electronic components in there, anything you could imagine, from unmarked Plessey 4 bit microprocessors to ex-WD 1126 radio sets. Every room, every corridor, every staircase was piled floor to ceiling with boxes.
In the 1970s, John had contacts at Marconi GEC, and was buying untested and sometimes unmarked semiconductors by the skipful. We built our own test gear, I spent many hours testing diodes, thyristors, triacs, zeners and all sort of transistors. We would sell them in mixed bags.
Similarly, he would buy vast, huge amounts of discreet components – resistors, caps, coils, all sorts. We would set up two long tables with about 50 boxes of random components in one of the rooms at the back, then you went along the row with an A4 sized zip bag, sticking a pinch of each in. These ‘mixed component’ bags sold like hot cakes at £1 each. (Remember this was 1970!)
It was a stunning, unique experience. I started playing with electronics at the age of 10 using valves, and whilst there got unlisted play with transistors then 74 series ICs. We were building Disco lighting such as ring counter and sound to lights YEARS before the big boys such as Pulsar Light of Cambridge was.
Unfortunately, the golden age of amateur electronics is over, never to be repeated. You can’t really get the components any more, and haven’t been able to for 20 years. I used to get Practical Wireless – there was always something in each issue to build, over the years I built all sorts of stuff. The one I remember the best was a sound activated flash trigger. My dad was a photographer, we took some amazing pictures of balloons and bottles bursting 1/5000 of a second after the bang.
Birketts attracted some seriously clever blokes as well. There was a guy called Joe Rose, a slow scan TV fanatic, he actually owned an entire BBC Outside Broadcast Unit complete with 4 cameras and a 2 inch tape unit and mixing desk. There was another guy who worked at the Medical Physics Dept at the hospital, he would come up with circuits for us to build and test, a seriously clever bloke. During the Winter of Discontent he invented an Inverter using two OC25 power transistors that would drive a 6 foot fluorescent tube off a car battery. We built a few and they sold like hot cakes, couldn’t make them fast enough, and we sold them as kits as well!
I went on then do TV repair as well at other places, and then had a 20 year career in Local Government IT, jumping on the IT bandwagon in the early 1980s, when jobs were plenty and the IT path was paved with gold.
I recently built a conservatory, and we wanted an old radio in it, I got one at auction, it sort of worked, and I came to the conclusion after several weeks of messing the W77 had lost emission, and in my search for one I arrived here. I have now replaced it and the radio works pretty well. You never forget how to fix them.
I pop in to see John sometimes, the shop is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, although it long stopped being a shop, it’s really a drop in centre for old radio hams and TV engineers to have a natter. He sits in there holding court, and a long stream of old friends call by. (It still appeared to be a shop in July 2015, but not open on a Monday when I visited. Ed.)
Birketts was a legend, there wasn’t another shop like it, and there never will be again.
Malcolm Mack, ex Marconi Radar Systems
Eddie Holman, Field Services Manager, knew how to save on the subsistence budget. Never has a can of beans looked so good.
A ‘selfie’ from the beginning of 1972 showing, left to right, Ken Jacobs, Malcolm Mack and Terry Barnsley on our day off. It was taken at the beginning of 1972 at the Tropospheric site near Tabuk (Tebuk) north west Saudi Arabia. The area is south of Wadi Rum, near the Jordanian border.
Marconi Communications Systems provided most of the equipment for the Tropos and the links, plus some of their Field Service personnel. Marconi Radar Systems provided the Field Services for the installation of the radars and internal communications on Project SAGEU, and were the main contractors at the Tropo site. The picture was taken with Terry Barnsley’s camera prior to his and Ken Jacobs drive back from Saudi across Europe – via countries you wouldn’t want to be seen dead in nowadays. They had bought a Volkswagen Beetle and camping gear for the trip. Back in Europe I met them at Brand in Austria, where we did some skiing.
Very late in the preparation of this newsletter the death of Hugh Nigel Croke Ellis-Robinson OBE, CEng, ER to all who knew him, was announced. He died in Cornwall on the 17 January, slipping away very peacefully with both his daughters by his side.
There is really not room at this late stage to present even a brief résumé of his life and career: wartime RAF service as a ground radar mechanic; joining Marconi in 1949; progressing steadily through the company, involved throughout with ground radar engineering; in 1982 as Programme Director Martello Projects being awarded on OBE, finally retiring in 1986. He was widely loved and respected by all his colleagues: no better tribute can be paid to him than those posted by some of them on the MOGS website over the past few days since his death.
. . . Sorry to hear of ER’s passing. One of the last of the technically-competent managers, he was a man who really earned the respect that was afforded to him. RIP – Ian Gillis
. . .Very sorry to hear about ER. I first met him when I went to work at RDG Broomfield in 1955 – but he was sorting out the SR1000 transmitter while I was working for Fred Kime on displays, so our paths did not cross very often. A brilliant engineer and a great, creative, very interesting character. I’m sure they will not make his like any more – Matty
. . . I had heard that he was not very well recently. He was a great engineer and a major contributor to the successful years of Marconi Radar. A very sad day – Roy Simons
. . . So sorry to hear of ER’s passing. The sentiments expressed by Roy sum it all up. I remember fondly those years we had at the Farnborough Air Shows – Robin Webb
. . .Very sad news. As Roy said he was a great engineer and a major contributor to the success of Marconi Radar during his time. He was also a great character and intensely patriotic, buying British made cars and insisting that publicity give-aways were wherever possible also British made.
I first joined his section at Pottery Lane in October 1957, towards the end of my apprenticeship. I was moved in June ‘58 and pestered the training department until they put me back with ER (now a Group Chief) at Baddow at the end of ‘58, completing my apprenticeship and joining the staff.
He always supported his staff, objecting strenuously if some other manager tried to criticise them, “he might be an idiot but if he is I will tell him, not you”. He also tried to be around whenever an urgent job required working excessive hours. Even in his latter more senior roles these were much more than token visits. I remember, when I was involved in getting the Type 88/89 (Green Ginger for the RAF) out, I turned up at Widford during a weekend to be asked by one of the testers who that bloke up on the aerial in a good suit arguing with a fitter was. It was ER arguing over the design of the gear box with the top off and oil all over the place. They were good times and it was folk like ER who made them so. The end of an era – Brian
With thanks to Gerry Valentine, Anthony Clark and Pete Kennedy
Ken Perry was born in Harrogate, but was evacuated to Blaenau in Wales during the war. After completing his education at the Blaenau Grammar School he was called up for National Service and was posted to RAF Lossiemouth where he flew low level tests and calibration flights in Lancaster bombers.
Following National Service he studied Physics and Mathematics at the University of Newcastle. After University he joined Marconi’s in the early 1950s.
Much of his career was spent at the Marconi Research Centre, followed by Marconi Radar Systems.
At the research centre Ken was Chief of the Microwave Components Group, responsible for the design and manufacture of high power microwave components for radar applications. Whilst there he became interested in High Frequency Over the Horizon Radar (HF-OTHR) technology, a subject that he made very much his own.
In 1983 Ken moved to Marconi Radar Systems to oversee the commercial exploitation of HF radar in military and civil applications. This work resulted in a number of studies, and trials with experimental systems installed on the Essex coast.
Through his work in this field GEC-Marconi became a major sub-contractor for the Australian JORN system. JORN (Jindalee Operational Radar Network) is a sky wave HF radar system that provides air and sea coverage beyond the northern coast of Australia, and has proved to be a highly successful project.
Outside his professional career Ken had many interests including music. He played the organ at St Peter’s church, Goldhanger, where he lived. He was also a keen bell ringer and was the Tower Captain at St Peter’s for fifteen years.
Alan began his love affair with ships, Morse code, etc as he watched the ships sailing out of the Tyne when growing up at Tynemouth, Northumberland. He started learning Morse code in his early teens and took out his radio license call sign – G3NOQ. He moved to Great Baddow, Essex, after university to start working for Marconi at Great Baddow as an electrical engineer. Marconi became BAE Systems and he retired from them when he was 65.
Alan had many other interests being a talented organist, madrigal and choral singer and in later life, speaker of Norwegian. He used his new found learning to translate Norwegian articles into English and made many new friends in Norway. He developed asthma which further developed in more recent years into COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) with complications. In late July he was rushed to hospital and seemed to be making a good recovery but suffered a relapse the day before he was due to be discharged. Alan is sadly missed by his son Joe, his siblings Andrew and Nora, their families and his many friends.
Tribute by Dr Brian Austin, G0GSF
Alan Boswell, G3NOQ, was one of the RSGB’s most respected Members. Until his death on 5th August 2015 he was an active member of the RadCom technical panel. He had particular skill in vetting articles on antenna matters. I knew Alan well from our joint involvement with the IEE (now the IET), where we met at conferences and often interacted on technical issues to do with antennas. As recently as last year we collaborated in publishing an article on small loops, along with another retired engineer and radio amateur in South Africa (Mike Perks, ZS6BIM). It appeared in the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine last August. Alan’s passing will leave a huge void in the professional antenna community where he was very highly regarded.
The deaths of veterans have been reported over the year in the In Memoriam pages of the web site so will not be repeated here; the dates of joining the Marconi Company are also given. Please refer to these pages for the details.
Please click on the title Newsletter 2015 above to open the full document with the index and on any picture in this newsletter to open a larger image.
Peter Turrall, MVA Chairman
According to recent reports from our local newspaper The Essex Chronicle, Chelmsford City Council is contemplating changing the dozen or so large brown signs on all the entries to our county town of Chelmsford which state ‘Chelmsford the Birthplace of Radio’. These signs of course refer to our own Marconi Company and certainly make visitors and residents aware that history was made in this city many years ago.
The suggestion is for new signs to portray Hylands House, a good mile out of the city, which does not give any indication of Chelmsford’s major industrial past. It was Marconi and other major industries such as Hoffmann, Crompton, Clarkson and Christy who put Chelmsford on the map, fostering its development from a sleepy market town with a population of 30,000 citizens in the early 1900s, to a major industrial centre. This gave employment to thousands and a start to other enterprises to set up shops and offices to cater for the needs of an increasing population which has now reached nearly 200,000.
Already strong comments have been made by local residents and ex-Marconi personnel to both the city council and the local newspapers stating that the signs should cover Chelmsford’s industrial achievements especially as Marconi in Chelmsford was the start of worldwide wireless communications and other associated engineering achievements.
It is unfortunate that our city council does not highlight the industrial past of Chelmsford, which in itself, if portrayed correctly, is an enormous tourist attraction. Apart from the museum in Oaklands Park and, way out of the city, Sandford Mill, and a Marconi statue hidden behind the local bus station, there is nothing in the city centre illustrating the achievements of these world renowned organisations. It has been suggested to the city council that a kiosk giving information about local attractions of historical interest and where to find them could be sited opposite the Shire Hall in the city centre. At the moment this suggestion has not been acted on.
The Marconi New Street building, which has for over one hundred years been the centre point of all major visits to the company, is now in good shape having been modernised and the front gardens spruced up. This building will shortly be used by an unknown pharmaceutical company as their headquarters. To date it has not been possible to contact this organisation with the hope that the Marconi Veterans Association could utilise one of the areas to portray the history of the company and/or display some of the products manufactured in the original factory. (Photo taken on 29th January, just before four workmen in hard hats and grubby high-vis jackets together with a heavy load fork-lift carrying a mini-skip turned up at the front door)
I’ve had one or two unwished for problems in getting this issue off the ground. The main one was that I didn’t have a recording of the speeches at the 2014 reunion to refer to when compiling the report on page 10: unwisely, relying on there being one, I hadn’t made any notes. Up to the time of writing this they were missing from the website, but the full texts can now be found there. Given a fair wind the speeches will be recorded this year, but just in case, there will be a back-up plan.
The usual yearly situation with regard to supply of material. I report at committee meetings during the year that contributions have not been very forthcoming, and I don’t know if I’m going to have enough for a twelve pager, but then, when I get down to it in January I find that there is more that enough for fourteen or even sixteen. Sometimes however, as this year, an item will have to be held over until the following year.
You will see that a significant amount of space has been devoted to obituaries. I felt it appropriate to devote a full page to David Speake, such a prominent figure in the company story. He died very shortly before last year’s edition went to press and we could at that time include only the briefest of tributes. Page 12 is given over entirely to the appreciation from one of his Baddow colleagues, Laurence Clarke. Unfortunately, as anno domini bears on more and more of us it’s going to become increasingly likely that I have to decide whether or not to include a written tribute to a former colleague who has passed away, but I will have to guard against overdoing it.
As in previous years, a number of letters are from correspondents seeking information about former colleagues, for research into their family history, or for the preparation of articles, books, etc. If no contact detail appears with the letter then please direct your reply or any correspondence for the enquirer to: Barry Powell, Secretary, Marconi Veterans Association, 22 Juliers Close, Canvey Island, Essex, SS8 7EP; 01268 696342; email@example.com – or to the editor, Ken Earney, 01245 381235; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Certain items in this issue, particularly on this and the next page, are responses to letters or articles appearing in the 2014 edition which have already been posted during the last eleven months on the website. There is thus an inevitable but necessary duplication catering for those Veterans who have no possibility, or wish, to use the internet.
Finally note that, to avoid unnecessary repetition of the Association’s name in full, the initials MVA have in places been used.
Leslie Frank Cox
From Marie-Ann Capps, 15 December 2014
My grandfather Leslie Cox worked at the Marconi site in Chelmsford during 1939 to 1945. He never told us what his role was there and when he disappeared to London in 1945 there was apparently a warrant issued for his arrest and return to Marconi.
The Bodleian Library could not trace any employee records for my grandfather and suggested that, during that period, there may have been many external organisations using the Marconi works. This would mean that he may not have worked directly for Marconi but for some other entity.
Is there anyone who remembers him? He would have been in his late 20s/early 30s when he was there as he was some years older than my grandmother. I don’t really know much more than this apart from his name, Leslie Frank Cox, and that he lodged with the Crosier family in Brownings Avenue in Melbourne, Chelmsford during his time at Marconi.
I would be extremely grateful to you on behalf of my mother and her two sisters, as well as Leslie’s son, if you could point me in the right direction of being able to trace records of his time at Marconi. Thank you.
Would anyone who can help please contact the secretary at the address above.
The fish in the New Street cooling pond
VJ Bucknell, 17 March 2014
With reference to David Emery’s letter on page 3 of the last issue concerning the fish in the pond. These fish were originally in the large 30ft tank in Marine Test used for testing echo sounders. I believe there were originally three and they were put in the tank probably in the 1950s. When the tank was cleaned in the early 1970s they were moved to the pond beside Marconi Road.
VJ has also spotted an error in Peter Stothard’s article ‘Essex Clay’: the fifth paragraph on page 11 puts Frinton north of Walton-on-the-Naze. In fact, it’s south of Walton.
If you are ‘smart phone enabled’ and interested in Chain Home then please try the new app from Bawdsey Radar. ‘RADAR Chain’ can be downloaded for free from App Store or from www.bawdseyradar.org.uk. RADAR Chain gives details of 63 Chain Home Stations around the UK with pictures and text wherever possible. We hope you find it interesting.
Post-war history of Great Bromley
LA Thomas, Swansea, 2 September 2014
I’m doing research work on the post war history of Canewdon and Great Bromley. During my time, I frequently consult the classified files at the Public Record Office at Kew. However, I write to you in the hope that some of the former Marconi radar people can assist me with some details of the post war history of Great Bromley. It appears from several files that during the late 1950s experiments were carried out at Bromley on a project codenamed Zinnia, a sort of over-the-horizon radar. I am uncertain of the outcome of these experiments and would be interested to hear from anybody.
Marconi Heritage websites
David Samways has created a website to gather input for the Marconi Old Fellows Society (MOFS) site so Alan Hartley-Smith has decided to do the same for the Marconi Heritage Group (MHG). The following are the URLs for these two sites:
This is an extension of the Meet-and-Greet session held during last year’s Ideas Festival in Chelmsford so if you come across or are approached by anyone wanting to join in the quest to set up a Heritage Centre or donate material please give them this method of getting in touch.
John Iorwerth (Yorrie) Morse, Marconi Marine
From John Morse, 28 February 2014
I am trying to trace my late father’s employment history, particularly during WW2. He continued to be employed by Marconi during this time (his was a reserved occupation), and I believe that he worked in Africa for at least part of this period, as a civilian in naval bases. I have no idea what he did or where he was stationed.
I understand that the Marconi archive is now at the Bodleian Library and I will contact them, but I wonder if any of your members might have any information or guidance.
John says that he has written to the Bodleian but has not yet had a reply to his letter, and so would obviously still like to hear from any Veteran who may be able to help in his enquiries. He mentioned in passing a photograph of his father which appeared in the book entitled ‘Marconi 1939 – 1945 – a war record’, published by Chatto & Windus in 1946. On the right is that photograph, which has the caption “He is Wireless Operator and, believe it or not, his name is Morse!”
Marconi WW1 deaths in service
Bernard de Neumann, MOGS posting, 31 August 2014
During WW1 348 Marconi staff sacrificed their lives. Presumably their names are all recorded appropriately, and steps will be taken to ensure that their memorial is safeguarded. Does anyone know where the memorial is currently located?
The first three staff to lose their lives in WW1 did so on 22 September 1914. They were each wireless operators aboard HMSs Cressy, Hogue, and Aboukir, three battle-class cruisers, which were patrolling in the outer Thames Estuary when they were sunk by torpedoes in quick succession by a single U-boat, U-9, with the loss of almost 1500 lives.
At the outbreak of war Marconi operators aboard merchant ships were taken up by the RN as their ships returned to the UK and put to service aboard warships, rapidly causing shortages of wireless operators in the merchant service. Thus I am not sure whether the above three Marconi men were likewise inducted into the RN.
Marconi wireless in WW1 – Tim Wander
Alan Hartley-Smith, MOGS posting, 30 July 2014
In view of the current national interest in all things related to the First World War I have put a comprehensive article on our Marconi Heritage website, written by Tim Wander, which shows how the technology developed and was used by all three armed services. You can read it here: http://www.marconiheritage.org/ww1intro-3.html
For those of you interested in such history it is well worth a read.
John Baker – Marconi Instruments
Arthur Foulser is trying to contact John Baker who worked at Marconi Instruments. If anyone can advise his current contact details would they please contact the secretary Barry Powell so that he can forward Arthur’s letter to John.
Marconi Monument on the Isle of Wight
Jonathon Butterworth, Needles Park, IOW 14 August 2014
I’m Jonathon Butterworth and I work on behalf of The Needles Park on the Isle of Wight. I am getting in contact because I stumbled across the Marconi Veterans website last night and I thought I should inform you that we have a monument to the great man on our grounds, I’m sure you are aware of the work he did at Alum Bay and that is what we’re commending. All the information about our monument can be found on our website (http://www.theneedles.co.uk/marconi-monument.php) – I just thought that it would be nice to share this with you and in turn you might want to share it with the visitors to your website.
Worth a visit because of its significance in company history, but be prepared to be disappointed by its location immediately adjacent to the visitor attractions of the Needles Park. Ed.
Some more aphorisms (hopefully not already used in earlier issues!)
Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now. Shin, a device for finding furniture in the dark. The colder the X-ray table, the more of your body is required to be on it. IT has spawned a huge growth industry – in selling manuals on how to use IT.
And welcome to 2015
Looking back, I realise that I have been Secretary for 10 years now and I must say that I have enjoyed every minute. The Marconi Veterans’ Association ‘office’ is a computer cupboard at one end of our kitchen so dependent upon permission from ‘er indoors (otherwise known as the Secretary’s Secretary). Careful negotiations have worked so far – long may they continue to do so.
And our new caravan is now sorted and we have had a season to smooth out any problems.
With regard to the subscription, we are pleased to maintain the rate at £6.00 per annum but, regrettably due to increased costs, we must, again, raise the cover price for the reunion to £25.00. I am sure that you will agree that this is still excellent value for a four course meal with tea/coffee and wine.
Please note that the date of the reunion is Saturday 18th April where our President will be Veteran Basil Francis who, for many years, was Chief of the Installation Drawing Office of Marconi Communication Systems at New Street, Chelmsford. Guest of Honour is Mr John Warwicker MBE who had a varied career as a Metropolitan Police officer and close protection officer to a number of prime ministers. He has also written a number of books covering his professional career. No doubt he will be giving an interesting talk on some of his many experiences.
Last year’s reunion (see report on page 10) passed off without any problems so I do not envisage any changes for this year.
With regard to the name tags, last year’s arrangements seemed to work quite well so we will, again, produce the name tags on A4 sheets which will be at the merchandise table so you can collect your label as you enter the hall. When you order your ticket, please indicate, in the box provided, how you would like your tag to read. The default will be to print your name as it appears on the first line of your address label.
I won’t bore you by repeating last year’s description of the arrangements for the reunion – suffice to say that, if you are still unsure or have any questions, please give me a ring. I am always happy to talk and can give you names of those Veterans who attended recent reunions.
If you know of an ex-Marconi employee who does not receive the newsletter please urge them to contact me as soon as possible. It may be that they have moved or not replied to a confirmation request of a few years ago or that they left with 21 to 24 years service and have now become Veterans by virtue of the reduction in service requirement to 21 years.
The ‘Friends of The Marconi Veterans’ Association’ has been set up to cater for anyone who does not qualify as a Veteran but wishes to be kept informed of things Marconi. Numbers are growing slowly with, currently, over 40 members and any more would be welcome. All three registers – the main register and those for In Memoriam and Friends – are now published on the website so please have a look if you can and let me know of any errors.
Please note that I may be contacted at the address below. Finally, I would like to wish you all a very prosperous 2015 and hope to see as many of you as possible either at the reunion on 18th April or the next Open Day at Sandford Mill on Saturday 25th April.
One final note – the 2016 Reunion will be on Saturday 16th April,
Barry Powell, Secretary, Marconi Veterans’ Association, 22 Juliers Close, Canvey Island, Essex, SS8 7EP
Phone: 01268 696342 (answer-phone if we are out, please leave a message and I will ring you back)
Dr Geoff Bowles has now retired from the Chelmsford Museums Service after almost 25 years. Geoff, who was elected an Honorary Veteran at the 2013 Reunion, joined the Museums Service from Leicester in July 1990 as a Research Officer and progressed to become Curator of Science at Sandford Mill. During this time, he was largely responsible for setting up the Sandford Mill site and the educational activities it offers, and has done a lot to ensure the preservation and availability of Marconi equipment and documentation. He now intends to devote his time to a renovation project but does not rule out the occasional visit to Sandford Mill and, hopefully, the Veterans Reunion. We understand that Nick Wickenden is currently interviewing for Geoff’s replacement – he will be a hard act to follow! We send Geoff all our best wishes for a long and happy retirement.
In a professional career distinguished by an outstanding ability recognised at a young age, David Griffiths gave invaluable service both to Marconi and to successive UK governments. Promoted to Commercial Manager at the age of 24, in 40 years career he served as Commercial Director and Company Secretary at Marconi and, latterly, BAE Systems. He was a protégée of the late Max Stothard ( 2014 newsletter, pages 1 & 11). His professional career spanned the Cold War, the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the digital revolution with its new implications for national defence and the precarious alignments of the War on Terror. After retirement from industry, he acted in an advisory capacity to the MOD, and sat on the MVA committee. He was committed to his work and greatly fulfilled by it.
From a Welsh background, although born in Reading and raised in West London, he was educated at Latymer Upper School and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. His immediate forebears were miners; none had previously attended university or finished school. Paternal grandfather, James ‘Pop’ Griffiths, ran away to sea at the age of 14 and became a ship’s captain and later Mayor of Cardiff. He was deeply proud of family ties to Wales, and nautical family history inspired his own love of the sea and sailing; he loved the shining dunes of Ynyslas and Aberdyfi. In his spare time, he skippered several boats of his own, and in last two decades he sailed from Tollesbury Marina close to his Essex home.
David Griffiths was hugely committed to his work and until fairly recently he was engaged in meetings and travel across Europe, the Americas, Australasia and the Far East. He once said that because of his career, he had been to every country he had ever wanted to visit, except possibly Iceland, and he thought he could accept that deficit. He greatly enjoyed meeting a wide array of people in so many countries, forging many and lasting friendships in Marconi’s local offices at Chelmsford, Leicester and Frimley, as well with international partner companies in Rome, Montreal and Helsinki. He was enormously forgiving of others, getting the best from his colleagues by example and leadership. When ill-health forced him into a more sedentary lifestyle, he used on-line technologies to continue working as long as he could. He also embarked on substantial projects of amateur history, with a particular interest in the Second World War.
For more than twenty years he prevailed against deteriorating health, maintaining a wry sense of humour and determination and managing to joke about his condition until the end in October 2014. He is survived by his children, Joanna and Daniel, his former wife Susan who remained a close personal friend to the end of his life, and by two grandchildren.
Based on an edited version of the obituary which appeared in The Times last year.
Poking about at home the other day, I found this EF91 valve, complete with MWT box. When I started work as a junior engineer in the wooden huts at Writtle in 1952, these valves, together with a smaller version, the EF95, were the staple tool of the trade. We used them for everything, from VHF to audio. They had 6.3 volt heaters, B7G bases, and often were provided with an aluminium screening can.
We worked in what was known as the ‘end hut’ directly under the tower. Warmly remembered colleagues included Colin Lewis, Ken Johnson, George Otley and Rex Willet.
Later on, when I had returned to Writtle in 1954, after National Service, we moved into plush new laboratories, where every engineer enjoyed the luxury of his own desk and bench. A big change from the cramped wooden huts. Now all the talk was of transistors. Initially we used the OC70/71, a germanium transistor. Were they point contact devices? (No, junction – Ed.) They were prone to damage and failure even on the lab bench, let alone in service. We had little faith in them! Later, reliable silicon junction transistors became available, and we started serious transistorisation of all our new designs.
The third stage of my story occurred after I had left development in the mid-1960s. At Beehive Lane works, we manufactured the Myriad computer. This computer owed its high speed to the first use of integrated circuits. These were the DAT7 and DAT10, made by Ferranti. The degree of integration was very modest by later standards. Just two transistors and two diodes on one silicon chip. Nevertheless, they were ground-breaking at the time. The Myriad computers were very high speed, and found application in many real time applications, from power station control to weather forecasting. I think we made over 100, together with a variant marketed by English Electric Computers.
I expect many fellow Veterans across the Marconi Companies will have similar recollection of new technologies being introduced, perhaps prompted by these brief notes. In the 1950s and 1960s, I don’t think any of us had any idea that this transition from valves to transistors, and then to integrated circuits, would so quickly lead to millions of transistors on one small silicon chip, and to the high speed computing and communications which we now enjoy.
When I left grammar school I spent four years on a thin sandwich course at the City University. My sponsoring company was Standard Telephone and Cables (STC) at New Southgate. During the four years, when I was at the factory, I spent time in some of the following areas – the drawing office, the sheet metal shop and the printed board assembly area. Towards the end of the four years, I spent time in some of the development laboratories.
One of these areas was in developing radio altimeters. STC had its own Dakota (DC3) which was used to test the equipment and we flew from Stansted where the plane was based, sitting the equipment on one of the rear seats. On my first flight we flew out over the North Sea at about 1000 feet, just below some cumulus clouds. The heating was on and the tail of the aircraft was bobbing up and down in the disturbed air below the clouds: virtually all of us engineers on board had to visit the ‘little room’ at the rear of the aircraft, to relieve the discomfort in our stomachs!
(Did the CAA know about this?)
After gaining my BSc in Electrical Engineering I spent a further year with STC as an engineer. The laboratory I was in was developing error correction circuits for teleprinter signals sent over HF radio links. The teleprinter code consisted of five bits. (This evolved from a code proposed by Baudot and eventually became the International Telegraph Alphabet No 2 (ITA2)). The signal from an HF link would introduce errors in the teleprinter information in terms of the bit values of a hole or space being changed, so to provide error correction, five parity bits were added to the original five code bits and sent over the link. The error correction circuitry could correct a single bit error and detect multiple bit errors. There were no microprocessors in those days so the system used integrated circuits. So began my introduction to a career in electronics and avionics that lead to a ‘tour of duty’ with Marconi.
At this stage of my career I had the idea of becoming a lecturer in a college or university so I tried to gain a research or higher degree. With a grant from the Science Research Council I joined the University of Surrey at Guildford. My research in solid state physics was carried out at Aldermaston. Firstly I investigated doping semiconductors by using ion implantation, then I looked at secondary electron emission. This research didn’t lead to a higher degree however so I decided to return to working in industry. Prior to joining the GEC group of companies I was working for RS Components (formerly Radio Spares) in the city. Having married in this period we had moved to Chelmsford when our first child was born. As I didn’t see much of my son due to the commuting I decided to try and gain a local job. At that time Chelmsford was almost known as Marconiville with many Marconi or GEC companies located in it. I didn’t manage to get a post in any of the Chelmsford companies: however I did land a job with Marconi Elliot Avionics Systems Ltd at Basildon. (I always called it Measles!)
So I started at Basildon in the Design Quality Assurance group in the Airadio laboratory in A Building. I remember Bert Holmes was one of the senior team members in this group. One of the first pieces of equipment that I worked on was the AD130. This was used in the Maritime Nimrod aircraft, and I was involved in the environmental tests on this and carrying out the reliability predictions for it. (These reliability predictions used a computer at the Research Laboratories at Great Baddow. The information was sent from Basildon via a teleprinter link. This took me back in remembering my time at STC on the error correction equipment).
Airadio also put me on a course to gain a City & Guilds in Quality Control. The course was held in Chelmsford at Marconi College and the course tutor was Alan Maycocke from Thurrock College. One of his students had been the top exam student winning the silver medal for the past few years. The rest of the class must have thought I looked intelligent as they turned to me and said, ‘go for it Graham’! So I did and I won the Silver Medal, and a cement company and a group of small trade unions gave me monetary prizes for winning. GEC also gave me a small monetary prize as well. I used these monetary prizes towards purchasing my first 12 string guitar which I still have. (Photo – Presentation by GEC of Silver Medal. From left Alan Maycocke; someone causing some perplexity – Graham thought it was Doug Farthing, but others disagree – can anyone put a name to this face please; Graham Marriott; Sue Marriott)
When I joined Airadio I was given the option of transferring to development, so I joined one of the development teams. During my time in development I did some preliminary work towards the Merlin helicopter avionics and a control unit for the radios in the Gazelle helicopter. Whilst working on this project I managed to cadge a flight in a Gazelle from Middle Wallop, during which I had a wonderful view of Salisbury Cathedral and the amazingly large grass airfield of Middle Wallop.
I then decided it would be great to work nearer to home and transferred to Marconi Radar at Chelmsford working under Brian Partridge. My section was responsible for the design and development of the large raster PPI displays for primary radar. I then worked in the project management team on the Bacchus project: this was a defence radar for Yugoslavia. It was interesting to reflect that when the Bosnia conflict arose I am sure the first thing the RAF did was to take out this defence radar. I sensed that contracts and work were running down at that time at Marconi Radars, so, like a ‘bad penny’ I returned to Basildon!
However this time I was recruited to the IT section in the Airadio Development laboratory rather than the development side. This involved looking after the Banyan Vines network that provided the inter-connection for all the PCs. In addition it involved looking after the Sun Solaris UNIX workstations. At that time PCs were so weak in terms of processing power that design work was done on the more powerful UNIX machines. During this time GEC sent me on quite a few courses. One was a Sun Solaris UNIX course which helped me on the next and final stage in my career. But I remember Don West who ran Airadio development asking me one day whether I was very busy at the moment. When I said that I wasn’t too heavily loaded, he put me on a ‘Compelling Presentation Course’. This taught one how to speak and use visual aids, but I never did use this for Marconi. However I like to think that has helped me in my preaching over the years in various churches. Well, I haven’t seen anyone nod off to sleep yet, so I must have picked up something from this course!
But with my UNIX and network skills, late in my career, I gained a job in Addison Wesley Longman at Harlow, who are part of the Pearson group of companies. Pearson is one of the largest publishing companies in the world, operating mainly in the educational field. They own the Financial Times and Penguin books amongst their many brands and titles. Working for a succh a company was very different to Marconi, particularly the flavour of the old Wireless Telegraph company days. The Pearson building was a modern five storey building, with, on the ground floor, a café open all day serving food, hot drinks and even alcohol! When I worked in development in Airadio at Basildon it consisted predominately of me. However in Pearson there were an equal number of men and women. Publishing also had a very different feel and atmosphere to an engineering company like Marconi.
Pearson primarily recruited me for my UNIX knowledge. However they began to phase out their UNIX systems and go over to Microsoft NT servers instead. So I was trained in networking skills based on Cisco routers and switches. In addition I also helped administer the Checkpoint firewall and the telephone system for the building. This period with them complemented my engineering knowledge gained with the Marconi companies, giving me a quite extensive knowledge of PCs and particularly networking. This proves invaluable in sorting out my broadband problems and those of my family and friends!
Having retired I have renewed my association with Marconi as I now go out walking with a small group of men from the Airadio Division of Marconi at Basildon. (We call ourselves the Airadio Ramblers). Every two weeks we go out into the Essex countryside or sometimes into Suffolk. Our walks vary on average between nine to twelve miles. It is great walking with the Airadio Ramblers not just for the walking but as a reminder of my time in the Marconi companies, particularly in the Airadio Division at Basildon. It was through this group that I was encouraged to join the Marconi Veterans Association.
Some time ago, prompted by a thread of the recollections of former Apprentice Training Centre trainees that ran over three or four bulletins on the MOGS forum (some of them were reproduced in the 2011 edition of the newsletter) a request was made to MOGS and to David Samways’ Marconi Old Fellows website for a photograph of the legendary Marconi Toolbox showing it still in daily use some 50 years or more after manufacture in the Apprentice Training Centre. Keith Thomas down in Oz got in touch recently and sent these two photographs. He says: “I had intended responding at the time but then forgot about it. Today, I was reminded again when servicing my recent restoration of a 1958 Triumph motorcycle and made sure that I didn’t forget for a second time!”
John M Brown
In 1965, I was Chief of Systems in Bill Quill’s Special Projects Group, Radar Division, New Street: our principal focus at the time was compiling the company’s technical and commercial input to the Hughes International Consortium bid for the £110M Project, NADGE (NATO Air Defence Ground Environment). The consortium had its offices in Paris (where NATO was at that time), so all of us were travelling regularly to Paris for meetings. Our Divisional Manager was Dr Tom Straker, who also had been following with interest the progress being made with communication satellites operating in synchronous orbit, pointing the way to global communications. Many readers will recall the design and development of the three SCAT (Satellite Communication Air-Transportable stations) for UK MoD, project-managed by Alec Kravis, which had to operate with random-orbit satellites, and were built around this time.
Although Dr Straker knew I was heavily involved with the NADGE bid, he tasked me to seek out any openings for the company in this possible new market of satellite communication ground stations, having already participated in some of the military study work carried out by the Baddow Research Laboratories, Hughes, and British Aircraft Corporation, which ultimately led to the UK’s SKYNET, and to Marconi’s provision of the central ground station at RAF Oakhanger, Hampshire.
I had visited Dick Cannon, Cable & Wireless’ Deputy Engineer-in Chief, during July to see if they were contemplating becoming Earth Station operators; however, their board had considered that it was too early at present. A month later, on a Friday afternoon, Dr Straker received a telephone call from its Managing Director to tell him that NASA had asked them to provide an Earth Station on Ascension Island urgently, as part of the Apollo ‘man on the moon’ project. Bids were being invited, and the tendering time would be only three weeks. An initial meeting was held on the Saturday morning, and Dr Straker tasked me to be responsible for co-ordinating the Company’s tender; the technical documentation would be available on the Monday. Having distributed this to the key engineers, I went across to Bridge Works, the company’s printing plant to see Peter Bass, the Superintendent. As always, Peter was most helpful and agreed to accept the tight timescale, even though he was as busy as ever. I held the first meeting on the Tuesday: everybody was enthusiastic, and appreciated the importance of winning this prestigious contract.Our principal competitor was likely to be World Satellite Terminals, a consortium set up by GEC, AEI, Plessey, and STC. The next two and a half weeks were hectic, but the material flowed in and was passed through to Peter Bass, after editing by me. The cost estimates started to come together as well, as the designers settled on their preferred plans. I delivered the twelve sets of tender documents to Mercury House before the deadline of noon on 9 September, 1965. After Cable & Wireless’ scrutiny of the bids, including clarification meetings, a month later we received the momentous news that Marconi’s had won the contract. At his own personal expense, Dr Straker held a ‘thank you’ lunch at Marconi College, and invited everyone who had contributed to the successful bid, including Peter Bass who had printed the entire document
The Marconi design was for a 42 ft parabolic reflector, fully steerable in both azimuth and elevation, mounted on a 15ft tripod gantry (the turntable and gantry being similar to those supplied to NATO for the Early Warning Chain). Because of the need for high reliability, the transmitters and receivers were duplicated. The shortness of the timescale and the remoteness of Ascension Island necessitated careful planning of the project between the equipment designers, the manufacturing organization, the installation planners, and Cable & Wireless Chief Architect’s Department who were responsible for the buildings, antenna foundations, and main power supply. Within Marconi, a special management team was formed, under Iain Butler, with overall responsibility for the complete project. As well as the Marconi factories, English Electric Accrington made a major manufacturing contribution to the project. Some idea of the achievements in production can be gauged by the fact that the entire station was put together for the first time at Rivenhall, seven months after the start of the project. This trial run proved invaluable since any snags could be cleared by the design engineers on the spot. Customer confidence was also established when the new station communicated through Early Bird, specially released to the Company on two occasions. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh also came to see the installation during tests.
At the end of July 1966 the installation, having competed testing satisfactorily, was dismantled, carefully packed and crated and transported by a chartered ship from Harwich to Georgetown, Ascension Island. In early August a team of engineers departed from England for the island by a special charter flight to be ready to receive the equipment on its arrival. The speedy re-erection of the station was assisted by all the interconnecting cables between the antenna structure and the operations building being able to be dropped straight into prepared ducts, thereby eliminating the need to re-terminate cables, with all the inherent chances of faulty joints.
The station was satisfactorily commissioned and operationally demonstrated to Cable & Wireless using Early Bird, and handed over on 19 September, 1966, just eleven months from the commencement of the project. Thanks to the full steering capability of the antenna, the station was the first to lock-on, track, and communicate using the errant INTELSAT II Pacific satellite which had failed to achieve synchronous orbit, and was following a 12-hour elliptical orbit. Clear speech was transmitted from Ascension to Andover, Maine using the satellite. Perhaps the most significant achievement for the UK was that the Ascension Island station was the first to become operational in the Apollo network, although it was the last station to receive a contract to proceed.
Right, in June 1967, this photo of the completed satellite communications earth station on Ascension Island was taken by Richard Raikes, then the company’s Publicity Manager, when in Ascension on the C&W visit.
This photograph was taken around 1935 at Cable & Wireless headquarters on the Victoria Embankment. At the time, C&W were the Marconi parent Company. The engineer operating the scanning equipment is my late father, AW Cole, who much later became Manager of MWT’s Communications Division. He had joined the Marconi Company in 1920, direct from school aged 14 as a telegraph messenger. He obtained technical qualifications through study at evening classes, and courses at Marconi College, and was appointed to the technical staff in 1927.
He became involved in developing the technology for the commercial transmission of pictures by wireless between the USA and the UK. This required collaboration with RCA, and visits to New York sailing across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary.
The system involved a scanner. The picture to be transmitted was wound round a drum, driven at 60 rpm by a motor, and a photocell mounted on a scanner head and driven the length of the drum by a lead screw. Reception was achieved by using the same system in reverse to expose a photographic film.
Early photographs, just black and white, were ill defined, but quite soon the pictures were good enough to be reproduced in newspapers, with the credit ‘pictures by wireless’.
Since the only other practical method of getting pictures across the Atlantic was by ocean liner, taking 2 to 3 days, ‘pictures by wireless’ was a major innovation.
I think it is uncanny to reflect that, now, many of us have our own scanners and printers at home, and we can send and receive pictures (colour pictures even) to and from all over the world.
The 78th annual Veterans Reunion took place on the 5th April 2014. Our President at the reunion and for the past year has been Mike Thornton. The Guest of Honour was Ray Hagger, formerly with Shell Mex and BP, subsequently a specialised training organisation and also a Pensions Liaison representative.
The toast to the President was proposed by MVA Chairman Peter Turrall MBE. In his introductory remarks he noted that Mike joined MWT in 1956 and has served in a variety of roles in Airadio at Basildon, travelling widely on company business initially in product support and then progressing through sales, marketing and divisional managerial roles, culminating in the position of managing director of Basildon site. He retired from that position having served the company for 39 years.
In responding to the toast, Mike Thornton opened by saying it was somewhat difficult to know where to start his address, but he knew he had only seven minutes and thirty seconds to deliver it!
He reflected on the evolution of the avionics capability with the Marconi Companies over the years. In the early 50s and 60s Airadio Division achieved much success in the development and marketing of Doppler navigation systems, initially classified projects for the UK military, and radio navigation and communication equipments, at a time when the divisional capability was split geographically: engineering and product support based at Writtle in a collection of wooden huts (one of them the original 1922 2MT hut), divisional management, contracts and commercial departments at New Street and production at the Skating Rink in Chelmsford. This configuration continued through the fifties until new buildings were completed at Basildon when the full divisional team could be brought together as Airadio Division.
The products were widely installed on many aircraft, both at home and overseas. They were among the first systems in the world to use transistors in the aircraft environment, and formed the basis of a radio guidance system for the world’s first blind landing installations on the Trident and VC10 aircraft of BEA and BOAC. An exciting period with the development of new aircraft and the introduction of jet engines, and the challenges for aircraft radio installations that these entailed. New concepts brought their own problems to be solved. Many test flights were undertaken during this period by both development and product support engineers to ensure that optimum performance was achieved. Exciting yes, but hitting an 11,000 volt overhead cable at 40 feet with the rotor blade of a Westland helicopter whilst testing a Doppler system can be just a little too exciting!
In 1960 the move of the whole team to a new purpose-built facility at Basildon was completed. The management structure remained unchanged, with the divisional manager reporting to the MWT Managing Director, the division continuing to use many of the MWT central facilities at Chelmsford. This situation lasted until 1967, when, in very short order, English Electric bought Elliott Brothers (with its own well established avionics business), then GEC bought that new group including Marconi’s from English Electric. In two years the avionics business was reporing to the Elliott Bros headquarters at Rochester, within a new company Marconi-Elliott Avionics under MD Wally Patterson. Over these years the day-to-day liaison between Basildon and New Street virtually disappeared.
The defence market brought challenges from increased overseas competition. To meet it the total GEC-Marconi expertise had to be concentrated on new technology, for both ground and airborne systems. But before this policy could be implemented GEC sold the defence business to BAE systems, and the Basildon divisions were included in that sale.
The electro-optical divisions were by this time contracted to supply thermal imaging systems to UK and US defence services, the total Basildon business was almost totally defence-oriented and the sale to BAE was probably a wise move. As we now know, that business was then sold by BAE to Finmeccanica whose affiliate UK company Selex ES employs over 4000 people in the UK and whose headquarters in the UK are based at Basildon. They fully acknowledge their success is related to their Marconi history.
The Chairman then introduced the Guest of Honour Ray Hagger, a long-standing friend of our President. From the early 1970s he worked in the UK for Shell Mex and BP, in the marketing arm of Shell, mainly in commercial and industrial sales, principally in retail, especially marketing and project management, culminating as Head of Retail Management Training. After leaving Shell he worked with a specialised training organisation delivering a staff/management communication package to HMRC before finally renewing the connection with Shell as a Pensions Liaison representative.
Ray Hagger developed the theme of the Communications Revolution. Mobile phones and other hand-held electronic devices – e-readers, iPods, iPads – that enable world-wide personal communications, teleconferencing, the operation of social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and then online shopping and so on – these would have been unthinkable back in the ‘40s. They have brought about a more informed and open global society. Space exploration has enabled this – consider its impossibility of these examples without satellites, GPS etc. One current instance – the Rosetta spacecraft mission to put the lander Philae on the surface of comet 67P – highlights the essential role of radio communictions in all of this, the brainchild of Guglielmo Marconi, the immigrant entrepreneur, whose belief, tenacity, and passion for scientific discovery made imagination into reality. A true Champion of Science.
These are heavily edited versions of the speeches, the full texts of which can now be found on the MVA website. Ed
I shared a flat in a very nice house on Danbury Common with Pete Whitnall, Quinton Bullard, Brian Bolton, John Everett and Martin Bates, they all, and Ron Farrell, came to my wedding in ‘63. Ed.
While searching a possible Grundy relative I fell on your internet site: http://www.marconi-veterans.org/?p=1552&page=24 which refers to an editorial note under the article by Cyril Taylor about his RAF Yatesbury days – see page 14 of the 2012 newsletter. That paragraph reads:
“Another coincidence. After the time when Cyril Taylor was testing AD107s at New Street, I was servicing AD107/114s from our Comet 4s in the Radio Servicing Section at RAF Watton in Norfolk. I can also remember having a visitation from two Marconi Field Support engineers (I later found out they were Eddie Ratcliffe and Phil Flowerday) whilst I was in one of the aircraft, out on the airfield, investigating a problem of tripping supply circuit breakers on the system. It transpired that the diameter of the trunking installed for the cooling air supply was inadequate.”
After leaving school I had wanted to join the RAF and fly as both my father and stepfather had done. P/O JM Whiting, my father, was killed with his crew when their Lancaster from 630 Squadron was shot down over Denmark returning from dropping sea mines in Kiel Bay on the night of 21-22 May 1944. Following the telegram that the Lancaster was missing, my mother later wrote to the recently retired Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding in the hope that he might have avenues of research to discover the fate of my father. They met to discuss the matter, and later on they married. Hugh Dowding bought me up during my school days. However, the prospects of flying with the RAF were not for me, as I’m colour-blind, so Dad said he had contacts with Ferranti in Scotland and the Bristol Aeroplane Co in Filton. Scotland seemed a very long way from our home in Tunbridge Wells, so I went to Bristol in 1957 to start a 5-year apprenticeship. In around late 1959-60 I transferred to Marconi Chelmsford to specialise in electronics, staying first at the Marconi student hostel. On completion of my training I was offered a staff position with the Aeronautical Division, Basildon, in preparation to be the resident engineer at London Heathrow airport for the introduction of the AD2300 and later the AD560 Doppler navigation systems. (See http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1963/1963%20-%200924.html)
The workshop manager at Heathrow was Jo Grundy, who lived near Croydon. My paternal great-grandmother was a Grundy I have recently discovered. The other resident engineer was Phil Flowerday. He left and went to work with Cossor Electronics I think in the late 1960s.
I wonder if you have any contacts with Marconi people who were based at Heathrow around 1963?
David Speake died during preparation of the last newsletter so it was not possible to do him justice. The following is an edited version of the tribute paid at his memorial service in Shenfield by Laurence Clarke, a former Marconi colleague.
Reflections on David’s professional life remind me of that of my father, who also lived into his 90s after a long research career and was to me a beacon of wisdom. David often reminded me of him when I was in difficult situations. Speaking at a Memorial Service so long after the professionally active time inevitably stretches the memory.
David had a long and productive professional life – so long that it is not really possible for one person to speak of it from beginning to end. His early work after the services in the war, running a physics group at Marconi Research before moving to research management, is unknown to me. Talking with one of his few remaining colleague of the time I learned that he already showed the helpfulness and understanding which I think characterised his life. From personal knowledge I can only cover the last 47 years since English Electric took over Elliott Automation shortly followed by the major revision of the UK electrical industry by GEC. These events brought us to work alongside each other in a number of ways. It means that I cannot refer to individual professional projects where David was successful. However I suspect that his more significant contribution to the field of electronics came from the way that he managed the transition from the world of Marconi to that of GEC, not only at Baddow but in the group as a whole.
David was a gentleman, in every sense of the word, who found himself thrust into the rather brutal business world of Arnold Weinstock – so very different from the steady, conservative and dare one say, comfortable, control of Lord Nelson and Bob Telford. He was running a major and well respected Research Laboratory at Baddow and as the Marconi Technical Director, overseeing the work of Marconi as a whole – work which was, in many ways leading the world. However in the new GEC empire there were other groups with claims of competing, groundbreaking work and this must have made life very difficult. Each of those projects had their dedicated teams who genuinely thought that they were doing the ‘right’ thing, and fought vigorously to maintain their independence. David calmly met the challenge seeking the best, and most efficient ways forward to achieve the overall aims without, as far as I know, riding roughshod over any of the parties.
It was not only Arnold Weinstock who introduced a ‘brutal’ financial regime. Industry as a whole was being controlled far more by the accountants and by Stock Exchange reputations. The old hierarchical structures of privilege for the bosses were on the way out. Perhaps the most extreme example of this to which AW put a stop, was the case where a company’s Managing Director kept his dog under his desk in the office and under the table in the board’s private dining room (I hasten to add that this was not in a Marconi company,).
Computers, arising to a great extent from the code breaking efforts at Bletchley Park during World War II, began to cause a major disturbance to established ways of working. One only has to look around today to see that with the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, we were only at the very beginning of a revolution which would have a major effect on the lives of everyone and not just the electronics industry.
Not surprisingly all the major elements of the new GEC complex had seen this as a field in which they should take a share. In the public eye this seemed to be entirely concerned with stand-alone machines used for business purposes. The Weinstock exercise rapidly resulted in the many GEC bits being merged into the growing ICL
However the central part which computers and digital electronics would play in all GEC Marconi’s traditional fields was less acknowledged. Radar, Avionics, Battlefield and Naval Command and Control systems were all becoming increasingly dependent on computers of one sort or another – and in each of these fields GEC found itself with multiple activities in dispersed locations and again, each quite sure that they had the ‘right’ approach. David’s direction was again called for in resolving many of these situations.
This all took place more than 30 years ago and David’s retirement was on the horizon, but the government was recognising that the spread of R&D effort in the country – industry, universities and government laboratories – was inevitably counterproductive in competition with the USA and Japan, and should, if possible, be pulled together. A major collaborative venture, the Alvey Project, was formed with substantial funding from government matched by industrial contributions. Having assisted in the management of the project as the monitor on several projects, towards the end of the project in 1986, David became a member of the Steering Committee enabling him to bring to bear his experience of GEC overlaps and difficulties forming collaborations with particular reference to a possible follow-on project. He became the right hand man of Sir Austin Bide, then Chairman of Glaxo, the man charged with formulating proposals. Sadly a change of government meant that the spotlight had moved in other political directions, and that follow-on did not materialise.
So David steered a path from the almost pre-war environment of Marconi in the 1950s to a position well on the way to the digital world he left, exerting his calm consideration to all who needed help – a rare quality.
Michael Simpson, Tucson, Arizona, USA (email@example.com) – 2 November 2014
Please excuse me if I have submitted this request inappropriately but I would be ever so grateful for any assistance you could provide. I would like to ask if any of the Marconi Veterans remember this prototype project, and if they have any recollections about the history of the lights, their intended use, details of how and when they were manufactured, or any technical data about the project. I believe they may have been made around the late 1980s or the 1990s, but I am not sure.
Thank you kindly for taking time to read this request, and if you have any ideas about sources of information on these wonderful pieces of history, I would be most grateful.
Reply from MVA Secretary Barry Powell, 2 November 2014
These searchlights seem, from the markings, to have been made at the Leicester Factory of Marconi Radar Systems Ltd. From the photographs, I can see a part number SS1573 for the starter – this would translate to a drawing number S-**-1573. If you could find a similar identity label for the entire assembly, it should give the type/drawing number. Otherwise, the drawing for the starter should have a ‘used on’ entry which would enable you to track up to the overall identity.
I would recommend that you contact The Bodleian Library in Oxford who now hold the Marconi Archives – contact is a Mr Michael Hughes – firstname.lastname@example.org
Some information may still be held by BAE Insyte who are the current incarnation of Marconi Radar Systems and I am copying this reply to a member of our committee who works there, and we will post your enquiry on our website and publish it in our newsletter, forwarding any replies to you.
Best wishes for a successful project.
(There are numerous photos showing close-ups of the details of the lights and suggestions concerning possible uses on the referenced forum page. A number of posts suggest a military aircraft application. Ed)
I have probably told this story before, but sometime in the early seventies I went to the Paris Air Show from Southend in a 12-seater twin light aircraft with a group which included John Crispin (complete with red silk lined cloak), Barry France I think and Ted Sismore, who I did not know very well, but was my boss several levels up. I was in sales at a fairly junior level, but think I was probably taking Fred Kime’s place for some reason.
When we got into the plane Ted asked the young pilot if he would mind if he sat with him up front. “Fine” said the pilot, and off we went. But when we landed at an airfield near Paris, the pilot said to some of us: “Who was the old guy who sat with me on the way here – he seemed to know every church, road, bridge and other feature in France, and knew quite a bit about flying?”
So we said: “He was an RAF Air Commodore and had the reputation of being the best navigator in the RAF during the war and was also a top pilot with multiple DFCs.”
The pilot was horrified that his efforts had been seen by such an eminent flyer and asked if we could make sure Ted travelled in the back on the way home – though I am sure any of Ted’s comments, if any, would have been kind ones.
On the way back, in France, John Crispin stopped the bus and bought many cases of wine to take home and these were packed into the big boot at the front of the aircraft. It must have exceeded our duty free allowance many times over but John with his impressive scarlet lined cloak managed to convince the Customs men that the cargo was legitimate and we later shared ‘the spoils’.
Eric Walker, for all his Marconi career an Airadio man, died on the 19th December 2014. The newsletter has carried two articles by him, one entitled ‘What’s the rate of exchange for kudos’ in the 2007 edition and ‘Life in the 50s and 60s at Writtle’ last year. Two colleagues closely associated with him during his time, Ray Walls and John Rendell, have penned this appreciation of his career.
Eric Walker joined Marconi’s in September 1950 as a Graduate Apprentice. His apprenticeship involved time at sheet metal, the drawing office school, commercial offices and finally a five month course at the Marconi College in Chelmsford.
With this experience he was posted in September 1951 to the development activity of the Aeronautical Division at Writtle where he joined a section of some nine engineers led by Geoffrey Beck. The task of this section was to take the design of an airborne navigation equipment that had started at Marconi Research at Baddow, and bring it to production. The project, using Doppler principles, enabled an aircraft to determine its speed and thus position without the use of ground aids. It was classified Secret and was given the codename Green Satin. Eric worked on the tracker unit that analysed the returns from microwaves beamed to the ground.
Some later flight trials of the developed equipment were made in a Canberra aircraft at Warton aerodrome in 1955. Eric gave on-site support monitoring the equipment and the results.
In the 1960s he led a team in the development of a transistorised Doppler sensor that was designed specifically for military helicopters. Eric liaised closely with RRE Malvern who was effectively the Design Authority. The requirement was more complex in that the system had to work down to zero altitude and at hover speeds, forwards, backwards and sideways. It was fitted to the Royal Navy Wessex 3 and the German Navy Sea King helicopters.
Then, in 1978, the Airadio business was divided into two divisions: Airadio Products and Airadio Systems. Eric was appointed Manager of the Airadio Systems Division.
This division was established to manage the development, manufacture and procurement of a communications equipments intended for the AEW Nimrod aircraft. The comms system was required to provide the flight crew and onboard tactical systems operators with automated access to intercom facilities and the various radios necessary to fulfil their mission role. A full-scale aircraft cabin simulator was set up at Basildon to test and demonstrate the system. Portable ground stations were supplied to support flight trials of both communications and radar systems. This was a multi-facetted programme with complex contractual and technical working relationships with the customer, other GEC Marconi companies, major US based sub-contractors and BAE, the airframe manufacturer. Eric successfully managed this challenging programme and despite eventual cancellation of the overall project it was acknowledged that the communications system had met its design and performance goals.
Under Eric’s leadership Airadio Systems Division continued to prosper, with a series of contracts awarded for the supply of secure communications systems destined for installation in a wide range of RAF aircraft and Navy helicopters. All of this was accomplished at a time of ever changing government procurement policies and internal company restructuring. Despite these responsibilities Eric always managed to make time for his golfing, badminton and horticultural interests. Many working relationships were enhanced both within the company and with our customers by his enthusiasm for these activities.
It is with great regret that we announce the death of Lady Telford, better known to all of us as Betty, wife of our late Marconi Company chairman and former MVA President Sir Robert Telford. She died in hospital in early December following a short illness having broken her leg during a fall at home.
Many Marconi personnel attended her funeral at Rettendon Church on 15th December 2014 where many tributes were paid for her achievements and support of Sir Robert, her prowess in sporting activities and her ability in playing bridge.
Betty will be sorely missed as she was a loyal supporter of The Marconi Veterans Association.
We report the death of those Veterans notified to the secretary from the copy date of the last newsletter to the 31st January 2015 We extend our sympathy to the families of those mentioned.
The death of all these Veterans has been reported at various times throughout the year on this website
FH Austin, RL Awcock, Mrs D Bateson, DG Beech, SC Beedie, J Bradley, HM Chandler, SC Church MBE, MJ Coombe, RE Cornhill, AS Dodd, GS Dunn, AV Forwood, PE Foulds, CJ Greenham, JK Gregory, RG Greygoose, DM Griffiths, PW Gurton, DE Hart, TF Heaton, PJ Humphrey, JA Jason, TH Kendall, RE King, AW Lamb, CG Marshall, Mrs FA Marshall, Mrs JR Mason, JW Milligan, JR Moody, PB Moore, J Nicol, CS Owen, E Pearson, ET Perkins, A Peters, Mrs C Pye, A Rayner, JC Ryley, GD Speake OBE, G Stevens, RF Taylor, Lady E Telford, TN Tisdall, RH Vanstone, JE Viles, EG Walker, RC Willis, RA Wood, V Wood, R Wray.
Please click on the title Newsletter 2014 above to open the full document and on any picture in this newsletter to open a larger version.
Over the last nine months considerable work by the owners Bellway Homes has taken place on the Marconi Communication Systems site at New Street Chelmsford. All of the factory building has been completely demolished as well as Building 720 (the one with the wavy roof) and also the four storey building of Marconi House. The latter was riddled with concrete cancer and there was no real possibility of this remaining without extensive and costly improvements. (The accompanying aerial view was taken on 5 May 2013 by Alan Batchelor, who worked with Ted Pegram on HF Radar during the 1980s. On that date Marconi House was still standing.)
The only remaining buildings are the power house and the water tower, the latter being camouflaged in WW2 to resemble a church. The developers have just submitted plans to Chelmsford City Council for extra windows and doors to be fitted to this building. Its future use is unknown: at one time there was the possibility of an arts centre being established here, but as far as we know this has not been confirmed.
The site where the factory and other buildings were situated is now full of machinery, very high piles of earth and deep holes filled with water. In due course building foundations will be installed but it does appear this is some way off.
The front building, which has a preservation order on it, has been extensively improved, both externally and internally. The external appearance looks excellent and the gardens in front have been planted with miniature trees and other shrubs. This building will become the headquarters of the developers and already flags on our old flagpoles and other boards announcing future houses and buildings have been erected. It is hoped that the Marconi Veterans Association will be able to discuss at some future date the possibility of having some of our manufactured equipment on show within this complex, and also recording the work which was carried out here for over one hundred years.
The blue plaque which announced that Marconi the Father of Wireless had his factory on this site is still in place at the front of the building and small boards with photographs are there to advise the public of the work carried out and the importance of the industry in the City of Chelmsford.
Marconi Veterans’ Association will continue to have discussions with the developers in an effort to keep alive at the site the importance of the Marconi name, the place where the manufacture of some of the worlds finest electronic equipment occurred, and to recognise that this was the site of the first commercial broadcast by Dame Nellie Melba in the 1920s.
Not a lot of new material has come in over the last twelve months, so I’ve needed to call up two backlog items which both occupy two pages each. The backlog is now all but exhausted. Interesting and relevant photos are in also in short supply. Ideally, I should have a better mix of the shorter items, those of around 400 to 500 words in length, to leaven those long pieces, together with some pictures of course, so it’s up to you, fellow veterans.
One of the longer pieces, ‘Essex Clay’, is a beautiful piece of writing by someone who is not a Marconi Veteran. Sir Peter Stothard, a former editor of The Times from 1991 to 2002, is currently editor of the Times Literary Supplement. He is the son of Max Stothard, a well-known Baddow engineer: the family lived on the Rothmans Estate – the ‘Marconi patch’ – in Great Baddow during the 50s and 60s. The article, on page 10, is an extract from Peter Stothard’s memoir ‘On the Spartacus Road’ and describes his boyhood years on the Rothmans estate.
It was first published in Granta Issue 109, Winter 2009: Work.(www.granta.com)
As in previous years, a number of letters are from correspondents seeking information about former colleagues, for research into their family history, or for the preparation of articles, books, etc. If no contact detail appears with the letter then please direct your reply or any correspondence for the enquirer to:
Secretary, Marconi Veterans’ Association,
22 Juliers Close,
Essex, SS8 7EP;
or to the editor, Ken Earney, 01245 381235; email email@example.com
Certain items in this issue, particularly on this and the next page, are responses to letters or articles appearing in the 2013 edition which have already been posted during the last eleven months on the website. There is thus an inevitable but necessary duplication catering for those Veterans who have no possibility, or wish, to use the internet.
Note that, to avoid unnecessary repetition of the Association’s name in full, the initials MVA have in places been used.
Finally, apologies to David Emery, VJ Bucknell and Eric Walker whose contributions should have appeared in last year’s edition.
Farnborough Air Show 1952
Eric Walker, 28th February 2012
The photograph on page 13 of the 2012 newsletter reminded Eric Walker of a similar visit two years earlier.
On 6 September 1952 my wife Ann and I boarded a coach full of Marconi people to go the Farnborough Air Show, which was then a yearly event. They were exciting meetings with many new aircraft on display for the first time. It was organized by the SBAC (Society of British Aircraft Constructors) and the RAE (Royal Aircraft Establishment). With so many new and experimental aircraft there were bound to be accidents.
In those days there was no ban on sonic booms and aircraft were allowed to fly over the masses of aircraft enthusiasts. To finish his display, John Derry flew his de Havilland DH110, a twin-engined fighter designed at Hatfield, straight and low at the crowd on the hill. The plane broke up into pieces, the fuselage fell onto the runway just short of the crowd barrier and the 2 engines ‘flew’ together, with a cloud of bits dropping off. I shouted out “He’s broken-up!” grabbed Ann and dropped to the ground. The engines flew over and crashed into the crowds behind us. Many were killed and more injured, including some Marconi people. We were unhurt, just shocked, as were many others. John Derry and his colleague Tony Richards perished. These things happen.
East Ham Palais de Danse
From Doug Paynter, 12 August 2013
I first became acquainted with the East Ham Palais de Danse when I started my secondary education at Wakefield Central School at the age of eleven. It was a large building with a magnificent sprung maple floor and ornate balcony. The main use of the building was as a dance hall although other activities took place. Next door to the Palais was the Congregational Church and one of my memories is of those far of days when as a teenage church enthusiast, I was privileged to take an afternoon service from the pulpit. I can remember the vicar finishing his sermon and I had to announce the next hymn. At that moment the band next door (Sydney Anderson?) started to play ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ as sung by Judy Garland in the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’. My foot was tapping to the foxtrot when I found myself initiating the hymn and the organ sprang into life, completely drowning the music next door. At the time I was not sure this was an improvement! Other events that took place at the Palais included marathon dances when couples competed for the longest survival. This was featured in a film starring Jane Fonda called ‘They shoot horses don’t they?’
On the outbreak of war I left the district. In 1956 I was recruited by Sir Eric Eastwood to join Marconi Research at Great Baddow. During my early days at Baddow I had to visit Marconi Marine at East Ham and on arrival I was amazed to find it was situated in the old Palais de Danse which was exactly as I remember it, the dance floor appeared to be unchanged, the balcony still ornate with red velvet pillars but used as a store for marine comms equipment.
The Established Designs Group Xmas Dinner 1964
From VJ Bucknell, March 2012
This letter provides further information about some of the missing names in the caption to the photo on page 11 of the 2011 edition.
Mike Southall is sitting on the left-hand side of the table, and is the 4th person along from the left (ignoring R Rodwell). Sitting next to him is a lady who was a draughtswoman in the DO (sorry, I’ve forgotten her name). Next to her I believe is Les Saunders. Bill Garvey is in the front of the picture next to our secretary Carole. The surname of the person seated to her left was I believe Chowdri. He was attached to Established Designs for a short while. I recognise many of the other faces but their names have left me.
Leonard Whitworth Stephenson
From K Douglas, Montreal Canada, August 2013 and amended January 2014
I was delighted to learn on-line of your association and to see mention of a distant relative, Leonard Whitworth Stephenson (1881-1970), amongst the list of deceased veterans.
As part of my family research, I have been particularly intrigued by LW’s immigration to Canada. A passenger list indicates that an LW Stephenson left Liverpool for Montreal on 14 June 1907, and I do think that this must be Leonard Whitworth, though no age or occupation is given. Information links him first possibly with Marconi in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and then to the West Coast by 1912, and then, working as a government engineer, helping to establish various coastal wireless stations. He apparently retired in 1945. The last record I had found of him in England was his listing in the 1901 Census as a 19-year-old electrician, boarding in Chelmsford.
Do you hold records about individuals? And, if LW Stephenson belonged to your association, might there be any mention of his participation? (Incidentally, he seems to have visited Britain in 1919, marrying in 1922 in Victoria, BC)
The secretary replied:
The 1904 date in our records relates to the date of joining a company within the Marconi family. To qualify as a Veteran at that time, he would have had to serve for 25 years or more so would have been employed up to 1929 or beyond.
The only other information that we have is that his entry in the register was last amended in 1992 – this is usually when we are advised of a Veteran’s passing (it is quite common for this to be several years later).
There may well be service records within the Marconi Archives which are now held by the Bodleian Library under the care of Mr Michael Hughes. I would suggest that you email your request to Mr Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org – we have generally found him to be very helpful.
Mrs Douglas replied:
Curiously (with reference to the 25 year requirement for Veterans) from my research so far, I have found LW listed as a Canadian Federal government employee in ‘Sessional Papers for the First Session of the Twelfth Parliament of the Dominion of Canada’, 1911-1912 (on-line). He worked for Wireless Stations/Building & Maintenance’, as ‘engineer, salary, 3 m to March 31st at $125’. I’ve also found him mentioned in similar but full-time employment in 1925 and 1926, I hope to consult further such records in our National Archives in Ottawa later this month.
There are, however, gaps for LW in the Victoria Directories and Voter’s lists, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, so perhaps LW, having retired from government work in 1945, left Victoria and did further work for Marconi at that time…
Hopefully I shall learn more as I look at other resources, and look forward to seeing your up coming newsletter.
Marconi Football Club in the 60s
From David Emery, 4 March 2012
I believe I know the identity of one of the unknown men in the second Marconi Football Club photograph (page 15, 2012 newsletter). Standing at the back with jacket and tie, third from the left, is my grandfather Reg Turner.
He joined the company in 1929 and initially worked in stores at New Street. He later worked in planning, progress, at Rivenhall (where he was superintendent), Widford and finally again at New Street as an invoice clerk with E Buck. He left on 21 November 1975. I think he was associated with the Sports and Social Club, which may explain why he appears in the photograph.
Little did I know that many years later I would follow in his footsteps when I started work at what was then Marconi Radar at Eastwood House in 1996.
I also have a question to ask – does anyone know when the fish first appeared in the cooling pond beside Marconi Road in the New Street works? Despite all the sad decay, the fish are still alive – I saw them only last week. They may be the only occupants to celebrate 100 years of the site.
That was nearly two years ago. Now, in January 2014, the cooling pond is no more.
David also sent in an enquiry via the website last March concerning any possible Marconi connection with an ex-RAF comms site on the East Yorkshire coast. The query was largely answered for him by information to be found on the Airfield Information Exchange website, see below, but if any Veteran can throw any more light on the topic he would be pleased to hear from you. (You will need to register with Airfield Information Exchange if you wish to view images or post messages there.)
Lund, East Yorkshire – email 16 March 2013
Do any Veterans know if the Marconi Company had a link with a wireless telegraph station at Lund, East Yorkshire? It is shown on mid-20th century OS maps, but the masts had probably been removed by the 1970s. A single storey building remained until fairly recently. The locals apparently refer to it as the ‘old Marconi station’.
“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”
“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one.” – George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second … if there is one.” – Winston Churchill, in response.
And welcome to 2014.
We took it easy in 2013 as my wife was still not 100%. Then at the end of the year, we decided to upgrade our caravan to a newer, larger and better appointed one – so that’s the bulk of our holidays sorted for the next 15 years or so. It’s still at Cromer, luckily clear of the areas that were severely damaged in December last year.
With regard to the subscription, we are pleased to maintain the rate at £6.00 per annum but, regrettably due to increased costs, we must raise the cover price for the reunion to £24.00. I am sure that you will agree that this is still excellent value for a four course meal with tea/coffee and wine.
Please note that the date of the Reunion is Saturday 5th April where our President will be Veteran Mike Thornton who for many years was with Marconi’s Aeronautical Division at Basildon. He retired from the position as Managing Director in 1994 after over 39 years service with the Company. The Guest of Honour will be Mr Ray Hagger who for many years was with Shell Mex and BP, mainly involved with retail marketing. On leaving Shell he joined a specialised training organisation and later became involved as a Pensions Liaison representative.
2014 is the centenary of the start of World War 1 and the involvement by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company in the manufacture of electronic equipment for the armed forces through the War Department will be commemorated in the design of the coaster.
This will be the second reunion to be held at the new Club premises so there should only be some minor changes to the arrangements in the light of last year.
With regard to the name tags, there were a few problems with sending them to you but otherwise I was pleased with their reception. This year, we will produce the name tags on A4 sheets which will be at the merchandise table so you can collect your label as you enter the hall. When you order your ticket, please indicate in the box provided how you would like your tag to read. The default will be to print your name as it appears on the first line of your address label.
It is probably appropriate to say a few words about the reunion to dispel any concerns that a first time attendee may have. When you complete the application form, just tick the box requesting a ticket and indicate at which company table you would like to sit. If you have special dietary requirements (vegetarian, gluten free, halal etc.) please mention it in the space provided. We can cope with most needs – if you are not sure, please ring me. By return, well almost, you will receive your ticket.
The hall opens at 11.00am when the bar will be open and you can collect your name tag and reserve your seat at a table. We do not allocate actual places at table but only use the information from the application forms to ensure that there are sufficient places for each of the companies. If you wish to sit with a particular person or group, arrange with them to reserve a suitable number of places on a table (there are 10 places at each table) for the appropriate company. I am happy to advise you who is attending/usually attends and help you contact them. You can now relax and enjoy the reunion until lunch is served. On one of the tables there will be books containing messages from Veterans unable to attend and a list of those Veterans who have passed away since the last reunion.
If you have requested a special meal, I would urge you to arrive as early as possible, reserve your place and then let me know where you are sitting – I will be the one with a harassed expression carrying a clipboard – as I have to let the caterers know where to deliver them by 12 noon.
You will be asked to take your seats at around 12.45pm and, shortly after, the top table (including the President and Guest) take their places. On your table, for each person, there will be a commemorative coaster, menu, list of attendees and the papers for the AGM (more later). There will also be an envelope containing a strip of raffle tickets for which we would request £1.00 – someone will be around to collect this during the meal.
After a minute’s silence in memory of our founder, Guglielmo Marconi, and the grace, the meal is served. During the meal, there will be a few toasts as our President celebrates his year with parts of the Marconi organisation that have a special meaning to him.
At the end of the meal Veteran Valerie Cleare will pass on some messages from Veterans unable to attend and then the speeches start. There are only three – an introduction of the President, the President and his Guest. They are usually light-hearted and last around 5 minutes each. We have received a few comments about Veterans carrying on individual conversations during the speeches. Please refrain from this as it is very discourteous to the speaker and distracting for other Veterans. Together with a few toasts this takes us to around 3.45pm when there is a short break.
At 4.00pm the AGM commences. This usually lasts for only a few minutes and is followed by the raffle which concludes the programme for the afternoon and leaves you free to carry on the reunion.
If you have any questions, please give me a ring.
Apologies for the above to the many who regularly attend but we have had quite a few comments from Veterans saying that they would come but feared having to sit on a table with nobody they knew or having to sit through interminable speeches – if you know anyone like this, please put them right and encourage them to attend.
If you know of ex-Marconi employees who do not receive the news-letter please urge them to contact me as soon as possible. It may be that they have moved or not replied to a confirmation request of a few years ago or that they left with 21 to 24 years service and have now become Veterans by virtue of the reduction in service requirement to 21 years.
The ‘Friends of The Marconi Veterans’ Association’ has been set up to cater for anyone who does not qualify as a Veteran but wishes to be kept informed of things Marconi. Numbers are growing slowly with, currently, over 40 members, and any more would be welcome.
The three registers (the Main register, In Memoriam and Friends) are now published on the website so please have a look if you can and let me know of any errors.
Last year at the AGM we voted unanimously to award honorary life membership to Dr Geoff Bowles, curator of the Sandford Mill Industrial Museum, in acknowledgement of his efforts in maintaining the collection of Marconi equipment and memorabilia at Sandford Mill. At the museum open day on Saturday 27th April, International Marconi Day, I presented Geoff with a letter of confirmation, together with the association’s tie, lapel badge and 2013 Reunion coaster – see photo above.
Please note that I may be contacted at the address below. Finally, may I wish you all a very prosperous 2014 and hope to see as many of you as possible either at the reunion on 5th April or the next Open Day at Sandford Mill on Saturday 26th April (10.00am to 5.00pm).
One final note – the 2015 Reunion will be on Saturday 18th April.
Secretary, Marconi Veterans’ Association,
22 Juliers Close,
Essex, SS8 7EP
Phone: 01268 696342 (answerphone if we are out, please leave a message and I will ring you back)
In the Tuesday 28 January episode of this popular series, Michael Portillo visited Ransome’s works in Ipswich to hear about the production under licence of the first ever grass mowing machine designed by Edwin Budding, the Colne estuary to meet Graham Larkin of the Colchester Oyster Fishery operation, the Hole in the Wall pub in Colchester, Alderman Mechi’s experimental farm at Tiptree Hall (which is now a Wilkin & Sons farm) and Wilkin’s jam factory, then finally to Chelmsford to investigate some of our Marconi heritage.
In the 1912 New Street building he first met Geoff Bowles who explained how Marconi was the first to successfully transmit and receive over distances of several hundred metres because he, unlike the other experimenters in the field, employed an aerial and an earth connection to his apparatus: the first ever sound broadcast – readings from Bradshaw’s railway timetables and how the celebrated broadcast of Dame Nellie Melba from the Chelmsford works in 1920 sparked off the popular demand for entertainment broadcasting. Clad in the signature salmon pink jacket and green shirt Michael Portillo then went to the Sandford Mill museum to talk about the maritime applications of wireless, in particular its importance for the safety of ships at sea, with Peter Watkins, a former Marconi Marine radio officer who, as a volunteer at the museum, has been actively involved in the recreation of a working ship’s radio room and with the mounting of displays of the Walters collection of ships’ radio equipments. Peter Watkins invited him to try his hand at Morse communication – he had to admit that his keying speed wouldn’t cut the mustard.
The photo shows Peter Watkins in the radio room with, no, not Michael Portillo but the late Charles Shelton, G0GJS, of Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society. (I intended to use a screen shot from the morse-keying sequence from the programme here, but Getty Images’ licence fee said otherwise! Ed)
An appeal from Alan Hartley-Smith in the MOGS forum on 30 August 2012 for a list of supervisors at the Apprentice Training Centre in Chelmsford released a flood of reminiscences. What follows is a sample of them.
I can only remember Joe Hillman who was there in 1957 when I started. Every lunchtime he used to have his sandwiches then lie down under his table and go to sleep for 30 minutes. That gave him the energy to berate us in the afternoons.
I couldn’t remember the name, but the ATC supervisor still had his forty winks every lunchtime when I was there in late 1958. It was a steep learning curve for us apprentices – from 12 years at a school desk to workplace. I remember the Colchester lathes took ages to warm up on cold mornings and the smell of the soap water.
I was in Pottery Lane in 1948/49 and Hillman was the supervisor. Forty winks after lunch sounds about right!
In 1953 Joe Hillman was sleeping on a platform, under his bench, onto which he painstakingly unrolled a length of green felt. As I recall the strange smell was said to be due to a gangrenous wound on one of his legs which was bandaged. Diabetes? Or a war wound?
Yes – I remember the smell, and the explanation!
Regarding JH, I don’t recall him ever becoming involved in any training in our 5 or 6 months. Instructors included Messrs Whittaker – sheet metal; Lane – wireman assembly; Ted Cordery – ???; Thrift – capstans or lathes. I can’t remember who taught mills. Vertical drills too, though they could have been merged with one of the other disciplines. Others with a working memory will be able to correct me and fill in the gaps!
Further (hopefully correct!) information to that sent by MP. During May to September 1954, the instructors comprised Joe Hillman – Chief Instructor (not working!); Assistant Chief Instructor – Charlie Sweetman (moved back to Dev Workshops as Chief during this period); Whittaker – sheet metalwork; Wray – wiring; Bob? Frith – lathes; Cordery – assembly; ‘Hondo’ Lane, – instrument making; Eve – milling machines; Westlake – ?
Ye gods – I feel 50+ years younger! But what memories to remember the names of the supervisors. Apart from ‘being there’ and the amazingly fast-moving canteen queues my memories are minimal I’m afraid. I do still have and use some of the tools I made at the time; the centre punch; the scriber and the toolbox. I also still have many tools I bought at the time – the micrometer, calipers and hammer immediately come to mind. And does anyone else remember making the double screw – right hand and left hand threads with nuts to match – never found a use for it though! and the old chap wandering around with clean orange ‘ipers’ when ours got too grimy to use. Those were the days – followed by evenings working on the bikes, motorcycles and cars at Brooklands and Springfield House. Hmmm – you know you are old when you start to reminisce. Back to working out tomorrow’s swimming lessons!
Ted Cordery was there for a few years because he was in Nigeria with me in 1963 and 1964. I have been trying to track him down for 18 months but got nowhere. Anyone know of him?
In addition to the names already mentioned, I would also like to add the name of Johnny Cooper, who in 1956/57 was in charge of the capstan lathes. Sadly he passed away during that time. I well remember the double-ended screw and nuts with left and right hand threads. I spent a lot of time trying to help salvage some of the disasters that occurred producing them, and re-grinding screw cutting tools, during the time I was seconded for about six months to assist Freddy on the lathe section when, in the absence of Johnny Cooper, the capstan lathes were added to his section. Colin Drake mentions him as Bob Frith, which is probably correct, but I remember him as Freddy Frith. In addition to Joe Hillman, how about adding the names of Frank Wilder and Bob? Hitchins (or Hitchens) who were both involved with apprentice training, and resided in what I remember as the education office on the mezzanine floor above Joe’s office. For any of you that were ever posted to Waterhouse Lane you will also no doubt remember Ernie, who ran the small sheet metal work section that was supposed to add to the skills gained from Frank Whittaker in the ATC, and whose main objective seemed to be to assist those under his wing to produce what he called a ‘proper’ tool box, that was bigger and better than the standard ATC product. I still have one of these much improved Waterhouse Lane versions, which is in regular use. Hope that this might ring a few bells for some of you. (The toolbox shown is one of the standard ATC variety belonging to Ray Binning.)
As we have moved upstairs – going up to the Education Office usually brought news I didn’t want to hear. However I can remember attending the Workers Educational Association meetings; can’t remember anything about them now, or if I actually learnt anything! But how do you remember all those names so many years on? I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday!
I can’t believe you have said that. The only reason apprentices moved upstairs was to view Jackie! Many folks, if they agreed of course, would agree!
No one seems to have mentioned Mr Watts who was Mills and Drills in my time at the ATC (1949/50). I have fond memories of being one of the few who managed to operate the tapping machine without breaking 6BA taps in the hard brass work pieces. Not to be forgotten was the reaction of all to the sight and sound of a mill table ploughing into a surrounding newly constructed health and safety cage out of control of a young man not suited to the workshop environment. Those were the days.
I remember Mr Watts very well – he couldn’t understand why I found it so difficult to sharpen a drill correctly! I can see his face now, when he said – ‘do it again, Lancaster’!
And yet another memory, the capstan – ‘turrets’ were taught by Johnny Cooper in ‘54
Alan Matthews – ‘Matty’
I went into the Training Centre in 1953. Charlie Sweetman was the chief instructor.
I was making a ‘Home Office’ extractor to pull the flywheel from its taper on my Douglas Motorcycle and needed a large diameter (bigger than half an inch) bolt to go into a tapped hole in the centre of the extractor. So I made out a stores warrant for it and asked Charlie Sweetman to sign it. “What the hell is this for he asked?” – so biting the bullet I told him and received a right *******ing, after which he signed it!!! The tool worked fine by the way and if I still had it I suppose I could donate it to Mike Plant who has a Douglas still.
When working on the Mills section, which was in line with Joe Hillman’s open door, I left a very big shifting spanner on the nut on the end of the mill shaft. Went away and then came back pushed the GO button on the mill which proceeded to start and throw the spanner with one bounce through the door into the office. Another lesson learned the hard way.
I think Mr Watts was a small man who instructed on centre lathes and was always amazed that he could work looking down at the job with a fag in his mouth. My final test with him was to make a spindle with a three start Acme thread at each end – one end left handed and the other right. Then a suitable big knurled nut had to be made to fit each end.
I think I struggled for about a week before I had finished, with much scrap metal created, before I took it to him for inspection. He put the nuts on and shook it. “Well that’s what we used to call a ‘rattling good fit’ in the trade but I suppose it will do” he said. But I think that the skills they taught to us young green lads in a few months were really quite amazing.
The apprentices training was certainly an unforgettable experience for all of us. Many skills were learnt which have stood me in good stead over the years. Coming to the ATC from 12 years of school, 9am-4pm with a long lunch break, ensured we slept well; I can remember going to sleep in the middle of a conversation and waking up 8 hours later in time for a ridiculously early (to me) breakfast at Brooklands. And then Mid-Essex courses in the evening when you were already tired out and really only wanted to sleep.
As well as the machinery already mentioned, remember the test pieces we had to make using waxed thread – every turn equi-spaced and all the knots in a straight line? And repeat assembly of small mechanisms – how many hundred in a day? And then Transmitter Test – real work at last!
I forget the names but I shall never forget the experience – with grateful thanks to Marconi and their long-suffering instructors.
The 77th annual Veterans’ Reunion took place last year on Saturday 20th April. Our President for 2013, in recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of the Marconi Veterans’ Association and keeping alive the name and memory of Marconi, was our chairman, Peter Turrall. Unfortunately, due to a temporary health problem, he was unable to attend the union.
The toast to the President was proposed by our Patron, Veteran Robbie Robertson, who opened by saying that regardless of any time limit that Peter might have set for his contribution he was going to take the time needed adequately to say what needed to be said.
Peter joined Marconi in 1951, eight years before Robbie. The fourth floor of Marconi House then was hallowed ground belonging largely to Broadcasting Division; humble Communications Division guys could only visit the top floor with permission, to seek knowledge and wisdom on the mysteries of broadcasting. He has lost count of the number of times that Peter, the source for him of all information on TV studios, had pulled him out of the holes he’d dug for himself in the early days of his involvement in broadcasting: through the years it often seemed he was being rescued from someone or something, once notably during a visit to South West TV in Plymouth. Of the many things they did together, one of the most memorable for him of Peters’ many achievements was the MCSL Agents Conference around 1986. Representatives from around 40 countries attended; thanks to Peter’s splendid organisation, none of the expected disasters occurred, or at least only nearly!
Robbie spoke of Peter’s incredible contribution to the Marconi Veterans’ Association. An active member of the committee for around 25 years, most of which was either as vice-chairman, or for the last several years, as Chairman, with many hours spent in committee meetings and countless further hours implementing decisions made at the meetings. Peter has campaigned tirelessly for all things Marconi; Chelmsford owes him a debt of gratitude for his efforts in the public arena, on a mass of activities far too numerous to list, for instance, major contributions to Mencap in Essex; his involvement in the life of Chelmsford Cathedral, and his current efforts regarding the New Street site redevelopment.
Robbie closed by saying that we were all honoured, and grateful, that Peter has agreed to be our president for 2013. We thank him for this, and we wish him all that is good in his presidential year.
In a recording played to the Veterans Peter Turrall apologised for not being able to be present at the reunion. He then went on to talk about the importance of the history of the company, mentioning Bill Baker’s official history which covered the period from the company’s founding until 1950. When he was asked by Sir Robert Telford to clear out his office, he was told that all senior staff had been asked to commit to paper the story of their operations, designs and stories concerning the installation. As a result a large amount of material was gathered up and handed over to the Sandford Mill museum. He appealed for any veteran with memories to contribute to commit them to paper, or tape, and pass them on to the secretary, Barry Powell, or to Alan Hartley-Smith (ref Alan’s appeal on this subject in last year’s newsletter, page 5, also this edition pages 6 and 13).
Regarding Marconi House in Chelmsford, Peter is attempting to maintain good relations with Bellway Homes, the owners and developers of the New Street site with the aim that at some time in the future there will be a room in the building dedicated to Marconi where we might display some of our artefacts. He spoke about the difficulties of getting Chelmsford Borough (now City) Council to recognise the reputation and tangible benefits that Marconi and the other great industrialists brought to Chelmsford, and that those efforts must be maintained.
His final theme was the enjoyment derived from 48 years serving under nine managing directors – he got on very well with eight of them, but under the ninth he felt he qualified for the ‘I survived Glasgow’ badge. He recalled one or two high points in that career. The first, attending an exhibition at the IBC in a London hotel and showing, at lunchtime when only one other colleague was with him on the stand, an unknown gentleman and lady the various equipments on display, only to discover at the end of their visit that he had been speaking to Sir Arnold Weinstock. The second highlight was to win his biggest order ever, much celebrated back in Chelmsford, from the Egyptian broadcasting organisation for OB vehicles, cameras, transmitters telecine equipments etc. He concluded by appealing again for veterans to commit their memories to paper.
Our Guest of Honour this year was Mr Jonathan Douglas Hughes OBE DL who is a senior partner of Gepp & Sons, solicitors in Chelmsford and Under Sheriff for the county of Essex. In his speech he concentrated on his work as Under Sheriff. This is very much a legal role and, in particular, he has on his staff four bailiffs. He is not involved in the day to day collection of small dues but becomes involved in major recoveries.
As an example he recounted the story of a Boeing 707 presidential jet that was flown into Stansted from Africa with the president’s family. The owner of the aircraft (not the president or his government) required payment of the leasing dues, and others required payment for the fuel. As a result the aircraft was seized and the Under Sheriff ultimately disposed of the aircraft to recover as much money as possible.
In a brief address during the AGM, Alan Hartley-Smith, against the background of his article in the 2013 newsletter, outlined the contacts made with the BAE Heritage Committee and Heritage Manager Howard Mason with a view to establishing how Marconi heritage aims can be integrated into BAE Heritage policy. BAE is already involved in providing assistance in transferring a S600 radar at Bushey Hill to the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum at Neatishead in Norfolk. The principal aim is to establish a physical Marconi Heritage Centre in Chelmsford, possibly connected in some way with the redevelopment of the New Street site. He appealed for ideas as to how this centre might be used and funded – meetings, exhibitions, Marconi-related lectures etc. The full transcript this appeal and all the reunion speeches are available on the website. (Please also see below AH-S’s report of the Marconi Heritage Group activities for the past year.)
The editor relayed an appeal from the Essex Record Office for volunteers to be available for assistance with the examination, cataloguing and indexing of the Marconi photographic archive in ERO’s possession, a project that is to be the subject of a Heritage Lottery funding bid by ERO. Owing to the similarity of its aims with those of the Marconi Heritage Group reported below, ERO is to liaise with the group with a view to preparing a combined bid encompassing the aims of both.
A reminder that this year’s reunion is held on Saturday 5th April, and in 2015 it will be on the 18th April.
A lot of activity has been undertaken by the Marconi Heritage Group in the past year leading to very positive outcomes, with the result that we are now seeking to set up a charitable trust to carry forward negotiations.
Following the presentation by BAE at the 2013 Reunion there has been continuing participation in the Heritage Product Committee. This led to a significant action in the form of the donation of an S600 radar to the RAF Air Defence Radar Museum at Neatishead, which is currently being installed ready for public exhibition (photo – right). Also Marconi is featured in the prestigious 2014 Heritage calendar. Ongoing are discussions with the aim of achieving the creation of a physical heritage centre.
Locally we have participated in two major events: the Essex Record Office conference on Essex’s Industrial Archaeology in July, at which Professor Roy Simons gave a presentation ‘Marconi the Father of Wireless’ which roused a lot of interest, and the ‘Changing Chelmsford Ideas Festival’ in November. We took part in three activities: Marconi’s Wireless Telegraphy Workshop hosted by Geoff Bowles from the Sandford Museum, in the Library atrium; ‘Imagining Marconi’s and Hoffman’s industrial past – The Frederick Roberts Archive’ hosted by Anglia Ruskin University; Marconi – Then and Now, a meet-and-greet session hosted by the Marconi Heritage Group in the Library atrium. Display panels covering the company history were provided by the Essex Record Office, where a large number of people with personal and family Marconi connections met our team. We recorded many personal memories and received great support for better recognition of Marconi by the city.
From this latter event there have been follow-up meetings involving other parties interested in preserving and promoting heritage in Chelmsford. One of these relates to the effort to find premises for a heritage centre, which is ongoing, with possibilities including the New Street site and more recently the original Marconi factory in Hall Street. It is as yet too early to make any positive statement but there are hopeful signs of progress.
During the year there have been several associated events of interest, in particular a presentation in Bedford by Professor Francesco Marconi about his grandfather’s early history, at which we made contact and received a promise of support. At the ERO conference the formation of a new Essex Industrial Archaeology Group was announced and we are now working with them.
Much progress has been made with populating the online wikis, in particular those associated with communications, for which there are now extensive entries covering broadcast and line systems, television, marine and avionics.
A major current activity is to have the considerable contribution made by wireless in the operations of all three armed services during the First World War properly recognised during the commemoration activities being mounted over the next four years, to which end we have joined the First World War Centenary partnership being coordinated by the Imperial War Museum. We are seeking input from as many sources as possible and would welcome any information from the members of the MVA.
We will be organising events as part of the 2014 Chelmsford Ideas Festival, which is provisionally timed to run from 20th October to 2nd November. See also Stop Press on page 11
Essex clay could be like living flesh or a cold dead wall. We could punch it, climb it, cut it, try to mould it, try not to offend it, but the clay was permanent like nothing else. Half a century ago, behind the back door of a semi-detached house on the Marconi works estate, a mile from Chelmsford, were hundreds of slimy-sided cubes of this clay, newly cut by machines, soft but indestructible, leaden red by day and looming brown by night, an amalgam that at a child’s bedtime might be an Aztec temple or an ancient Roman face or a Russian.
Ours were homes built in a hurry, dug out of a butcher’s farmland below a giant steel aerial mast that had been erected against the Communists as soon as the Nazi threat was past. The mobilization of men and material to watch for Cold War missiles was as demanding as the hot war in which my father and his engineering friends had learned their craft. In the Rothmans fields of Great Baddow village, beside a town that already boasted the title ‘Birthplace of Radio’, we became part of an instant works community of families whose fathers understood klystrons, tweeters and ‘travelling-way tubes’ for the long-distance radar that kept the enemy at bay.
Every man I knew then understood either about the radar that saw things far away in the dark or about the various electric valves that were its eyes. There was a residual wartime spirit, an appreciation of values shared; and also a rising peacetime ambition for new values, new houses, holidays and televisions. As well as helping to defend British prosperity against hostile objects in the sky, we were supposed to share in it, creating a haven of high education, a science park, even an Essex garden community in which the clay cut to make the foundations of 51 Dorset Avenue might one day grow cabbages, fruit trees and flowers.
There were many advantages to life on these company streets. Almost everyone, for example, had a television set. Almost everyone’s father could make his own model if he wished. Ours had no polished cabinet (my mother’s woodworking came only later) and its twinkling diodes were slung along the picture rails and around the back of the sofa. But when we wanted a better picture, the contrast of our black and white could be improved from the first principles of the cathode ray. To make the most of The Billy Cotton Band Show, a massed expertise could be deployed, from as far afield as Noakes Avenue, the outer limit where Marconi-land ended and Essex farming returned.
The houses were so alike, and the food in their cupboards so absolutely alike, that it hardly mattered where on the estate we fed our pet pond creatures or ate our tea. Most boys had the same-shaped box room for their den, an unusual cube that contained within it another cube, not much smaller than itself, in which the inner supports of the staircase were held. A sawn-off end of a radar monitor was so perfect for newt-keeping that every boy who braved the ‘bomb-hole’ pond in the ‘rec’ had one of his own. Break the glass and there was always a replacement the next night. All groceries came from the same dirty-green single-decker coach of ‘Mr Rogers’, a silent ex-soldier who piled his fruit and vegetables on either side of the aisle where the seats had been and twice a week toured the avenues from Dorset to Noakes to sell cereals, sugar, flour – everything that the gardens might one day produce but did not yet.
Books were universally rare. There were five at 51 Dorset, the brightest-coloured being a sky-blue edition of ST Coleridge, the title printed in such a way that for years I thought that the poet was a saint. Next to it sat a collected Tennyson, in a spongy leather cover, half bath accessory, half one of the then new and exciting table-tennis bats from Sweden. There was my Yorkshire grandfather’s copy of the second half of Virgil’s Aeneid, with the name B Stothard, in a firm, faded script, inside the flyleaf. I have that one here with me now. On the shelf below was a cricket scorebook in which someone had once copied improving philosophical precepts, and beside that, The First Test Match, a slim, slate-green hardback which alone looked as if it had been read.
This was a community of algebra and graph paper. Mathematics was the language of choice. Contract bridge was the nightly recreation. My curly-haired, smiling father had a brain for numbers that his fellow engineers described as Rolls-Royce. Notoriously, he did not like to test it beyond a purr. In particular – and this was unusual in a place of intense educational self-help – he did not care to inculcate maths into his son. This was a task which he had recognized early as wholly without reward. Max Stothard would occasionally attack the mountain of clay in his garden but never knock his head against a brick wall. He was nothing if not blissfully relaxed.
Like most of our neighbours, he had learned about radar by chance, in his case while becalmed for the war years off West Africa on a ship called HMS Aberdeen. He had bought red-leather-bound knives for his mates back in the Yorkshire-Lincolnshire borderlands; he had sent postcards of Dakar’s six-domed cathedral to his strictly Methodist mother; he had never fired a hostile shot except at a basking shark. And when he had needed something else to do, he chose to watch the many curious ways that waves behave in the air above the sea, turning solid things into numbers. That was how he spent most of the rest of his life, in the south of England instead of the north because that was where the radars were made, quietly reasoning through his problems on his ‘bench’ in the Marconi laboratory and in an armchair at home, spreading files marked ‘Secret’ like a fisherman’s nets. He earned £340 per year, as my mother and I discovered when he died. Secrecy about earnings was always an obsession, although everyone was paid much the same.
The Rothmans estate was based on a bracing sense of equality and a suffocating appreciation of peace. Although most of our fathers felt they had a part in this great military project of the future, rarely can so massive a martial endeavour, the creation of air defences along the length of Britain’s eastern coast, have been conducted in so eirenic a spirit. Not even the Bournville chocolate workers of Birmingham, the group best known then for living together in a company town, could have demonstrated such a Quaker appreciation of calm. The fighting war was absolutely over. The new business was civil, work carried out with civility above all else, work that would keep us safe and increase our prosperity as the politicians promised. And because everyone was in it, everyone was in it together.
That was the constant message of Miss Leake, our doughty headmistress at Rothmans School, whose doctrine of ‘excellence and equality’, delivered in her severest voice, was adapted only slowly to the gradually advancing evidence of differences around her. There were certain girls with vastly superior proficiency at maths; but certain boys could freely pervert the spirit of Rothmans peace in a greater Rothmans cause, designing missiles and fighter planes to crash Pauline Argent and Anne Spavin back to earth. For our first two years Mrs Sheffield reassured us repeatedly that we were all much the same; but eventually and inexorably, when we were aged seven and in the empire of Mrs Maloney, those of us who counted badly had to be separated from those who counted well. Those who could not sing were called ‘groaners’ and told to wait outside the door; and those who preferred Virgil’s stories to vulgar fractions were reluctantly allowed to write fiction for our homework, as long as it was science fiction.
My father was not at all worried about my being a ‘groaner’ (he listened to no music himself at all and was especially offended by the violin and the soprano voice) but he was faintly sad about my missing number skills. Numbers were the key to advancement. Physics was the first step to a working future, a future in paid employment in a world which itself worked well. Many of my friends with no aptitude at all for figures – who could draw a beautiful anti-Pauline-Argent plane but never match her equations – were pummelled on to numerical paths. How, asked our neighbour on the other side of the clay mountain, could anyone pull themselves up by any other route? It was hard to find anyone who would argue with this doctor of metallurgy from the northern steel lands of Scunthorpe – about that or about anything much else except bidding conventions in hearts and spades and the best way to see things that dared fly low in the sky.
At the same time there grew among us the gradual acceptance of other differences. Ours was only in part a works estate in the tradition of the Birmingham chocolatiers and the Wirral’s Port Sunlight. It was becoming a place for the upwardly mobile at a time of restless mobility. So there were questions. Were the engineers’ families of Rothmans Avenue, Dorset Avenue and Noakes Avenue quite as much the same as first appeared? Did the more brilliant scientists live in Rothmans, the more managerial in Dorset, the more clerical in Noakes? Were they richer in Rothmans and rather poorer in Noakes? Did the ‘Millionaires Row’ houses by the school gates really have four bedrooms? Whose kitchen had less Fablon and more Formica? Should Marley floor tiles be polished? And where exactly did everyone go on holiday?
Summer was the great unequalizer. On the North Sea coast, only thirty or so miles away, the skies were known equally to all masters of air defence. But the beaches beneath were crisply divided. Clacton, Walton and Frinton were never the same. We always went to Walton-on-the-Naze, the middle town of the three, the one which had the widest concrete esplanades where children could ride bikes. Clacton?on?Sea was south of Walton and had slot machines and candyfloss booths where ‘other people’ could waste their money. North of Walton was Frinton-on-Sea, which had no candy-floss, no caravans (we always stayed in a caravan), no fish and chip shops, not even a pub, just Jubilee gardens and what was known, only by warnings not to walk on it, as ‘greensward’. Did Rothmans Avenue families prefer Frinton? By the time of my eleventh birthday in 1962, it sometimes seemed that they did. Our Marconi estate was small, confined and had only one entrance to the world. Once inside it we could always roller-skate through the class lines. On the coast, it was an impossible walk, and even an awkward drive, between three neighbouring towns that seemed built deliberately to show how different from one another we might be.
My father was a typical Rothmans engineer of his time, in every respect except in certainty that his was the right path. That was his grace and glory. He never stopped me preferring stories about science to the understanding of what science actually did. He read the fictions that I wrote about my manufactured hero, Professor Rame, without complaining directly to me that there was no point in any of that. He did not much like the Coleridge and the Tennyson being on hand. But he did not take them away. He himself liked to see people as electro-machinery, as fundamentally capable of simple, selfless working. It was simpler that way. But he never imposed the company line. His own mind was closed to the communications of religion or art. His favourite picture then was a photograph of Great Baddow’s tribute to the Eiffel Tower. But his passions for moving parts, moving balls and jet streams in the skies over air shows did not preclude an acceptance of others’ passions. He was a pleasure-seeking materialist – in a company estate where those were the prevailing values and the predominant aspirations. Materialism in those days was a means of science, which he loved, not of extravagance, which did not exist, nor even of shopping, which he would barely tolerate. It was the successful basis of a contented, comfortable life.
John Wright, ex Electro-Optical Surveillance Division, Basildon
In the early 80s, Baghdad was one of the safest cities on the planet. It was also remarkably civilised considering Saddam Hussein was fighting Iran and had an iron grip on the country, keeping it isolated from external influence. Western dress was acceptable – one rarely saw a burqua – and you could sit by the Tigris and drink beer at the riverside bars. Saddam of course was everywhere. His picture was in every commercial establishment, on huge posters in the street and the evening television programme was one long propaganda show – Saddam the military leader in a tank inspiring the troops, compassionate Saddam in a hospital with the wounded and then his cameo performance in a story. Some poor person gets robbed or beaten when he is rescued by a mysterious stranger who keeps his face hidden until the end when, surprise, surprise, it’s Saddam again!
I first went there with our marketing man on a two-week sales demo trip with one set of airborne surveillance equipment. Waiting for our equipment to come out of customs (sound familiar?) gave us time to acclimatise to a Baghdad with a chronic shortage of electricity. It was three months after the Israelis had flattened the local nuclear power station which meant we only had electricity for an hour a day – bad enough in itself but worse when you don’t know which hour. Torches were the order of the day and try and make sure you are not covered in soap in the shower when everything dies. Without lights, the restaurants resorted to candles and Flambé became the ‘in’ dish – lovely in summer with no air conditioning. Anyhow, eventually we got our equipment and were taken to the helicopter base at a place called Abu Ghraib (we always wondered what the nearby high security building was!). The base housed the VIP squadron and the Colonel in Charge, trained by the RAF, was Saddam’s personal pilot – probably not the safest of jobs.
By this time we had already lost nearly a week from our time schedule so we had to ask to work beyond the normal one o’clock finish to meet our timescales. This caused consternation amongst our hosts as they didn’t do any catering on the base and they were in danger of not being able to provide the traditional Arab hospitality at lunchtime. A man was despatched and he came back with some rather nice meat, salad and bread. A table was laid out in the middle of the hangar and we were invited to eat while all and sundry watched – to refuse would have been an insult. By six o’clock that evening sickness and diarrhoea had brought us down – we later found out that the food had come from a dodgy roadside stall. Eventually however, we got the equipment installed and started flying. The idea was to demonstrate how we could see things miles away etc, but we soon found that the heat haze put paid to all that. So we stooged around and just videoed anything vaguely interesting: this seemed to satisfy the Air Force and they eventually placed a substantial order with Basildon.
The marketing man left and shortly after this, after arranging for the return of the equipment, I returned to UK, the first 1000km by taxi. With only Iraqi and Jordanian planes flying out of Baghdad, flights were hard to come by and the alternative was a ride in a large old American gas guzzling taxi. A price is agreed and off you go across the desert on a largely straight road at 130 km/hour regularly passing the burnt out wrecks of less fortunate high speed taxi trips. Half way between Baghdad and Amman, at a stop in the middle of nowhere, the driver starts talking of extra money for petrol. This is the cue to quickly get back in the taxi, strap yourself in and then tell him the Ts and Cs of the journey do not include extras for petrol.
A year later, the editor went off to Baghdad with three other specialists to start the installation work and I joined them a couple of weeks later We spent the next few weeks fitting out and certifying the first helicopter and our mobile receiving station, a remotely steerable antenna/receiver on top of a 100 foot mast (see right). We had both received instruction on the erection of these masts which required nifty work with winches and some sturdy stakes in the ground for the guy wires. Fine in the UK but a bit iffy in desert sand and once it had been erected at Abu Ghraib, the first thing we did as we arrived for work every day was to look to see if it was still standing.
Having completed the fitting out and certification of the first helicopter, the team apart from me went home. Many of us have grand plans of visiting exotic places whilst returning home but usually when the time comes we are just glad to get on the first, fastest direct flight home. The editor is the exception – he actually does it and on this occasion was last seen disappearing into the Jordanian desert on a camel (the reality was a pony, but camel sounds more appropriate somehow – see picture below) to witness the dawn sun rising on the ancient city of Petra.
Nothing much happened at Abu Ghraib for a couple of weeks and then there was a request for a two-week training course to prepare a team to do some battlefield surveillance. Seven NCOs and a flight lieutenant duly turned up and I started instruction. Cameras, lenses, zoom, focus, transmitter on, transmitter off – it’s not too difficult and operating in the helicopter just needs a bit of practise. Putting 100 foot towers up and aligning them is another matter. The mast was raised up to its full 100 feet and had been lowered back down 20 feet and I was beginning to feel hopeful that the team had mastered it when a winchman started winding one of the guys too hard and pulling the mast to one side. And when he was shouted at to stop he just panicked and winched harder. Racing towards him, I suddenly realised that the mast was doomed, changed direction and dived under a lorry as the mast broke and collapsed around us. Being brainwashed by GEC, all I could think of at the time was ‘who is going to pay for this’. Fortunately, the antenna landed in sand and after some straightening and reassembling it worked again. Some sections of the mast were broken but we were able to use it up to sixty feet – a good job as it was the only one in-country at that time. Anyhow, the course was completed and everybody passed, including the flight lieutenant who always sat facing the opposite direction in the classroom, smoking a cigarette and not listening to a word to show his contempt. I don’t know how he passed but leaving the exam room unattended may have helped.
And so, off we went to Basra. I flew down in the helicopter with the surveillance turret fitted. Flying over the desert requires a different technique due the strong thermals – the helicopter soars and swoops using them as opposed to battering through them, so it is relatively slow. We were forced to land once at a remote radar station to avoid a sandstorm – the officer i/c proudly reciting the names of all the then current Manchester United team to me when he found out I was English. Then off again for the best part of the trip, flying over the southern Iraqi marshes, with spectacular views of the Marsh Arabs who live in ornately woven reed houses on floating reed islands.
As for Basra, we put up our 60 foot mast and the helicopter went off with one of the trainees to video the battle where Iraq lost Khorramshar to the Iranians. The results were pretty useless, the helicopter was keeping its distance, the operator didn’t know where to look and the combatants kept themselves hidden in all the dust which was being stirred up. And so interest was lost, I was despatched back to Baghdad, this time in a Russian MIL8 helicopter – crude but roomy. Then back to UK, this time by air from the brand new Baghdad airport. It hadn’t quite sorted itself out and tended to over issue boarding passes so when you were due to board, you milled about by the departure gate and when this was opened, you raced across the tarmac to the aircraft, found a seat and strapped yourself in – women and children first might be OK for the Titanic but not Baghdad Airport!
Many months later, when all the equipment on the contract had been delivered, the editor and I returned to commission it and complete the contract. This time, everything had moved to a big military establishment at Taji, north of Baghdad. Fortunately, we were able to travel daily from the luxury of the Sheraton Hotel in Central Baghdad. It was at the Sheraton that I discovered the gourmet side of the editor. Nearly every evening a different nationality theme buffet was available where he had to sample every dish, which in total amounted to at least 3 dinner plates full – and he didn’t add a pound to his weight!
Our visit was in February and even on a sunny day we wore woolly-pullies to keep warm. We shared the hangar with Russian built Hind gunships fitted with multiple rocket launchers which were used effectively against the Iranians when they carried out their first world war tactics of charging en masse across open ground. There were no workshop facilities available and we were reduced to carrying out delicate adjustments to cameras, lenses, gyros etc on the helicopter with power coming from a huge, noisy diesel ground power unit belching fumes only six feet away.
Finally it was time for us to leave for the last time. The support team we had trained seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. Ken mentioned taking back some local cake delicacies to UK so they gave us what seemed like the total output of the local bakery. I was not surprised as, apart from the odd hardliner, the Iraqis were very nice people and I feel really very sorry for their troubles since our ill-advised venture with George W.
There is to be an Essex County Council event in Hylands, Chelmsford on 14th September – we plan to be represented, and MHG has been registered in the First World War Centenary partnership being coordinated by the Imperial War Museum – see http://www.1914.org/partner/?id=AM463539 for our entry.
Tim Wander has put together a booklet about Marconi involvement with all three armed services; I will be incorporating copy and pics from this for the events and in a new website www.marconiheritage.org which is still under construction. Veterans who have relevant information about their own or family involvement are invited to make contact with me.
Eric Walker, formerly Airadio, Basildon
In the 2007 newsletter I reproduced an extract from a much longer piece by Eric Walker – for all of his Marconi career an Airadio man – which focused on some of the less serious aspects of the life of the avionics engineers inhabiting the Writtle huts in the 50s. Mike Lawrence, who served in the DO at Writtle and for a while at Basildon, expanded Eric’s original article, written in 1998, with additional material and turned it into a hand-crafted booklet with a very limited production run. Eric and Mike both had copies – Mike is sadly no longer with us – and other copies went to the Writtle village archivist and to the Sandford Mill Museum. It is well worth reading in its entirety, and we are endeavouring to make it accessible on the website.
The photo below shows the Lawford Lane site sometime between 1948 and 1956, the period in which the Lancaster airframe was resident there. The photo at foot of page 17 shows a view of some of the huts.
This extract looks at the day to day life of the Airadio people in their Writtle times – working conditions, getting on with one another, pay, perks – or lack of, and so on. It was written in 1998, but would anyone in work today, looking at Eric’s comments on how it he viewed things in ’98, perhaps raise a wry smile? Do graduates starting to climb the seniority ladder expect to get an office, as was the norm in ’98? All workplaces are much more open plan these days.
Life was made cheerful by the morning and afternoon arrival of Fred Hazel and his tea urn. He was usually accompanied by his mate Stan Porter, a very quiet man. Fred also swept out the huts and could be regarded as an early proponent of recycling as he sprinkled his used tea leaves to keep down the dust! In the early part of the 50s food was provided by Ella Walden in the canteen hut. Later, as the staff numbers grew, we took over her hut and people made their own arrangements for grub.
It might be of interest to today’s new graduates that I joined in 1951 at £350 per year. So my take-home pay was, after ‘Standard Deduction’ about £25 per month. To my surprise and delight I also received £2.5.5d (£2.27) per month supplement! We didn’t have a minimum wage in those days – so I suppose it was a state incentive to encourage firms to provide apprenticeships. When I moved on to staff conditions in March 1952 I received £500 pa. It took me 4 years to double this pay rate. In the whole of my 40 years with the company I never received a single penny for the enormous amount of overtime I worked then, and throughout the rest of my time. Staff salaries managed to increase just ahead of the overtime payment limit! I think the criterion was that overtime was only for hourly paid workers. Staff were expected to work whatever hours were needed to get the job done.
Another point of comparison, then and now, is the working environment. Nowadays as soon as graduates start to climb up the seniority ladder, they hope to get an office or at least a boxed-off cubicle to themselves, with desk, filing cabinet, telephone, a chair, personal computer etc, etc. Our Green Satin team worked in a wooden hut with benches and stools. You didn’t even have a dedicated area of bench although before long the hardware took a fairly static location so a work pattern was formed. The only office was a partitioned-off bit, open at the top where Geoff Beck worked. It was necessary because he had ministry and company visitors. We took the view that it maintained official security and fenced-off management activities from the real work of the laboratory! Beck had the only telephone.
We were issued with one screwdriver large, one screwdriver small, side cutters and round-nosed pliers: wire stripping tools were a later luxury. To prevent tools straying we each bound them with our own colour-coded wire. I still have some today – perhaps I should have handed them in when I retired. We were given a Marconi propelling pencil: lead for the pencil, and writing pads, were negotiable from Dudley Shearman! Most of the engineers were capable of operating machine tools – it depended on the Development Workshop foreman whether we were allowed to or not. It is a characteristic of design engineers to want their own workshop in their own laboratory, to use when and how they please. It is a characteristic of senior management to oppose such a notion!
Clerical services were very limited compared with today. No personal secretaries (except for very senior management); no word processors. We wrote all internal or external letters or reports in longhand and gave them to Dudley’s office, where Barbara Trevor, or Dudley himself, typed them, with carbon copies. If formal documents for a customer, or Internal Technical Memoranda were required in several copies. Stencils had to be typed. Any amendment or error-correction was a messy operation, with Tippex and overtyping (usually misaligned!). The office staff were heroes. By the way, DG Shearman was known as Dudley to us and as Gordon to others. I liked to think we were on first name terms.
Another difference, then to now, was in personal relationships. We addressed equals by their surnames. Our seniors addressed us by our surnames. We addressed them as Mister -, with many ‘Yes Sirs’ and ‘No Sirs’ in the course of conversation. If there was more than one person of the same name, a descriptor was added.
In the 50s most people smoked, and many affected, pipes. The habit had been encouraged in the HM Forces by the availability of cheap tobacco rations. We smoked over our work, but we did our best to clean out fag ends and ash from equipment to be delivered to our customers!
Rank was not clearly defined as it is today in career progression ladders. We were all Engineers, with some more senior than others; we all knew our relative status. Steps up the ladder were to Section Leader, or Group Leader as one became responsible for guiding the work of others. Nowadays titles have proliferated and become inflated sometimes to a meaningless jargon. In the 1950s Marconi’s top man, F N Sutherland was the General Manager.
Another difference is in ‘parking’. Nowadays all sites need large car parks for employees. In the early 50s very few staff had motor-cars, bicycles were the usual mode of transport. Note the press pictures of employees pouring out of New Street works and blocking the road under the railway bridge. There were bicycle-racks everywhere. George Parker had a car, a Citroën I believe, front wheel-drive of course. A very fast driver was GPP. Beck had a car, DCD 183. So did Tim Tate, EMX 914. How do these number-plates stick in the memory? The most junior engineer to have a car in 1951 was Cliff Harris, with a pre-war Austin 7 Ruby. I bought my first car in 1957! A 3 year old Ford Popular for £300 – then the flood started. Company motor cars? – well, perhaps at Board level.
The first man I knew with a company car was Dr BJ O’Kane who became Manager of Aeronautical Division in 1959 – he had a Humber Hawk, which was passed down to his successor, Les Mullin. When it became beyond economic repair it was replaced by a Ford Escort, Ghia version of course. Times change. I think the USA industry system is best – pay employees enough and let them buy what they need and can afford.
A feature of working at Writtle was that the River Wid overflowed its banks every winter and flooded the site. That was in the days before the local authorities cleaned out and partially lined the three rivers in Chelmsford to improve the flow and thus reduce the flood risk in the town itself. Every winter there was flooding in the Friars area of Moulsham Street. At Writtle we drew up a flood-rota – a list given to the gatekeeper to call out whenever the site was threatened, whatever time of day or night. Their main task was to raise as much equipment as possible above the last recorded flood level.
At the end of each year we held the Writtle dinner. For many years the venue was the Saracen’s Head. They were ‘Stag’ events and started off formally with speeches from the dignitaries at the top table. Then, after the dinner, the proceedings became very relaxed verging on the boisterous. In 1956 the Stag element was dropped and we had mixed dinners and dance, the first at the Odeon. These were very popular and we went on to hold the dinner at Canon’s restaurant, opposite the railway station, where the Nationwide BS office is now located. One year we hired the Shire Hall; another year we went to the hotel at Ingatestone (with the swimming-pool) which has now been built over. In the early years the ‘entertainment’ was home-made, later on we had professional bands, but there were always competitive events between the departments. Happy Days!
Bernard de Neumann
David Speake died peacefully on the 8th of January, aged 94, whilst reading a book. His wife noticed that it had fallen to the floor.
He was Director of Research at Baddow when I first joined there in 1964, and he was still there, but acting as a consultant when I left for City University 25 years later. He was succeeded by Peter Brandon, who eventually became a Professor at Cambridge, and upon Brandon’s departure, David returned to Baddow, and was later succeeded by John Williams.
During Williams’s term of office Sir Eric Eastwood returned to Baddow as a consultant, having retired from being Director of Research for GEC. Directing research at Baddow was a difficult task with all the competing demands for funds, and the limited amount available, together with the necessity of ensuring that all the contributing companies gained from it. David was thus cautious and diplomatic during his time at the helm.
From Peter Turrall
David was seconded to New Street where Marconi Communication Systems Ltd had their operation and for some time he was a General Manager responsible for the technical aspects of the Communications Company.
The photograph of David Speake in conversation with Tom Mayer was taken at the 2011 reunion.
From Don Halstead
Ron (Ronald) Kitchen died peacefully in Broomfield Hospital on the 10th September 2013 at the age of 88. I first encountered Ron in the early 1960s when I believe he headed New Street’s Radar Display Test and oversaw the testing of the first transistorised 12″ displays, including the S3002 reliability trials. Subsequently he moved on to become one of Marconi’s leading experts on radiation safety and the like. His ‘RF and Microwave Safety’ manual is still available today and doubtless many of us encountered him through his work in that and other areas.
Ron always struck me as a true Marconi gentleman, not least when both my parents died within a week of each other. He knew them well through mutual connections with Methodism, and he was quick to enquire how I was coping and whether he could offer any support.
From Bernard de Neumann
I knew Ron when he was manager of quality assurance at Baddow during my last years there. He was a nice guy, whom I met occasionally because of my interest in theoretical reliability prediction and assessment, which resulted in the computerized reliability tools that we developed in Baddow for use throughout GEC. The FMECA tools we developed proved to be much more sophisticated than those specified by DoD and MOD, and quite frequently threw up design faults in nascent system designs thereby enabling pre-hardware modifications to be made before major costs were incurred. Our FMECA methods were in some ways like a design walk-through, and, then rivals, BAE, were interested in buying our software tools, but Marconi blocked the sale. RIP Ron.
We report the death of those Veterans notified to the secretary from the copy date of the last newsletter to the 31st January 2014 We extend our sympathy to the families of those mentioned.
DG Argyle, AG Barrett, AC Barton, AHG Bearman, DJ Beer, PW Boorer, JE Brett, M Bull, RE Burrells, DF Candy, RLJ Cave, J Cowling, DC Creed, PE Davidson, Mrs E Drake, F Faulkner, GA Ferrand, CP Freeman, KF Gazi, MT Gordon, CJ Greenham, PJ Hall, RV Hammond MBE, KA Hardy, JS Heward, KS Hewitt, DAR Holdom, DE Hughes, KTD Hughes, GG Hutley, R Kitchen BEM, G Lee, MH Leveridge, BE Lingwood, JK Lonsdale, F Matthews, WJ Meehan, RG Mitchell, DE Money, Mrs JE Oddy, WL Peace, A Pitches, RW Potter, JE Pownall, DG Pudsey, RW Rawlings, PM Ratcliffe, GK Rogers, R Safe, C Samms, GA Sheardown, CD Sinclair, GD Speake OBE, AH Stoneham, Mrs M Sutterby, NTJ Sutterby, AK Thorogood, PJ Treadaway, AJ Wickens, HJ Williams, RT Worricker, AH Wreford.
Please click on the title Newsletter 2013 above to open the full document and on any picture in this newsletter to open a larger version.
Peter Turrall MVA Chairman
Bellway Homes, whose headquarters are in Rainsford Road Chelmsford, has purchased the Marconi site in New Street. Following two exhibitions at the Anglia Ruskin University where they showed plans of the possible redevelopment of the site, they have now submitted plans to the Chelmsford City Council for modifications to the front building and small demolition immediately behind this which was the old Television Test area. The plans also include retention and updating of the water tower which is along Marconi Road. Detailed plans of the rest of the site which take into consideration comments made at the two exhibitions by members of the public will be submitted in 2013 and will contain requirements for over four hundred houses and other small outlets. It is hoped that recognition of some of the major achievements associated with the Marconi Company will be included in the general layout of the site.
The Marconi Veterans Association has already had preliminary discussions with the owners: in due course it is hoped these will lead to us helping them establish and possibly exhibiting some of the artefacts of the company within the front building.
The whole front area which had been neglected by the previous owners for a number of years was tidied up by the local authority when it was known the Olympic flame was to pass by on its way to the city centre. (The damaged ground floor window apertures were covered by protective panels decorated with images representing the history of the site. The photo on the left was taken as the Olympic torch was passing the building on the 6th July last year. Ed.) Now the building is completely shrouded by plastic sheets and scaffolding whilst repairs are carried out to the leaking roof, and the window sills and front façade are repaired. The owners hope with internal modifications such as exhibition area, offices and new toilets, this building will be open as Bellway Homes new headquarters in the spring of 2013.
Whilst exact details of the rest of the site are unclear at this stage, it is proposed to knock down the five storey concrete building known as Marconi House and also the wavy roof building known as Building 720. Although a number of objections to the removal of these two buildings have been made, it is understood both will not be in line with the modernisation of the rest of the site. In addition Marconi House is suffering from severe concrete cancer.
At least the front building, which celebrated its centenary in 2012, will be preserved and the many memories of staff and the products they produced will still be exhibited within the new complex.
Above, the New Street factory in its youth, circa 1918, from a postcard containing one of Fred Spalding’s splendid photographs of Chelmsford. The reverse carries the following message: “Dear Dorothy, I thought you would like these p.cards of the place where I am working. This one is when we are leaving off. I hope you receive my letter. With love from Dorothy.” Another Spalding postcard image appears on the back page.
Be sure to read Alan Hartley-Smith on page 5 regarding future preservation of the Marconi Heritage.
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Why didn’t I start sooner?
The eternal cry of those who work to deadlines, and who doesn’t? Material starts coming in for next year’s edition even before the current year’s has hit the doormat, but by then I’ve moved on to something else. Should I follow up the new emails now, or leave them for later, etc, etc? So here we are in January, with precious little time to get the issue ready for the printer at the end of the month, and I’m running into the late January conflict between this publication and the village newsletter. Both need the same PC and we’re reluctant to lash out on a lap-top to cope with this once a year panic.
In this issue there is an emphasis on the years around 1912, and the company’s maritime heritage. Marconi often said that the aspect of wireless which gave him the greatest satisfaction was its use in saving life and property at sea, and a major part of the company’s early output was ships’ communications equipment. In this issue we feature the loss in mid-Atlantic of the White Star liner SS Titanic, the bravery of her radio officer Jack Phillips, and his connection with the transatlantic telegraph station in Connemara. Perhaps the most significant event in the past year has been the donation to Chelmsford of an historically valuable collection of early marine radio equipment assembled by a former radio officer, Bill Waters, which he bequeathed to the town shortly before his recent death.
Please click on the blue heading above to gain access to the full Newsletter
Should you go back – a further reflection
Pursuing the theme of last year’s editorial, I had to drive from Newbury to Bristol Airport last July to pick up family members returning from SW France. A beautiful sunny afternoon with plenty of time on my hands, so I opted to travel via the A4 – Hungerford, Marlborough, Calne etc – a more pleasant journey than the M4. And so of course I passed by the site of the former No 2 Radio School, RAF Yatesbury. Many fellow veterans will have passed through its portals during the years from the second world war until the end of National Service in 1961: a reduced demand led to its closure in 1965. My time was from April to November 1956 as an air wireless fitter trainee on AWF113, one of the last intakes to be trained on T1154/R1155. I had an early lesson in the perils of even small quantities of West Country scrumpy in the Black Horse in Cherhill!
No sign of the base now save for the road in from the A4 which passes the site of the guardroom – (Chiefy Dunlop?). It has been returned to farmland, but a small portion is occupied by the Wiltshire Microlight Centre. The runway appears to be a section of the main road through the camp running parallel with the A4, and their operations didn’t seem to detract much from the serenity of the surroundings. Had I more time I would have had a short flight: it would have been very pleasant, a few hundred feet up over that part of Wiltshire, close to Avebury. An altogether happier experience than my visit to Watton a year earlier.
The RAF Yatesbury Association http://rafyatesbury.webs.com aims to preserve the memories and history of RAF Station Yatesbury and sister stations in the vicinity. Membership is open to all who have an interest in this area. A book – ‘History of RAF Yatesbury’ by Phil Tomaselli – ISBN 0-9548236-0-5 is available from the Association’s secretary in addition to some of the usual on-line sources.
Some of the articles included in the annual paper copy of the Newsletter have appeared on this site over the past year. They are repeated here for completeness and so that the two versions of the newsletter are similar. Webmaster.
Should I go back?
Another fourteen page edition this year. At the last committee meeting at the beginning of December I reported that I appeared not to have enough material even for twelve pages due to a lack of contributions. I needn’t have worried. Regrettably though, despite the appeal in the last edition, nothing from lady veterans.
As an ex-Avionics man I’m very pleased to have two or, stretching a point three, items on aeronautically related subjects. And that prompts me to digress a little – I beg your indulgence but the end point probably chimes with many of you.
In the 60s a popular local trio, Talisman, entertained audiences in Essex and beyond with a mix of songs, much of it their own material with folk/jazz/blues/cabaret influences, with purely acoustic guitar and bass accompaniment. I think they appeared before audiences at the MASC on a number of occasions. Who remembers Chessy Harrington’s rendering of Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’? Anyway, one of their numbers, entitled ‘Never try to go back’ told of the likely disappointment for anyone attempting to revisit the fondly remembered places of their earlier years.
I share with a handful of other Veterans the interesting experience of having been stationed at RAF Watton in Norfolk in the 50s. During WW2 it had been the home of RAF and USAAF units, the latter a maintenance unit responsible for repairing battle-damaged Liberators from surrounding operational bases. In my time it was the Central Signals Establishment, involved in cold war signals intelligence and countermeasures activities, flying a motley variety of interesting aircraft.
Regularly holidaying on the North Norfolk coast from the 60s onwards, my wife and I detoured that way to have look whilst returning home in 1993. The old place was there much as I remembered it, but in the guardroom local enthusiasts had set up a very good museum, devoted at that time principally to its WW2 history. They intended later to widen the collection to cover the cold war period. The visit brought back a number of fond memories.
Forward to 2009, again after a holiday in Salthouse, we returned for another look, and to see the museum’s new material. Disaster, the guardroom was no more and whole area was a very sizeable housing development. The former pattern of internal roads had been incorporated into the layout of the estate, bearing names like Mosquito Close and Liberator Avenue, but otherwise it was unrecognisable. It was of course a very appropriate use of what had become a brown-field site. We have to move
on, but it caused me a moment or two of sadness.
The moral is, think carefully before you decide to go back, but if you must, do a little homework first of all – a spur-of-the moment visit might bring disappointment.
Contributions still roll in, but ladies, where are you?
As you will see, there was more than enough material for this year’s edition, since we’ve had to run to fourteen pages, which is very good news, but where are the contributions from you ladies? Only three in the 2006 edition, my first, and none since. And you’ll note that there has been a predominantly engineering bias in all four editions that I’ve edited. Fair enough perhaps, we were an engineering company, but others who were not engineers must have amusing tales, hairy experiences or fond memories to share. So come on folks, let’s provide a bit of counterbalance to the engineers!
At places throughout this issue are references to web addresses where further information about the topic can be found. Apologies to those of you who don’t have access to the internet, but if you can’t get to a library, or have family and friends to help out, then get in touch with me. Subject to negotiation, and so long as I’m not inundated with requests for reams of material, I’m happy to post out hard copies.
May I draw your attention to a special service taking place on the 26th April 2009 in Chelmsford Cathedral. The plaque which commemorates the seventeen employees who died when a bomb fell on the New Street works on the 9th May 1941 has been re-erected in the cathedral and will be unveiled at this service.
Full details can be found in section 18 ‘The Marconi Memorial Plaque’
The 2006 edition really wasn’t too much of a problem to deal with, given my background in sharing with my wife the production of our village newsletter. The main difficulties came with setting up my own template, and sifting through the pile of articles that had been submitted to Peter after his appeal in the 2004 edition, prioritising the ones for inclusion in my first issue and those which would ultimately appear in subsequent years’ editions, or on the website. The scanning and editing of lots of sheets of A4 and putting it on the page is all pretty routine stuff.
The 2007 edition was almost a breeze, with a stockpile of backlog items held in readiness against the possibility of insufficient new contributions through the year, then with a number of really good new contributions coming in.
So this time I thought ‘a doddle – no need even to switch on the computer until the New Year’. A bad move. No sooner had I put finger to keyboard than we were plagued with a misbehaving operating system (or hardware?) – repeated crashes, random spontaneous rebooting etc. One day, any number of crashes, the next day none at all. Took it to ‘my man’ who replaced a suspect power supply module – OK for a couple of days, then misbehaving again. We’d got to the time in January when we needed to start preparing the February edition of the village newsletter in parallel, but whilst we were experiencing continual interruptions, we were able to carry on working. If it was handed over to the man for a proper investigation it would be away for an indeterminate period. Therefore soldiering on was the least worst option, which is what we’re doing. As I type this, some light relief from shoehorning the last few items into spaces where they don’t really fit, I’m about a working day away from the press deadline: I might just make it.
Honour for Veterans’ Chairman
The Marconi Veterans’ Association Committee offer congratulations to Charles and wishes him a speedy recovery from his recent illness.
With thanks to Peter Turrall and the Essex FA website for information used in this article.
Charles Rand, Chairman of Marconi Veterans’ Association and this year’s President, has been awarded the MBE in the New Year’s Honours list. The award was made for his services to sport in Essex (specifically football) where he has played, refereed, assessed other referees and been a long serving member of the Essex Olympian League Management Committee.
Charles, who lives in Chelmsford, was for many years Chief Production Engineer of Marconi Radar Systems, Writtle Road, Chelmsford when John Sutherland was Managing Director. His footballing career started at the age of 15 in 1946 when he took part in his first competitive game for the Mid-Essex Technical College, but his involvement in the sport increased once his playing days were over. He was one of the founder Committee Members of the Olympian League when it was formed in 1966, so-called as it was an Olympic year. He started as Fixture Secretary until 1971 and was also Publicity Secretary in 1968/69, refereeing in the League simultaneously.
He was Honorary Secretary from 1971 until 1973 when he was made Vice-Chairman, being elected Chairman in 1978. This was a position he occupied until the end of the 1999/2000 campaign and that year he was named the League’s first ever Patron. Conducting around 270 referee assessments during that time, the culmination of the 2003/04 season saw his efforts recognised on a countywide scale as he received the Essex County Football Association’s Award of Merit. Not intent on stopping there, he continued refereeing under 12s’ matches until the ripe old age of 75!
He said ‘I was overwhelmed when the letter from the Prime Minister’s Office arrived and I am deeply thrilled to receive this in recognition of my long association over many years with Essex football. Within hours of the release of the news I had the press visiting. I needed to keep it a secret from them for the six weeks since I received the news up until the New Year, which was the hardest part’. The presentation will be made at Buckingham Palace mid-February when wife Betty and his two daughters will accompany him.
A number of letters this year are from correspondents seeking information whilst researching their family history, or for the preparation of articles or books. If no contact detail appears with the letter then please direct any information, or your own contact details for the enquirer, to Barry Powell or to the editor.
RAF Aerial Erectors
David Kniveton wrote in September 2007 seeking assistance with a book he is writing about the activities of RAF Aerial Erectors, and asking how he could gain access to the archives. He was given a number of possibly helpful leads – and told the sorry story of the archives. The letter is reproduced here. Although the book is written it has not yet been published and any additional contributions, if helpful, can be incorporated, so if anyone can assist he would welcome the contact.
We have his e-mail and postal address. Ed.
About eight years ago I was in touch with Gavin Baxter, Assistant Archivist at the GEC Archives whilst researching for a book I am writing about the Royal Air Force Aerial Erectors. The time delay is due to me suffering various health problems, but now I am fit and well and determined to finish the book.
The letter I have from Gavin Baxter states that I have full permission to use the photographs etc that he was kind enough to send me.
Now that I have picked up my pen again I find that shortly after being in contact with Gavin the archives have disappeared, or at least to me they have. After a lot of searching on the web I came across a GEC newsletter from 2006 where you were taking over as editor.
I understand now that GEC made a gift of the archives to the local council. Can you please shed any light onto the archives now? Are there any contact details available?
Your help would be greatly appreciated.
Colwyn Bay College, and ‘The Marconi Scientist Mystery’
Richard Shaw, February 2007
Many thanks for another excellent issue: full of interesting information, much of it vital material for anyone engaged in historical research. Do you deposit a copy with the British Library or any other archive from which it could be made available in the future? (Currently we don’t, but we intend to lodge copies with the Essex Records Office. Ed.)
Of particular interest to me was the article by Felix Mascarenhas whose name is familiar and whose path I crossed more than once without, I think, ever meeting.
The first time was at Colwyn Bay Wireless College, which he left in the year I first went there. The second occasion was the Cardiff depot in Mountstuart Square, which I think he must have left before I started there in 1956. Perhaps we shall finally achieve a sighting at the reunion in April.
The article, ‘The Marconi Scientist Mystery’ I found most intriguing. I had not read Tony Collins’ book, ‘Open Verdict’, but I was immediately reminded of an article that appeared in the News of the World on September 7, 2003. Titled, ‘The Kelly Conspiracy’, it asked, ‘Are the deaths of 25 scientists linked?’, and named 25 ‘of the world’s top scientists – including Dr David Kelly – [who] have died mysteriously in the past two years.’
All, it seems, worked in similar fields. ‘Many of the specialists – some world leaders in the development of weapons grade biological plagues – died within days of each other’, the report continued. ‘Ten were killed in plane crashes, one caused by a ‘stray’ surface-to-air missile.’
‘Five died after apparently being mugged at home and three were shot.’
‘Two, including Dr Kelly, committed suicide while another was stabbed to death. One was gassed in a laboratory’s air-locked rooms, another was mown down while out jogging. And one mysteriously fell off a bridge after suffering a ‘dizzy’ spell.’
There appears to be no direct connection between any of these 25 deaths and those of the 25 Marconi scientists. But although both groups worked in several different fields, all had military, or potentially military, uses.
Consequently, even if one discounts ten per cent of those deaths as possibly accidental, the fact that so many such scientists met unnatural deaths in so short a time tends to challenge a belief in coincidence: a challenge that seems strengthened by the apparent lack of any further news of official investigations.
A letter from Keith Hughes in Dovercourt last March regretted his not being able to attend the reunion, and went on to say:
Thank you for the 12-page news letter – it had some very interesting news. As a Welshman I had a particular interest in the Colwyn Bay story (P2) and also to read the letter from Fred Kenyon on the late Derek Greiss. Both Fred and Derek were good friends of mine years ago and I would like to write to Fred in Australia – would you be able to gave me his present address?
(A further contribution on Derek Griess’ involvement with HF/DF in WW2 appears later in this newsletter)
The wisdom of the Saturday supplements
Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of cheques.
Success always occurs in private, and failure in full view.
The Marconi Lancia
This article has been on the website since July 2007. If you wish to re-read it please look at the archive for the month.
The Baddow tower – further thoughts
Bill Fitzgerald, March 2007
Further to your note in the newsletter on the Baddow tower, I am wondering if there is any point in having the tower listed! The only advantage gained might be to delay its destruction. All the owners would need to do would be to declare it ‘unsafe’.
If a listing was given and honoured, who could be persuaded to re-erect it and where? Bawdsey perhaps, but all the listed towers they had are gone. The cost to dismantle the tower, from the top down, to transport it, to re-erect it and paint it would be extremely costly. Perhaps we could get a mobile phone company to erect it at Sandford Mill (God forbid).
Sorry to be an old pessimist but we must consider the facts. Whatever happens the tower cannot stay at Baddow if the site is sold for residential use. A swift charge of explosives at each leg – and goodbye!
Could you get your spies at Baddow to see if the structure is being cared for. The tower is of mild steel and requires care to prevent corrosion. I think I know now why English Heritage is reluctant to list it!
In passing, did you get a copy of the plan of the factory, in colour, from the developers? Has anybody combed the site for any artefacts? I spent hours in that building on top of the white building checking the Marine Radar linearity against the echoes from the avenues. Has anyone been up there since?
Bill Godden’s memory of a ‘Barnacle Buster’ brought memories flooding back. It was developed in Building 38 (by the Marconi Road gate) where Marine Radar and Echo sounders were developed. Johnny Glasgow was the engineer assisted, or should I say that he was frustrated, by the attentions of Captain Round! Is Johnny a veteran, I would like to hear from him? (Yes, John Glasgow is on the Register of Veterans.)
Memories of Marconi Radar
I visited the website of the Marconi Veterans’ Association because of the fond memories and admiration I always held for the Marconi Company. Watching and reading about the demise of the company at the start of the millennium from Asia was extremely painful. An absolute travesty for employees and the Chelmsford community.
I worked for Marconi Radar in Great Baddow for just two and half years in the sixties, holding a relatively junior position in the Air Traffic Control section and then with Systems A team…. or was it Systems B team? During my short time of employment I worked under Don Eastaugh and then, on the Systems team, worked for Roger Woodcock and Ian Donaldson. I greatly admired their technical skills, know-how and man management skills.
My technical interest and work was involved with primary ATC Radar systems. Marconi Company introduced me to digital signal processing. I found an additional challenge in computers as I was drawn into the world of Marconi Myriad Computers and trained as a programmer at the Writtle Training Centre.
I enjoyed happy and satisfying employment at Marconi Radar with good prospects. What more could I want. I had the best job in the world and was, it seemed to me, surrounded by most of the best people. Unfortunately this wasn’t to last. Family problems made it necessary for me to resign and return to working and living in London. Eventually the computer systems skills given to me by Marconi took my career into the financial sector. The Marconi managers also gave me a model upon which to build my own management style. My career prospered as a result.
Since those very happy days I’ve worked in many ‘blue chip’ companies, worked in over 100 countries, encountered a variety of modern managers, survived culture change programmes, participated in ‘customer first’ workshops, endured immersion in the quality management way whilst generally trying to stay up-to-date with modern management methods. I suppose these have made their mark on me and indeed have probably contributed to my career which has taken me all over the world and given me much satisfaction. However when I reflect on the companies I’ve worked for, the managers I’ve served, and the satisfaction I experienced, despite all the advances in ‘methods’ none exceed the personal satisfaction I experienced working for and serving the Marconi Company.
Having visited your website from my desk in Singapore and experiencing the pleasure of linking to one of the very happy periods of my life, I just wanted to express my appreciation to the Marconi community for the contribution they made to my life and career.
Scottish Signal School (Glasgow Wireless College)
Vix Kennedy – email@example.com
I’m wondering if you or any of your members know anything of the Scottish Signal School, also referred to as the Glasgow Wireless College, which was at 15 Newton Place, Glasgow during the war?
My son’s great grandfather is listed as principal there between 1942-1946 and then he moved his family to Rhodesia. This is all I know! Rhodesia at that time was the new world and many people moved there to help build the country, much like Australia and New Zealand. I assume he would have been doing a similar trade there and been involved in wireless communications.
I’m pretty sure he would have left there as it became Zimbabwe, and may have gone to South Africa or more likely USA or even returned to Scotland, but I’m sure he would have remained in the trade.
His name was Charles Theodore Kennedy and he was married to an Annie Elizabeth Gibson. They had a son in 1944 called Raymond. If any of your members know anything about the school or remember him as a principal I’d love to hear from them!
History of ATC and airport radar
L A Thomas, Swansea
I am doing research on the history and development of ATC and Airport radar systems in the UK for the post war years, and write to you in the hope that some of your members may be able to assist me with any trade literature or general technical knowledge of the sets that Marconi designed and manufactured. I am led to understand that the former radar archives are no more, and to date have obtained information from early issues of aeronautical journals, technical magazines eg Marconi Review, and from the official files at the National Archives. The official files refer to the planning and siting of ATC radars, but do not provide any general details of the equipment, and often contain lobe diagrams. If any of your members have any information on the following Marconi radars I would be interested to hear – S232 series, S264, S264A, S264 A/H and the S650 series.
I recently placed a reader’s request letter in an Essex newspaper for information on the above but had a very poor response.
Elsie, the Squigger-Bug
Normally the Squigger-Bug is kept below the threshold on a lead (often a short grid lead). If this lead is lengthened, the creature appears above the threshold and becomes self-excited by continually repeating her curious cry, a kind of variable mew. When fully excited she dives into the nearest closed circuit round which she races, tail in mouth, at incredible speed. The presence in a transmitter of the female of the species attracts the male (in this case, one Mike R O Henry by name). Mike has on several occasions tried to choke Elsie with the grid lead, but the reluctance with which she reacts to his coercive force ensures that there is no change in Elsie’s characteristic curves.
When chased out of a transmitter, the female Squigger-Bug goes immediately to earth by way of the nearest bypass, digging herself in with a circular movement of ever-increasing radius, and finally disappearing with a loud report, leaving behind a characteristic odour of burnt bakelite and a pile of brass filings. Hence the Pyramids.
This, the only specimen of the well-known parasite which has survived captivity, answers to the name of Elsie Ratio. She has a magnetic personality although her head is a perfect vacuum. The female is very voracious and, owing to her self-capacity, is able to eat excessive amounts of grid currants and a little anode feed. The latter is kept in a tank coil and comes out of a tap. The Squigger-Bug eats from a quartz plate (which in wartime was reduced to a pintz plate), and is accustomed to feed from positive to negative. She is much perturbed if fed the other way, a process known as negative feedback.
Her bent-up chassis is inductive (abbrev. infinitely seductive) and her component parts are colour-coded giving an attractive skin-effect. Vanity is responsible for the full-wave in her antennae, although this Hertz antennae unless padding capacities are used.
Squigger-bug – Parasiticus Preposterosus. Germinated, incubated and brought to maturity in the laboratory of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Marine Development Section I.B.
From the first issue of the Marconi Mariner, Vol. 1, No.1, July-August 1947 with thanks to Jimmy Leadbitter.
He was very wrong, but lived…
Tom Gutteridge – a contribution from December 2005
An occasional reader of the Newsletter, I have been interested to read other people’s contributions to this little bit of Marconi history: here are some of mine.
I joined Marconi Test Department from the Chelmsford Tech in 1943 and leaving in 1974, my memory of those times is hazy but I think Mr Robb, who had an office in the front building, was the Chief of Test.
As a junior, I started with the boring job of testing components like capacitors, inductances, Muirhead drives and coils. The area for testing coils was at the end of the girls’ winding shop upstairs. A dangerous place for self-conscious young men! Later I moved on to High Power Test. This was the ‘big bang’ area – before Safety at Work rules and regulations! SWB 8s and SWB 11s for the Admiralty were a fairly steady work load and later, high power Broadcast Transmitters.
High Power Test was run by Mr Whiteman and later by V J Sandy. Among the ‘oldies’ were G C Baker, and Mr Wylie – who I think suffered as a Marine Operator earlier in the war. Then there was Alfie Amos, Tommy Tomlinson, Doug Hills, Ecclestone and many others whose names have slipped my memory. G C Baker would regale us with the excitement and problems of taking his nanny goat(s) on the back seat of his open Riley car to visit Sandy’s goat the previous evening.
We were handling lots of kilowatts but I don’t recall anyone getting seriously hurt: even a young man known as ‘fearless Fearman’ who insisted that power was off at the wall and proceeded to put a screwdriver across the terminals of a SWB 8 transmitter to prove it. Unfortunately he was very wrong, but lived to explain loudly that it was somebody else’s fault!
In the exposed corner by the entry to the High Power Test was a lash-up to provide very high voltages (like lightning!) mainly for testing or proving high voltage insulators. Very, very high voltages were generated (enough to make your hair stand on end!) and it took a bit of know-how to set up the tuned circuits to get the required voltage. Wylie was good at this.
The transmitters were built in the workshop below Marconi House opposite the canteen. I cannot immediately recall the name of the foreman but the chargehand was Charlie Pashley. I think he had been involved in the Altmark event off Norway in the Second World War and survived. I got to know many of the fitters. They were a good and friendly lot, some of whom later worked with me on overseas installations. At the entrance to Marconi House (or just behind) there was an entrance to the lower ground area or cellar where the archives and records were kept in the care of an old RN sailor who took part in the Zeebrugge attack in the First World War. He certainly had several fingers missing. I can’t think what I was doing there but he was always good for an interesting chat. Another link to the First World War was Diggens who was a sort of general helper around Power Test. He would cheerfully relate the most unpleasant experiences of fighting in the trenches.
In due course I went into the services for a spell and on my return became involved on overseas installation work, but that’s another story.
The Marconi Site, New Street, Chelmsford
The new owners of the Marconi factory and offices, Messrs Ashwell Developments of Cambridge, have submitted proposals for the redevelopment of the site to Chelmsford Borough Council and right now discussions with the council’s Planning Department are taking place.
The latest date for Messrs Selex (who are at the moment the occupiers) to leave the site is July 1st this year. After this date the developers will, providing planning permission is granted, move in to start the first phase of the redevelopment which probably will be the demolition of the factory and associated buildings. The main front building housing offices will remain as this is already covered by a preservation order.
On behalf of the Veterans’ Committee, I have had negotiations with Chelmsford Borough Council Planning Director as well as the Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Arts and Heritage. The council, whilst in favour of a Heritage Centre which the Veterans’ Committee would like in the front building, are unable to offer any finance for this to become reality. The finance, if any, to house archives, memorabilia and other documentation must come from other sources and hopefully from the developer. Already discussions in this direction have taken place, but the developers have other important aspects which must be considered before a Heritage Centre can come to fruition. Therefore it will be sometime before we can take the next steps.
Meanwhile, I am gathering memorabilia, documents and other Marconi related items. Hopefully one day these can be catalogued and held in the Heritage Centre at New Street. Please, whatever you do, make sure anything you possess in this area is made available to the Veterans’ Association and not put into the bin, now or whenever you pass on. Quite recently we have been given a complete set of microphones, some made at New Street, all beautifully mounted on wooden stands.
The initial outlay to get the Heritage Centre under way looks to be in the order of £50K. This is because a considerable amount of work to get toilets, water, electricity, modifications to the building and heating sorted out is necessary. This area has been vacated for a number of years and certainly would have to be sorted out before we could offer the public access to the site. Parking is also a problem but eventually this will be overcome once the site is cleared.
Your committee is considering any shortcuts available to finance even a small area of the site to house documentation and memorabilia and this will be discussed at the reunion.
Meanwhile, it is hoped to record on audio disks the voices of people who worked in the Company and already a list of possible names has been drawn up. If you have some stories to relate of your time with the Company, then please advise the undersigned who will take all details and if appropriate, will make in due course arrangements for a recording to be made. The most modern equipment will be available for this purpose but here again it will cost money to carry this out and funding will have to be sought.
Your Veterans’ Committee has given the go-ahead to a proposal I made to them of preparing a book of memories from people who worked for the Company. More details will be given at the reunion but, if you have any story no matter how small or long, please put this to paper and send either to the undersigned or our secretary Barry Powell. Again, it will cost a lot of money to produce and we are looking for ways to finance this. Timescales dictate that during the next 12 months information will be gathered and edited. Preparation for printing requires a further few months, meaning that the book will be ready for sale in about 18 months time. The anticipated cost will be around £15 each and we will need to sell at least 1,500 to make the project worthwhile. The title of the book is likely to be ‘Memories of Marconi in Chelmsford – Gone But Not Forgotten’.
Sandford Mill Museum
Marconi Day, Saturday 26 April 2008
International Marconi Day commemorates Guglielmo Marconi’s birthday. Your chance to visit the Marconi collections, see the new exhibition in the Marconi broadcasting hut, and explore the mysteries of radio transmission and Morse code with Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society. Entrance free, 10am – 5pm
Summer Sundays – 3, 10, 17, 24 August 2008
The Engine House is open on Sunday afternoons throughout August. See the museum’s industrial collections and visit the Discovery Zone! Entrance free, 2 – 5pm
Arriving just at the time that the obituary of Derek Griess appeared in the last newsletter, Bryan Everett passed on to Barry Powell further background to Derek’s WW 2 career which came to him from Fred Kenyon in Australia. He writes:
Herewith copies of information from Fred Kenyon regarding Derek Griess’ wartime work with Marconi installing HF/DF equipment. Fred was most anxious to lay hands on Derek’s passports and I just couldn’t understand why this was so – I now know.
(In the documents received from Bryan Everett was a list of 33 passport entries from April 1940 to June 1945 covering the area of the Atlantic from Liverpool to Portugal, West Africa, South Africa, St Helena, the Caribbean, the USA and Canada, evidence of a number of transatlantic crossings over that period. Ed.)
Fred’s letter to an aunt of Derek’s in York notes that a significant part of Derek’s wartime career was associated with the installation of HF/DF (Huff-Duff) equipment at coastal stations on both sides of the Atlantic in support of the Royal Navy’s North Atlantic convoy escort duties. It played a crucial role in containing the U-boat threat.
The foregoing was a preface to a page from Fred giving more detail of this period, which follows here.
During World War 2 there was a period from the commencement of the conflict in September 1939 when Britain was totally dependent on sea traffic across the Atlantic when supplies from America were vital. This was particularly so after Britain was isolated following the fall of France.
German U-boats were very successful sinking allied shipping, often sinking as many as sixty per cent of the ships in a convoy. Tactics were changed, and convoys were escorted by the Royal Navy using destroyers and frigates fitted with a number of new weapons. One of the most important of these was direction-finding equipment using high frequency radio (HF/DF) nicknamed Huff-Duff. The German U-boats hunted in packs and they communicated with each other and with Berlin when they surfaced every twenty four hours to charge their batteries. They assumed that if they broke radio silence only briefly with encoded signals they could not be traced.
Britain developed Huff-Duff using seaboard and land-based equipment so that even a brief HF signal could be registered and tracked from a number of receivers, allowing an exact location of the transmission to be immediately established and providing a bearing for the escort vessels to locate the enemy. The Marconi Company was involved in installing Huff-Duff stations around the Atlantic in British colonial countries which fortunately bordered the whole Atlantic coast. Derek Griess was the young (26) qualified radio engineer chosen for this urgent mission in May 1940. During the next five years he travelled constantly to many places around the North and South Atlantic coast from Halifax Nova Scotia and the West Indies and British Guiana in South America, across to Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast of Africa and even St Helena, a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
The result of all this effort was that in Spring 1941 the escort vessels sailing out of Liverpool suddenly started to be very successful in locating and sinking the enemy U-boats. The German Admiral Dönitz lost some of his best U-boat commanders and the leader of the British Royal Navy escort ships Captain Frederic John Walker (known popularly as Johnnie Walker) became a hero being awarded four DSOs and a knighthood. From this time leading up to the D-Day invasion on 6 June 1945 the Atlantic gateway was open to massive amounts of traffic bringing the armaments that enabled the successful invasion of Europe.
North Atlantic convoy (above) and (below) an HF/DF set
(I have a copy of the list of Derek Griess’s wartime passport entries, and would be happy to email a copy to any veteran requesting it. Ed).
Report of the 2007 Veterans’ reunion
The 71st annual reunion, at the MASC in Beehive Lane, Chelmsford, took place on Saturday 14th April. The president for the year, Professor Roy W Simons, was introduced by MVA Chairman, Charles Rand. In his introduction Charles touched on their shared past in Marconi Radar, first at Baddow, then later at Writtle Road when he was Chief Production Engineer during Roy’s time as Technical Director.
Roy Simons reviewed the Marconi companies’ involvement in radar systems design and manufacture, from Marconi’s anticipation of the concept of radiolocation, when in 1922 in an address to the American Institution of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) he said’…it should be possible to design apparatus to radiate or project a beam of rays, which rays, if coming across a metallic object such as a ship, would be reflected back to a receiver..’, until the time of his (Roy Simons’) own departure from the Marconi Radar Systems Ltd in 1986.
The company’s first practical involvement in radar came with design of the aerial arrays for the Chain Home system in the mid 1930s, moving then during WW2 into manufacture of many radar systems, particularly for gunnery and naval surveillance, and also notably large-scale manufacture of magnetrons.
His own introduction to radar at the end of the war, under R J Kemp, was involvement in the design of a radar for the Marine Company – the basis of Radiolocator.
Subsequent notable milestones over the following years included a major contract for refurbishment of the wartime air-defence radar system of the United Kingdom during the late 40s/early 50s – a total of 20 sites for the RAF, design and manufacture of the Type S247 radar, the Queen’s Award-winning S600 series, GWS Sea Wolf system for the Royal Navy, the formation of Marconi Radar Systems in 1969, and the last major surface radar that the company produced, another Queen’s Award winner, Martello. Over these years two parallel product lines for radar systems materialised, one for HMG business and the other for private venture (predominantly overseas) business.
He concluded by saying that the Marconi Company was the leading supplier of radar systems to the world and he was proud to have been associated with the work of his colleagues in Marconi Radar Systems as the Technical Director for its first 17 years.
MVA Vice Chairman Peter Turrall then introduced the Guest of Honour, Dr John Williams OBE, FREng, HonFIEE. John Williams was for a number of years Director of the Marconi Research Centre at Great Baddow, and later Secretary and Chief Executive of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.
Dr. Williams shared some reminiscences of Lord Weinstock, to whom he had to report for about eight years, and interspersed his speech with various anecdotes about meetings with Lord Weinstock and some of the subterfuges used to prevent him from finding out too much about the particular operating company, and how it was necessary to explain the existence of certain staff who Lord Weinstock might otherwise consider excessive to the business.
Lord Weinstock was obsessed with not wasting money or resources and would take the opportunity at budget meetings to probe into particular areas. He was not interested in details of long term strategy; in fact in a memo to all MDs he said that making money from running businesses that GEC knew something about was the company’s only strategy and we were forbidden to use the word in future monthly reports. Talking about memos from Lord Weinstock, one managing director was surprised to get a response from Lord Weinstock to his monthly report which started ‘your monthly report is not entirely unsatisfactory’. The MD considered this the height of praise and framed the memo for posterity.
Dr Williams offered another anecdote that beautifully illustrated the focus on avoiding waste of money – and how it might be sidestepped. On a visit to Great Baddow, Lord Weinstock asked why it was necessary to employ two gardeners at the site. It was explained that they were necessary to keep the grass down to minimise HF path losses between transmitter and receiver antennae.
He concluded by emphasising his great respect for Lord Weinstock’s management style and his prudent business approach, and wondering how different things might have been for the Company had he not bowed to City pressure and handed over the reins when he did.
Veterans’ reunion 2008
The 2008 reunion will take place on Saturday 12th April at the MASC, Beehive Lane, Chelmsford, commencing at 1.00pm. This year’s President is Veteran Charles Rand MBE, chairman of the MVA Standing Committee and previously Chief Production Engineer, Marconi Radar Systems Ltd, based at the Writtle Road complex. He will be introduced by Professor Roy W Simons OBE, CEng, FIET, CPhys, FInstP, last year’s President. During the AGM, Peter Turrall will give an update on the impending redevelopment of the New Street site, and Robbie Robinson, former Managing Director of Marconi Communications Systems Ltd and a member of the Pensions Consultative Committee will update Veterans on the telent/Stanhope Pensions Trust pension situation and answer any questions that Veterans may wish to ask.
A project anecdote of times past
E J (Ted) Haydon
I’m thinking about the time around the early to mid eighties. Do you remember those days, when we worked hard and when the opportunity arose played hard. It was a time when we looked forward to going to work; it was intellectually challenging and best of all it was fun. I guess around the mid-eighties things changed, but let’s not dwell on that.
An annual event was entertaining our customers to lunch on HMS Belfast. As those of us who were fortunate enough to attend these occasions will remember, the form was pre-lunch drinks, wine with the meal, and there was always plenty of this, and of course when dining with the Navy, the obligatory bottle of port which is passed around at the end of the meal until it is empty. Negotiating your way home after that was quite an art. I understand that some more ‘experienced’ diners would venture out in the evening to a night club but I know nothing of these activities!
On one particular occasion after lunch I was invited to join a naval officer and his wife for dinner that evening. They lived during the week with their dog on a longboat moored on the Regents Canal. We met his wife from work and dined at a Greek restaurant somewhere in Camden Town. Having done justice to a couple more bottles of wine, it was suggested that we adjourn for coffee to the boat. Now, I can vaguely remember arriving, but must have passed out before coffee, as the next thing I remember was the dog licking my face at 6am the next morning. After thanking my ‘hosts’ for the night’s impromptu stay, I hurried home just in time to meet my wife on the doorstep as she left for work. I can still remember her words as she cycled off – ‘Oh! You made it then’.
I reported in around 10am explaining to my boss the reason for my lateness. He, whom shall remain nameless (MVB), then told me he had been woken up that morning by the cleaners in a railway carriage in the sidings at Southend. I think I was slightly peeved that he was at his desk working before me!
But then it was business as usual. Happy days!
Photo – Anders Isaksson www.isazone.com
This contribution injects a Basildon flavour into this issue. We did things differently there – or did we? Ed.
Research – military radio
From Peter R Jensen
I recently came across a copy of the Marconi Veterans’ Newsletter and saw that it contained a wealth of material which could be particularly useful for the book that I am starting to assemble. You may recognize my name from a couple of books that have dealt with the development of telecommunications over the last 100 years. I notice that one of them is referred to in the newsletter, ‘In Marconi’s Footsteps – Early Radio’. The more recent book, ‘From the Wireless to the Web’, was published in 2000.
Needless to say, the newsletter came to my attention courtesy of the internet and the redoubtable search engine Google.
The book that I am working on is provisionally entitled ‘Wireless as War’, and in it I am aiming to explore the development of radio technology from 1901 in South Africa to probably the 1960s when my military service was undertaken as a National Serviceman. As for the earlier books, it is intended to do this through a series of narratives dealing with actual events, and for this reason the Marconi Veterans represent an interesting source of potentially relevant experience.
In addition to Military Radio as used by the conventional fighting forces, I am also particularly interested in clandestine radio communications and its development. This is because the demands for light weight and compactness led to a series of developments that influenced radio design during the years following the war. In this context, I am currently involved with a group of radio amateur historical radio society people to replicate the Paraset of 1943, an interesting early portable transmitter receiver that was used by SOE in its efforts to undermine the Nazis in France.
Given the foregoing, I wonder if you can suggest a means to obtain access to the newsletter. Are you aware of it being provided to any organisation in Australia, which I where I am based? (Peter Jensen has been directed to the website to access back editions of the newsletter, and Barry has sent him hard copies of issues which do not appear on the website. Ed.)
Apropos ‘In Marconi’s Footsteps – Early Radio’, if there are other veterans of the Marconi Company who are interested in obtaining a copy, I have a stock of new books that came from the publisher when they decided to declare the book out of print. The going rate is £35 Sterling which includes postage on an airlifted basis and involves approximately 2 week or less delay from receipt of funds which can be a Sterling cheque as I have an account in the UK.
With kind regards and thanks in anticipation of your response.
The changing times…
Alan Hine, February 2007
As you spoke about hearing any scraps of news, I thought I would put pen to paper.
I worked at Marconi Basildon for 36 years and have been retired for 16. However I met a couple of work mates in town that still worked at the new SELEX building and was asked to pop in and see some of the other lads, and have a cup of tea and a natter. Having just reached my 80th birthday I thought it would be nice to pay them a visit. My son kindly took me by car and I made my way to the reception area. The woman rang a supervisor I had worked with, who arrived on the scene. He made off to make arrangements for a photograph and pass. But when he returned he said the powers that be would not issue one because of security, so I was not allowed to enter. This perhaps is not the sort of letter you would like to print but I was very annoyed and felt like speaking my mind. (So much for 36 years service!)
Roderick Mackley, February 2007
Thank you for the Newsletter which arrived this morning. I am most impressed by the way you have put this issue in particular together which constituted an absorbing read.
There is something very special about the dear old Marconi Company and its old members – I am still very, very proud to have spent so many years of my working life, firstly in the Company’s Commercial Department and subsequently in the Aeronautical Division and the Radar Company and I just cannot understand those people who have said that work was a bore – I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute of every day.
Eric Walker’s memories of life at Lawford Lane is of particular interest as I really started my Marconi life there, joining Aeronautical Division for two weeks in late 1946 and staying for seventeen years before moving on! Eric’s account broadly confirms mine – he, like me, enjoyed the light-hearted, hard-working regimen there, almost like the RAF in which I had served during WWII but in civilian clothes! I will avoid repeating myself – my very warm memories of those early days were described in the January 2005 Newsletter.
It pleases me to see that Radar is being celebrated this year, and that my old mate, Roy Simons, is this year’s President. It grieves me though that I shall be unable to attend the Annual Reunion because of a health blip which, to date, six specialists have been unable to diagnose. Thankfully it is not life-threatening, just a wretched inconvenience!
I have now been retired for twenty years all but one month – doesn’t time fly?
Alfred H Howarth
John Howarth, Cumbria
This letter appeared in the October/November 2007 of ‘Radio Bygones’ journal, and as the result of an exchange of correspondence with John Howarth it is reproduced here. If anyone can help in his researches, please contact him directly via email on GMlVKG@mail-me.org.uk, or pass any information or your own contact details for the enquirer to Barry Powell or to the editor.
I am researching the career of my father, Alfred H Howarth, as a Marconi-trained ‘Sparks’ or Radio Officer.
What little information I have at present indicates that he served on board the ocean-going tug Flying Breeze during WW1. This would be the first vessel bearing that name, as I understand that the one he served on was replaced by another with the same name at a later date.
From the end of WW1 till the early thirties he served as ‘Sparks’ on board many Merchant ships, mainly of the ‘tramp’ variety, sailing around most of the globe.
Unfortunately, the Marconi Company seems to have fragmented recently and I am unable to ascertain where the records of this company are deposited. In particular I am interested in any records of the Marconi Radio Operator branch, who would have been his employer.
I would appreciate any help that anyone out there can give me in either locating these records, or any other information that would give me a lead in locating further information.
Pat O’Hanlon, Radio Officer
Patrick O’Hanlon, Holden, Massachusetts, USA
I have just read with great interest the latest (April 2007) Marconi Veterans’ Association newsletter, in particular, the recollections of Felix Mascarenhas.
My uncle, Pat O’Hanlon, was also a Marconi Marine Officer during WW2, during which time he received recognition for good work when his vessel was torpedoed. He trained at the Marconi school in Liverpool or North Wales during the 1930s. Unfortunately, I do not know which shipping line he was attached to during peace time, but I do know that he subsequently worked for the British government in some communications capacity.
I am researching my family tree and Pat O’Hanlon was my uncle – he passed away some years ago. I would be extremely grateful if you could point me to any information that would perhaps help me find out a little more about my uncle and his career in radio communications.
Postscript to MIMCO Singapore 1942 to 1945
Extracts from Mr Duncan Robertson’s report to company management following his release from Japanese internment in 1945 were published under this heading in the 2006 newsletter, and the full text, less the missing page, was recently posted on the website entitled Singapore 1942. Scanning recently through the bound volume of the first editions of the Marconi Mariner covering 1947 to 1950 I can add this postscript.
When in 1942 the Japanese armies were forcing their way down the Malayan Peninsular, the work of the depot carried on almost up to the day when Singapore was finally occupied. The Depot Manager, Mr Duncan Robertson, and his Technical Assistant, Mr H Thompson, left Singapore by ship in an endeavour to reach the Dutch East Indies. Unfortunately, their vessel was intercepted by a Japanese warship and sunk after a short but intense bombardment. Mr Thompson was killed and Mr Robertson taken prisoner and carried off into captivity.
Singapore was finally liberated by the British on September 5th, 1945, and the former local staff of the depot, Messrs Andrew B Pinto, W M Wambeck and Ibrahim Shariff, reported for duty on September 7th. Mr Duncan Robertson arrived back from internment on September 18th and thus, after nearly four years’ break, the work of the depot was restarted. Mr Robertson, as a direct result of his internment, was at that time a very sick man, badly in need of a long rest. With the closing of the depot at Mombasa the Company transferred the European staff there to Singapore. Messrs J I Morse and E Dalton arrived in the Colony by air in November 1945, with Mr Morse as Acting Depot Manager.
By March 1949 Mr Robertson is recorded as being back in position as Depot Manager (see photo – Duncan Robertson, seated, is the fourth from the left), and then retiring from the Company on the 30th June 1949.
A very brief extract of the chapter in the ‘Book of Chelmsford’ by Gilbert Torrey (publ.1985) mentioned in the 2006 edition, to slot into the last awkward space. Non-Chelmsford Veterans – please forgive the indulgence.
At the start of WW2 the covert British Resistance Organisation was established to become active in the event of a German invasion, organised into local cells or patrols of 6-8 men with good local knowledge who could blend into the landscape and be useful in a tight corner. Underground bunkers were constructed as bases. A local group of cells in Chelmsford, Wickham Bishops, Hatfield Peverel, Terling and Boreham was commanded by Capt Keith Seabrook, a farmer from Little Leighs.
The Chelmsford patrol, whose bunker was in woodland adjoining Hanningfield Reservoir, was led by HC Berry, with the rank of Sergeant, later succeeded by WT Macnab, and comprised R*W Bartle, K*N Carter, BC Ager, AG Taylor and HW Pratley (*some doubt over these initials). With the exception of Pratley and Taylor, and this is really the point of including this item, they were all from the Test Department of MWT in New Street, in their twenties and thirties at the outbreak of war, and were undoubtedly recruited for their knowledge of radio and radar in addition to their other qualities. Pratley was in Marconi Research at Great Baddow, and Taylor was with LNER (as it then was) at Liverpool Street Station.
The deaths of all Veterans notified to the secretary are published on a regular basis on this website. The latest list is accessed from the front page index and the earlier notifications from the archive index. These publishing dates correspond with the times of the Committee meetings.
The consolidatedl list of the deaths over the past year is published in the paper copy of this newsletter.
Tom Watson – Works Dentist
Not a Veteran but Works Dentist from 1957 until he retired, Tom Watson died on 3rd January 2008 aged 95. He used to live in Chelmsford but moved several years ago to Brandon near Thetford. I play golf with his son Alan Watson every Sunday. If you intend to send a letter of condolence please forward it to me and I will hand it to Alan the following Sunday.
In keeping with a thread running through much of this issue – Marconi Radar – this aerial view of the Writtle Road site was taken in 1994 from a hot air balloon by Ray Strudwick.
For a larger and higher definition version of the image please click here.
To members of the GEC (1972) Plan Pension
Robbie Robertson, January 2008
I know that many of you are concerned about the current state of affairs with regard to your pensions; this note is an attempt to explain the present position.
telent,* the small remaining core of our company, was bought by Pensions Corporation, a major finance and insurance group, in November last year. telent is the owner and sponsor of the company which administers our pension fund, Stanhope Pension Trust (SPT). SPT is a legal UK entity, controlled by a board of trustees (directors); the appointment of trustees is regulated by UK law, and historically we have had a board of 3 trustees appointed by telent, 3 appointed by the Pensions Consultative Committee acting on behalf of Fund members, and three independents, chosen by telent, and appointed with the approval of the Government Pensions Regulator. One of the independents has been chairman of the board.
Your three member nominated directors (MNDs), together with the independent chairman, have been extremely active and effective on your behalf. As soon as news of the possibility of a takeover emerged, they approached the Pensions Regulator (PR), asking that he use his powers to protect our fund. The PR agreed to their request, and three Independent Trustees (ITs) were appointed by the PR as additional trustees of the Plan for six months from 19th October 2007. The primary objective of the ITs is to ensure that future pension benefits continue to be protected, and that this objective receives independent consideration. The appointment of the ITs has had no effect on the day to day operation of the pension fund, which continues unchanged. The ITs are in position until 18th April 2008; if, at that date, the PR is still concerned about ownership/control of the SPT Pension Fund, then their appointment will be extended.
Because of the prompt and effective early action of the independent chairman and the MNDs, your pensions remain secure; I feel that the subject is now so well reported and publicised that this security is assured for some time to come. Your Pensions Consultative Committee has ex-Chelmsford pensioners Mick Elliot and me among its members, and continues to monitor the ongoing position closely; the pensions office will be issuing an update newsletter soon.
*For those Veterans not familiar with this remnant of MCSL, yes, it really does start with a lower case t ! Ed.
Please send articles for next year’s newsletter to:
Editor, Marconi Veterans’ Association Newsletter, 59 Willow Crescent, Hatfield Peverel, Chelmsford, Essex CM3 2LJ
or to Barry Powell via mail, email or phone to his usual address/phone number