The unveiling and dedication of the Marconi Memorial Plaque took place in Chelmsford Cathedral on Sunday 25 April. The plaque commemorates the 17 employees who were killed by bombs on the New Street factory on the night of 9 May 1941.
The ceremony was incorporated into the traditional service of Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer. The first lesson was read by Robbie Robertson, Patron of the Marconi Veterans Association and the second lesson by Dawn Swindells from Washington DC, USA, granddaughter of Charles Franklin a victim of the bombing. The sermon was given by the Very Reverend Peter Judd, the Dean of Chelmsford, and immediately after the sermon the clergy and choir precessed to St. Peter’s Chapel followed by the many relatives of the victims who were present and Marconi Veterans.
Here an introduction to the ceremony was given by Peter Turral MBE, Chairman of the Marconi Veterans Association, followed by the unveiling by Lady Telford, widow of Sir Robert Telford, Life President of the Marconi Company. The dedication was given by The Very Reverend Peter Judd and after returning to the chancel the service was concluded with a further hymn and the blessing.
After the service there was a small exhibition of photographs and other mementos of the tragic event.
This plaque had been mounted in the foyer of Marconi house in New Street since its creation and although it had been seen by many Marconi employees over the 67 years until the site closed in 2008, because of the security restrictions on the site it had been seen by few members of the public or the relatives of the victims. The re-erection of the plaque in Chelmsford Cathedral makes the list of victims visible to all.
Update 3 May 2009
This dedication was reported in the Essex Chronicle for 30 April and can be read at http://www.thisistotalessex.co.uk/latestnews/72pt-bld-1-deck-2col-hhhggggghh/article-939510-detail/article.html
The Chelmsford Weekly News did not carry any report.
Update 24 May 2009
The Dean of Chelmsford, The Very Reverend Peter Judd, has kindly given us permission to publish his sermon at the service and this is included below.
First of all we are here to remember the seventeen who were working on the night shift on Friday the 9th of May 1941 at Marconi Wireless and Telegraph Company Limited in New Street, and who lost their lives when a lone German plane swept over Chelmsford on a bombing raid. Seventeen lost their lives, twenty were seriously injured, and eighteen others slightly hurt.
It is good that their names join those of Hoffman’s (another Chelmsford company and the names of so many others who lost their lives in war — recorded as they are in and next to St Peter’s Chapel.
In that chapel, in the middle is the sculpture called the ‘Bombed Child’. It was made by Georg Ehrlich – himself a refugee from the Nazis. A mother holds her dead child across her lap, and the suffering and dignity of her bearing don’t need any words to describe them – that is communicated to anyone who looks at her. That small chapel with its flags and banners, its plaques and names, is transformed by that small sculpture – it takes it beyond this community, this county, this country, to a universal place, where all sufferers meet, and where the tragedy and pity of war is felt at its deepest level.
There is a tremendous cost to this human suffering, and tenderly and carefully we add these seventeen names who each bore that cost.
They were part of the ongoing story of Marconi and as well as remembering them, we should also remember the story of Marconi, and that’s another reason l’m glad the memorial plaque is on the wall of the Cathedral and that the Marconi logo is there for all to see with its ever expanding circles. This Cathedral is a house of prayer, but it is also a house of memories. You can read the stories of the generations as you go round, and the remarkable Marconi story has been missing until now.
I think that Peter Turrall and the Marconi veterans should be congratulated on their efforts to wake us all up to the legacy of Guglielmo Marconi.
To tell it boldly, Marconi invented modern communications: you could argue that wireless and then television, radar, voice communications, satellite communications, mobile phones and computers all focus on this one inventive mind, in this one place. I was interested to read that when Marconi died, the world’s wireless communications went silent for two minutes in his honour, and every town and village in Italy was instructed by the Italian Government to name a square or road after him, and his home town in Bologna was renamed Sasso Marconi.
It’s not difficult to see why, for example, the BBC and ITV owe their existence to Marconi – all their senior engineers came from Marconi.
Those early experiments and successes of Marconi here in Chelmsford quickly spread their wings and I was interested to read Marconi himself describe the development of these ideas for use on ships at sea. “Very early in its history in January 1901 wireless was used for summoning assistance to a ship in distress. Since then thousands of lives have been saved by means of wireless during times of peace apart from the thousands of lives saved by wireless during war. It is not possible to give an accurate estimate as to the number of lives which wireless has been instrumental in safeguarding during its history but perhaps I may be allowed to say that this is the aspect of wireless which gives me personally the greatest gratification.”
Although Guglielmo Marconi died in 1937, he had already put his inventive mind to the requirements of radar, aeronautical communication – even basic computers were part of his earlier experiments. In short satellite communications, mobile telephones, the internet, and other modern communications all emanated from his work in the field of wireless.
As I said, Peter Turrall and the Marconi veterans should be congratulated for campaigning to see that all this achievement and the achievements of all those who worked in pioneering ways at Marconi aren’t forgotten. There is now a statue of Marconi in a public place behind the bus station, but in view of the revolution he began which affects us all every minute of our lives, it’s a wonder it isn’t at the top of the High Street. Perhaps one day it will be moved there.
I think it is exhilarating to think how one person can pursue an idea, and in doing so can transform the lives of millions.
I guess every time !text my wife on my mobile with “Where are you?” and she texts back “I’m on the 7.11 just heading out of Liverpool Street station”, I should offer a prayer of thanks for Marconi.
Well, the name and the logo of Marconi are now permanently lodged here in this house of memories.
As I said, it is exhilarating when you encounter a person and a mind who in pursuit of their ideas changed the lives of millions.
And this house stands in honour of another person, who lived on a distant shore, in another era, and yet whose single-mindedness and vision have changed the lives of millions and continues to do so.
As the militant atheist Richard Dawkins so tellingly said recently, “We have reached that point in human evolution when for our survival we must transcend our selfish drives and learn to co-operate together for the good of others and not just for ourselves.” That idea was definitively taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth 2000 years ago, and it remains true of every truly human life, as we seek to live not just for ourselves but for others.
As I said, this is a house of memories, but it is much more than that – it isn’t just the memories of past generations and worshippers that are recorded here, it isn’t just the memory of Jesus that is remembered here – it is his living presence that is met here and responded to in worship and service day by day, week by week, year by year. To believe in God is to believe in prayer. To an atheist, prayer is pointless – there is nothing and no one out there to reach out to who can listen or respond. I remember that friendly atheist Marghanita Laski saying that the difficulty about being an atheist is that when things are absolutely marvellous, when your heart and emotions are overflowing, there is no one and nothing you can thank.
To believe in God is to believe in prayer – that there is a mind and a purpose at work in our world and universe, to whom we can reach out in thanks and in distress, and faith and experience tell us that we aren’t addressing emptiness but touching the love that moves the sun and the other stars, that touches us in the person of Jesus, and through our fellow human beings.
You could argue that in prayer, wireless communication predates Marconi by thousands of years and that maybe the seed of the idea behind wireless lies in the act and art of prayer – as we address what cannot be seen, but can be known.
Well, we’ve come a long way from those seventeen whose names we remember today. I wonder if they and the others working those long night shifts in those dark days of the war knew they were part of a cutting edge revolution that would rapidly spread to every comer of the globe. Maybe not, but they were part of this incredible story.
A small plaque may seem a small offering, but their names are here and so is the name “Marconi” – not to be forgotten – as they and it take their places in the greater remembrance in this place as day by day and week by week we follow the command as sincerely and beautifully as we can: “Do this in remembrance of me.”