Marconi Veterans Association AGM – 14 April 2012

The Annual General Meeting of the Marconi Veterans Association was held on Saturday 14th April 2012 at the Marconi Athletic & Social Club following the reunion and luncheon.


1  Minutes

To approve the minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on 16 April 2011.

The minutes were passed unanimously by a show of hands.

2.  Accounts

To receive the audited accounts for the year ended 31 December 2011.

Passed unanimously by a show of hands.

3.  Committee

To elect officers and members of the Committee.

All members of the Committee, being eligible, offered themselves for re-election.

The Committee was elected unanimously by a show of hands.

4. Appointment of Auditor

A resolution will be proposed for the re-appointment of Mr T Mundon as auditor of the Marconi Veterans Association.

Passed unanimously by a show of hands.

5.  Any other business

Several of our veterans had asked why they were having to pay back monies to the GEC pension fund. Our patron veteran Robbie Robertson explained the situation as follows:

 Thanks for that Peter but not a big thank you.

I do note that actually none of those who were given payment because they had been underpaid have complained but the actual situation is very very complicated.  Mistakes were made in 1995, they’ve recently in the last two years come to light and the first reaction was to say “what the hell we’ll let it lie.”  The lawyers, predictably, wouldn’t let us so we were obliged to deal with it in a most incredibly complex fashion.

What’s actually happened is of the roughly 55,000 pensioners and deferred pensioners somewhere around between three and four thousand have either been overpaid or underpaid.

Those who were underpaid were, obviously, very easy to deal with because they have all received cheques.  Those that were overpaid are a bigger problem. There was a proposal to write it off, which the lawyers killed outright for us so we were obliged to do what we have done, which those of you who have had letters will know about.

Please, please, please if the underpayment gives you a problem get in touch with us.  All of our names are on the website; there are 28 of us on the committee, we are all ready to take up the case on an individual basis. If anyone is in dire trouble because what’s happened is their pension will be frozen; nobody has been asked to send money back unless they chose to do so, but if you are facing problems please let us know.  We want to deal with it in the best way we can for your benefit.

Finally, the pay increase, and I should have said at the beginning, I’m sorry, this relates entirely and totally to the GEC 1972 scheme.  The BAE members are in quite a different scheme where, to the best of my knowledge, the same mistake was not made.  This year for the GEC 1972 scheme the pay rise is 3.9% which goes a little way towards some comfort for you but if you have a problem let us know, we can do something about it.

Thank you.

6.  Next Meeting

The next reunion and AGM will be on Saturday 20 April 2013 at the Marconi Club.  This will be the 77th reunion.

The AGM lasted 4 minutes and 44 seconds including Robbie’s pension explanations.


Our Special guest – 2012

Our special guest at this year’s reunion was Tim Wander.  Tim worked at Writtle and New Street on various development projects, one of his last being a road monitoring and pricing system.

While with Marconi he wrote, in his spare time, the book 2MT Writtle – The Birth of British Broadcasting.  He left Marconi Communications before becoming a veteran and since then has concentrated on his writing and occasional lecturing.

His latest book Marconi’s New Street Works 1912 – 2012 was published in 2012


His address to the 2012 Veterans Reunion can be heard by clicking below and a transcript of the speech is included for those who prefer to read it.

Tim Wander Address   (in MP3 format)

Tim Wander – 14-04-2011

Good Afternoon.  Many thanks to everybody here.  Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.  As Peter said I never quite made twenty something years with the company but I have spent the last thirty plus years living with the story from day to day.

When Peter invited me I realised that this was 100 years since a very famous liner of the White Star Line which, exactly 100 years ago was heading full speed to a date in destiny.  The name of the ship escapes me at the moment but we have been force fed it for the last three months so I decided about an hour ago not to tell you the story of the Titanic because, in the end, it doesn’t end well.

But what I wanted to bring today was the fact that the Titanic sinking changed the world in which we live; and it changed it for a whole series of important reasons.  The first reason was, and many of you may not realise, but only 20 people missed the Titanic sailing and five of those people were called Marconi.  Guglielmo Marconi, his wife Beatrice and his three children had been invited by Bruce Ismay, the Chairman of the White Star Line and held tickets to leave Southampton and should have been on board the Titanic.  In fact, it was only a last minute legal problem with Anglo-American in New York to sail earlier on the Lusitania.  Indeed, as the Titanic steamed out of Southampton his wife Beatrice only cancelled her ticket by telegram four hours before the ship sailed.  Now, they were sad to see it go and, indeed Marconi still had in his pocket his return ticket for a ship that never docked.

So what I thought I’d offer to you is the fact that the world hinges on coincidences, on half chances.  Thank what would have happened if Marconi had been on board that ship.  Would he have survived, would he have been able to get into a life raft?  But if he hadn’t and he’d been lost at sea.  Bear in mind in 1912 The Marconi Company sat at the very crux of a political and economic near disaster.  In 1912 The Marconi Company was nearly broke; they’d invested a huge amount of money into the New Street factory that was not yet complete.  He’d just weathered what became known as the Marconi scandal, in which he was completely innocent but it had been a very big smear on the history and name of the company.  But if he’d been lost at sea we would have had no beam system we’d have had no short wave radio, we’d have no international communications, maybe even no radar.  Now maybe that would have changed the world as we know it now.  So that mere coincidence the fact that he had to sail earlier, the fact that he missed the Titanic was world changing.  But other things changed, as I said in 1912, April 1912, the Marconi New Street factory was nearing completion a hundred years ago form now, but was not open until June, and the company was investing money hand over fist but it was investing money into a market place that did not yet exist.  Marconi since his earliest days in 1896 was passionate and, and our new Marconi Veteran President mentioned, that radio was vital for safety at sea, yet in 1912 very few ships still carry Marconi wireless equipment and if they did it was solely for commercial reasons.  The Marconi operators, the forebears of the people in this room were only there to take money for sending wireless messages for the crew and, more importantly, for the paying passengers.  The very notion of calling for distress was almost alien, the Marconi operators on board when the clients went to bed they went to bed as well, there were no 24 hour watches.  Now Marconi was absolutely passionate this was wrong, and it was the Titanic, when she went down with 1513 people but 711 people were saved, that changed that world.  Now I won’t go into details about the new regulations, about SOS signals and all the rest of it but again in that half chance, that coincidence, the sinking, the legacy of that Titanic disaster was that the world changed again and suddenly the New Street works that had opened in June became one of the most successful companies that year in the world, they were inundated.  The brand new factory designed by Dunn & Co and Cubitts who built it was no longer big enough even though it was the world’s first purpose built wireless factory; they had to put temporary wireless huts, army huts in to handle the load of equipment and for any Marconi shareholders out there, and I think the gentleman on our right had something to do with it, 1913, the year after the Titanic disaster, was the first year that the Marconi Company presented a share dividend to its investors.  From 1897, when the company was formed, until 1913 it had solely been one way and the investors had all but had enough because of this thing called wireless and, yes, the transatlantic service had come on line but was not making a profit.  And yet at this turning point this crux in history that the Titanic sank suddenly the world needed wireless sets.  But there’s one more important thread in the story because two years later the world was plunged into a world war; the First World War the war to end all wars, and let’s be honest, in 1912 1913 wireless in the armed forces was little changed from the Boer War experience that Marconi had fought through as a fledgling engineer when he only had a staff of six people.  But, when the demands of warfare, the new wireless stations, the need for telephony in the air, troop’s movements came on board, which company was already in place with factories ready to go into overload, overproduction to meet the demand; it was Marconis.

Now, going back to my theme of coincidences.  If the Titanic had not sunk and those people had not lost their lives the New Street factory would not have been ready to equip the British allied forces with radio sets on land, sea and then air and maybe that would have changed the world as well because radio, by the end of 1918, was one of the most important technologies around and many brave radio operators in all the services gave their lives and it changed the world right back to the Battle of Jutland which started off convincing The Admiralty that wireless worked at sea.

But we stand here – OK it was a hundred years since Titanic but it’s a hundred years since New Street, now looking very sad, a factory that has been lost to the ravages of time but what a history.  I touched on a few words there but to run through it, the things that were invented there – some people will know I have a bit of a history of the birth of broadcasting – well let’s face it broadcasting started at New Street although I once wrote a book or two called ‘2MT Writtle’ in the end it did start with Dame Nellie Melba at New Street and anything the Writtle boys designed was built at New Street.  And, let’s face it; I would argue that New Street built the modern age, it built the wireless age.  But if you run through the decades as I have in the new tome, which I can’t take credit for because many of the faces out there and many other people have half written it for me, in some ways I was just the glue that put it on the paper what is fascinating is the passion and the spirit of the memories of the people that come through to the factory and the sad thing is that I had to write the first forty years because nobody now remembers, nobody now remembers the fact that television broadcasting was born there.  And actually something that came to me earlier in the year and is in the book, we talked about coincidences and half chances.  I’ve never been able to understand why Marconis poured fortunes into the embryonic television industry in 1936 and 1937 and Isaac Schuenberg led the EMI – Marconi team that developed radio and even at its height probably had less than 400 people, but I was reminded and developed an idea that – what’s interesting is that those three years of television development a lot of it at New Street when the second World War broke out, when television broadcasting was closed down halfway through a Mickey Mouse cartoon all the engineers, some 400 people were experts, they were experts in cathode ray tubes, vacuums, new display technology, clever things called klystrons high powered and that was the birth of radar.  And I’m led to believe that someone back in 1936 and 1937 within the company or within the government knew that war was coming and really thought we would need a radar system.  And the major thing is that’s just part of the story that New Street gave to us.  But if you go through I would argue that civil communications, radio, marine was all born there.  Baddow Research was born there before it moved out as was the radar division.  So it really has been the catalyst for our modern age.

Of course, and I’ve been talking with my colleagues on the top table, there’s also been opportunities lost.  Peter’s mentioned one that was my own pet project for many years. Marconis could have been running London’s road congestion pricing, which was, which would have made me very unpopular, but there we go!

But we should have dominated the computer age.  I was at Bletchley Park just a weekend ago, an amazing museum and the home of the code breakers and Enigma and also the home of the National Computing Centre.  What is quite frightening is that computers I worked with are now in the museum.  PDP8s, PDP11s, VAXs, they’re now consigned and my 20 year old son cannot believe that a RAM060 disc drive only had 60 megabytes, of which I’m reliably informed only 48 megabytes were useable.  And now my son currently has a 7 terabyte disc drive which he carries around in his case, and that’s quite small.  The only saving grace is that I met his Mother over the RAM060 many many years ago.

The world has changed, the computer industry has changed but I think the thing to remember about New Street is we lost the opportunity.  They have a thing in Bletchley they call the TAK computer, the T-A-C, the Marconi computer.  In 1963 that was the best computer in the world.  It led Marconis, in fact that machine they had there ran till 2004 as did many of the SWB transmitters into the sixties and seventies, which shows just how good Marconi engineering was.  Now that transmitter, sorry that TAK transistor computer should have made Marconis IBM.  But somewhere in the great upstairs someone believed there only ever be three computers in the world.  Of course, I don’t know if anybody here but 10 years later some gentlemen up in Scotland who were part of the Marconi empire believed that you could have a computer chip on a piece of melted sand and were a long way down the line in developing what we now know as the microprocessor before the powers that be also said “It will never work”.  It didn’t seem to do Intel any harm.

So, the Marconi story that I’ve charted is a story of great successes, great personal efforts, all the people in this room and tens of thousands of others, also the story of opportunities lost and, hopefully, some of the latter all the way through.

I think what we’ve got to remember now about New Street is as a hundred years, New Street is the birthplace of the modern world.  I would argue that the site is one of the most important sites of industrial archaeology in this country.  It doesn’t seem that that is shared by most people but if you just list, as I have tried to do in a few pages, what went on there, what was developed there, what was built there, TV broadcasting, cameras, I know they were distributed to other sites, but New Street was always the core and the home of where this happened.

I very much fear that it’s made a hundred years, now looking very tired but I really do think that like many other sites, the Writtle site where I started my career, a couple of gentlemen on the top table there, I was down in the Strand last week and Marconi House in The Strand where 2L0 broadcast from is now just a concrete plaque in front of a modern apartment block, and you all looking around can remember all the Marconi sites that have gone now.  Site after site including perhaps the building we’re standing in now, all swept away, all lost.  And I think at the end of the book I made the point that in a hundred years’ time when nobody in this room is around someone will look back and say “I wonder where it all happened, and what happened there?”

So what I tried to do as maybe the, we’ve worked out as possibly the second youngest person in this room is put together everybody’s memories, thank you everybody who contributed, apologies if I’ve left anybody out, I have thousands, well, literally hundreds of applications, people write about Great Baddow and Marconi Marine and, no, I’m not going to write those stories, maybe someone around these tables should write those stories.  I say the book is out, it’s a collection of reminiscences, it is the Marconi New Street story for better or for worse, good and bad, old friends remembered and bits and pieces.  If anybody out there, and I’ve put in the front, would still like to send anything in, would write something, my e-mail is in the book, we will be updating it one day, maybe not next year or the year after, but what I’ve decided to do with the Writtle book and the New Street book and the new book coming out this year, which on Marconi’s first six years, six years which changed the world again, is to keep them rolling.  Modern print-on-demand means you can keep editing them so in a hundred years’ time whatever I leave behind will be the fullest and most detailed story I can make it  And again if I have made any mistakes, all the mistakes in the book are all my own work please tell me, please e‑mail me, please correct them and it will be sorted out with the rest of it.

So I can see Peter starting to fret, so normally it takes ma an hour to get warmed up, normally I start calling CQ about now and start talking about Peter Eckersley and earth goats and one year microbots but what I will do is put a plug in for next Saturday, if you can stand to hear me more I’m going to be at Sandford Mill helping out the Chelmsford Industrial Museum Society all next Saturday.  In the morning I’m trotting out 2MT Writtle the birth of British Broadcasting, it’s a great story I thoroughly recommend it, lunchtime I’m going to be doing Marconi and the Titanic but a slightly different spin and then the afternoon I’m going to be doing Marconi New Street and taking questions so free lectures all day.  Please come up and support the museum and wander round the original Writtle hut it’s an amazing piece of history and one of the very few sites that has survived from the birth of British Broadcasting.

So in conclusion, and the green lights are still going up and down, I would argue that Britain the country, we lived and we prospered through two revolutions, the revolution of steam and the revolution of steel.  Marconi’s New Street works from 1912 to 2012 has made its centenary – congratulations – was, and still is today, the birthplace of Britain’s last industrial revolution.  I’ve called it the age of wireless and I believe that all that happened there, everything that went on for the last hundred years was a direct legacy of the Titanic disaster.  Sad as it may be I would offer to you that the loss of that ship changed the world and secured the world as we know it today.

Thank you very much, thank you for listening and I’ll pass the baton back to our MC.


Marconi Veterans President 2012

Our President for 2012 is Ron Stringer, a Marconi trained Marine Wireless Officer who had many years at sea as part of the crew on various commercial ships.  He later joined The Marconi International Marine Company in a civilian capacity in Chelmsford.

The toast to the President was proposed by our chairman veteran Peter Turrall.  In his response Ron Stringer spoke about the early days of wireless at sea before outlinig his career first at sea and then in the various posts he had held after leaving the sea.

Ron’s speech can be heard by clicking on the link below.  A transcription of the speech is included below.


Ron Stringer speech


Ron Stringer’s Response to the toast

The people who were on the Titanic, the radio officers who stayed at their posts until the vessel eventually sank, they were Marconi employees, they were Radio Officers, they were employed by Marconi and put on board, with the equipment, to operate it and to maintain it but mainly they were there to send telegrams and make money for the company.

The Radio Officer was introduced when the company started in 1899 and the take up of the service was very very slow for the next few years mainly because ship owners were notoriously conservative people they looked on such expensive frills as radio as being “OK it’s alright for the big passenger ships but not for us and so the business grew very very slowly until 1912 and it 1912 there was this fatal collision of the Titanic with an iceberg and as a result of the massive loss of life that occurred then there was obviously an enquiry and the outcome of that was legislation, legislation that said that all ships must carry a radio telegraph station so that they can send telegrams ashore and alert people to distress and they should also carry a man who would operate the equipment.  Well, that was a massive boon for the equipment, for the company in that they had legislation that said you will carry our equipment and you will employ our men to operate it – fantastic!  So, the company then grew from 1912 and the role of the radio officer apart from just sending telegrams for the passengers and the master of the ship maintained the equipment their role grew to maintain other equipment because, of course, as developments went on things like depth sounders and eventually radar, direction finders all sorts of equipment was added, electronic equipment and the man on board who looked after it was the Marconi Man.

And that went on for many many years until around the nineteen sixties and nineteen seventies about when I joined the company things started to go sour.  The current climate, economic climate, then started to put pressure on shipping companies to reduce costs, and they looked for ways to reduce costs and largely what happened is that they flagged their ships or registered their ships in other countries which had lower regulatory requirements than countries like the UK.  So their costs went down and they employed third world crews, crews from third world countries who had very low wages so of course it was a very negative impact on Marconi Marine’s business.  But, as part of the organisation they had set up service depots to support the ships around the world.  So we were left with a situation with a contracting market and lots and lots of expenses (and) people around the place, on ships and elsewhere so pressures on ship owners to reduce costs resulted in pressures on Marconi to reduce costs.  At the same time developments in electronics introduced all sorts of new types of communication and these new types of communication did not require a man with special skills to operate them.  And the Radio Officer and his special skills of being able to send and receive Morse suddenly became less important and eventually became redundant.  So by the time that in the nineteen eighties the satellite relay equipment was introduced whereby ships could have access to all the communication facilities in an office ashore at that time the days of the radio officer were numbered.  So, although the Radio Officer began his job, the job was created in the nineteen hundreds and expanded throughout the twentieth century, by the end of that century it had gone.  They no longer needed skilled people to work the equipment, the equipment was operable by anybody so the job disappeared; so within a hundred years the job was created, expanded and disappeared completely, sort of hero to zero in a nutshell.

But when I joined the company in 1960 I trained and qualified as a Radio Officer and was appointed to the company in Liverpool and immediately sent to a ship in Avonmouth and I thought that my life had changed drastically.  It had because within the course of a day or two I had gone from being a student to being the third Radio Officer, out of three, on a passenger liner ship and we used to take a hundred passengers from the UK to the West Indies, spend a few days there visiting various ports loading cargo and then return to the UK with passengers and several thousand tonnes of bananas.  That doesn’t seem impressive but the important bit from my personal point of view was we were treated as were the first class passengers so we ate excellent food, I had a steward who looked after me, I had pleasant company and we spent a lot of time in wonderful weather and every five weeks or so I got a week at home on leave in the UK, so life was wonderful.  Now that went on for about nine months or so.  At the end of that nine months I was deemed responsible enough to be sent away and inflicted on the world’s merchant fleet as a Radio Officer.  And suddenly things changed but still I had a steward and I was fed whatever food was fed on the ship.  I did that for about five years on various ships from a passenger cargo ship of under 1700 tonnes to a tanker of over 60,000 tonnes.  After about five or six years of that I was offered a job working ashore for Marconi Marine in their service base at South Shields on the Tyne.  That was something of a culture shock because firstly I had to find a place to live, I had to make my own bed, I had to feed myself, I had to learn the local language and generally it was something surprising plus, of course, I then got married.  That solved some of the earlier problems but caused others.

About a year or so after I left the sea I got offered a job in Chelmsford and came down here to work in the technical department of Marconi Marine.  I was part of a small team that looked after, generally its main purpose was helping with the roll-out of new products into service, but it also dealt with oddities that didn’t fit into the normal pattern and sorting out problems ships overseas or wherever they occurred.  So I got involved in a number of different things like installations on oil rigs and ports and harbours, Dover Harbour Radio, things like this where we installed what was basically marine equipment but on non-marine applications.  So we did that for a while and I got involved with special things like yachts, I was involved with the fitting of the radio on Sir Francis Chichester’s Gipsy Moth IV, the one in which he sailed round the world.  I also got involved in the 1968 Golden Globe round the world yacht race which was won by Robin Knox Johnston, now Sir Robin Knox Johnston and his yacht Suhaili, I fitted the radio on there.  I also fitted the radio on a less successful competitor Donald Crowhurst’s Teignmouth Electron, he was a gentleman who disappeared at sea while he was on the race.  So we did that and then I eventually got made Technical Manager, eventually became Operations Manager and that’s why I retired in 2002 so I have a fairly wide range of things mainly doing sort of problem solving tasks but one of the things I learnt at sea was it was very easy to overcomplicate things, people would look for problems where they didn’t exist and that certainly occurred when I came ashore and tried top overcomplicate things.  One thing I learnt at sea was it wasn’t necessary to do that.

On one ship I was on with an Indian crew I was friendly with the electrician, he had an Indian crewman as his mate, electrician’s mate, and this guy came from a remote village in the foothills of the Himalayas and chatting one evening to him I said to him

“Well what do you do when you are not at sea, how do you earn your living then?” Because the arrangement was that people had to compete to get to sea, they had to wait; there was a waiting list and so on

So I said “How do you earn your living?”

“Oh” he said “it’s not a problem” he said “I have a herd of goats.”

So I said “Yes, what do you do with the goats?”

“Well” he said “every day I take them into the jungle and they browse on the vegetation there.”

So I said “Oh yes, is that not a little bit risky in India, are there not any big predators and things like that around that would attack your goats?”

“Oh, that’s not a problem” he said “there are lots of leopards and some tigers but that’s not a problem.”

So I said “How come?”

So he said “I have three very good dogs.”

So I sat and I had a vision of these dogs defending the sheep and him and holding the tigers at bay and so on.

So I said “What happens then?”

So he said “When the dogs smell the tigers they bark very loud.”

So I said “Yes, and then what?”

“Then I run away very fast”

So it doesn’t mean that you have to have very complex solutions, simple ones sometimes work.

Thank you very much.