Our Honoured Guest – 2015

As his guest at this year’s reunion our President Veteran Basil Francis had invited John Warwicker who had a career as a senior officer in the Police Force.  He was introduced by and the toast proposed by Chairman Veteran Peter Turrall.

Peter Turrall

There’s one thing that this M/C does, he keeps me on my toes, anyway.

Mr President, fellow veterans. It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you this afternoon our honoured guest Mr John Warwicker, MBE.  John was to accompanied here by Jilly Sullivan, his friend who looks or keeps an eye on him as John is severely sight disabled.

Now John has known Basil for many years and more recently attended a momentous birthday party for him.  He has had a very illustrious career from being an officer in the Metropolitan Police, the CID, owning and sailing a yacht, obtaining a pilot’s licence, becoming a flying instructor and writing several books one of which entitled An Outsider Inside Number 10.  This has just been published and it is on this subject that John will give us a talk which he today has titled Yes Prime Minister.

Now, believe it or not, John now lives out in the Norfolk countryside but is a Chelmsford person having attended the local King Edward the Sixth grammar school. I’m sure we are in for a very interesting afternoon as John was the close protection officer for three Prime Ministers stretching over a large part of his career.

I therefore ask you fellow veterans, to be upstanding to welcome John Warwicker, our honoured guest and to drink his toast before he gives us some insight into his illustrious career following his close proximity to leading statesmen.

John Warwicker our honoured guest.

Now before I leave I have threatened John that if he goes beyond seven and a half minutes I shall kick him once, if he goes beyond ten minutes I shall kick him twice and if he goes beyond fifteen minutes, well, you can understand what happens.  But I’ll see how we get on but I’m going to leave the floor entirely to John. Thank you.

John Warwicker

Let me take wine with somebody please.  Ian (Francis) are you there? Can’t see that far but there you are – I’d like to take wine with you Ian for kindly transporting me here today in some considerable comfort, if I may say so and with a sure hand on the wheel and a mature approach to traffic congestion (laughter) and may I say your wagon is a good deal better than the Austin Ruby which I remember learning to drive in once upon a time.

Peter, thank you very much for that kind introduction, very kind, of course I can’t possibly comply can I? Totally impossible to comply with a lifetime or six years of life at Downing Street and a book at the end of it in the seven and a half minutes which he has allocated to me and I just thought Oh of course I was in the Royal Marines so I’ll follow the last order and that came from Peter, he gave me this notice: If any veteran present today endeavours to fall asleep in the next seven and a half to ten minutes he will be force marched to Tilbury landing stage and exported direct to Botany Bay. Now I expect/imagine there is a contingent force of bouncers standing by to comply but of course it all cuts into my time available and it’s important to say just why I was invited to come here today.

Yes, I was invited to come here today because I am a man of Chelmsford, yes, I was educated here my Father worked here and I remember only too well that Marconis was always a part of Chelmsford and Chelmsford would have been very little indeed without Marconis.  I was also privileged, I think is probably the word, to be involve with Marconis perhaps through marriage, through Basil’s marriage to my cousin Eva, and to my own marriage to Elizabeth Penkman, whose Father worked for the Marine Division for his lifetime and her brother was Billy Penkman who, as I understand it, worked for the Radar Division. He may even be working for Marconis, in whatever guise they now are, for all I know, because I’ve lost touch with them.

But my credentials were quite good and I remember seeing Marconis turn out at the end of the working day in my early young days, which was a very long time ago, when they took over most of Chelmsford’s centre on bicycles. Nobody had a car in those days, almost nobody had a car in those days and New Street was flooded with an exodus of bicyclists from Marconi at knocking off time and at about the same time or just before or just after from Hoffman’s over the road.

I also remember, don’t I, that it part of a town in the War which was ably defended, uniquely defended almost by rocket ack-ack guns. Very unusual, they were all in the recreation ground and all around were barrage balloons and many of you here will remember the sight of those sturdy balloons flying about in bad weather, sometimes disappearing altogether in bad weather as the weak link in their wire gave way and they floated off to eternity.  I also recall in one of the blitzes here and some of you will be there too that when we woke up in the morning the barrage balloons had all gone because the ack-ack guns had shot them down.  This must have been a great help to the Germans who marked out the county town of Essex for further visits and, as some of you will recall, a very daring Luftwaffe pilot, was it in 1942 or 1943, in a yellow nosed Focke-Wulf darted out of low cloud soon after dawn and planted what I understand was a single bomb fairly and squarely on the New Street area of Hoffman’s creating a great deal of collateral damage to the front end of Marconis as well.  Some of you will know more detail, I was just a schoolboy, I was an intruder, the area was cut off at the time and I had to use my local knowledge and my fast bicycle to get down there to see it at all., but this raid made a real mess of Hoffman’s and it must have inconvenienced many of you, perhaps, in Marconis at the same time.

All right. So I had better not go on about my credentials but I must just say briefly what happened to me after that because Peter has introduced the subject, and the subject was that I left Chelmsford after a while in Lloyds Bank, I went to the Metropolitan Police with more or less success, I was one of the few officers that I can remember who was neither corrupt, nor racist nor violent which now seems to be part and parcel of the way of life and in due course was fortunate enough to become a member of Special Branch at Scotland Yard. 1954 was when I joined Special Branch which was then mainly involved in anti cold-war activities as indeed were you on a different sphere locally here. Ours was counter espionage principally and the care and surveillance of known troublemakers and, of course, subversives.

We also had other interests in life and that was the protection of VIPs, certain VIPs, government VIPs, not the Royal Family but government VIPs.  We had also the surveillance and protection of visiting dignitaries and as such I was privileged to be one of the team which cared for the late Shah of Persia when he was here and various presidents and so on and so forth.

Anyway, in due course having achieved what I thought was a very good foothold for promotion and an important place in life at Scotland Yard with the counter terrorism branch of Special Branch which specialised in those days in counter Irish extremist activities and which had two ways to go for any aspiring young officer, either up or out. And I was to my horror transferred to Downing Street to take over the lead role in the protection current Prime Minister who was then Harold Wilson.  I thought I was in a bad time for it, that couldn’t have been more wrong. I didn’t want to be there it was a sort of pinstripe and hitherto people had stood around in pinstripe trousers a black jacket and a homburg hat and that, of course was on its way out because of the change of the world’s tempo in connection with the development of terrorism from Japan to Italy to Germany to Ireland and henceforth to the Middle East.

So our role as protection officers rapidly expanded in importance and authority. So I was fortunate enough to be there for two years with Harold Wilson which was one of the most entertaining times in my life and if you want to know the answer – no he was not sleeping with her at the time. (laughter) Please do read my book about it and you will find a pod of laughter.

Now, I then….., funny stories abound, may I tell, may I try to tell funny instance. I saw at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference in Kingston, Jamaica in 1974 the British Government in secret action. The Commonwealth had 50 or more heads of state one morning they met in conference, Harold Wilson was the only…. only the heads of state were there no note takers no advisers, no press people, no nothing.  Out pours Harold after three hours solid debate not always happy, he was looking unhappy, outside were waiting 12 of his advisers, that was civil service, that was diplomats, that was press officers, there were duty clerks, they all had a message for him, all wanted him to say yes or no like Father Missels at Moscow or don’t …. or support the pound because it’s about to collapse or don’t.  They were quite big decisions and he had seconds to make up his mind about them and he was still then at the height of his powers and he was looking very concerned, then he started strolling up as he did… strolling up and down as he did when he was thinking in this totally sealed hotel, the Jamaica Pegasus. On the ground floor strode up and down purposefully, came to a dead end.  The security doors, of course, were all locked for security purposes and if there was a fire we could all be incinerated in safety.

Then, he turned round and the doughnut round him moved with him, and they all moved back and they’d all got papers and papers under their arms and were holding papers and “Prime Minister could you tell me about this and Prime Minister are you going to have a press conference today”. And so it went on and he was looking increasingly anxious and I was clearly the only one of his staff there who knew that he was looking exclusively for the gentleman’s’ toilet. Three hours in conference and he needed the gentleman’s toilet and he didn’t know where it was. But eventually he blundered into it. And they all blundered in with him, and I want you to picture the situation now if you will gentlemen – yes do. He immediately, ladies and gentlemen, he immediately presents himself at the urinal and what do you do if you are an adviser or a press officer or a diplomat.  Do you stand around and watch your Prime Minister at the urinal or do you take part and all line up as well (laughter). And fortunately this was a large multi storey urinal and so they all pretended to take part and lined up in their own little white area. And it was chaotic they were still talking to him, still trying to get decisions  that one senior civil servant had a whole bundle of official papers under his arm and he found that he had run out of strength and they gradually slipped out from under his arm into the flow (laughter) and only he was authorised to get them out (laughter) and then responsible for drying them and re-presenting them. In the meantime the Prime Minister having been first to the urinal was first to the wash basin where he took out all his teeth and started cleaning them – they’d been uncomfortable and one by one his advisers came out too – not all of them could join him in taking out their teeth, most of them were younger so they had to pretend to be interested and he completed his teeth and he made his decisions. I then had a responsibility to make sure that no enemies of the nation from the Commonwealth came into that particular toilet, I saw that all the stalls were empty and that secrets could be imparted and I thought this is a very funny way to run a country.

James Callaghan, couldn’t tell you anything funny about James.  Didn’t have a sense of humour. In fact I think it sums up my three years with James Callagham very well when I say that he said to me one day “John, don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because I’m smiling I’m happy”. And that was the tone of the three years we spent there, really.

Now I just want to tell you a final story because Peter will get very naughty about it in a minute and start licking my legs or something like that – he’s got some sort of an arrangement down here, but, I might as well tell you just one anecdote about Margaret Thatcher.  Everything changed with Margaret Thatcher, it was the end of the dandruff days for a start and instead of scruffy old aircraft and cars and untidiness we had some real distinction, love her or hate her she put the country on the map abroad certainly and later on you may say at home, or you may not.

Lusaka, and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference of 1979 was one she’d inherited.  Bear in mind she had no experience of senior ministership at all.  Junior position as Education Minister once upon a time – she had no experience of what being Prime Minister was like sheer hell.  She was immediately dragged away as soon as she got in Number 10 and briefed about nuclear weapons and her responsibility for pressing the button and annihilating all the people in Moscow and all those little decisions which the Prime Minister has to take on board, which almost nobody knows anything about.  But she handled all this well. She handled a number of things extremely well. And where she didn’t know what was happening she was very wise in taking advice, and I greatly appreciated that, it made my job in protecting her with my team a great deal more efficient than it otherwise might have been.  But she had to go to Lusaka for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference and it was her first one.  And there was the problem of Rhodesia.   Do you remember Rhodesia?  It used to headline the news day after day, day after day, and it was nowhere near settled but everybody wanted a settlement except the Rhodesians.  And so Lusaka was a front-line country adjacent to Rhodesia.  It was extremely vulnerable because it was largely in the hands of freedom fighters armed with Kalashnikovs and no proper sense of discipline.  And also it had been the subject of a raid by the famous Rhodesia’s  Selous Scouts very recently in which they entered across the border, made their way to Lusaka, blew up the bungalow of the Matabele Joshua Nkomo and made away safely back to the birders of Rhodesia again without losing a soul.  This meant that the country was extremely vulnerable and consequently we had a great team out there, 40 men in advance, including my chief inspector and we the main delegation went out on a DC10 and arrived at night and I got the call on my personal radio for my colleague only to say “It’s mayhem down here guvnor, it’s mayhem”. They’d taken – the press had taken over the whole of the apron which was supposed to be sacrosanct and available only to Customs and the aircraft and they’d taken it to a man.  Everybody’s totally out of control and most coloured people, nearly all coloured people but the white journalists had infiltrated as well.  Now this was communicated to Margaret Thatcher on the aircraft and she – I’d told her we’d got a big team here but she got the wind up and she started putting on dark glasses at night and when I reminded her it was night time she said “I’m afraid someone may throw acid in my face”.  Now this was the type of journey which she started at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference.  We got out, gradually made our way to safety, nothing terrible or dreadful happened.  What we found out afterwards was that the front line states had contrived this situation to intimidate her because they wanted her to agree to a settlement to the Rhodesia problem and that was the democratic one man one vote settlement.  The meeting went on for four days and on the fifth day, fifth night – it had been going on all day and an attempt to get a settlement about Rhodesia and to get a communiqué.   All these meetings demand a communiqué and it’s the biggest job to get a suitably worded communiqué so that everybody’s pleased about it. Well, the night drew on, the frogs started frogging and the crickets started cricketing, it was in the jungle almost this conference section, almost in the jungle and it was hot and it was humid and those of us who were not party to the heads of government discussions, there were aides waiting, the cars were lined up in various different echelons, 52 people or more and all of us waited around in more or less comfort and about 10 o’clock Dennis Thatcher turned up looking rosy and tanned and joined in and smoked a furtive cigarette and about half past eleven I think it was the time they came out, they all came out and she made her way disconsolately to the car.  Now there was bad news for a start. The car was a Mercedes and you may be aware that although it is a refined car a Mercedes is not British, it is not British and she only really wanted a British car.  So she was in a Mercedes.  She came out, she was very quiet indeed, very downcast and it was apparent that she was about to give way and concede the loss of white minority rule in Rhodesia.

She got in the back, what would be the left hand side in the Mercedes and Dennis got in the centre and I got in the right hand side of the Mercedes, a coloured driver, a coloured ADC.  Off we go and I notice she’s got a tear dripping down her cheek.  She had had a very loyal concern about the white Rhodesians in particular because like so many of the other Commonwealth countries they had sacrificed so much during the war for the allied war effort.  And she was about to let them down she felt.  And so Dennis very sensibly kept quiet and then she looked up and she said to him “By the way Dennis, have you had a good day?”  Which I thought was pretty good of her, that was pretty good of her, she’d had a rotten day, a long rotten day, lost all the battles and  “Dennis have you had a good day?”  “Yes my dear, yes, what a day” he said “What a wonderful day, got up leisurely what a breakfast, they did me a pudding this breakfast in the hotel, you know, and then of course there was all the cold meat and there was the salad and everything else there.  So I had the most wonderful start to the day.  Went upstairs, changed and the car was waiting for me”.

Now bear in mind that with all the spouses there they were all ladies except Dennis and they all go to hospitals and schools and they tap little babies on the head and things like that.  Well, Dennis wasn’t part of that culture, indeed, and so his car took him off into the jungle and there he was given in what was apparently a national park a view of the wonderful animals that were there, a unique private view “Wonderful indeed, I had a most wonderful time and then lunch, lunch I was taken up on a mine and had a lunch. Oh God they sat us down, everyone treated us well, beautiful drinks, long drinks, kept us cool, everything was perfect.  Went down a mine afterwards.  Well copper mine I never realised it was so exciting, very exciting.  Come up again, quick cup of tea and a couple of tinctures.  Golf, and I had a wonderful round of golf which in this country you can hit the ball nearly four hundred yards because there is such a lack of drag”  And he said “Had a wonderful round”.

And then he suddenly realised, Dennis suddenly realised that this was going a bit far, she’d obviously not had a good day and he was going on about his good day and he said to her “The only thing I’m really sorry about is that I haven’t seen enough of you today”.  And she looked across at me and she said “I don’t know what you think Mr Warwicker but I really don’t think there will be time for any of that today, do you?” (laughter)

So don’t think that Margaret Thatcher had no sense of humour although I don’t think it was a great one.

Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you very much Basil for arranging for me to be invited today. I’m very thankful  to you and the committee, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my lunch with you all, very impressed indeed, good to be back in Chelmsford and thank you very much for having me.




Our President 2015

Basil FrancisThis year’s President is Basil Francis.  He was introduced by Chairman Veteran Peter Turrall who also proposed the toast to the President.

Peter Turrall

Mr President, honoured guest, fellow veterans. It is a real privilege to me to have the honour of introducing our President for 2015, Basil Francis.

Now before I go any further I thought it would be a good idea to find out a little more of the origins of the names Basil and Francis. The characteristic of the name Basil is defined as freedom loving, adventurous, adaptable, intellectual, easy going, progressive and sensible. I am sure in all respects these words apply to our Basil. The name Francis is quite universally known as a surname and as a Christian name; the current Pope as this so you see it is at the top of the spectrum, but when we join them together, Basil Francis, then wow!  The name really goes to the top as My World, Mr Universe and man-mountain.  As you can see from this picture – the name in there is Basil Francis.

I feel sure our Basil Francis has obtained all these products over the many years of his life and career. I think I have known Basil longer than anyone else present here today, In fact last January it was 64 years since I first met Basil and we have been close friends ever since. Basil was best man at my wedding in 1954 and I have played badminton and golf either with him or against him. But I never indulge in tennis for which he was very good. Fortunately, he never got involved in my favourite sports, football and cricket for which in the latter case he was absolutely hopeless.

We have attended many functions together, got up at unearthly hours to go fishing and in both our careers with Marconi worked very closely with me on the sales side,  Basil on the installation design side where he was excellent at the design of many outside broadcast vehicles for worldwide customers of the company.

There have been many times when in the course of company business I requested Basil to visit overseas customers to complete work which I had probably started during a sales visit.  Basil always co-operated with any request of this nature and it was due to his efficient efforts that our company received a number of repeat orders.

Chelmsford breed and born, Basil lived locally, married a Great Baddow lady and produced a son, Ian, who has taken on the chauffeuring of our honoured guest today. Thank you Ian.

Always helpful and willing to assist wherever possible Basil started life with the old MWT Co. as a draughtsman and rose to become manager of one of the most important units of the company. I know he is very proud that our Marconi veterans committee have bestowed on him the honour of being our President so I now ask you, fellow veterans, to be upstanding to drink a toast to Basil Francis as he takes up the position of Presidency of our illustrious Veterans Association.

The toast is the President, Basil Francis.

Basil Francis replies

Mr Chairman, honoured guest, fellow veterans I feel it always a great honour to be chosen as President of the Marconi Veterans Association and am very grateful to the veterans’ committee for bestowing on me the presidency.  I’m truly honoured to be your President for 2015.

I joined Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company Limited in winter 1939, the second World War had been declared and I had just left school with the ambition to be an architect. Meanwhile I obtained a mundane job at Crompton Parkinsons before the chance came up to join Marconis’.  What happened was that Marconis London Office of the IDD, the Industrial Design Division was evacuated to Great Baddow Research Laboratories and I heard that the Installation Design Division was looking for young engineers to learn the art of installations; I therefore applied to join this division and was accepted.  The chief of this department was a Miss Caswell and in charge of the drawing office was a Mr R C Crick  and his deputy was Mr W E Pannett and the mast and aerial design team was headed by Mr Ainsley and Mr Bolton.

After a few weeks at Great Baddow thwe whole division was relocated to the famous Goldfish Bowl – I think we all know where that is at New Street. I attended evening classes at the Mid Essex Technical College and studied for my ordinary and higher National Certificate in mechanical engineering and along with the help of senior draughtsmen I learnt the arts of the installation techniques.

In the early years as a draughtsman I was drawing up installation plans for the famous Marconi SWB8 and SWB11 transmitters and other modern equipment and whilst the war continued and new equipment was being developed I was informed the the Admiralty needed a draughtsman at the Haslemere, Surrey establishment and my surname had been put forward to be seconded to this department, however, I had already volunteered for aircrew in the Royal Air Force and was soon to be called up, therefore I was unable to take this drafting position, which I didn’t want anyway.

I spent five years in the RAF during which time I obtained my pilot’s wings before I reached the age of 18. I travelled the world with the RAF finally ending up in Burma.  I was flying many types of aircraft but mainly Catalina flying boats, Wellington bombers and finally Dakota transports. I was demobbed in 1946 and re-joined Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company. This meant I had to catch up with my qualifications by attending four evenings a week at Chelmsford Technical College where I obtained my Higher National Certificates and Ordinary National Certificates.

Messrs Crick and Pannett were still in charge of the drawing office and over a period of time some of the senior draughtsmen were retiring and together with colleague Joe Smith we were both made section leaders. Eventually Messrs Crick and Pannett retired, Joe was made chief of IDO and I was made his deputy and when Joe himself retired I took over the reins as chief of the department which at that time consisted of over seventy draughtsmen and tracers and I held that position until I retired in 1989.

I stayed on at the company for some six months after that  to see the installation of the Voice of America 500kW transmitters in building 46.

The IDO was moved about into various areas of Marconi House before temporary accommodation was found behind Building 46 at New Street, it was a single story wooden hut and became a permanent accommodation, which temporary accommodations always do until finally room for a small department was found on the first floor of the canteen with the wavy roof.

The name of the department had been changed from installation drawing office to installation design office because of the nature of the work undertaken.  This department serviced all the main divisions of Marconi Communication Systems including broadcasting, communication transmitters, television studios, transmitters, space stations and outside broadcast television vehicles. These latter items became my forte. As the sound transmitter increased in power from 50kW through 250 kW to 500 kW this meant the department needed to liaise with both the designer and the customer to ensure that all aspects of the work were satisfactorily completed.

The equipment sold to the BBC for use in the UK meant that discussions had to take place not only with their engineers but also their architects where buildings were to be designed to house the Marconi equipment. A similar requirement also existed for many overseas customers and many times I have had to travel to different countries to carry out this work on behalf of the company.

As an aside, when a meeting took place at New Street with a customer present and Building 46 designers were available the norm was to make sure that tea and biscuits were available during a suitable break in the proceedings. Management later decreed that tea and biscuits supplied as a company perk was to be discontinued so Joe Smith as chief of the department at that time decided to purchase biscuits at his expense and obtain tea from the tea making machines dotted around the company. He then filled a tin with chocolate digestive biscuits and also included one or two plainer biscuits.  On one occasion when some engineering help was required from Building 46 one Ron Bradbrook, who is present here today, came along to the IDO to give his engineering advice. Ron incidentally loved chocolate biscuits but on this particular day during the tea break there was only one chocolate biscuit available and this was hidden right at the bottom of the tin and covered with the plainer biscuits. The drawings were laid out on the conference table and when Ron arrived and the biscuit tin on top of the drawings Ron opened the tin and was really upset that only plain biscuits were visible.  Expletives from Ron as to why there were no chocolate biscuits.  He got hold of the tin however and tipped it up and emptied the contents all over the drawings only to find the one chocolate biscuit which he grabbed and ate. He was at last satisfied and got on and helped solve a number of engineering problems.

As mentioned earlier, television outside broadcast vehicles became my responsibility and I designed the first BBC MCRs, mobile control rooms, they were numbered from  14,15,16 and 17, the first two were designated for use in London area and one in Manchester and one in Birmingham. Competitive quotations had to be obtained for the manufacture of the vehicle bodywork and these were eventually made by Marsh’s of Cambridge with ash wood framework before the outer skin was applied. For later orders and other customers alternative coachbuilders were used including Essex based Bonallacks of Basildon and RTS of Rayleigh; aluminium framing and skin were used for these later vehicles.  A little known fact is that all Marconi designed outside broadcast vehicles had ribbed side panelling which I discovered doing my flying training in the United States when I travelled on Greyhound coaches who used this rib design on their vehicles  This became the standard for all Marconi designed outside broadcast vehicles.

As I have been with Marconis for more than fifty years I thought, with your Chairman, it would be nice to remember some of those people who during this period really put our Company on the map and with many of whom I have had the privilege of working.  I hope these names stir memories for many of you. First, B N Maclarty one time Chief Engineer, Douggie Smee manager of Broadcast Division, Henry Luxon foreman in the manufacturing areas, Charlie Pashley, (these are all men who helped the Company along) another main manufacturing foreman, Ron Oddy chief draughtsman studio development, J B Miller chief of contracts Broadcasting, Howard Steele an excellent television design engineer, Phil Barclay designer of many studio projects including Rediffusion London when the new ITA went on the air in 1955, Patrick Donnelly manager of Central Division, Geoff Sturgeon chief of Valve Division, George Partington the very excellent chief engineer of Broadcast Division whose far sighted thoughts for the future restored the Company to being miles ahead of its competitors in the television studio field.  Others worth mentioning are David Speake who for many years was head of research at Great Baddow Laboratories, Bill Barbone of Space and Microwave Systems, Dr. Derek Griess who was a very able installation engineer for transmitting equipment both audio and TV, and not last of all I personally am very pleased to see Tom Mayer with us today, thank you Tom. (applause)

There were many more with whom I had dealings who were major contributors to the progress in the international filed for our Company, most  of these have long since passed away.

Well, I hope I’ve given you an insight, which is all it could be after 50 years, of my time with The Marconi Company with whom I am very proud to state I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of my 50 years with this organisation. Thank you very much.

Annual General Meeting 2015

Readers are particularly asked to note item 5 on the agenda.

The Annual General Meeting of the Marconi Veterans Association was held on Saturday 18th April 2015 at the Marconi Athletic & Social Club following the reunion and luncheon.


1  Minutes

To approve the minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on 5th April 2014.

The minutes were passed unanimously by a show of hands.

2. Accounts

To receive the audited accounts for the year ended 31 December 2014.

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 was 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

a) Marconi Heritage Centre – address by veteran Alan Hartley-Smith

Thank you Peter. You will all had on your chair when you came in a notice from our colleagues the Moulsham Trust. You may or may not have read the local press but we are well under way towards getting acquisition of the ground floor of Marconi’s original factory at Hall Street in which we want to mount a Marconi Heritage Centre working with the Community Association so it becomes a sustainable not a dry museum exhibit.

One of the things we want to do is raise money obviously, they are doing this crowd funding system, which they have mentioned, but what we want to do with the Marconi Heritage Group is make an appeal to corporate sponsors.  Now to do that we want to get into contact with a lot of the major companies but also we’d like to get in contact with any of the old Marconi contacts that we have, i.e. customers and companies we’ve dealt with round the world.  Now to do this we’re going to need some help, there’s only three of us on the main committee of the MHG at the moment so this is really an appeal to people here if I could say “could any of you here volunteer working from home” we’re going to put together effectively an e-mail campaign to contact all of these people and our suggestion is we’re going to try and sell, for want of a better word, pledge credits, for £100 and the idea is to approach these people and say “How many of these credits would you like to buy?” in the hope that some of them will buy more than one but this is to get us off the ground with the funding to pay the developer in order to get access and then carry on. We are going to get support from BAE Systems once we’ve actually got the system up and running to make it operational but what we really need at this point in time is effort, so if anybody here could volunteer in time from home using the e-mail system this would be very greatly appreciated.  You can either contact me direct through the Marconi Heritage website which you have details of, or I’m sure if you send it into the committee here they will pass it on to us.

Please help us, we really do stand a good chance of getting the only remaining building in Chelmsford that’s got any association with Marconi back to something resembling a Marconi presence.  Please help.

Earlier in the year Alan provided an update on the Marconi Heritage Group.  To read this update please Click Here. 

b) Photographic archive at the Essex Records Office – veteran Ken Earney

The Essex Records Office are seeking volunteers to assist with a possible Heritage Lottery Fund bid to catalogue the Marconi Photographic archive.

Thanks Peter. Two years ago I stood here and spoke very briefly about the photographic archive that Essex Records Office have and which they had just taken control of. It’s a massive archive, thousands of images and this is the bit that escaped and didn’t get to Oxford and the Bodleian.

The archivists want to get this archive catalogued, there’s a lot of missing information and we’ve had a couple of meetings with them over those two years.  One of the things they wanted to do was organise a Heritage Lottery bid to support this work.  They haven’t, for whatever reason, been able to organise their HLF bid yet but in parallel with this Peter has been investigating a cataloguing of this material that was funded at the time that the photographic unit at Chelmsford was wound up so there is a missing catalogue, apparently, of an awful lot of this material; so we don’t yet know the extent of what effort a team of volunteers going into Essex Records Office might have and that will become clearer hopefully over the next weeks or a couple of months.

What will be sought eventually is the sort of appeal that I made two years ago though actually we haven’t had many names yet and there hasn’t been anything to do for them in truth yet.  It’s people who would be prepared to go into the records office on a not terribly onerous basis maybe once a month maybe less frequently than that to assist with the cataloguing and indexing effort.  It’s a case of using a laptop with Microsoft Excel and identifying photographs, who’s in the photograph, what’s in the photograph and putting that on to the database.  What this will need is a number of people who have knowledge of the key product areas in the company, radar, TV, broadcasting, Comms and avionics so to bring this to a close if anybody would be able to assist in this, and we don’t yet know precisely when this will happen, maybe sometime later this year. The individuals would have to have at this moment their own laptop that they can bring until the ERO get funding, Heritage Lottery funding, they can’t provide the kit so anyway if anyone’s interested in helping with this please contact me or anyone on the committee afterwards.

Thank you.

6. Next Meeting

The next reunion and AGM will be on Saturday 16th April 2016  at the Marconi Social Club.  This will be the 80th reunion.

Hall Street Works – Titanic remembered

Post updated 14 April 2015

The  Old Moulsham and Central Community Trust have approached Chelmsford Sea Cadets inviting them to parade outside the Hall Street Works on Monday April 13, 2015, and they have kindly agreed to attend with their padre, who will say a few words before those present observe a minute’s silence at 19.12 hours to mark the 1912 sinking of the Titanic on April 14/15. (1912 refers to the year of the sinking not the time of day)

It is believed it will be the first such ceremony in Marconi’s home town to mark the vital role played saving lives at sea, and especially the vital role of radio equipment made at Hall Street in helping to save of more than 700 lives from the stricken Titanic.

It is hoped that as many Marconi Veterans as possible will attend.

14 April – Below is a transcript of Chris Neale’s address together with some pictures of the event.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Sea Cadets and Marconi Veterans thank you for attending tonight’s unique ceremony, on the eve of the sinking of a ship they said was unsinkable

My name is Chris Neale, I am chair of the Marconi Heritage Group, but tonight  I represent the Old Moulsham and Central Committee Trust that had the original vision for this ceremony.

It’s a special night because it is the first time that citizens of Chelmsford and the people of Essex have commemorated the part played by this, Marconi’s first wireless factory, here in Hall Street.

Marconi took over what was originally a Silk Mill back in 1898 and through his inventive genius it played a vital role in the rescue of 700 survivors of the Titanic disaster when it sank overnight on April 14 and 15th 1912.

Two young Marconi wireless telegraphy officers, Harold Bride and Jack Phillips bravely tapped out the SOS that alerted other shipping to the impending doom and Jack went down with the liner, still sending out the vital alert.

The piece of equipment these heroic young men made good use of was made right here inside this building.

Marconi always knew that his equipment would be vital in saving lives at sea and his company were already in the process of building a bigger factory in New Street, Chelmsford, which was then to see its order books filled by the demands of shipping lines all over the world as direct result of this dramatic event.

The new, purpose built factory was constructed in a matter of 17 weeks and the Hall St. manufacturing was transferred there over a single weekend and subsequently closed down.

The Trust is right now sending out its own SOS message in a bid to ‘save’ part of this iconic building for the nation

A heritage task force Marconi Science WorX is currently negotiating with the local developer who has bought this building with planning permission for six apartments and commercial space.

Our thanks tonight are directed chiefly to the Chelmsford Sea Cadets of HMS Upholder

They have admirably risen to the challenge of honouring the role played by the men and women who worked in this factory – to whom so many seafarers, including those serving particularly in the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy owe their lives.

Click on any image to enlarge

Chelmsford Sea Cadets on parade
Chelmsford Sea Cadets on parade
Chris Neale and members of the Chelmsford Sea Cadets
Chris Neale and members of the Chelmsford Sea Cadets
Chris Neale and Chelmsford Sea Cadets
Chris Neale and Chelmsford Sea Cadets
Chris Neale and Chelmsford Sea Cadets
Chris Neale and Chelmsford Sea Cadets
A Minute's Silence
A Minute’s Silence
A replica Marconi Marine cap
A replica Marconi Marine cap
A replica Marconi Marine cap
A replica Marconi Marine cap
Marconi Heritage
Marconi Heritage