AGM – 2014

The Annual General Meeting of the Marconi Veterans Association was held on Saturday 5th April 2014 at the Marconi Athletic & Social Club following the reunion and luncheon.


1  Minutes

To approve the minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on 20th April 2013.

The minutes were passed unanimously by a show of hands.

2.  Accounts

To receive the audited accounts for the year ended 31st December 2013.

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

No matters were raised at this point.

6.  Next Meeting

The next reunion and AGM will be on Saturday 18th  April 2015 at the Marconi Social Club.  This will be the 79th  reunion.

Reunion Guest of Honour 2014

Our Guest of Honour at the 2014 reunion was Ray Haggar.  He was introduced by our Chairman, Peter Turrall.

Mr Patron, President, Fellow Veterans.

Our Honoured Guest this year Ray Haggar, is a friend of our President Mike Thornton, having known him since 1968. The two families have shared many holidays together and during the last fifteen years holidays have been in Florida playing golf and attending concerts and theatre.

Ray had no direct association in his career with the Marconi organisation but naturally being friendly with our President, general matters undoubtedly came up for discussion.

Ray was with Shellmex and BP where he joined straight from University. In the early 1970’s and for 30 years he spent working in the UK with the marketing arm of Shell. His experience being mainly in Commercial and Industrial sales but the majority of his time was in retail, especially in marketing and project management. He ended his career as Head of Retail management Training.

Having left Shell, he then for 3years worked with a specialised Training organisation delivering a staff/management communication package to of all
Institutions HMRC.

Later he renewed his connection with Shell and became a Pensions Liaison representative for the next ten years. I suspect we will hear more of this from Ray shortly. As our Patron is a member of our own Stanhope Pensions scheme, I am sure he will be listening with an open ear on how private organisations like Shell were able to offer very high retirement pension payments. !!!!

Fellow Veterans may I ask you to rise and with a Toast give a warm welcome to Mr. Ray Haggar

To which Ray Haggar replied

Ray HaggerGood afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you Mike for inviting me to your Inaugural Presidential Luncheon, and I’d like to say how pleased I am to be here to give you support, even if I’m having to sing for my supper, as it were!

Mike and I, together with our families, have been good friends for some 40 years, sharing happy holidays on the continent and latterly in the USA. He has been very supportive of me personally for which I thank him, and I am sure he will make an excellent Association President for 2014.

My background is not of a scientific nature and it is therefore with some trepidation that I will say just a few words about the Third Great Revolution, which is the Communications Revolution, from a personal, present and future viewpoint.

Who would have thought way back in the 40’s we would now be able to communicate anywhere in the world with our families and friends by a handheld device that slips into our pockets! Most weekends in the family chez Hagger and before lunch BST, we talk and also see our children and grandchildren in Korea, New York and Singapore via Face Time or Skype. As youngsters our imaginations of future possibilities were stimulated through comics and science fiction that this might be possible, and today it is available to us all, globally! Social media, GPS the World Wide Web have all contributed to and promoted a much more transparent, informed and open global society, which holds great promise for the future, but comes with parallel concerns that depend on the way we, and the world, use the benefits it offers.

Social media touches us in so many ways, how we organise our lives, handle family and group dynamics at home, school and at work. Just the other day I caught a report on the TV advising those of us who are becoming insomniacs to leave the tele downstairs, with the Kindle or iPod etc take up a book, read a little, the better to lull us to sleep. So caution is the watch word!

Much of this technology in personal communications has taken place relatively recently. Face Book, for example, has only been with us since 2006; Twitter and Tweeting has followed and yet they seem to have been with us for ever. In business and industry these amazing technical developments offer great scope for us to completely reorganise the way we work. But then again there is need for caution. Tele-conferencing the sales force may contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions, and reduce global warming, but it cannot substitute always for face-to-face dialogue. The retail industry is only now struggling to come to terms with the impact of on-line competition on traditional town centres, newly constructed shopping centres and employment in the services sector generally. Being a bit of a dinosaur myself, I use on-line shopping very sparingly – there being no substitute for seeing and experiencing a product in hand. (Click and collect is a partial solution) A whole cultural change is required for it to fit comfortably into society. (It’s evolving!)

Politically these technologies are being felt all over the world; closed societies are being exposed to opportunities available elsewhere and are challenging the old guard. Good and not so good can result as we have seen in different corners of the world.
And so….WHERE to NEXT?

Hardly a day seems to pass without a news item telling us about the latest venture into space…..a new astronaut destined for the ISS….or a new space mission to search for…..almost everything! During our lifetime TV has brought us amazing scenes in sport, human achievement and tragedy on the 9 inch blue tube (sic) to the 50-plus super HD/3D flat screen, enabling us to witness events such as the 1966 World Cup Final and that GIANT LEAP FOR MANKIND in 1969! (There are apparently still those in the US who believe TV wrestling to be genuine, but Moon landings fake!) So where does this take us?

Space exploration has been at the heart of all this development (no satellites, no GPS etc). It has also been an area where international cooperation has been fostered and prospered. Let’s hope events in the Crimea do not scuttle this positive aspect of human endeavour and harmony.
Which leads me on to two projects in space exploration which you may have been following.

The first is the Plato Mission, an ESA lead programme to seek out habitable worlds in the cosmos, launching in 2024, and importantly involving a local business, E2V, who will be constructing a metre-square camera with a 2.5 Billion pixel lens! Exciting stuff!

The second is a current mission nearing its completion, namely the ESA lead Rosetta Mission, which has involved sending a 3 tonne spacecraft, including a lander – Philae – that launched in 2004 with the object of catching a comet (reminds me of a song!). The spaceship is Rosetta, the landing craft Philae, and the comet is Churyomov / Gerasimenko 67F/CQ and the journey has taken 10 years. At some 25,000 mph! The aim is to land Philae on the comet’s surface to take samples and photographs, for research into the materials that are believed to be the building blocks of planet earth and the universe! Some project!! Hopefully this will take place in November this year.

To me, as a layman, this is mind boggling, with echoes of the film Armageddon, and it will rank alongside the moon landings as the next Step for Mankind!
Now why have I spoken about these future challenges? Why, because if it had not been for a Man who ‘flew a kite’ to send a signal from Cornwall to Ireland and subsequently to Newfoundland, none of the controls necessary for these amazing feats to succeed would have been possible, for all controls are by radio (albeit with some 45 minute reaction delays!). And that man, as you will know, was Marchese Marconi, the immigrant entrepreneur, whose belief, tenacity, and passion for scientific discovery made imagination into reality. A True Champion of Science.

I am indeed honoured to be here today, and you can all be proud to say: “I was part of Team Marconi and helped to make these Great Journeys possible”!

Thank you for your hospitality, friendship, and attention today. I am truly humbled.

MVA President 2014

Our President for 2014 was Mike Thornton. He was introduced by our Chairman Peter Turrall

Mr. Patron, Honoured Guest, Fellow Veterans.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce our President for 2014, Mr. Mike Thornton. Your year Mike as President is not an arduous one. You will be expected to attend, if requested, various meetings called by our Secretary Barry (usually one per week) Be present at any function in the City of Chelmsford when progressing the name of Marconi Veterans (several times per year) Attend some Funerals of Veterans. Give generously when asked to ensure the Marconi Veterans Association does not fall into the red, and to promote our Founders name especially with the City Council and the Essex Chronicle etc., etc., Do you still wish to be President?

Seriously Mike it is a great Honour to be President and I know you will carry out your duties to the best of your ability. Fellow Veterans, I feel sure many of you will know Mike, especially those who worked at Air Radio Group Basildon where in 1993 he became Managing Director.  This is another instance where a Management Trainee of the old Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company has attained one of the highest positions possible after a long and varied career.

Mike started with the MWTCO in 1956 and held various posts including a secondment to Singapore where he ran an office for local staff.  It was at this time when I first met Mike at a briefing session but since then our paths crossed at various times, particularly at Company exhibitions.

A worldwide traveller in his capacity as a Sales Manager, he travelled to far places including China and it was here he met our Patron Robbie Robertson.

I expect Mike will in his response tell you a lot about his experiences as a Marconi man so I will not disclose any more of his memories except to say he was as far as I know, the only person to fly to New York on a Boeing 707 arriving at 3-00pm in the afternoon and leaving at 10-00am next day. As they say a one night stand.

Mike plays Golf but I yet have the pleasure of playing either with him or against him. However, I understand in the past he has made the use of a Caddy. For the uninitiated in the game of Golf, a Caddy is the person who accompanies the Golfer round the Golf Course giving him various hints and tips on how to get the best out of the game. The following are some comments I have received from this Caddy.

Mike once stated.” I’d move Heaven and Earth to get round my Golf Course in less than 100.” The Caddy replied. “Try Heaven, you’ve already moved most of the earth.”

On another occasion Mike said to the Caddy.” Please stop checking your watch every time I hit the golf ball.” To which the Caddy replied .” Its not a watch it’s a Compass.” And one last comment, Mike asked the Caddy. “How do you like my game.” To which the Caddy replied. “Very good, but personally I prefer Golf.”

Mike I know you have had a varied career with our famous Company and it now gives me great pleasure to formally give you the honour of becoming President of our Marconi Veterans Association.

Fellow Veterans please rise and give a Toast and warm welcome to our President Mr. Mike Thornton.

To which Mike Thornton replied

Mike ThorntonThank you Peter for your kind introduction, and also for your fine work over the years in continuing to keep the Marconi name and the efforts of its people in the forefront of the local and national media. It is good to see you with the Veterans again this year and hope that your health continues to improve.

I would like to also thank your Patron and committee for the honour of being asked to become your President for 2014. What a pleasure it is for me to meet again with so many colleagues from my years with Marconi’s. Although I have never joined the Association I have followed the reports and activities of the group through the regular and comprehensive publication of the web site. You have a wonderful example of the capabilities of the internet in maintaining the history and archives and your secretary and other contributors are to be congratulated on their dedication to the Association.

I am particularly pleased to see Robbie again, our paths crossed on a number of occasions during our careers, normally at exhibitions or as members of delegations in various parts of the world, he was always willing to listen to my moans and we put the Company to rights on a number of occasions. You get to know someone quite well when you share a hotel room in China for a few days.

In response to the Toast, nearly 40 years working for one company is a long time with so many memories both good and not so good. With so many good friends and colleagues, many of them here today, but some not, it can make it difficult to know where to start.  I have been told however when to finish. Seven minutes and 30 seconds.

For whatever reason the Avionics capability of the Marconi Company has become detached from the history and close association we all enjoyed during the fifties and early Sixties.

I would like to use the few minutes left to try and explain why I think this may have occurred.

After trying numerous pre-war locations establishing the “wireless on aircraft ” principles, the main engineering and product support groups of Aeronautical Division were concentrated at Writtle using the original 2 MT Emma lock hut of 1922 fame plus other newer huts housing development and product support teams.
“A” Division management together with Contracts and commercial departments were housed in New Street and production was carried out at the Skating Rink. This configuration continued through the Fifties until the new buildings were completed at Basildon when the full Divisional team could be brought together as Airadio Division.

It is necessary at this stage to explain a little of the systems being developed for both the Military and Civil Markets. Two development teams were formed, at Writtle one concentrating on Doppler Navigation systems, still under security wraps in the early fifties, and the other on radio navigation and communication equipments. Both groups produced successful ranges of equipments which were widely installed on many of the UK aircraft both at home and overseas. The Writtle systems were among the first in the World to use transistors in the Aircraft environment, and were the basis of the radio guidance system for the worlds first Blind Landing Installations on the Trident and VC10 aircraft of BEA and BOAC.

To complement the introduction of these equipments into service the Systems Planning Group provided support to advise the aircraft manufacturers and assist in the testing of these new systems. It was one of the most exciting periods in the development of new Aircraft with the introduction of Jet engines capable of powering fast, high flying machines which all brought increased complications to the idea of “wireless on aircraft”.  Every aeroplane had to look nice.  No nasty bits of wire or other aerials to spoil the aerodynamic lines.  The early Comet was a good example of that thinking, with all aerials recessed below the skin line and the tail energised for HF transmissions. These concepts changed as the reduced communication and navigation performances became apparent, and the effects of static at high altitude became known, and counteracted.  Many test flights were undertaken during this period by both development and product support engineers to ensure that optimum performance was achieved.

Before most of these flights you signed a Blood Chit absolving everybody, in the case of an accident, offered a bone dome and Oxygen Mask, and confirmed you could use an ejection seat. I flew on over thirty different Military and Civil aircraft types checking performance of Communication and Navigation both in the UK and overseas, during this period.

Trusting and innocent young men on exciting missions.

Ray Walls on the Basildon table over there, however, will tell you, hitting an 11,000 volt overhead cable at 40 feet, with the rotor blade of a West land helicopter whilst testing a Doppler system can be just that little bit too exciting.

The whole team, including the D.O. and preproduction workshops were at last transferred from Writtle to Basildon where a purpose built facility was completed in 1960 and we had a new home with the capability of housing everybody.

Our management structure remained unchanged, with Dr O’Kane as divisional manager reporting to the MWT Managing Director. The vast majority of the management team and engineers had

Transferred from Writtle and we were all still Marconi men, using many of the MWT central facilities at Chelmsford.

This situation lasted until 1967 when English Electric bought Elliott Brothers who had a also had a well established Avionic business. GEC then stepped in a few months later and bought the new group including Marconi s from English Electric. Within two years, the avionics business now reported to the Elliott Bros, headquarters at Rochester. The name of the company, including Basildon activities, was now Marconi-Elliott Avionics

As far as our organisation was concerned we had a new MD, Wally Patterson and a regrouping of divisions to reflect the increased activity on the site. Three Electro-Optical divisions plus two Airadio. The day to day liaison between Basildon and New Street virtually disappeared over the next few years.

The defence market, however, was becoming increasingly under threat from overseas competition particularly in communications where the requirements to intemperate securely across NATO caused significant problems. For some time it was obvious that to meet that competition it was necessary for the total GEC-Marconi expertise 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 also by this time contracted to supply Thermal imaging systems to UK and US defence services and the total Basildon businesses was now almost wholly Defence oriented and the sale to BAE was probably a wise move, but of course I was never asked!!
As we know that business was then sold by BAE to Finmeccanica whose affiliate UK Company Selex ES now employ 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, and the current press release includes the following

“Our Basildon site has manufactured state-of-the-art military guidance systems and civil aeronautics for world markets for over 50 years. We benefit from the wealth of knowledge that exists in a company with such a strong heritage in the local area”

Your fellow Marconi veterans on the Basildon tables to-day are proud to have helped to establish that heritage, and have asked me to suggest that if you have Grandchildren looking for an interesting and rewarding career in Avionics to call our original 1960 telephone number 01268 22822.  They are still looking for graduates and apprentices

I am sure Signor Marconi understood the adage ” What goes around comes around ” and may even have approved of an Italian managed company, with British engineers providing the expertise.

Many thanks and may I wish you all Good Health, and continued success for the association.

Reunion 2014

The veterans’ reunion was held on 5 April. The president for 2014, the reunion’s guest of honour and the standing committee is shown in the first picture below

Committee Reunion 2014 Reunion 2014 Reunion 2014 Reunion 2014 Reunion 2014 Reunion 2014 Robbie Robertson Mike Thornton Peter Turrall, chairman MVA Ray Haggar Basil Francis Reg Awcock