Newsletter 2013

Noel M Rust – Turbine Engineer at Clifden

Stan Atkins, ex-Space Comms, last year made the acquaintance of Lyndon Rust who was attending a music festival at St John’s Church, Danbury. Lyndon Rust’s involvement with the Armstrong Gibbs Society in Danbury (his late wife was Essex composer Cecil Armstrong Gibbs’ daughter) brings him regularly to Essex. He revealed in a conversation with Stan that his father Noel Rust had been a Marconi engineer who had served for a time at the transatlantic W/T station in Clifden, and that he was keen to learn more about the place where his father, who never told him anything about this time of his life, had worked. Stan put him in touch with Barry Powell, who passed a list of his questions to Shane Joyce in Clifden. (More on Clifden elsewhere in this issue.)

You kindly suggested I listed a few points concerning my father, Noel M Rust, and in particular his service in the West of Ireland when he joined the Marconi Company in 1913.

He had qualified as a Naval Architect specialising in turbines at his College in Glasgow and, like many others, had become very interested in this relatively new communications system of W/T. He always said it was the aspect of saving life at sea which this radio communication would enhance that was of great interest to him. After joining Clifden as a ‘Turbine Engineer’ he very soon transferred, as far as I can make out, to this new world of exploration in wireless telegraphy.

What I would be very interested in would be any information on:

  • when at Clifden W/T, what transmission experiments were carried out that my father might have been concerned with.
  • the destruction of the station by the IRA in 1922. When exactly did this happen; what was the extent of the damage etc.
  • any details of the living accommodation at the station.
  • any details of the small station a few miles away to the north of Clifden at Letterfrack?

You probably know that there is nothing now to indicate that a very big station existed in the bog south of Clifden; only the monument to Alcock and Brown who landed in this same bog from their Atlantic flight.

I think that will do for the time being and I shall be grateful for any nuggets of information.

Shane Joyce replied:

The Clifden and Connemara Heritage Group is carrying out a research project currently on the Clifden Marconi Station. Part of our research has involved investigating the Marconi Archive at the Bodleian Library. (See 2011 issue page 5 for background.)

We did unearth a list of all the engineering staff from 1913 and your father is there. He joined the company on 19th of May 1913 on a salary of £84 per annum. The general pay for engineers seems to have been about £150pa although the famous engineers were on salaries from £400-£800pa.

We have some details regarding experimental work at the station, mainly to do with aerials. These would have involved HJ Round CS Franklin, BJ Witt, TL Eckersley and others. Probably the most significant single piece of development work at Clifden was the development of the first duplex telegraphy system which required the building of the Letterfrack station from April 1911 onwards. George Kemp was at Letterfrack from that date till about May 1913, so through his diaries we have a good picture of what was going on during that period at Letterfrack but not at Clifden.

He was back briefly in 1916 and 1918 and your father is mentioned in April 1916 regarding reception tests.
I will send you on the relevant pages for your private use.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty signed in December 1921 a civil war broke out which intensified in June 1922. The pro-treaty Government were opposed by an anti treaty faction which included the majority of the IRA. In July 1922 the station was attacked by a very small number of IRA men and the Receiving House (which was a small wooden building) was set on fire. Some shots were fired in the Condenser House but overall very little damage was caused.

There were 10 residential buildings on the site. In order of construction these were:

  • The Operators’ Bungalow
  • The Foreman’s House
  • The Engineers’ Bungalow
  • 6 workmen’s houses (3 semi-detached dormer buildings)
  • The Manager’s House

All the houses had electricity and hot and cold running water which was very modern compared to Clifden Town. In the 1911 Census all the Radio Operators (including Jack Phillips) were in a house about a mile from the station.

As mentioned above, the Letterfrack Station was the first duplex telegraphy (receiving) station. All the operators moved to Letterfrack and the Clifden transmitting station was keyed remotely from there. The sister station in Glace Bay, built their equivalent station at Louisbourg which commenced operation in 1913.

The Caernarfon Station and the later American stations all employed the same duplex system with pairs of stations.
Letterfrack was closed down in 1917 although experimental work was carried out there until probably 1923.