THE EARLY YEARS OF THE
In the old website front pages, we showed two features which are very much a
part of the CHC, and it would be remiss not to continue mentioning them here.
The first was about the very beginning and the set-up of the Collection. It
seems so wrong that a bunch of egg-heads can state today, that something created
in 1953 as an embryonic museum, is not a museum but a collection only,
manifestly ridiculing the efforts and dedication of many sincere men over the
last 60 + years. Oh!...and by the way, because all this is past tense, the
mention of museum is allowable, at least in our books.
Click to enlarge
As you read further into the site, you will be made aware that the Royal Navy's
Electrical Branch was not formed until the 1947/48 period. Approximately
six/seven years on in 1953/54, these now well established electrical officers,
and, I would hope long-course communication officers, indeed, all,
notwithstanding rank, of the electrical and wireless telegraphy branches,
started asking questions about their heritage. Above, you will see a thumbnail
which reveals a typical question - please click on it now. Boyer was a Senior
Commissioned Electrical Officer [L= Electrical as opposed to R=Radio] wearing
one ½" stripe with a green cloth below. His next promotion would have been to
Lieutenant [L] Royal Navy.
The Museum had been set up in HMS Collingwood in October 1953 using a part of
building number 413, taking the 'A' Module. Other modules in this building were
taken for use as a display area[s] "vice an area[s] in building 407". It was a
very cramped and humble affair boasting as its only exhibits type 79B; type
271X; a type 290 ranging panel; the Graf Spee relics; a Japanese transportable
radio equipment; one Mercury Vapour Rectifier; a couple of thermionic valves; a
crystal receiver and several USN WW2 receivers. The Curator was Instructor
Lieutenant Commander C.A. Sinfield Royal Navy, who before his appointment, had
spent several years teaching radio theory to students at the Signal School at
Leydene. He was assisted by two ratings, Chief Radio Electrician Harvey [who had
mounted all exhibits to date] and only left on his promotion in August 1954, and
Radio Electrical Artificer Finney, who left in October 1956. There are several
letters on record which tell the story of how the Curator set about getting
'old' equipments to fill his empty shelves. His approach succeeded, getting
naval organisation [and personalities - many his ex friends in the Service] to
search their lay-apart stores for anything remotely relevant, particularly as
regards to wireless telegraphy, by now sixty years old [radar was twenty years
old !] and already with much of its former equipment discarded in rubbish skips.
He got, for example, equipment from the Rodney, the battleship famous for her
part in the destruction of the Bismarck [an other engagements] and from HMS
Andromeda, one of the three 19th century ships which, moored together in
Devonport, formed HMS Defiance, the spiritual home of the W/T Branch and real
home for Captain Henry Jackson Royal Navy, later to be knighted and elevated to
the very top as an Admiral of the Fleet.
In the early months of 1954, Lieutenant Commander Sinfield decided to set the
record straight by issuing a statement about the recent attempts to start the
HMS Collingwood Museum. He chose the magazine The Naval Radio and Electrical
Revue which earlier, had attacked the navy for not having a Museum. In the April
1954 edition [Vol 7 No 4] he wrote this letter. Although not specifically
stated, the letter he refers to in his opening paragraph, is almost certainly
that from our friend SCEO L.E. Boyer RN., appointed to NLD Bath mentioned at the
start of this page above.
This is what he wrote. Museum Curators Letter.pdf. The letter tells one of the
Philistine attitude of our forebears, who clearly didn't think that these
wonderful early tools and devices belonged to posterity and to the generations
of the future. They were selfish, regrettably, but the first Curator made it
known throughout the Fleet that all potential exhibits should be made known to
him, and that he and his peers, would decide what was 'junk' and what was worth
keeping and preserving. We owe him a great deal for his probing, his
perseverance and endeavours.
Deserving comparable merit is Lieutenant Commander G.E. Thomas Royal Navy, whose
role is unclear. He has several hand written letters [as well as loose minutes]
in the "Museum Formation Book", and because of the following letter, I must
assume that he is an active officer whereas the Curator is a retired officer.
Like the Curator, Lieutenant Commander Thomas is an Instructor Officer. This is
the letter which suggest his executive status LT CDR THOMAS.pdf. Note in his
paragraph 6 that the relatively tiny space taken by the Museum in building 413
Module 'A' may have to be extended. Continuing on page 2, he says that the
Training Commander [T.C.] is anxious to keep all exhibits together in one area.
He concludes by saying that some structural alterations may be necessary later [
to fit the big stuff coming from Devonport ex HMS Defiance]. On the "Museum
Formation Book" page to which the letter above is stuck, the Curator has added
that the Museum eventually took over modules A, B, C and D at Easter 1954.
As time went by, pieces arrived from the Fleet and indeed from many parts of the
world. I have already mentioned the Rodney and the Defiance, but others were the
Resource, the Devonshire to mention but a few. In addition, lots of kit came
from UK shore authorities, the likes of ASRE, the Signal School[s] and SNSO's
who were ready to bin what to them, was rubbish. A whole host of Confidential
Book Officers [CBO's] offered books and documents from their libraries and a
surprising amount of civilian companies co-operated, some fulfilling the
aspirations of the Curator.
The record shows that in August 1959, the then [not named] Radio Maintenance
Officer [RMO] in HMS Collingwood was detailed [I think they meant appointed] as
Museum Curator in order to get continuity [the words come direct from the book]
! The status quo has been maintained ever since, as has the way the Museum is
run, its modus operandi. The remaining pages of the "Museum Formation Book" are
full of letters from the Curator's, begging less than enthusiastic authorities
to release radio's and radar's into his care, quite often following the
proverbial naval stores procedures [S.1091, S.1099, S.126 etc etc]
incomprehensibly because if it wasn't the Museum it would be the 'razor blade'
factory. One theme runs throughout, although in earlier times less so than
today, and that is the apparent indifference to the Museum by HMS Collingwood
itself as an entity. Collingwood personnel per se do not visit the Museum;
Collingwood officers appear not to recognise its naval historical importance,
and, were it not for a dedicated bunch of elderly, yes elderly, civilians [only
a handful ex RN the rest civilian HAMS] the function[s] of the Museum would