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|R.A.F. Henlow History
For what seemed like a number of years, the museum staff had been searching for missing items from their 1936 Marconi shortwave SWB8-E, 3.5Kw transmitter. This rare item was donated to the museum by a private collector back in 2004 but it was in very poor condition having been stored in a cow shed! Many months of work followed to restore the transmitter to something like it’s former glory and this work was mainly carried out by Deputy Curator Dave Thompson who, as an RAF Apprentice Ground Wireless Fitter back in 1959, actually trained on this equipment. Dave later worked on them at Rheindahlen in Germany but they went out of RAF service in the late ‘60s.
The origins of our SWB8-E, it was not an RAF Transmitter!
The transmitter at the museum is actually one that was used at the GPO Dorchester transmitter site for overseas telegraphy services by radio. It wasn’t realised at the time of donation that this transmitter was not an RAF one but there is very little difference and “Beggars can’t be Choosers” when it comes to the donation of a rare item. During it’s time at Dorchester, it had been modified by the GPO so part of the transmitter was definitely not as built by Marconi! A search was started, advertising on the museum website and other places to see if anyone might have the original parts stashed away somewhere.
Success in our quest, the missing parts located in Somerset!
This seemed an impossible task but due to many hours of research by Vic Ludlow, the museum’s main researcher, the missing items were located in September 2011, and they were not a million miles away from Dorchester! They had been given to Paul Hawkins, a former Dorchester engineer and he had them in his shed not knowing what to do with them. Paul agreed to visit the museum on the December Open Day and bring the parts to give to the museum, in fact Paul was very pleased to re-unite these parts with probably the transmitter that they originally belonged to. The final part of the refurbishment has now commenced and it is hoped to have the transmitter completed in the coming months. It will never be able to be put on the air as we were not given it’s power supply which weighed a mere one tonne! The transmitter, made almost entirely of brass, weighs in at 12 cwt
Visit by Mrs Virginia Beresford, former W/T Operator, October 2011
During the monthly Open Day on October 1, Mrs Virginia Margaret Beresford of Hitchin was one of the visitors. Mrs Beresford told the museum staff that she had joined the WAAF in 1942 at a very young age, and trained as a Morse Wireless Operator. She even named the type of equipment that she had used and was shown examples of similar equipment that is in the museum. In 1945, Mrs Beresford was posted to Columbo in Ceylon and was there during the final months of the War, finally coming home in 1946. During her visit, Mrs Beresford operated a Morse Key and was able to show that she had not forgotten her code! Mrs Beresford was presented with a "Sparks Badge", the emblem worn by all wireless operators, by museum staff to commemorate her visit. The attached picture, by Curator Alf Fisher, shows Mrs Beresford operating the Morse Key.
We have now been set a closure date by the authorities at RAF Henlow. This will be by the end of June 2024 but we will close for visitors after the May 2024 Open Day, and start to dispose of our exhibits.
Please go to the Museum Closure page for more information.
This page is the copyright of the Signals Museum and Dave Thompson (who wrote most of the text).
If you have any comments, complaints, suggestions, requests etc, please drop me a line via my Genuki email page.
Page last updated 12th July 2023 by Colin Hinson.