Royal Signals Museum - Corps History


From earliest times some form of signalling has been used by armies in the field.  The Greeks had the torch telegraph and the water telegraph, and the Roman army used coloured smoke as a means of communication.  In England, during the 16th century, beacons were used and in 1796 the Admiralty adopted a shutter- type machine, known as the 'Murray Lettering Telegraph', to communicate between London and Devonport.  The following year the Army introduced the Radiated Telegraph System, which proved to be a more mobile system than the Murray Telegraph, and was used during the Napoleonic wars.

The next important advances in the field of communications were the invention of the Morse code and the development of the electric telegraph during the period 1835 - 1837. They were used for the first time during the Crimean War in 1854 - 56.  It was during this war that specialist soldiers, the signallers, were first expected to provide communications in addition to their other battlefield duties.

The Abyssinian War of 1867 brought further active service experience for field telegraphists and signallers.  As a result of the experiences gained in the two campaigns authority was given, in 1869, for the formation of a Signal Wing at the Royal Engineers' Depot at Chatham.  In the following year C Telegraph Troop was formed and was responsible for the provision of telegraph communications for the field army. C Troop RE saw active service in the Zulu War of 1879 and it was during this campaign that the heliograph first gained recognition.

 Royal Engineers Captain Lambert



He was the first Commander of 'C' Telegraph Troop, Royal Engineers which was formed in 1870.

Many of the heliographs were made in India. The heliograph was used extensively during the various campaigns on the North West Frontier of India and continued in an active service role during World War 1 and even in the desert campaign of World War 2.  The next major set forward in military communications was the invention of the telephone in 1876 and its introduction into military service.

In 1884, the Telegraph Battalion RE was formed and took part in the Nile Campaign and later played a prominent part in the Ashanti Campaign of 1895 - 1896. It was during this campaign that men of the Telegraph Battalion hacked a path for an overhead line from the Cape coast to Prahsu, covering 72 miles through the jungle. Men of the Telegraph Company staggered out of the jungle, confronted King Prempeh and accepted the surrender of his army. King Prempeh's throne is now displayed in the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford.

Telegraph Battalion 1891

Telegraph Battalion
Royal Engineers 1891

Members of the Battalion at Chevening Camp 1891. It was at the suggestion of Major Beresford (seated second from left) that Mercury became the emblem for Signallers. Lieutenant Fowler (seated third from left) later, as Major General, became the first Colonel Commandant of the Royal Corps of Signals.

The Telegraph Battalion was mobilized for the South African War and it was during this war that the Wheatstone Automatic Telegraph was successfully introduced. In the years 1895 - 1898, Marconi's experiments in the field of wireless communications were closely watched and in 1899 a wireless system, complete with operators, was hired by the War Office for use in the Boer War. The equipment at the time was heavy and clumsy and the engineers could not get it to work satisfactorily in the dry conditions of South Africa. Therefore, it was not taken into active service during the Boer War.

In 1908 the Royal Engineer Signal Service was formed and provided communications during World War 1. At this time the Dispatch Rider (DR) came into prominence and wireless 'sets' were introduced into service. Wireless communications were provided in France and Flanders and also in the campaigns in Salonika, Palestine and Mesopotamia.

The first official agreement to form a separate Signal Corps was made in 1918 before the end of World War 1, but due to various policy delays the formation of the 'Corps' was delayed until 1920.  A Royal Warrant was signed by the Secretary of State for War, the Right Honourable Winston S Churchill, who gave the sovereign's approval for the formation on the 28th June 1920 of a 'Corps of Signals'.  Six weeks later His Majesty the King conferred the title 'Royal Corps of Signals'.

During the 1920s and 1930s the Corps increased its strength and had personnel serving in overseas stations such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ceylon, Egypt, Jamaica and many other 'out - posts of the Empire'.  The largest portion of the Corps was overseas and one third was concentrated in India.

The Princess Royal

Her Royal Highness
The Princess Royal
1935 to 1965

On 6th September 1935 the King honoured the Corps by appointing Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal - Princess Mary - to be our Colonel-in-Chief

Throughout World War 2, members of the Corps served in every theatre of war and at the end it had a serving strength of 8,518 officers and 142,472 soldiers.  During the war 4,362 members of Royal Signals gave their lives. In the immediate post-war period, the Corps played a full and active part in numerous campaigns being involved in Palestine (1945 - 1948); the long campaign in Malaya which lasted from 1949 until 1960; the Korean War; the various operations in Cyprus, Borneo, Aden, Arabian Peninsula, Kenya and Belize.  Throughout this time until the ending of the Cold War, the main body of the Corps was deployed confronting the Communist Bloc forces, manning some of the worlds most sophisticated communications systems from satellites to extensive area systems.

Since 1980, members of the Corps have spearheaded operations including the Falkland Islands campaign, the peace - keeping force in Lebanon and supervising the peaceful transition of Namibia to independence. Over 3,000 members of the Corps joined Operation GRANBY in the Persian Gulf conflict of the late 1980s.

Royal Signals Soldiers

Royal Signals Soldiers

Members of the Royal Signals have recently been deployed to every theatre of British military involvement.  These include Kurdistan, Bosnia and Croatia within what was formerly Yugoslavia, the Western Sahara and Cambodia supporting the United Nations, Rwanda and Angola, and more recently Sierra Leone. 

During Operation TELIC in the Persian Gulf in 2003 Royal Signals provided a major contribution with over 3000 personnel being involved.

The Corps continues to provide military commanders with their information requirement and ability to command and control their forces. The methods used are at the forefront of modern military communications and information systems technology and the Corps strives to live up to its motto 'Certa Cito', which freely translated means 'Swift and Sure'.

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