“A 21st century military museum”: Major Rick Henderson on the vision for REME Museum
Museum Director Major Richard (Rick) Henderson has overseen the Museum’s move to its new home in Lyneham. A REME soldier from 16, Major Rick’s Army career has taken him all over the world from Germany, Kazakhstan, USA, Norway and Hong Kong with tours of Northern Ireland, the Falklands and Kosovo. His sporting achievements are numerous including captaining a REME team to the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Since 2015 Major Rick and his team have been working to create a Museum that tells the story of this unique Corps.
After a lifetime as a soldier, how have you approached the challenge of running a Museum?
“This has probably been one of the most challenging jobs I’ve done, and I include operations in that!
When I was first approached about this role my initial reaction was that I am too young to be a director of a museum. I thought it would be a quiet little job you settle into when getting to the end of your career – how wrong could I be.
A lot of it is about getting the right team around you. With my background as a Vehicle Mechanic, and sportsman, it would have been easy to fill the Museum about these subjects – blatantly I couldn’t let that happen!
“I’ve surrounded myself with museum professionals, like Jennifer (Allison) the Curator, people who have years of proper museum experience.”
We also worked in partnership with a professional museum exhibition design company.”
The Museum aims to tell the story of REME. What is that story and how will you be telling it?
“We want to tell the story of REME – why it was created, how it evolved, what makes it special. The fact that our different trade groups are in every unit of the British Army and serve worldwide, that wherever the British Army is deployed on operations REME are there, that makes us more unique and special.
Beyond that it’s about the individuals, the character and achievements of what those individuals have done, whether that’s the gallantry award recipients or in the success in the engineering environment or winning gold at the Olympics.
It’s not just about the big equipment such as a helicopter or the 62 tonne CRARRV, but the individual stories – Ivan Hirst saving Volkswagen, Wally Harris showing his initiative and picking up the Browning and getting the Military Medal, or Roy Homard completing two Polar expeditions.
We’ve tried to base the displays around the personal stories. In fact there’s a personal quote on nearly every panel, in the words of the men and women who have served in REME.
The message we are trying to get through is that this is a Corps for highly talented individuals, collectively impressive in their achievements in service, education, sport – whatever they do they will strive for success.”
The Museum has moved to a new area – how have you found the reception from the local community?
“It’s important that the Museum is part of the community. Obviously a lot of the visitors will be local and also we are looking to recruit museum volunteers, many of who will come from the new local community.
It’s not just for people with a connection to the military, the vast majority volunteer as they have a genuine interest in being involved in a museum or history, sometimes just to develop a new skill.
When we are out and about locally, people are coming up to us asking when we are opening saying “we want to get in there”. Everyone seems genuinely enthusiastic about us being here.”
What can visitors expect from the Museum?
“I hope everyone will enjoy it because a lot of thought and planning has gone into making it not only a family-friendly place, but hopefully a place where there is something for everybody.
There is plenty to participate in. We’ve tried to make it an immersive, interactive experience.
Yes, there’s factual and historical elements, but we’ve tried to add a wow factor.
For example, we have a huge curved screen where visitors can try their hand at a recovery task using a simulator of the latest and largest wheeled recovery vehicle. We have the impressive visuals displays: a helicopter hanging from the ceiling, large and small tracked and wheeled vehicles, a fantastic weapons collection, medals, videos and interactive machines, stories and superb graphics covering the history of REME.
There’s a little bit of everything and we’ve tried to ensure the information on display in the panels has been done at a level that everyone connects with – it’s not just geeky stuff for engineering enthusiasts.
We want people to come away understanding what REME stands for and what REME does. But we want them to enjoy their visit on the day, so they come away thinking ‘I loved having a go on that!’, or ‘wasn’t that display impressive?’
We’ve tried make it a modern visitor experience moving away from the old style military museum with a lot of mannequins dressed in uniforms – it’s very much a 21st century military museum.
We want it be something everyone will understand. Most importantly they can see that the men and women of REME are soldiers; highly intelligent and trained individuals who keep the British Army moving and operational. Individuals who often do their job in dangerous and hostile environments. Hopefully they get to connect with them and gain a bit of respect for how these people do their jobs.”