We have reached halfway through the series with this, the fourth REME Trades article. The focus of the series is on the eight modern trades and their history. It is not possible to represent each of the over fifty original trades from the Second World War in as much detail. The history of the electrician and electronics trades is a long, wide and deep subject.

Our Archives bears this out as we are spoilt for choice and have a wealth of treasures demonstrating the history of the trades. Unfortunately, I am restricted in depicting everything that I would like and I apologise in advance if I have inadvertently neglected any aspects of the trades.

As ever, Malcolm Heppolette’s article (History of REME Trade Changes since its Formation in 1942, REME Journal, 2011, pp 26-29) indicates that Electrician was part of the REME trade structure since 1942. During the formation of REME (Phase II, 1951) the trades were listed as Electricians: Vehicle and Plant, Control Equipment and Control Equipment AFV. The Electrician REME trade was introduced for the second time in 1959. In 1963, as part of the re-organisation of mechanical trades, Electrician became obsolete and was included in Control Equipment Technician and Vehicle Mechanic A. In 1967 the trade of electrician was re-introduced in its own right as Electrician REME.

The photograph below, which shows the Electrical Training Shop, Plant Section, Electrician Vehicle and Plant, forms part of a photograph album which depicts 11 Technical Training Centre Croydon, 1945. 

Six soldiers working around a large table on electronics.

Electrical Training Shop, 11 Technical Training Centre, Croydon, 1945. A:1968.0918.14.

The largest single step change in REME trade structures since Phase II Formation were the changes to Telecommunications, Radar, Control Equipment and Instrument Technician Trades. All technicians were re-designated Technician Electronics. The change from single technology based electronics trades to a multi-technology based electronics trade was endorsed in 2000. The Vehicle Electrician trade was phased out and ceased to exist.

Today, REME Electronics Technicians have a very diverse role working with a range of electrical and electronic equipment. From some of the largest pieces of military equipment including the Challenger 2 Tank, to hospital equipment such as x-rays and patient monitors, to radios, weapons such as the Multiple Launch Rocket System and optical instruments such as Night vision goggles.

I can recommend that you read Malcom’s special section about the electronics trades which goes into more depth about the practical difficulties of re-organising the trades. The article is available on our Trades history page.

Developments in the Electrician Trade are mentioned in the very first issue of REME Notes, Issue No 1, August 1943, signed by Maj Gen E B Rowcroft. The section dealing with Equipment: New Anti-Aircraft Predictors mentions that “a new type of Craftsman is to be introduced and will probably be known as the electrician, control equipment”. 

Document titled " reme notes " with first pattern cap badge in centre, typed and handwritten

First Issue of REME Notes Cover. A:1960.0266.01. 

Typed document titled " New Anti-Aircraft Predictors ".

Section in REME Notes that mentions Electrician, Control Equipment. A:1960.0266.005.

The REME Middle East War Report includes references to the integral role played by electricians in these Second World War conflicts. For example, in the Lines of Communication Service Stations in Tripolitania (Libya); Radiological and Surgical Equipment Workshop in PAIFORCE (Persia and Iraq Force) and waterproofing for the Salerno landings in Sicily.

Typed document listing number of REME trades in operation.

REME War Report, Salerno Docks Inspection Party. A:1958.0104.01.101.

Of course, we return to our workshop in North West Europe, 22 Advanced Base Workshop, Lot, Belgium, 1945.

Inside a workshop, men working around wooden tables.

Electrician’s shop 22 Advanced Base Workshop, Lot, Belgium, 1945. A:1960.0249.17.

The caption to the above photograph reads:

“In the foreground are the ignition test benches, where all ignition equipment is overhauled and thoroughly tested. The rear benches are devoted to the overhaul of generators, starters, power traverse equipment and similar jobs. Two Crypstow Hartridge test benches and a complete power traverse testing installation are in use in the shop. The racks contain certain overhauled components, to enable immediate replacement of defective equipment components to be carried out. A small pool of minor assemblies is maintained for this purpose. Battery repair and charging is also carried out in the shop - all tanks being equipped with full charged batteries. Auxiliary charging sets are overhauled and tested in a separate section of the shop: again the pool system is used to facilitate immediate replacement. The total strength of this shop is 24 military and 30 civilian electricians.”

A photograph album of Anti-Aircraft Command School REME, Lydd, Kent includes a photograph of a visit by Maj Gen SW Joslin (Director of the Corps from 1950-1954) on a tour of the Electrical Wing, Predictor AA No 11 Equipment Instruction Rooms, during a visit to the school in 1952.

 Photo of two men in uniform standing looking at something to the side of the camera, electronics equipment in the background.

Visit of Maj Gen Joslin to Electrical Wing, Anti-Aircraft Command School REME. A:1960.0349.04.

The collections of course photos in our archives includes an album of graduation photographs of the Army Apprentice School Aborfield Electrical and Electronics Department, 1958-1961. The department included electrician, control equipment, radar and telecommunications sections.

 Group photograph of two rows of soldiers in battledress, front row seated.

Group photograph of Electrical and Electronics Department, Course 59C – Telecommunications, 1959-62. Army Apprentice School, Arborfield. E:06.0528.12.

Service in the British Army of the Rhine is not left out. It is illustrated in the image below, from a collection of prints showing the work of vehicle mechanics, telecommunication and control equipment technicians.

 Black and white photo, two soldiers wearing berets working on electronics equipment, side view.

Changing of faulty components on a vehicle generator in an electrical repair vehicle during an exercise, 1 Armoured Division. E:06.0420.03.

We have a wealth of material relating to the two schools in our archives, SEE (School of Electronic Engineering) and SEME (School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering). Both opened in 1961. The image below, taken from a photographic record prepared for a SEE Exhibition 1964, shows a simulator used for training Control Equipment Technicians.

 Black and white photo, two tank turrets sit on frames, soldiers are working inside each.

Tank Simulator, School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. E:06.0546.25.

The image below is from a collection of prints showing instruction in vehicle electrics, SEME, Bordon.

 Two men in overalls working on a vehicle training aid with the bonnet uncovered

Vehicle Instruction, SEME, Bordon. E:11.1112.

Our rich variety of photographic material includes items illustrating the history of REME electronics units. Examples include photograph albums depicting the visit of the former Colonel-in-Chief, The Duke of Edinburgh, to Electronics Branch REME Malvern in 1985 and the history of 20 Electronics Workshop REME, 1988-1992, amongst others. An example shows the Test and Measurement Section of 20 Electronics Workshop during a VIP visit.

 View down the middle of two rows of soldiers sat working on long tables.

Test and Measurement Section, 20 Electronics Branch Workshop REME during a VIP visit. E:06.0537.023.

The wealth of relevant material in our archives also includes a large quantity of technical manuals and literature. These are from training materials as well as collections donated by individuals. An interesting example of an individual collection includes a transistorised radio training piece with accompanying 3W 15 Amplifier and FM Tuner. It also includes SEME training booklets, which give a very good idea of all the different types of equipment that Electronics Technicians worked on. This donation illustrates the teaching based on the ‘whole to part’ concept, using a transistorized radio transmitter / receiver system at the time (Craftsmen of the Army, Vol II, p.135).

Celia Cassingham, Museum Archivist. Published in The Craftsman, April 2023.