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Alan Wood
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Cheveley Depot
Romsley Depot

Directorate of Telecommunications
a light hearted and anecdotal look back at my time in DTELS and beyond

Alan Wood

I first joined the Home Office (HO) Directorate of Telecommunications at Romsley depot in 1968 as a Wireless Mechanic (WM) and then in the following year was successfully appointed a Wireless Technician (WT).

At that time the Regional Wireless Engineer (RWE) was Tommy Martin and Miss Robson was the Stores Officer Grade C (SOGC). She was an authoritative character who seemed to rule the Depot and who was always addressed as ‘Miss Robson’.

The depot was not without humour though and there were many characters not beyond playing the odd practical joke. One that comes to mind was at the expense of George Davies, a particularly serious ex Merchant Navy Radio Officer, whose trousers were to be seen one day flying from the Romsley flag pole.

At that time all Senior Wireless Technicians (SWT) were based at the depot and WT’s were assigned on a rota basis to accompany each SWT on their management and maintenance visits to assigned Police and Fire customer sites. Each day brought different problems, priorities needed to be sorted and stores provisions obtained so early starts were unusual. Needless to say it was inevitable that the WT ended up driving but there always seemed time to fit in a lunch break, often a Chinese ‘meal of the day’ adequately covered by the 5 hour subsistence allowance.

One event particularly sticks in my mind when Ken Wilmott (later to become RWE at Romsley) reported to West Mercia Police on the force radio that a dangerous load was travelling down the M5 in Worcestershire. Back came the control room request that we indicate to the HGV to pull in on to the hard shoulder. Picture the scene of Ken instructing me to overtake the HGV whilst at the same time waving his arm out of the window trying to indicate the need to stop. Amazingly the vehicle did pull in and I stood by nervously on the hard shoulder whilst Ken attempted to explain in whose authority he was instructing the vehicle to stop. We then simply drove off and I often wonder if the HGV driver simply continued his journey once we were out of sight.

In 1971 I transferred to Hindlip O'stn and joined 3 other WT’s and a WM with responsibility for West Mercia Police, Hereford, Worcester and Shropshire Fire Brigades. Eventually an SWT was posted to Hindlip (much to our dismay) and we formed ourselves into 3 teams of 2 and operated a one in three ‘on call’ system when one of the duty team were allowed to take the SWT estate car home. Our social life and holidays tended to revolve around being ‘on the road’ every 3rd week since at that time pagers were not issued and we were expected to by our telephone at home at all times outside normal working hours.

One particular amusing (but not at the time) incident comes to mind,  we were on a routine maintenance visit to Garway Hill, a Fire Authority site shared by the Police and Military. On arrival we noticed an explosives box sitting on the ground immediately next to the equipment building and decided to report it to the Police who instructed us not to open it but to wait for police officers to arrive.....

Picture the scene of 2 young WT’s sat on the grass some distance from the building listening to the distant sounds of a siren spoiling the peace and quiet of the Herefordshire countryside as a Police car attempted to find its way along the narrow lanes to the site. The Police Officers’ took one look at the box and decided to call the bomb disposal squad who on arrival simply sauntered up and opened the lid to reveal that it was empty It turned out the box had simply been placed against the wall so that a member of the armed services could sit on it to eat his sandwiches. I should of course point out that the SAS are based in Hereford and I often wonder what happened to the officer in question.....

In 1977 I was promoted to SWT at Cheveley depot which turned out to be quite an adventure for 2 born and bred Brummies and our young 2 year old son. The pace of life was so slow in comparison to the Midlands, it almost felt like a different country, we found the local people to be so friendly and soon felt at home living in a nearby rural Suffolk village where later that year our daughter was born.

A lot of my time at Cheveley was spent managing the depot workshops. Many of the WT’s were real characters somewhat set in their ways. Derek Coombes in particular took great delight in ‘supervising’ the Regional Crime Squad vehicle installations and could often be seen leaning back on his seat, feet on the bench, surrounded by a blue haze from the very long cigar he was smoking, talking the police officers’ in and out of the depot as far as the car to car frequencies would allow. Derek built up quite a rapport with the officers’ and spent a great deal of effort ensuring the vehicle installations were as covert as possible.

I also managed the Quality Assurance team for a time when significant improvements were made to the phasing and audio quality of the VHF schemes in East Anglia.

I was also involved with the UHF survey team and recall a particular survey in Southend on Sea when, after setting up the aerial on a block of flats, the team suggested we break for lunch and have a quick drink. I suppose I should have noticed the large number of men with turned up jacket collars heading for the hostelry but in we duly went obtained our drinks and sat down. There was a small stage and it quickly became obvious that something was about to happen. Suddenly the music started and onto the stage appeared a stripper! I was then informed by one of the joker’s on my team that the premises were on the London Circuit and that the entertainment was a regular occurrence. Further amusement was caused when another member of the team was recognised by his cousin who was working behind the bar!

In 1983, much to the surprise of colleagues living in the same village who could not understand why I wished to leave such an idyllic location, I decided to move my family back to the West Midlands and took up the post of CWT at Romsley depot.

New Romsley Depot

It was strange going back after 12 years, but unknown to me at the time I was shortly to become involved in a project to completely rebuild the depot. Bryn Oliver, the RWE, was keen to extend the facilities, particularly the stores and workshop areas, but due to the layout of the Romsley site the local PSA office recommended a complete re-build behind the existing buildings. This of course was unprecedented, all depots originated as Regional Wireless Stations built in the 1940’s and were now utilised beyond their original design capabilities. There was no blueprint for a purpose built depot, so Bryn and I, together with the PSA, had numerous meetings to finalise the plans. A major consideration was that our building should blend in with its surroundings since we were located in the Green Belt on top of an exposed hill. Looking back I am surprised we were authorised funding and that the project was allowed to proceed.

In 1989 I moved to the Midland Region Office on promotion to Senior Professional & Technological Officer (SPTO) where my duties changed to Home Defence (HD) systems (line, radio and radiac) with initial responsibility for the management of a BT contract to install digital speech switches into United Kingdom Warning & Monitoring Organisation (UKWMO) & Regional Government Headquarter (RGHQ) sites. I was also involved with the procurement of a replacement control unit for the Atomic Weapon Detection and Recognition (AWDREY) system located at some of the UKWMO sites. This was a major change in my career path, one that was to eventually take me into the Cabinet Office (CO) due to Machinery of Government changes.
In 1991 the HD (not radiac) work became the responsibility of the HO Emergency Planning Division (EPD) and I was transferred out of DTELS into EPD as a member of a new Telecom' Group (TG) headed up by Roy Eaton. With the end of the 'cold war' the UKWMO & RGHQ sites were closed and TG's work shifted more to that of civil emergency contingency communications and planning for 'worst case' man made and natural disasters. A major part of my work was to manage the operation of the Emergency Communication Network (ECN) provided to key Government and Local Authority sites. 
In 2001, under sweeping 'Machinery of Government Changes, responsibility for emergency planning was transferred to the CO and most of the EPD staff found themselves provisionally allocated to a new Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS). This was the start of a difficult period, CCS had already recruited from a wide variety of sources and TG was assigned to a section headed by a Brigadier on secondment from the Military. I became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Civil Emergency Communications Planning Committee (CCPC) Working Group but TG’s work did not easily fit into the secretariat and it became more and more evident as the months went by that assimilation was unlikely to happen.
Eventually in 2003 the ex EPD TG staff were formally posted into a brand new CO unit called the 'Central Sponsor for Information Assurance' (CSIA) headed up at that time by the Government's e-Envoy Andrew Pinder. One of the responsibilities of CSIA is the accreditation of the O2 Airwave digital trunk radio network now extensively used by Emergency Response Organisations including Police, Fire and Ambulance Authorities.
Throughout this period of change I felt under pressure to relocate to London, a prospect I did not relish at such a late stage in my career, and in 2004 I was granted early retirement under a CO 'early release' scheme.

Acknowledgement: Alan Wood

page updated: 22/07/19

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