Despatch Riders and the White Helmets

During the First World War, motorcycles were particularly useful as mounts for Despatch Riders (DRs). Motorcycles could be driven on narrow or damaged roads in any weather and at reasonable speed. Their versatility proved invaluable during the early years of the Second World War, particularly in France.

By 1963 motorcycles had become obsolete for transporting messages, making way for motor vehicles which were more rugged and had a greater pay load.

The Royal Signals White Helmets retain some machines for their displays. The team is the oldest and most famous of its kind in the world. It can trace its ancestry back to the Royal Signals display team set up in 1927 which gave very popular displays of horsemanship and motorcycles at Olympia. In 1963 the team, now working entirely with motorcycles, formally adopted the name “The White Helmets”.

The White Helmets are renowned for their death-defying stunts!

The team holds three world records and travels throughout Britain and Europe performing in front of 1,000,000 people each year. It is not commonly known that the White Helmets are required to be financially self-sufficient. Visit their Facebook page for more information and links to their official sites.

Electricity and the Birth of Modern Warfare

Early forms of communication were both ingenious and varied but all had serious limitations in warfare. Sound systems could be intercepted and decoded and were often drowned out by other battle noises. Visual signals were often thwarted through light and weather conditions. Messengers, human and animal, could be intercepted. All early systems lacked three vital ingredients of desirable battle communications: speed of transmission, security and flexibility. It was not until the science of electronics was discovered that most, if not all, of these limitations began to be overcome.

By the mid-eighteenth century men saw the possibilities of using electricity to carry signals. But they could generate or store sufficient electric charge to signal over more than a few metres. All this changed with the invention of the electric battery in 1800 followed in, 1819, by the electro-magnet. By 1837 William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone had applied these developments to produce the first practical telegraph system in Britain: The Single Needle Telegraph. An electric current travelled down a wire causing a needle to deflect and thus a message could be sent.

In 1838 the American inventor, Samuel Morse, created a code which allowed complex messages to be conveyed over long distances. With the ability to send messages long distances, reliably and with a standard code system the era of modern communications had arrived.

“Women at War” Spotlight: The Story of Odette Sansom (Part Two)

For her courage, Odette was a recipient of the George Cross

Having left the relative safety of Britain behind, Odette Sansom landed in occupied France near Cannes by parachute in 1942 before heading to the rendezvous point to meet her supervisor, Peter Churchill. Churchill had entered the country some months earlier to co-ordinate the activities of the SOE’s “F” Section Spindle network in Montpellier. Odette was based in this area and tasked with assisting the French Resistance. Under the code-name Lise, she brought Peter funds and acted as his courier. After Churchill’s unsuccessful attempts to arrange for an aircraft to pick up members of the Carte network along with himself, he relocated his network to Annecy.

On 16th April 1943, however, Peter and Odette’s luck ran out. Betrayed by a double agent, they were suddenly arrested by the Abwehr and imprisoned. Under torture by the Gestapo at Fresnes prison in Paris, Odette stuck to her cover story that Churchill was the nephew of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and that she was his wife. By doing so, she hoped that they might escape the worst of the Gestapo’s brutality.

She was condemned to death in June 1943 but not given a specific execution date. Consequently, she spent the rest of the war at Ravensbrück concentration camp  and, crucially, survived to testify against the camp’s guards at a war crimes trial in 1946. Indeed, her ruse about having connections to the Prime Minister worked so well that camp commandant Fritz Suhren brought her with him when he surrendered to the Americans. In doing so, he hoped that she might help him to negotiate his way out of execution.

Continue reading


Special Air Service

Special Air Service


Operation TITANIC consisted of two patrols, each of five men, dropped on the night 5/6 June 1944, as part of the tactical deception plan for D-Day.  Each patrol was equipped with special gramophones which played sounds of small-arms fire and soldiers’ conversations, pistols and their personal weapons.

Some 500 dummy parachutes, fitted with fire crackers that explode on landing to simulate rifle fire, dropped with each patrol.

Continue reading

Recent Comments