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The foundation of the London Electrical Engineers

The London Electrical Engineers using portable searchlights during their campaign in South Africa, 1900. In January 1896 John Hopkinson gave his Presidential address but his theme was rather more unusual than his predecessors. He began with an appeal for military service asking members what they could contribute to the safety of their country and how the Institution, in its corporate capacity, could help towards this aim. Hopkinson was addressing an audience that would have been familiar with the many wars that the British Empire was fraught with during the late nineteenth century. Lord Kelvin supported these views when he wrote that he approved of the ‘movement to promote the utilization of the patriotism and abilities of electrical engineers for national defence’.

The Electrical Engineers, Royal Engineers, Volunteers

The Electrical Engineers, Royal Engineers, Volunteers (E.E.R.E.V) was formed in 1897. The main body of the Corps had its Headquarters at 46 Regency Street and there were outlying Detachments at Cambridge University, Chelmsford, and Birmingham. Membership was restricted to Engineers, both students and practical engineers such as Post Office Telephone employees.

Military service

In 1900 seven officers and forty-eight men of these Electrical Engineers volunteered for service in South Africa during the Boer War (1899-1902). Colonel R.E.B Crompton led the contingent, designated by the War Office as The South African Detachment of Electrical Engineers (R.E) Volunteers. They were trained in the management of searchlight equipment for coastal defence, X-ray plants in field hospitals, electric lighting in camps but they also had the advantage of being skilled engineers that could turn their hands to general maintenance and communications.

They wore a scarlet uniform with white pipe-clayed equipment for full dress and walking out and blue serge, with a naval pattern cap with “Electrical Engineers” on the ribbon for working.

Reorganisation of the Corps

In 1908 the Territorial Force was reformed and the E.E.R.E.V was reorganised as two separate Territorial Units. One of these, the Electrical Engineers, London Division, later the London Electrical Engineers, carried on the duties that the original Corps was created to perform. Prior to 1914 the London Electrical Engineers consisted of four Companies; of these two were formed from the Central Technical College and the Royal School of Mines. The other two Companies consisted of Post Office men and men from Power Stations and engineering concerns in London.

Camps were held at the Defended Ports around the coast such as Dover, Weymouth and Plymouth. At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 the Corps went to its War Stations on the coast but soon after small detachments were sent to France with small oxy-acetylene searchlights for use in trenches.

Plaque in memory of the Electrical Engineers who died in South Africa 1900-1902

Plaque in memory of the Electrical Engineers who died during the Great War 1914-1919   Plaque in memory to the Electrical Engineers who died in World War Two 1939-1945  

Above: plaques held in the IET Archives in memory of the Electrical Engineers who died during the Boer War, First World War and Second World War.

World War I and beyond

The Corps grew in strength during the First World War as it maintained a share in Coast Defence and in the Anti-Aircraft Searchlights both overseas and at home. Together with the Tyne Electrical Engineers it formed the Electrical and Mechanical Companies, used for general engineering work behind the lines.

After the war the majority of the Corps was demobilised, but when Searchlight work was brought back to the forefront it was reformed as two separate Battalions; the 26th Battalion and the 27th Battalion, each consisting of three Companies. The 27th Battalion was stationed at Regency Street but as this did not have accommodation for lorries they moved to Rochester Row. The Regency Headquarters was taken over by the 1st A.A. Divisional Signals, who having descended from the London Electrical Engineers, returned in peacetime to their original home.

The 27th Battalion later increased to four Companies. The three original Companies went to South London where a new HQ was built for them in Streatham, the most recently formed Company remained at their first home at Rochester Row.