World War Two
World War Two saw 4,362 members of Royal Signals give their lives.
Throughout World War Two (WW2) members of the Royal Corps of Signals served in every theatre of war. By 1945 The Corps had expanded to a serving strength of 8,518 officers and 142,472 soldiers; more than today’s entire British Army.
Hitler attacks Poland
On 1st September 1939 Hitler launched a ferocious, unannounced attack on Poland. He destroyed the Polish Airforce in two days and enveloped and destroyed the Polish Forces in just 18 days.
Britain declares war on Germany
Days earlier the Anglo-Polish Treaty of mutual assistance had been signed and so on 3rd September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany. At this point, It seemed, despite earlier assurances, no-one was coming to Poland’s aid. In fact a party of 12 Royal Signals had been despatched to Poland prior to the outbreak of WW2 to see what could be done in the event of an attack.
Signals soldiers arrive on day war is declared
False passports and improbable occupations
The Royal Signals’ soldiers arrived in Poland on the day war broke out and so became the first British unit to see action in the Second World War. They had been given false passports and improbable occupations – including a Captain described as a ‘musician’ who could not play a note!
With Poland divided the German-Soviet Pact of August 1939 stated Poland was to be partitioned between the two powers thus enabling Germany to attack Poland without the fear of Soviet intervention. The Signallers – caught-up in this – destroyed their equipment, split into groups of two and three soldiers and escaped travelling through Europe and Africa in a bid to return home. In Romania one hotel they stayed in was being used as a Gestapo HQ. Rather than stay to uncover German plans they fled to Egypt.
Throughout the process the Signallers learned much about the patterns of modern war – pinpointing that mobility was crucial to success. All their wireless messages were transmitted during darkness, using hand-operated morse keys to send encoded intelligence reports. They always moved before first-light to ensure the Luftwaffe could not determine their position. They also learned not put too much trust in supplies. Even to Special Operations teams such as themselves equipment was heavy, complicated and often wrongly packed with key components missing.
Campaigns of the second world war
Royal Signals were involved in most of the WW2 campaigns with a significant presence in France and Belgium 1940, Norway 1940, Western Desert 1940-1942, Tunisia 1942-1943, Italy 1944, 1945, 21st Army Group, North West Europe 1944-1945.
Monty’s Armoured Command Vehicle on display in The Museum
The Willys MB (Ford GPW) . Commonly known as a Jeep. A four-wheel drive utility vehicle manufactured during World War II. Over 300,000 were produced. This one is on display in the Royal Signals Museum, Blandford.
Monty and his troops 1945
1943 5th Army Italy Inzio Bridgehead Line Patrol
The Museum is home to a medals gallery which includes WW2 campaign medals
Pictured – a Japanese Prisoner Of War. Eric Lomax, a royal signals soldier and Japanese PoW, was forced to work on the Thai-Burma ‘Death railway’ during WW2. The Museum tells his story with clips from the film The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth.