873 Movement Light Squadron, R.E.

Horn Lane, Acton, 1961 - 1993


Home page and Introduction

If you were a member of 873 Movement Light Squadron, RE, or its predecessor unit, 873 Movement Light Battery, RA, or are just interested in searchlights used by the British Army either for battlefield ground lighting, military tattoos on for civil assistance, then this is the site for you. You will also find some passing references to another searchlight role, "ack-ack" or anti-aircraft, but that aspect is dealt with in great depth in other sites.

The site is not an "official" one, merely a collection of photos and memories contributed by a number of ex-searchlight operators at 873 during the 1960s, 70s, 80s and early 90s (see Contributors page)

This page begins with some non-873 stuff to set the scene and provide a historical connection, and it also has a few details of army searchlights after 873's demise, but the majority of this and the other pages is about the personnel and searchlights of 873 Movement Light Squadron, and much has not been published previously.

If you can add to or correct any information, or have any photos or memories to share, please e-mail.

Peter Cox, ex-L/Cpl in 873, 1967-69
Sqn shield
 the 873 shield in carbon-arc days
superceded after 1977 by new designs below

No pop-ups, no adverts.
No registration, no log-in.
No personal details taken.

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APRIL 2015


News of events and comments from and about ex-members, and some general enquiries regarding equipment

6th April 2015. During the last 18 months I've had many emails with news, photos and info which I've not been able to give the attention deserved (despite a few promises). Well, at last the great "catch-up" has begun, working backwards, and will continue throughout the rest of April. My apologies to all for the delayed response, and please do continue sending me stuff.
forthcoming events

(more details below)
John Ormston's LW L/R 1st April 2016. Another enquiry for technical help. Bill Scriven emailed:
"A long shot perhaps, but do you know the make (and ideally model) of the generators used with the Bedford MK mounted Francis searchlights? I hope one of these days to make a model of an MK carrying both a searchlight and generator. The photo's on your website, and the specs for the searchlight that that are also there, will be my stating point, and I have a few pictures of the generator from elsewhere. But it would be helpful to know what the dimensions of the generator are rather than relying on guesswork. Any help that you could give would be most appreciated."
Photos supplied by Bill from website of ex-MoD auctioneers Witham Specialist Vehicles in 2007. See also Francis lights section below. If you can help, please let me know.
John Ormston's LW L/R
John Ormston's LW L/R 14th February 2016. Another plea for help. John Ormston emailed
"Hello Peter. I was hoping that you or some of your members could help me. I own 23KB28, a Land Rover lightweight, which was in service with 873 Mov Lt. Sqn RE(V) from 7/11/84 to 20/08/92.
I am trying to find any pictures of her in service, or if anyone rememers her during these times. she was "Winterised" in her early days, and I would be interested to know if she was ever used in cold conditions In particular, there are 2 holes on the bonnet, which seem to have been for a plaque or perhaps sqn badge. does anyone remember what it was. Hope you can help Thanking you in advance."
I'm glad to report that Larry Hayward was able to supply a good deal of information about 873's Land-Rovers in general, but so far we have found nothing specifically about 23KB28.
John Ormston's LW L/R

26th Jan 2016 - Searchlights at  Premiere of new Dad's Army film.
Some readers may have seen reports of the film's Premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London and may have noticed the searchights.

They were genuine 90cm carbon-arcs like the ones we used for many years in 873, but I believe modified to operate with a bulb at very much lower output than the carbo-arc gave.

I'm pleased to say this website played a tiny role in sourcing those lights:
"Hi Peter, Just thought I’d let you know I was successful in my searchlight hunt thanks to the information you provided! Your knowledge has immediately outdone hours of googling!. We used the guys from AckAck living history/The Garrison (who it turns out are very closely linked). We had two 90cm searchlights and they were just the job! Thanks again for your help. I’ve attached a couple pictures of the event for your interest
Steve Ashurst Business Development Manager
Limited Editions Event Design.
Technical details: Left: Zara Holland, Miss Great Britain 2015/16, saluting with wrong arm. All photos supplied by Steve Ashurst.

  Ed Woodroffe emailed 27th April 2015 with details of Jack Woodroffe's funeral:
"South West Middlesex Crematorium, Hanworth at 4pm this Thursday (30th April) at 4pm. Anybody who would like to come is welcome."
  Steve West emailed 23rd Apr 2015.
Memories and info of Camps, exercises and tatoos in 1967 and 1968; being called out to attend floods in the West Country; and 873's involvement in the film Battle of Britain.
(The relevant pages/sections will be updated lated - Peter)
  Colm Mulholland emailed 13th Apr 2015 re date of Reunion Dinner:

All booked now for 20 June 2015



Cost £35 for 3 courses (inc. Wines/Port cheese board)....
As the location can dine approximately 30/36 the Reunion will be restricted to ex serving members.

Payment to myself by Paypal using cmulholland2@hotmail.com (don't forget to use pay Friends & Family option or paypal take a charge). or Bank transfer to Mr COLM M MULHOLLAND - sort code - 602018 - a/c no. 36591386.  If paying by cheque send to 570A London Road, Isleworth TW7 4EP.
Payment by 08 MAY 2015 please.
Menu will be advised soon.
There is a Holiday Inn located about 1km away from 562 Army Reserve Centre should anyone need accommodation
Regards to all Colm Mulholland"
  Ed Woodroffe emailed with the sad news that his father, WO2 Jack Woodroffe, died on 11th April 2015. He was 88 and had been unwell for several years.

Jack was in the Sapper version of 873 from its formation in 1961 until 1978, having served previously in the Gunner version in the 50s.

He was SSM 1968-1976, and SQMS 76-78, and a lovely man.

Funeral arrangement will be posted later

Jack Woodroffe, Berlin, 1967
  Terry (Taff) Curtis emailed in March 2015:
"Just seen your photos on 873 web site of Gibraltar camp. Yes I was there and remember it well. The only hot camp we ever had since 1969 when I joined 873 Mvt Lt Sqn RE (v). Apart from the gib belly sickness it was great and the BFT down the rock to the sports stadium.
WO2(QMSI) Taff Curtis 1969-91 873, 1991-98 LDSTT, 1998 -01 ULOTC"
brett Peabody's xenon
Brett Peabody's xenon. I always wondered what was inside.
(photo from Brett's website)
Mark (Ossie) Osborne emailed in Jan 2015:
"Colm found an American who's hobby is the xenon searchlight! His name is Brent Peabody his site is www.brettpeabody.com Any way take a look. you may wish to put in a link to it.

PS Colm is arranging a 22 year disbandment dinner at the TA center at 562 RLC Sqn in Southall in April if you wish to attend.
We have John Holden as our man there ex 873 now the QMS.
(Thanks Colm and Mark - Brett Peabody's site is well worth a visit, some great photos (including several of Larry Hayward's taken from my 873 slideshow page !) and its a good story too. But trust a Yank to want to mount it on a huge truck (nice though it is) rather than something the size of a pick-up! - Peter)
brett Peabody's xenon
As you will have guessed, this is not Brett's real truck, to see that, go to his site.
(photo from Brett's website)
  Colm Mulholland emailed in Dec 2014:
"April 2015 will be the 22nd Anniversary since the disbandment of 873.... consequently, looking to have an Anniversary dinner in the West London area sometime between end of April and early June 2015. Anticipating cost to be no more than £30 per person, will obviously try to reduce this cost I'm trying to gauge the numbers interested so if they can contact Colm Mulholland by email cmulholland2@hotmail.com 873 has approximately 29 numbers who are now in contact again following a number of events such as Sapperfest, REA meetings etc."
sqn flag Colm Mulholland emailed in Sept 2014:
"attached photos of 873 flag that was commissioned for reunion at Sapperfest 2014"
(click photos for larger views)
sqn flag
sqn sign
Mark (Ossie) Osborne emailed in Aug 2014:
"I have just joined the REA and I am jollying up the rest of 873 Sqn on the facebook group to do so so also. Colm Mulholland seemed to have problems doing it on the phone! Hopefully you should be getting a few more West London branch members shortly.

Meanwhile the 873 Sqn T.A.C. sign has been found alive and well in Dave Owen's garage! See pic.

This will be coming to Sapperfest 2015 with us next year. Also a few of them have got together an bought a 24x 18 ex army tent for the event next year. Also you are all invited to come and join with 873 Sqn in the Sapperfest madness next 10/11/12 July 2015 in Shropshire.
(click photos for larger views)
(later note: Location has changed - its now to be at a larger site in Heywood, Lancs.)
  Lars de Vries emailed in July 2014:
"Hello and good evening. My name is Lars de Vries, I come from Germany and have a question. I have these wonderful images seen on their website 873 Squadron Light Movement, RE.

I have the greatest website with a friend. Our site covers the military history in Germany from 1945 to the present! . The name is military-database.de

I would love to use these images from Larry Hayward. These pictures are from my home ..... absolutely gorgeous. Can you help me reach Mr Hayward ..? I thank you very much for their efforts.
Greeting Lars de Vries"
old WW1 searchlight
Mark Osborne emailed several times in July 2014:
"This is from hounslow barracks facebook group a photographic history of the barracks. Are the men in centre R.E.? 2 each end are R.A."
(To me, it looks like 1 gunner each end, the other 7 are sappers. Also WW1 by the uniforms. Peter)

Mark also sent the photos below of Sapperfest 2014 which I understand was a great success.
old WW1 searchlight
old WW1 searchlight

(can someone please supply names - Peter)
old WW1 searchlight
  Ed Woodroffe emailed in July 2014 to say that his dad, ex-WO2 Jack Woodroffe, has been very ill.
Mark Osborne emailed in June 2014:

to ask for links here to Facebook pages for 873 (and 217).

(I'm not into Facebook and don't really understand it. Had to get a friend to log-in to his account and find the link, so here it it as long last - Peter)
Mark Osborne emailed in June 2014:
"Just to let you know that 12 maybe more of 873 Sqn RE are getting together to go to Sapperfest 2014 in Shropshire the first weekend of July. We have not seen some in 25 years plus, also elements of 217 Sqn RE Holloway are on the Sapperfest FTX. It is on facebook loads of pictures and information, please could let old comrades know 873 (ML) Sqn has resurrected itself after nearly 30 years. 3 ex PSIs and 20 SNCOs and ORs are on facebook page now."
(Thats good news Mark, but I can't find Facebook pages! Peter)
old WW1 searchlight Ossie & Colm Mullholland at the Army v RN game Twickenham in May 2014"
  David Samuels emailed again in May 2014:
"Hi Peter, Been snowed in for a couple of days here, so starting to mess around with 873 again. I've attached the 1972 camp photo with the names I remember over the faces.
old WW1 searchlight
I should be scanning more documents, mostly administration orders for annual camps and some ephemera. See David Samuel's 873 Flickr site

I'm currently trying to put together an 873 searchlight panorama in 1/76 scale. I'm not a model maker and it's tricky work. Strangely enough, I've only found one company in the world that makes a 90cm model, and that's a pretty poor detail 1/76 resin kit. Though I've a fantastic metal Lister and Bedford RL scale kit. 'B.W. Models', you should check them out. Be in touch soon. Regards David"
(If anyone can suggest a source of 1/76 scale models that David could use, please let me know and I'll put you in touch - Peter)

David Samuels emailed in Jan 2014:
"Hi, I've relocated in Canada, and can't find the original e-mail you sent me some time ago. Back online again and slowly adding a few updates to my Flicker act, David Samuel's 873 Flickr site
I'm only doing it sporadically, but you are welcome to pick up any content you might find interesting. Regards David Samuels
  Geraldine (Geri) Wierzbicki emailed several times in May 2014. The first time was to send sad news that her husband Clive Wierzbicki died in 2003.

Clive had taken many photos of 873 from 1979 to the early '90s, and Geri has kindly made about 50 available including Capt. Cooper's retirement party. I will be posting or linking to these as time permits.

old WW1 searchlight Clive at Annual Camp in 1984

Searchlights in the British Army

The French army apparently experiented with searchlights, said to be carbon-arcs, in the middle of the 19th century and were employing them certainly by the 1880s.(1) The Royal Navy had also used some by then(2), and the Russians and Americans were also early users.(1) However, it was only in the last few years of that century that searchlights were introduced into the British Army when the Corps of Royal Engineers developed their own carbon-arc light.(3)

The principal was quite simple. A flame, or arc, is produced by electricity jumping between the tips of two carbon rods acting as electrodes, one positively charged, the other negative. The gap between the tips needs to be set to produce a steady and intense arc and as the rods burn away they have to be moved to keep the gap constant. Later, the racks holding the rods were motorised to provide automatic adjustment but some manual attention was sometimes needed, a skill all operators of carbon-arcs have needed to master.

The light produced was intensified by a reflector, just as with a torch, and searchlights are designated by the diameter of the reflector (in metric, except in the USA) - 90cm was the first size the British Army used and remained the most common until carbon-arcs were replaced by smaller high-tech bulb lights. Many lights are adjustable to provide a narrow beam or a wide flood of light.

Clicking the superscript numbers above and below will take you to the list of information sources
lorry mounted light, c1910
c1910 lorry mounted light
(photo: RE Museum)

lorry mounted light, c1936
c1936 lorry mounted lights
(photo: anon, on Flickr)
a restored British Army 150cm light operated by The Garrison WW2 RA re-enactment group
1939 150cm trailer mounted light.
(photo: The Garrison)
1899 The army first used searchlights during the the Boer War (1899-1902), for coastal defence and "artificial moonlight" for battlefield illumination by directing the beams at low level clouds.(2)
The earliest lights were mounted on horse-drawn waggons, and electrical power came from dynamos driven by steam engines.(3)
1907 Petrol-engined motor trucks were in use(3), but I don't know what powered the generators
1915 During the First World War, the Royal Engineers deployed searchlights for the first time in an "anti-aircraft" role, illuminating the skies over London to deter bombing attacks by German airships (Zeppelins) and aeroplanes.(3).
1918 By the end of the war there were twenty-six RE Searchlight Companies (3), equipped with 622 searchlights, a mixture of 90cm and 120cm lights.(2)
1920s-30s The Royal Engineers developed more robust and more efficient lights and they were manned by TA Companies.(3)
1936 The photo on the right is said to be in Palestine about 1936.(anon, flickr) That would have been during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39. Painted on the rear tailboards is "1st AA Bn. RE"
1938 New version of 90cm carbon-arc light introduced, known as "Projectors", for anti-aircraft use, fited with automatic carbon feed, and issued to newly formed RA searchlight units.(2) They were fitted with 4 small crawler tracks for easy manoeuvring on ground as were earlier versions, or they could be truck-mounted.
1939 Now twenty-seven RE TA battalions with searchlights.(3)
New 150cm light with narrow beam and attached sound projector introduced specifically for Anti-Aircraft use, mounted on a 4-wheel low-deck trailer (see left). These were mixed-in with the 90cm ones(2).
Various generators were tried, but the Lister JP4 (110 volt, 24kVA) trailer-mounted diesel-engined became the standard.(4)
a restored British Army 90cm light at the Aldershot Military Museum
1938 90cm tracked light
(at Aldershot Military Museum)

Lister JP4 generator at Fort Nelson
(photo: from HMVF)
1941 to 1945
Royal Artillery WW2  ops.
There's an enormous amount about this period elsewhere on the web and it's pointless repeating it here,

1941 The RE searchlight companies were so closely deployed with Royal Artillery anti-aircraft units, that it seemed sensible to transfer them to the RA (who already had some searchlight units, see 1938 above) and they re-badged in 1941(3) or Aug 1940.(2) In the latter part of WW2 some searchlight units were moved to mainland Europe to once again provide ground illumination.(3) That was known as "movement light" because it enabled troops and vehicles to move around at night without using their own lights.
1942-45 The introduction of radar resulted in less need for AA searchlights and the numbers of lights and units reduced each year.(2)
1945 The sole the use of searchlights had now become ground illumination.
1947 to 1960
Royal Artillery post-war ops.
See also "Gunner-days" page

Staines drill hall seen in 2013
Staines Drill Hall (Leacroft)
in 2013 used as a day centre
click photo for close-up
photo: Ed Woodroffe, 2013
1947 873 Movement Light Battery, RA formed on post-war re-organisation of the TA. Based at Staines, it had a war establishment of BHQ, three troops each with 8 lights, & REME workshops, total of 286 all-ranks.(15)
1957-60 searchlights were in use in Cyprus from June 57 to May 60, operated by a battery of 29 Fd Regt, RA. The regt provided "gunner support for the Middle East Reserve, the so-called 'Fire Brigade' - and a fully operational Internal Security Unit". The Regt left after cessation of conflict with EOKA.(5)
1958 873 Movement Light Battery, RA, moved to Twickenham, into hutted accommodation.(15)
1960 As the sole war-time use of searchlights in the army was ground illumination, which was not an artillery role, the two remaining RA searchlight batteries were disbanded and control passed back to the REs.
90cm on AEC Matador, Cyprus Snake Pit 1958
90cms? on AEC Matadors
Cyprus, "Snake Pit" 1958
(photo © David Carter)

1961 to 1976
Sappers take over ML again

convoy at low bridge
"Oh dear!"
convoy of 873's 4 tonners with generator trailers ("portees") at low bridge.
Germany, 1972 or 73?
(photo courtesy of Larry Hayward)

History of 873 Movement Light Squadron, R.E.

1961 Jan. Two independent TA sapper movement light squadrons formed, on paper - 863 in Lincolnshire and 873 in London, to take over battleground lighting duities from the RA.
Apr/May: 873 became operational (at Twickenham) having formed from the cadre (remnant) of 873 Movement Light Battery (The Middlesex Regiment) RA [see 1947 above].
Apr: Capt. Anderson and Capt Cooper re-badged from RA to RE
The lights were 90cm carbon-arcs, and the generators Lister JP4s, all of pre-war or WW2 vintage, inherited from the RA. Each light was mounted on a standard British Army 4-tonner 4x4 truck, the petrol engined Bedford RL which also towed the trailer-mounted generator.
1962 During the building of the M2 Medway Bridge, 873 provided illumination to enable crossing of the Southern Electric railway line on Saturday night/Sunday morning when the current was off.(15)
1966 October, 873's offer of lighting assistance at the Aberfan coal tip disaster was rejected.
1967 February: 873 assisted the US Army when ammunition was moved to the UK.  Following a request, 873 was in postion 200 miles from Acton In 6 hours, with 4 searchlights & a fully-manned command post.(15)
April: the TA was re-organised as T&AVR. 863 lost its searchlight role, and 873 was reduced to 72 all-ranks and moved to Acton.(15) It became not only the sole searchlight unit in the British Army, but also in NATO(3). The suffix (V) was added to its title to distinguish it from it's TA days (to be checked, contradictory info)
July/Aug (?) Camp, Thetford
Sept: Berlin Tattoo.
1968 July: civil emergency assistance in the West Country (Pensford bailey bridge)
August: camp at St. Athans, & Cardiff Tattoo
Sept: civil emergency assistance at Molesey floods.
Sept: Ulster Tattoo
1969 Camp: Otterburn. Tattoos: Colchester, Cheltenham, Suffolk (at Ipswich)
1970 Tattoos: Suffolk,
1971 Tattoos: Cheltenham, Colchester, Dover, Folkestone, Tidworth
1972 Camp: Germany ?
civil emergency assistance at Staines air crash (8)
1973 Camp: Germany ? Tattoos: Folkstone, Colchester
late 73/early 74? Two lights involved in a Regular Army "escape & evasion" exercise in Cheviot Hils(7)
1974 Sept: Camp at Penhale & Wessex Tattoo (Exeter). Other tattoos: Folkestone
873 comprised SHQ and one troop, seventy offices and other ranks in total. Eight lights - six 90cm carbon-arcs and two US 30-inch Xenons on test.(8)
1975 the squadron's independence ended when it was absorbed into 73 Engr Regt.
Tattoos: Cheltenham
a 90cm on Bedford RL with generator trailer
90cm on Bedford RL with Lister generator on trailer in 1975, with Sapper David Samuels.
(photo: ex-873 David Samuels, on Flickr)
1976 Camp: Penhale. Tattoos: Tidworth, Royal Tournament (4 lights)

Capt. R J Cooper
Capt Cooper was the heart of 873 for nearly 20 years. He retired from the Regular Army in 1958 as a Lt. in the RA, & put on the Reserve List of Officers.
In April 1961 he was promoted to Capt, rebadged to RE and posted to 873 as Admin Officer, a full-time "supernumery" TA officer.
His role was a kind of mixture of Adjt, Capt QM, and operations manager.
Apart from Annual Camp and some training weekends, he was often the only officer that those doing tattoos and movement light exercises on Salisbury Plain ever saw.
He was well-liked and much respected, and at some stage in later life was made an MBE
He finally retired in 1980.
[He probably served during WW2, maybe finishing as a WOII. - to be checked]

5 lister generators in  line
five Lister generators in line
but when & where?
(photo courtesy of Larry Hayward)
Update: Ian Tristram (873 1976-84) e-mailed in Sept 2012 to say this could be at Colchester, along the river below the arena in Castle Park.
1977 to 1990
873 and US Xenons
and some carbon-arcs ?

un-modified xenon with LWB Land-Rover
un-modified US Xenons.
Above with LWB Land Rover in gloss green paint, on exercise
on Salisbury Plain, May 1979.
Below with LWB Land Rover in camoflague paint, on parade
in Colchester, 1981 or 82
Note, no mudguards or no. plate
un-modified xenon with LWB Land-Rover
(photos courtesy Larry Hayward)

This 1984 LWB Land-Rover was
86 KA 32 when it towed Xenons.
Note side-lockers behind doors(10)
(Norman Wood, JerseyMilitia)
1977 873 "re-equipped with American 30" Xenons"(3)

These were AN/TVS-3 lights, the type used by the US Army in Vietnam in the late 60s. By the late 70s the US began phasing out battlefield searchlights(6) and presumably the British Army took some of redundant lights.

These were also arc lights, but with tungsten electrodes enclosed in a fused quartz bulb containing xenon gas under pressure - and with a lot of very high tech wizardry. The Xenons were 30" (76cm), smaller than the carbon arcs, but more than twice as powerful rated at 800 million candlepower. Owing to the extreme heat generated by the arc they were cooled with glycol as well as air.

They were mounted on lightweight 2-wheel trailers also US made towed by ¾-ton long-wheelbase Land-Rovers which carried a powerful 25kVA generator driven via a power take-off from the L-R's engine.(3, 14) The trailer with light weighed under 700 kgs and was 6½ft high.(6) The combination of small truck and light trailer made deployment much easier than with an RL 4-tonner and heavy trailer.

The lights were towed face down and covered - except on very special  occasions to show one off, see left.
The trailer chassis were modified late 1982/early 1983(20) to proper UK standard including adding mudguards & no. plate, see photos on right.

Later Land-Rovers had side lockers behind doors(10) - see photo on leftt

1977-85 After the introduction of the US Xenons, some of the old carbon-arcs lights were retained for ceremonial use at events at Wembley Stadium, Horse Guards Parade and Buckingham Palace till about 1985.(9)
1979 Wembley - Extravaganza/Military Musical Pageant. Six 90cm carbon arcs on duty.
Germany - Movement Light exercise
1980 Sept, Annual Camp, ex Crusader, Germany
Capt. R J Cooper, MBE, retired 27th Oct
873's 40th Anniversary
Looking a little uncomfortable or maybe a bit emotional (and probably unaccustomed to dress uniform) Capt Dick Cooper was presented with a silver(?) model of a 90 cm carbon-arch searchlight. (photo on right)
(sadly he died less than two years later - see Obit )
(photos: ex-873 Clive Wierzbicki, via Geraldine Wierzbicki)
1981 Germany
1982 Germany (Ex Quarter-Final?)
1983 Annual Camp: Weymouth
Germany - Movement Light exercise, One troop of 4 Xenons
1987 873's 40th Anniversary
873 Movement Light was formed in 1947 as a Royal Artillery Battery, and re-formed in 1961 as a Royal Engineers Squadron
(photo: ex-873 Clive Wierzbicki, via Geraldine Wierzbicki)
1988 The Squadron became affiliated to one of the City of London's ancient Guilds,the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers, and a luncheon to commemorate this was held at Tallow Chandlers Hall on the 20th April 1988. The then Master [of the Guild] Mr. Walter Balmford presented the formal Affiliation Document to the Honorary Colonel of 873 Movement Light Squadron, Major General P.C. Shapland. CBE. MBE.

1980s Sqn shield
new lights and a new wall plaque
photo courtesy Mark Osborne

a 30inch Xenon light in Germany, 1983
modified xenon 00 TE 05 in 1983
on exercise with 873 in Germany.
Nine yrs later this high-tech light
 was a museum piece
(photo courtesy Larry Hayward)

a 30inch Xenon light at the RE Museum, Gillingham
US Xenon at the RE Museum
(photo: by "gberg2007" on Flickr)

873's 40th Anniversary
1990 to 1993
873 & British Francis Xenons

1993 to date
units come and go, but the Francis' remain. Well, some.

Francis xenons
Francis Xenon lights, 1991
(courtesy Francis Searchlight Co)

Francis xenon at show
Francis xenon at show
Francis Xenon at army show
(photos courtesy Larry Hayward)

1989 In December, 873 "unveiled its new British-built Francis 7kw searchlights at a charity event organised by the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers .... 1 million candlepower and a range of 10km".(11)
1991 Eight Francis FX710 7kW 620cm xenon lights had now replaced the US xenons. According to the manufacturers, who called them "Army Moonrakers" (part of their "Extravaganza" range of sand-and-dust-proof lights), they had been intended for use in Iraq but the war ended before they could be deployed there.(12) [The 1st "Gulf War" ended abruptly at the end of February after only 44 days]. Each was mounted at the rear of the body of a 4x4 4-tonner as were the old carbon-arcs. The light manufaturer says they didn't supply the generators - I wonder if the white containers on the front of the bodys are generators?

873 ran a series of intensive battlefield illumination and searchlight operators' courses for 1 (British) Corps Lighting Troop ['CLT'] being deployed to the Gulf.(16) (CLT seems to have been in existence for years, equipped with lots of generators (and presumably some lighting equipment, but presumably not searchlights) According to an internet forum CLT later became Power Troop RE, part of ARRC Sp Bn and moved to JHQ Rhiendahlen until at least 2005(17))

On the right, the upper night photo shows the front of 04 KH 94 with an "AWD" maker's badge so it's a post-1987 version of the ubiquitous Bedford MJ. It is left-hand drive and painted light sand or stone.

The lower night photo was on exercise during an 873 annual camp. Note generator is trailer mounted, in the other photos truck mounted. Why the change? (Please email if you know)

On left is a Francis mounted on a right hand drive truck painted in standard green/black camoflague, at an army show somewhere. Impossible to tell if truck is AWD or Bedford.

At this time 873 consisted of two troops, each with four lights.(3) Each light and generator set were operated by a crew of three(3), again much like the carbon-arcs, but whereas the Bedford RL cab had seating for only two, all three could sit in the AWD cab.
1991 Tattoo in Gibraltar to mark the leaving of the resident battalion, the Green Jackets. (thanks to Tony Storey, a REME attachment from RHQ)
1993 In March, 873 was dis-banded and operations transferred to a new unit - 220 (Searchlight) Fd Sqn (EOD) RE at Heston, part of 101 (EOD) Engr Regt.(13)  There, SL operation was additional to the normal sapper role.
1999 220 Sqn disbanded.(13) One source said the British Army decided that searchlights had no role in the 21st century army, another that the lights were transferred to the Royal Monmouthshire REs and to 71 Engineer Regt.

Francis xenons convoy of mixed Xenons, 2 truck-mounted Francis at front, 2 trailer mounted AN/TVS ones behind
(photo: courtesy Mark Osborne)

Francis xenons
Francis Xenon on AWD truck,1991
(courtesy Francis Searchlight Co)

Francis xenons Francis light during 873 annual camp ex. Operator L/Cpl Hood, No.2 with camera Ossie Osborne
Note genny is trailer-mouned.
Previous photos truck mounted
(photo: courtesy Mark Osborne)

Francis xenons during "The Pipers Trail", 2008
(photo: anon)
2008 71 Engineer Regt (V) still operating two Francis xenon searchlights in Scotland. They were used on 'The Pipers Trail' exercise as part of Saltire backdrops in the sky in June & July. Also used to illuminate hillsides to aid mountain rescue or other similar emergencies etc.(14)

I don't know if these are exactly the same FX710 lights as in earlier photos - the cradle looks a bit different.   Photo on left shows trailer generator.

I wonder what happened to the other six?
2011 At least one Francis still operational (recently serviced by the Francis Searchlight Company(12)), possibly both.

If you can add to or correct any of the above, please e-mail me. Thanks.

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Life after death
redundant carbon-arcs live on

a restored British Army 150cm light operated by The Garrison WW2 RA re-enactment group
re-enactment with the 150cm
(photo: The Garrison)

Some redundant searchlights

Many of the old carbon-arc lights, especially the 90cm ones, have survived in civvy-street. There are static displays of 90cm lights at Fort Nelson at Fareham nr Portsmouth; Eden Camp at Malton in Nth Yorks; at the Aldershot Military Museum; and four at the Muckleburgh Collection in North Norfolk. The RE Museum has a Xenon light.

There are also occasional working displays given by WW2 re-enactment groups such as Ack-Ack Living History which has a 90cm, and The Garrison which has a 150cm (possibly the only working one in the UK?). You could even join and operate one yourself.

Links to all these museums and groups are at bottom left of page.

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a restored British Army 90cm light operated by the Ack-Ack Living History group
re-enactment with 90cm light
(photo: Ack-Ack Living History)

873 doing non-searchlight Sapper work

To many searchlight operators of the 60s and 70s, it may come as a surprise to learn that from the late 70s, after the Squadron joined 73 Engr Regt, it took on many conventional Sapper tasks in addition to its unique lighting role.

  This is just one example. 873 doing explosives
Photo: courtesy of Mark 'Ossie' Osborne, 873, 1988-91
Left to right: Paul Mayle; Lt. -?-; Mark Osborne using a SHRIKE exploder; Gary looking on.
Shrike exploder
a Mk V Shrike exploder

873 shield
Above is a wall plaque used during "carbon-arc" days,
replaced by those below
1980s Sqn shield
a new design for the "new" lights introduced in 1977
photo courtesy Mark Osborne

1980s Sqn shield
and this is the "last issue"
photo courtesy Colm (Mouldy) Mulholland

at the Drill Hall and yard in Horn Lane

The social hubs of any TA drill hall are the messses. Officers and SNCOs usually have their own, but it was the ORs mess that the majority of contributors to this site would have gathered in before an evening parade, and later enjoyed an hour or so after "dismissal" or on return from a weekend exercise, having a drink, swapping gossip and gags, and playing a few games.

873 shield
Photo: courtesy of Mark 'Ossie' Osborne, 873, 1988-91

Webmaster: this looks as though someone's just blown-wind and everyone else is trying to ignore it.

In fact Mark tells me it's: left to right, Paul ("the mole") Mayle (in glases); L/Cpl Nigel Hood ("Hoody"); L/Cpl Stickley and L/Cpl "Killer" Fernadez, with "Taff" Curtiss in background.
Ed Woodroffe remembers a display of old photos in a glass case at the top of the stairs.
Also, somewhere, a model of a 90cm carbon arc made in the 60s (?) by some REME members of 873.
Anyone remember them or know what happed to them?
  But it wasn't all fun and games and farting about. We did have a job to do.
873 shield
Photo: courtesy of Larry Hayward, 873, 197x-8x
Here, One Troop is lined up in the yard at Acton before going to Germany in 1983.
Larry has kindly provided very many more photos of the "US xenon days" and exercises in the UK and Germany 1979, Germany 1982 and Germany 1983.

  TA Drill Halls were expensive to maintain, and were often hired out, although I doubt the units benefitted from the rent. Many near the BBC TV studios in West London were used as BBC rehearsal studios, particularly during the 60s and 70s. The ORs mess room and bar usually played a role then too, providing a service to its 'guests' and that certainly did provide income for the unit and/or its ORs mess funds. Ours was no exemption.

Bob Richardson wonders if anyone else recalls that it was used for rehearsing "Z Cars" in 1969 and that the Drill Hall hall floor often had white tape on it indicating positions of imaginary walls, doorways, etc, and he remembers seeing some of the cast in the mess including James Ellis (who played desk Sgt Bert Lynch), Douglas Fielding (PC Quilley), and John Slater (DS Stone).
Liz Fraser in 1969
Liz Fraser in 1969 aged 36.
Peter Cox worked in Horn Lane in the late 60s, and often went to the Drill Hall during his lunch hour when rehearsals were on. He remembers playing table-football with some of the cast and admin people of Z Cars and that no matter who he was paired with he was always on the losing side. James Ellis and John Slater were a good team and usually won.

Peter also remembers Liz Fraser being there once but not which programme or film, but it wasn't Z-Cars. There was quite a few crew so it was more than just a read through. "One of the group I'd been talking to told her I was 'one of the soldiers with the big lights' and she came over and chatted for a while. She was just as bubbly off screen as on."

Which is a good excuse for adding a little glamour to this website.

  Ed Woodroffe also remembers as a boy seeing rehearsals of Z-cars with wooden car-interiors in the hall, and that Frank Windsor, Derek Waring, Stratford Johns and Brian Blessed were often in the bar.

He also remembers the Hall was used for Softly Softly and Dr Who, and recalls seeing a Tardis and being very disappointed that it was so flimsy, and a row of Daleks and Cyber-men.

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Notes and Information Sources

(1) early history of searchlights: ancientskyscraper.com
(2) Keith Brigstock of the RA Historical Society (presentation at winter meeting, 17th Jan, 2007)
(3) RE Museum
(4) anti-aircraft website
(5) David Carter: Britain's Small Wars - Cyprus
(6) Harpoon HQ (wargame enthusiasts)
(7) Bob Richardson (ex 873 SL op)
(8) Sunday Telegraph report by RH Greenfield, 4th Aug 1974. (Clipping courtesy of Bob Richardson)
(9) post on Historic Military Vehicles Forum (HMVF) by L/Cpl Larry Hayward)
(10) http://www.jerseymilitia.co.uk/lr109.html
(11) Soldier magazine Dec 11, 1989 (clipping courtesy of Bob Richardson)
(12) Francis Searchlights Ltd
(13) Corp of RE Volunteer Regiments, 1967-2000
(14) post on Historic Military Vehicles Forum (HMVF) by "Gazzaw"
(15) TAVR Magazine, March 1969 (clipping courtesy Bob Richardson)
(16) from "Territorials - A Century of Service" by I.W.F.Beckett, published 2008 (via Bob Richardson)
(17) British Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)
(18) London Gazette issue 48606 page 6636
(19) (Dr) Wienand Drench.
(20) Larry Hayward (ex 873 L/Cpl)
(21) Ed Woodroffe (son of Jack Woodroofe, one-time 873 SSM)

back to start of searchlight history
Main contributors

All sources are acknowledged where known.
Copyright remains with the original source.

Historical details are mostly from on-line sources which are not necessarally the original ones.

back to top of page page created Jan 2011 last edited/amended 02 April 2016 please e-mail me