873 Movement Light Squadron, R.E.



Horn Lane, Acton, 1961 - 1993

on

About this site, the contributors and ex-members

This website would not have been possible without the time and assistance of the ex-members of 873 shown below who have generously provided their time, memories, photos and general information about the squadron.

In 2010, when this site was conceived, a search of the web found some information on early searchlights in general, and a huge amount about WW2 anti-aircraft lights, but little about post-war operations with one major exception - a series of photos on Flickr of the squadron in 1973-76 posted by an ex-member. A message and an e-mail address was added to one photo by another ex member, and eleven months later a third ex-873 SL op saw the comment and made contact.

He sent a number of photos, press clippings and other memorabilia which widened my knowledge of the unit and re-kindled my website idea. and the project recommenced. In February 2012 I was lucky enough to find another ex 873-er who had posted on a military vehicle forum, and he has since supplied very many photos, deployment information, and technical details. I've also found more about 873's later years (or rather the lights it used) up to its demise, and some "what happened next" details. I've recorded some of the data below, but please note this is work-in-progress and far from complete. I've listed the sources of most of information quoted and have tried to check with other sources where possible.

If you can add to or correct any information, or have any photos to share, please do contact Peter Cox (webmaster) and help make this a place all ex-873 sappers (and maybe some ex-873 gunners, too) can enjoy dipping into. Remember, many hands make Lights work.
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Contributors


Bob Richardson, Jan 1969-1970, and 1973-1975

"One thing (or rather two) I'll never forget concern Capt Cooper. On more than one occasion when we were working down on Salisbury Plain, and had packed up ready for the drive back to Acton in the early hours, we were all treated to a fish and chip supper (obtained from some 'chippy' in the middle of nowhere) and a beer (from a barrel and pumps clamped on the tailgate of a LandRover). Still in the same general area, John ? (see my 19 Dec email) and I were driving back to Acton, and Capt Cooper (who was in his car) called a refreshment halt at the pub in Chitterne. It was a nice summer evening so we were in short-sleeve order. However, we'd been spotted by a couple of patrolling MPs who objected to our manner of dress as it was after 7pm or something daft like that. Capt Cooper told them - in his own initimable way - what they could do with their regulations, and nothing more was said or heard! He always looked after his men.

I used all my annual leave (plus the 2 weeks paid special leave my employer granted me), most weekends, and as much as I could fit in during the week (mostly trips down to Salisbury Plain to provide light for the regulars) 'working'. In '69, I was living in a London Hostels Association hostel in South Kensington, and had to rely on lifts to get 'home' or at least part of the way, following the night-time adventures on the Plain. On one occasion, we didn't get back to Acton until about 2am and the lads I was with were all within walking distance of their homes, so I walked back to South Ken (near to the West London Air Terminal on Cromwell Road), with hob-nailed boots making a bit of a racket on the pavement. I got into bed just before 5am, and had to get up two hours later for 'proper' work, only to go down to the Plain that evening - but with a guaranteed lift back."
Bob has contributed photos, newspaper and magazine cutings, Tattoo details and programme covers, many of the names on the annual photos, and various memories (with more still to be posted).
He lives in Ash Vale in Surrey.

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Spr Bob Richardson
adjusting a 90cm carbon arc.
Photo taken at Colchester, 1973
 

Larry Hayward, 1978-1984

"When doing the lighting for a military band events on Horse Guards Parade in the 1980's we mounted our carbon arc searchlights on scaffold towers on three sides of the square in advance and then turn up for each perforance over a few nights. It was great fun having such a good view and seeing the Blues & Royals and Guards in action often in the presence of the Queen.

The Lister generators were parked round the corner to keep the noise away from the crowd during the event. One night after going home we left one of the Lister Generators running and when one of the Squadron returned the next day it was still running!

Once when I was working in Central London, I said to the lads I'll meet you up at Horse Guards rather than go all the way out to W3 [Acton] and back. So I went to HG with my kit in my ruck sack and sat down on a Lister Generator right next to the rear of 10 Downing St. As I was in civys at the time a Policeman asked me what I was doing. I told him I was with 873 Mvt Light Sqn RE but he didn't like me being there so told me to move on. So I walked over to the gents toilet in St James and changed in to my uniform and then walked back to the Listers and started removing the covers and getting them ready, without interference, while the same Policeman looked on! "
"On Cup Final Day in May 1979 Captain Cooper arranged for a portable TV to be taken to Salisbury Plain so we could stop training and watch it! Otherwise we would not have attended that weekend!"
Larry has contributed very many photos, information of exercises in Germany and much technical data, particularly of the period from 1978 to 1983 when ex-US Xenon lights were in use.

A PDF document is available with the full story of Larry's service in 873.

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Spr Larry Hayward, 1979?
David's 873 photos on Flickr
873 ML Sqn's photostream
 

David Samuels, 1971 -1976?

content awaited


David has kindly allowed me to use some of his Flickr photos.






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Spr David Samuels, 1974 ?
 

Ian Tristram, 1976 - 1984

Joined 873 in Dec 1976 and left in 1984 on transfer to 218 Fd Sqn ADR based at Waterbeach near Cambridge. The unit moved to RAF Honnigton, then RAF Brize Norton. He left in 1997 and moved to New Zealand where he joined the Territorial Force serving in 1 Fd Sqn RNZE till 2007 and currently (2012) with 3 Fd Sqn RNZE and still going. 3 Fd is a mixed regular /reserve unit.

Ian has the distinction of being the only recipient of both the UK TA Efficency Medal (+ bar) and the NZ Territorial Force Efficency Medal. Ian points out that that cannot happen again as the UK medal has been replaced with the Volunteer Medal.

Ian has contributed a number of photos and items of information since September 2012.

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Jack Woodroffe, 1950s -1978

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.

In 2013 his son Ed (see below) reported that Jack at the 86 was unwell, but enjoys viewing this web-site and recalling many of his Searchlight days -  including events which the Webmaster ought to remember, but doesn't.

Sadly his illness worsened and he died in his sleep on 11th April 2015.
  
Jack was a keen photographer, acquiring a Pentax Spotmatic in 1964 and taking lots of photos of 873, many of which Ed has kindly scanned and emailed.

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S/Sgt Jack Woodroffe, Berlin, 1967

 

Ed Woodroffe

Ed was not a member of 873, but the unit, both RA & RE versions, was very much part of his life for many years. His uncle Les Harris was SSM until 1968; his father Jack Woodroffe (see above) was SSM from 1969 to 1976; Sgt Norman Miles gave him driving lessons in a Land-Rover in the yard at Horn Lane; and Capt Cooper taught him to cook curries.

Ed has a wealth of personal knowledge and stories as well as and many of his Dad's photos. He first contacted the webmaster in Jan 2013 and his contributions will gradually be added to the site.

Ed now lives in Portsmouth.

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Mark ("Ossie") Osborne, 1988-91

Mark served 4 or so years in 47 Sig Sqn (Middx Ym'ry) before transferring to 873 in 1988 with 4 mates "wanting a change". He saw the transition from the American trailer-mounted Xenons to the truck mounted British-made Francis Xenons. 

A keen photographer, he has contributed more than 30 photos since January 2013, many from a Facebook site "873 Deathray Sqn".

Many of his photos are still to be posted.

He is still in contact with a few ex members, and wants to know when 873 are going to have a reunion. Anyone have any suggestions?

(for reunion, see news item Jan 2015 - Peter)

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L/Cpl Mark "Ossie" Osborne
after a fairly difficult weekend
Peter's other TA RE units:
222 Fd Sqn, Chelsea 1960-67
217 Fd Sqn,  Holloway 69-84

Peter Cox, spring 67 to early 69

Peter was born & bred in Hammersmith. Joining a Sapper TA was not really an option ...
The REs was the family corps, great uncle in WW1, father in WW2, and elder brother in National Service and afterwards a reservist in 223 Fld Park Sqn at Chelsea. So in 1960 when aged about 17½ I enlisted and was posted to 222 Fld Sqn, also at Chelsea. I made many friends, it was like a "club" but with a big difference - instead of costing a membership fee, we got paid for enjoying ourselves, learning to drive, competing in cross country driving competitions, building bridges and blowing things up.

Sadly, the whole regiment of which 222 was part, was disbanded in 1967 to save a few quid because of the Government's budget deficit. I think they called it a Strategic Defence Review and it brought about the end of the "TA" and the start of the "TAVR", leaving just two reserve sapper units in the whole of London - a Para RE squadron, and a strange RE outfit at Acton of mainly ex-gunners that had some old war-time ack-ack searchlights. The Paras wouldn't take me or one of my mates from 222 because we wore glasses (but we did pass all their physical tests), so we and two other friends from 222, all of us HGV drivers who wanted to retain our sapper links, went to 873 at Acton where Capt Cooper welcomed us in.

Less than two years later, another defence review resulted in the formation of a "proper" sapper TAVR unit in London (sorry, no disrespect to 873 & SL ops), 217 at Holloway. Many of our old friends from Chelsea joined, and asked we four to transfer. I was rather reluctant, I'd had many memorable experiences in 873; the wonderful tattoos - who could not be moved by the sight and sound of hundreds of bandsmen in scarlet tunics or full highland tartan playing the '1812' whilst highlighted by our elderly carbon-arcs with 'home-made' coloured screens; half-burying an army minibus in a hay stack in Ulster at the start of 'the troubles' while we imbibed where we shouldn't have; going through check-point Charlie in Berlin during the 'cold-war', in uniform, and confronting Russian Generals; and roaring through town and country flat-out in an RL with Lister trailer under police escort en-route to assist in a civil emergency.

But in the end, the lure of operating "big-boy's toys" - AEC 6x6 10-tonners and heavy earth-moving plant, against standing beside a static searchlight in the middle of Salisbury Plain on a dark and chilly evening with the beam of the light cresting the top of a distant rise lighting up we knew not what on the other side, made the choice to de-bunk from 873 after so short a time a little easier. But I did miss the bands and the grandstand view the searchlight towers gave of all the other tattoo displays.
He moved to Cambridgeshire in 1973, but remained in a London TA unit (217, Holloway) with increasingly restricted attendance for another 10 years. In 1990 he and his wife moved to a an old farm cottage a couple of hundred yards from a road in the fens of south-west Norfolk, where they enjoy the peace, long views and their cats and hens.

Peter started this site in early 2011 and is the Webmaster.

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L/Cpl Peter Cox, Berlin, 1967

 

Just a very few of the members of 873 from 1961 to early 1990s


surname & initials first &/or nickname en-
listed
873
from

to
last
rank
notes, other units,
where now
 
Alderton Bill ?            
Allen, ER Ted 1960s 4/67 1969 L/Cpl 222 Fd Sqn 60-67
217 Fd Sqn 69-??
2
Anderson Bob WW2? 1961 1968/9 Maj OC, 1961?-1968/9?  
Barr Dennis            
Browning     70s   Cpl?    
Bundy       80s      
Burke Steve   70s 80s L/Cpl    
Byrne Mick 1960s 4/67 1969   222 Fd Sqn 60-67
217 Fd Sqn 69-??
2
Clarke "Nobby"
(Maurice)
  4/67 ?   from 222 in '67 2
Cooper, RJ Dick WW2 1961 1980 Capt full-time Admin Ofr
awarded MBE (80?)
Died March 1982
2

4
Cox, PE Peter 1960 4/67 1969 L/Cpl 222 Fd Sqn 60-67
217 Fd Sqn 69-83
3
Curtis Terry (Taff)   1969 1991 WO2
(QMSI)
LDSTT 91-98
ULOTC 98-01
3
Davey Robert   1975 1977   Reading 3
Dennis Tony     70s      
Denton John            
Edwards     1960s 78/79 Sgt Chief Clerk ?
died 1979 (heart att)
5
Elkington              
Harris Les     1969 WO2 SSM until 68; died 2000 4
Hayward Larry   1978 1984   111 Engr Regt 84- 3
Hetherington Jim   60s 70s WO2
(SSM)
died  
Hetherington Mick ?   60s        
Hewitt Brian   c67 72ish      
Hewitt Mick   c68 c69      
Hicks Arthur   60s 70s      
Hunt Don   60s 70s      
Janicki "Jan"   60s 70s
     
Jones         Lt died 1982 (car crash)  
Kearney Stephen   60s 70s     3
Kennedy     60s 70s Maj OC in 76  
Lockerbie- Hayden, FEW           PSI in 60s-70s  
Malone Joe   70s     died Dec 2005(?) 4
Miles Norman   60s 1970s S/Sgt (WO2?) 4
Mitchell         Maj OC 1968/69? -  
Mulholland Colm (Mouldy)   1987 1991 L/Cpl    
Osborne Mark
(Ossie)
  1988 1991 L/Cpl   3
Patterson Pat   60s 80s   became cook  
Pearce       80s      
Proud     70s 80s Capt Admin Offr 80-?  
Richardson Bob 1969 1969
1973
1970
1975
    3
Richie              
Robshaw, JM   1956   1974 Capt? Died at camp '74  
Samuels David 1971 1971 1976?   Moved to Canada 2013-ish 3
Sondae         Cpl    
Tristram Ian   12/76 1984 Cpl ? 218 Fd Sqn 84-97
Moved to NZ 97, Joined RNZE & still serving 2012
3
Walsh, LB Leo   70s 80s WO2 SSM
Died 2011
 
Webb Phil   1980 1991 WO2
(SSM)
91-93, 101 RHQ
Commissioned in 1993, & retired as Major.
9
West, SE Stephen   11/66 2/69   69-78 44 Para RAOC
78-94 10 Para
3
White "Sailor"   60s 70s      
Wierzbicki Clive   1979 90's   Died 2003 7
Willicombe       80s      
Woodroffe Jack
(John)
1950s 1961 1978 WO2
SSM 1968-76
SQMS 1976-78
Died Apr 2015
4
Sources - see below next table

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SSMs of 873 from 1961 to 1991


from to name ref
  1968 Harris, Les 4
1968 1976 Woodroffe, Jack ("Paddy") 4
    Hetherington, Jim 9
    Portsmouth, Pete 9
    Walsh, Leo 9
    Curtis, Terry 9
  1991 Webb, Phil 9

note source
1 Bob Richardson
2 Peter Cox (Webmaster)
3 member  (can be contacted through webmaster)
4 Ed Woodroffe
5 Larry Hayward
6 Mark (Ossie) Osborne
7 Relative
8 Friend (and not an 873 member)
9 Phil Webb
 
 

In Memoriam

Capt John Martin Robshaw (1936-1974)

Died at Wyvern Barracks, Exeter, on the last day of the Wessex Tattoo 1974, aged 38.
At the time he was attending annual camp with 873 at Penhale during which the Tattoo was held.

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lt in 1956 during National Service and promoted Captain in 1964.

Following the reduction of reserve units in 1967 he was put on the "unattached" list.

He married in 1967, and left a wife aged 29, and a daughter of 11 months.

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In Memoriam

Capt Richard John (Dick) Cooper, MBE

Died in March 1982.

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 (possibly serving during WW2, maybe finishing as a WOII. - to be checked) & 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, and finally retired in 1980.

 
 

In Memoriam

WO2 Leo Blaise Walsh, (1948 - 2011)

Leo Walsh, onetime SSM of 873, died on 1st December 2011.

The following is an extract from a posting by a friend, Philip Webb, on the Friends and relations/ Cops of Royal Enginers website.
"A fine man and a very good friend. He served with 873 Movement Light Squadron (RE)(V) then with 111 Engineer Regiment (V) Not content to retire he took on the mantle of Branch Secretary of the West London REA for a number of years. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him - Once a sapper always a sapper."
The full dedication can be seen here.

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Leo Walsh

Sgt Leo Walsh up top
L/cpl Ian Tristram driving
parading through Colchester
during Tattoo, in 1981 or 1982
Photo courtesy Larry Hayward
 
back to top of page page created Jan 2011 last edited/amended 15 April 2015 please e-mail me