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Short History of The Royal Observer Corps

The badge of the ROC shows the Elizabethan beacon lighter watching out for the Spanish Armada in 1588. It was only because of their early warning that Francis Drake had time to finish his game of bowls!

The Observer Corps was formed in 1925 by Major General E. B. Ashmore CB, CMG, MVO, to plot and report the movement of enemy aircraft flying over Great Britain. It was manned mainly by volunteer spare time Observers, who were given extensive aircraft recognition training.

In January 1929 the Air Ministry assumed control of the Corps, and an Air Commodore was appointed Commandant; the motto “Forewarned is Forearmed” was adopted. As part of Fighter Command, the Observer Corps was mobilised on 24 August 1939 and during the Second World War, acquitted itself with honour and distinction.

The Corps won its spurs during the BATTLE of BRITAIN, 1940, and in his dispatch, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commanding in Chief Fighter Command, said, “It is important to note that, at this time the Observer Corps constituted the whole means of tracking enemy raids once they had crossed the coastline, their work throughout was quite invaluable, without it, air raid warning systems could not have been operated and inland interceptions would rarely have been made”. In recognition of the invaluable work done by the Observer Corps, an announcement was made in the House of Commons on 9 April 1941 that, His Majesty King George Vl had granted the Corps the title “ROYAL”.

During the D-Day landings in 1944, the Royal Observer Corps provided volunteers for duty on board ships to identify aircraft types and so avoid the destruction of friendly forces. These were known as SEABORNE Observers. The Royal Observer Corps was stood down in May 1945, but in response to the cold war it was reformed in January 1947. In April 1950, His Majesty King George V1 became the Corps’ first Air Commodore-in-Chief. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll assumed the appointment of Air Commodore-in-Chief, in June 1953. The Royal Observer Corps Medal was first awarded in 1953 for 12 years satisfactory service, with a bar for each additional 12 years. The medal ribbon is pale blue with a central silver grey stripe edged in dark blue. The ROC wore RAF uniform but with a navy blue beret, ROC beret badge, & ROC jacket buttons.

Two years later in 1955, the role of the Corps changed to the reporting of nuclear bursts & radioactive fallout in a future war. Over 1,500 underground posts were built, manned in an emergency by 3 Observers, reporting to 25 protected Group Headquarters. At a Royal Review in June 1966, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll presented the Corps with a Royal Banner, to commemorate the 25 Anniversary of the granting of the title ‘Royal’. In 1968 reorganisation greatly reduced the strength of the Corps. In 1975 the Corps celebrated its Golden Jubilee and in 1985, a Royal Garden Party was held at RAF Bentley Priory to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Corps. On 25 July 1991 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll, accompanied by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh presented the Corps with its new Royal Banner at a Review at RAF Bentley Priory. A reduction in the ‘threat’ to the United Kingdom resulted in the Stand-Down of the Royal Observer Corps on the 30 September 1991. The remaining Nuclear Reporting Cells continued until final Stand-Down on 31 March 1995. The Royal Banner was laid up for safe keeping in the Royal Air Force College Cranwell on 8 December 1995. Since the ROC was not disbanded, the “Royal” title remains if the Corps is reformed.

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M. K. Thompson, Sponsor of the Badge

Mike spent 30 years, from 1961 to the 1991 stand down as a volunteer spare time Observer with the ROC at Poynton Post, Cheshire, in 16 Group, Shrewsbury; in the nuclear warning and reporting role. Poynton Post overlooks Woodford Airfield, home of the Avro Lancaster & Avro Vulcan, and where the Nimrods are now being rebuilt for the RAF. He was on the ROC national aircraft recognition team and took part in aircraft recognition contests against the Danish Air Force LMK, in this country & Copenhagen, Denmark. He has been a member of the ROC Association since 1991. He is a lifelong very keen RAF & aviation enthusiast and aircraft photographer. He is very keen on heraldry which is how he came to first visit the RAF Club two years ago. His military service started with the Combined Cadet Force at King's School, Macclesfield, where he wore the uniform of the Cheshire Regiment. He worked with North Western Electricity Board, Central Electricity Generating Board, & lastly National Grid, as a Wayleave Officer, visiting farmers & landowners about overhead pylon lines & underground cables. He is now retired & lives in Cheadle Hulme, Greater Manchester.


ROC Association membership is open to all who served in the ROC. Read leaflet for details.


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