History Of 3 Division HQ & Signals Regiment

Although the origin of the regiment can be traced back to 1903, the art of communicating for military purposes began nearly 2000 years ago. As far as it is known, the first recorded instance was the use of pigeons by the garrison of Modena to call for help when besieged by Mark Anthony in BC 43.

Before the end of the eighteen century, the means of communication used by the armies and navies were confined to pigeons, flashing lights at night, reflecting the sun, trumpet and bugle calls; and for the longer distances, mounted orderlies or fast runner. The distances and the size of the armies were small a d a commander in battle was able to exercise some degree of control by using these primitive means of communication. Since the armies lived off the countryside to a large extent, there was no need to build up a large and elaborate communications network in the rear areas.

The need for communication at sea was greater than on land and the navy developed a complex system of coloured flag hoists which were used for inter-communication between ships during the Napoleonic wars. Nelson used this system for his famous signal at the battle of Trafalgar and ships still use it today.

In the early part of the nineteenth century the industrial revolution brought great changes to this country. These changes were reflected in the equipment used by both Army and Navy. The introduction of steamships and rifled guns in turn demanded better communications particularly over longer distances. Even so, little was done to provide military communications equipment between the Napoleonic wars and the Crimea campaign because of the government's reluctance to spend money. However, when the railways developed there was a civil need for long range communication. The discovery by Volta in 1805 of an electric current produced by chemical action, the simple primary cell, and the development of an electrical telegraph by Ampere in 1820, made a beginning for a new system of signalling.

Even so, it was not until 1837 that a working telegraph circuit was first used. In 1835, Samuel Morse, an American, invented an electric telegraph and a code of signals, which we still use today. This was the first time that a standard system of signals could be read by either eye or ear and yet could be adapted to any medium of transmission which was in use at that time.

Each different war gave an impetus to the development of Signalling techniques. In the Crimea war in 1855, a submarine cable was laid from Balaclava to Varna on the West Coast of the Black Sea and from Varna an overland route was built to Bucharest. From there, messages were relayed over the existing overland systems across Europe, via Paris to London. Messages took about 24 hours to get from London to Balaclava. At that time field cable was made of a copper wire with a thick gutta-percha insulation and was frequently damaged by mice and other animals. It was not altogether successful because of the high number of faults and the poor standard of maintenance.

During the American civil war further advances were made. In 1859 Congress voted $2000 to buy field Signalling equipment and the subsequent development of Signalling techniques during this war had an important effect upon the British Army.

In 1869 a Signal Wing was formed at the School of Military Engineering and the School of Signalling was formed in 1886 which taught visual Signalling only. In 1913 the Signal School at Aldershot took over, and both visual and electrical methods of Signalling were taught.

The first practical telephone was used in America in 1876 by Alexander Graham Bell, who introduced it into this country in 1878 when the first telephone exchange was opened in London with seven subscribers. The early form of telephone was not suitable for long distance communication in the field, but during the 1880's the Royal Garrison Artillery introduced them into their fortress command lines. In 1896 the first military exchange was in use and by 1906 a 400-line switchboard was installed in the War Office. In spite of the progress made by the end of the nineteenth century, the main methods of long distance Signalling was by either telegraphy or visual Signalling, with telephony becoming more important. The main method of inter-communication on the battle field was still by visual means.

In 1900 the Army had its first wireless set, but it was not good enough to be of much value during the Boar war. The Army was reorganised between 1902 and 1914 and three Telegraph Companies were formed in 1905, one of which was the parent unit of this regiment. In 1910 the word "Telegraph" was replaced by the word "Signal" in unit title: motor cyclists were added to establishment and it this form that went war 1914.>

During the first world war the Army Signal Service was part of the Royal Engineers and provided communications forward to the headquarters of Cavalry Regiments, Artillery brigades, and Infantry Battalions: forward of these, regimental signallers were responsible for communications. The Signal Service was primarily a telegraphic service with limited telephone facilities and a small signal Despatch agency. Although wireless was not used to any great extent in the main theatres of the war, because the staff had little faith in it, it was used in some minor theatres with success.

The size of the Army was in terms of millions during the first world war and the Signal Service also expanded. So much so, that in 1919 the first steps were taken to form a separate Signal Corps to replace the Signal Service. After much discussion the Corps of Signals was formed on the 28th June 1920 and on the 5th August 1920 King George V conferred on the Corps the title Royal.

In the years following the war Signalling techniques again underwent a rapid change. The invention of the thermionic valve was probably the biggest advance. It was responsible for great improvements in long range telephony and wireless telegraphy, and for radio telephony, multi-channel line transmissions and later television, It was perhaps due to the improvements in communications that world leaders in the second world war were able to conduct several campaigns in different parts of the world at the same time, which made the characteristics of the second world war so different from the first. It is impossible to list all the advancements made in Signalling techniques during the last twenty years, except to say that they are being improved all the time and the end is by no means in sight. When the maserand laser are fully developed the whole concept of communications in the field may well change again.

3rd Headquarters and Signal Regiment 1903 - 1964

Part II - Outline History

The parent unit of the Regiment first formed in Aldershot in 1903, when it became a new Division of the 3rd Telegraph Battalion Royal Engineers, under the command of Bt, Maj. E. G. Godfrey Faussett. Later that year its title changed to 2nd Telegraph Battalion and in 1905 to 3rd Telegraph Company. In 1907 the unit again changed its name to become the 3rd Signal Company under the command of Captain C. H Prickett, R.E. The unit moved to Bulford Camp in 1908 and the Brigade Sections were detached at Tidworth, Devenport and Portsmouth. The Headquarters Section of the 3rd Signal Company remained at Bulford Camp until it went to France in 1914.

The company were in action quickly, their first battle being that of Mons on August 23rd followed closely by Le Cateau on the 26th. Communications at this time were by cable to the three brigades, and from all reports pretty reliable. The Company moved around France during the latter part of 1914 eventually settling down at Ypres where they remained until August 1915 when they moved to Steenvoorde area remaining there for the winter. Unfortunately the diaries for that winter are missing but it must have been pretty grim, since even in April 1916 the diaries state that "There is nowhere for the horses to graze as the fields are like a mud bath. The billets are not fit for men man nor beast to live in."

It would appear that the Company were much troubled by shellfire damage to their cables, such that in May 1915 they employed 300 men from an Entrenched Battalion to dig their cables in. This sort of work must have been soul destroying; from the 1st to the 25th of May was spent burying cable and the unit moved on the 27th.

Six hundred and two years after the Battle of Bannockburn on 24th June 1916 the Company were issued with steel helmets; what effect this must have had is hard to say, but on the following day they lost 38-29 at cricket versus the Royal Artillery of the Division.

The rest of 1916 was spent moving, and burying cable, repairing cable after artillery firing and training. This sort of work continued right through 1917 and 1918 until August of that year when the moves started coming thick and fast, an average of five days being spent in any one place. The pace was kept up until December 1918 when the Company halted at Duren where it remained until march 1919, then moved to Cologne; however it wasn't to stay there long, for in may that year under Capt. J. King R.E., it returned to UK and disbanded.

it is worth noting that in April 1915 and again in June the Company was at Arras, but more of this later.

The Company was reformed at Bulford Camp in April 1920 by Major E. N. Fortesque-Hitchens. At this time the unit consisted of the OC, one temporary Officer, 50 OR's and 10 horses. As already mentioned the Corps of Signals took over from the Royal Engineers on 28th June 1920 and became the Royal Corps of Signals on the 5th August of that year.

At the time of the coal strike in 1921 the unit was suddenly increased by five officers, plus 150 Reservists and 40 horses plus limbered wagons. Bedding, Uniforms and harness all arrived at the same time without warning and there was no CQMS to handle these stores. The reservists were rather disgruntled at being recalled to the colours and were not very amenable. Unfortunately a quantity of blankets and public clothing was also "liberated" at the same time, but fortunately at the subsequent Board of Inquiry the whole amount was written off as a charge against the public.

In spite of the gradual increase in strength since the unit reformed in 1920 it was still practically on a cadre basis as late as 1923 and during the summer training season of that year it could only raise on Infantry Brigade Signal Section and one RA Signal Section. However by 1924 the Regiment was very nearly up to peace time establishment.

These were days when the Commanding Officer rode into the field with his trumpeter behind him as orderly and horse holder. All officers, and many soldiers were mounted and all transport was horse drawn. Infantry Brigade wireless sets were carried on pack ponies, while the wireless sets for communicating between Divisional HQ and Brigade HQ's were carried in springless limbered wagons. Some Despatch riders were mounted on horses and others had motorcycles. It was during this time that experiments were made to organise the operating company into signal office groups each sub-unit complete with its own transport, the fore-runner of the present Communications Centre System.

By today's standards 3 Divisional Signals appeared to do little in the way of excersises and major formation training during the late twenties and early thirties. This was mainly due to the lack of money; however the individual soldiers were certainly not idle. Trooping to and from India took a long time and instead of "striking" a soldier off the units strength when he left to go on embarkation leave as we do today, he remained on strength until he arrived in India. The soldiers who were to replace those who had gone to India were usually those who were returning from India and by the time they had their disembarkation leave it would be the best part of six months before the unit was fully up to strength again. In the meantime the soldiers who remained behind were fully occupied looking after the horses and with technical training. As the unit was under strength many had two horses to look after. By the time the horses had both been groomed and exercised and the soldier had done a little technical training it was time to start grooming again! During this time MT was introduced into the unit and to add to the soldiers' troubles there was no addition to the establishment to allow for this extra commitment and some found that in addition to the two horses they had a truck on charge as well!

In 1930 the unit was equipped with wireless sets no 1 in "Baby" Austin's and an experimental section was formed from the regiment to provide communications for an Armoured brigade on Salisbury Plain. At this particular time the Regiment did well at Army Sport, excelling at cross country running: the majority of the cups and trophies that are held in the regiment today originated from this time.

Apart from the normal peacetime soldering, of winter individual training, followed by summer collective training, and culminating in autumn manoeuvres, the principal historical even in Lieutenant Colonel Naylor's period of command was probrably the famous Agar tragedy. Briefly, Lieutenant Agar took a party of soldiers on a bathing and boating expedition to Studland bay and was drowned whilst trying to save one of his men who got into difficulties. A memorial prize in his name was founded and is presented to the top Sandhurst cadet who is commissioned into the Royal Signals. There is a Sundial to perpetuate his memory, which originally stood in front of the 3rd Divisional Signals Officers Mess at Bulford, and now is in the garden of the Headquarters mess at Catterick. A replica of this Sundial now stands outside the regimental Headquarters.

The other item of interest in this period was completion of the "Big Dig". In the late twenties the playing facilities were limited and it was decided that the Regiment would carve its own football pitch out of a small hill called the "Pimple". After about four years the playing field was completed, but unfortunately a Sandhurst block now stands on the site, the scene of much hard work.

By 1935 the gradual change over from Horse and Pack pony to mechanical Transport was nearly completed. The unit tool part in some remarkable manoeuvres in 1935, when most of the transport consisted of impressed civilian vehicles from Birmingham. In these manoeuvres 3rd Division concentrated around Bulford fields and fought a battle in the Stockbridge direction opposed by the 1st and 2nd Divisions, who came from the Aldershot direction. In this "Battle" 8th Infantry brigade (which then formed part of 3rd Division) was commanded by General Brooke, who later became field Marshall Sir Allen Brooke, and was C.I.G.S. during the Second World War. General Brooke's Brigade Signal Officer at that time was Lieutenant L. de M. Thuillier, now Major General L. de M. Thuillier, O.B.E. A.D.C., F.R.G.S

In 1936-1937 much of the effort of the unit was committed to trials and development of the mechanical cable layer now passed into history virtually as a failure.

At this time also, the unit had to supply large numbers of personnel for drafting to Palestine. The unit was denuded that during the War Office manoeuvres in 1936 personnel for the company provided signal communications for 3rd Division Headquarters had to be supplied by 43rd Divisional Signals T.A.

In 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War the regiment went with HQ 3rd Division to France. The Divisional Commander in France in 1939 was Major General Montgomery, C.B., D.S.O., (Later Field Marshal Lord Montgomery of Alamein.) The unit was kept hard at it during the bad winter of 1939/1940 doing its daily job plus participating in such exercises as could be arranged. In fact, these exercises were quite frequent, and brought out two points which still arise on exercise today; the problem of recovery of cable and the poor standard of digging in. This last point was soon cleared up when the unit was bombed on 12th may 1940. A large proportion of the unit at this time were reservists but they all worked with a will.

On 10th may 1940, when the battle started, Lieutenant Colonel Sylvester was on leave and on his way back was wounded in a blitz in Arras and was evacuated to the U.K. The unit second-in-command, Major T. S. A. Cambell was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took command. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell was suffering from jaundice at the time. He carried on for a few days but was obviously unfit and handed over to Lieutenant Colonel S. A. W. Philcox, who came from 2nd Corps Signals on promotion. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell was then evacuated to hospital.

When Lieutenant Colonel Philcox assumed command of the unit, 3rd Infantry Division, under Major General Montgomery, was holding the line of the River Dyle in Belgium. The Division then retired in successive stages to the River Dendre (behind Brussels) and the River Escaut, eventually taking up a defensive position on the Dunkirk perimeter near Furnes before being finally evacuated by sea on 1st June 1940. 3rd Divisional Signals provided communications for the Division throughout the retreat and at each successive halt provided line communications with infantry brigade Headquarters and R.A. Brigade Headquarters on an omnibus circuit. During the retreat the Unit also destroyed the civil telephone exchange at Louvain and Mouscron.

The 3rd Divisional Signals operated a Signal Office within the perimeter held by the expeditionary Force around Dunkirk and the familiar Blue and White Flag marking this Signal office was preserved and later presented to the Regiment by Major E. R. Nanny Wynn. The Flag is now framed and is hung in the entrance hall at Regimental Headquarters.

The last of the regiment arrived in England on 2nd June 1940 and between then and the 8th June reorganised at Frome, where the unit was re-equipped and later in the month moved to the South coast near Worthing ready to repel the expected German invasion. However the landings never came and after moving around the South of England the unit settled at Blandford for a year during which time there were plenty of exercises. By the end of 1941 the pace was hotting up and between November 1941 and March 1943 the regiment moved four times ending up at Dumfries and took part in no less than 28 major exercises. The pace did not slacken then, since the Regiment was to take part in the second Front.

The Regiment moved South on 15th April 1944 and entered the final phase of preparation for the invasion of Normandy. The equipment had to be meticulously prepared and waterproofed. The radio sets had to be faultlessly maintained since there could be no line communication during the assault. One gunner net had to net 76 outstations all of which was practised first and worked perfectly on the day.

The Regiment went to France on the left flank of the assault forces with 3rd Infantry Division. They played a full and successful part in the landings and the heavy fighting that followed. The first troops into Caen included some of G section with 33rd Field Regiment R.A.

The Regiment moved with the Division right through North-West Europe to the banks of the Rhine where the unit had to lay all the cable for the assault Corps. This involved laying 50 miles of heavy cable and 100 miles of Quad; as a result the linemen became highly skilled at handling ploughs and German horses!

Lieutenant Colonel Harris commanded the unit during the final phases of the Allied operations in North-West Europe. It is of interest to note that it was during his tour that the Officer Commanding 3rd Infantry Divisional Signals was first designated "Commander Royal Signals, 3rd Infantry Division."

Following the Rhine crossing in March 1945 the regiment was on the move until July when it settled at Warendorf.

By this time the Division was preparing for the assault of Japan which was fortunately never needed. However there was trouble in Palestine at this time and the Division was sent out there in October 1945 via Egypt. At about this time all men below age and service group 26 were released, and this meant that the regiment virtually became a new Unit, only two of the original officers remaining.

The Unit moved between Egypt and Palestine operating in the Internal Security role until 1st June 1947 when it handed over to 1st Armoured Divisional Signals and was then disbanded.

In the first few weeks of 1951 the unit was re-formed in a great hurry at Colchester at the time of the Korean War.

During the raising and training in England in 1951 the pace was so hot, that (according to one statistician) the Divisional Signal Regiment covered more miles during this period than it did throughout he World War II. Certainly the CR Signals, in order to keep in touch, used a light aircraft to travel between parts of the unit in UK.

It is interesting to note the Commonwealth Divisional Signal Regiment, which was raised at Harwich in April/May 1951, was actually formed under the auspices of 3rd Divisional Signal Regiment. At a farewell Regimental Guest Night, held in 3rd Divisional Signal regiment Officers Mess for the departing Commonwealth Divisional Signal Regiment, the guests were:- Major general Sir Hugh Stockwell (GOC 3rd Infantry Division), Major General W. R. C. Renney (Colonel Commandant), Major General R. F. B. Naylor (Colonel Commandant), Colonel J. W. Gordon (A/CSO Eastern Command) and Lieutenant Colonel A. L. Atkinson (First Officer Commanding Commonwealth Divisional Signal Regiment) - of these, all but general Stockwell were former members of 3rd Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment.

The Regiment in company with 3rd Infantry Division, returned from Egypt to UK in December 1954, and once more established itself in Colchester. Then following two years of intensive training with 3rd Infantry Division, which constituted at that time, the British Army Strategic Reserve. The highlight of this training was probably the Divisional Autumn Exercise on Salisbury Plain in September 1955 - Exercise Spearhead". The Regiment acquitted itself particularly well during this excersise, which from aspects and particular communications, was a great success. During this time, forming as it did part of the Strategic Reserve, the Regiment was at relatively short notice to move to any part of the World's trouble spots. In particular, eyes were always on Cyprus, where the terrorist activity was tying down military forces in the Middle East in a police role.

In March 1955, the Regiment was ordered to send "C" (Cable) Troop, complete to Cyprus, to reinforce Cyprus District Signal Regiment. This deficiency in 3rd Divisional Signal Regiment's strength was not made good, and an improvised "C" Troop had to be formed by calling in Linemen from RA Field Regiment Signal Troops and replacing them with RA Regimental Signallers.

In August 1956. The Regiment was mobilised on Home Establishments for possible offensive action in Egypt, in connection with the Suez Canel emergency. Although the Regiment in its entirety did not eventually embark, CR Signals and a small detachment from 1 Squadron, sailed for Port Said, as did also the Brigade Signal Troops attached to 19 and 29 Infantry Brigades. These detachments carried on the traditions of 3rd Infantry Divisional Signals and provided solid communications in the occupied portion of the Canal Zone throughout the emergency, with only the barest minimum of men and equipment. CR Signals and the detachments returned to Colchester in December 1956.

Little happened over the next one and a half years except for the re-organisation of the regiment into a ton air transportable element with the remainder comprising a sea tail of heavy vehicles. It was on this re-organisation that the regiment went to Cyprus in July 1958 as a Middle East Reserve. Some members of the Regiment were seconded for Internal Security duties during the troubles on the Island. The Regiment once more returned to Colchester in October 1958.

The title of the Regiment was changed from 3rd Infantry Divisional Signal Regiment to 3rd Division Signal Regiment when the troops were re-organised into Brigade groups. In April 1959, as a result of the re-designation of all signal regiments and squadrons the title became 3rd Signal Regiment.

In November 1959 the Regiment re-organised to work on the BAOR Divisional concept to serve a main Division headquarters and rear Division Headquarters. The following February the Regiment spent a month on Dartmoor practising this role

Immediately after this, half of the Regiment was flown to Libya for exercise "Starlight" with 3rd Division and 38 Group RAD, providing communications at El Adem and Timmimi. This exercise showed that a normal Divisional Signal Regiment converted itself into a Force Signal Regiment with only about 20 Landrovers and everything else made Airportable in boxes.

In August 1960 the Regiment formed 634 Signal Troop for service in the Southern Cameroons to aid the civil power during the Plebiscite. Replacements and reinforcements were despatched to Southern Cameroons in May 1961.

In July 1961 detachments of the regiment were dispatched to Kuwait, Bahrein and Kenya, and this pattern of sending detachments to odd corners of the world continues today.

In November 1961 the Regiment moved from Colchester to make its home once again in Bulford Camp and it is hoped that this will be its permanent home.

In August 1962 the Regiment incorporated the Divisional Headquarters and Signal Regiment.

1963 saw the Regiment consistently being exercised in the Joint Services role, together with elements of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, culminating in a large scale exercise (Triplex West) in Libya in September, when a large proportion of the Division was transported by air.

Early 1964 caused great demands to be made of the British Army, and the Regiment was placed on almost constant "Standby" ready to be despatched at short notice to trouble spots in Kenya, Uganda, and Cyprus. In February most of the regiment was flown to Cyprus to provide communications for the Peace Force under the command of Major General R. M. P. Carver, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., GOC 3rd Division.

In March the United Nations took control under lieutenant general Prem Singh Gyani, Major General Carver being Deputy Commander. The Regiment still continued to provide communications for UN Forces and also Administration Staff for the Headquarters, until August when they returned to Bulford.

During this period, whilst the Regiment was in Cyprus, steps had been taken to move the Regiment to Carter Barracks in Bulford, and in September the move was completed.

The Regiment has always had its home in Bulford and apart from short stops abroad and at Colchester it has returned there. When the new barracks are built it is hoped we shall have a better home than we have at present. It is worth noting that the unit was in action at Arras during both World Wars. Was it pure chance that the CO's House at Bulford was found to be called Arras House?


3rd Headquarters and Signal Regiment 1903-1964


Unit Disbanded in 1919 Reformed in 1920


Regiment Disbanded 30th June 1947 Reformed 14th December 1950


Regiment Disbanded 30th June 1947 Reformed 14th December 1950


3rd Division Headquarters & Signal Regiment

Regiment Disbanded 30th June 1947 Reformed 14th December 1950


1809 - 1814 - The Peninsula and France

1815 - Waterloo

1854 - 1856 The Crimea

1899 - 1900 South Africa,

1903 Border (Southern Command UK)

1907 - 1914 Bulford (Southern Command UK)

1914 - 1918 France - Belgium and Germany

1919 - 1939 Southern Command (UK)

1939 - 1940 France and Belgium

1940 - 1944 United Kingdom

1944 - 1945 France Belgium and Germany

1945 - 1947 Palestine.

1951 - 1954 UK and Suez Canal Zone

1958 Cyprus.

1959 - 1964 UK and Near East Land Forces.