Members of 13th Signal Regiment receive their badge on 1 June 010620 CREDIT MOD.jpg

Royal Signals Centenary: How The Corps Has Evolved

The Royal Corps of Signals was formed in 1920 and has been at the forefront of military technology since then.

Members of 13th Signal Regiment receive their badge on 1 June 010620 CREDIT MOD.jpg

The Royal Corps of Signals, responsible for keeping communications open on the battlefield, is celebrating its centenary year.

The first signallers - Royal Engineers of the Telegraph Troop - pioneered the use of field telephones during the First World War.

Major Richard Day, The Royal Corps of Signals, told Forces News: "They were operating telephones, telegraphs, they were laying cable, there were detachments that sent messages by pigeon, there were dispatch riders, pretty much everything you could imagine, there was a specialty for it.

"For the Battle of the Somme, they lay 50,000 miles of cable, just for that one battle alone, so you can imagine how much was laid in the entirety of the First World War."

Having proved their importance, the Royal Corps of Signals was formed in 1920 and operated alongside the first special forces units in the Second World War.

"One of the big differences of World War Two was manoeuvre warfare, it was that very fast, very mobile warfare that we found ourselves in fighting the Germans," Major Day said.

WATCH: The museum inside Blandford Camp in Dorset tells the story of the Signallers' history.

Speaking at the Royal Signals Museum, Major Day referred to an Armoured Command Vehicle on display and the Signallers' importance when operating it. 

He said: "This particular one operated in the 8th Army, it was one of General Montgomery's Armoured Command Vehicles and this was used by him to enable him to communicate as he was moving around the battlefield seeing his units.

"General Montgomery couldn't do anything without his Signallers in that vehicle.

"By the end of the Second World War, there were 150,000 people in the Royal Corps of Signals."

During the Cold War, they developed systems to stop the Soviet military from listening to NATO transmissions.

This work led to the first encrypted cellular networks that could be moved around the battlefield.

The Royal Signals also played a vital role in Northern Ireland, pioneering the use of electronic counter-measures aimed at detecting terrorist bombs.

It was risky work and 27 Signallers died.

In the Falklands, Signallers were among the first troops ashore, sending back intelligence on Argentine positions.

In recent years, the corps has been in every major British military operation - from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Today, the Royal Signals continue to advance military communication.

Earlier this month, the 13th Signal Regiment became the first to be dedicated to tackling cyber threats.

A number of signallers are also helping to run mobile testing stations during the coronavirus pandemic.

WATCH: The role of the Royal Corps of Signals today.

Lieutenant Philip Gaffney, troop commander, 16 Signal Regiment, told Forces News: "I think the military's all about adaptability - whatever we're called on to do by the Government of the day, we're happy to do it.

"So we've seen it all really - floods, fire and strikes, we've seen everything, and this is just the next stage of that. We're trying to help the NHS and help whichever way we can."

New equipment enables the signallers to keep up with the needs of a modern military, with technology such as the Falcon Vehicle, a joint tactical trunk communication system, allowing them to create a phone network wherever they are deployed.

Lieutenant Colonel Pete Brunton, Commanding Officer of 16 Signal Regiment, said: "We've gone from largely analogue insecure systems to digital secure systems.

"We've had a shift from providing voice through to mainly providing data services and most recently the adoption of cyber principles and practices and leaning more into cyber operations."

Cover image: Personnel from 16 Signal Regiment receive their badge (Picture: MOD).