The Register was started in response to frequent requests for information on former ROC Personnel by relatives, historians, medal collectors and obituary writers. As there was no central Register and ROC Records when they were in Wales, were restricted to ‘subject only access’, it was decided the ROCM would create such a Register using whatever records could be found.
It was accepted that finding all members was probably impossible and that information on those we could find might be quite limited.
The ROCM’s aim was that the name/unit of all who had served in the ROC should be discovered and recorded.
Wartime Observers had no ROC Service Number (though we do know that Western Area at least had a numbering system) so the Wartime Register lists the members by Post and Centre Crew where known. There were 180+ Branches of the Royal Observer Corps Club, (the recognition organisation) set up by single or multiple Posts or Crews or Clusters all over the UK between 1940 and 1942. Branch Reports in the ROC Club Journal often listed the participants in Recognition Competitions by Post number. Much research has enabled the actual Post locations to be identified and participants listed in their appropriate Post/Crew part of the Register.
Post-War the Register comprises listings of all possible Service Numbers (found in second edition of Attack Warning Red) and members’ details are recorded against their Service number where known. Where a name is known but not their Service Number (there are thousands in this category!), the details are recorded in an alphabetic list (surnames) for each Group.
Details against an individual’s names are only those that have been found in the documentation or notified by colleagues/relatives – in most cases therefore this will be a ‘snapshot (s) at a point in time of their service and not a record of the extent of their service.Whatever enrolment date, resignation date, promotions, awards, previous units/service are found, will be recorded against the member’s name.
If from the Register it is possible to confirm that a person actually served in the ROC and (hopefully) where they served, then the Register will have fulfilled its purpose – anything more by way of information is looked on as a bonus!
The ROC Museum has acquired the surviving ROC Records-of-Service cards from the MOD. (The Museum is a small independent museum, entirely self-funding and run by volunteers)
It has started an Enquiry Service replacing that formerly provided by the MOD. Enquiries by former Observers for their own record or by relatives of former Observers, will be free of charge but requiring postage or a stamped addressed envelope (sae). All other Enquiries (and these can include military and local historians, medal collectors, researchers etc) carry a search fee of £10 per name. (No charge is made of course for ROCBF (ROC Benevolent Fund) Enquiries or ROCA (ROC Association) Obituary Writers.)
All the other records the ROCM holds will also be searched in addition to the MOD Records. Enquiries can only be processed when made on a Request for Service Details form, which can either be down-loaded from the website www.therocmuseum.org, or a copy obtained from: NA Cullingford, 8 Roselands Close, Fair Oak, Eastleigh, Hants SO50 8GN, again enclosing postage or a sae.
(NB Requests made on-line cannot be processed – only those submitted on the form, which can be found below, and enclosing postage or a sae are acceptable.) This service is run by volunteers who will process Enquiries as quickly as possible.
A serious concern of the Royal Air Force in the run up to the D-Day Operation was the risk of ‘friendly fire’ on its aircraft by shipping as had happened at the Dieppe and Anzio landings. It was therefore agreed that Observers from the ROC should be posted to the Defensively Armed Merchant Ships (DEMS) to direct the gun crews and ensure no Allied aircraft was fired upon. As a result a request by Air Chief Marshall Leigh Mallory went out to all members of the ROC on 11 March 1944 asking for volunteers for duties as yet unspecified.
Commencing enrolment on 10/5/1944 the 1000+ Seaborne volunteers were subject to strict medical examinations and a stringent aircraft recognition test (said to be the most difficult such test in the world at that time). Finally 796 Seaborne Observers passed the selection and were kitted, trained and prepared at RAF Bournemouth, Depot of the Seaborne Operation, with the final batch of enrolments on 23/6/1944. Observers would then be despatched to DEMS Offices in ports around the UK and from there posted to a ship. At the end of each sea engagement the Observer would usually be posted back to RAF Bournemouth for discharge or further on-board postings.
The Seaborne Observers were enrolled into the Royal Navy as Petty Officer (Air Identifiers) and engaged for periods of 1 to 3 months sea duty. Ships manned by Seaborne Observers so far identified comprise, Infantry Assault Ships; Mechanised Transport, Stores and Commodity Ships; Coasters and Short Sea Cargo ships; and a variety of HQ ships, Flag ships, Depot Ships, train ferries and Accommodation ships (some attached to ‘Mulberry’ A & B and ‘Gooseberry’ 1, 4 & 5 at least.). The latter were of course part of the fixed purpose-built on-shore harbour installations and it is a great surprise that the Seaborne Observers were controlling gunfire from these harbour installations. Ships of at least 13 Nations were manned by Seaborne Observers and many were ‘Liberty’ type ships.
An analysis of the results of the Seaborne Observers service confirmed that not a single Allied aircraft was fired upon by guns from a vessel manned by ROC Observers. Letters of appreciation were received from many ships’ captains more than one of whom wished he could continue to have Seaborne Observers on his vessel permanently.
Thanks to the generosity and far-sightedness of the Director of Naval Personnel, the ROC Museum has been provided with the details of all 796 Seaborne Observers. The ROCM is therefore able to undertake enquiries relating to Seaborne Observers on the same basis as ordinary personnel enquiries.
Incidentally the ages of the Seaborne Observers varied widely with the oldest giving his date of birth as 1878, making him 66! Approximate statistics are: 232 Observers were born before 1901, 370 between 1901 & 1910, 60 between 1911 and 1920, 100 between 1921 and 1925 while 32 were born in 1926 (so at 1/6/1944 there were 9 x 17 year olds and 23 x 18 year olds).