Guest Blog by Peter Belcher and Aisling O’Malley, IET Archivist
Earlier this year, the IET Archives received a ‘Handbook of Technical Information for Communications Engineers’, issued to Post Office Engineering staff at Dollis Hill Research Station during the 1940s. This handbook belonged to Post Office engineer, Tom Belcher, and serves as a small reminder of his fascinating career. His son, Peter Belcher, has kindly agreed to share his memories of his father’s life and career.
Tom Belcher had worked with the Post Office since 1915, initially as a Telegram boy, but by 1922 Tom had transferred to the research station at Dollis Hill where his duties included testing electromechanical exchange equipment, relays, and stroweger units. During the 1930s, Peter recollects that he would often attend Dollis Hill for social events such as cricket matches, it was during these outings that Peter became acquainted with his father’s colleagues: Tommy Flowers, Sid Broadhurst, Bill Chandler, and Stan Wilks.
In 1939, Tom would often work away from home, sending Peter postcards of his visits to the South Coast, indicating that he likely worked on the Predictor or Chain Home Stations, the forerunners of radar.
By 1942, Tom had passed his driving test and he frequently drove a green Post Office van to a place that he referred to as ‘BP’. For many years, Peter assumed this stood for RAF Bentley Priory. In 1944, when Peter was out of school, after it was destroyed in an air raid, Tom allowed Peter to accompany him to work. Peter was driven to a large grassy area with a pond and in the distance a grand country house. Unfortunately for Peter, his father forbade him from leaving the van. It would be many years later when Peter visited Bletchley Park that he recognised the same country house from that day in 1944.
During the Second World War, Peter recalls many of his father’s colleagues sleeping over at their house, colleagues who had just arrived at Dollis Hill. When details of the Colossus computer were released in the 1970s, Peter recognised the same names of those overnight guests: Ramsbottom, Wraight, Maile, and Kimber. It was now obvious to Peter that his father had been part of Tommy Flowers’ team, a fact that was confirmed in the ‘Annals of the History of Computing’, and had worked on the Colossus, something that Tom never spoke about during his lifetime.
Tom Belcher retired from the Post Office in 1962 after forty-seven years. He died in 1965 at the age of 64.