Museum Memories - How it all started
By Brigadier Brian Parritt CBE
In 1961, I visited Maresfield Camp for a briefing about the Intelligence Corps before going to Staff College. The adjutant, Nick Nicholson, showed me round the camp looking at the various branches. He pointed out the silver in the Sergeants' Mess and officers mess, and the artillery pieces placed around the camp which had been recovered from the 1956 Suez Campaign, but there was no central place where Corps artefacts were kept or displayed.
In 1966 Derek Hawker and I exchanged jobs; he came to Cyprus to take over as G2 Cyprus Base Intelligence Organisation (CBIO) and I returned to be OC Depot. In the exchange gap, Laurie Muskett was appointed temporary OC Depot.
Templer Barracks in Ashford was still under construction, so Pam and the family moved into quarters in Queens Drive, Maresfield; also in Queens Drive was Corps Lieutenant Colonel Tom Carter. Each Monday morning we would drive together to Ashford returning on Friday evening. Also living in the new Officers' Mess at Ashford was Major Bill Leary, who was the camp quartermaster, the project officer for the development of Ashford Barracks and also responsible for running ICA, having taken over as Corps secretary from Major Philip Walker.
One evening in the bar we were discussing the allocation of accommodation and Bill raised the subject of having an Intelligence Corps museum. He felt there was space available but it would need the signature of a lieutenant colonel to approve its use as a museum. That weekend in the car I asked Tom Carter for his views and he was quite negative: The regular Corps has only been formed for less than ten years and we have very little history and if we did have anything interesting, it will almost certainly be classified.
The only other lieutenant colonel in Ashford was Jack Fielder who was the senior officer in the School of Military Intelligence. Bill and I went to see him and Bill explained that opposite the guardroom was to be an indoor shooting range and next door was a building, which would be ideal as a museum. As there was no entitlement for a museum he suggested the building should be designated as a Recruit Training Room. Jack Fielder agreed and signed the forms for this to happen.
There was no money for a museum but, as Bill was the QM and project officer responsible for the conversion of an RAOC depot to an intelligence centre, the refurbishment of the Recruit Training Room moved ahead to include heating, lighting, carpets and surprise, surprise, even display cabinets. Bill Leary then set about filling the museum and in a very short time attracted a large number of artefacts. Work had begun on a history of the Corps, The Intelligencers, and initially, the main thrust of the museum was the historical story of intelligence starting from Walsingham, Thurloe, South Africa and World War I.
One of the first aims was to incorporate the museum into the structure of the Corps and this would best be done through ICA. Very early on, therefore, when the ICA committee met, there would be an item on the agenda: Museum business. This gave legitimacy to the existence of the museum and was a potential source of funds. Bill Leary was passionate about the museum and when he retired as a lieutenant colonel he volunteered to become the first curator He also recruited a Mr Hunter to be his assistant, paid for by ICA. An important day in the story of the museum was the day when Field Marshal Templer visited the Intelligence Centre to officially name the barracks Templer Barracks. During the visit, he also formally opened the Intelligence Corps Museum.
The museum was then extremely lucky as the next Corps secretary, Colonel Felix Robson, was also passionately interested in Corps history and the development of the Museum. He was determined to collect and bring back to Ashford, Intelligence Corps memorabilia. He established contacts with the Imperial War Museum and the National Army Museum and personally visited past members of the Corps to obtain information and artefacts.
We went together to Hamburg where a retired Corps Sergeant Major, Mr Hillyer-Funke, was working and who had accumulated a remarkable collection of Corps-related documents and historical items. Mr Hillyer-Funke agreed to allow these to go to the museum. It was a major coup. As the Corps was rapidly expanding, so did the responsibilities of the corps secretary, so to help in the museum, wives were asked to come in for a few hours to clean and record accessions. Later, helped by a subsidy from ICA, the RSMs wife was employed part-time in the museum.
On the retirement of Felix Robson, the Corps was again lucky in that the next corps secretary was also interested in the museum and Corps history. Major Dick Shaw undertook the development of the museum with determination and flair and in his time the museum became accepted as an integral part of our Corps heritage.
When the decision was made to move the Centre to Chicksands, a significant problem arose, as the museum was not registered officially as part of Templer Barracks; it was not on the schedule to have a site designated in Chicksands. This caused considerable disruption and when the Centre finally closed, all the contents of the museum were packed into boxes and taken to Chicksands but there was no place to put them.
Dick Shaw, in addition to all the problems arising from the move and the increase in his duties as Corps Secretary, had to cope with stacks of boxes dispersed in corridors and various sites around the camp. Two people were significantly helpful in helping move the museum to Chicksands: Barbara Tate, an ex-FANY who supervised the transfer of the archives; and Major David Hill without whose help the museum might still be a derelict building in Ashford.
Director of the Corps, Brigadier Mick Laurie, was also head of the DISC and the museum trustees put great pressure on him to allocate space for a museum. A meeting to discuss the future of a museum was chaired by Mick Laurie and around the table were the senior Royal Naval officer and the senior RAF officer in the DISC. I was present as chairman of the Intelligence Corps Museum. The outcome was agreement that space should be allocated for a museum but that it should be a Joint Service Intelligence Museum known as the Military Intelligence Museum (MIM). This was a good step forward but for Dick Shaw and his successor as corps secretary, John Woolmore, it was a most frustrating period as the decision as to which accommodation would be allocated to the museum constantly changed.
Eventually, the present building was designated to be the museum and the process of reconstruction began. The Royal Navy declined to be part of the museum explaining that they were already committed to their own museum in Portsmouth. The RAF was happy that the Medmenham Museum would become an integral part of the MIM.
To launch the museum a meeting was held in the Priory attended by over 80 past members of the Corps, and the Friends of the Intelligence Corps Museum was organised. The task was to turn a derelict office building into a modern museum. The museum trustees asked a representative from the National Army Museum to draw up plans for a modern museum and when this plan was agreed, work began to get the agreement of the DISC contractors to undertake the work and then find the money to enable this. The trustees always went for the best option in terms of lighting, carpeting, and decoration, and in many cases sanctioned the work to go ahead although the money was not necessarily in the bank.
As the building work progressed, plans were also made to agree on the modules to fill the museum. Two trustees undertook to be responsible for the development and installation of modules. Angus Southwood designed and then supervised the development of the Brixmis module and John Condon undertook responsibility for two modules: The Name of the Rose module commemorating those members of the Corps who had given their lives for their country; and the Corps Honours and Awards module to record all the honours and decorations earned by members of the Corps. The trustees felt that it was correct that the first two modules in the new museum concentrated specifically on Corps history. The next module depicting the role of the Intelligence Corps in SOE was funded by a most generous donation from Julian Barnard.
In the summer of 2005, the museum at Chicksands was formally opened by Colonel Commandant, General Sir Charles Guthrie.
In 1998 there was a most significant change in army policy in that the Army Board agreed on a paper which recognised that military museums were a legitimate part of army heritage and should be supported. The trustees, therefore, made strenuous efforts to convince the Adjutant Generals Corps that the MIM was a fundamental and integral part of the Intelligence Corps regimental tradition just as all other regimental museums, and happily this was accepted. As a result, in 2005 the museum was allocated the establishment of a curator, an archivist and an assistant. It was a great step forward but also meant that the trustees had the responsibility of setting high standards in the museum in order to obtain official governmental accreditation.
The next step was to obtain acceptance that the museum was now an integral part of the Intelligence Corps family and thus funding for the museum should include an annual contribution from ICA. This was ultimately agreed and ICA undertook to allocate funds annually to the museum, although the figure would remain at ICA discretion.
By 2010 the MIM, trading as the Intelligence Corps Museum, had become recognised and accepted by the Intelligence Corps, the army and the government as a legitimate military museum; the next challenge is to gain nationwide acceptance as a focal point for intelligence displays and intelligence archival research.
The MIM obtained full Arts Council of England Accreditation in 2016, recognising that the Museum was operating to national standards in all aspects of its governance, collections and archive.