Berkshire’s Home Front 1915: Operation Gramophone

I first noticed the mysterious reference to ‘Operation Gramophone’ in the Berkshire Record Office catalogue a few years ago, when I was working on some Petty Sessions records for a client. Intrigued, I checked various local history sources but drew a complete blank!

On closer inspection, the scant surviving records for Operation Gramophone were initially a bit confusing. However, once put into the context of the Home Front in 1915, they started to make more sense.

home front WW1 Berkshire

Police Superintendent  Charles Goddard

Zeppelin air attacks on the east coast of Britain began in January 1915. Not surprising then, that by 17th February, Police Superintendent Charles Goddard (1861-1946)1 of the Wokingham Division was requesting help from the Special Police Reserve and Special Constables, in the event of a ‘hostile air-craft invasion.’2 He wanted men, who on hearing the alarm, to be verified by a special code, would be prepared to ‘go direct to their post’ to carry out orders, as yet undefined. I believe that this was the beginning of what became known as Operation Gramophone.

His letter suggested several potential observation points, including ‘Bill Hill, Twyford, on the railway road bridge and Wargrave, on the south end of Henerton House Lawn or Hill House Lawn.’

In April 1915, invasion contingency plans were extended to include the setting up of barricades to stop ‘hostile persons conveyed in motor cars.’3 This duty was acknowledged to be ‘attended by a certain amount of personal danger.’ A barricade was to consist of ‘a tressel [sic] and a pole with a red flag for day and a red lamp for nights.’ It was to be manned by a County Council road man and guarded by at least one police officer or special constable. Posts included Wokingham Waterworks, Earley Crossroads and Sonning River Bridge, each requiring 1 police officer, 2 specials and 1 road man.

Rather wonderfully, the Berkshire Record Office has an actual duty list for May 1915, which orders Sub-Division Special Constables to be at their barricade point (only a drill so no barricade yet) between 8pm and 10pm on the nights of 13th, 14th and 15th May.4 They were to bring their truncheon, arm-badge and warrant card and were ordered to stop and examine all motor cars and motor bicycles, except any ‘Admiralty cars with code lights.’5

home front WW1 Berkshire

The full procedure for Operation Gramophone was outlined in a confidential memo from Superintendent Goddard, dated Wokingham 25th September 1915. It was headed ‘Possible Air-Craft Raid’6 and a summary is as follows:

1/ The Orderly takes the message to the Officer in Charge. If no superior officer is available, he must give it to a PC (the first one seen), who will then call:
Mr Brown, the Fireman7
PCs 17 & 186
Mr [John James] Sadler of No.4 Langborough Rd.
Mr Foy of Dulaney, Shute End,
Mr [Alexander Robert] McEwan of Merrion, Sturgess Road,
Mr [Sydney] Barraclough of 23 Milton Rd
Mr [Frank Stanley] Halsey of 2 Market Place.

2/ PC Uphill will drive PC Hopkins to put out the ‘Clock governed lamps’ in Broad St and [other] roads.

3/ The Orderly will ring up (in order): Mr Curry, Mr Mylne, Mr Wallis, Mr Craig, Mr Garrett and Lord Downshire8 and the message will be:

From Police Superintendent Gramophone
Near or threatened” (whichever we are told of)

4/ All men waiting their turn of duty will remain at the station. The two Mounted men, Orderly and Clerk will remain at the station in uniform ready for emergency.

5/ ‘Packets of Special Constables’ orders will be issued to whom directed’ and the Sub-Divisional station warned by telephone.

According to a handwritten note at the bottom of the memo, the cards ‘in the yellow envelope in cupboard of store room’ were to be taken round by Boys Brigade Messengers. A brave duty, considering the grave situation.

6/ On receipt of ‘Nearing Air-Craft invasion’, the following men will come direct to Wokingham for Duty: PCs 162, 121 & 83. The Police Reservists on duty will come direct to the Market Place for orders and take the stretcher into the street in case of accidents.

7/ The Police Station and Court blinds must be drawn. All lights capable of attracting attention of air-craft must be extinguished and all motor headlights put out. All motor drivers must be stopped and particulars taken.

Astoundingly, the original sealed envelope ‘packets’, labelled ‘Grammophone’ [sic] were discovered, years later, in a suitcase in the cellar of the old Wokingham Police Station in Rectory Road! Thankfully, they are now at the Berkshire Record Office.9

On the night of 6th March 1916, Reading braced itself for a Zeppelin raid. Fortunately, the town was fully prepared and had time to organise a blackout. Disaster was averted and in this World War at least, the threatened air attack never came.10 

[1] A Policeman’s Lot: Superintendent Charles Goddard 1861-1946 by Dawn Smalley. Berkshire Family Historian, (Berkshire Family History Society) September 2006 Vol 30 pp19.
[2] Berkshire Record Office Petty Sessions Records: Forest Division (Ref: PS/FT/26/4/1)
[3] Berkshire Record Office Petty Sessions Records: Forest Division (Ref: PS/FT/26/4/3)
[4] Berkshire Record Office Petty Sessions Records: Forest Division (Ref: PS/FT/26/4/7)
[5] Confidential memo from Superintendent Goddard, Wokingham 1st May 1915: Instructions for identifying and dealing with the Admiralty’s Anti-Aircraft Motor Cars. They would fly a small white ensign and a red, white and green pennant during the day and show three lights, one above the other, at night. From 2nd May until further notice the lights would be Red at top, Green in middle and Red at bottom. No attempt should be made to stop them. Berkshire Record Office Petty Sessions Records: Forest Division (Ref: PS/FT/26/4/4)
[6] Berkshire Record Office Petty Sessions Records: Forest Division (Ref: PS/FT/26/4/15)
[7] Possibly Ernest John Brown, Farm Steward of Easthampstead Park. (Berkshire Record Office Petty Sessions Records: Forest Division (Ref: PS/FT/26/2/1) or T Brown of the Twyford Sub-Division, who was awarded the King’s Special Constabulary Medal in 1922.
[8] Alderman Henry Charles Mylne, although Mayor of Wokingham, was also a Special Constable and a Divisional Officer, sworn in 26th January 1915. The Marquis of Downshire of Easthampstead Park was a driver in the Berkshire Police Motor Service throughout the Great War, having been sworn in as a Special Constable on 4th November 1914. Berkshire Record Office Petty Sessions Records: Forest Division (Ref: PS/FT/26/2/1)
[9] Berkshire Record Office Petty Sessions Records: Forest Division (Ref: PS/FT/26/13/6)
[10] For a full account of the Zeppelin ‘scare’ of 6th March 1916 see

© Emmy Eustace


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