It all started in late September 2002, after another weekend of re-enacting. As a group, we try to educate the public in the way that Artillery was used from during the Second world War.
Members of The Garrison own a number of Artillery pieces, including an Mk-1 40mm Bofors with Polish predictor sites. We also have access to a second Bofors gun owned by English Heritage, giving us a very good living history display for the "Ack Ack Command." The Ack Ack section of The Garrison has presented our display at various events around the UK to educate people in the work done by both the men and women of Ack Ack Command who manned our Anti Aircraft defences during the Second World War.
The Garrison has a large group of female members who re-enact the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). There were over 74,000 ATS posted to Ack Ack Command Gunner Units at the height of ATS involvement during WW2. The group had long felt that we were not really portraying the ATS in their true role. The ATS never served on the Bofors, rarely manned any of the heavy guns and never legally fired them, so it is important for us to get their portrayal right.
So it was after such a re-enactment weekend that I decided we needed to acquire some equipment that both sexes could crew. While sitting at home watching the TV, I was wondering how I could get hold of a 3.7 Heavy Anti-Aircraft gun, as during the war, the 3.7 was operated by mixed battery’s – but the more I thought about it the more I realized A) how difficult finding one was going to be and B) how difficult it would be to move around. So I put the idea to the back of my mind and started watching Scrap Heap Challenge (the hover craft episode). Suddenly one of the contestants walked past a large war-time searchlight in the scrap yard. An Anti-Aircraft Searchlight (AASL), "that‘s it!" I thought – reasonably easy to move around, no licence required, the girls can form a detachment, and a light with a range of a few miles could be great fun to play with. It was with great trepidation that the very next day I contacted RDF Media, the makers of the show, asking for information on who would I would need to contact to acquire the searchlight – I was not expecting to get anywhere.
So imagine my surprise and great delight when I received an email from Ian White, the chief researcher, saying that he had spoken to a Mr Bishop, the owner of the AASL and he was happy for us to have the searchlight free of charge – but I would have to come and collect it.
And so began our journey toward the restoration of the only 150 cm AA Search Light in the UK …