The REME Museum Corps Historian

18 months ago, we did not have a Corps Historian. My predecessors had dual roles of Historian and Archivist in their three specialist areas of the documentary, pictorial and technical archives. With the recruitment of a dedicated Archivist who joined the team in February, I focus on my ‘core’ role of research into REME related projects.

When I started I had no idea what a Corps Historian was supposed to do, so I had to ask some questions, some of which I’m sure you would be asking too.

Do you have to have a background in history?

I don’t. I ditched history for geography when I was 14. In fact, all studies were less important at school than sports and just play acting. I though history was boring, how wrong I was…

Do you have to have be or have been a soldier?

Historians can study a subject without having done it. For instance, you can be a historian of ancient Greece without living through it. But, I must say, it does help if you “know the lingo” and have half an idea of the acronyms and context.

Do you have to have held a senior role within the military?

No, but if you have climbed the greasy pole of promotion it means that you have been around for some time. In my case I served for 32 years and then worked in an industry closely related to REME for the next 15 years.

Corps Historian, Colonel (Retired) Mike Crabbe (left)

Do you have to put on a show?

Well, you may be required to give presentation or talks formally or informally but, mostly, you need to be diligent in your research, correct in your facts and put the results of your efforts into language and terms that an be understood by the people who ask for that research.

Colonel (Retired) Mike Crabbe ‘putting on a show’

Who asks for you to do the research?

Well, a wide range of ‘enquiries’ pass across mine or the Archivist’s desks. It could be the Museum Curatorial Staff wanting facts and images for a display. It could be current or retired REME or other military people who want facts checked or images found. It could be relatives of REME Officers or Soldiers that want to understand what their people did when they were serving. In some cases, it could be commercial organisations that need the facts to support studies or media people who are making films or writing books or articles. It is safe to say that the variety of enquiries is the second most exacting part of the job. The most important part is the ability to transport yourself into locations and operations to dig out the information to satisfy the enquiry.

What is your output?

We provide interpretations of formal Records of Service, taking bare facts and putting them into plain language based on our understanding of the geographical and operational situation at the time the individual was serving. We provide other facts and copies of documents and images where available. We answer all enquiries however they arrive.

When can you take enquiries?

I and the Archivist are actively researching enquiries that arrive by post, email, telephone or in person, but until the Museum opens in 2017, we cannot allow access to the Archive for individuals to research.

In future blogs, I will give you a flavour of the type of work and enquiries which the REME Museum Corps Historian does.

Colonel (Retired) Mike Crabbe – Corps Historian


The New Archive

The Archives are now settled in to our new home in a brand new re-configured and climate controlled storage facility, with equipment for digitisation. This makes it so much easier to look after the Archives according to professional standards.


In Arborfield, the Archives were stored in three separate parts: the Documentary Archives, the Pictorial Archives and the Technical Archives. In Lyneham, these have been merged into one Archive under myself, the new Museum Archivist, who with great foresight managed to avoid the unpacking of the crates and boxes by starting in February this year and so missing the decanting process. I am so grateful to my Museum colleagues who liberated the material from the packing boxes and placed them on the new shelves.

We now have all the Archives handily located in one room, on mobile shelving and our collections of EMERs and AESPS have a special room all of their own.

Since moving in, we have been arranging and sorting out the collections storage, acquiring new material, assessing the Archives Service and making arrangements to improve the way the Archive is managed and services delivered. Although not yet open, we look forward to receiving enquiries and visitors once we are, and so we are working on getting our enquiries and research service ready.

Working with me in the Archives is the new Corps Historian, my colleague in archives and research and fount of REME knowledge, who you will hear from soon on this blog.

As a newbie, it has been (and remains) a steep learning curve and quite a journey to get to know the collections and learn more about REME and the Corps history: from Land Rovers to LADs; BARVs, CRARRVs and ARVs; from Egypt to East Africa; from Burma to Belize; from Italy to India – working with the Museum Archives is like taking a world tour!

Celia Cassingham – Museum Archivist

REME in East Africa, 1953-54


Typical recovery in Burma