The IET during World War Two

The IEE, Savoy Place and WW2

When war broke out in 1939, the IEE (now the IET) considered itself to be prepared. It had just appointed a new Secretary, W K Brasher, a professional engineer and former civil servant who was to be a key figure in ensuring the Institution met the challenges of the war. Unlike during the First World War, membership numbers grew. There was also an increasing interest in specialist areas of electrical engineering, reflected in the formation of a new section on electrical transmission and the division of the IEE Journal into ‘General’, ‘Power Engineering’ and ‘Communication Engineering’.

Meetings continued and the number increased throughout the war. Many were held outside London, to avoid the danger of unnecessary travel, and the first local technical groups started to appear. The IEE was active in advising government on the recruitment and training of engineers, technical issues such as radio interference, and post-war planning. It also published advice on the relaxation of the standards set out in the Wiring Regulations during wartime.

The IEE considered evacuating its London headquarters at Savoy Place, but in the end the decision was made to evacuate the Library collections and keep staff in place. Shelters were built at Savoy Place, and although the building was damaged as a result of bomb blasts (Brasher reported that all the windows had been lost by 1941), no major structural damage was caused. Savoy Hill House, the building to the rear of Savoy Place which was used by the BBC in the 1930s, was damaged when a bomb destroyed part of the east wing.

By the end of the war, 4,463 members were serving in the armed forces. 156 members lost their lives, including 26 civilians.

Savoy Place, 1938 [IET Archive]

One of the most significant publications to come from the IEE after the war was Post-War Building Studies no. 11: Electrical Installations, composed by an IEE committee chaired by James R Beard and including the electrical engineer Caroline Haslett. It advised on changes to electrical installations, domestic electrical appliances and domestic telecommunications, especially relating to post-war building projects. The study recommended the UK adoption of the three-pin plug, shuttered socket and ring main, all significant features of modern domestic installations.