By Dr Richard Joseph Wooldridge, Museum Founder
The museum’s first seeds were sown one summer afternoon in 1968. As a 7-year-old boy, I was sitting in the back of my father’s car with my sister. As we passed through a country area, I saw a 1937 pattern backpack in the ditch. I shouted to my father to stop, which he did. My father and I went to inspect the find which had been dumped, and was full of empty paint cans. I begged him to let me take it home, and after a discussion, my mother and father finally relented.
I quickly collected up all of my father’s wartime equipment that I could find around the house, along with the rest of my family’s military items. I then decided that the only way forward was to set up a museum.
As the years passed, and my relatives realised that I was seriously collecting the family’s military artefacts, I was supplied with more and more items. As a teenager, with a little more money in my pocket, I set up a mini museum in my bedroom, much to my mother’s dismay.
By fourteen, my friends and I were busy with metal detectors scouring the local woods, fields and beaches for military finds. A Dornier 17Z, Spitfire, and countless rounds of ammunition and shrapnel were among the finds over the following ten years.
Once I started work and was bringing money home regularly, I was able to increase the collection size dramatically. I was surprised to find artefacts still springing up from family and friends too.
At this stage I met Keith Turner, a fellow collector, who was to become a lifelong friend. Keith was responsible for finding some of the very rare items in the collection, such as the Cockle canoe, most of the clandestine radios, Special Forces insignia and equipment.
The collection constantly grew, and when I purchased my first house, I converted the garage into a ‘museum’, which quickly filled to capacity. I began to realise that soon something would have to change; either I had to realise the dream or scale down the collection. I wrote to various tourist boards, societies and councils for assistance in setting up a museum.
The collection was reviewed by the government who declared it to be of national importance, and assisted in setting up a registered charity to provide a building to house the collection. It was decided to name the museum -‘The Combined Military Services Museum’ after the Combined Operations of World War Two, as this reflected all three services, as did the collection.
The Charity was officially set up in 1996. It gathered momentum, with donations from private and public funds, until finally in 2001, the museum building in Station Road, Maldon was found. As a former bonded wine warehouse, the building offered high security and excellent potential as a high quality museum.
The following three years were extremely busy, with donations of artefacts from many military sources, an armour collection being purchased and saved from export, and grants being actively sought to fund the project. Major building work took place, with a second floor added to the warehouse section, and high security doors, alarms and display cases fitted. Staff and volunteers have put endless hours into the project, and finally the doors opened to the public on 5th July 2004, after 36 years of planning!
I have the satisfaction of leaving something for the public to enjoy, and know that we have, in the process, saved many items of national historical importance from destruction or export. The collection continues to grow and develop as we reach out to new audiences and tell new stories.
I hope that the museum will continue to thrive and grow with the same momentum and support that I have witnessed over these many years.
The lesson learned for life is simple: If you really want to achieve something, put enough determination, time and sheer effort into it and you will achieve your goal.
Dr R J Wooldridge