1st October marked the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Ministry of Defence Guard Service, (MGS), the specialist unarmed guards who provide security at many MOD sites. To mark the occasion, two MGS guards who have worked at MGS for most or all of that time recall their experiences.
John Harding – Main Building, London
I work at the MOD’s Headquarters in London, known as Main Building. I’m a supervisor and work in a team with two other supervisors; we facilitate the day-to-day running of the building. My duties mainly involve carrying out supervisory visits to check on my staff and overseeing the searching of vehicles at our main gate. Having been part of MGS ever since it started, I have a good perspective on the changes it has seen.
I joined the MOD in 1984 when MGS was known as just the ‘MOD Guard Force’. I joined the Guard Force shortly after the Brighton IRA bombing; previously I had worked for Securicor for six years. Suddenly being on the front line of domestic terrorism was an eye opener. I was on duty in 1991 when the IRA mortared Downing Street from Horse Guards Avenue. I remember being in the unenviable position of being locked out of the building, stuck in a flimsy wooden hut in the car park with police running everywhere, while my colleagues were safely locked in the building behind a large metal blast door.
When the IRA was active and tensions were high, I recall being in the car park one morning and hearing a large bang from one of the Ministerial vehicles, a panic ensued and I genuinely believed we were under attack again. My colleague Brian emerged from a cloud of smoke – his tunic covered in white dust. As it turned out, one of the fire extinguishers had exploded in the heat, much to our amusement.
These stories just show the importance of the role MGS plays at MOD sites. At most locations we control access, issue visitor passes and undertake patrols of the grounds. Some sites have dog units to help with this work. Here at Main Building, we work closely with the MOD Police who also guard the building.
MGS has changed a lot over the years. For one thing there’s been a change in emphasis to include much more of a customer care role than there used to be.
I think that over the years I.T has made certain elements of our duties easier, like training, pass issue, administration, pay – it’s much easier now to keep track of how much leave is available rather than sifting through bundles of paperwork.
Access control systems are now more sophisticated; these days we have security booths, automatic gates and blockers protecting us – a far cry from the days of a chain link fence and a wooden barrier.
On the other hand, I do think the uniform was much smarter back then!
Chris Fish – Hermitage, Berkshire
I’ve been in MGS for 23 years; all of those years here at Hermitage in Berkshire. This makes me the longest serving officer at Hermitage. Before I started at MGS I was working for a computer company as a production manager. That wasn’t my first time working at Hermitage though – I was here between 1980 and 1986 as an accountant in the messes. In that time I’ve seen the site change and evolve. Our gatehouse, for example, used to be a small wooden box – it’s a lot more impressive and comfortable now.
We have gained new customers in a collection of units forming 77 Brigade. The buildings are still pretty much the same as when I started here, just different people. It’s nice when people that I used to know as Sappers come back to site now as Captains or higher!
I’m currently the MGS Health and Safety Officer for the site and keep our risk assessments up to date, as well as those for RAF Welford down the road.
During my time at MGS I escorted John Major when he visited Hermitage, and I’ve met the Queen twice. She visited 42 Engineer Regiment, which has now moved to RAF Wyton, and on another occasion she visited the Royal School of Military Survey who are stationed here. Not the sort of thing you get to do in most jobs!