Meet the VSC Team

meet the team: simon spence archivist at the vsc

Simon, please could you introduce yourself?

I spent 35 years in the RAF altogether.  My first 8 years were non-commissioned in the Movements Trade, working mostly with the Hercules at Lyneham and wherever they went around the world.  I then commissioned into the Administration Branch and moved across the variety of roles, but latterly mostly infrastructure, via a spell as the Station Commander at High Wycombe.  Six of my last 7 years were spent as Head of Infrastructure for PJHQ and then, following reorganisation, Joint Forces Command, at Northwood.

You were previously Support Services Director at the VSC for 2 1/4 years, why did you decide to move on and volunteer as an archivist?

I joined the VSC Team straight from the RAF and spent 2 ¼ years in the SSD role before my wife and I decided the time was right for us to take a break from the world of full-time working.  I had been well aware that the Club possessed some remarkable historical material, but that no one in recent years had really had the opportunity to look at it closely.  I’ve been grateful to the Club Secretary, Nigel Beet, for allowing me the privilege of doing that.

What’s been the most interesting piece of history you’ve found so far?

The amount of (mostly fascinating) correspondence retained from the 1940s and 1950s is colossal and I’m nowhere near getting through it all yet.  The thing that has struck me most so far is the level of interest, and huge effort, invested in the work of the Club by a range of military, society and industry people throughout the period of WWII and the immediate post-war years.  At such a demanding time, it is difficult not to be moved by this unpaid dedication to the Organisation they believed in.  

When you come in once a week, how do you separate your time? There’s so much information how do you know where to start? What’s your process?

A series of specific products have provided focus, including preparing pieces about the history of the Carisbrooke Hall, and influential women in the Club’s history, plus profiles of each of the Presidents after whom a meeting room is named (Plumer, Allenby and Chetwode).  A key source of definitive information is the collection of minute books that, while they don’t cover the entire period since 1907, are almost complete from 1916 to the early 1970s.  I’m in the middle now of creating a file register that provides shorthand detail of the subject matter and era covered within each file.  

What do you do with all the information you find?

I’m trying to turn the pile of files into a navigable formal archive.  This is taking much longer than I had anticipated, but it’s certainly holding its interest.  There are hundreds of thick and gradually less dusty files I’m working my way through.  I’m hoping ultimately to produce a document that captures the key people and events that have shaped the Club’s evolution to what it is today.  

You’ve transformed the VSC archive into an unrecognisable space how did you do it and how long did it take?

I had to start by sorting the wheat from the chaff.  The Club archive material was held in a series of very large piles amongst other papers that the different departments in the Club (Finance, Reservations and so on) had added to over the years.  The first few months were spent separating what I thought we should keep and what could be shredded or recycled.  I then secured the approval of each relevant Departmental Head for the proposed disposals; there were around 100 full boxes of shredding alone!  This then left the relevant recent departmental papers and the historical archive material.  The Club provided enough new filing cabinets for the historical papers to be collated properly (ie rather than in boxes) and I’m now working through it in detail.

What are some of the challenges of this role?

At the stage I’ve reached, there are three main challenges.  The first, and main one, is to record efficiently where the interesting material is, so it can be found again.  The second is to avoid being distracted too much by the more whimsical finds; for example spotting the interesting-looking London address of a donor and finding that she had survived the sinking of the Lusitania, or researching the film that John Wayne had starred in when he gave his London Premiere fee to the Memorial Wing appeal.  The third is to work out and design a system acceptable to the Club that will ensure we continue to capture the Club’s living history as the months pass; a bit like the military’s F540 system, but hopefully fewer associated groans from the staff involved! 

What’s most rewarding about this role?

I like the Club and family atmosphere among the staff very much, so it always feels a warm place to visit.  Feeling that I am helping (or at least will ultimately) to add information and interest for staff and members about their Club is very motivating. It’s also a great privilege to be the person with time and interest to look at all the documentation in a way that, perhaps, no one has had the chance or inclination to do for very many years.


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