80 years of overseas security

This month we’ve joined the national Local and Community History celebrations by learning more about our organisation’s history

FCO Services operate around the world, and our technical officers working abroad are a significant part of our community. Research into our overseas staff recently found that their real origins are over 80 years old.

The first officer abroad

To begin with, we learnt that the first technical officer sent abroad was a telephone engineer. The records show he supported the embassy in Rome in 1937, but we don’t know much about him. We haven’t found any records of other officers, and we don’t know when this officer first arrived in Rome. We don’t know exactly when he left either, but embassies stopped relying on telephones in 1938, so it must have been around then.

Huge workload

We also learnt that the second technical officer was only sent abroad after the Second World War, in 1945. He was based in Warsaw, and had many responsibilities, including:

  • Supervising work within the mission
  • Installing telephone systems, intruder detection systems and electrical equipment
  • Assisting with guarding
  • Helping to handle the Diplomatic Bags

Today, these tasks are split between three different, specialist officers, who might be surprised by the scope of his work.

However, after three months the officer complained that he spent most of his time on guarding and diplomatic bag work. This meant he didn’t have enough time to keep the embassy’s technological equipment safe. His superiors sent a letter to the Warsaw embassy, explaining that the officer needed to focus on the high-tech equipment. Sadly, there is no record of whether this letter solved his problem.

The rise of overseas officers

Following the first officer in Warsaw, from 1946 the Foreign Office sent more and more officers out to embassies around the world. Today, our technical officers work on installing, constructing and fixing all security aspects of our embassies, and most live abroad. They continue a tradition which is over 80 years old, living and working overseas to keep all UK missions safe.