Cecil Harry Charles Matthews was born in London on 30 November 1918. Under the guidance of his primary school teacher, he built his first crystal set at the age of 7 and from that moment, he was hooked! By the age of 13, he was running a class, teaching others about wireless. When he was 14, he and his mother moved to Essex (his father was killed in 1918), and he enrolled at the Trade School of the Ford Motor Company. Thereafter, he had a series of jobs, whilst still pursuing his interest in wireless. In some of his more dramatic career moves, he worked as a motorbike stunt rider in a ‘Wall of Death’ show! He also raced in the Manx TT. He drove a motor bike to Russia, sold it and hitched home. Later, he served as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. These exploits established the ‘dare-devil’ reputation that remained with him for the rest of his life.
At the outbreak of WW2, he became the driver of a Bren Gun Carrier. After Dunkirk, he was selected for training as a radio operator. His knowledge in this field was instantly apparent and he made a quick transition from pupil to instructor. He later transferred into top- secret Radar development work.
There was an even darker side to Harry’s war years, about which he rarely spoke. At some point, he was parachuted into Holland to steal a specific component from the Phillips radio factory and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for ‘blowing up a few little bridges and things…..’
No mean task – no mean war – no mean award!
At the end of the war, Harry, now based near Bannockburn, met and married Jean, a local primary school teacher.
In 1949, he joined the University of Edinburgh to work as chief technician with Dr (later Prof.) Ewart Farvis, who had been appointed as a lecturer in ‘applied electricity’ in the Department of Engineering. Together they established a robust research programme,that led to the creation of the Department of Electrical Engineering in 1961.
Harry suffered a heart attack in 1973 and, as his health slowly improved, took daily walks round his neighbourhood. During one of these excursions he came across, languishing in a dustbin, a battered Ekco wireless that he had helped to design in the 1930’s. It was immediately smuggled back home to become his Recuperation Project.
Once back at work, Harry showed off his lovingly restored wireless in the Radio Lab, where it was soon joined by numerous donations of elderly equipment - - the nucleus of his Wireless Collection, which by 1979, had developed into the Museum of Communication (MoC).
Harry expressed his philosophy for the Museum in these terms:
"The kind of Museum I am building is not to show the slow changes that have taken place in the last few thousand years, or the effect that this king, or that ruler, had for a short time. I am aware that of all the scientists that have ever lived, over 90% are alive today.
I want to show that the change in this small piece of time has so accelerated that more has happened in the last hundred years than in the previous two thousand. Because of the speed, it is more necessary than ever, in this prolific age, to rescue the artifacts that represent the stages of design, improvement and change that have produced our present stage. The Museum of Communication is an attempt to show the development of all these inventions, improvements and changes of philosophy and, where possible, how they worked and what they sounded like.
It is intended, as time permits, to fill the gaps that are unlikely to be filled with original objects by constructing reproductions. With adequate wall and board space, it would be possible to illustrate the lives of the people involved in these discoveries, from the telegraph onwards. The various displays give a wide choice for school projects. Also, schools could be involved in devising new displays."
When Harry retired in 1982 and moved to Bo’ness, the Collection came with him. Sadly, the promise of a permanent home in the town for his Collection, did not materialise – however, with help from Bo’ness Heritage Trust and its ‘Friends’ support group, regular exhibitions were established in the Trust’s headquarters in Union Street. Realising that the Collection had grown beyond the management of one person, the Museum of Communication Foundation Trust (MoCFT) was launched in early 1992. In 1994, Harry transferred ownership of the Collection to the MoCFT by Deed of Gift . . . It is in safe hands.
Harry’s health deteriorated in later years and he died, peacefully, in Falkirk Royal Infirmary on 15 February 2000.