A little peep back in time – by John Heys G3BDQ

There was a Radio Club in Hastings from about 1923 to the start of WW2 in 1939. Amazingly the activities of its members were not often recorded and a look through pre-war issues of the RSGB ‘Bulletin’ show regular reports of the activities of radio club members across Britain but Hastings was not usually represented. Oddly too the very few inter-war years Hastings Club members that I knew personally after 1946 rarely spoke of the Club and its members. No minutes of meetings or even lists of members of that former Club exist. Perhaps they ended up as paper for re-pulping during the bleak home-front days of WW2. Many folk moved house or town and items like the paper records of the former Radio Club would not have seemed of import to non-involved folk.

Fairly recently I was presented with a real rarity. It is a clear photograph that shows some of the pre-war club members atop the wooden structure, now sadly vanished, known as North’s Seat. A viewpoint is said to be a favourite place to visit by the long dead Lord North, a former MP and Mayor of Hastings. This photo was taken, I estimate sometime in the summer of 1938 or 39. I am sure it was not an earlier year for one of the members depicted only came to work and live in Hastings in 1937-8. I must gratefully thank the two, now grown up, daughters of the late Roy Sutherland for letting me have this precious link with the pre~WW2 Club. Roy, G5RO was the only really active radio amateur in the town when I first tentatively went on the air in 1946. More about G5RO later. Who Can We See?

peep-back-in-time-g3bdq-1The photo shows nine of the Club members and it had the names of all those present. This was on its reverse side and can be seen in illustration 2 of this article. Seven of the names mean something to me and over the years I had met them or had spoken to them in QSO. The event shown was one of the annual RSGB 5 Metre Field days.

It is not clear to determine whether it was just a reception exercise or whether they could transmit too. The old 5 Metre band was on my original licences but once Television reception mushroomed in the UK we lost that band and we were given 2 metres. The photo shows that the group had a mast of sorts lashed to the guard rail but the actual antenna is not visible. I reckon it was a dipole using twisted lighting flex as its feeder for at that time the only way to feed a dipole was using lossy flex of open wire ‘ladder line’. Coaxial cable was not available to ordinary mortals. It was in use for Radar and other specialised radio gear.

Names and Personalities

peep-back-in-time-g3bdq-2The names of the club members shown on the reverse of the photo, do not match in position their positions on the North’s Seat structure and are Fuller, Bradley, Thomas, Coates, Mills, Blackburn, Croyle, Roy (Sutherland) and Gostick. I never knew Fuller, Coates and Gostick. The others survived the War but only three of them became members of the 1950 to 1964 Hastings and District Amateur Radio Club, ‘HADARC’.

Howard Thomas, G6QB can be seen standing 2nd from the left looking downwards. G6QB was always known as ‘Tommy’ and both before WW2 and after that conflict and up to his death in 1966 he was a leading British amateur. He was first licensed in 1923 when only 16 years old and had his first article “Low-Power Experiments at 6QB” published in ‘Experimental Wireless’ for July 1925. In that year he was working stations all over Europe and into North America with just 4 watts on 150 metres. Tommy became a theatre organist at the old Crystal Palace before that place burned down. He wrote a regular monthly column for many years in the RSGB’s ‘T & R Bulletin’ as “Uncle Tom”. One of his articles carried this ditty,

“Little Tommy put a shunt
On his meter at the front,
If he’d hidden it away,
He’d still have had his call today.”

During WW2 G6QB became a Squadron Leader in the RAF and was concerned with the ‘Chain’ Radar Stations antennas. He took a team (one of its members alas no longer with us was a member of our present club) over to Florida to teach the Yanks how to set up their proposed East Coast Radar Screen. After the War he was employed as organist by Hastings Council, playing at the White Rock Theatre, The Pier bandstand and the former Sun Lounge in St. Leonards. He did many organ broadcasts for the BBC and I was fortunate to go with him when he recorded a programme on the BBC Theatre organ in an old church in Hoxton. I picked up many of my DXing skills from Tommy over the years and learned a lot about the amateurs of earlier years.

In second position up the platform steps is a young looking Roy Sutherland, G5RO. He arrived in Hastings in 1936 or 7, was the Government inspector of commercial motor vehicles and Driving Test Examiner for the local motor and trolley buses. His nickname was ‘Old Nuts and Bolts’ and he drove an ancient Austin 7 car with its passenger doors held shut with string. The car in the photo must surely have been his, but not the vehicle I saw him using in later days.

Gerald Croyle was never licensed but was a club member for many years. He had an unfortunate inherited speech defect which caused him great embarrassment and was no doubt the cause of his odd manners. During WW1 in 1917 when his father was away in the Army Gerald’s mother had to run the family photographic shop which was in Norman Road. News came that Hastings Pier was on fire. Gerald, then a baby was put in his pram together with a large plate camera and rushed to the scene. She took many shots of the blaze which were made into Picture Postcards the following day.

Victor Mills was licensed G5QM when still a teenager and he is always remembered for his lending a powerful valve amplifier to John Logie Baird. Baird knew little about thermionic valves and was having problems with his prototype mechanical television apparatus. Mills became a local teacher and was a science master at the local Grammar School.

Clement (“Pim”) Bradley became G2AX in 1926 taking over that callsign from Mr. Sutton in London SE22. When the British Broadcasting Company set up 2LO at Marconi House in the Strand the first male singer to broadcast was the Baritone “Pim” Bradley. This was on September 30th 1922 four years before he gained his transmitting licence. After WW2 “Pim” moved to Hythe in Kent and we had a Top Band AM contact on the Sunday morning Net on March 5th 1947. He gave up his licence around 1949-50 and his callsign G2AX was acquired by his old friend Norman Blackburn who then ran a successful Radio and Television shop in Bexhill. Sadly “Pim” Bradley died whilst on holiday in Italy in 1958.

Norman Blackburn was still a schoolboy when he too helped Logie Baird but his contribution to that man’s work is seldom mentioned when stories of Baird are told.

One’s looks change, sometimes dramatically over the years and I’m afraid I cannot put more names to faces on the photograph. I however think that Gerald Croyle is the chap on the extreme right on the top deck of the Structure. Here is another anecdote concerning Gerald. One evening he was experimenting in his upstairs ‘den’ using large capacitors and inductors endeavouring to learn something about the AC mains and Power Factor when there was a flash and all the street lights went out in that part of Sedlescombe Road North. What happened next I know not!

Finale

Can any readers shed more light upon that between the wars local radio club-If so I am sure our Hon. Editor would be very pleased. That era is largely a blank so far as the history of amateur radio in 1066 country is concerned.

John Heys G3BDQ from Vital Spark October 2009.

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