Big brother is watching you – Thank goodness

The rescue, deep in the Antarctic seas, of yachtsman Tony Bullimore. graphically illustrated the present day sophistication of warning and distress beacons, and the related Search and Rescue Procedures ability to function over great distances, all by the use of satellites.

It also recalled an incident, over fifty years ago, when ships and airmen in distress situations were also monitored, when recourse had to be made to the calls Pan, Mayday, and SOS, with more care and efficiency than they realised.

In mid-1945, I was flying as a Navigator/Wireless Operator in Anson aircraft on the daily return diplomatic mail service between Croydon, London and Le Bourget, Paris. There never was a satisfactory technical explanation for the remarkable high incidence of mag drops at Le-Bourget, necessitating an overnight stay, but not unconnected was the extremely artistic displays which were on show at the fabulous Moulin Rouge

The radio equipment in use was the M.FJRF. Marconi 1154/1155, which was situated behind my seat, with a rather humble bakelite morse key on a ledge by my right hand.

On the trip in question a spare pilot, who wore, (note well!) a uniform of deeper blue than that of the RAF, was perched on the top of the bags of mail, leaning over my shoulder, and seemed, for a pilot, more than usually interested in my navigation and radio activities.

Nothing untoward occurred on the flight, but there was a summons to report to the office of the Adjutant shortly after landing. My pilot and I were closely questioned as to whether, in mid- English Channel, and in the vicinity or our track, we had seen or heard any sign of any aircraft or vessel in distress, as the monitoring service had picked up an SOS call at the time and area of our flight.

We had not, and were puzzled and concerned that perhaps we should have been more diligent and observant, but were fortified by the obvious dedication of the operators of the monitoring equipment, probably housed in a darkened room, and hunched, with poised and delicate fingers over their goniometers, with an aura of Guardian Angels of us, wild and reckless airmen. So what had really happened.??

The English Channel holds The secrets–and the debris–of conflict way back beyond the Spanish Armada, and the more recent addition of ships and aircraft reflects, no doubt, so many desperate SOS calls for assistance, with fate holding sway over the outcome. That superb band leader, Glen Miller, and his Orchestra, for instance, were lost without trace in mid-channel in December 1944, but his voice is still with us. We who are of that generation; who can forget the magic of ‘In The Mood’. So what of our experience of positive monitoring, which had no easy or apparent explanation?? Was it a Ghostly echo from a desperate crew of an earlier day, when disaster was upon them.??

Like a persistent toothache, the matter niggled on, and although we were adjudged to be in the clear by the powers that be, it was only much later, during a moment of insight, or even from a kind of suppressed guilt, that a rather mundane explanation offered itself.

The 1154 had a Pine position, providing low power radiation, and at some time on the. flight, I must have left the switch in this position, possibly when taking a drift. Pilots are prone to fiddle, like the rest of us, and our spare bod in the back, bored or vaguely dreaming of becoming a Radio Ham after demobilisation, undoubtedly could not resist getting his hand on my Morse key.

I can only conclude that his knowledge of the Morse code was limited to two letters, being those of three dots arid of three dashes, sent, perhaps with a heavy and inexperienced hand, but strong enough to tickle the sensitive goniometers of those Guardian Angels doing what conscientious Guardian Angels do in their lairs hidden away from our mortal eyes- It really was a most comforting incident.

Stan VKN. Published in the Vital Spark 1998.

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Month on the Air - G3MGQ's popular monthly DX contest/expedition list.
Wilf Gaye Memorial Cup - The clubs annual operating event in the memory of Wilf Gaye M0GYE.
St. Richard's College Buildathon/STEM/ARISS - HERC attends St. Richard's Catholic College for their various events surrounding the Tim Peake ARISS contact.
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Sussex Electronics Radio Fair - SERF Sussex Electronics Radio Fair 2016.
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Radio Rallies 2016 - An up to date list of radio rallies scheduled for 2016.
Club QSL Cards - A selection of QSL cards the club has received over the years.
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