Dr John Ball of the survey of Egypt

John Ball worked for the Egyptian authorities for many years mapping that country and including the Eastern and Western Deserts. During the 39/45 war his maps of the Western Desert were invaluable to our armies they showed the “going” of the desert surface of the vehicle i.e. from gravel to “sugar sand’ which is almost completely impassable. The Germans also liked them and it was said that forged copies of altered maps stopped the Germans going round our flank at Alamein.

He also wrote a number of books, one on the Fayum started me off in collecting pre-historic stone weapons in that area. I made a good small collection now in the British Museum. Little did I know that one day I would be able to do his family a service.

My unit, Signals Experimental Group, had been founded in Egypt and not in the UK. When an army is in a friendly country fighting overseas, the formation of new units comes under an officer of the ambassador called the Military Secretary. Such a one (they changed frequently) had given me some unusual powers.

One day Dr Ball died suddenly. In doing so he left his widow completely penniless. It was felt that something should he done for her as the Egyptian authorities had rather gone off him and refused to assist her in any way. He had never worked for the British so it was rather difficult.

Subsequently, I was called to see my boss the G2 (Wireless) who announced “Lofty, you may have heard of John Ball. well he has died leaving his widow without money and we want to do something for her. He left some quite valuable equipment which you could use at SEC. Please go and collect it and tell me what it is worth. I assured him I was a great admirer of John Ball and was glad to be able to help the widow.

Alas it consisted of a few clapped out old meters, a set of Giessler Tubes and a half inch spark coil to light them up. The Geissler Tubes in case the reader has not seen them, they were scientific toys used by the Victorians, They were an early form of Cathode Ray tube of weird shapes, and made of glass etc which fluoresced in different colours under the under the influence of the spark coil. Nowadays they are collectors’ items and moderately valuable, They were also the first steps toward the atom bomb, Geissler discovered the cathode rays, the first of the atomic particles to be identified.

I took this collection of junk back to the unit and reported to my boss what I had found. Also that I reckoned f25 would be pushing things a bit. “Never mind’ said he “Take them on charge for £10,000 and then write them off under your powers as a Divisional General and the money will go to Mrs Bair These powers I had acquired, as it was often necessary for me to scrap expensive apparatus.

I protested mildly that it sounded a bit of a swindle and that if found out I would be for the chop. “Worry not” said he All who matter in the Middle East have agreed and it has gone back to the U.K. for approval to the very top’. I assumed he meant Mr Churchill or even perhaps the King. You are lucky” he said to be involved in such good work”

I still didn’t like it but I did what I was told and saved, I suppose, the lady from a life of penury. I often wonder what the ordnance people made of the Geissler Tubes when the unit was disbanded in 1946. Looking back it was an ingenious and graceful gesture on the part of the British government.

Eric Vast – June 1998.

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Popular pages

Get your amateur radio licence - Find out more about amateur radio licence training.
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.
G3BDQ - John Hey's Rare QSL Cards.
Sussex Electronics Radio Fair - SERF Sussex Electronics Radio Fair 2016.
Vital Spark - A selection of articles re-published from the Vital Spark.
RSGB News - Find out how to get RSGB news on your mobile or PC.
Experimenters Corner - A selection of Proteus projects by Bob Gornal (G7DME)
BBADL - Bath Based Distance Learning Course.
Conquest Hospital Radio - Presented by HERC member Antony (G4CUS).
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.
Other Newsletters - Excellent newsletters and magazines from other clubs.
TX Factor episodes - Take a look at the TX Factors YouTube videos.
John Taplin - A bio of the late John Taplin.

Amateur Radio Resources

Other Radio Clubs & RAYNET

BSARS - Brede Steam Amateur Radio Society

RAYNET - The Hastings and Rother RAYNET Group.

HERC members sites

Sigord - Gordon Sweet
Hastings Radio Comms - Andrew Haas-Campbell
Hoofbags - Liz Costa