The communications board

Few have heard of this all-powerful body which operated in the 1939/45 War in operational areas. API national armies and others were made to confirm to its signal plans and the sizes of their transmitters were also defined. We at SEG were of nearest to them as we could provide Crystals to implement changes of frequency, this body also laid down policies such as the use of Cairo as a stalion for changing frequency on the UK-Australia Link. As an organisation it was under the chairmanship of the Navy, one Captain Echevari, and it was located in the Admiralty in Whitehall. The Captain died recently and had a good write-up in the Times

Alhough generally it was most unusual, my boss the G2 (Wireless) in Cairo was often called to London for meetings. People who had lost a leg or an arm were not so lucky, such was the man-power shortage.

We had been operating for about two and a half years and just before D-Day were embarking on that very dodgy business of re-filamenting large Transmitting valves and we needed a number of items from the UK. Apparently this needed the blessing of the Board. One day I was called to see my boss at GEC. “Lofty” says he. “I have a message from the Signals Research people at Christchurch. They are increasing the number of army people there. They have been reading your reports and they want you to take charge. It’s a Lt. Colonel’s job” Blimey! Thought I. This is quite something! “You can take the silly grin off your face, because you are not going, you are too much use here”

”However as a consolation prize you are being returned to the UK for six weeks. The Communications Board will arrange for you to see valve making all the Services research establishments, Dollis Hill, and a mysterious American Field Crystal Section. In addition you will visit those people at Whitchurch you had a row with, Marconis, and you can also sort out the stuff for the valve repairs. You might of course even catch a glimpse of your family!”

And so it befell, I departed 1rom a local airport in a very large and comfort able American aircraft which dodged from cloud to cloud having probably heard what the Germans had been doing to our flying boats. We ultimately finished up al the Mamouria Hotel in Marrakesh. I have written of this before. The town was an odd place. All the cars had had their engines removed and a plank put across for extra passengers. Shafts were hooked on the front to accommodate either a camel or a horse, The big market was out of bounds to allied troops. However, the coppers on guard were rather dim Americans who let me in when I enquired in fluent French and Arabic. The market still had a good selection of leather-ware and I bought a big bag and some 200 lemons for the small British group.

A few days later we were winging our way well over the Atlantic for Prestwick in Scotland in a most uncomfortable machine with no seats and a cold corrugated floor. A bit further on while we were above the clouds, someone opened upon us with an AA Gun. Some thought it was the Irish, others a German U boat. Anyway, fortunately they were rotten shots, We were sent to Kilmarnock where they didn’t have any food. Nor did the London train but a kind lady gave me a half a sandwich. Her small son was pushing a toy train interminably up and down the carriage and I stuck a lemon in the coal truck which caused some attention and mirth from the rest of the congregation. In Morocco I had shared out the fruit but the journalist Leonard Mosley had left his behind his bed!

The train arrived at St Pancras while the Tube stations were still open, and were filling up with people using the platforms as air raid shelters, and a right rough lot they looked. I was heading for Colindale but this station had disappeared a few months before with a train and some 200 people when a landmine hit the complex, so I went on to Burnt Oak. I had forgotten my telephone number and I borrowed a directory from the booking clerk so that I might ring home and give the old lady a chance of getting rid of any visitors of whom I might disapprove! I noticed funny little brick structures in the streets. Giggles were coming out of one or two, so I supposed that they served a double purpose!

I made my number with the Captain next morning and received my itinerary all nicely worked out. I also visited London Signals where a disgruntled individual complained that he had not been told that I was coming, He gave me lots of food and clothing coupons, and thawed when presented with some of the latter.

So I set forth. I had three days at Mazda. Hammersmith, where I was shown how to seal off a pumped valve and the mysteries of ‘Spotknocking’ etc. The establishment was mainly working on a Klystron as it was thought that the German Flying Bombs or at least some of them would be radio controlled and as such could be jammed. When they did arrive this was not to be possible. So I wonder where all the Klystrons went

Later in Egypt. I was sent a young RAF officer who had been watching the antics of these weapons as test flights were sent out over the North Sea. He and his mates saw a flight of three sent out from the Frisian Islands which were sent together in a curved path before being made to drop into the sea. This probably gave rise to the idea that the bombs were steer-able They were watching of course on Radar

The SRDE at Christchurch was not much of a place except for the large numbers of Red Squirrels in the grounds. Most of the junior staff seemed to be working over the phone for the Bournemouth Communist Party The Navy Research Establishment near Portsmouth was interesting, A lady was designing a Packset with an aerial system like a Christmas tree, for beach landings. I pointed out that the enemy was in the habit of shooting the man with the Packset first if they could spot him and he might like a set of whip aerials as being not so patently obvious. She agreed, but had found that the Christmas tree was the better radiator!

The RAF was at Malvern in the college working mainly on Radar. One chap had a lightweight set powered by a spark in a mixture of gases. I got most from the GEC, lashings of Tungsten rods, about thirty or so different types of hard glass tubing in quite long lengths. All they asked was that, to please the head mans old Dad, I should find out if the Germans had pinched the collection of Ants made by the White Fathers!

I visited a number of Crystal producers. The Post Office had a very nice one at Mill Hill. When heading up to their main base on Dollis Hill I spotted a sort of barricade with four AA Guns in it. A mixed battery, no less, We didn’t have them in the Middle East. I was put off by the sight of the Sentry – an enormous lady bearing a club! I found the people whose Crystals arrived in the land of Egypt either dud or soon to be so. Now when you edge grind for getting activity, you couple a shear mode(Odd) to a flexure mode(even), and to save yourself a lot of trouble you work out tables. These people had worked them out, but all wrong. I found the RJSI Station with whom I had been in dispute over frequencies, discussed things and came to an agreement. They then showed me the Station.

The American Field Crystal Unit was in the wilds of Shropshire. They were very well equipped with gadgetry, but had no ideas as to how they would fit it all in to the general scheme of things. I told the Captain in charge how we operated and he cheered up. Most of his colleagues were unpacking dozens of tiny Tanks of a vintage that I never saw again, not even photographs of them. The unit as an whole were not friendly. I saw very few British troops about but thousands of Americans. All chasing women!

After the SRDE trip I had a day to spare, so I went to see my aunt and cousin who lived in Weymouth. The cousin was a wench pressing on forty, and not all that well favoured. There was a thick fog and when I did find the house Madam had thrown away her spectacles but was certainly making one of herself. Five yanks were absorbing refreshment and trying in turn to lure the lady to a weekend in Bournemouth.

The next day the London train was pretty full and I shared a carriage with a number of Americans who insisted on borrowing my cap, the more closely to examine the badge. This is of course that rather curious Greek gent Mercury. Actually, I don’t go a lot on him myself!

An uncle of mine, a Lancashire man, gave me a lift to Trafford Park where I was shopping for valve repairing equipment. He also took me into the Trafford Arms where, each lunchtime, they drew, and positioned on the big counter five hundred pint jugs full of Bitter, ready to ease the midday rush. Quite a sight,

The gallant Captain took me all over the Admiralty. Admiralty Arch for the offices of the Sea Lords, the deep operations room, and the historic older one over by Whitehall.

I leapt on a bus one day for short ride up Piccadilly and gave the conductor the old minimum fare of a penny. “Blimey Mate” said he, ‘You’ve been away a long time!” I Had.

My wife also had a funny. She’d had a lot of women call, most of whom she didn’t know, and who asked if her husband, who they heard was back from the Middle East, was all right? She said that I was, but later enquired of her dear friend Phyllis what this was all about. It was a mystery to Phyllis as well. It seems that the tabloids had been running a story that to prevent our warriors from molesting the Egyptian women they had been doping their tea, with permanent results in many cases I under stand that I was reported as in good heart.

Finally I had to return, laden with glass tubing and tungsten. I added two sets of oversize pistons and rings for my mates for good measure. They don’t last very long on the desert tracks. Then to RAF Lyneham, where we met the Canadian coal miners who were to drive our Dakota so dangerously. especially at Portreath. I revisited the place not so long ago.

Eric Vast – January 1999.

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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

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BSARS - Brede Steam Amateur Radio Society

RAYNET - The Hastings and Rother RAYNET Group.

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