The Schoolboy and the Secret Service – by John Heys G3BDQ

Part 1: The Coded Message

My story will be in three parts and every bit of it is absolutely true. I knew and often had QSOs with the ‘schoolboy’ in the 1950s and 60s when he was approaching what is regarded as normal ‘Retirement Age’. He became a President of the RSGB and was for long time one of the best known British radio amateurs.

It was a winter’s evening on December 7th 1925 when a 17 year old, still a full time schoolboy, holder of the call 6LJ and already a ‘DX Hound’ finished his homework, went up to his ‘shack’ and settled down to to listen on the old 45 metre band. The lad’s name was Stan Lewer and his keen interest in the radio hobby lasted right up to his death on June 6th 2003 when he had reached the ripe old age of 95.

At 23:15 on that December night Stan heard several interesting DX stations, the Americans 2AB, 3JW and 4RR. There was also a Brazilian station, which repeatedly called the Americans. The Yanks called CQ, something all British stations were forbidden to do. The Post Office ruled that amateurs were primarily ‘experimenters’ so had to initiate QSOs with the word ‘Test’. Stan sent his ‘Test’ call several times and was eventually rewarded by a strange response:

“6LJ de GB1 r u london? 6LJ de GB1 K” Stan then responded to the GB1 station and received:

“6LJ de GB1 ur r5 urgent msg -as (wait)- keep on standby pse- G6LJ ru london”.

The mysterious GB1 then sent instructions, which required Stan to copy a message that would be sent twice to ensure accuracy.

Here is that important message which had to be delivered to the Foreign Office in London:

“43302-15142-55850-50422-50405-56877-74528-0150-8;12;25 ar-pse
rpt-back-ar 6LJ”

The contact continued and 6LJ was instructed to urgently send the coded message to the Coding Officer in Whitehall and if possible telephone that officer. In addition to the phoning Stan was also to send a written copy of the message by Post. Additionally the GB1 operator then asked Stan to listen out for him the next day from 1700 hrs and said he would be transmitting every hour from 1800 with a low power battery transmitter on 35 metres pure DC (T9 tone using a crystal) and that he must also tell the other London Stations to listen. On his next over GB1 said he was just about to start building a Transmitter for the Tuesday ‘skeds’ and he again repeated the future operating times.

It was 0300 hrs when the long drawn-out QSO ended and 6LJ was very late to bed. Stan realised there was a problem. The Lewer family did not have a telephone so after the GB1 QSO Stan in the early hours concluded that the nearest public phone was at West Hampstead Station but the station would be closed for the night. Stan had no neighbours with a phone (they were rare in 1925) and he even considered a five mile cycle ride to the doors of the Foreign Office, He decided that that he must not awake his parents and pondered the possible outcome if he should be seen by a policeman who almost certainly would not consider that a 17 year old lad in a school cap would have a secret message to pass on. He even envisaged being arrested and spending a night in a cell at Bow Street.

Amazingly on rising at the usual time he still found time to listen on the 45 metre band for DX from Japan or New Zealand. A real ‘dyed in the wool DXer’ it seems! Eventually at 0810 he made his way to school on his bike as usual, hoping he would be allowed to use the school telephone that morning. After Assembly and Prayers Stan made his way to a maths lesson, which was taken by a Mr. Hills. After a few minutes up went Stan’s hand.

“What is it Lewer?” said the master.

“Please Sir, may I use the school telephone?”

“The telephone? What do you want to use it for?”

“I’ve got a message for the Foreign Office” answered the anxious Stan. For a tense moment there was silence. Mr. Hills was clearly taken aback. Then he said:

“Alright. Off you go and don’t be long.”

The telephone was located in a dark cubicle by the Head’s Office. First Stan had to look up the number using Directory Enquiry, (Then it was Victoria
8440). 0n getting through he asked for the Coding Officer explaining that he had a message for him in five figure cypher. He was asked to read it out and the Officer’s voice became quite excited as the message was dictated. Stan gave his name and address (32 Gascony Avenue, West Hampstead NW6) then returned to his maths class. On December 9th Stan received a letter from the F.O. postmarked 7.15pm December 8th which stated:

“Dear Sir,

I am very much obliged to you for your action in transmitting so promptly the coded message from GB1.
In the event of your receiving any further communication from this station I should be most grateful if you would forward the message to me.

Yours faithfully,

H. E. Eastwood.

Three days later 6LJ was visited by two Foreign Office officials who arrived at his home by taxi. They discussed the prospects of a schedule with GB1 from midnight to 0030 for the following two days, promising to make good any expenses that he may incur.

Nothing more was heard of GB1, but after several more letters Stan was delighted
to receive a calibrated absorption wavemeter that covered from 20 to 55 metres.

An astounded 6LJ was really surprised to receive a QSL card for his contact with GB1. That station’s operator was Mr. Donald Lee. On the card’s reverse was handwritten:
“This is to certify that Radio G6LJ worked urgent Official Traffic with me on the night of 7/8.12.25 and this is a personal acknowledgement of the exemplary and speedy manner in which he conducted the work.”
Stan Lewer’s story did not end at this point, for more than 65 years later Pat Hawker G3VA researched the affair and was able to identify the person who signed the four letters that Stan  received in 1925 from the F.O..

They were signed  “A. J.  Allenby” and were written from 46 Clarendon Road, London W11.  A.J Allenby held the call G2ST.

Part two will study in depth Mr. A. J. Allenby.   He was not at all what he appeared to be.

Note regarding telephones in 1925.
When I was living in my home-town of Macclesfield ‘behind the shop’ between 1923 and 1934 we had a wall mounted phone in the sitting room. The number on the manual exchange was ‘Macclesfield 3210’

schoolboy-and-the-secret-service-g3bdq-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note regarding the GB1 QSL card.
Note the three G callsigns on its front, G2XY, G2LZ and G5MO.
I will deal with their significance in Part two.

John Heys G3BDQ from Vital Spark March 2010.

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