- Contributed by
- BBC Southern Counties Radio
- People in story:
- J E Quinlan
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 July 2005
This story was submitted to the Peoples War site by Jas from Global Information Centre Eastbourne and has been added to the website on behalf of J E Quinlan
With his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions
To me this radio room was very impressive, not only as far as the equipment was concerned but also the thought of communicating with people thousands of miles away seemed really fascinating.
I placed my name on the list to be trained as a naval telegraphist cadet, so when I explained my opinions to Curley during the short tea break he then had a quick re-think regarding his grading and decided it would be best to work with me on this project and to do the same, so we met up again at the end of the meeting and advised the officer in charge who added his name on the list of telegraphist trainees and that was all settled.
From that moment on, having been given a printed copy of the Morse code which neither of us previously knew anything about, we spent virtually every spare minute learning it, even converting signs and advertisements on buses, in our minds, into the new “language”. On reaching home Curley discussed the telegraphist training with his father who said that at one time, before he got married, he used to be a radio “ham”, in contact with other amateur radio men in Morse all over the globe and therefore he was in favour of him transferring to this naval grade and added that he had a tea chest full of radio parts and even a pair of Morse keys and headphones in the loft.
Curley suggested that one day during the week I should go up to his house, after his father had shown him how to wire up a Morse buzzer set, and this would then enable us to get even more practice at his home and build up our speed both in reading and in sending messages,
one lesson a week at the cadet headquarters for just an hour appeared to be insufficient for us to reach the top grade within a reasonable time, and we both felt that the sooner we qualified the better it would be for us.
At work the following week Curley gave a day and time for the first home Morse session, and on my arrival at his place after lunch on a Saturday afternoon (we both had to work till twelve midday) he opened the door and invited me into his lounge. Here he had a large tea chest full of wireless parts and wires on the floor and had already started to lay out various parts which he said were necessary to make a mains buzzer Morse practice set including a current transformer to reduce the voltage thus saving the cost of batteries, I asked him where his mother and father were and he just said “out” so my next question was to ask him if he knew what he was doing and his reply was to the effect that there was “nothing to it”.
Having laid out all the “necessary” items and connected them up using fabric covered lighting flex; the very last thing being wired in was the mains plug, it all looked very amateurish, with wires trailing everywhere and I thought these were too spread out.
He explained, in his usual flamboyant way that the mains current went from the plug through a fuse into the transformer which cut down the current to twelve volts from two hundred and thirty and the Morse key operated the buzzer which sent the signal through to the headphones, all explained to him by his father, and all we needed now was a pencil and paper to write down the messages and a book from which the text could be used. Having obtained these, he plugged the gadget into the mains socket, switched the current on and settled himself on the edge of the settee around eight feet away from me with pencil and paper and headphones on, my position was on the other side of the room with the Morse key on a small table beside the book, which I had opened in the middle.
Having confirmed that he was ready I seized the Morse key knob and immediately there was a terrific flash and bang, the wiring blew out through the flex from me to the mains socket in several places with puffs of black smoke and simultaneously there was an almighty screech from the headphones and at the same time the lights went out.
I looked up and Curley had disappeared after a somersault from the settee, having been hurled backwards minus the headphones, and on glancing at the Morse key I saw that the whole of the brass fittings were permanently welded together.
(Without hesitation I immediately deduced that something was wrong).
It was only by sheer luck and lack of experience that saved me from at least, a severe shock, as I learned a week later at the cadet telegraphist training centre that the first thing an operator normally does before sending a message is to adjust the gap between the contacts by hand on the Morse key to suit his individual style, some preferring a small gap between the contacts and others a larger one and on this occasion I had never done this.
I helped Curley to his feet and when he had recovered his composure he immediately opened the back door and windows to clear out the smell of burnt rubber before dumping all the equipment back into the box and taking the lot out to the shed in the back garden.
Taking a quick look at the electrical parts he had used before he dumped it, he said that he had “unfortunately” wired the transformer round the wrong way so instead of greatly reducing the current it had stepped it up, then on going into the kitchen to make us both a cup of tea to steady our nerves he discovered that there were no electric lights working in the house and no power at the socket, the main house fuse had blown and he had to telephone the electricity emergency service board to get an electrician out to fix it.
He asked me not to mention that I had even been in the house as it was not that important.
Later on in the week he told his father who was wondering why the house fuse had blown, (but they kept the reason from his mother) and the next Sunday that I went round on route to Bromley he told me that his father had made a properly wired buzzer set and at our mid week practice meeting, for some remote reason, I let Curley demonstrate it first.
With practice now arranged for three times a week (two of them being at Curleys house) it meant that in a very short period we both had reached the Royal Navy official qualification speed of twenty two words a minute reading the signals and I could send messages by hand on the Morse key.
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