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In the blood

 

My father took the classical British route to adulthood: ran away from home at 14, joined a travelling fair, joined the merchant navy, then in ‘39 saw what was coming and joined the Royal Marines. He signed on as a 14 year “regular” and became a signalman, ultimately he was a signals instructor. After his 14 year stint, and a year or two in civi street, he got a job as a civilian attached to a Royal Signals group in the British army. He then spent the rest of his working career at Manobier army camp, and then at Castle Martin camp, both in Pembrokeshire.

He dug trenchs by hand, laid wires. Dug holes, inserted telephone poles. Climbed the poles using spiked boots and a climbing belt, he even managed to slip once and get such a large splinter through the 3rd finger of his right hand that it was permanently bent and unmovable for the rest of his life. (When he retired he teased my then 3 year old daughter Ceri into believing that whilst Ceri and he were playing that Ceri had somehow damaged his finger, it was not until she was in her teen’s that she found out the truth.) Connected telephones to the wires, connected the wire to the manual exchange. Topped up the accumulators with sulphuric acid, and one day blew a hole through the roof of the exchange when he dropped a spanner across the terminals of one of the accumulators.

One day, during the school holidays, I went with him to the army firing range at Penally where he and his mate Jack Bassford (they had been in the Royal Marines together) had to lay a new line for the field telephones from the shooting range to a look-out post situated about 1 km away up on a hill. Jack drove up to the look-out post in his Land Rover, while my father and I waited for Jack to call us on the field telephone. But there was no call. Then I saw that Jack was waving his arms about. My father climbed up onto the bonnet of the Land Rover and started to wave his arms. They communicated via semaphore.

Over the years my father ”acquired” for me:

  • Old field telephones
  • An Aldis lamp (for sending morse code)
  • Morse keys
  • Even a pair of Army manpack transceivers: Crystal controlled with a plug in coil pack in the frequency range 3.0 to 9.0 MHz (if I remember correctly) British Army No. 46 sets.
  • A 24 position manual telephone exchange
  • Old radios - mains and battery valve and some transistor radios
  • 90v battery’s (for the battery valve radios)
  • And a (wonderful) horse-shoe hand generator for creating the ringing current in the old manual exchanges. “Wonderful” because of the fun getting my little sister to hold a pair of bare wires whilst I cranked the generator. Mea culpa.

So, that was my beginnings in telecommunications.

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