Whilst manning beach positions in Northumberland in 1941 we had training in the use of pigeons to carry messages. Pigeons had been used extensively in World War I on the Western Front in 1915 with 15 pigeon's stations each with 4 birds and a handler; by 1918 there were 400 stations with some 22,000 birds in 150 mobile lofts.

During the Second World War, Allied bomber planes operating in Europe, Burma and India were reputed to have carried a couple of pigeons. One can readily see their use if the plane was shot down behind enemy lines and the wireless set unserviceable or security of location demanded radio could not be used. The birds released with details of the crash location would provide hope of rescue.

In Northumberland we worked with the owner of a local pigeon loft and our training involved handling the birds and preparing and attaching messages. It was the only occasion we used them although we did link up with a local loft when manning the defensive areas of East Anglia but after a while we let the idea drop.

Telephonic Communication

Field telephones connected by line cable were always the preferred means of communication. It provided interactive communication in the easiest way with the minimum amount of procedure.

However, it was not secure as the infantry telephone system used only a single D Mark III thin braided copper and steel wire to connect telephones directly to each other or to a field switchboard, completing the electric circuit by using an earth return through the use of an earth-pin.

The advantage of the simplistic 'earth return' circuit and not using the twin twisted cable was to reduce the number of drums the line-laying parties would need to carry. The extra burden of laying twin-cable would have impeded cable laying as it was all done by hand and on foot by the Battalion's signallers. The disadvantage came from the possibility that enemy listening devices embedded in the earth would allow the enemy to listen to telephone conversations. Aware of this necessitated using covert codes in conversations and in the text of formal messages when referring to orders and making tactical references to intentions and objectives.

All signallers trained in laying cable. This necessitated knowing and practising tying reef knots to join cables and to repair broken lines damaged by shell or mortar fire or by tracked vehicles. To make a good joint in the cable we would bind it with a single strand of copper wire to increase conductivity. In line laying parties the signaller walked or ran with the reel in the hand-held unwinding frame with one signaller following and tying the cable or lifting it overhead. At the end of each 600-yard reel, the cable would be tested by connecting it to a field telephone and calling back to the signals switchboard (Switchboard Universal Call) at Battalion HQ. If the connection was satisfactory you would start the next reel. If there was a break in the stretch of line just laid, it meant going back along the cable, letting it run through you hand until you found the break and then repairing it and testing back to the switchboard.


(left) DIII Telephone. Used by signallers in World War I, we found it to be an ideal linesman's telephone.

(right)Switchboard Universal Call 10 Line [answering to magneto and buzzer calling.]

Courtesy www.museumoftechnology.org.uk

Courtesy www.ww2talk.com

We had two Switchboards '10-Line Universal Calling' and these were always located in the Signals Office at Battalion HQ. From these two boards, telephone lines would radiate out to the six companies, with extensions going to the Commanding Officer, Adjutant, Intelligence Officer and Quartermaster. There would be a connection to the Brigade HQ switchboard as well as to the Artillery Battery Commander at Battalion HQ. During operations we would provide lines to the Platoon headquarters of the Carriers, 3-inch Mortars, Anti-Tank Guns and Pioneers. A message facility in the Signals Office used two of the switchboard terminals for sending and receiving messages. This left two spare for any special telephonic links, perhaps an Observation Post or a Standing Patrol.

In the early months of the Second World War we trained using a field Switchboard 7+3: it had terminals for seven direct lines and three other telephones connected by a common terminal-bar to the exchange with only one jack used for answering. The operator would insert the plug into the jack and then had to identify the telephone caller; however, the conversation could be listened to by the other two telephone users as they shared the same circuit! We had a system of one ring, or two or three rings to make contact with them.

Field Telephone Set D MKV

German Field Telephone

The D MkV telephone was used extensively during the Second World War, and was a good basic telephone for ordinary use and a morse key for the signallers. As the War progressed we acquired German telephones and used these to supplement our own equipment.
(left) Fullerphone was a unique kind of field telephone invented by Colonel Fuller in the First World War. It was designed to transmit morse signals but not speech, and operated on direct current which provided the basis of its security advantage as its signals could not be picked up by instruments using alternating current. It had a range of 15–20 miles.
These illustrations courtesy www.museumoftechnology.org.uk

The Fullerphone increased the capacity of the battalion signal network as it could be used to send morse messages over the same lines being simultaneously used for speech, provided we connected to the telephone circuit via the switchboard a Superimposing Unit (one transformer) to cut out interference between the AC and DC circuits.


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