Originally posted 2017-04-12 14:47:13. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
The First World War – WW1 – The Great War
In 1912 the Royal Engineer Signal Service was formed and made responsible for all forms of signalling; visual, telegraph, telephone, signal despatch and later wireless communications from HQ down to Brigades, and for artillery communications down to Batteries.
Throughout most of The Great War the primary means of communications were visual, telegraph and despatch – with most despatch was either by runner, horseback or motorcycle.
v01 1917 Hesdin St Pol Road – Christmas Day
Christmas Day 1917 – Hesdin, St Pol Road.
The use of visual signalling in warfare
The main types of visual signalling was flags, lamps and lights, and heliograph.
Signalling flags were normally in blue and white. There were variations in the length of the poles and the size and material from which the flags were made. These variations affected the speed at which the operators could send their message. Silk (lightweight) flags, with which a competent operator could reach about 12 words per minute,were used to send the fastest messages.
WW1 & WW2 communications Visual signalling using flags during WW1
Visual signalling using flags during WW1
Although visual signalling was generally unsuitable for trench warfare because the operator had to show himself, the heliograph, flags and lamps, all of which can be seen on display, had an important communications role, particularly where the army was moving too quickly to establish a telephone network.
In 1915 signalling discs and shutters were introduced which could be operated from cover and read using a periscope.
The Begbie Lamp
The Begbie Lamp is a paraffin burning lamp that was used from 1880 until 1915. The lens concentrated the light so that it could be used over great distances. A Begbie Lamp is on display at the museum.
The military telephone and wireless
By the outbreak of WWI the army had a small number of wireless sets. These were mainly spark transmitters which operated on long wave and were cumbersome, heavy and unreliable.
In 1914 the Royal Flying Corps had begun to use wireless to direct artillery fire. An example of the Marconi transmitter which would fit into an aircraft and send morse signal to be picked up on the ground is held in the Museum.
In 1915 trench sets were involved on the western front but were not a great success, partly because the enemy could easily overhear the messages. A trench reconstruction can be seen in the Museum.
WW1 Sterling Set_Marconi spark set_Aircraft
World War 1 “Sterling Set” a morse code spark transmitter, used in aircraft mainly for artillery spotting.
Using animals to aid wartime communications
Telegraph Troop was formed as a mounted unit and horses were used as draft animals until 1937. A life size model of a horse carrying an early military wireless stands in the Museum.
WW1 & WW2 communications visual, telegraph and despatch – with most despatch was either by runner or horsebackDogs were trained to carry messages between trenches and horses, mules and dogs were all used in war to lay cables.
Homing pigeons have been used to carry messages since Roman times and before the days of telegraph and wireless were an essential method of carrying messages back to an established Headquarters from the front line.
Pigeon 2709 was a typical example of the bravery of these birds. In 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele Pigeon 2079 was despatched from the front line to carry a message back to Headquarters some 20 minutes flying time away. Shortly after setting off Pigeon 2709 was hit by enemy fire. The bullet broke a leg and passed through his body, leaving the small metal message cylinder embedded in his side. Although it took him a further 21 agonising hours he successfully completed his mission only to die of his injuries the following day.
In World War Two 250,000 homing pigeons were brought into service for a variety of purposes including communicating behind enemy lines. 32 pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal for Valour including William of Orange who in 1944, when other forms of communication had failed, was released by British soldiers at Arnhem and flew with a vital message 400km back to the UK in just under four and a half hours. For his bravery in getting one of the very few messages from Arnhem back to UK he was awarded the Dickin Medal in 1945.
The British Army had Pigeons bringing back messages from the front line. Stories of heroic pigeons such as Pigeon 2709 and William of Orange can be read about in the Animals in War Section and items such as the parachute used by pigeons and medals awarded to pigeons for outstanding flight, can be seen in this display.
Cable and line
A considerable amount of cable and line was used in the war. It was constantly being damaged by shell fire and movement of troops.
WW1 & WW2 communications, A World War 1 Cable wagon
A World War 1 Cable wagon on display in The Museum
Trench Signalling Lamp
The Trench Signalling lamp was in a wooden case and was battery operated. It had a bulls eye lens to concentrate the light and had a morse key to switch the lamp on and off. It was used mainly for local use from trench to trench and operators would receive the message through a periscope or telescope. It was always extremely dangerous to transmit towards the front of the battlefield as this would attract enemy rifle fire.
v01 1917 Battle of Arras – Visual Signals – 29th April
29 April 1917, Battle of Arras Visual Signals – Daylight Signalling Lamp
Ten Line Field UC/MK 236 Switchboard
The Mark 236 was self contained with its own instrument, calling generator, night bell and speaking set. two or more could be set up in tandem to increase the number of subscribers. Having given excellent service until 1918 it went on to serve during the Second World War. The UC was a portable field switchboard which had 10 discreet units. This allowed for repair of one unit without disturbing the remaining subscribers.
10 Line Magneto Exchnage 236 lr
At the beginning of the war civilian telephones were pressed into front line services. However, they were not designed to operate in damp, muddy conditions. The telephone D Mark III became the standard army field telephone an example of which is displayed in the Museum. It incorporated a buzzer unit and a morse key so it could be used to send and receive morse if the circuit was too noisy for voice transmissions.