History of Signalling in 100 objects

Originally designed to celebrate the Corps Centenary 1920-2020

Many of the objects are on display in the museum. Additional objects will be posted periodically.

Machines, objects, animals

Suitcase radios

Carried in the field by agents who were infiltrated into enemy occupied Europe.

Hoo-Tant antenna

Simply meaning ‘jungle Antenna’ Hoo-Tant was an improvised antenna.

Pigeon 2709

Took  21 agonising hours to successfully complete his mission, dying of his injuries the following day.

As part of the build up to the Corps Centenary in 2020 the Museum worked with the Corps to identify 100 objects which formed part of the history of Signalling in general and the Corps in particular.  Many of the objects are held by the Museum; do look out for them when you visit.

With thanks to museum volunteer Ronald Abbott, who wrote the majority of the articles.

History of Signalling in 100 Objects (1-50)

1) No 1 Wireless Set

No 1 Wireless SetThe No 1 Wireless Set was one of a range of wireless sets brought into service following the formation of the Corps in 1920. In 1929 a new series of Army wireless sets was formulated and in 1933 the Wireless Set No 1 was introduced into service for use by Infantry and Artillery Brigades.

Early sets were manufactured by Standard Telephones and Cables and designed to be vehicle or horse mounted to facilitate mobile communications. Limitations in the original design made the set unsuitable for large scale production so in 1935 Ferranti Ltd submitted a proposal for a redesign. The revised models were tested in 1936 but proved a failure; the primary disadvantage was the limited working range and, as considerable progress had been made with the design of the No 1 set, no further orders were placed. It is estimated that overall around 1800 No 1 sets were manufactured, the last sets delivered as late as 1938.

2) Despatch Rider's Motorcycle

Flat Tank DR Bike webMotorcycle Despatch Riders were first used in World War One replacing military messengers who had hitherto been mounted on horses (or camels) or travelled on foot. Despatch Riders were used to carry urgent orders and messages which, for reasons of security or other considerations, could not be communicated by any other means. In World War One it was found that is was sometimes faster for distances up to 8 miles to use a Despatch Rider to pass messages that to encrypt it, transmit the message using telegraphic means and then decrypt it at the other end.

During World War Two Despatch Riders were referred to as “Don R’s” and although wireless communications were much more advanced large number of motorcycles - such as the 75,000+ Norton 16H models were brought into service. Following the end of hostilities in 1945 the use of motorcycle Des- patch Riders deceased as technology advanced.  By 1970 the few remaining Despatch Riders were purely symbolic and used only on ceremonial occasions

3) Pigeon 2709

History and heritage, early communications, pigeons

Homing pigeons have been used to carry messages since Roman times; indeed, before the days of telegraph and wireless they 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, 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 un- der four and a half hours. For his bravery in getting one of very few messages from Arnhem back to UK he was awarded the Dickin Medal in 1945.

4) Heliograph

HeliographThe first widely accepted heliograph was developed by Henry Mance in 1869 to utilise the light of the sun to provide telegraphic communications. First used in war during the Jowaki Alfridi Expedition on the North West Frontier of India in 1877 the heliograph really came into its own during the Second Boer War (1899—1902) when it was used by British and Boer forces alike proving to be particularly useful when telegraph landlines had been cut and no other alternative means of communication was available.

The heliograph continued in service somewhere in the world for most of the 20th Century being used by South African and Australian forces against German forces in Libya and Egypt in 1941 and 1942 and as recently as 1980 when it was used successfully by the Afghans against invading Soviet forces.

The usefulness of the heliograph was limited to daytime and strong sunlight but they were the most powerful type of visual signalling device known and depending on terrain could span distances of up to 100 miles.

Interested in learning more about the heliograph? 

The British Heliograph Club Facebook group offers expert insight, digitised manuals and friendly discussion on a range of related issues.

5) The Fullerphone

Major GeneralACFuller( RSIJournal)A remarkable bit of lateral thinking by Captain (later Major General) AC Fuller of the RE Signal Service towards the end of 1915 led to his developing what became known as the Fullerphone. The Fullerphone was devised in 1915 as a solution to the problem of interception of messages by the enemy that had severely hindered operations in the early stages of World War One .

The Fullerphone wasn't a telephone at all (although early models incorporated a standard telephone handset which itself was not immune to intercept; a fact staff officers had to be repeatedly re- minded of!). It was basically a DC line Morse telegraph which employed a chopping device that interrupted a
constant current at an audible frequency and was practically immune to interception. Initial issues were constructed from converted field telephone sets but these early sets were not a great success. Indeed the Fullerphone must rank alongside the armoured fighting vehicle as one of Britain’s greatest inventions of World War I. Compact and portable, the Fullerphone used a tiny amount of direct current (2 microamperes being sufficient), such that it could not be intercepted. The early models handled morse only. Later models handled voice calls, but also had a morse key allowing effective long-distance communications over bad and leaky lines. It was found by accident that the Fullerphone could even transmit morse across broken lines, provided that each broken end was touching the ground and not too far apart.

The Fullerphone worked well over Army field telephone lines, with a range of 15-20 miles. It could also be superposed on civilian telephone lines, using a superposing unit. Fullerphone and civilian telephone were able to use the line simultaneously without interference. This is similar to the modern-day superposing of broadband internet connections over an ISDN telephone line.

Fuller had seemingly thought of everything and proved ideal for use forward of brigade headquarters to battalion and company headquarters. The only drawback of the Fullerphone was that operating one was a skilled, difficult job

The Mark I Fullerphone was introduced into service in 1916 followed by the Mark II. By the end of 1916 the Fullerphonewas firmly established as the preferred method of communication in forward areas. d copied by other armies, including the Italians in World War II. The Mark III was introduced into service towards the end of the war. Following the Armistice in 1918 further improvements and modification were made. By 1918 about 23,000 Fullerphones had been issued. It was used extensively by the British, Australian and Canadian Armies in both World Wars. The Mark III Fullerphone remained in service for most of the inter-war years. In 1937 a fully redesigned set, the Mark IV, was brought into service; this and future variations were the most successful. Not only were they more sensitive than earlier models but they also had a simplified buzzer-chopper and were easier to use as it carried no telephone.

The Fullerphone was devised for static warfare but, because of its capability to work simultaneously with a telephone over the same line, and through very long and leaky lines where other means of sending telephone or telegraph traffic was impossible, it was widely used in World War Two. The Fullerphone remained in service well into the 1950's; the basic principle of operation remaining the same throughout its 40 plus years of service.

[Additional information with thanks to the Royal Signals Winter Journal 2016]

6) Fovant Badge

The village of Fovant lies 10 miles west of Salisbury on the A30. In World War 1 the area was the site of a huge training camp for British and Australian troops and, later, a demobilisation centre for thousands of troops returning from the trenches.

The idea of cutting their Regimental badge into the chalk hillside started with the London Rifle Brigade in 1916 and proved so successful that other units soon followed their example. Twenty badges were known to have been cut but, between the wars,
many became overgrown although some regiments, and the Australian government, paid for the maintenance of their own badges. This effort halted in World War 2 as the badges were all allowed to grow-over lest they become a landmark for enemy
aircraft and many then became too damaged to restore.

After the Second World War, local Home Guard veterans agreed to restore some of the badges and six were completed by 1949. The Home Guard Association then cut their own badge, that of the Wiltshire Regiment, in 1950 and this was quickly followed by that of the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry in 1951. In 1969, 3 Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment agreed to help the newly formed Fovant Badges Association, with maintenance with 30 Signal Regiment joined in the following year. As a result of the interest shown by Royal Signals, the Corps was given permission to carve its own badge to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Corps in 1970.

The task was carried out by "Charlie Two" (Radio Relay) Troop of 3 Division Headquarters and Signal Regiment with work starting in October 1970. The badge on the cover of an RSI Journal was used as the template and was "blown-up" to deliver
1.83m squares of wire and pegs covering a total area of 51.5m x 27.4m. The outline of the badge was then laid in white minetape and cut, with corrections to allow for the slope and perspective being judged from the main road. With these changes the badge's final size was 61m (200 ft) x 26m (85 ft).

Over subsequent years, the badge has been maintained by soldiers from 3 Division, 30 and 11 Signal Regiments before being passed over to Fovant Badges Society contractors in 2009. Today, the cost of our badge's maintenance is covered by the Royal Signals Benevolent Fund and the Corps has agreed to continue to finance this work until 2022 before reviewing this arrangement. Our badge's 50th birthday does, of course, coincide with the Corps Centenary in 2020. All the badges are scheduled ancient monuments and recognised by the Imperial War Museum as war memorials.

7) Medaglia Civile Di Valore

The Italian Medal for Civil Valour is Italy's Highest Decoration for Civil Bravery and is the equivalent of the British George Cross. The Corps Museum holds only one of these medals, presented by the family of the late Brigadier Russell Maynard MBE who won it posthumously on 15 July 1988 where, on a beach near Fregene, Rome. He and a Danish officer, Colonel Niels Thorn, saved the lives of several children at the expense of their own.

The citation for his award read, 'Alerted by cries for help, he did not hesitate, together with another military officer, to dive into the sea to go to the rescue of six young people who, because of the adverse weather and sea conditions, were about to drown. General Maynard generously succeeded in saving the lives of all the young
people but, overcome by fatigue, we was himself swept away by the waves and drowned. He sacrificed his own life for the most noble ideals of altruism and human solidarity.'

Brigadier Maynard had been commissioned into the Corps in 1960 and had served in theatres worldwide including the Command of 4th Guards Armoured Brigade Signal Squadron and commander Communications in Northern Ireland where he was mentioned in despatches. He had been relaxing in a break from his course at the NATO Staff College in Rome when this tragic incident occurred.



8) Semaphore Signalling Flag

Beacons, flares and other forms of signalling have always been used in times of war but the Army's use of semaphore signalling with flags is a comparatively recent innovation. It followed the introduction of a signalling system devised by Captain Philip Colomb RN for the Royal Navy in about 1865. Soon afterwards the Army too began to see the potential of signalling using flags and a School of Signalling was created at Chatham. Shortly afterwards all units of the line were directed to furnish men to train as signallers. Initially a code book was used and individual signals represented code words but it was found preferable to use the telegraphic system of signalling using the Morse Code that was already in use by the telegraph units of the Royal Engineers.
Explore military communications from semaphore to cyber

In World War One signallers using flags were regularly deployed to often isolated forward positions to assist with artillery spotting and to provide information about targets. Visual signalling was quicker than sending a messenger (a skilled operator could send up to 12 words a minute) but was vulnerable to interception by the enemy and could only be used over short distances and when there was good visibility. For these reasons signalling with flags was discontinued in forward areas of the Western Front in 1916 although was it still in use away from the front line during World War Two over short distances such as between tanks when other means of communications were unavailable.

9) No 19 Wireless Set

The No 19 Wireless Set was developed primarily to fulfil the communications requirements of highly mobile Armoured Fighting Vehicles in World War Two. It incorporated the B set and an early use of a VHF transceiver to provide inter-tank R/T communication.

Designed to War Office and Signal Experimental Establishment specifications and manufactured by Pye Ltd the Mark I was introduced into service in 1941 and used extensively in the North Africa campaign. Unfortunately, as a result of the intense heat leading to capacitor failure in the power supply unit many were soon put out of action. Replacement capacitors were obtained from the USA and flown direct to North Africa to allow the sets to be returned to service.

It was soon realised that the frequency coverage of the Mark I was too limited and a Mark II with a better frequency range was introduced into service in 1942. Further modifications were made to improve efficiency especially of CW and to reduce the drain on power and the Mark III set was introduced in 1943. Despite initial difficulties the No 19 Wireless Set gave good service and revolutionised armoured formation communications in World War Two. The Mark III set was particularly successful remaining in service until the late 1960's and used even later by Army Cadet Force signal units.

10) Suitcase Radio

Women at WarSuitcase radios were first introduced into service in 1941. They were designed by Major John I Brown and initially manufactured by Special Operations Executive (SOE) to be carried in the Field by agents who were infiltrated into enemy occupied Europe. The set could be packed in airtight containers and dropped by parachute and were designed to be adapted to a variety of power supplies. Early sets such as the “A” Set Mk1 were based on the Wireless Set No 18 and used readily available components and had a range of over 500 miles. Between 1943 and 1945 the most commonly used suitcase radio was the Type 3 Mark II set also known as the Type B Mk II or just the B2. The B2 station was modular, and consisted of the receiver, transmitter, power supply unit and spares box. The miniature Morse key could be screwed to the lid of the spares box. Although normally carried in a suitcase it was later found that a watertight container was more suitable especially when used by Resistance groups working in the field. Despite having the disadvantage of being bulky and rather heavy the B2 was one of the most successful clandestine sets of World War Two proving reliable and highly powered.

11) Morse Key

Morse KeyIn 1836 an electric telegraph system was devised which sent pulses of current along wires which controlled an electromagnet located at the receiving end. A code was needed that used only these pulses and the silences in between them.

Samuel Morse thus developed the forerunner to the modern international Morse code. Morse can be transmitted using a key the most common of which is the straight key which is a simple bar with a knob on top and a contact underneath. When the bar is depressed against spring tension, it forms a circuit and allows electricity to flow. A highly skilled operator can send Morse at up to 30 words per minute and read incoming messages at even greater speeds. In the 21st Century Morse code no longer has any military or commercial application but it is still used by enthusiastic amateurs many of whom learnt the skill whilst training to be operators in the Royal Signals

12) Enigma Machine

WW2 communications. An Enigma Machine on display at The Royal Signals MuseumThe Enigma Machine was an electro-mechanical cipher machine designed in the early Twentieth Century and originally intended for commercial use but which was quickly adopted by the governments and military of many countries.

The Enigma Machine consists of a combination of mechanical and electrical sub-systems. The mechanical sub system consists of a keyboard, a set of rotors arranged along a spindle and a stepping component to turn at least one rotor with each key press.

The German armed forces extensively used various versions of the Enigma Machine before and during World War Two and it was potentially an excellent and virtually unbreakable system but with one major flaw. No letter could be enciphered to itself which meant that possible solutions could quickly be eliminated because the same letter would appear in the same place in both the cipher and the plain text. However although Enigma had some cryptographic weaknesses in practice it was German procedural flaws, operator mistakes and the capture of key code books that enabled Allied cryptologists at Bletchley Park to ultimately succeed in breaking the code. The intelligence gleaned and code named "Ultra" was to prove a substantial aid to the war effort.

13) Signalling Lamp (Aldis Lamp)

Aldis signalling lamp

Aldis signalling lamp

Signalling Lamps -  for visual communication - use Morse Code. They are often referred to as Aldis Lamps after their inventor Arthur Cyril Webb Aldis.

Pioneered by the Royal Navy in the late 19th Century and adapted for use by the Army on the Western Front and elsewhere in World War One, they continue to be used to this day when other means of communication are unavailable.

How they work

Signalling lampWith hand held lamps a concave mirror is tilted by a trigger to focus the light into pulses. In larger versions this pulse is achieved by opening and closing shutters mounted in front of the lamp either with a manually operated pressure switch or in later versions automatically.

A skilled operator using a hand held device can send a message at up to fourteen words a minute. NATO forces use signalling lamps to this day when radio silence is essential and modern lamps operate on the infrared spectrum making them less vulnerable to detection. Conventional signalling lamps are still used today by Air Traffic Control as a back up in case of the complete failure of an aircraft’s radio system but messages are limited to a handful of basic instructions.

14) Heliograph

Heliograph Light Signalling System

Related articles 




15) Signalman Ken Smith's George Cross

Sig Smith George Cross

2328696 Signalman Kenneth Smith was a professional soldier who joined the Royal Corps of Signals on 23rd January 1939, eight months prior to the beginning of the Second World War. Regarded as an excellent operator, Signalman Smith was assigned to the Long Range Desert Group - one of the forerunners to the Special Air Service Regiment.

Sig Ken Smith George CrossIn 1944-45 the Long Range Desert Group, was operating in the southern regions of Europe. On the night of 10 January 1945 Smith was the island of Ist, off the coast of Yugoslavia. Unfortunately Signalman Smith and his patrol were attacked by saboteurs who had placed a time bomb in the building complex where they were operating from. Concerned about the wireless set and its importance to the patrol Smith and a comrade began to evacuate the equipment. Smith then realised that there was also a family elsewhere in the building. Moving the bomb would be risky but Smith decided that this was the only way to save the family and the radio. He picked up the radio and exited the building. He had gone only a few yards outside the building when the bomb exploded and tragically Smith was blown to pieces. The family, the radio and Smith’s comrades all survived.

Signalman Smith was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest decoration of bravery not in the face of the enemy. The Royal Signals Museum purchased the medal following a search by the family which tracked it down. The George Cross is now on display in the museum’s medal collection in Blandford.

16) Pye Pocketfone 70 (PF70) UHF Radio Set

The Pye Pocketfone 70 (PF70) was introduced into the British Army to provide Infantry Battalion Communications in urban areas during the deployment in Northern Ireland. It was introduced into Belfast in late 1971 with completion in early 1972. The radio system was also used in Londonderry following Operation Motorman, which ended the so called 'No go Areas' there.

Why the PF70?

The communications challenge faced by a total of 9 Infantry Battalions operating in the Belfast urban area was considerable. Prior to the introduction of this radio system the Infantry could only communicate with the A41 man pack set on the street.

Problems with theA41 man pack set:

  • It marked the signaller as a key figure during fire fights;
  • was very heavy and bulky;
  • suffered from severe screening (it was VHF)
  • contributed to a  major frequency congestion problem in such a confined urban area.

By contrast the PF70 was a mere 7.6 x 3.3 x 1.4 inches and weighed only 28 ounces in a pouch compared to the 35 pound haversack of the A41.

Each Battalion received an issue of 75 PF 70. The coverage relied on a two Frequency Simplex system that operated through high gain UHF antennas that were situated in secure areas. These were called Talk-Through Sites. There were special base stations for the operations rooms plus vehicle mounted sets that could interface with VHF radios. Later there was a helicopter interface to PF70 nets.

A key role was played by the Royal Signals, in particular 39 Infantry Brigade HQ & Signal Squadron, who had received a very large emergency reinforcement from 30 Signal Regiment. The major disadvantage of the system was that it was not secure but this was rectified with later systems developed by Royal Signals in the Province of N Ireland.  Royal Signals played a unique role in deploying and controlling this system plus initially carrying out the maintenance for all the sets, talk-thru sites and moving the masts in the Brigade area. Several Combat Lineman and Radio Operators added antenna rigger to their trade skills!

17) Princess Mary’s No 1 Dress

Princess Mary uniformPrincess Mary was Colonel in Chief of the Royal Corps of Signals as Princess Royal from 1935 until her death in 1965. At the outbreak of World War Two the Princess Royal became Chief Controller and later Controller Commandant of the Auxiliary Territorial Service visiting its units in this capacity throughout Britain as well as wartime canteens and other welfare organisations.

Following her death in 1965 the Royal Signals Institution established a medal of honour to be awarded for major contributions to the professional or historical knowledge relating to the Corps or for work enhancing its scientific or historical reputation. It was named the Princess Mary Medal in her honour.


Princess Victoria Alexandria Alice Mary was born in 1897, the only daughter of the then Duke and Duchess of York and made her first state appearance at the coronation of her father George V in 1911. During World War One Princess Mary visited hospitals and welfare organisations with her mother Queen Mary giving comfort to British servicemen and assistance to their families. In 1932 George V decreed that his only daughter should bear the title Princess Royal succeeding her aunt Princess Louise Duchess of Fife who had died a year earlier.

18) ATS/WRAC Cap badge

ATS WRAC Cap BadgeBy the end of WW1 the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps had become an established feature of the Western Front.  Its members were employed on a variety of duties including those of Switchboard Operator but no serious attempt was made to train them to relieve men in more technical duties.

In 1938 and with war becoming a distinct possibility the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was formed - initially as a civilian organisation. By 1940 there were 300 ATS personnel billeted with the British Expeditionary Force in France. Some of the ATS telephonists were amongst the last to be evacuated from Dunkirk. In 1941 the ATS was reorganised and given full military status. ATS Signal Companies were formed with its members employed in a variety of operating and other Royal Signals trades. By 1944 there were 8,241 members of the Signals ATS with an additional number serving in the mixed signal units of the Anti Aircraft Command.

When the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) was formed in 1949 the ATS was absorbed into it. When the WRAC disbanded in 1992 remaining members were transferred directly into the Corps in which they were employed.

19) British Inter-Departmental (BID) Equipment

British Inter-Departmental (BID) Equipment first provided secure speech in the late 1960s. VHF command nets from Corps HQ forward to Battle Group HQs were covered by BID 150 (DELPHI) in conjunction with modified C42 and C45 No 3 Larkspur Radios. The BID 150 required good quality VHF radio links, so was often used with a 27ft (8m) elevated antenna and later with a device, called a Goodman Box. This checked the set’s RF output to the antenna, including the coaxial cable link.

Use on operations

First deployed on operations in Aden it continued to be in use right up to the withdrawal of British Forces from there in 1967.

Formation command nets in BAOR used the BID 150 with the C42 set number 3. Each set had a Demodulator (DM) Box, which indicated with a distinctive tone, when the net was secure. The DM boxes, with an interface unit, were also used in the re-broadcast mode to extend the range of the secure net.

The equipment was deployed in Northern Ireland to provide secure voice to augment the use of commercial radio that was in use then. Net radio below Battle Group HQ remained non secure until much later.

The BRUIN Trunk system also had a changing card crypto system that provided not only secure speech but telegraph and facsimile. It was the BID 200 (DAKOTA). This 6 channel 6 multiplex equipment required a set of cards to be changed daily (as did the BID 150) if a card was inserted incorrectly it was easy to damage the pins that responded to the holes in the crypto cards, so great care was needed as, once damaged, it was a time consuming and difficult task to change the pins.

The analogue speech and digital telegraph worked well over the BRUIN network.  Later the system was able to interface with the all digital PTARMIGAN trunk system through the BRUIN Adaptor Equipment. The BID 200 was also deployed to Northern Ireland in a static role to provide secure communications between Northern Ireland and MOD in London.

20) D13-D11-R234 HF Radio Station Secure Data

The D13

BID 610/700 ALVIS

The Marconi D13/R234 (x2 Receiver) role was to provide strategic rear links working into the Defence Communications Network (DCN). It was mounted in 1 Ton air-portable containers with air conditioning units, pallet mounted Onan generators and tentage. The detachment had 3 x 80 foot masts, so could erect 3 sloping V Rhombic antennas - one transmit and two receive for the station’s dual diversity R234 receivers. It could also have the containers mounted on 4 tonne winterised Bedford flatbed trucks for use in Norway.

The set provided two channels, one for engineering into DCN the other for secure traffic using the BID 610/700 ALVIS equipment. The set’s power output was 500Watt, considerably less than the other strategic rear link set the E21, which was also held in 14 Signal Regiment and by the RAF’s TCW unit. The E21 was a very large air- portable load that was frequently impractical to deploy, hence the continuous use of the D13 detachments. The D13 was replaced by the RACAL TRC - 521. 14 Signal Regiment was based in Norton Barracks Worcester, but was disbanded in 1976 with the radio Squadron moved to 30 Signal Regiment then in Blandford. 14 Signal Regiment was reformed to become the Electronic Warfare Regiment that it is today.

The D11

The D11 was a cut down version of the D13 only capable of 250 Watt output with a single receiver - R230 or R234. It was held by 16 Signal Regiment who used it for 'In Flight' reporting to 2 ATAF, then based in Maastricht and for other strategic links. Mounted in an Austin K9 truck with a towed trailer for the Onan generator, it used dipole antennas on 8 meter masts or a 4.9 meter rod. The set was also held by the Home Defence TA signal Regiments to provide HF radio links into the UK Regional War headquarters. There is an example of this set in the Royal Signals Museum mounted in an Austin K9 Truck.

21) The Royal Warrant

The Royal Warrant to authorise the formation of the Corps of Signals was signed by George V on 28th June 1920 and promulgated in Army Order No 275 a few days later.


The decision to form a separate Corps of Signals from the Royal Engineer Signal Service had actually been taken in 1918 in the closing months of the Great War. On 5th August 1920 George V signed a further Warrant that as a result “of the splendid work which has been performed by the Signal Service Branch of Our Royal Engineers during the War of 1914—1919” (sic) “The Corps should enjoy the distinction of Royal and shall henceforth be known as Our Royal Corps of Signals”. This second Warrant was promulgated in Army Order 359 in August 1920.

22) T100 Teleprinter

Teletype Bauds and the Murray Code T100R Siemens Teleprinter

The Siemens Teleprinter T100 /R was introduced in the early 1960s with the BRUIN system, but was also later used in static COMCENs. It could operate Simplex (plus local record) or duplex (send and receive).

Once created, the 17.5mm tape message could be transmitted by the tape attachments at either 50 or 75 Bauds speeds. The tape reperforator is on the right side of the keyboard. The T100 was also used on HF circuits in association with the BID 610/700.

Communications Centres were responsible for receipt, transmission and delivery of messages and so they usually included a message centre, transmitting and receiving facilities. It is interesting to note that even today email systems have had great difficulty replacing the formal message tracking system used by all communications centres.


Mobile BRUIN message centre

Emile Baudot, a Frenchman, patented his 5 unit code in 1874, whilst Donald Murray, a New Zealander, developed this 5 unit code into the Murray Code that he patented in New York in 1899. The adoption of the Murray Code led to the standardisation of the QWERTY Keyboard seen on all laptops and computers today.

As a Journalist, Murray was able to see the advantage of data being created separately from the transmission and reception of that information. The Murray Code was designed to benefit the machine that had to transmit and receive messages; this was a fundamental change from the Morse Code which benefited the operator who directly transmitted and received information on a circuit.

As a result of the widespread use of the teleprinter many soldiers became familiar with typing on the QWERTY keyboard, standing them in good stead for adapting to computers and laptops which largely replaced teleprinter signal messages.


23) No 10 Wireless Set

WW2 UHF Multi-channel set- The precurser to BRUIN and Ptarmigan radio relay equipment 

The Wireless Set Number 10 provided 8 duplex speech channels using multiplexers and pulse code modulation (PCM) which was very advanced in 1944. The antenna was a UHF parabolic reflector emitting a narrow beam of approximately 5 degrees. It was first used some weeks after D Day for a link between The Isle of Wight to Cherbourg in France. However, as many Royal Signallers, who have had to struggle with Path Profile Analysis, this link was at the limit of the set’s Fresnel Zone – Communications therefore were only intermittent. Later it was used in a tactical role to support HQ 21 Army Group. Its success was initially limited owing to the lack of working sets and a lack of 60 Feet masts – a familiar problem to all Royal Signals. However, soon the Signals Detachments managed to establish reliable radio relay chains across Europe even to Montgomery’s final headquarters on Luneburg Heath in Northern Germany. Here is a high spot between Munster and Minden, called the IBURG:

24) Wireless Set C

The C set came into service in 1926 and was still in use in India in the Waziristan Frontier War in 1937. It suffered from a great deal of interference and atmospherics even in the remote North West Frontier. Lt Col W R C Penny R SIGNALS, writing in the RSI Journal on the Waziristan Colonial War refers to the C set as follows : “Intercommunication between the two [fighting] columns was also allowed for by the C set, but local conditions defeated these sets and communications between the columns failed...At times atmospherics made work impossible, but wireless operators rapidly became familiar at dealing with messages up to 500 words, working under bad conditions for hours on end...When the C sets were defeated, then short wave sets homemade in the Corps Signals workshop played their part.”

The C set therefore heralded as the first real communications challenge in the use of radio. The alternatives, Line and Despatch Riders - mainstays of World War 1 - were no longer viable alone in future warfare. Radio was the future but, as all Royal Signals operators know, this came with its own challenges especially in the HF frequency band.


The importance of Army communications, including the use of radio, was recognised in World War 1 and the formation of the new Corps of Royal Signals in 1920 was yet another sign of this new era. This period also saw commercial broadcasting becoming popular world wide. The BBC was formed in 1922 and George V broadcast his first Christmas message to the UK and the Commonwealth on 25 December 1932. Every family lived with a wireless from now on right through World War 2.

The Army planned a group of radio equipments known as the A, B and C sets, but, owing to defence cuts, only the A and C sets saw service. The frequency band of the C set was 150 - 462 KHz (receive) and 75 - 500 KHz (transmit), unfortunately this was the same band used for commercial broadcasting around the World.

25) Wireless Set 62

HF Radio 62 Set - Early Frequency Prediction Charts and Skywave Antennas

Developed by Pye of Cambridge, the 62 Set- with a frequency range from 1.6 to10 MHz - was seen as the replacement for the 22 Set.

First used in late 1944, it continued  in use well into the 1950s. It was primarily intended as a vehicle-mounted station or a ground station and was used for this after D Day in Europe.

Use in the Jungle

Jungle warfare tactics, learned in the Far East, highlighted the need for radio links that could work across ranges of 200 miles plus. As Set 62 could be made suitable for man-packing and for dropping by parachute, it was used in the Far East. A major problem for all radios in the humid conditions of tropical jungles was that of damp and therefore corrosion of electrical parts so this set was tropicalised and immersion proof, (but only for 5 minutes).

Most of the jungle was in mountainous areas with very dense vegetation so the development of antennas and working frequency prediction became essential. The 62 set used vertical rods for ground-wave but for Skywave only a horizontal wire using the ground as a reflector.

Frequency Prediction charts began to appear in 1943. These refer to Maximum Usable Frequencies (MUF) and Lowest Useable Frequency (LUF), but when related to the 62 set’s frequencies band these charts were not always helpful as its small frequency spectrum was very crowded.

An operator was given one day time and one night time frequency. Skywave long distance comms at night were a particular challenge to even the most skilled operators and CW was essential. This distance was particularly important to support long range patrols of the Chindits in Burma, and later in the Malayan Emergency up to the 1950s.

Major John Shirley, a New Zealander, attached to Royal Signals in Malaya, developed a two phased dipole antenna (the Shirley Antenna) designed to work up to 200 miles. Later HF sets had an insulated braided half wave dipole wire, which was easy to repair, but needed a clear path through damp foliage - a lot of work and not popular. 

Later sets covered the whole HF spectrum to 30MHz so could exploit the chart showing the MUF. The key has always been to have a small, light, robust, waterproof set with light, long-lasting batteries and a compact antenna for use on the move. HF working for long distance patrols remains to this day an essential way to communicate.

26) Wilkinson Sword of Peace

The Balkans - Supporting Peace Keeping. Wilkinson Sword of Peace 1993

In 1966 the British sword maker, Wilkinson Sword, established an award to units of the British Armed Forces to recognise outstanding contributions that improved community relations either in the United Kingdom or overseas.

The sword was awarded to 7th Signal Regiment in December 1993 in recogonition of their efforts in supporting Albania as well as their continued support to their community in Germany.

Wilkinson stopped producing swords for the British Armed Forces in 2005 and subsequently Firmin & Sons now sponsors the award.


In 1991 with the subsequent fall of communism in Europe, Albania fell into economic disarray resulting in extreme hardship for many of its citizens. This particularly affected institutions such as orphanages where children were malnourished and living in desperate conditions. After watching news reports, 7th Signal Regiment quickly established a reconnaissance party (gaining diplomatic clearance and organising transport within 5 days) to determine what help they could provide in Albania.

Over the next few years the regiment led several aid missions which included the supply of food, clothing, toys and an ambulance for a hospital. In addition to this outstanding effort in Albania 7th Signal Regiment continued to provide excellent support to their local community in Herford, Germany.

Royal Signals units continued to support Peace Keeping operations in the Balkans up to 2001. These included 30th Signal Regiment, 14th Signal Regiment (EW) , 216 (Parachute) Signal Squadron and individual reservists. At the height of the crisis in 1995 830 signallers were committed to operations.

About 7th Signal Regiment

7th Signal Regiment was formed as a Regiment in 1962  but can trace its history back to before the formation of the Corps in 1920. The Regiment was based in Germany, served in several different locations but the majority was in Herford where they received the Freedom of the city in 1972. With the fall of the Soviet states in Eastern Europe changes came,  the Regiment moved to Krefeld in 1997 and to Elmpt in 2002 where they remained until their disbandment in 2012 (the result of the 2010 Strategic Defence Review).

27) Avometer

The AVO (Amps, Volts and Ohms) Meter Model 7 was introduced into service in 1936. It was an improved version of the original AVO Multimeter, which was first developed in 1923. The design concept was the work of Post Office engineer Donald Macadie, who at the time of the introduction of the original AVO meter was a senior officer in the Post Office Factories Department in London and although the original model was a DC only instrument, many of its original features remained unaltered.

AVO No 7 multimeters were renowned for their reliability, robustness and simplicity of use. The incorporation of a mechanically operated cut out linked to the meter movement and the two switch range selection system endeared these meters to generations of Royal Signals technicians. The last Model 7 Mark II AVO meter left the production line in 1986, so was still used by technicians to support the CLANSMAN, BRUIN and PTARMIGAN systems that were in service at that time.

A modern commercial equivalent digital display multimeter is shown. This is not Royal Signals issue equipment. It has more functionality and is used by technicians to check power supplies, cables and equipment. It weighs only 170g. The functionality includes measurement of DC current, DC voltage, AC voltage, resistance measurement, transistor test, diode measurement and the ability to test signal output, which reflects just some of the technical advances since 1986. This has a much greater capability than the Model 7, but perhaps will not last as long; the case is a flexible plastic compared to leather. 

28) Ptarmigan SCRAT

It is difficult to conceive today that the Single Channel Radio Access Terminal (SCRAT) and the Static subset - as part of the PTARMIGAN area trunk system (introduced in BAOR in the mid 1980s) - provided the first mobile telephones. The Static subset on its own weighed 3.8Kg; compare that to the 175g approx of the modern smartphone. 

The SCRA(T) was generally fitted into a Landrover and was powered by the vehicle’s charging system. It consisted of a control indicator group, a transmitter/receiver (shown with the subset above) and a roof mounted VHF rod vehicle antenna not shown. The operator could also have data, facsimile and teleprinter working from this terminal if required.

The SCRA(T) worked into the PTARMIGAN network through a VHF cell-phone base station, which was called a SCRA Central. Each Central served an area of approximately 15Km radius though this would vary with the topography. The SCRA(T) user could move through an area and automatically affiliate to the appropriate Central (like today’s mobile phone). The link was encrypted and therefore secure, but was vulnerable to direction finding. The Centrals were connected into the PTARMIGAN network via radio relay - TRC 471 (UHF) and the TRC 481 (SHF). This link went to a switching point that was called a 'Trunk Node'. The Central installation consisted of a fitted container, pallets that housed two 4.5KW generators and antenna equipments. All were mounted on a Bedford MK 4-tonne flatbed truck. The crew usually consisted of 3 sometimes this was reduced to 2.

29) Drum Barrow

Line laying had been around in the British Army since the Crimean War and was used extensively during World War 1. However, with the arrival of Wireless in the 1930s it was thought that line would be less significant, as it would be more vulnerable to aerial bombing, and with greater mechanisation it was anticipated armies would have greater mobility. Line detachments were therefore reduced in size until 1943, when there was a change of policy. The twisted cable D3 was used in the Far East and D8 mainly in Europe and the Middle East.

Line laying with D10 cable from its dispensing pack and with its increased strength (1/2 Ton Breaking strain) was often not that easy even if it was possible to use the line laying 1/4 ton Landrover adapted by the REME Workshops. It was found that it was often just not practical to lay these cables from a vehicle in which a drum is mounted on the back of the vehicle. Often it had to be done by hand so the Drum Barrow came into use for tactical cable laying in 1945.

D10 cable proved much better than the previous twisted pair cables used in WW2. This came in a canvas dispensing pack in 800m lengths. It was made of mainly steel wire, but had 4 strands of copper, so it enabled connection for a field telephone up to 30 miles with compression joints between the cable packs. It is still around today; a pack of 'Don 10' costs about £70.  R SIGNALS has no dedicated Lineman Trade, but the principles continue to be taught today.

30) Australian Slouch Hat

A form of the distinctive Australian Army issue slouch hat, synonymous with the Australians in the First World War and their efforts at Gallipoli, has been used by many countries over the past 150 years.

The term ‘digger’ refers to the ordinary Australian soldier and the hat is treasured by the heirs of the First World War ‘diggers’ serving in the Australian Army still to this day.

The term slouch refers to the distinctive sloping brim. One side of the slouch hat is normally pinned to the side of the hat and on that side the cap badge is worn; pinning the side of the hat allowed soldiers to carry their rifles on their shoulders. The slouch hat in the Corps Museum denotes the Rising Sun of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the famous ANZACs) who served with distinction during World Wars One and Two. The other distinguishable feature of the slouch hat is the Puggaree, originating from the Indian Hindu tradition of wearing a turban or scarf and this is the material seen circling the hat.

Slouch hats were also used by the British from the Boer War to World War Two as well as in other operations such as the insurgency in Malaya but the slouch hat is now renowned the world over as a symbol of Australian pride and as such is recognised as one of their national symbols

31) Wireless Hand Cart

The wireless handcart was particularly useful when large radios and their associated equipment and batteries needed to be moved quickly.


During the lead up to World War Two armies became evermore
mechanised.  Although the Royal Corps of Signals often operated
from vehicles its soldier were frequently on foot - as such Royal
Signals soldiers (as well as other wireless operators) needed radios
that could be operated on foot. Radios were designed to be worn by operators but sometimes this was impractical so a system was needed to transport equipment when vehicles were not available hence the introduction of the wireless handcart.

Many of these wireless handcarts were seen operating during beach assaults (such as those in Operation Overlord, Normandy  - 6th June 1944). During Operation Overlord Royal Signals soldiers were to be found in every headquarters. They were also attached to infantry battalions operating wireless sets in the battalion headquarters. 

32) COMCAN Strategic Radio

Commonwealth Communications Army Network (COMCAN)

Today we have instant news, satellite communications, mobile telephones, the internet and miniaturised radio sets but it's not that long ago that long distance and medium range communications all relied on HF Radio. The SWAB 8 HF Radio (above left) now rests in the Royal Signals Museum, but in its day it provided the strategic HF link from Cyprus to the UK. Less well known is that Royal Signals manned this system known as the Commonwealth Communications Army Network (COMCAN).

When the School of Signals moved from Catterick to Blandford Camp, the first element to move was the HF Power Group. As you approached Blandford Camp from Salisbury by road either in daylight or at night, your first view would be of the masts that marked the transmitter site (near Engineers’ Corner) and the Receiver site in the area of the Single Living Accommodation opposite to the current Welfare Hub. These Antennas were beamed at Cyprus and the HF Power Group worked a daily schedule so that the Royal Signals Tradesmen could be trained on the COMCAN system. Signallers would also have been taught how to work on the messaging system.

The second picture shows the TARE (Telegraph Automatic Routing Equipment) that was installed at Boddington in Gloucestershire. You can see WO2 (FofS) Flint working on the early computer. This TARE computer shown below, which just routed messages from the tapes - rejected if the operator made any error!

HF Power Group lasted only 2 years in Blandford as, in 1969, COMCAN transferred to the Defence Communications Network (DCN), operated by the RAF. 

33) Locomotive Name Plate & Boiler Plate

Since the formation of the Corps in 1920 four locomotives have been named after the Royal Corps of  Signals.

The first, a Patriot Class locomotive. was named 'Royal Signals' by Brig Clementi Smith at Euston Station on 10th April 1937. It saw service on the LMS Railway until 1962 when it was withdrawn.

The second  was a D45 Diesel locomotive No 45504 which was built in 1962 at Crewe and named “Royal Signals” in June 1965 (although a precise record of any date or ceremony cannot be found) this was withdrawn from service in 1987. The Nameplate and Boiler Plate badge is shown in the top photograph

On 23 October 1985 HRH The Princess Anne (Colonel in Chief of The Royal Signals) named an Intercity 125 locomotive “Royal Signals” at York Station. It is thought that this went out of service in approximately 1989, but currently cannot be confirmed.

Most recently on the 24 June 2017 GB Railfreight 66756 was named after the “Royal Corps of Signals” in recognition of all the work done by Royal Signals on the Dorset Railway since 1984. The picture is a replica on display at the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford.

34) Larkspur Radio

Larkspur radios covered the period from after World War 2 until the 1980s - officially became obsolete in 1986.

Larkspur explained

Larkspur radios were designated A, B and C with numbers following them.  A13, A14, A40, A41, A43, B47, B48, C11/R210, C13,C15, C42 and C45. There was also a radio relay equipment called the B70.

The letter indicated input power:

  • A= up to 10W
  • B = 10-100W
  • C = 100—1000W
  • D = 1—10KW
  • E = above 10KW

The figures following indicated the frequency range:

  • 10-39 = MF or HF
  • 40-69 = VHF/UHF
  • D = SHF

For example the B70 was an SHF set with an input power between 10 and 100W. The C42, perhaps the best known of the Larkspur Group was VHF with input power between 100 and 1000W. This designation system was changed in January 1982.

Larkspur was a term introduced after many of the above radios had been brought into service. The last time they appeared in the Royal Signals Reference Manual was in the 1973 version, which was not formally revised until 1986.

From Larkspur to Clansman

Larkspur was replaced by the Clansman group of radios which just managed to see service in the Falklands War of 1982. Clansman had been issued to the Cadet Forces in that year but had to be quickly withdrawn to provide an equipment reserve for the regular forces deployed to the war. Sadly many of these sets went down with the Atlantic Conveyor when it was sunk by an exocet missile.

Larkspur radios, particularly the C42 continued to be used after the Falklands war. The most successful part of larkspur was the vehicle mounted sets - the C42 and its variant the C45 which was used by the Royal Artillery.

A great deal of thought had gone into the vehicle harness that fitted into armoured and non armoured vehicles. These were the Type A and B Larkspur Harness and the associated ancillaries, antennas and adaptors.

The unpopular A40/A41

The most unpopular group were the personal radios that had to be carried by the Infantry. These were the A40 and the A41, shown in the photos left and right respectively. These were heavy, used large numbers of heavy batteries and had a limited frequency range. As a result when the Northern Ireland emergency commenced in 1969 a requirement was quickly identified to replace these personal radios with commercial radios such as those made by Pye and Racal.

Larkspur on display in the museum

A full range of LARKSPUR radios can be seen in the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford. Do take a look on your next visit.


35) Early Cable Communications


The photo shows the first successful submarine cable that was laid across the Atlantic in 1865.

The image below shows a sample of the Gutta-Percha cable that was used in the Crimean War of 1854 which the British fought in an alliance with the French and the Turks against the Russian Empire.

Before Cable - Lessons learned from defeat at the Battle of New Orleans

On the 8 January 1815 the British Army (led by General Edward Packenham) was defeated by the USA (led by General Andrew Jackson) at the battle of New Orleans with some 15,000 British soldiers killed or wounded. This was an especially unfortunate outcome given the Peace Treaty of Ghent - ending the war between the British and Americans - had been signed two-weeks earlier in December 1814. Sadly this news had not reached the Armies. Ironically news travelling slowly led many Americans to wrongly believe that defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans had ended the war of 1812 but this was not actually the case.

After Cable - The Crimean War

Some 39 years later Electric Telegraph was used for the first time in the Crimean War. A 340 mile submarine cable was laid across the Black Sea from Balaclava to Varna.

Once the system was working news now travelled so fast that General Simpson, the Commander-in-Chief, received so many administrative enquiries from London he declared,

“- - -the confounded telegraph has ruined everything.”

Public shocked by the effects of war

Separate from Simpson’s problems with London was that William Russell - considered the first modern war correspondent - used telegraph to send his reports back to the Times Newspaper. These dispatches had considerable effect. The British public was shocked and horrified by the Charge of the Light Brigade and by the news of the terrible medical support given to the troops - as highlighted by Florence Nightingale. Thanks to the improved communications provided by electronic telegraph (using cables similar to those illustrated) the world had suddenly become smaller, the military more accountable and changes - particularly to care of the wounded - would result.

The illustration below shows the cable wagon used in the Crimean war.


CARRFA - Computer Assisted Radio Relay Frequency Assignment system 1980 - 1986

CARRFA, made by Oceonics Systems Ltd was the first tactically deployed computer system dedicated to constructing a working frequency assignment for VHF, UHF & SHF radio sets. It was used to support 1 British Corps in the era of the BRUIN trunk system & Larkspur & Clansman VHF radio networks. A radio relay detachment like the one shown here would obtain its frequencies from a CARRFA terminal (above) deployed at Corps HQ. It was a basic computer by today’s standards taking six minutes to load its cartridge from store. The time to write 40 Kilobytes from the data base was 90 seconds but nevertheless the system worked well and enabled staff to develop a more sophisticated system to support PTARMIGAN.

Which band and why?

Short wave, Long Wave, HF, VHF, UHF, SHF  are all frequency bands, but who decides which radio frequency we can use for  TV, WiFi, mobile phones or DAB radio set? Many of us frequently use different radio frequencies, but  may not have thought about why we use a particular band or frequency. Indeed a change in frequency can cause issues as it did when the frequencies for TV sets changed.

Armed Forces that deploy tactically, have to take great care with frequencies. Mutual interference between detachments will block radio communications and, if a unit always uses the same frequency for an important link, this will identify it to a hostile force; if frequencies are too similar they interfere resulting in no comms. These were all lessons learned in WW2, but in fact only the German Army succeeded in achieving daily-changing frequencies throughout all theatres in WW2.

37) Uninterrupted Power Supplies

Power cuts and Arctic conditons

Achieveing Uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) has not been easy - power cuts, flat batteries, corrosion, deterioration of batteries, xlimate from artic to tropical have all exacerbated the situation. The advent of the rechargeable battery helped but had shortcomings - relying on mains elextricity or generator to maintain a continuous supply of electrical energy and, until recently they were also a significant weight for soldiers to carry,

From TARE to modern computers

An earlier article in this series mentioned the Telegraph Automatic Routing Equipment (TARE) -  a very large static computer (see image). It was a no break power generator, which relied on a fly wheel to kick in and start the generator, when the mains power failed. It had a mains energised motor that started the alternator once the diesel engine was running. If the sequence was not done correctly the system could easily be broken and the power supply would fail reulting in no comms! Modern computers are much less power hungry than main frame computers like TARE. During the deployment in Afghanistan it became possible to miniaturise a UPS.

The second picture shows an APC UPS system that could supply emergency power for up to 1 hour, depending what was connected to it, thereby saving data, protecting the laptop or server from damage and enabling technicians to re-connect the mains supply or fix the generator supply. The APC system has an internal battery that is continually charged from the mains supply. This battery, if kept fully charged, can be reliable for up to three years.

38) 21 Jardine Street, Glasgow

This building is possibly the oldest still in service 'Drill Hall' in the UK. It is named the Kitchener Block after the famous Sapper General, who was  the Honorary Colonel of this RE Regiment and was designed by Robert Bryden  (a Major in the unit). The cost of the building was borne by the unit, who raised funds via subscription, fetes and bazaars. Now a category B listed building it is currently used by 32nd Signal Regiment - formed in April 1967, but whose signalling and engineering history goes back to 1863.

 Several of the 100 Objects can be traced back to the occupiers of this building. This includes the most detailed extant picture of the WW1 cable wagon -the artist Francis Martin was a lineman from this regiment and one of his paintings hangs in the Mess, but the more famous one is 'Through.'  Pipes and Drums feature in the Mess rooms and remain a regimental priority. 32nd Signal Regiment continues in the proud tradition of excellence in communications and engineering - 'Be Thorough to be Through' was the motto in WW1 and still holds good today.

39) Japanese Sword and Flag

Japanese Sword and Flag Surrended to the Chief Signal Officer 14th Army Burma 1945

The defeat of the Japanese in Burma was a remarkable turn-around in fortune. A so-called invincible army had advanced suddenly via Sangshak to Kohima and Imphal through Burma into India. It was then soundly defeated with its morale suddenly in tatters. That army retreated in disarray starving, sometimes without equipment, weapons and clothing. “Defeat into Victory” for the allied Armies is well documented in books on the war in the Far East (1941-45).

What is not so well known is the part played by Royal Signals wireless operators in ending this war. The 14th Army included one wireless operator called Ted (Eddie) Levitt, a member of a detachment known as 23 M. This was part of the 'Golden Arrows'. The Golden Arrows detachments used HF radio to establish immediate communications between the War Office, Supreme Allied HQ, 14th Army and New Delhi. These mobile detachments could establish themselves anywhere in 3 to 4 hours. The transmitters and receivers were in separate vehicles. Messages were typed up on perforated tape, transmitted over cable to the transmitter truck and sent to the distant HQs in code. (Much later long distance mobile HF detachments would be deployed in 14 Signal Regiment and later 30 Signal Regiment with a similar role). Each vehicle had its own generator and the detachment had admin trucks and a car. 23 M Det knew of a Japanese radio link between Moulmein and Saigon, so started to transmit Mountbatten’s terms of surrender in slow Morse code on this frequency in English. Eventually the GOC of the enemy Southern Army acknowledged receipt and confirmed that he had ordered a cease-fire. Unfortunately Japanese internal communications were not that good, so the surrender took longer to get through to all Japanese units in Burma.

In the words of Ted Levitt, “I never fired a shot in anger - but had a hand in stopping it.[The War]." 11M transmitted the news that the Japanese High Command had accepted the terms of surrender in 1945. ( Acknowledgement: The account of Ted Levitt & 23 M Det is recorded in “Return To Kohima” by John McCann. ISBN 0-9512939-2-3 published in 1993).

40) The Kukri

The Kukri - Quenn's Gurkha Signals Post War British Action in the Far East 1947 - 1997

The Kukri is a crooked knife about 20 inches long with a handle that is generally made of buffalo horn. The half moon indentation stops blood running to the handle, which would make it difficult to hold. It is a lethal weapon, a vital tool to a countryman and part of Gurkha ceremony.

The Queen’s Gurkha Signals were created as a result of WW2 battles in the Far East. The Japanese, even though they had been defeated, left a legacy of promoting nationalism within the possessions of the formal colonial powers. This included India, even though it had not been occupied by the Japanese. Slim’s victory in Burma in 1945 is perhaps now seen as the last convulsion of Empire rather than a convincing contribution to the defeat of Japan. The intensity of warfare in the other former Far East colonies did not end in 1945, only in 1946 was a large Indian Army Division withdrawn from Indonesia, handing over to the Netherlands. Indian Independence was granted in a rush in August 1947 and France continued to fight a war in Vietnam until defeated in 1954.

The Gurkhas were not Indian nationals, so at the last minute just before Indian Independence, the Gurkha Regiments were split between the British and Indian Armies. The British Brigade of Gurkhas was born on the 14 August 1947. The intention of the War Office was for a complete Gurkha infantry Division to be in Malaya by June 1948. There were at this time 2 British, 5 Gurkha and 2 Malay battalions in Malaya. It was decided at the same time that the supporting arms and services should be recruited from the Gurkhas, which included Signals. Initially, it was thought that the signallers would be taken from the Gurkha infantry Battalions, but this was just not possible since these were under-recruited and a state of emergency had been declared in Malaya in June 1948. A signals training cadre was set up in July 1948 in the centralised Gurkha recruit training in North West Malaya. The brigade signal units would be drawn from this cadre. Training was complete for these new trainees by August 1950 who were posted to the newly formed 48th Gurkha Brigade Signal Squadron. The Gurkha Signals reached the numbers of 1170 officers and soldiers by the end of the Borneo Confrontation. These numbers were reduced to only 415 in early 1966. Gurkha Signals moved from Singapore to Hong Kong and in 1977 they were renamed the Queen’s Gurkha Signals. The Regimental HQ moved to Bramcote in 1996, co-located with 30 Signal Regiment. This was to comply with the closure of Hong Kong in 1997.

41) EW and Direction Finding

42) Hoo-Tant Antenna


HOO-TANT simply means 'Jungle Antenna'. Hoo-Tant was the name given to a light, home-made, portable, antenna developed by Capt (later Lt Col) Mike Complin to carry VHF signals in jungle climates. Maj Complin's antenna, Hoo-Tant  was named by the senior QG SIGNALS operator, Sergeant Govinde Gurung.


Moving to VHF networks

Following the withdrawal of British Forces from Malaysia and Singapore in the early 1970s, Queen’s Gurkha Signals (QG SIGNALS) were tasked to provide communications for the newly formed 'Training Team Brunei' (TTB), whose role was to deliver the British Army’s new jungle warfare courses in that country.

The jungle has always provided a challenge to communicators and it was the norm to rely on High Frequency (HF) communications. Such communications can be extremely challenging to establish and maintain and were not adequate for a training establishment where, for safety reasons, the Directing Staff needed close control of the students in an arduous and hostile environment. It was, therefore, decided that an attempt would be made set up a more dependable Very High Frequency (VHF) network for the jungle warfare instructors. A major impediment, however, was the lack of a suitable VHF antenna for use in a jungle environment.

The Adjutant of the Training Team, Captain Mike Complin, developed a cheap, very light antenna that could easily be “home-made” by QG SIGNALS radio operators and technicians. 'HOO-TANT' simply means 'Jungle Antenna' and was the name to it by the senior QG SIGNALS operator, Sergeant Govinde Gurung.

The antenna could be carried in an operator’s pocket and, to deploy it, he simply hauled up a tree using a cord thrown over a suitable branch; the 3 legs of the antenna (shown in the picture) were kept apart with long twigs. It was then connected by a standard coax cable to a Clansman 351 or 352 VHF radio. The Hoo-Tant remained in use for about 20 years. (Information courtesy of Lt Col MR Complin).




43) Wheatstone Needle Telegraph Morse-Perforator


In 1838 Samuel Morse and his assistant, Alfred Vail, demonstrated a code which enabled complex messages to be sent by electronic telegraph; It was called the 'Morse Code' after its inventor. Messages were sent by tapping out the code for each letter in the form of short signals, called dots, and long signals referred to as dashes. These dots and dashes could then be converted into electrical impulses and sent over telegraph wires. A receiver at the far end of the wire converted the impulses back into dots and dashes and thereby decoded the message.


Single needle telegraphWe have here two examples of early mechanical receivers used to interpret these electrical impulses sent over wire. The device on the right was invented the year before Morse perfected his code, in 1837, by William Cooke and Charles Wheatstone who produced the first practical telegraph system in Britain. It was called the Single Needle Telegraph and was later adapted so that the deflection of the needle to the left and right could be used to pass Morse code. It was also designed to make a distinctly different click and clack noise to differentiate between dots and dashes.

The Wheatstone Morse Perforator (picture below) had both a transmitter and receiver. The transmitter could read the dots and dashes on the tape and convert them into electrical pulses. It also had an extra switch that enabled the operator to use a Morse key (see right of the top picture). Conversely, the receiver received the impulses and wrote these to tape. It had a clockwork motor that moved the paper tape and controlled the ink supply although. Later models had an electric motor. Once the tape had been received in Morse code, the message was typed up into the required language as a formal message, the paper tape being stored in the drawer beneath as shown.


44) Telephone C Mark 1

44_Telephone C Mark 1

The Morse code had already speeded up communications across the globe, but during the British colonial wars, especially in Southern Africa, voice telephones started to come into use. The picture  was taken of British soldiers in Southern Africa in approximately 1880. They can be seen unloading coils of barbed wire from the train, but behind the train you can see the telegraph wires that were soon to carry speech as well as messages sent in Morse code.



Ericson from Sweden designed the telephone shown in the picture on the right. It became known in the British Army as the Telephone C Mark 1 and came into wide-spread use during the Boer War of 1899-1902. Use was made of existing lines for voice, but these communications were then extended to the field using this telephone as well as for extending the telegraph systems.

The Royal Engineer Signals had field Squadrons, whose task was to lay line in the field and extend the existing facilities of voice and telegraph that had already been created in South Africa to support mining, railways and civilian communications. In 1884, C Troop and the Postal Telegraph Companies amalgamated to form the Telegraph Battalion RE. The RE signallers became skilled in building long telegraph lines. They were aided by the new “air line “system, which consisted of a single wire carried on lightweight poles.

Instruments, such as the Wheatsone Automatic Telegraph managed to clear 6,000 words in 105 minutes. During an action at Bloemfontein, General French, who later commanded the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, controlled his artillery by telegraph. He attributed his victory in part to these good communications.

The Telephone ‘C’ Mark 1, designed by Ericsson’s of Stockholm, was the first portable military telephone. It was used in large numbers in the South African War of 1899-1902 by the Telegraph Battalion RE and became the standard field telephone of the British Army.


Telephone installation

Early telephone instruments were installed in Royal Garrison Artillery fortresses in Britain but it took some time for British officers to accept this new instrument because the early telephones were unreliable and there was no written copy of the message sent. The extensive use of telephones in the latter stages of the Boer war, however, proved their military worth. During the Boer War much use was made of the existing civilian telephones and telephone exchanges, but for field use specially designed telephones and exchanges had to be produced. The ‘C Mark 1’ was the first of a whole family of field telephones to be developed for the British Army.

18,000 miles of line, 13.5 million messages and first use of tactical comms

The Telegraph Battalion’s sections laid 18,000 miles of telegraph and telephone cable during this war. A total of 13,500,000 messages were handled in four years and the Battalion grew in strength from 600 to 2,500 men. General French used telegraph and the telephone to direct his flank formations and they were also used on the battlefield to control artillery fire. This was the first time that the Telegraph Battalion had provided tactical as well as strategic communications for the Army. This was also the first war in which telephones were used in any number and an attempt was made by the British Army to operate wireless for the first time in a campaign, but atmospheric conditions proved unsuitable.

During the last phase of the Boer War the country was divided by a chain of blockhouses linked by telephones operated by the Telegraph Battalion.

45) Adventure Training

46) Stirling Spark Set

46_Stirling Spark Set

Royal Signals Museum Wireless Set No 1Tactical radio communications were first tried during the Boer War following trials on Salisbury Plain in 1899. The War Office had purchased a set for use in South Africa, but it had proved to be a failure and the provision of communications to allow the Artillery to provide timely and accurate fire support for the Infantry remained.

Telegraph over line had been used successfully in South Africa, but this was not to prove satisfactory during the First World War. The Royal Flying Corps, formed from the Royal Engineers, developed a key role in carrying out observation of enemy lines from 1914 to 1915. To support this vital work, Marconi developed the Stirling Spark set to communicate between a spotter aircraft and a Battery Command Post (CP) on the ground. The Stirling Spark set (shown ) was fitted inside the aircraft and the antenna was hung down beneath the aircraft, weighed down by a lead weight.

Communications were only one way, and the observer would have to send his message in Morse Code to an operator in the Battery CP. This information would then be relayed onto the gun positions so that they could adjust their fire accordingly. The picture shown is from a print shown in the Museum by the artist E. Verpilleux. The message was received by a crystal receiver Mark 3.

Artillery observation remained a major role for the Royal Flying Corps throughout WW1. However, by 1917 this whole process had been streamlined. The Stirling Spark sets were replaced by radios such as the Telephone Wireless Set Mark 2 made by the General Electric Company USA. For the first time speech messages could be exchanged between the aircraft and the command post on the ground although the downside was that these voice communications could be much more easily intercepted by the enemy.

47) Thermionic Valve

47_Thermionic Valve

The photograph shows the first prototypes of Professor Sir John Ambrose Fleming’s thermionic valves, invented in 1904. These were able to rectify an alternating current (AC) to Direct Current (DC) enabling the modulation of radio signals. By 1910 this type of valve was used by companies such as the Marconi WT Company to develop more reliable radio sets and overcome the problems that had made the early radios impractical in a tactical situation.

The thermionic valve remained in use with radios until it was replaced by the transistor in the late 1960s and early 1970s which, in turn, led to the miniaturisation of radios we use today. Early radios which used thermionic valves or developments of the prototypes shown above were able to operate on the medium and long wave frequencies but remained bulky and required a large amount of battery power to operate.


The set shown  is the Wireless Set Wilson 130 Watt transmitter. This was a long wave transmitter that could work to the Short Wave Tuner Mark 2 and many other receivers. This transmitter was powerful and quite compact for its day if compared to some of the earlier equivalents which required 3 men to carry - plus another 3 men to carry the batteries and the antenna systems! The valves are exposed on the top of the transmitter but are difficult to see although the photograph below shows a clearer picture of these early valves in use with communications equipment of the time.



48) RE Signal Service Badge

In 1908, it was agreed that the Corps of Royal Engineers should form a new separate and integral branch dedicated to providing communications. This was called the Royal Engineer Signal Service. Alternative options - such as the formation of a Corps of Signals were explored but in 1912 The Signals Service was formally recognised. An example of its shoulder titles is shown.


The decision to form the Service reflected lessons identified during the colonial wars in Southern Africa and acknowledged that modern battlefield communications required specialist operators capable of handling telegraph, line and, later, wireless signals. From then on, the provision of British Army communications would become increasingly sophisticated.


The picture below shows a Royal Engineer cable section in 1910 at Rowlands Castle, two years before they were incorporated into the Royal Engineer Signal Service. When World War 1 started in August 1914, the Service had fewer than 6,000 men but this rapidly changed and by its end was 70,000 strong. Prior to the war the RE Signal Service was primarily a telegraph communications provider but by 1918 the telephone was the major means of communication on the Western Front. Wireless had just begun to play a much more significant role in military communications, not so much on the Western Front, but much more significantly in other theatres of operations around the world. It was the size and complexity of the Royal Engineer Signal Service in 1918, which drove the decision to form the Royal Corps of Signals in June 1920.







49) Telephone D Mk3

49_Telephone D Mk3

The Telephone Set D Mark 3 was introduced into service in 1915. It became the standard telephone of the British Army and was extremely successful, remaining in service until 1940. Not only was it a telephone, but it also incorporated a buzzer and an earpiece shown in the picture above. It could, therefore, be used as a Morse transmitter and receiver when the line quality was poor, which was frequently the case during trench warfare on the Western front.



Normally we associate WW1 cable laying with the cable drum to the right, laid in communications trenches or over open ground. The quality of the cable shown did not have good transmission quality hence the need of Morse telegraph. However, by the end of the War the Royal Engineer Signal Service laid much more complicated telephone cables using overhead telegraph poles similar to those still seen today. This included telephone construction around camps such as the ones at Fovant in Wiltshire. The third picture shows ice damage there in 1918 - which required a serious amount of maintenance and repair!


50) Trench Set Radio

50_Trench set Radio

Radio, or as it was called prior to the 1950’s 'Wireless', had started early in World War 1 for observers in aircraft, who could provide targets and intelligence for the artillery supporting fire. The introduction of wireless into trench warfare was much more piecemeal, especially with the use of voice instead of Morse Code.

An early attempt was the “WT Set Field Telephone, made at the War Department factory in Teddington, had separate transmitter and receiver boxes and provided both voice and Morse Code capabilities. The Trench Set Radio Mark 3 developed from these such early prototypes. It was designed in 1917, operated in the frequency range 150 KHz to 1.3 MHz. and remained in service until the early1920s when it had become obsolete.

All the challenges faced by communicators during World War 2 and subsequently, such as antennas, battery size and set reliability, were present in this wireless, which even included a compass for the operator to use to orientate the antenna correctly. One of these compasses is held in the Royal Signals Museum. It was donated originally by the operator of this set during operations fighting the Germans on the Somme front. He had to destroy the set so it did not fall into enemy hands, but then used the compass to guide him back to Corps HQ.

Another major handicap with the Trench Set Radio Mark 3 was its poor power output, which frequently necessitated the use of a power amplifier, another bulky item. This meant that the overall weight was unacceptable as, by 1918, fighting had become much mobile. This situation was to prove to be the trend leading to World War 2 and beyond; Radio sets and the associated ancillaries had to become much more portable.

History of Signalling in 100 Objects (51-100)

51) General Fowler Cocked Hat

52) Blandford Memorial

53) Monty's Command Vehicle

54) Morris-Minor Early Mechanisation

55) PRC316 Radio

56) Air Support Communications

57) Signals and Bands

58) C41 R222 Radio Relay

59) Clark Mast V2

60) Bill and Ben Statue Blandford

61) C50-C70-BRUIN Radio Relay


64) Y- Services

65) Sun Compass

66) Pink-Panther

67) Satellite Communications Capability

68) Dongola Clock

69) Rockex

70) Clansman Radio-PRC320

71) PSC506

72) Cable Wagon

73) TSC502-4

74) TSC501

75) Sweetheart Brooch



The Sweetheart Brooch held in the Royal Signals Museum dates from WW2 but the origin and history of ladies wearing military jewellery goes back to Victorian times and the Boer War - coinciding with the onset of mass production of jewellery which began in the 1880s.

History and origin

Badges and insignia which formed part of military uniform were sometimed made into brooches by jewellers. These 'Sweetheart" brooches were not only worn with pride by wives, mothers, sisters and sweethearts to demonstrate respect for someone who was serving their country but they were also used as a “Red Light” to keep opportunists away from ladies, who were affianced to members of the forces serving overseas!

 The brooches became widespread during WW1 when they were frequently made of hollowed out silver, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl and enamels. There is a photo of “Tommy Atkins and His Lady” with the title “I will be your Sweetheart ....” where the soldier is wearing the uniform of the Royal Army Medical Corps and the lady a similar badge as a brooch. During WW2 similar materials were used, but the fashion of design at the time changed with some having the military badge hanging as a pendant or being bar brooches.

Royal Signals Sweetheart BroochFeatured in the Royal Signals Museum...

There are a  number of 'superior' brooches made with gold, diamonds and silver. One such, made by the Goldsmith & Silversmiths Company Ltd of London, was worn by Princess Mary - the first Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Corps of Signals -  this is now on display in the Museum.

The Museum archive has copies of Pamela. M. Caunt's three short books on Military Sweethearts' Jewellery.

...And available to buy

There are examples of all types of sweetheart brooches - including ones using the Royal Signals badge - offered for sale in the Museum shop.  For those with expensive tastes, seeking gold and silver badges encrusted with diamonds  a bespoke jeweller will be required. The latter will set you back a bit but undobtedly is a real sign that you value your sweetheart!

Click on the link to download a PDF of this information

75_Sweetheart Brooch

76) Cougar Net

77) Everest Radio

78) HRH Princess Royal Pipe Banner

79) Vibroplex Morse Key

80) The Brassard of Cpl R A Birdsall

81) The White Helmets

82) Cormorant Communication System

83) WW2 SAS War Diary

84) Osprey Body Armour

85) Belfast Talk Thru Antenna Masts

86) Badge of the FANY

87) Cross Keys Badge of 2 Signal Regiment

88) General Deane-Drummond's Medal Set

89) Cap Badge Army Apprentices School

Cap Badge Army Apprentices School

Related articles





90) Welbike WW2 Airborne Motor Bike

91) Lomax Radio Receiver

Lomax Radio Receiver 

See also



93) Kenneth McKee German Artefacts WW2

94) Mobile Radio Access Mast - Future 5G

95) Trend Teleprinter

96) Harrier Jet - Air Support Communications

97 CEMA Emblems

Roger So Far

The Corps Centenary book 'Roger So Far" celebrates many of the Corps’ achievements during its first 100 years.

This hardback, illustrated coffee table book is packed full of stories about people, units and events in the context of campaigns, technologies and equipment. RRP £30 with discounts for Regular, Reserve and Retired Corps members.

Buy now from the Royal Signals Museum Shop