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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

British morse signallers


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Below is an IWM photograph captioned "Battle of the Somme July 1916. Interior view of men using Morse code equipment in a signal exchange" I don't see any wires... Can anybody describe the equipment and what is happening ?


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There is no need to see "wires" in a signal office, it would appear that there are six seperate circuits, judging by the number of sounders

visible. These circuits would probably be routed to army/corps/divisional headquarters. Morse signals are read via the sounders (the boxes

on each bench). This equipment was used in post office telegram receiving rooms until the advent of teleprinters some 30 or 40 years ago.

The sounder employs a slightly different principle for reading the signal, where instead of reading the signal you read the silence between

the morse symbols.

Also visible are some operators actually using morse keys.

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Thanks David, can you elaborate ? This is the sort of stuff that was crucial to fighting a war where efficiency and speed of communications became increasingly important but historians ignore it. By "sounder" do you mean speakers or are they visual representations e.g. lights ? Are they the things looking like a reading lamp in front of each man ? Or the other flattish gadget at the back of the table in front of each man, except the nearest ? I would have thought with speakers blaring so close together that sounds would get confused. Why not headphones ? Were the wires under the table ? Another thing I've always wondered is that if they had telephones, what did Morse provide that telephones didn't ?

This "how it works" stuff fascinates me about history.



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what did Morse provide that telephones didn't ?

A lot

1.Morse could be transmitted over a much greater distance with much less power

2.Simpler lines (morse could be sent over a single copper wire with an earth return), This allowed lines to be laid quickly but left them open to enemy interception of signals.

3.Where more permanent lines could be laid they could handle a much greater volume of signals using morse (multiplexing devices already existed that allowed different signals to share the same cable)

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Another reason for using morse was it was a universal language i.e. there was no regional accent difficulties, no barriers between different languages

provided the operators knew the morse code and as Cent. says could be used over longer distances with a single wire.

A sounder generally consisted of a sound box (they are the ones mounted on the pedestals) and a contact relay. When the morse key was pressed the

current fed to the sounder activated a relay which followed the actions of the morse key. The noise of the relay moving was amplified by the sound box.

One advantage of not wearing headphones is of course simplification, you don't need plugs for the phones, cords don't get in the way etc. Looking

at the pic you will probably notice operators with their ears (plus head) turned towards the sounder which I would guess is somewhat directional.

Actually Rod, if you look carefully there are quite a few wires coming into that position, They probably came in in a protected cable and were distributed

around the receiving equipment as necessary, and kept out of the way to avoid accidental damage.

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Hi Rod B

Here is the Double current baseboard type from the photograph, I have labeled the components,to be of help.

Also here is a look at more WW1 morse signals equipment from my collection if Interested.



Regards Jonathan

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