Memories of wartime radio

I feel that the story about the '˜exciting' discovery of a wartime air raid shelter at a Castle Terrace residence (Berwick Advertiser, May 5) deserves the benefit of some localised comment.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 22 May, 2016, 08:00

As a 12-year-old living in nearby Railway Street, I was fascinated by the array of radio antennae strung in a triangular form between three large aerial masts to the rear of the property, then owned by the Steven family. Old Mrs Steven was a real pleasant lady and her three sons, Ian, Ferrier and Watson, were no exception.

Being fascinated by radio, I admired the aerial assembly frequently and later made the discovery it once housed ‘the shack’, a parlance for radio room by ‘ham’ amateur radio operators.

It was, in fact, a war-time nerve centre for intercepted communications and was authorised by, I believe, the War Office, now known as the Ministry of Defence.

Its operative was Mr G.F. Steven (radio call-sign G5BA), whose many wireless telegraphy signals were redirected to a central location for decoding as the majority were encrypted by an early form of frequency shift keying, and emanated from patrolling German surface ships and U-boats prowling on Merchant and Royal Navy ships in the North Sea and elsewhere.

Intelligence reports, said to be filled by Mr Steven, let to Fleet Air Arm and RAF surveillance aircraft pinpointing the many would-be intruders – all were heavily armed.

On once occasion during World War II a passenger express steam train had to be halted halfway over the Royal Border Bridge due to an air raid by the Luftwafte. The steam engine was driven by Mr J ‘Catwire’ Mace, who lived in nearby Castlegate.

Strategically built as it is, the house not only has a lovely aspect to the West and North West over the Cheviot hills and those of the Eildons, but also has the advantage of being a natural ground plane for both transmissions and reception of radio traffic by way of its close proximity to the River Tweed and North Sea. Its elevation, too, is something of a bonus.

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Other radio operators in the then Border Net amateur radio fraternity still flourish, but sadly, the all time greats are now ‘silent keys’ (deceased).

Some of these were Mr Walter Baker (G3AFL) who lived in Devon Terrace, Mr O.C. Doley who lived with his parents in nearby Norham (G3BRA), Mr J Kennedy (G6UC) who lived in Spittal, Mr R Lyall, a resident of Wooler, and Mr Sid Young who lived at Berwick Hill.

Nowadays, despite gizmos such as mobiles, ipads, emails and, of course, computers, there is an abundance of numerical confusion and, in fact, illiterate abuse. Sadly, much, of this is going without ramification.

Being a retired archaeologist, perhaps the new proprietor may like to indulge in a few more digs as it’s surprising what lies below ground in Berwick and district.

Eric Allen

Berwick-upon-Tweed