Greetings from the Original Wireless Set No. 19 Group!
This article will introduce the Group, outline some of the activities and, hopefully, gain support for some very ambitious operations.
The group was started in late 1991 when Chris Bisaillion (VE3CBK) and David Lawrence (VA3ORP) found that they shared a common interest in the communications aspects of military history.
The first significant "on-air" event was on 1 January 1992 with the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Wireless Set No. 19 into the Canadian Army.
Since that time there have been dozens of public displays, a monthly voice net for North American collectors and a weekly Morse code training net to sharpen CW skills.
The membership is made up of serving and retired service personnel, some WW-II veterans, re-enactors, vehicle collectors, engineers, shortwave listeners and a number of "free spirits" who simply share our interest in the subject. The majority are Amateur Radio operators and most have at least one of the ubiquitous 19 Sets occupying pride-of-place in their homes.
The Group has very close ties with the Military Communications and Electronics Museum at Canadian Forces Base Kingston (Kingston, Ontario) and with the Museum of Applied Military History (a "living history" group based largely in Ontario).
There is no budget, no membership fee, no meetings to attend, no minutes to write or any of the other trappings of large, formal organizations. This is as it should be, as such activities detract from the main objective which is to, "...collect, restore and operate vintage military communications equipment...".
The following paragraphs will outline how that is being accomplished.
The 95th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals was a great opportunity for the Group to meet the public. This was held at Canadian Forces Base Kingston on the first weekend of September 1998 with excellent organization provided by the Signaller's Club of Canada.
For our part, the Group took on the task of delivering a message from Mr. John Fitsell to the Commandant of the Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics.
Mr. Fitsell, a 100-year-old veteran of both world wars, had served as a regimental signaller (19th Bn) at Vimy Ridge in 1917. His message arrived in Kingston using the amateur radio "packet" system of computers and UHF/VHF radios.
The second leg was by D.R.L.S. - horse mounted and wearing complete WW-I kit. Then a short link using "Flags, Signalling, 2-Foot", "Lamps, Signalling, Daylight, Short Range" and the "Heliograph, 5-Inch" (at short range the heliograph is VERY bright!).
Next came a wireless link using the C-42 set working to a CPRC-26 on 50.6 MHz. Then a pair of "Type D, Mk V" field telephones were pressed into service to get the message to the operating position of the VE3RCS club station.
From there another wireless link using a W.S. No. 19 talking to a W.S. No. 48. Finally the message was delivered to the Commandant, on the parade square, using a 500 cc Norton of WW-II vintage and in excellent running condition.
Total time for the Kingston activity was one hour and 32 minutes - a bit long for a 26-group message travelling slightly over a mile! The only equipment problem encountered was with a 144 MHz backup link that failed due to a bad ni-cad battery - all of the vintage gear worked perfectly!
In keeping with the spirit of the event, most of the operators were in vintage uniforms and the centre piece for the operation was a WW-II bell tent erected in front of the School Headquarters.
In January and February of 1999, Operation ATLANTIC HOP - II (AH-II) was mounted. The objective was simple - establish trans-Atlantic contact using Wireless Sets No. 19.
In practice, using a chirpy 15-watt transmitter and a 57-year-old receiver with 15 kHz bandwidth to work trans-Atlantic on 7 MHz is not so simple!
To add to the difficulty, success was defined as passage and confirmation of the five-part exchange used with our Vintage Operator's Award (name, location, signal report, equipment type, equipment serial number). For more information about that award see SUPPORT.
The operation was conducted on seven different mornings with twenty 19 Sets operating and an additional ten stations monitoring. Success was achieved on 27 February between 0605Z and 0618Z when WF2U (Long Island, NY,) and LA5MT (Oslo, Norway) passed the exchange both ways over a distance of 5,868 Km.
A number of partial exchanges were also completed amongst the other operators in the seven participating countries. Much was learned during this operations and the lessons are documented in a detailed "after action report".
It also made us aware of the keen interest in vintage operations all over the world and initiated planning for even more ambitious projects.
The Group participated in Vintage Field Day 1999. Again, there was no problem finding people willing to get up/stay up at odd hours just for the opportunity to experience what the WW-II operator had to face as a daily routine.
There were 14 operators in seven countries with everything ranging from a W.S. No. 18 to the E-3 AWACS! Noteable performance was a 500-Km W.S. No. 19 to W.S. No. 18 link between VE3CBK (Ottawa) and W1NU (Fairfield, CT).
There was also a Kingston/Vancouver link established over a distance of 3,540 Km (vintage gear at Kingston end only). Again, several lessons were learned and some new procedures are being considered as a result.
So there has been a lot of activity and considerable success - but to what purpose? To someone interested in history, particularly military history, the understanding of events is greatly enhanced by first-hand knowledge of what the participants had to tolerate.
Collecting the "tools of war", restoring them and then using them in a similar environment begins to give the historian a context in which to understand the events.
We cannot fully re-create those circumstances nor would any of us wish to endure those hardships.
But it puts us in a better position to ask the right questions, to counter the "Hollywood" portrayal of the events and to appreciate the results of the sacrifice made.
Lofty ideals perhaps but certainly worthwhile.
(David Lawrence, VA3ORP, served as a Communications and Electronics Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. Since his retirement in 1996 he has been an active volunteer in the Military Communications and Electronics Museum. Chris Bisaillion, VE3CBK, is an Electrical Engineer who worked for Canadian Marconi prior to joining SR Telecom. He has an extensive collection of 19 Sets and related reference material. They both drink single malt whisky.)
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