Monday, January 06, 2014

The Amazing Story of Three Wireless Stations in China

Immediately after the end of World War 1, the Marconi company in England took out a contract in 1918 to erect three wireless stations in remote areas of interior China.  These three stations were planned for installation at Urga, Urumchi and Kashgar.  As an additional part of the contract, Marconi would provide 600 portable wireless stations for local and regional communication. 
            Urga means “Residence” in the Mongolian language and it was the old name for Ulaan Baatar in what is now Mongolia.  Urumchi is located in north west China; the name means “Beautiful Pasture” in the Mongolian language and it was a major hub along the famous ancient trade route between Asia and Europe, the Silk Road.  Kashgar means “Mount Kash” in the old Persian language and it is located in the far west of China; it was an oasis along this same famous Silk Road.
            In 1919, Major S. T. Dockray was commissioned by the Marconi company to install the three wireless stations, each at 25 kW, in the three remote areas of interior China.  The first station was intended for installation at Urga/Ulaan Baatar, and a large consignment of wireless equipment was shipped from England to Shanghai on coastal China, including three steel towers each 100 ft long and weighing more than 300 tons.
            This huge consignment of wireless equipment was taken by rail to Kalgan (which means “Frontier Gate”) in Chinese Inner Mongolia and then by camel and bullock cart across the Gobi Desert to Mongolia, a distance of 800 miles.  Ultimately, this new wireless station was installed, tested and taken into regular service, and Dockray journeyed back into China, to Peking, or Beijing as it is known today.  
            However, in Peking, Dockray discovered that the Mongolian station was silent, so he made an arduous return journey to Urga, only to discover that the area was in the midst of a local war.  He re-activated the wireless station, which was then badly damaged by artillery fire.  He was arrested as an English spy, he escaped, was subsequently quarantined during a raging epidemic of Bubonic Plague, and ultimately returned to Peking.
            When the local war in Mongolia was terminated and the area was taken over again by the central government, Dockray once again returned to Urga and re-activated the station once more.  However, there were still two more stations to be installed, one at Urumchi and the other at Kashgar.
            Dockray journeyed to inland Fengchen where he arranged an enormous caravan to convey the massive pile of wireless equipment to distant Urumchi.  This caravan, considered to be the world’s largest ever, was made up of 1,200 camels, 468 horses and 117 bullock carts.  
            When everything arrived at Urumchi, the local army general at first resisted the installation of the station.  However, when all obstacles were finally overcome, this new station was activated in August 1922.
            It took another journey of two months duration to move from Urumchi to Kashgar, across rugged mountain ranges and swift flowing rivers.  This station, the third in the Marconi wireless network in China, was completed and activated in May 1923, five and six years since the beginning of the project way back in 1918. 

            The project director, Major S. T. Dockray, returned to Peking from Kashgar, via the Mintaka Pass in the high Himalayas into Kashmir, down to Calcutta and then by ship back to coastal China.  When he finally arrived back in Peking, he discovered to his delight that all three stations, Urga, Urumchi and Kashgar, were all still active and on the air.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 254)