Friday, June 26, 2015

Wartime Radio in Australia: WW I

Historians tell us that World War 1 began on Tuesday July 28, 1914 when bristling hostilities between various countries and ethnic cultures on continental Europe boiled over into open warfare.  Country after country declared war on each other and large armies marched over the borders into neighboring territories thus changing forever the political geography for multi-millions of people.
            At the time, all 19 maritime wireless stations around continental Australia and on neighboring islands had been completed and were on the air in Morse Code.  All of these spark gap transmitters, with callsigns in descending alphabetic order beginning with VIA and ending with VIZ, were communicating with each other and with passing shipping on a regular basis.    
            Less than two weeks after the commencement of open hostilities on continental Europe, the Australian government required that all experimental wireless equipment had to be surrendered to the government authorities no later than Thursday August 6 (1914).  From that time onwards, no unauthorized transmitting nor receiving of wireless signals was permitted.
            However, there were a few licensed exceptions to this government mandate; and for example, Charles Maclurcan in the Hotel Wentworth in Sydney was permitted to continue his experimental transmissions with the use of his own equipment under the callsign X2CM.  He had been licensed three years earlier with the experimental callsign XDM.
            In the same hotel location, Maclurcan had operated the temporary maritime communication station AAA with the primitive studio equipment on the sixth floor of the family hotel and the transmitter and two antenna masts on the roof.  The ultra-modern Hotel Wentworth today, at the same location in Phillip Street, is in close walking distance to the iconic Opera House and the equally famed Sydney Harbour Bridge.
            Both the army and the navy in Australia utilized wireless equipment for tactical and training purposes during the war.  For example, the army operated two mobile transmitters at the Mitcham army encampment in Adelaide South Australia under the consecutive callsigns WAA and WAB. 
            The island called Garden Island is located in Sydney Harbour just off the edge of the shoreline quite close to the big Bridge and to the Opera House.  In the days before European colonization, Garden Island was part of the territory of the Aboriginal Eora tribe.
            Ten days after the arrival of the First Fleet from England in 1788, the island was taken over for use as a kitchen garden to provide food for the new settlers, hence the name.  In fact, the oldest graffiti in Australia may still be seen on Garden Island; ship steward Frederick Meredith carved his initials in the soft sandstone, FM 1788.
            Garden Island is just a ¼ mile long and even less wide.  In 1811 the ownership of the island was transferred from the navy to the Governors Residence.  However, no transfer papers were every signed, and the navy reclaimed the island 55 years later.  Historians tell us that the oldest lawn tennis court in Australia was established on Garden Island in the year 1880, and it is still in use to this day.  
            During the early part of World War 2, a series of tunnels was dug into the island and landfill was taken to join the island to the shoreline. Garden Island is no longer an island, even though it still carries the name. 
            A few days after the commencement of World War 1 in continental Europe on July 28, 1914, the well known Australian radio company AWA installed a wireless station on the island as part of the navy base.  This station was installed in the record time of just 4 days, and it was inaugurated for use with Morse Code transmissions under the callsign VKQ.
            During the Japanese attack on Sydney Harbour on the night of May 30, 1942, the midget submarine M-24 fired a torpedo that struck the HMAS Kuttabul which exploded, broke in two, and sank.  The explosion damaged the lighting system on Garden Island, and it also silenced the naval radio station. 
            The fate of the midget submarine M-24 was unknown for more than 60 years.  However, it was relocated quite by chance in November 2006 by a group of scuba divers some three miles off Bungan Head, about 25 miles north of Sydney.  The M-24 was sitting upright on the sea floor, 180 feet underwater, and it showed several machine gun bullet holes; apparently slow flooding had brought this vessel to a standstill.
            The combined remains of two other midget submarines, combined into one unit, are on display in the Heritage Center Museum on Garden Island.

 (AWR/wavescan/NWS 330)