More memories of wartime life as a Morse code operator

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From: Connie Hird, Mount Drive, Bridlington.

RATHER late, I enjoyed the letter from Rachel Maister of Ripon about being a Morse slip reader (The Yorkshire Post, January 9) and am so pleased to know that there are still some of we wartime “dot/dash operators” left alive! At 94 years of age, I am still going strong and Rachel’s letter took me back to Compton Bassett in Wiltshire, where I did my initial training towards being a full-blown wireless operator.

This included sending and receiving Morse code messages and the assembling, repairing and full understanding of wireless sets in use at the time. I progressed after this in-depth training to a post at North West Central Communications Depot just off the old East Lancashire Road at Blackbrook near Wigan.

The outward appearance of this extremely important centre resembled a huddle of hen and chicken huts in a small hedge-lined field, but these masked the entrance to a huge underground complex containing masses of rooms holding banks of teleprinters, telephone switchboards, Morse code stations and wireless telegraphy sections. A wartime forerunner, I suppose of today’s giant computer industry.

All the messages sent and received in this hut of activity were in code, so we never really fully understood the importance of what we were purveying.

We were transported daily to and from our billets in the nearby Winstanley Hall, an elegant building set in an attractive parkland estate close to Wigan, which had been requisitioned by the War Office. The owners must have been horrified at seeing what was happening to their beautiful home while they had to live in a small suite of rooms at the rear of the hall.

We lesser ranks were housed in Nissen huts in the grounds; freezing in winter and stifling hot in summer, with only one small coke stove in the centre for warmth. The beds near the stove were jealously guarded, and commandeered by the corporals in charge. On rainy days and nights sleep was impossible for the continuous noise like peas on a drum of the rain on the metal roof.

Our officers were quartered in the hall building itself, we lower mortals only having access to this beautiful place for our meals which were taken in the main hall, though we were also allowed leisure facilities in the fine wood-panelled library which also contained a gramophone with a wide range of records. How I managed to get to my then home in Bradford on weekend passes, only by hitchhiking as no trains were available cross country, or buses either, is another matter!