Wireless is a bit of a misnomer: messages were not transmitted over wires, but they required a great length of antenna wire mounted on an aerial masst in order to launch and receive the messages. The BF trench set, for example, required 60-80 metres (65-87 yards) of antenna wire on a 5 metre (5.5 yards) mast, made in sections for easier transport. (1) If you look carefully at yesterday‘s picture of the Marconi set on saddles, you can see such mast sections on the far left saddle. The BF set, incidentally, was supposed to be simple enough that “any bloody fool” could operate it; in more polite society, BF was understood to stand for “British Field.” (1)
Mounting an antenna in the field sometimes required ingenuity. When their mast was destroyed, and no backup was available, Boyden was ordered to string his antenna on a handy crossroad crucifix:
It is an eerie sensation to climb over an effigy of Jesus, to dig your feet into any parts of the figure offering foothold, to hold on to the outstretched arms, and breathe on to the downcast face, to fix a rope somewhere on the Cross and to hear the German machine gun tat-tatting all around.(2)
Neither he nor his colleague succeeded, much to their officer’s disapproval, but the following day they affixed their antenna to a ruined building that served the purpose and was not quite so exposed. (2)
The photograph of a surviving crossroads crucifix on the Somme is by Nick J. Stone. His album of Somme Landscapes can be seen on flickr.
(1) Jensen, Peter. Wireless at War. 2013.np.
(2) B. Neyland. Memoir (originally published in 1930 in Everyman at War, ed. C. B. Purdom). Available from the diaries section of http://www.firstworldwar.com.
Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”