The Y Service 1939-1945



After six weeks of primary training the new men had a choice of units; in the Army all soldiers are trained as infantrymen first and tradesmen second. One of the Royal Corps of Signals training camps was at Queensbury, just outside Bradford, where soldiers were trained to become Operator Wireless and Line men (OWL for short) To Morse code training was added electricity and magnetism, wireless theory, field telephones and exchanges and their use on active service. One instrument was the Fuller phone, (named after its RE inventor, “Major Fuller”) it enabled Morse (CW) and voice to be passed simultaneously on the same cable or line without interfering with each other, and was immune from interception. It was still in use in 1945 some 29 years after its invention.

The daily pay for a signaller was 3 shillings per day, or 15 pence in modern currency, less barrack damages! Trainees had to reach a speed of 17 words per minute (wpm) but many failed this test due to their writing being indecipherable at that speed or being unable to keep their concentration for the half an hour of testing.

The few survivors of the tests were given a look at the work in which they would be involved during the coming months and years. From 1000 volunteers only approximately 60 would pass the tests for ‘Y' service.

The first weeks of Army life needs no description as everyone who enlisted suffered the same experiences. Following basic training he was then posted to an Operators Training Battalion to learn the intricacies of the work of an Operator Wireless and Line, commonly called “Owls” The course was 20 weeks long with an examination at the end of 12 weeks, the lowest trade qualification for an operator was ‘Group E' Assistant Operator. The next 8 weeks was to train for the final examination, which was for Morse code at 18 words per minute. Speed is calculated at five letters per word, and 18 wpm represents 1.5 letters per second. Success in the final examination would earn the rating of Operator Wireless and Line, Group B Class 3, which carried a pay increase of sixpence per day (2.5p per day).

During that last few weeks of training the course Instructor could identify members of the course who had the gift of recognising each other's fists, and duly reported this fact to the Chief Instructor. A few days later they would be summon to the CI's office and their attention was drawn to an item in Daily Orders. It read, “Operators holding B rating, or able to read Morse at 17 wpm are invited to volunteer for Hazardous duties. “Hazardous” caused the heart to experience a momentary miss fire, but this soon passed.

In the NAAFI the walls were papered with posters urging people to join various things. A National Savings poster depicting a beautiful girl with a caption Everyone Has Someone Worth Saving For, was sandwiched between one of a Paratrooper demanding that men should join him in Britain's elite regiment and one of a couple of smiling Glider Pilots sporting their wings with a caption tempting men to join the Glider Regiment. Now most of the new enlistment would never step off a moving bus if there were any other way of getting off, and the prospect of stepping off a moving aeroplane was not attractive. One thought there could be no more hazardous duties than the two on the posters and the fear that they might be forcibly posted to one or the other made this new offer less unattractive. There were, however, three factors which influenced the decisions. Firstly there was the curious choice of speed, 17 wpm this was not a standard in anyone's language, and they were intrigued to find out why.

Secondly, the wording of the item, you were “invited” so polite, so gentlemanly, in stark contrast to the exhortations of those posters. Thirdly, the CI's benign face as he held out a pen with which to sign the application form he had pushed before each of the volunteers. Probably the most imminent hazard they faced was the CI's anger if they declined to sign.

The volunteers were sent off to Huddersfield with many others from different units and subjected to Morse tests, dictation, personal history forms, interviews, lunch, more interviews, following each of which the numbers of volunteers dwindled as men and women were deemed unsuitable for a job of which they were totally ignorant. A final session raised but slightly the curtain of mystery surrounding it and they were given the opportunity to withdraw their applications, which some did, Thus ended the 1 st day, during which all the officers conducting the interviews were “armed” all the volunteers were threatened with dire consequences if they were to breath a word of what had transpired during that day. So fierce were the threats they feared they all might be locked up in the Tower of London, they even admitted that they had ever heard of Huddersfield.

Those selected were told to pack in readiness for a medical examination the collection of movement orders and the whole military paraphernalia relating to a posting within a few days. Then by train to Fleetwood, picking up more fresh faces along the route until the group now numbered 60. Mustered in Fleetwood they were then told of the destination Douglas, Isle of Man, where they were to join a Special Operators (Mixed) Training Battalion, Royal Corps of Signals and that was the first official notification of the group's selection. They were also told that this group represented just 6% of the original volunteers, and that those not selected would not be given another chance. In Douglas they were given two pieces of disappointing news, they all only qualified to Group E as Assistant Operators and despite having completed the B3 course they all must start at the beginning of the Special Operators course. They would retain the pay for the Group E rating. Then the start of another 20 weeks of training awaited them.

It was about this time they were told that the normal 10 days leave on completing the B3 course, while awaiting posting would not now be enjoyed as the new course was to start the next morning.

Training covered such subjects as German and Italian Army, Navy and Air Force procedures in the handing and passing of messages, and those of the German and Italian civil police and railways and the Germen Military Government of Occupied Territories, Their technical knowledge was advanced as it was felt that a operator could find himself isolated from the Instrument Mechanics and need to maintain and repair his our wireless sets was a help. Morse reigned supreme, but not as they had known it in the OWL days. It was clearly out of the question to ask the enemy to repeat any part of a message that was unreadable, so they were practiced in the art of reading the weakest signal through the worst possible levels of interference. This was achieved by first reading perfectly “formed” clean Morse, sent by the instructor. Gradually, signals generated by Creed machine were introduced to compete with the hand sent signals. Then the instructor's receiver was added to the general din and finally the ‘ Noise Machine” was introduced. This was a fiendish device which generated squeaks, hisses and “crashes” all of this and still the operators still had to read the Morse with 100% accuracy.

There followed a test if they passed they only would be graded as Assistant Operator Special (D3), one step up from the OWL rating. It made no difference to the pay, and then they had their deferred 10 days leave.

On their return they were plunged into (DF) Direction-Finding and The Japanese Army and Navy procedures (their had no independent Air Force). It would have been pointless to the procedures without also teach the Japanese Morse, an alphabet of 73 characters and finally Morse tests were at a speed of 20 words per minute. Now only rated Op spec B3 and this time received an extra sixpence (2.5p) a day. Concurrently with all this specialist training their skills in rifle and Bren gun firing, field craft and all the other aspects of a first class infantryman's life were honed.

Only then was the preparation for the real job of intercepting enemy wireless (radio) signals completed, which could well be vital to the successful prosecution of the war.

Training completed they all were moved to holding Company from which new Sections were formed and replacements were drawn. At this Company they were taught to erect 72' (22 meter) aerial masts, and became familiar with many pieces of equipment, which they might encounter later.





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