ROYAL NAVY AND THE VERSATILE TELEGRAPHIST!

It is an indisputable fact [recorded in print for posterity] that the Boy Telegraphist [from the late 1950's aka RO'S - Radio Operators - at HMS Ganges was the brightest of all trainees. That accolade was extended into the Fleet, the proper navy, this time extolling the employment and professionalism of the telegraphist, who, by and large, surpassed his peers on the lower deck and was generally considered by the wardroom as being "an intelligent rating" whereas others were clearly not!

That leading paragraph applied, in most respects, to ratings of the other part of the communications branch, namely the signalman, although it was not demanded of him to have the speed of reaction [alertness] and the highly honed dexterity required to handle high speed  Morse, machine or manually generated, which was a pre-requisite to become a telegraphist in the navy. Indeed, the route of an under-performing telegraphist was first to be back-classed; then to be re-categorised to boy signalman; then given an option of re-categorisation to boy seaman or back to civvy street.  Notwithstanding the need to acquire a level of concentration few humans need or use in life, was that rare discipline to train the brain to read Morse through interference, when often the interference was much stronger than the Morse, almost indiscernible to the untrained ear/brain resolution processes. Such an occurrence was stated as being a poor signal to noise ratio [S/N] often expressed by two three-letter operating signals, one, QRK for readability of the desired signal and the other, QSA for the strength of the desired signal, e.g., QRK5 QSA3 would indicate a relatively weak signal but perfectly readable, whereas QRK 2 QSA 5 indicates a strong signal but virtually unreadable [for unstated reasons]. This ability to process information in the brain at rapid speeds and to record it one hundred percent accurately simultaneously, somehow affected the ability to process other brain functions, albeit at a slower pace, and without necessarily having to transcribe an instantaneous answer as proof of a correct resolution.

The telegraphist branch was also unique in the navy because it had several sub branches, all requiring the skill of reading and sending Morse code signals at a speed of 20 wpm at least, but all conducted in very different operational environments. These were:

1. Telegraphist Air - aka Flying 'Tels and TAG's [telegraphist air gunners].

2. Telegraphists SWS - Shore Wireless Service - non seagoing personnel.

3. Telegrahists GS - General Service where wireless telegraphy was their one and only prime duty.

4. Telegraphist S/M - Submarine Service where submarine duties were preeminent, with telegraphy as their subsequent duty as and when required. Signalmen also served in the submarine service from the earliest of times until 1964 when telegraphists took over the signalman's duties. However, the signalman was 90% a submariner and only 10% a signalman and obviously the boat was on the surface at these times. As such, the new responsibility for telegraphists was not onerous!

5. Telegraphist 'S' - 'S' signifying "Special". They were cold war specialists concentrating on processing foreign and enemy Morse code alphabets, and being able to interpret their transpositions. They were trained linguists/interpreters in WARSAW PACT languages, chiefly Russian.

6. Telegraphist - Commando Communicator - A small group of RN telegraphists were selected to be trained as commando's and paratroopers on Naval Gunfire Support [NGS]/forward observer duties attached to the Royal Artillery.

Telegraphists were volunteers and had to be super-fit to even start their training. Once trained, they were attached to 95 Commando Forward Observers at Hamworthy Poole in Dorset. They were dropped close by to or behind enemy lines as forward observers, there to direct gun and missiles firings from friendly units [land, sea or air] onto enemy targets using either Morse code or voice communication circuits. A forward observation unit comprised of 1 Royal Artillery army officer, 1 bombadier plus two other soldiers acting as drivers and operators. The R.N., radio operator usually held a military driving licence and acted as the third driver/operator. As a secondary function, the Commando Communicator was used as a forward observer on NGS Duties, on firing ranges at home and overseas, e.g., at St Albans Head [3 miles SW of Swanage Dorsetshire - Cape Teleuda [Sardinia] - Pulau Aur [Singapore] - Filfa [Malta].

The Commando Communicators wore green berets and a parachutists badge on their uniform. In mid summer 1976 their SSP [special service pay] was 65ppd. Whilst becoming a commando took them away from main-stream branch involvement/developments, they nevertheless stayed in the sparkers sub-branch and were advanced to higher rates alongside other telegraphists in the R.N. There was no defined period for being an active Commando, but keeping super fit had a finite period before one began to slow down, and normally fitness was a defining moment. Returning to general service is hard work after a long absence, catching up with modern methods, but with hard work, it can be done. I know because I returned to general service after over 10 years away in submarines and soon acquired the knowledge and skills on re-entry.

What follows is a route map for the training and deployment of a Commando Communicator

 

Farewell and good sailing. Sadly, all these items/events have long gone now.