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Morse Code Machine

by Alex Tucker

by Alex Tucker, Chichester High School

 

This Morse code machine was used by John George Bridgland, a member of the Nutbourne/Chidham Home Guard during the years 1940-1946.

The device is attached to a slab of wood and made of metal. Its condition is well-worn as the paint is minimal and the metal features rust and corrosion. The metal base has the alphabet and its respective Morse code symbols next to each other however, this has faded over time.

Morse code is a method of encryption using of a series of dots and dashes that equate to letters from the alphabet. For example: '.... . .-.. .-.. -' = hello. These can then be sent via sound, light or radio waves and decoded by a skilled listener without the need for specialised equipment. The reason Morse code was used was extra precaution against axis intelligence gaining vital information from British communication.

 

At roughly 9:30PM, 8th October 1940, a returning allied Beaufort Torpedo Bomber's starboard engine ceased to function causing the aeroplane to descend rapidly. On board was a single torpedo; capable of sinking a battleship, however, luckily the pilot managed to level the craft out therefore avoiding a certain death for the crew. Nonetheless, the Beaufort crash landed in Chidmere causing her crew to suffer injuries of varying severity. Villagers were quick to arrive at the scene including Rev Cecil Ronald Evans, rector of the parish since 1937. He later sent a letter to the Civil Defence office informing them of the event and his men's bravery. The draft said:

"About 8 pm on the night of Tuesday 8th October, one of our bombers crashed on the garden of Chidmere [House] in this parish on its way to Thorney aerodrome as it was returning from a raid.

On crashing, the machine burst into flames and [from] which, those of the crew escaped with slight injury, one was badly hurt and unconscious. The other members of the crew were unable to get him out but two of my parishioners - Mr G. Parker and Mr L Hackett - acting with great bravery succeeded in dragging the man from his plane flying machine in spite of the fact that his parachute harness was entangled in parts of the machine plane. Mr Parker had his face and neck burnt and both he and Mr Hackett were affected by the fumes and both were very sick.

I did not actually see the event described as I was on the other side of the plane but I believe the captain of the craft would confirm and explain the details.

I sincerely trust that the two men will receive appropriate recognition for their work and gallantry."

The Local Defence Volunteers was set up in May, 1940, to act as the last form of defence from an expected German invasion. Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War, broadcasted a message calling for men between the ages of 17-65 to enrol in the Local Defence Volunteers and by August, 1940, roughly 1.5 million men had joined; much to the surprise of the government which had predicted a significantly lower amount of volunteers. The Local Defence Volunteers was also changed to the 'Home Guard' as a more inspiring name. Initially, there was no uniform for the volunteers and a distinctive lack of weaponry as most had been taken by the army. As a result of this, the volunteers used their own weapons such as shotguns and hunting rifles. In some cases broom sticks and other variants of 'make-do' close quarter instruments were used.

The main aim of the Home Guard was to act as sentries on Britain's coastline (watching for signs of a German invasion). Some aspects of their training was learning simple German phrases; for example 'hande hoch!' = 'hands up!'. The Home Guard mostly trained in the evenings on activities such as weapons handling, basic sabotage and unarmed combat. This also boosted morale for many who couldn't take part in the army as it enabled them to contribute to the war effort often including many veterans of the Great War fought just 21 years earlier. As a German invasion never occurred, the Home Guard's main practical duty was to round up downed German planes and its crew.

Although the Home Guard in 1940 was seen us under-equipped and ill-prepared, by 1944, the Home Guard was well-trained and well-equipped for an invasion but this of course never happened resulting in the Home Guard being disbanded in December 1944 while the allied advancement to Berlin was nearing completion.