Remembrance Day is just that. A day to remember members of armed forces who died in the line of duty. Originating as “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, it was originally called Armistice Day to honor the end of World War I in 1918. Today, I would like to especially remember radio people at war.
I have been fortunate to live in a time and place when and where I was not required to kill or be killed. But as a radio announcer and ham radio operator, I should reflect on the contributions of radio announcers and ham radio operators who served society during the Second World War.
Broadcast Radio People at War
Radio broadcasting was the critical mass medium during WWII. It was the main source of information and entertainment on the home front, and morale boosting for the boys “over there.” There was a level of censorship that modern journalist would find quite strange. While a great deal of news was reported, often dangerously from the front lines, certain details were obscured and some were withheld completely.
I don’t believe that radio announcing or journalism were “reserved occupations”. So, while some radio announcers and newsmen continued in these roles, many others were conscripted or enlisted.
The CBC, BBC and major US radio networks were the major source of news coverage in near real time. For the troops, the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) became the main vehicle for boosting morale. Churchill, FDR and other leaders made extensive use of radio broadcasting. Roosevelt’s fireside chats and Churchill’s House of Commons speeches were notable. On the other side of the coin, Germany and Japan made extensive use of English language propaganda broadcasts featuring their notable “announcers” Lord Haw Haw and Tokyo Rose.
If you are interested in a compilation of WWII radio broadcasts, try this. Yes radio broadcasting, announcers and journalists were all “tools of war”, but the radio people did their best to inform and entertain under difficult circumstances.
Ham Radio People at War
Ham radio operators, on the other hand, were forced off the ham bands when hostilities began. Almost every country in the world rescinded ham radio privileges for the duration. The reasons for this were obvious. However, since “wireless” was so instrumental, especially to the sea war, many hams served as radio operators in the armed forces. They also provided their expertise as wireless direction finders. Perhaps more important, they provided a large pool of qualified technicians which were badly needed in all branches of service.
More than a thousand hams were asked to be voluntary interceptors in the United Kingdom. They also joined the Radio Security Service (RSS) which provided support for the code breakers at Bletchley Park. Together, these groups were responsible responsible for capturing the contents of millions of encoded radio messages sent by the Germans and their allies. In the United States, thousands of hams joined the War Emergency Radio Service (WERS) which kept them on the air providing civilian emergency communications in this civil defense organization.
Since I was born after the war, all of these things are history that I never experienced. But I should never forget.