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Time spent tapping out Morse code at school

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: April 16, 2014

  • Profile of the practice buzzer

  • The Morse code buzzer from Calvin's schooldays

  • Calvin Tonks tapping out S.O.S.

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DOT, dot, dot, dash, dash, dash, dot, dot, dot, (SOS), is historically the most important Morse code message ever used, most famously as a distress signal aboard the RMS Titanic after it struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912.

It was adopted as a distress signal by the German government on April 1, 1908, and became a worldwide standard from July 1, 1908. SOS remained the maritime distress signal until 1999, when it was replaced by the Global Maritime Distress Safety System.

In response to a feature about Morse code that was published in our March 13 edition, Calvin Tonks of Dudley paid a visit to Bugle House with another Morse code key he has had since his childhood days.

He told us, "I was intrigued by the article and the pictures of Stan Warner's dummy key, used for tapping out that familiar Morse code sound. I've got to go back to the early '50s and my days at Park School, Dudley, to rekindle memories of my introduction to Morse code, where a group of us lads took a shine to pretending to signal to ships in distress out in the ocean.

"We learnt a few tricks from the wireless as sometimes, if the wind was in the right direction, you could pick up the shipping channels and invariably the tell-tale sound of the Morse code across the airwaves. If the signal was slow and laborious it was probably being sent by an apprentice signaller and you could spell out some of the words. But more often than not it was a skilled operator communicating with another and tapping out the Morse so fast the dots and dashes became a blur.

"Our science teacher at Park School was Mr. Jacques, and when he got wind of what we were doing, trying to send Morse code in a very amateurish way, just messing about really, he warned us of the consequences and the need for licenses, etc. But I hope he recognised that we were at least taking an interest in the art of communication.

"My best mate in those days was Roger who gave me the Morse code apparatus. But where he got it from is anyone's guess. Perhaps because it was so soon after the war, it may have been passed on by a relative, who used it for training purposes as a member of the armed forces."

For an encore to Calvin's visit he tapped out his name in Morse code, and of course the poignant sound of the SOS was heard again. "It's been terrific to rekindle memories of playing with my school chums back in the '50s, and I must admit I didn't think my Morse code key would ever see the light of day again."

If you have any stories to tell from your schooldays, please email editor@blackcountrybugle.co.uk. or contact Bugle House 01384 567678.

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