My grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel L.E. James was the commander of ‘A’ Corps Reserves during WWII. As such he was often called on for interviews in Toronto Newspapers and on radio. My mother has some of his archives – a grand word for what are really scrapbooks – which have been the source of many an inspiration as I write.
When I first began a novel that is now called Unravelled, I needed to understand the role that Signals plays in war. Here’s what Grandpa wrote for a radio broadcast in March of 1943.
In British history, first mention of signalling for purely military purposes, tells of the besieged early Britons encamped behind the Roman wall, temporarily throwing Caesar’s legions into great confusion through the use of secret smoke signals, which communicated the strategy of defence to a courageous, but hopelessly inadequate Briton’s army.
Since that time military signalling has played a prominent and consistently progressive role in coordinating the movements of the Empire’s armed forces, but it was not until comparatively recent times that the signals branch of the Army reached its true status, for even the great Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, occupying a front only two miles long, had to rely on mounted messengers to communicate with his field officers. Today, with expert signallers an army maintaining a front extended over 150 miles of territory may be made to manoeuvre as one man. Actually, it was the past 90 years that brought forth virtually all major developments in military signalling, starting with visual signal systems such as the heliograph; the semaphore system, which first employed the use of flags; carrier pigeons – the forerunner of today’s despatch riders – and still doing yoeman service with the army, navy and air force; down to the Walkie-Talkie wireless set, which enables the scout on reconnaissance to keep in touch with headquarters.
It was in 1856, however, that the greatest and most far reaching development of them all took place — this was the introduction of telegraphy into military signalling. In the Crimean War British engineers laid 20 miles of telegraph cable — its use and efficiency in the campaign immediately established this new and then revolutionary invention as the ultimate in military signalling methods. Since that time, the Royal Corps of Signals has become known as the eyes and nerves of the service, for in modern warfare an army without its Signal Corps could not exist, and signallers must be expert in every known means of communication, through the use of lamps visible only a few yards, carrier pigeon, runner, despatch rider, telephone, teletypewriter, telegraph or wireless — across oceans and continents it is their business to organize, construct, operate and maintain all necessary and possible means of transmitting intelligence that may be required by an army at war.
He goes on to solicit recruits for the Reserves, reminding listeners that:
the war is just entering its most dangerous and crucial phase — our enemies are strong, desperate and resourceful.
This is the man who bounced me on his knee when I was little, took my brothers and I fishing, sang hymns with gusto, and read Winnie the Pooh stories. He’s the primary reason I write about WWI and WWII.