The CCF Signals Section

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Martin
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The CCF Signals Section

Post by Martin »

Mr Ed wrote
The Army lot were let down by the Signals lot.
Why? Perhaps he and others can flesh out this statement. I was in the Signals in the 50s and only partially understand these words.

In those days the Signals’ sole officer was Major Cecil Francis Kirby (nicknamed ‘Uncle’). He was a distinctive and most unusual man with his own thread in this Forum, “Strange old man dressed in WW1 army gear / dog named lobster.” He had been a Major in WW2, in the Royal Signals not involved in active service but in a unit that tested new equipment and recommended modifications to prototypes, etc. He was very skilled technologically speaking and after the war had access to some modern receivers and transmitters not generally available to CCF units elsewhere. For example he had transistor sets (Model 49) a cube of size about 15 cm length in the mid 1950s, a year or so before the immense commercial success of transistor radios.

His background was biological studies (he was an OB) then Cambridge as a medical student, but he chose not to continue with clinical studies and instead returned with a degree to teach biology and chemistry at Horsham, where he continued till he died. A bachelor, he was very fond of small boys and his appreciation of their bodies (anatomy classes) and holding them inappropriately would result in instant dismissal today. But I am pretty sure he did nothing more untoward than that.

His appearance was strange. He wore only ex-army fatigues (as they would be called nowadays). But I did see him in an unfashionable, out of date suit perhaps three or four times in all my years at CH, for very special Chapel Services (eg the Quatercentenary Service in St Pauls). For formal CCF occasions, he was always properly dressed, but never in the dress-uniform that Pongo and a very few others wore for every parade.

Now for the Signals Section. Only keen people joined it; they were all volunteers, who were interested in electronics (in those days 99% of electronics meant clumsy, glass valves/vacuum tubes). All such equipment was very fiddly to use and also fragile. Signals instruction was mainly learning how to carry, operate and repair the various sets, mostly heavy Model 38 sets (50x30x30 cm) carried by the signalman in an infantry platoon. Also one laid and operated a field telephone service and learned and practiced morse. Another single example of a special big, very heavy set, normally used in a tank, was also available. So the Signals appealed to those technically minded and one could learn a great deal in that section. For signalers this was much more desirable than the repetitive drill and field exercises of the rest of the Army CCF. In addition to the standard Friday afternoon CCF work, there were other voluntary signals activities. On Sunday mornings one could send and receive both morse and voice communications with a school in St Helier, Jersey, whose Signals officer, a teacher, had served with CFK during WW2. Once a year there were Signals camps, free because the Royal Signals allegedly paid (I suspect that in fact CFK paid) always somewhere in the South Downs, with plenty of fun and tramping around the countryside maintaining communication using 38 sets. CFK was a competent cook and he lived alone. He spent the absolute minimum on himself and I remember his presentation of a cooked sheep’s for dinner one evening at a camp. Then such a head was very inexpensive. The standard morse level (8 words per min) for which one obtained an official sleeve badge (a circle with two lightning flashes emerging from opposite sides of the circle, all white lines on a black background), was not enough for CFK, so he initiated his own higher, totally unofficial qualification for 15 wpm. For this he invented his own badge, a modified standard badge with the central circle covered with orange wool (readily available for darning socks) and in his very earthy manner referred to his badge as the ‘flaming ar...ehole.‘

He had no interest in drill. The Signals never drilled, nor did he bother with shiny boots and buttons, blancoed webbing, etc for normal CCF activities. But he did insist that all were smart for General Inspections.

Why the poor opinion of the Signals Section quoted above? Was CFK the sole signals officer in Mr Ed’s time? Was CFK too old to run his section properly? Were all the above mentioned additional, most absorbing, often highly skilled activities still pursued in Mr Ed’s days? Was it because of the signallers’ sloppy appearance for normal CCF activity?

A quick summary of his other unusual activities and eccentricities includes his own appearance, the general mess in his large laboratory where in he spent most of every day (encouraging boys to come and perform extracurricular chemistry experiments, biological investigations, receive extra tuition in various subjects including German), his extensive garden, with provision for interested boys to have their own section to grow whatever they wished, to learn about and assist with beekeeping, etc etc. All this and more is fully described in CFK’s thread. He was always devoted son of CH and built a house on Two Mile Ash, which he bequeathed to the school.
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Ajarn Philip (Thu May 14, 2020 11:52 am)
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by loringa »

In the 1970s the Signals Section was run by Mr O'Meara, a mathematician or scientist, I can't remember which. He eventually took over the CCF from Bob Rae with the rank of Lt Col though a less likely Lt Col it would be hard to imagine in any branch of the Service. He used to come on Scout trips to the Norfolk Broads bringing various pieces of radio equipment with him as well as semaphore flags with which we attempted to communicate.

Mr O'Meara always seemed a nice enough fellow though rather unmilitary. I do remember the CCF getting Clansman radios in the 1970s, which was rather ahead of other schools I believe so he may have had some influence with Blandford. They seemed rather good bits of kit compared with what went before though I never met a regular soldier with a good word for them.

8 words a minute doesn't seem like a bad standard to to me. As a Midshipman I had to learn to send and receive at 6 wpm which was adequate for my needs, and 15 wpm is most impressive.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by Foureyes »

David O'Meara's death was rather sad.
Three retired C.H. masters, all living in single flats in Horsham, used to meet on Friday evenings for a pint (or two), something to eat and a long, long chat. One was Bob Rae, one was David O'Meara, but the name of the third I never knew. Anyway, one Friday David failed to turn up, so Bob and the other chap assumed that he had some minor domestic emergency and neglected to inform them, so they carried on without him. When David O'M failed to turn up on the following Friday as well they got worried and went round to his flat. Nobody answered the door, but somehow they managed to get in and, to cut a long story short, found David sitting at his kitchen table, stone dead - and must have been so for at least eight days.
A very sad story,
David
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Ever Bluer (Thu May 14, 2020 11:45 pm)
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by Mid A 15 »

Foureyes wrote: Thu May 14, 2020 1:05 pm David O'Meara's death was rather sad.
Three retired C.H. masters, all living in single flats in Horsham, used to meet on Friday evenings for a pint (or two), something to eat and a long, long chat. One was Bob Rae, one was David O'Meara, but the name of the third I never knew. Anyway, one Friday David failed to turn up, so Bob and the other chap assumed that he had some minor domestic emergency and neglected to inform them, so they carried on without him. When David O'M failed to turn up on the following Friday as well they got worried and went round to his flat. Nobody answered the door, but somehow they managed to get in and, to cut a long story short, found David sitting at his kitchen table, stone dead - and must have been so for at least eight days.
A very sad story,
David
I think the third could well have been Ron 'Nog' Lorimer David. I know he moved to Horsham after retirement and he was very pally with Bob Rae during my time at CH.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by ZeroDeConduite »

"Another single example of a special big, very heavy set, normally used in a tank, was also available."

That was a 22 set, which came with a full power supply and a Class D wavemeter to tune it accurately.
With a calculated full wave aerial hung up in the lime trees outside Uncle's classroom we managed one Sunday morning to make contact using morse with a ham radio operator in Singapore. Which was an eye opener to me as a youngster in 1958!

I got Uncle to lend me a 19 set (WW II backpack) for which I helped myself to an unlimited supply of huge batteries. With it I settled down out of sight with headphones and about 15' of copper aerial rods attached (about 3x the usual length and listened to Radio Luxembourg on 49 metres short-wave. This being the ONLY source of rock'n'roll etc on the air waves in the 50's. :-)

Kirby's Signal section was one of my most looked-forward-to part of the week...

Geoffrey Cannon (also in Pe A) as my platoon corporal, used to send huge chunks of Wittgenstein over the air for us to transcribe on a CCF afternoon. All in all we had a great time.

One summer camp was held at Shorncliffe near Folkstone. The whole school CCF had the mission to march to Canterbury to 'capture the Red Dean'...
I collude with Uncle to be the radio operator reporting the column's progress back to base at Shorncliffe. As the person who best knew how to work the 22 set I was given charge of it - which included a Land Rover!!! All the rest of the PBI had to march with full kit to Canterbury and back whilst I swanned past them in the Land Rover...
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by Ever Bluer »

ZeroDeConduite wrote: Thu May 14, 2020 3:18 pmOne summer camp was held at Shorncliffe near Folkstone. The whole school CCF had the mission to march to Canterbury to 'capture the Red Dean'...
…little dreaming that his daughter, Kezia Noël-Paton, would one day become the last resident Medical Officer at CH Horsham.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by Richard »

Kirby (Signals) Camp was not entirely free, since the only luxury that Uncle ever permitted himself was decent coffee. According to him the Royal Signals would only pay for tea, not coffee for the Camp. Hence a voluntary payment of a couple of shillings was required for those who wanted coffee. Almost all paid and the coffee was really good. Uncle never called the other beverage ‘tea.’ To him it was always ‘tiss.’ He also had expressive nicknames for almost all the boys whom he knew. These included Blossom, Henscold, Berkshire, Liz, Fuffinch, Percival, Gubbins, Weasel and Cow (for his senior sergeant, whom he greatly respected). In the 50s the tea in the Dining Hall was pretty terrible, like much of the food. But the Sunday morning coffee was excellent.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by Foureyes »

"He also had expressive nicknames for almost all the boys whom he knew. These included Blossom, Henscold, Berkshire, Liz, Fuffinch, Percival, Gubbins, Weasel and Cow (for his senior sergeant, whom he greatly respected)."

One name I recall was 'Death' which apparently was due to the boy's jet black hair and very pale face. Most of his names for boys were both amusing and apt, but I thought that one a trifle cruel.

He also had weird names for his dogs. Two I recall were 'Chlorine' - which presumably related to the gas, but why I never knew - and 'Hebben' whose origins were totally obscure (to me, at any rate).

David :shock:
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by alterblau »

Hebben (or Hibbin) was mother of Chlorine, Fluorine and Bromine. Uncle kept the first two only. They were all smallish, mainly black, terrier type mongrels. Chlorine was often and loudly called “the worst dog in Sussex.” Those who wished to keep appropriate “pets” could do so in his lab. One chap had a grass snake there for a while.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by Alex »

It’s obvious that the strange Kirby is affectionately remembered by those boys who have contributed to this thread. But the reverse is also true. Some disliked him intensely. One such boasted that whenever he saw Kirby he would bawl out, “Good morning, Sir!” just for the pleasure of knowing there would be no reply. Kirby was a man of very strong opinions on all subjects.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by J.R. »

As I have previously said on the other thread, although 'Uncle' never taught me, I got on very well with him.

Strange in a way, but a bit of a Father figure to an only child who lost his Father when very young.
John Rutley. Prep B & Coleridge B. 1958-1963.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by MrEd »

Having inadvertently provided the genesis of this thread, may I point out that in terms of the Signals, it was my impression (in mid-teens and for the limited time that I was in the CCF) that it was the parking lot for the less militarily-inclined in the Army section, and (from my time only) it appeared that the RAF section were the most professional of the CCF sections. The signals certainly did some stuff, but after one Field Day, the visiting OB was a serving Major-General who picked up a radio and barked a question out on it only to be responded to with a torrent of expletive-ridden queries as to who he was and why was he butting in on the radio. :D The follow-up I am not sure, but it reminds me of the reputed exchange by telephone at the Daily Express when Lord Beaverbrook rang the printing press with a query and was told to get lost by the operative on duty, he boomed out 'Do you know who I am?" to which the reply was 'No, do you know who I am?" to which the reply was "No." followed by a 'Good' and the operative hung up.

Looking back now, I can see that I failed to fully appreciate the wondrous opportunities at CH for technical learning, what with the internal telephone system and the Signals etc. Still, at least many did benefit from it.

Mr O'Meara was a mathematician afaik, again, another teacher I don't think I ever heard speak but whom I knew by sight. Never heard a bad word said about him.

Mr Kirby was an excellent chap, I did some bee-keeping with him, and used to poke around in his 'lab'. I can still recall the whiff of opening an autoclave in which a pheasant was 'hanging' before being incorporated into one of his game terrines, along with, most likely one of the 'rabbis' as he called them, that used to risk all for a nibble at his vegetable patch.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by sejintenej »

Martin wrote: Thu May 14, 2020 10:03 am
(re Uncle Kirby)
He had no interest in drill. The Signals never drilled, nor did he bother with shiny boots and buttons, blancoed webbing, etc for normal CCF activities. But he did insist that all were smart for General Inspections.
The same went for the Civil Defence section. One third of the time it was swimming trunks for rescue practice .Otherwise it was denims and that didn't phase either Dr Scott nor Horsham firefighters The only time we were in uniform was for General's Inspection but AFAIR we changed for the demonstrations afterwards
Why the poor opinion of the Signals Section quoted above? Was CFK the sole signals officer in Mr Ed’s time? Was CFK too old to run his section properly? Were all the above mentioned additional, most absorbing, often highly skilled activities still pursued in Mr Ed’s days? Was it because of the signallers’ sloppy appearance for normal CCF activity?
I didn't go for signals because I didn't fancy the morse; I had enough problems with the compulsory semaphore in Scouts I was lucky - after about one week after Cert A I had a brainwave and the CO saw - and gave me my first stripe Weeks later I got called to his study and that was the start of the CD section
A quick summary of his other unusual activities and eccentricities includes his own appearance, the general mess in his large laboratory where in he spent most of every day.............
My enduring memory of him was my second lesson from him. A certain other thug (pupil) from Col A, a year more senior than me, "forgot" his books both weeks so I was made responsible for ensuring that he brought his books on pain of a beating. Fortunately I didn't get the beating but later the boy was to be one of the gang who put me in the sicker. If Kirby was able to do that to a young kid I had no idea of what he might enjoy doing, perhaps with his bees, so I kept as far away from him as I could at all times.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by AStaverton »

If Uncle is reading this thread, somehow, somewhere, I am sure he would be distressed because what he considered his pre-eminent achievement has not been mentioned (yet). This was his making of excellent mead in large quantities. (He also gave away pots of honey to masters’ wives and others.) He never encouraged drinking, nor offered mead to boys, but there was always some available in his ‘lab’. In principle it was there to offer visiting Old Blues. In practice many boys therefore knew what it was and how it tasted.
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Re: The CCF Signals Section

Post by Martin »

Since we are now writing of those accomplishments of which Uncle was very proud, mention of one such achievement is lacking so far. But I don’t want to give a wrong impression. He was a very modest man.

One of his favourite (non-CH) activities was Territorial Army activity as a signals officer. For his faithful and competent service over 20 years he earned the “TD” (Territorial Decoration). A year or so after receiving this award one of its criteria was changed from 20 to 12 years’ service. Uncle maintained that he had received the ‘real’ TD, not some Mickey Mouse, ersatz, watered down version.
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