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RECOLLECTION of a SECRET LISTENER by the late Arthur Noakes, G2FTK as TOLD to Bob Nash, G4GEE.
This article is the result of an interview with the late President of the Coventry Amateur Radio Society at a recent society meeting. Frederick Arthur Noakes sadly died on 5th July 2008 aged 91. This article is with the agreement of his sons Graham and Martin Noakes.
G4GEE: Arthur were you born in Coventry?
G2FTK: No I was born in Staffordshire in 1916 but my family moved to Coventry to the Stoke Aldermoor district when I was 2 years old.
G4GEE: What was the stimulus to interest you in radio?
G2FTK: I had been playing cricket with a friend when rain stopped play. He asked me back to his house to show me a radio receiver he had built which he explained picked up long distance short wave transmissions. I heard a station from Schenectady in New York State. From there I was hooked.
I asked my friend if I could build a similar set. He gave me a circuit diagram and then took me to a second shop that sold radios and radio parts in the centre of Coventry.
After putting it together I picked up a transmission from someone in Coventry. He mentioned that he and others were thinking of forming a club in the city. A meeting was held in cafť in the town and the Coventry Short Wave club (later to become the Coventry Amateur Radio Society) was founded.
G4GEE How did you become licensed?
G2FTK: The society helped me. I found out that I had to serve a probationary period of 12 months. I was given the call sign 2FTK. I built a transmitter but I could only transmit into a dummy load.
I served my 12 months period and duly made an application for the full license so I could become G2FTK. This involved a visit by an RI (Radio Inspector) to examine the suitability of my equipment.
Alas war was declared and I never received the visit.
G4GEE: I believe all amateur radio equipment was impounded once was declared.
G2FTK: Yes thatís correct.
G4GEE: What your occupation?
G2FTK: I became an apprentice tool maker at Rootes Security. I chose that path because the factory was just over the road from where I lived. When the war broke out the factory became very busy building aero engines for the Bristol company. I was involved with the Pegasus engine.
G4GEE: How did you become a secret listener?
G2FTK: Whilst I was serving my 12 months probationary period I had been advised by society members to learn Morse code. They said I would hear many more stations and would be able to understand the traffic.
One day two people knocked at my door. I recognised one of them from the Coventry society. They explained that they working for the government and were visiting radio amateurs to ask if they would become involved in working for the government. They asked if I could read Morse code and would like to work the government. I said yes on both counts.
Then they asked what equipment I had. I explained that my equipment was very modest and I was a young lad with very little spare money. I had to sign the Official; Secrets Act at this point.
Two weeks later they returned with a Sky Champion receiver something that was beyond my purchasing power.
G4GEE: What then were you asked to do?
G2FTK: I was asked to listen on specific frequencies for specific stations. I was also provided with official logs onto which I copied the messages which I posted off regularly to a PO Box number near London. If the station didnít come up then I was asked to tune around between certain frequencies.
G4GEE When did you actually start
G2FTK In 1940. Before I started I was asked to go to an inaugural meeting at the Imperial Hotel in Birmingham along with other listeners. The co-ordinator was Brian Warren who lived just outside Kenilworth. Alas I have forgotten his call sign. There we were told that we were going to listen for illicit stations in the UK and operators from the Low Countries, who had been heard by official listening stations.
G4GEE: So who was the first station you heard?
G2FTK: I was asked to listen for a certain station on a specific frequency by his call sign. I found him but it was difficult as the Sky Champion didnít have very good tuning indication.
Brian Warren came to visit me and I explained the problem to him. He asked if I would like an HRO. Of course my answer was yes. The receiver arrived. It was not brand new but was a vast improvement on what I had. It was a valve receiver with plug in coils to provide the frequency range.
Next time I found my station almost immediately. He sent a call sign made up of 3 letters. I could tell he wasnít an experienced operator from his slow sending, which suited me at the time. He sent his call sign several times and then suddenly he gave a time, a preamble and then a message in five letter groups. He ended the message with a single letter. The letter Z meant red hot and an X less urgency.
My main concern was whether or not I could copy down the entire message. I was worried that neighbours might switch on their radios and drown out the signal.
I was able to know whether or not I had copied down the entire message as he sent the number of 5 letters groups he had sent. This happened on one occasion. I waited to see if the sender would come up again which he did. He sent the part of the message that I missed so presumably the person listening for him had had similar trouble.
G4GEE: How much time did you put in?
G2FTK I did as much as I could, evenings and weekends We were told not to exceed 2 hours in case we became tired.
G4GEE: Did you get feedback from the authorities?
G2FTK: Yes we did. Regular meetings were held at the Imperial Hotel in Birmingham. Brian Warren conducted these. On one occasion Lord Sandhurst, who was a big wig in government communications, came to talk to us. He told us that the work was very important and what a good job we were doing. He said collation of the reports from the secret listeners enabled them to produce even more useful information.
G4GEE: Did you have any problems associated with your work?
G2FTK: Yes I did. I received a visit from an official who was in charge of fire watching for the city. He asked me why I wasnít doing my bit. I explained to him that I was doing equally important war work and that he should ring a telephone number that I gave him. He must have done so because he came round again to say he fully understood. This person later became one of my best friends.
G4GEE: What were the frequencies that you listened on?
G2FTK: These were between 35 and 50 metres. This made me believe that I was receiving signals from the Low Countries.
G4GEE: What were the transmissions like?
G2FTK: Some had T9 quality but others were fairly ropey. The latter signals enabled me to recognise them easily.
G4GEE: There were stories about spies in the UK?
G2FTK: Yes there were but I never received any such signals.
G4GEE: Were there any other amateurs in Coventry involved in this work.
G2FTK: There was a small group including G2ZT, G5PP & G6TD. We talked to each other often about the work but we didnít tell anyone else what we were doing.
G4GEE: So how long did you carry on with this work?
G2FTK: Right up until the end of the war in August 1945. After victory in Europe we were asked to listen for strange signals coming from the Far East but there was little to do in reality. We had a final meeting in the police station in the Earlsdon district of Coventry where Brian Warren spoke to us. He told us that the work was over and that we were to hang onto our equipment for the time being. Eventually I bought the HRO for £10
That episode of my life ended. I applied for my license when amateur radio was re-instated and became G2FTK. I had married my wife Dorothy so I carried on with my life looking after my wife and children and became involved with the Coventry Amateur Radio Society.
G4GEE: Arthur, thank you what is a fascinating story.
G2FTK Arthur Noakes In civilian clothing
G2FTK Family with his HRO being donted to the Herbert museun