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Radio Officer in the Trenches of World War One -- Memoirs of my Grandfather

Discussion in 'ex-Rag Chew Central' started by KB1WSY, Sep 10, 2013.

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  1. KB1WSY

    KB1WSY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Greetings all.

    I thought it might be appropriate to post this 10-page excerpt from the memoirs of my grandfather Eric Marris (1890-1976), who was a wireless [radio] officer in the British army in France during World War One.

    His personal recollections are interesting and so is his description of the primitive but inventive equipment!!!!

    With Syria, poison gas is in the news but Eric wasn't gassed in France, thank goodness.

    In the memoir, there are several reference to "Chris." This is Eric's brother Christopher, who was an electronics engineer and later worked on the development of the magnetron valve (tube), and radar, at GEC in the runup to World War II and during that war.

    Edit: I initially tried to attach a PDF but the Zed didn't like it, so I've substituted an MS Word file (.doc).

    73 de Martin, KB1WSY

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Sep 10, 2013
  2. N0SYA

    N0SYA Ham Member QRZ Page

    Neat and thanks!
  3. N9ZMO

    N9ZMO Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks for sharing, that was worth the read.
  4. G0GQK

    G0GQK Ham Member QRZ Page

    Very well written and an excellent memory for names

    Mel G0GQK
  5. WB7OXP

    WB7OXP Ham Member QRZ Page


    great story
  6. KB1WSY

    KB1WSY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Thanks. I was attending a boarding school in the British countryside near his home and visited my grandfather often in the early 1970s when he was writing his memoir (which is hundreds of pages long). He bashed it out on a portable Olivetti lit by a vintage Anglepoise lamp and we later produced a private family edition (photocopied pages, with a nice hardback binding). About 20 years ago my wife and I preserved it for the ages by typing it into an early personal computer, which explains some of the obvious typos you may have noticed in the version I posted. (Must fix those some day!)

    Those who read the book are often surprised by the nearly total recall of names, etc. This is less surprising for me because I saw Eric go through the process. Often he would, initially, remember absolutely nothing about a particular period of his life. But somehow, once his memory was jogged by a specific, dated event or a photograph, the memory banks opened up and he would remember more and more. Perhaps this is a universal human gift, or perhaps only some people have it.

    I must say also that some people, including for instance my late father, claimed that Eric mis-remembered some of the events he wrote about. At which point it becomes a question of: who do you believe, the person who made the effort to write the book (and often consulted contemporaneous notes or photos), or the person who contests the account? I will never know. For sure, the account of his life during World War One is stuffed with the kind of detail, and personal thoughts, that have the ring of accuracy. But all of us write our own version of the past!

    I lived with Eric for four months during the last year of his life. Funny thing is, he wasn't one of those old men who's constantly talking about the past or reciting the same stories over and over again. Perhaps it was the process of writing the book that "cured" him of the need to do this. Instead, he was always asking about what I (and other people) were up to, following world news keenly, pottering around in his woodworking shop, gardening....

    It is very sobering to read the last paragraph in the excerpt that I posted here on QRZ. To put it bluntly, I am very lucky to have existed at all! When he went to his college reunion, almost his entire class had been wiped out by the war: he only recognized one acquaintance who had survived! It is a sober reminder that war should only be undertaken under the most extreme and vital conditions, not stumbled into as happened in the "Great War" (and many other wars before and since)!

    73 de Martin, KB1WSY
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2013
  7. KB1WSY

    KB1WSY Ham Member QRZ Page

    One more quick aside. Arguably, radio saved Eric's life. For the first part of the war he was a regular infantry recruit being marched around a parade ground in preparation for being sent to France. If he'd stayed there, his chance of survival would have been slim. His transfer to the W/T unit, while not exactly a safe assignment, probably gave him much higher survival odds.

    Martin, KB1WSY
  8. KB1WSY

    KB1WSY Ham Member QRZ Page

    Here are some photos of the radios.....

    I googled the radios that Eric mentions to see if I could find pictures. Here's what I came up with. No guarantee that these are the real McCoy but it seems plausible:

    The Trench transmitter inside (key, spark gap, inductor):
    Trenches Transmitter inside.jpg

    The Trench transmitter outside (terminals for Earth and Aerial; and key at bottom right):
    Trenches XMTR closed.jpg

    The more advanced "continuous wave" set which Eric said gave a pure tone:
    Trench Set CW.jpg

    I couldn't find any pix of the "Wilson set."

    73 de Martin, KB1WSY
  9. KB1WSY

    KB1WSY Ham Member QRZ Page

    ... and Some Photos of Eric Himself.

    Final photo post (I had forgotten that I had these).

    Two photos of Eric in World War I uniform. I don't know whether these were taken before or after he was transferred to the W/T service. (Perhaps the letter "T" on his lapels means something??).
    Eric WWI 0003.JPG Eric WWI 0007.JPG

    And to demonstrate that "life goes on" for the lucky survivors of World War I, his wedding photo from the early 1920s:
    EDM wedding photo 075.JPG

    73 de Martin, KB1WSY
  10. KB4QAA

    KB4QAA XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    He doesn't seem to have any officers' rank 'pips' on his shoulder straps, so perhaps the T stands for 'trainee'.
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