Comment: Radio operations at Hanslope Park

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MANY, many years ago, and for reasons still not entirely apparent, my first job on leaving school was as a trainee radio technician with the Diplomatic Wireless Service.

However, despite passing all the exams it was decided that my fingers and thumbs approach to the practical side was hardly suited to the repair of sensitive electronic equipment in British embassies abroad. But from those days I’ve always retained the greatest respect for technical persons, for unlike a host of ‘arty’ subjects there’s no margin for waffle or ‘blagging it’. A circuit either works or it doesn’t, and if you calculate voltages incorrectly it might well be the last calculation that you make.

The training school was at Poundon House, in a village near Bicester, with the centre for the D.W.S. being at Hanslope Park. As with Bletchley Park, just before World War Two this had been bought by the Foreign Office for secret radio communication purposes and from June 1941 reported to Colonel Richard Gambier Parry, who had charge of the communications for the Secret Service.

As his deputy he appointed a fellow Etonian and personal friend Colonel Edward Maltby to take charge and in August 1941 the administration staff began their duties. They were soon followed by the first of the radio operators and officially Hanslope Park opened in May 1942.

At the outbreak of the war radio amateurs had been asked to scan the airwaves for transmissions being sent by enemy agents in Britain and when it became clear that there were none these ‘Voluntary Interceptors’ were then given the brief to monitor enemy transmissions from the Continent. Their organisation became known as the Radio Security Service and eventually moves were made to bring it within the Secret Intelligence Service.

Thus it became Special Communications Unit 3 and with several subsidiaries was centred on Hanslope Park. Essentially the role was to monitor enemy radio transmissions but other activities were also carried out, one of which would involve Alan Turing, of Bletchley Park code breaking fame. In late summer 1944 he gave up his lodgings at Shenley Brook End and transferred to Hanslope Park, where he occupied a room on the top floor of the mansion before later moving to a cottage in the kitchen garden.

His task was to develop a speech enciphering programme because the Germans now monitored ‘scrambler’ telephone transmissions across the Atlantic via a large antenna near Eindhoven. By the spring of 1945 Turing’s ‘Delilah,’ as the name for the project, was complete and for a test of the system a 16 inch disc was recorded at the Milton Bryan ‘black’ broadcast station.

However, during the event Alan’s braces burst and in remedy Harold Robin, the chief engineer of the organisation, produced some bright red cord from an American packing case. This Alan then used everyday thereafter. As for Delilah, by the end of the war the Post Office had a system of their own and dismissed Delilah as too ‘crackly’.

As for the main purpose of Hanslope Park, the centre attained such competence that even Field Marshall Montgomery and General Eisenhower were shown around. After the war it became the centre for handling all Foreign Office radio communications and operated under the title the Diplomatic Wireless Service.

Today, including support to S.I.S, the centre accommodates Her Majesty’s Government Communications Centre although the forest of aerials which for long were a feature are no longer required in this age of satellite communication.

Following his wartime work Gambier Parry was made Director of Communications at Hanslope Park, from where he retired in 1955. As for my own ‘career,’ contemporary with these times most jobs of late have seemed much akin to toothache or marriage – something at best to be endured.