Portishead radio


For those of us who relished the operating part of a telegraphist's job it was a plum draft, and I was fortunate enough to be posted to Portishead Radio in 1956, a draft that was to have some consequences for my future career in the Navy.

There were, of course, no barracks, and the junior ratings were accommodated in civilian digs, paid for by the Navy, living as one of the family.  These families volunteered to accommodate us, no mean commitment since watch-keeping duties meant that at times when on the overnight watch we would be asleep during the day.

Once familiarised with the receivers, the tuning controls (we could select the particular aerial(s) to give the best signal, and the administration system, we spent our time scanning our particular frequency band for ships trying to contact Portishead from the farthest corners of the world.  Navy telegraphist and civilian wireless operators sent and received the signals without distinction and at was quite exciting to work the Queen Mary (call sign GBTT) or the Queen Elisabeth (call sign GBSS)  whose powerful transmitters blasted their way through all interference.  It was a privilege to send and receive telegrams from some of the most famous people, such as Winston Churchill, Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly, his bride to be, when dignitaries tended to use the great liners when crossing the Atlantic.  Some telegrams were in code. 

Portishead Radio's principal call-sign was GKA, but a different call-sign was used for the different frequency bands, for example, (if my memory is correct) GKV (6 megacycles), GKN (8 megacycles), GKL (12 megacycles) as well as others whose particular call-sign and frequency band I cannot now recall.  I used to spend a lot of my time during the day on GKV and on the higher frequencies during the night, when changes in the ionosphere demanded a higher frequency of transmission from ships in distant parts of the world.   It was always a thrill to pick up a faint signal from the other side of the world... I was in my element!  It was a period of doing what I loved doing without drill, divisions, mess-deck cleaning, or PO's... a period of relative tranquillity and calm throughout the summer months.

A picture of the inside of Portishead Radio is shown above.

I stayed in the home of Mr & Mrs H Robbins, at 226 Burham Road, Burnham-on-Sea (pictured on the left) where also lived her daughter Pam and the sister of Mrs Robbins, whose name I am unable to remember.  I shared a room with 'Bagsie' Baker (Peter J), who subsequently shared a draft with me to the Ark Royal.  It was also at Portishead Radio that I first met my friend and spiritual mentor, Willie Brown, who was also subsequently drafted to the Ark.

It was quite an idyllic spring and summer in 1956, with cycle rides in the Somerset countryside, dancing at the local dance hall, ice-creams at Forte's cafe over long conversations and cricket on the green just above the promenade.  I tried to locate the green on which we played cricket,

                                   but have the feeling it may have been built upon,

                                   with a Somerfield store (left) occupying the place.  I

                                   may be wrong, but if it is the case, it is a shame.  A

                                   picture of this favourite of our haunts, Forte's cafe, which is rather busier now than then, a picture of the beach at Burnham and the Somerfield car park where I think we used to play cricket are shown in the pictures at the head of this page.

The idyllic summer was soon to give way to the chill winds of autumn...


From calm seas to the eye of the storm...