Cable & Wireless in Barbados

SOME OF CABLE & WIRELESS’ HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN BARBADOS

1942 – Fall of Singapore (8th – 15th February)

1944 – Barbados became a major telecommunications hub with the establishment of the HF transmitting and receiving stations at Boarded Hall and Carrington respectively.

1946 – Overseas telephone service opened (Operator assisted)

1950 – VHF radio links installed in the Caribbean islands.

1960 – Tropospheric scatter radio link established between Barbados and Trinidad.

1962 – Telex introduced (operator controlled).

1965 – Tropospheric scatter system extended south to Guyana via Trinidad and North to Tortola via St. Lucia and Antigua.

1972 – Barbados Earth Station opened at Congor Bay (22nd November).

1973 – Barbados’ first international (analogue) telephone gateway (Ericsson ARM 202) switch operational (semi-automatic switching)

1973 – Computer controlled telegraph switch installed.

1975 – Barbados linked to Eastern Caribbean Microwave (analogue) System.

1979 – International Telephone Direct Dialling Service established.

1979 – Automatic computer controlled Telex switch installed.

1984 – Barbados External Telecommunications Ltd. established.

1986 – First Digital International Telephone Gateway (NEC NEAX 61K) switch operational.

1989 – Congor Bay Earth Station upgraded to Digital capabilities and Ciricular Polarisation capability.

1990 – Barbados linked to the Digital Eastern Caribbean Microwave System.

1995 – Barbados linked to the Eastern Caribbean Fibre System (August)

1995 – New Satellite Earth Station operational at Wildey (22nd November).

1995 – International telephone gateway (NORTEL DMS 300) switch at Pegwell, Ch.Ch. operational (22nd November).

1996 – Congor Bay Earth Station officially closed (17th May).

1996 – Ericsson ARM 202 gateway switch de-commissioned (5th July).

2000 – NEC Digital international switch de-commissioned (April).

2001 – Second NORTEL international telephone gateway switch commissioned.

You can click on the thumbnail image to see a larger image with captions.


HISTORICAL INFORMATION ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF C&W’S H.F. STATIONS IN BARBADOS IN 1943

By two former members of staff

One unhappy episode of the war from which Barbados benefited – and continues to benefit – was the fall of Singapore in February 1942. At this time preparations were well advanced for the establishment there of a wireless receiving and transmitting station to ease the great burden upon the then existing cable and wireless routes.  Upon the loss of the territory, a prompt decision was made in London to establish the complex in Barbados.

The staff at Dover suspected that something was up when, within weeks (at least so it seems in retrospect), a long coded service message came in from Head Office for DM/BAR. The code groups were twice interrupted by obvious positional figures, showing latitudes and longitudes.  Curious staff members – and what staffers are not so gifted? – Quickly got out their maps to study these figures.  Sure enough, they were in central Barbados, and pinpointed after some debate in St Philip and the St George valley.

Before the end of 1942, lands had been acquired and ship loads of equipment, all addressed to Singapore, had arrived.  Mr K D Coombes arrived to be Project Engineer, and construction work began.  Within a year the new stations at Carrington, St Philip, and Boarded Hall, St George, were operational.

One hundred Barbadian artisans had worked feverishly to get the buildings erected on time, and the technicians, some seconded from the operating personnel, kept pace with them, installing equipment almost before the concrete foundations were dried out.

The first London-Melbourne hook-up was effected in October 1943, and the two stations were officially opened on Wednesday February 16 1944.  The receiving station (Carrington) was declared open by Mrs A G L Douglas, wife of the Divisional Manager (West Indies), while the Boarded Hall transmitting installations were similarly honoured by His Excellency the Governor of Barbados, Sir Grattan Bushe. Sir Grattan paid high tribute to Cable and Wireless, which he called “a silent service – and for once I am not referring to the Royal Navy – which is continuously at work to guard and extend those essential communications without which the courage and exertions of our men at arms would be of much less avail.  By land and sea, in battle-threatened territories and in perilous waters, the men and women of Cable and Wireless are carrying on their vital task, often in the face of constant danger and with little public recognition.

At this period of the Company’s history in Barbados, the staff totaled 150 persons, of whom, Mr Douglas told the gathering at the station openings, over 80% were Barbadian.  Further, he added, many sons of Barbados were serving the Company in several of the other 15 Caribbean stations within his responsibilities.””

In 1942, the international telegraph service relied mainly on submarine cables for its operation.  However, in 1943, there was the installation of the wireless stations at Boarded Hall and Carrington when Barbados became a major player in global telecommunications.

C&W provided relay services between London and Australia, London and New Zealand, London and Montreal, Montreal and Australasia and, there was at least one occasion when there was a London/Paris relay service in both directions. Direct wireless telegraph circuits were also opened with London and Montreal. C&W had planned to introduce inter-island telephone service but the war intervened and the establishment of radio telephone service did not occur until 1946 when the war was over and censorship ceased. The relay services were provided during the evening so there were a number of high powered transmitters lying idle during the day and these were used for the telephone circuits with London, Montreal, Jamaica and Miami.  At that time, four telephone circuits were relayed between New York and London.   As a result, Barbados became the hub of the radio telephone service in the Caribbean.

The group of twelve (of which I was a member) trained by Mr Rottheram qualified in the second half of 1943 and I believe some of us were assigned to the newly opened London wireless circuit circa October 1943. I don’t recall all the members of our group  but there was myself, Nobby Clarke, Neville Smith, Edgar McKay, Terrence Reece, Billy Gilkes, Charles Bradshaw (?), Forest Best (?)

You can click on the thumbnail image to see a larger image with captions.


INFORMATION ON SINGAPORE

To add just a bit to that: the land that had been bought ready for the new transmitting station in Singapore was at Jurong. Lo and behold when we went back on the LCI(L) 104 with the invasion fleet in 1945 we found the Japanese had very conveniently built a transmitting station on our land. Not so fortunate though was the commandeering of the station by the army followed by the RAF.

Bit of negotiating by Gerald Edwards (DMSE) secured our joint use of the station. Brian Suart and I did all the initial transmitter installation and we employed 6 Jap prisoners of war for a time to help. Brian went on to plan the new receiving station at Trafalgar while I remained to run Jurong until 1949. It was a great building; we had a badminton court in the middle of the transmitter hall. The terrible thing was that the original installation engineer sent out in 1941 was captured by the Japanese and beheaded. If you had anything to do with radio in your CV you were for the chop by the Japs.


CABLE & WIRELESS 1942 – 1949

The following was provided by Paul Foster

Soon after I left school I applied for a job with Cable and Wireless and was successful. My friend Arthur Farmer joined the company on the same day — August 2nd 1942. We reported for duty at the Wireless Station located at the Reef, which was close to the sea behind the Fontabelle road. Mr. Harold Rose was the Station Manager. He was one of the early pioneers of ‘Wireless’ as it was then known.

We go back in time to 1914. Major Burden asked L/Cpl Harold Rose who was then a private to try and erect a wireless station to listen for signals. If transmitting could be arranged the value of the station would be greatly increased. Pte Rose associated with Mr E K Brown and Mr R B Armstrong who had previously worked with him in some of his experiments in wireless, prepared the necessary plans for a small station.

On Friday August 7th 1914 construction started. The aerial was hoisted and connected up on Sunday August 9th when the station went into operation. Brown and Armstrong joined the Volunteer Force to work on the Station.  Sgt E. L. Armstrong, Cpl L. A. Chase, Ptes J. G. Layne and D. E. Chase were attached to the Station as operators. Over time, the equipment was improved as the opportunity arose and the range of the station was increased substantially by the improvements. Some of these persons and others who subsequently joined the Garrison station transferred to the PCB when the Reef took over the operation of the ship/shore service, and some of them served in Barbados and other West Indian islands. R.B. Armstrong later became Director of Marconi Research in Chelmsford UK. Percy Croney later served as Officer in Charge Montserrat. Fred Roett, Carl Fenty were also listed.

The first wireless signal from Barbados, as mentioned, was transmitted from a transmitter in St.Anne’s Castle behind the Drill Hall.

Edward Stoute, of blessed memory, wrote a series of articles on “Telecommunications” in the Sunday News in the 1960s. The issue on the startup of the wireless station was published in the Sunday edition of the Daily News of 27th May 1962 (by coincidence my 37th birthday).

Here are some extracts from this article:-

. . . “The call sign of this station was VPO and it went into operation on the afternoon of the 9th August 1914. Private Armstrong and L/Sgt Chase took the initial watch. . . . .

the apparatus was housed in the St.Anne’s Tower at the back of the Drill Hall. . . . .”

“ . . . Old VPO at the Garrison continued to play its part with communication to ships at sea until the Pacific Cable Board opened in 1924. Their station was located at the Reef and had two lattice towers of 200 feet or over in height and its range far exceeded the station at the Garrison. The Government paid a subsidy to the Pacific Cable Board, so the Garrison Station was closed. Thus passed into history a very valiant effort by men who made wireless a hobby and erected a station that served the Island well during the period of WW1” . . . . . The call sign VPO endured and continued to be used until Barbados became independent on November 30th 1966. The call sign of the station then became 8PO.”

Two Major disasters

During WW2 Britain suffered two major disasters in south-east Asia when Hong Kong fell to the Japanese on December 25th 1941 after only two weeks of fighting. The fall of Singapore took place soon after — February 8-15 1942. This was one of the greatest Japanese victories in WW2 and the worst defeat in British military history, Although Singapore had strong coastal defences, no fortifications had been built against land attack from the Malay Peninsula and this was the route taken by Japanese forces. The fall of Singapore followed on February 15th 1942. It was a significant milestone in the ending of British imperial interests in south-east Asia.

The loss of Hong Kong and Singapore meant that Cable and Wireless lost two of its key major wireless installations in the Far East. It was a major loss to its international telecommunications system.

You may well ask what these two military disasters to do with Barbados were. I mention these two events because in fact they had a direct bearing on the future development of Cable & Wireless in Barbados.

While all this was happening half way around the world, the two of us (Arthur and me) were housed in the PCB building on the Reef. By then, Cable & Wireless (WI) Ltd operated the station. It was located between the two giant wireless towers. By 1942 the towers were referred to as “Masts”.

We spent our days on the verandah of the station seated at an old wooden table. We would send Morse to one another. We had earlier taken a Morse code course with Tom Rocheford, another early wireless pioneer. We learned to touch type on two ancient Imperial typewriters that had capital letters only. All cables in those days were typed manually in capital letters.

Cables were delivered by Messenger from the Cable and Wireless Bridgetown Office located on the ground floor of the Barbados Mutual building, Lower Broad Street. No computers in those days.

After a spell of Morse we would turn to the old Imperial typewriters — QWERT YUIOP over and over again. Then we moved to the next line. About this time the station moved to a refurbished building on the Reef that looked onto nearby Pelican Island.

Quiet Decision

As already mentioned Hong Kong and Singapore were important parts of the Cable and Wireless’ worldwide network, acting as relay stations between the UK and Australia and New Zealand. From a geographic and telegraphic point of view, Barbados was in an ideal location to replace the Hong Kong and Singapore links. The company quietly took a decision to erect two wireless stations in Barbados, a transmitting station at Boarded Hall, St.George and a receiving station at Carrington in St.Philip. None of this was told to us as it was top secret. If I remember correctly we were told that a training school would soon be started in the new building on the Reef to provide staff for the planned expansion at the St.Lawrence Cable Station and to provide staff for the other islands. We would be trained by a gentleman from England. A room in the building was prepared to house the school and we had actually moved in before E.R. Rotherham from Manchester arrived to ‘take us in hand’. He was a good teacher and everyone liked him. Joining Arthur and me in the new school was a group of 10 young teenaged Barbadians:-

Bunny Taylor, Paul Carrington, Billy Gilkes, Edgar MacKay, N.T. ‘Knobby’ Clarke, F.R. Best, Colin Wilkie, Bradshaw, Smith, Cozier, Arthur Farmer and Paul Foster.

Among them was a 15 year old youngster who would later become the first Barbadian to become General Manager to head the regional company in Barbados. He would forge a distinguished career in the company.

This young man was educated at Combermere School where he passed the school certificate at age 14 a remarkable achievement. He was scheduled to go to Harrison College the following term. He was told (incorrectly) that when he moved to Harrison College he would have to enter in the Third Form to catch up on Latin and therefore he would lose a year. This news upset him and as Cable and Wireless was recruiting staff from Combermere he decided to apply.

When he saw the Divisional Manager A.G.L. Douglas, Mr. Douglas admitted that he had the required qualifications that were required, but he said Cable and Wireless was not about to “rob the cradle yet”! Douglas told him that C&W would be starting another class in January 1943 when the young man would be 15 years old.

Mr Douglas was of course referring to Paul Carrington. Paul said he would be interested and he started with Cable and Wireless in January 1943 joining the training school at the Reef. He had just reached the age of 15. He would complete 59 years of service with the company and achieve the milestone of being the longest serving member in telecommunications in Barbados.

An Important period for the Company

When I joined Cable and Wireless in 1942 the company was undergoing major developments. I was joining an international telegraph service which relied mainly on submarine cables for its operation.  Just one year later in1943, there was the installation of the wireless stations at Boarded Hall and Carrington. Barbados had become a major player in global telecommunications. The company provided relay services between London and Australia, London and New Zealand, London, Montreal and Australasia and, there was at least one occasion when the company relayed telegraphic traffic through Barbados between London/Paris in both directions. Hard to believe…. The company also opened direct wireless telegraph circuits with London and Montreal.

C&W had planned to introduce inter island telephone service but the war intervened and the establishment of radio telephone service did not occur until 1946 when the war was over and censorship ceased. The relay services were provided during the evening so there were a number of high powered transmitters lying idle during the day and these were used for the telephone circuits with London, Montreal, Jamaica and Miami.  At that time the company also started relaying four telephone circuits between New York and London.   As a result, Barbados became the hub of the radio telephone service in the Caribbean….. When I qualified as a cable and wireless operator in nine months attending the latter part of my training at the school, I was suddenly transferred to St.Kitts in 1943 to relieve Hal Haynes (a Barbadian) who had to return to Barbados.

This was my first transfer and the first time I was leaving home. My parents were obviously concerned to see me leave. Although I would not be far from them, in 1943 St.Kitts seemed a long way from Barbados.

I was instructed to take my bicycle with me. My Dad organized a small wooden crate. I removed the wheels and the crate provided a perfect fit. The crate accompanied me to Basseterre. It was a sad departure but my parents held up remarkably well. We were a closely knit family.

It was a new adventure for me. I flew to St.Kitts by the fledgling airline BWIA where arrangements had been made for me to stay at Mrs. Muriel Wattley’s Boarding House on Liverpool Row, right in the heart of the city. It was my first flight. I was there for about nine months.

From St.Kitts I was transferred to Georgetown BG, but I was able to stop over in Barbados take leave due to me.

I left Barbados by BWIA for Trinidad and had to spend several days in Port of Spain to connect with an American “Liberty Ship” for Georgetown. I arrived in Georgetown on May 25th 1944. The US Government mass produced hundreds of these Liberty ships to move war supplies and other cargo around the world. They were not built to carry passengers but I was given a nice cabin for the overnight trip.

My stay in Georgetown (May 25th 1944 – Aug 23rd 1945). This period included the great fire of Georgetown on February 23rd 1945. My departure from Georgetown was again via Port of Spain travelling by air in a Grumman Goose, a small clumsy looking aircraft that could land in the Demerara river and land at Piarco Trinidad. It was of course amphibious. Very useful for travel in BG with all its rivers and small dirt runways. I returned to Barbados by BWIA on August 28th 1945.

It felt great to be home again despite the difficult working conditions often having to work 8 hours on and 8 hours off during and after the war years when there was still a shortage of staff.

During the war, the handling of XXX later changed to SSS (emergency messages) when German U-Boats were sighted by merchant ships at sea. This was the only time ships broke radio silence. They had to be very quick to get their message sent before being torpedoed. VPO handled many of these emergencies and we had to send top priority messages to Port of Spain and San Juan advising the location of the sightings. It gave one a feeling of great responsibility and satisfaction to handle these emergencies.

The broadcasting of BAMS (British American Mercantile Services) messages. Messages for ships at sea were sent to several ship stations and these were broadcast three times over a period of two days. After that it was assumed that the ships had received their messages. They could not respond due to radio silence.

After the war when we were on “Ship Watch” on 500 kcs, we were asked to try and collect weather reports from ships in the Atlantic. The operators used to have competitions (especially between Paul C and Paul F) to see who could collect the most weather messages during any given month. It was great fun soliciting these messages when we heard merchant ships transmitting on the ship watch frequency.

Looking back it would appear that these messages were required during the hurricane season and ships out in the Atlantic all in different positions would give the weather stations in Port of Spain and San Juan useful information about weather in their area at sea. As soon as we heard a ship call on the ship watch frequency we were calling them requesting a weather report. The ship operators were very co-operative and quickly provided us with weather data.

There was another major fire in Georgetown in 1947 and I found myself back in Georgetown from June 12th to July 31 1947 to assist with the buildup of traffic occasioned by another major fire.

I also have to mention our joint transfer to St.Lucia in 1948, following the great fire of Castries. It seemed that serious fires followed me around or vice versa. Due to the emergency and phenomenal increase in traffic IN and OUT of St.Lucia Paul C and Paul F were transferred to St.Lucia from June 25 1948 to July 14th 1948. Every message was sent by hand on a cable key. I think we must have worked daily from 7am to 7pm or later depending on traffic. On Sundays, either the cable office was closed or worked half day.

I remember Mr. Douglas came down to see how we were getting along one weekend and he took us on a short sightseeing tour to give us a break.


MY YEARS AT C&W: 1970 to 1980

by William Burton

I joined Cable & Wireless in November 1970. I was first posted to Carrington receiving station where I spent most of the time as one of the operators on the International Switchboard. The supervisor was Mrs. Thirkell who sat at a separate desk and monitored the operators and was sure to reprimand anyone who did not offer a good service.

At the time there were no direct voice circuits from the islands to London, USA or Canada. If someone in St. Vincent wanted to call their family in the UK they would call the C& W office and book the call.

The overseas operator would contact Carrington International Switch Board and asked to be connected to a circuit to London. When this was achieved the local operator would get both parties on the line and the phone call would proceed.

This system worked well but in peak times, like Christmas, there was more traffic than the system could handle. Then circuits were allocated for a period of time so that everyone could get in their quota of overseas calls. Overseas calls were expensive so each one did not last very long

In addition I got to learn the receivers and telegraph equipment. I was not much much help in these areas as it was all a bit daunting for a 17 year old. Even though I had been privately studying Radio communication for 2 years.  I remember Mr. Warton showing me that if you used 2 receivers, tuned to the same shortwave station, but using antennas widely separated as one signal faded the other one would be strong. Something I have always remembered.

One area that I felt I was able to help was in the Pix Room. To send a picture, usually of a cricket match at Kensington, the photographer brought an 8.5 X 11 inch black and white print to Carrington. This was put on a rotating drum and after setting up the Black and White tones it was transmitted by land lines to Boarded Hall and then via HF to London, Montreal or where ever it was destined. If all went well and there was no fading or interference a copy would be sent in about 15 minutes.

For receiving a picture a sheet of photographic paper was loaded onto the receiving equipment and this time the picture was received by the HF receivers in the next room. Then the picture had to be developed. I was able to help here as by then I was developing my own prints and negatives at home. I remember wishing if I could bring in my film and use the facilities as it would be so much better than having to work in cupboard at home.

The Night of 8th January 1971 was a busy night. The SS Antilles hit a reef off Mustique and we had a lot of pictures to send to London. Every reporter wanted their picture sent first and it was a bit chaotic. It was my first overtime pay!

In January I was sent to Guyana to study as a radio technician at the Guyana Technical Institute. I was fortunate to be one of the first batch of West Indian trained technicians. Prior to that all technicians went to the UK and did their training at Porthcurno.

Also on that 12 month course were R. Yearwood, E.C. Hill, Patrick Ferrari (SVD) Tony Grant, O. Brewster, Regie Bourne, William Armstrong, C. Charles (SLU), E Worrell, (?) James ( St.Kitts),  (?) Allman, Ray Mathews (Antigua),

The year in Guyana was a life changing experience, one which I was lucky to get. When I returned from Guyana as a qualified radio technician (on paper, with no experience) I was stationed at Carrington and Boarded Hall. After 6 months I entered the new Cable & Wireless College at Wildey for equipment training.

This was the era of transition from Valve technology to Semi-conductor systems. By the time I finished the equipment training and returned to the operation side the transfer to Wildey was about to start. I soon found myself in at  the deep end at Wildey in the transfer period. No longer would be the manual switch board at Carrington be used but the new (Ericsson ARM 202) crossbar switch with its hundreds of relays. That room was always a mystery to me.

Equipment had to be moved from Carrington and St. Lawrence with as little down time as possible. There were times when I did not want to go home after a long duty shift, as I knew that so much would change before I returned that I would be lost.

Once the changeover was complete I was stationed at Boarded Hall, and Mount Misery. Mount Misery had the Tropo links to Trinidad and St Lucia and VHF to St. Vincent. There also were Ship to Shore VHF and Air to Ground VHF. In addition there were the stand by generators, and antenna to keep a young inquisitive man busy.

At Mount Misery the backup generators came on automatically in a power failure. At Boarded Hall there were 3 large diesel engines, two of which were needed. First you had to start one and bring it up to the correct speed. Then start the second and slowly adjust the speed. To synchronise them there were lights on the control panel. These flashed and when both were out you closed the switch to connect the two generators. I still remember the first time I did this alone on a night shift. Then you had to restart the transmitters and get the station back on the air. Knowing that the boss was at home listing to hear when the Tx came back on.

In 1978 I was transferred to St. Vincent for 3 weeks. Just before I was due to return home I was casually asked by The Manager, Mr. Antrobus, if I was enjoying my time in St. Vincent and would I like to stay a bit longer. I spent 2 years.

C&W BET Wildey Building
C&W staff. L to R. ?? Tony Jones, Ron Armstrong.

10 thoughts on “Cable & Wireless in Barbados”

  1. I had the honour of working with William Burton during his posting to Mount Misery Station. He has omitted many interesting stories – but I will always cherish those memories of Mt Misery.

    1. Hi Mike. I think that we are very lucky to have worked at C&W. The company gave us a good education, not only on paper but more importantly in a good work ethic. I always felt that I could ask the more senior engineers for advice or help in any matter. This allowed us to advance quickly.

      We never did find how the wire men got in to Mt. Misery at night and after playing all night hid in equipment by day. Haha.
      W

    2. Hi my grandfather Jack Kettel was stationed in Barbados working for cable and wireless during the 1940s. I have just been given his treasured photo albums with many many photos of his friends and life in Barbados but unfortunately I know little about his work and would love to find out more. Any idea how I can find more stories? Thank you

  2. Does anyone know what arrangements for security was made to protect the wireless station during the war. Was this left to the local police or was the military involved?

  3. Fascinating. I’m currently on vacation in Barbados. My grandfather (Colonel Edward Drake) was head of Canada’s Communications Security Establishment from its infancy in the 1940’s until 1971. He used to vacation with his family in Barbados, but having heard stories of him that he never did not work, I’m wondering if there is a record of him having assisted with signals intelligence work on the island. An employee of Canada’s CSE is writing a history of that agency and my grandfather, and I’m sure he too would find this interesting.

  4. Greetings from London
    Did anyone ever meet my uncle Nazir “Neddy Khan” from Trinidad who was posted to the Telegraph Building in Porthcurno in Cornwall in 1942 Nazir was my uncle c/o Royal Signalers

    Also anyone who worked with Vivian Owen Westmaas from Trinidad while posted in St Georges, Grenada ?
    V.O. Westmaas was my father who worked for C&W and was an avid Ham Radio Operator
    My father worked for International Aeradio Ltd, based at Piarco Trinidad
    Best Wishes
    Ann Salaun
    London

  5. This has provided some background information for some research I am doing on early telecommunications in Barbados. Do you have any other accounts specifically related to using Telex or operating cables?

  6. I agree. Radio Telecommunication has advanced way beyond the expectations of 50 years ago. I consider myself fortunate to have worked through this transition. Most of the equipment shown I have worked on. Our external communication went from Cable to Radio, to Fibre Optic Cable. I suspect that in a few years it will revert to Radio again. The cycle keeps repeating itself every few years.

    1. Great story, William, do you do Ham Radio as well.. Robert’s Uncle Harold Bowen worked at Cable Wireless for years and Mr. Laslhley( in the War days.) who lived inSt. George Jane and Rosie, daughters went to CHS, Jane , Jan’s age, Rosie , either Wendy Hoad or my age. I spent some weekends there , and that is where I watched him Ham Radio stuff., so very interesting.

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