90th anniversary of G6YL

The late Barbara Dunn G6YL recalled that she first heard Morse code at the age of 10

In 1906 a talk and demonstration of wireless was given at her school and she eagerly volunteered to take part in the demonstration. She remembered sending SOS in Morse and said she was thrilled.

Barbara lived in the Essex village of Stock and in 1923 her father purchased a wireless set to listen to the new British Broadcasting Company transmissions from 2LO in London on 350 metres (857 kHz). In early February 1923 while listening to 2LO she noticed a rasping kind of interference on the transmission. She was unable to tune the interference out so decided to try and find out the cause.

In those days most of the smaller ships operating in the Thames still used spark transmissions which spread over a wide frequency range and it was these spark Morse signals on 600 metres (500 kHz) that Barbara had been picking up.

Fascinated by the signals she decided to teach herself Morse code by copying down the dots and dashes as fast as she could. By March 1923 she was able to copy down quite a bit of slow Morse and by May 1 she could copy at 10 words per minute. On July 10 she was thrilled to be able to copy messages at speeds of up to 20 WPM.

She used her own crystal set and “cat’s whisker” so that the main wireless set could continue being used for 2LO reception. Her greatest thrill was when she picked up her first SOS and copied the Latitude and Longitude. Her father was a bit sceptical and took the trouble to visit Lloyds in London the next day to confirm her information. He came back satisfied and impressed.

Her next thrill was in picking up signals from Marconi’s yatch Elettra on about 90 metres. As he asked for reports she wrote to him but wisely, given the misogyny of the era, simply signed it B.Dunn so as to give no clue to her gender. To her surprise and great joy Marconi answered and asked her to continue listening and reporting.

On December 14, 1925 she bought a 2 valve Short Wave receiver covering 15-200 metres from F.A. Mayer 2LZ (later G2LZ) of Wickford, Essex.

She recalled that in 1927 she was “bullied” by the “Old Timers” G2LZ and Gerald Marcuse G2NM into taking her Morse test. G2NM said if she passed he would send her an old Split Hartley transmitter which she could keep if she managed to get it to work again.

At the Morse test the examiner gave her a column from The Times newspaper to send but the examiner had to stop her sending because she sent all the brackets, colons and semicolons in the article. Only the plain text had been required. She breezed through the 12 WPM reception test and the examiner even sent her 25 WPM which she copied fine.

She received her transmitting licence G6YL on April 13, 1927 but didn’t have her first contact until November 21, 1927 when she worked T.P. Allen GI6YW in Belfast. She initially transmitted on 49 metres but GI6YW told her and she retuned to 45 metres. Her first transatlantic contact with the USA took place on April 12, 1928 when she was running just 6 watts DC input on 45 metres.

Her father had passed away in October 1926 and this eventually forced the sale of her home Lilystone Hall. On September 1, 1928 she left Stock in Essex to live in Felton, Northumberland.

This item was compiled from the autobiography of G6YL which was published in the April-May 1968 edition of Spark Gap Times.