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Louis has a field day

For NFD this year MSARS again used our much treasured call, G5RV, for the two Metre station entry and, elsewhere in these pages, there is an account of the operation.

At some later date we will learn of our degree of success in the contest but before then I would like to take you back in time to an earlier NFD when G5RV himself competed.

The year is 1948. The Amateur Band allocation for two metres was released in two segments in 1948 and 1949 but it was not until ten years after that, in 1959, that the first VHF Field Day took place. Back in 1948 the contest Louis is taking part in is on HF and what’s more, in his preferred mode, CW

The local press picks up on the story and this is their reporter's version of the event.

"Crouched over their transmitting and receiving sets in two tents in a meadow behind the Running Mare, Galleywood, nine Chelmsford radio amateurs, several of whom have held licenses for over twenty years, contacted the world during the weekend. They were one of the five portable stations in Essex taking part in the National Field Day organized by the Radio Society of Great Britain.

The rules of this field day were that the amateurs must use portable sets, must be under canvas, aerials and masts must not be fixed to buildings and they must not use a mains electricity supply.

Although the members thoroughly enjoyed the field day, which started on Saturday at five in the evening and continued till five on Sunday, it was organized as a practice for making amateur stations available to the authorities in times of national emergency.

These radio "hams" are members of a world-wide movement which embraces every creed and colour in one brotherhood. Among them there is a prince and the mayor of a large English industrial town. They bar politics in their conversations and boast "ours is a world of total peace."

The two stations in Galleywood, which are known throughout the world by the call-signs G5RV and G2HPF transmitted on four wavelengths - G5RV on 170 and 80 metre bands and G2HBF on 20 and 40 metres.

They picked up messages from Jersey, C.I., Holland, Eire, Czechoslovakia, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, and Hungary.

Messages consisted simply of code words giving the strength of the signals and greetings. At other times the "hams" held conversations with other amateurs across the globe as easy as two people converse in a room, using no more power than is required for a motor car side lamp."

That report shows that the newspaperman had been well primed, and even in those instances where there is a suggestion of intrigue, with the operators "crouched over their transmitting and receiving sets" and "messages consisting of code words" it is likely that Louis would have approved. After all it was only eighteen months earlier that he'd been released from his SCU in Royal Signals where his wartime duties gave him scope for a spot of cloak and dagger.


Let us now look at the event from the alternative perspective, Louis' log and the entries for the 5th and 6th June 1948.

June 5th 1948

QTH - Meadow back of Running Mare, Galleywood

Tx. CO – PA. Input 4.4 W


Ant.   270’ long wire

What does that tell us? Well, for openers Louis wasn’t going to go short on creature comforts. The Running Mare, a short walk from Louis home in Galleywood Road, was his local, so how civilized is that? Incidentally, I've googled it and not only is the Running Mare still there but the Google Earth link shows that the meadow also remains in place.

The transmitter, the CO is almost certainly the Colpitts Oscillator, built by Louis in 1927, which survived to be exhibited by him when he was the guest of honour at the Leicester Rally in 1998.


For those of you unfamiliar with the HRO receiver, in its army designation it is the R106, has plug-in coils and weighs a ton. I’m exaggerating, maybe it’s only half a ton but you get the idea.

Louis, still fit from his army service and just four days shy of his 37th Birthday would have had his work cut out to lug it across the meadow but no doubt he would have had some help from the rest of his team. The long wire antenna; no problems there, the Google link shows plenty of trees surrounding the meadow to support 270 feet of wire.

With the contest scheduled to start at 1700 hrs, on the 5th of June, the five man team get off to a slow start, recording their first entry in the log at 1747, on 80 metres.

G5RV log start

From then onwards, rotating, in shifts of from one to two hours, members are making a steady number of contacts, mostly Gs but a few from overseas are also giving and receiving good reports.

Once the log registers the last contact before midnight Louis changes the date to June 6th Sunday, confirming my thought that it is being maintained in BST. The contacts begin falling off around 01.30, so he now QSYs to Top Band where things are a lot livelier for a couple of hours.

There's a bit of a slack period after that but changing back to 80 metres at 5 o'clock changes their luck when Rotterdam and Jersey are logged. Rubbing the sleep from its eyes the rest of the country is waking up and from then onwards, by continually switching between the two bands, the team keep things ticking over until the last contact of the contest is made at 1659. Louis makes the final entry in the log. “1700hrs. OFF  STATION  G5RV/P  CLOSED”

G5RV log finish

In all, 114 contacts and against each of them Louis has recorded the number of points awarded, ranging from one to four, and to begin with the numbers aren’t making much sense. Distance worked doesn’t seem to have a great deal of bearing on the result.

How can it be that a contact between Chelmsford and Chingford, in the same county, qualifies for three points whilst Chelmsford to a GM in Stirling is only worth one? I ponder this for a minute or two and then it all clicks into place. You calculate one point for a UK base station, two points for an overseas base station with a bonus of two points for /P for either.

Nothing startling by way of DX but nevertheless satisfying to work an Easy Item an Oboe King and an Oboe Nan. Indulge me; I’m still back in 1948, visualizing Louis and his boys dismantling their gear and trooping into the Running Mare for a sustaining pint or two so that they can cart that blooming great HRO back home.

Written by Ron Glover G0WGP

Over The Hills and Faraway

"We need a new hedge-trimmer, do you use one?" enquired Louis.

I told him that I did. He then wanted to know, what make, what size and where did I get it? I gave him chapter and verse but he was a bit flummoxed by B and Q. Where are they, he wondered. When I told him, Lewes Road Brighton, he simply said, "Oh"

Now 'Oh', depending on inflexion, can carry a variety of meanings. This particular 'Oh', with a dropping cadence, carried an air of resignation.

For Louis, former world traveller for both business and pleasure, a battle with the traffic into Brighton, in his now advanced years, was too daunting to contemplate. Sensing his disappointment I offered to take him. He didn’t need asking twice.

When could we go he wanted to know. How about Wednesday, I suggested, it's ten per cent off for pensioners day. Louis' eyes lit up, the prospects were growing rosier by the minute.

The following Wednesday, Louis and Nelida, at first over-awed by the size of the superstore gradually navigated their way to the garden section. The hedge-trimmers required careful assessment, Size, weight, wattage, cable length and doubtless a mental calculation of what the ten per cent reduction represented, all came into Louis' lengthy and critical analysis.

No such hesitation from Nelida, a kid let loose in a sweetie shop, she was piling cartons of bone-meal, sulphate of ammonia and John Innes into a groaning trolley without thought of the cost, ten percent discount notwithstanding.

The car loaded, we set off for home, though the Brighton traffic back along Lewes Road, climb up Coldean Lane to Old Boat Corner and across the top of the Downs.

As we drew near to the Beacon, on the bridleway, on the ridge of the Downs to the east, a figure on horseback, a dark outline against the midday sky, was making his way, at a trot, up the slight incline.

I knew of Louis' passion for horse riding. He had told me of the stables at Hanslope Park, where he was stationed in the nineteen forties and where he had the opportunities to ride.

Louis Varney - Horse and Groom

This pursuit had continued through the years and even more recently, escaping the British winter, in South America where he divided his time between putting his CX5RV call on air and saddling up the horse provided by his brother-in-law

I glanced across at Louis and sure enough his gaze was concentrated on the same sight that had captured my attention.

By this time, the rider had broken into a canter and reaching the crest of the rise to where the bridleway took a downward slope, the horse and rider set off like the wind.

From the passenger seat I heard Louis murmur, "Lucky Devil".

I made no comment to break the spell of his daydream.

He was miles away, ------- about seven thousand; galloping across the hills in Uruguay.

Written by Ron Glover G0WGP

It was the week after the annual Jack and Jill car-park meeting and Louis was keen to learn how the event had gone.

I told him that there had been a good turnout , that there had been quite a lot of radio activity, there had also been a bit of a nip in the air with enough wind to keep the kites aloft. He was particularly intrigued by the account of the kite flying and before long had launched into his own kite story.

Back in his early days as a trainee technician with the Marconi Company at Chelmsford the stores department held a fascination for Louis.

It wasn't just because all the lovely wireless goodies were laid out as if in some Aladdin's cave. There was an added attraction. Any item taken out of stores and later returned was considered second hand and sold at a reduced price, even if it had been used only for display or demonstration purposes. So, for a budding inventor and keen construction whiz-kid on trainee technicians pay, this was right up Louis' street.

On this particular day Louis was sorting through some of the odds and ends, in an area of the stores away from the more formal racked equipment, when part of a wooden frame, with canvas attached, caught his eye. Hallo, he thought, what’s this? Moving some of the other gear away, he got a better look. It couldn’t be could it? It was. What a find. A Marconi Kite!

The use of kites by Marconi in his early pioneering wireless experiments was well known to Louis. He had lapped up the stories of the six kites shipped out to St John’s in 1901 after the tower on Signal Hill collapsed in the wind.

How the first two kites suffered a similar fate, one crashing into the sea when the line parted and the second smashing into the valley alongside the headland site before the first ever trans-Atlantic wireless signals were heard on the 12th of December 1901.

The kites, hexagonal, about six feet by six feet, were then re-packed and sent back to the Marconi works at Chelmsford. There had been further use of kites of different design and in 1910, a box-kite enabled a record-breaking, 3,500 mile transmission to be made.

It had never occurred to Louis up until then that he might be in a position to get his hands on an item of such legendary equipment. However, supposing the store-man was unaware of the significance of this piece of kit, then perhaps...

Marconi's group struggling to get an antenna kit into the air. Signal Hill, St John's, Newfoundland December 1901

Louis went for the casual approach: "I see you’ve an old kite down there. It might be a bit of fun to see if I could get it going. How much do you want for it?" The store-man was diffident. The 'old kite' wasn’t a stock item and as such didn’t appear on any regular price list so how was he to gauge its value?

Any possible sale looked like stuttering to a halt, so, forgetting the casual approach, Louis came up with an offer. "How about half a crown" Big mistake. In his previous dealings with Louis the storeman had learnt a couple of things about him. One, was that he believed in the old saying that a fool and his money are soon parted and two, was that Louis was no fool. The storeman said he would think about it and to come back and see him later.

The storeman went a step further than think about it. He sought advice from his boss. "How much is that 'old kite' worth", he asked. His boss said, "Why do you want to know"? "Because I’ve been offered half-a-crown for it" came the reply. "Who by?" inquired the boss. The storeman told him. The reply from the boss was succinct. "You can tell young Varney, or any other smart Alec, that they can keep their half crowns in their pockets". He then went on to give the storeman a brief history of the part played by kites earlier in the century.

Unaware that the storeman had now been briefed, Louis went back to Stores later that day hoping to conclude the transaction. Instead, a stony-faced storeman conveyed the message from his boss, plus a few terse comments of his own. Louis departed with a flea in his ear. Clearly this was not the day on which his venture into big business, or the kite for that matter, would get off the ground.

Written by Ron Glover G0WGP