There were many variations of the humble Morse code key in use by the British during the Second World War; some sources identify up to a hundred different variations. Tonight though we are looking at just one of these, a little Bakelite example:These little keys were used by signallers to tap out messages in Morse code and were normally wired up to a wireless set, which then sent out the dots and dashes as a wireless signal. Alternatively the key could be wired to a signal lamp, more on that in a few days! Examples could be made of brass, Bakelite, silver alloy or sometimes a combination of materials. This example is made of very robust brown Bakelite. It consists of a base and a spring loaded rocker arm with a large Bakelite knob at one end:The base of the key has a stores code marked on it:In this case it is marked ZA16929, and according to the Imperial War Museum’s online database this indicates the key was used with the Wireless Set Number 19. A second marking at the end of the key reads ‘Key WT 8 Amp No2 MK III’:The key works by completing or breaking a circuit every time the knob is pressed down. Normally the connectors nearest the knob are broken and the ones furthest away are connected, pressing down on the knob reverses that position:This gives a great deal of flexibility allowing the key to be used regardless of how a wireless transmitter is wired- just attach the wires from the transmitter to the relevant connectors on the key.
Rod Balkham describes how he learnt Morse:
Over a period of what must have been several months I was turned into an OWL B3 – that is, Operator Wireless and Line (B3 being rated higher than B2, I seem to recall). This transmogrification was achieved mainly by the challenge of competition, plus – in my case in particular – my instinctive reaction to the sensitive understanding of the corporal who was our teacher. Unlike many another army corporal, he commanded respect in a firm but kindly manner, and he knew his job. As with the Bren gun, I became proficient with the Morse key without having to try very hard. To help us learn the Morse Code, the corporal offered us a few mnemonics, based on the rhythm of the dots and dashes. One was ‘Here comes the Bride’ – you can think of the bride as the Queen, he told us – thus arriving at dah dah dit dah for the letter ‘Q’. Another one, which I have good cause never to forget, was ‘Did-it ‘urt cher?’: Dit dit dah dit for the letter ‘F’, followed, inevitably, by ‘Like ‘ell it did’ for ‘L’.