MKARS Club History
By David White (G3ZPA)
Edited and updated by Mike Everett (G3LFR)
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In 1958 a group of radio amateurs came together to form a club named the Wolverton & District Radio Society, meeting at the Science and Arts Institute, Creed Street, Wolverton. Many of the founder members had links with Hanslope Park radio station. Colin Smith G3OBY, Trevor Puryer G3MRB, Des Shepherd G3LCS and Frank Dewick G3HIU, among others, were instrumental in supporting the Club which, in its early years used to enter many H.F. field day contests, since many members were excellent C.W. (Morse) operators. By 1963, however, the Club had gone downhill, and it expired in mid-1964.
The Club was re-formed when another group of Amateurs got together in 1966. The venue this time was the large upstairs room at the Crown Inn, Market Square, Stony Stratford. In 1969 it was decided to re-name the club the North Bucks Amateur Radio Society, to encompass a larger area as there were no other radio clubs in the vicinity.
In 1970 the landlord of the Crown decided he did not want the Club there any more, and premises were found in the new Wolverton Youth Club. This was an unsatisfactory venue from the start, but with nowhere else to go, the Club survived for some years meeting in too small a room with lecturers having to shout above the noise from a juke-box in the next room.
In 1973 it was decided to change the name of the Club once again. The word “Amateur” was dropped so that the Club could cater for all aspects of radio, TV and electronics interest, and it became the Milton Keynes and District Radio Society, to take the name of the new Town which was being built in the area. Three years later the Club’s callsign, G81VK, similarly became G8MKC.
Late in 1974 it was felt that Wolverton Youth Club was so unsuitable, with membership suffering accordingly, that a move to Lovat Hall in Silver St., Newport Pagnell was arranged. The first meeting was held there on 9th September 1974, with sixteen members present. All meetings were still only once a month at this time.
Also in 1974, a room for constructional and operating use was obtained at the very newly built Stantonbury Campus, but after the initial enthusiasm of the now growing Club, attendances fell again. By midsummer 1975, no-one turned up, and the Committee reluctantly told the authorities that the Club no longer needed the room at Stantonbury Campus. By the A.G.M. of September 1977 enthusiasm in the Club had been allowed to reach an all-time low and a Committee could not be formed. Fortunately a small group of amateurs led by Fred Frisby G3ZNY refused to let the Club die and formed a caretaker Committee to keep it going somehow. Funds were now so low that the Club could no longer hire Lovat Hall for more than a few months in advance at a time, and it was decided that the Club would need alternative premises. Many venues were looked at, but all proved unsuitable for one reason or another. Eventually a promising place was located in December 1977 - The Globe Inn at Hanslope.
After much argument among members and a bit more money in the kitty, it was decided to try to hold two meetings per month instead of only one, as had been the case since the Club was formed. At the January 1978 meeting it was decided to retain Lovat Hall for formal lectures on the 2nd Monday of the month and the Globe Inn for informal meetings on the 4th Monday of the Month.
Hard work by several Committees since 1978 showed a slow and successful rise in the enthusiasm, attendance and membership of the Club. Membership in June 1978 stood at 35 paid-up members, a bank balance of £400 and much radio equipment and aerials. Prior to this, membership had only averaged about 17 since the early days. As there were now many Citizen Band radio clubs forming in the area, it was decided to amend the name of the Club once again, and as from 9th March 1981 it was known as the Milton Keynes & District Amateur Radio Society, to distinguish it from these other new clubs.
In October 1982, in remembrance of a long-time member who had been a sterling supporter of the Club for many years, it was agreed that the Club should adopt the callsign of the late Frank Dewick G3HIU. The Club gave up it's callsign G4AFN, and as a result of Mrs Dewick’s kind permission, holds G3HIU which is in use today.
Also in 1982 it was decided to give up the premises at the Globe in Hanslope as the room had been reduced in size to make an eating area.
Roger Pye, now G4IUH, managed to obtain an excellent new venue for informal meetings at the Stony Stratford Bowls Club, far more central for the majority of members. By 1984 the use of the Bowls Club had fizzled out; it was also the decision of the Committee to dispense with Lovat Hall, in view of the restrictions on the number of people allowed in the lecture room, as there were only 24 seats but many more members.
New premises were obtained at the newly opened Hodge Lea Community Centre, and the first meeting was held there on 14th January 1985. This 80-seater hall was the Club venue until new housing was built around the hall and the Club could no longer run out aerials from the Clubroom across the spare land around it. While the hall was superb for lectures the adjacent housing stopped any radio activity, and a demonstration of a First World War spark-transmitter emphasized the point by wiping out TV reception in the nearby houses!
The biggest milestone in the Club’s history was in 1987 when Mike Miles G0FMC proposed a radio rally, and with the assistance of the then Chairman Stuart Lightfoot G0GOF obtained the use of nearby Cranfield Aerodrome. In September 1987 the first Milton Keynes Radio Society rally was held there.
The rally was so successful and made so great a profit for the Club that it was to become the first of many large radio rallies and car-boot sales held on the aerodrome with the kind assistance of the Airport Manager, who made no charge for the use of the site. Difficulties continued with radio operation from the hall at Hodge Lea Community Centre, and it was again felt that such restrictions should dictate yet another search for better premises. David White G3ZPA found a room which could be hired very cheaply at the Drill Hall outside Wolverton Railway Station, and offered possibilities of erecting outside aerials. The Club moved from Hodge Lea to the Drill Hall (now renamed North Bucks Youth Sports Hall) in May of 1990. The hall authorities gave permission to put up HF and VHF aerials on a permanent basis, and these were erected in August 1992.
The financial fortunes of the Club rose dramatically after the first rally at Cranfield Aerodrome. Eight more annual events had been held there by September 1994 and were hailed as a premier event by the Amateur Radio fraternity in the U.K.
In 1993, Radio Club Members Warren Backhouse, John James, Eric Simpson and David White, who had been meeting every Wednesday at the Bletchley Park Social Club for many years, decided to assist in a recently set-up project to save the Bletchley Park code breaking centre from demolition. Their (unspoken) objective was to secure a toe-hold on the Bletchley Park site, with the intention of obtaining premises which would be suitable for use by the Radio Club.
Warren Backhouse became the Chairman of this unofficial group, which attended many meetings for volunteers, held between mid 1993 and 5th February 1994 when Bletchley Park opened to the Public for the first time. The group constructed a working replica of a Middle-East “Y“ Station, which at the time was the only operational exhibit on the site.
The work of these four Club Members, and their commitment to Bletchley Park, was formally recognised in June 1994 with the offer of a Clubroom in Faulkner House. Warren, John, Eric and David constructed the present Y Station in “H” block, Bletchley Park, over several weeks, finishing only three hours before the official opening of Bletchley Park by the Duke of Kent on 18th July 1994. At this time, Bletchley Park was to open to the Public fortnightly, at weekends only.
David White G3ZPA was allocated room 103 to start his own exhibition of former Diplomatic Wireless Service equipment. This resulted from his 30-year association with Hanslope Park Communications Centre, which originally had links with Bletchley Park.
Constant and consistent weekend commitment and dedication to manning the Y Station and room 103 ensured that the Club had the use of room 102 in Faulkner House entirely free of charge. At the end of 1994 it was decided that the Club no longer needed two venues, so the use of the Drill Hall in Wolverton was discontinued, and all aerials and masts were removed.
A copy of the famous ‘R.K.O. Radio’ tower had been installed on the roof of Weatherhead’s Radio & T.V. shop at the junction of Bedford Street and Queensway in Bletchley since the 1950’s. In May 1994, M.K.&D.A.R.S. obtained permission to remove the eighteen-foot high copy from the vacant shop. By May 1995 It had been refurbished and installed on the roof of Faulkner House in working condition, supporting a Cushcraft A4S H.F. beam antenna. This was in time for the anniversary of V.E. Day celebrations on 8th May, when, using the special-event call-sign GB2BPX, over 600 radio contacts were made world-wide.
1995 saw the departure of the friendly Airport Manager from Cranfield aerodrome. The new Manager wanted the Club to pay a large fee to use the taxiways in future, so with the permission of the Trust it was decided to hold the 1995 Rally at Bletchley Park. Although this and subsequent rallies held at the Park were successful, there was not enough room to accommodate the more than three hundred stalls which had been in evidence at Cranfield.
In May 1995, the Radio Licensing Authority issued a permanent GB licence for the Club station. Des Shepherd G3LCS and a small team had been instrumental in starting construction of a new permanent Amateur Station which would be open to the general public. The new Museum Station GB2BP was opened on 3rd December 1995 by the President of the Radio Society of Great Britain, Mr Clive Trotman GW4YKL,in the presence of Roger Bristow (Chief Executive), Tony Sale (Museum Curator), and Anglia Television.
Under the Chairmanship of George Kowalski G0RDG, Club Membership had risen to nearly seventy by late summer 1995, and continued to increase.
1996 saw Faulkner House become a National Morse Testing Centre, with Morse tuition and Novice R.A.E. classes run by Club Members.
In 1998 all the Club’s aerials and masts, on the roof of Faulkner House, were transferred to the roof of the old Radar Control Tower. Much new equipment was purchased, and after these purchases were made the Club’s bank account still held in excess of £3,000.
Much publicity was now being obtained, and Club Members often appeared in the R.S.G.B. Magazine “Radcom”. One such occasion was in January 1999 when ten of the now obsolete D.W.S. and MI6 Mk 123 spy-sets were set up in the Mansion with their owners photographed beside them.
The first “Polish Festival” was held at Bletchley Park on 26th June 1999. This was a special event commemorating the presentation of a Polish Enigma machine to the British authorities in 1939. The Radio Club, under the direction of David White G3ZPA, had re-installed vintage wireless equipment in the Park’s clandestine radio room, “Station X”, and Club Members were shown on television in Poland, operating the station. The Club also made a local transmission of an Enigma-encoded special message, from Station X to the Mansion (downstairs!), where it was decoded before the eyes of the delighted assembled dignitaries.
A radio link was established between GB2BP (Bletchley Park) and members of the Leicester Radio Club when they organised a special event at the former army Y Station headquarters at Beaumanor (GB2MM) on 31st December 1999. The contact was repeated on 9th January 2000 with local dignitaries in attendance at Beaumanor Hall.
Following a visit by a Canadian TV company, a number of photographs were found in the DWS room in Faulkner House, showing various views of a secret radio station near the town of Whitby, in Ontario, Canada. This was formerly the site of the World War II Secret Agent Training School known variously as “STS103“, “Project-J”, and “Camp X”. Bill Collier G0TGU, a Club Member, was instrumental in arranging a radio link between GB2BP and Camp X in May 2000, and Bletchley Park was visited on 5th May 2001, by Lynn Philip Hodgson, who gave a talk about Camp X in the Mansion Library.
This sequence of events resulted in an association between M.K.A.R.S. and the North Shore Amateur Radio Club (VE3NSR) in Ontario, Canada: on 12th July 2000, the two societies were formally twinned.
At the end of 2000, the Radio Club was advised, along with other groups, that Faulkner House was to be sold to a developer, together with much of the Display Green and the old Navigation Airfield at the rear. This would mean the loss of use of the Radar Control Tower for the Aerial systems. It also meant that the 14th Annual M.K.A.R.S. Radio Rally in August 2000 would be the last one held on the Park. April 2001 saw a large departure of all User Groups from Faulkner House, and the Radio Club was allocated the Green Room in the wooden Annexe to block “B” as a Clubroom. Two small rooms on the Ground floor in ‘A’ block were obtained for the Club to again set up the GB2BP Radio Station. Much hard work resulted in a fine Station with a display room of vintage Amateur equipment, but problems were experienced in putting up suitable aerials. For some considerable time the Station operated using only a single G5RV aerial at about 40 feet above ground level, and surprisingly good results were obtained, as can be seen from the Club‘s Log books. A disadvantage from the publicity viewpoint was that the attendances of the public fell dramatically: the rooms in ‘A’ block were simply not on the main “Museum Trail“. Verdun Webley G0RKV and Jackie Battersby M1EPM arranged for the 15th Annual Rally to be held at St. Paul’s School, Leadenhall. Advertising problems and the fact that these Rallies are not individually so popular as they once were - there are simply too many of them - resulted in a comparatively small attendance. Only 54 stallholders attended in 2001, with an income of £850. The 16th Rally was better advertised, and although there were only 48 stallholders, public attendance improved, and the takings amounted to £879.00. Club Members offered great help and enthusiasm on both occasions.
During 2002, the GB2BP Station continued to be operated at weekends by a small but very dedicated group of Members: John James G4MXO, Tom Mitchell G3LMX and Rob Browning G4UMW. Enthusiasm in the Club had dropped since leaving Faulkner House, and membership had fallen from around 80, to a yearly average of some 45 members, which was still considered good, although the Club‘s income halved between 1999 and 2002.
In January 2003, the R.S.G.B. approached the Club’s Senior Training Instructor, Verdun Webley G0RKV, with a request that the Club should participate in a pilot scheme for the introduction of the new Intermediate Radio Licensing course and Examination, which was to replace the Novice Licence course. Although Verdun had said that he wished to stand down as Instructor in the near future, he introduced the scheme with the help of Tom Mitchell G3LMX, and the Club’s involvement with training in the Intermediate, and the new Foundation Radio Licence Courses, still continues. Tuition in the Advanced Licence course is also available.
Because of the comparative distance between the Clubroom and the ‘Shack’, at this time, a TV transmission link was set up between the two, but since it operated in only one direction and did not allow for voice communication, it was rarely used to advantage.
In May 2003, the Club introduced an interesting Outside Event, arranging the operation of a Special Event Station, GB4NGR, from the Narrow Gauge Railway site in the village of Lavendon, some twenty miles north of Bletchley. This was followed in June by another such event, when the Club operated GB3MRL as a Special Event Station hosted by the Museum of Rural Life in McConnell Drive, Wolverton, in one of a series of Annual visits.
Both of the above events were overshadowed in August by the spectacular success of “Wireless Waves Around Bletchley“. This all-weekend event featured no less than three Amateur base stations at the same venue.
GB2BP operated from the permanent Bletchley Park Station in ’A’ block, while other Club Members set up and manned a “temporary” station on the lawn by the lake opposite the Mansion, using the Club’s call-sign G3HIU. Also in attendance on the Mansion car-park was the R.S.G.B.’s Educational Mobile Station, GB4FUN, overseen by R.S.G.B. full-time staff-member, Carlos Eavis.
The highlight of the weekend was a low-level flypast by three aircraft of the Queen’s Memorial Flight. Such flypasts (in this instance a Dakota, a Hurricane and a Spitfire) were not unusual at Bletchley Park’s events.
What made this weekend possibly unique was that Club Chairman Frank Collins, M0RPM, had obtained permission to monitor radio traffic between the aircraft and their ground-stations. Having contacted the Q.M.F controllers at High Wycombe and found out their flight plan and approach, indicating arrival via Farnborough, the Club set up an Air band base scanner and a couple of A/B handhelds on the following frequencies :-EGLF Farnborough Radar 125.25; EGGW Luton Radar 129.55; EGTC Cranfield on 122.85, and finally monitoring BOB Flight on 120.8. Communications were patched through to the Public Address systems around Bletchley Park, much to the delight of the crowd when they heard the pilot of the Dakota requesting permission to repeat his low-level flight!
In September, following many meetings and negotiations, planning permission was granted by Milton Keynes Council for the relocation of two aerial masts within Bletchley Park. This was much to the relief of the Committee, because Club Members had already started work on refurbishing the three steel lattice sections of the R.K.O. Tower, recovered from the roof of the old radar control tower building. Also in hand was the preparation of the 30ft Tennamast which was to support the Club’s V.H.F. two-metre beam antenna.
Towards the end of the year, the Park Trust announced plans to develop a “Technology Incubation Centre” within ’B’ block, much of which building had remained unused since the end of the War.
On 21st December, the Club held an open meeting to discuss the Park’s proposal to provide alternative accommodation for the meeting room and radio station. The GB2BP Station was to move to an “open-plan” area ’on the first floor of B block’, with an area on the ground floor to be available for meetings. The move was to take place such that the opening of the Technology Incubation Centre, which would have Amateur Radio as a major theme, would coincide with the D-Day Anniversary Celebrations on 6th June 2004.
No further information was provided to the Radio Club by Bletchley Park Trust throughout that winter. Work on the Tennamast and the R.K.O. Tower continued in the spring, and by late April, the lower two sections of the Tower were in place on the roof of the Plant-room above ‘B’ block. It must be said that these proceedings were not without incident: an unfortunate accident resulted in the hospitalisation of a Club Member, and although he recovered fully from the accident, a delay of some weeks was imposed while the Radio Club and Bletchley Park Trust investigated the circumstances.
The Tennamast had been erected before Christmas, but was moved and re-erected, (on a porch roof some fifteen feet higher than originally planned!) because the Park Trust had suggested that this might fit in better with their new plans for the GB2BP Station.
Throughout March, following a chance enquiry, the Club was again in almost daily contact (though for the most part by e-mail rather than radio) with Club Members of its twin station VE3NSR in Ontario. As a result, on 31st May, a hundred and sixty Canadian school students arrived at Bletchley Park, accompanied by school staff, some parents, and a number of journalists and photographers.
Also part of the group, and making a return visit to the Park, was Lynn Philip Hodgson, author of “Inside Camp X”. He presented the Club with a certificate of appreciation, and some signed copies of his book. The group came to Europe as part of the D-Day commemorations, during which they buried a time-capsule on Juno Beach in Normandy.
Some three weeks previously, M.K.A.R.S. had been advised by Bletchley Park Trust that new premises for the GB2BP station were available in the basement area of ‘B’ block, and would the Club be good enough to set up a display of Amateur Radio equipment, in time for the D-Day Anniversary Celebrations on 6th June.
The Radio Club Members responded in a characteristically prompt manner, and an operational station and -albeit temporary- display of radio equipment was in place for the opening of the building by H.R.H. the Duke of Kent, on June 10th 2004.
“Y” Stations were wartime radio receiving stations which intercepted enemy radio traffic. Transcripts of intercepted material were sent to Bletchley Park for decryption and assimilation of intelligence.
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