with A LITTLE BIT OF MUSIC {also from down memory lane} to entertain you.  It plays through once but if you want to hear it again, just click on your REFRESH button.

The book "SIGNAL" - A history of signaling in the Royal Navy by Captain Barrie Kent RN Deceased,  touches very briefly upon the subject of Signal Schools referring to them as "the first signal schools", and these, by and large, about visual signaling only.  Although a relatively simple thing to do, I can find no comprehensive list of signal schools which truly cover the subject of SIGNALLING {to encompass both wireless telegraphy and visual signaling} which would have to date from the turn of the last century c 1900.

The first things one finds is that there have been many.  Many to meet the demands of war, of expansion in personnel numbers, of technology advancements and of the navy's modus operandi in the last one hundred and ten years.

The list is increased albeit a tiny bit when we consider the Signal School of the Royal Marines.

The definition of a Signal School as opposed to a Signal Training Centre [STC] is vague, but essentially it can be said that a STC offered an open door to all ratings to give the facilities for keeping their operator skills high [biffers] and for giving professional courses to ratings up to the Leading Hand level.  It also provided courses for Leading Hands, which, should they be successful in the subsequent examination, put them on the 'first rung of the ladder' leading to the Petty Officer rate. This was a provisional examination only and could not in itself lead to the substantive rate of confirmed Petty Officer. That required a qualification in the professional examination and that could only be conducted at THE Signal School viz HMS Mercury. A STC did not run career courses for any rating above the rate of Leading Hand, nor, apart from some acquaint courses and certain CBO [Confidential Book Officer] courses, did it provide any facilities for officer training. A STC could however, if suitably equipped,  provide basic PJT [Pre Joining Training] for ratings about to join ships within the geographical area of the STC. A Signal School could, if necessary, provide professional career training for communication officers and ratings.  It became the norm that Signal Schools and STCs  provided [or could provide] professional training to meet the requirements of Part II and Part III training whereas the New Entry Training Establishments provided Part I basic training.  Real time long distance communications were regularly practiced from STCs to HMS Mercury under the WITEX system when HF transmitters, tuned by the trainees, would set-watch and exchange messages, quizzes and much else between the two training areas.   However, it wasn't always the case because there were times when NE Training Establishments delivered on both Part I and Part II training, sending their trainees direct to the Fleet instead of to the Signal School. Typical of these were Ganges {sparkers and buntings}, St Vincent {buntings only} and Impregnable {sparkers only}. By late 1972  boys from Ganges were being sent to HMS Mercury for Part II training.  This article comes from the Communicator Magazine Winter 1972/Spring 1973 Vol 21 No6.


As far as communication training is concerned [Part II training] Ganges closed down in 1973, but continued a little longer with Part I training until finally 'drawing stumps' in 1976. It wasn't the only change in the period 1972/73, for at this time berets had been introduced as official headgear for all occasions other than ceremonial.

As we will see, the use of the title 'Signal School' was common practice from the earliest of days [approx 1900] until the early to mid 1950's, at which time the smaller Signal Schools [with the least equipment, facilities and staff] assumed the title of 'Signal Training Centre'.  STCs were established both in the UK and on Foreign Stations but by no means all stations.  In addition to the Signal Schools and Training Centres there were one or two very small outfits teaching or acquainting communication personnel with procedures appertaining to 'communications'. One such was the Naval Gun Fire Support [NGFS] Spotters 'school' at ATURM Poole Dorset. There were also places like RNDA Thatcham for CBO acquaint courses.

The foreign based facilities were in Malta, Singapore, Simons Town, although all the Communication Stations [Comcens or W/T Stations around the world] had facilities for training in practical skills.

 STC Singapore was an integral part of Kranji W/T a station built after clearing a jungle in the 1920's/1930's.  See this page from another of my web sites  http://www.rnmuseumradarandcommunications2006.org.uk/CommsColRight/Photographs/singapore.htm

This is what Kranji looked like in its hey day:-

with its main gate in 1968:-

and this is what it looks like today:-

Simons Town STC, called STC Klaver was built on the top of a hill 900 feet above sea level over looking Simons Town and its Dockyard. By road, its was six miles from the Dockyard but a short cut was available, straight up the front of the hill using literally many hundreds of steep steps to get there. Its was manned by the communicators from the flagship of the C-in-C South Atlantic [and other ships depending upon demand] and served the UK SA Fleet as well as training South African communicators. When the ships were at sea, STC courses were not available but the facilities for practical skill training were.  Also stationed in these parts [in addition to the RN ships] were two W/T transmitting stations [Klaver W/T and Faure W/T]  plus the main W/T receiving station/Comcen [Slangkop W/T] and not forgetting the MSO down below in Simons Town serving what was to become HMS Afrikander, the British naval base on the Cape.

STC Malta was much like the home ports of Devonport and Chatham where moving geographical positions of schools/centres seemed to be a 'good game'. In truth it was more likely to be bombed [especially in the Siege of Malta 1940-42] than was Devonport or Chatham [or Portsmouth for that matter], and by 1948 it was domiciled near to Grand Harbour's entrance at Ricasoli Point the grizzly old site of the Malta Gallows.  Just before the STC arrived the area was called Fort Ricasoli but had actually been named HMS Ricasoli before the first piece of instructing chalk had scratched the blackboard.  It had relocated from RNB Camarata {in the very heart of Valletta} and before those days was sited in RNB HMS Euroclydon at Fort Verdala just behind the dockyard in Conspicua on the Three Cities side of Grand Harbour. So all the moves together did not total more than a mile or so.  I did my leading telegraphist course at this STC, and it might have been something I said, because shortly afterwards in late 1958 it relocated yet again but this time a little further.  It moved to Gzira, on Manoel Island, to HMS Phoenicia and remained there until the British left the Island. Have a look at the photograph album on this page with many of the photographs showing Malta Communicators from the earliest of times:- Arrow Themeset

This picture shows HMS Ricasoli with the STC over to the left middle of the picture.

 We now leave the main foreign stations without a recognised STC,  which are normally accepted as Gibraltar, Aden, Bahrain, Trincomalee, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Mombasa, Mauritius {with several other smaller players in between or operational at different times with RN personnel, like Cyprus, the Rhine Squadron, NATO/CENTO/SEATO appointments, Alexandria et al }  and turn our gaze upon the UK itself.

First off then are the Signal Schools [as declared by the Admiralty]  listed here in alphabetical order before we say a few words about each one of them. There are 19 of them all told, but more than 19 geographical locations.


HMS BRUCE was situated at Crail, Fifeshire, Scotland, and trained communication boys inter alia. It took over the disused airfield of HMS Jackdaw and started to train boys on the 9th June 1947.  However, after a very short period, early June 1949, HMS Bruce closed its doors to boys and to communication training which caused a major furore by the Scottish Provosts*.  The Admiralty was more or less forced to rethink its presence in this geographical area, and as the boys left, adults took their places and HMS Bruce became a Forces language school instead.  This meant that as of that date [1949] HMS Ganges became the sole trainer of communication boys. It is recorded that the passing of Bruce would be much missed by Ganges because there was always an argument raging as to who produced the best communicator boy.

* This Scottish Provosts complaint is covered in the Nation Archives Admiralty File 1/22709 [1949].

HMS CABBALA was an RN Establishment from 1940 until 1942. It was situated in Tortworth Court, a beautiful house [now a very upmarket expensive luxury hotel] at Wotton-under-Edge South Gloucestershire and it trained the WRNS in communications and coding. In 1942 it joined forces with HMS Scotia and the Court was returned to its owner, a peer of the realm.  What luxury ?

RNSS CHATHAM. As will be the case for RNSS Devonport , RNSS Chatham will change in this section from being a RNSS to being a STC. For many a long year before WW2, Chatham had a thriving Signal School which was located inside the Depot Barracks at HMS Pembroke. When war came it was decided to move the school out of harms way and a virgin plot of primeval forest was cleared in which to build the new school - right next to a Borstal ! Of interest, it was called a Borstal because right next door there was [and is] a tiny village called Borstal after which all young offender institutions are named.  The forest area was called Cookham Wood and the RNSS became known as RNSS Cookham Camp.  The camp accommodated all its trainees, CS ratings, SS ratings, NS ratings [respectively 'continuous service', 'special service or wrongly short service', 'national service' and  Wrens.  It lasted until the 7th June 1950 when the whole shooting match was transferred back to quite near the Depot Barracks HMS Pembroke at Rochester.  It set up camp in what was to become known as the Prince Arthur and thus it became RNSS Prince Arthur Camp.  Training continued as normal, with the trainees accommodate in St Mary's Barracks marching to and fro daily to instructions. The old school at Cookham Camp was ravaged by flora and fauna [particularly rabbits], the Borstal became a women's prison and then a 'closed prison' for adult males. In 1955 the camp closed and the RNSS was demoted to be a STC and almost as a complete circle, moved back into the Depot Barracks for the last time where it lasted until the Nore Command was disbanded. If you want to know about Chatham and the Nore Command have a look here at my version [note - not the historic dockyard version] of  CHATHAM DOCKYARD.  Also, you couldn't get lost when trying to find RNSS Prince Arthur Camp ! See this RNSS CHATHAM 1950 [PRINCE ARTHUR CAMP].pdf.  Below pictures of Cookham Camp:-

HMS DEFIANCE.  The Defiance was moored in the Hamoaze at Devonport and had as her captain Captain Jackson RN later to become Admiral of the Fleet Jackson, the RN champion of royal naval wireless telegraphy from the earliest of days [1892].  He vied with Marconi for pole position with the Admiralty on W/T matters but lost when the Admiralty chose Marconi and his new fangled equipment and procedures. Later, he and Marconi made friends and put aside their difference but not their ambitions. Admiral Jackson was subsequently appointed to the highest position in the navy, wasn't the brightest star in the sky, and in retirement returned his brilliant mind to matters of naval technology and was at peace with is calling - my type of man, were I to be so clever! Captain Jackson's command of the Defiance led, eventually, to the Defiance being recognised as the west country Signal School equal only with HMS Vernon, the Signal School in Portsmouth. Between them they did many trials of W/T from ships close by to ships in foreign parts, and between them, furthered the technology to the point of profound success. Defiance, even without its champion and Vernon with its lead profile of proven W/T ability established what was to become H.M. Signal School, fittingly based in Portsmouth as an extension of the Vernon Group moored in Porchester Creek manifest in two quite separate departments [under one roof] of 'The School' and 'The Experimental Department'.  W/T communicators of yore, depending upon their aspirations judged on their ability and merit, could elect to be assigned to one or the other, which, although different in application were complimentary in the forming of a new and exciting branch of technology.  For the devotee much else can be found on my second website http://www.rnmuseumradarandcommunications2006.org.uk particularly in pages like  http://www.rnmuseumradarandcommunications2006.org.uk/CommsColRight/19%20Century/19century.htm

RNSS DEVONPORT.   Devonport, just like Portsmouth and Chatham had an established SIGNAL SCHOOL before the Second World War.

For various reasons [all stated] both the Chatham and the Devonport Schools had the same number of geographical locations which were dictated by the War, namely four.

Here, we mentioned the four sites of the Devonport Signal Schools, although in fact the third and fourth sites downgraded the School into a Signal Training Centre {STC} with much reduced training and advancement portfolios.

The original Devonport Signal School was Depot-based and was established within the greater boundary of Devonport Naval Base in HMS Vivid/Drake {1934 change over of names} in 1901.  It was established in a small building next to the gymnasium, and on that site now standing the WO's and SR's Mess. As the war threatened the base {May 1942}, it was decided to find a new home for the School.  Safe [or safer] territory was required and the Admiralty chose a little village called Roborough, way outside of the city of Plymouth [and the environs of Devonport, an extension of the city].  It was christened R.N.S.S. Glen Holt a former nudist camp.  The area, which I show below, was to say the least 'rustic' and far removed from a naval ambience - much the same as was the case for Portsmouth [the Meon Valley] and Chatham [Cookham Woods].

In August 1947 R.N.S.S. Glen Holt closed down and the former nudist holiday camp was returned to its owners. Many hearts were broken because of the move but none more so than the landlords/landladies of the two much used pubs, namely 'The George' and the 'Lopez Arms'. It moved to the St Budeaux area of Plymouth to an area which was always referred to as Normandy Way although its correct name was R.N.S.S. Vicarage Road, to a collection of old Nissen huts put there for US Forces.  There, now much closer to the Naval Base areas, it continued with its training role formerly undertaken at Glen Holt. Papers show that it was never really a success mainly because the accommodation was sub-standard, and as early as 1950 criticism [some of it harsh] was common place. In the Summer 1950 edition of the Communicator Magazine {Vol4 No2} on page 65, the writer of the R.N.S.S. Devonport's column says " On Tuesday 13th June the C-in-C visited R.N.S.S. Vicarage Road and it is thought that he left feeling pleased with what he had seen.  He showed much interest in the instructional technique as applied to modern communications and cryptography.  It is hoped that lurking in the back of his mind will be the thought that, notwithstanding the standard of accommodation and instructional huts at Vicarage Road, as he saw them on a fine day, the R.N. Barracks at St Budeaux [the old HMS Impregnable , and now WRNS quarters] with its parade ground, drill shed, gymnasium, super masts, far better accommodation, and other amenities, would be an  infinitely better home for the the Devonport Signal School.  After all - who knows, it may be that Nissen huts play a prominent role in the R.N. manning problem.


The move of just over one mile further south but still in St Budeaux, was inevitable but it didn't come about as expected or planned. The move started in mid 1953 into what had been the old barracks use by HO communication ratings and before them, by the Boys' Training Ship HMS Impregnable preceded by the Devonport RN Detention Quarters, with all the facilities mentioned above. The draw back was that there wasn't enough accommodation for Signal School personnel and anyway, it would have been inappropriate bearing in mind that it was already WRNS Quarters. This meant that the unmarried trainees and staff and those married but unaccompanied had to be victualled in HMS Drake whilst the accompanied men continued as normal to live ashore with their families. What it meant in real terms was that the ship's company known in the GLEN HOLT and VICARAGE ROAD Signal School was no more, and the St Budeaux Barracks provided nothing more than classrooms, the ship company being that of HMS Drake. The move to St Budeaux Barrack, now demoted to the status of a Signal Training Centre [STC] was completed on the 22nd July 1954 and from that time onwards all communication ratings were transferred four times daily [twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon] across a stretch of water from HMS Drake to a landing stage, where one had to climb a long flight of steps to gain access to the Barracks. We used to criss-cross with the Wrens going to work in RNB.  We did this whether 'on course' or not, and those not were given over to the Buffer and used as gardeners and general maintenance numbers.  We also read our daily 'biffers'. Not only was the St Budeaux barracks shared by the WRNS but also by the Devonport ABCD School, the forerunner of the NBCD school, which, on being so renamed, moved out to Tamerton Foliot.  That STC lasted until Christmas 1958 with its last OIC being Lt [SD] [C] A. Salter R.N., {but see below for a list of all OIC's}

when it was decided to move the WRNS into the main RNB.  C-in-C Plymouth paid his farewell visit in early October 1958 and on the 15th October, H.R.H. The Duchess of Kent visited to say her goodbye to the WRNS. On both of these occasions the mast, which had been erected for HMS Impregnable boys training, was fully manned by the STC trainees, and most impressive it was too.


Late October 1958 the STC's ship's company held their final farewell dance; bonfire night was celebrated in style with hot-dogs and dancing organised by the WRNS, and on the 15th November, the Senior Rates {STC and WRNS} held their farewell Ball. The Ball, despite its name, was for everybody and all Senior Officers associated with the Port of Devonport were invited with their ladies, as was the Captain of HMS Mercury [CSS] Captain Brooke and his lady {see CAPTAIN_SIGNAL_SCHOOL_HMS_MERCURY_1941_TO_1993 }. November 28th 1958 was the final day and some eighty trainees entrained for HMS Mercury to continue their training.  All goodbyes were said, and thereafter, all went their separate ways to Christmas leave 1958 and to new appointments/drafts immediately thereafter.  The STC moved back into its pre war home inside the Barracks proper and the site was sold off for commercial building. At first the STC occupied an old gun battery in HMS Drake but in the mid 1970's moved into a purpose built new training centre.

In the following picture we see STC St Budeaux in context with RNSS Vicarage Road and RNSS Glen Holt and STC Devonport [HMS Drake].

An article written by RNSS Devonport


RMSS EASTNEY.  The Royal Marines had their Signal School in Portsmouth, incorporated into  RMB Eastney [Southsea].  RM Signallers were used in the Fleet at sea and I can remember them being part of the crew of HMS Tyne, the flagship during the Suez Crisis of 1956. The RMSS had a direct training link to HMS Mercury and to the Royal Signals [the Jimmy's] at Blanford Dorset.  RM's were also represented at the CSS [see below].

RNSS FORT SOUTHWICK.  In April 1946, Commander N de G Waymouth RN was appointed the CO of this School.  "At first all the gash was ditched on its doorstep....." and these included odd refresher courses and overflows from HMS Mercury.  In September of that year they were given the job of training 350 men and women to be ordinary telegraphists, and by November, courses for Leading Rates were underway and touch typing courses for Portsmouth Command communicators were in the planning stage.   By 1949 the RNSS had closed, chiefly because National Servicemen classes had dried up, HMS Mercury had expanded catering for more trainees, and the new ASRE [which became ASWE inter alia names later on] building next to Fort Southwick was near completion and the scientists were already moving in.  Some of the visitors in the latter days of the RNSS had convinced themselves that the new massive building complex was the new H.M. Signal School.  There were many rumours doing the rounds at that time based on the buzz that Leydene was being returned to the Peel family. They were not far off the mark because the plot of land immediately opposite the Fort, where stood FOCAS' building and now in 2010, I understand a driving school, was actually earmarked as the site of the new H.M. Signal School.  As it turned out, despite Lady Peels wishes to have her house and grounds back, the Admiralty chose to hold onto HMS Mercury and the plans were shelved. A picture of ratings at the School

 CSS FREMINGTON.  CSS stood for Combined Signal School and not the more familiar meaning of Captain Signal School a la HMS Mercury. This School was located at Fremington, North Devon, and commenced teaching Combined Operations [Combined Ops] to amphibious forces in 1946.  It was quad-service staffed by army, navy, air force and marine instructors.  It wasn't in commission for very long and had closed down as the Korean War was starting in 1950.


Note:  For this establishment, HMS Ganges and HMS St Vincent, the evacuation of boys from their Training Establishments because of war,  is covered by the National Archive Document ADM 116/3867 c.1937-39.

The Impregnable [a group of ships] at Devonport trained boys for the navy from the late 19th century right through to WW2.  Whilst for the most part the School {Signal School} was afloat, part of it eventually moved ashore into purposely built barracks at St Budeaux not far from where the Impregnable Group was moored. Here, they had a large parade ground, generous sporting pitches, large masts and good accommodation. In 1940, these Barracks for Boys became Barracks for HO communicators, then, after the war, became the Plymouth Command WRNS Quarters later being joined by the Devonport STC whose trainees and staff were accommodated in RNB HMS Drake. There is far too much to tell you about the Impregnable in too limited a space, but if you want to get a good feel for what she was or did have a look at these pages HMS GANGES AT FALMOUTH {although about Ganges has detail also about the Impregnable}, QUICK QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS {specifically Question 6}, The Victorian navy witnessed several Royal Commissions and The training ships had originally been placed.html   Impregnable was the 'star player' in the Boys' training league where Ganges was at the bottom of the pile as a third rate training ship {as well as being a third rate ship of the line} and Impregnable the leading first rate training ship {and also a first rater, a true battleship}.  For nigh on forty years, she did what the Victory used to do in Portsmouth, namely to fly the flag of the Command C-in-C: that was before that flag was struck in Victory and in its place came the flag of CINCNAVHOME who wore two hats, the other the Second Sea Lord.  Today, it is hard to believe that a major flagship with all the pomp and circumstances involved, could be at the same time, be a boys training ship. As such, Impregnable taught Advanced Class [AC] Boys, Signal Boys and Boy Telegraphist whereas Ordinary Boys [later to be styled General Class {GC}] who were academically less able Boys, were taught in other training ships. In 1905 she gave her Signal Boys to Ganges and to St Vincent; in 1910 Ganges started to train AC Boys and in 1913 Boy Telegraphists left Impregnable to be trained in Ganges. From 1907, the start date for the professional W/T branch, boys were recruited as fifty percent direct from the GPO Telegraphy Schools and fifty percent from the recruiting office, the latter a mixture of ex school boys or boys from Nautical Training Ships. Each group trained separately [in any of the training ships] for the first three months and then came together into HMS Impregnable for their W/T training proper. They joined the Fleet direct from Impregnable.

HMS MERCURY. Known officially as H.M. Signal School, it became better known under titles like The Signal School, Leydene and of course HMS Mercury.  It was established in East Meon in 1941 after having been moved from the confines of the RNB Portsmouth {HMS Victory}* and it was the SECOND 'SHIP'  to be called HMS MERCURY in WW2.  The first Mercury was a minesweeper which was sunk in late 1940 and by that time had a circular ships crest. Leydene, upon being christened Mercury took the former ships crest instead of a shore stations crest which is an offset square shape.  Thus throughout its whole existence its ships crest was wrong. See THE STORY OF HMS MERCURY.htm and also this page  HMS MERCURY AT LEYDENE.html  Many of you will already know all there is to know about this alma mater, and references to it are still much in evidence.  It closed down in 1993 and moved to be a part [only] of HMS Collingwood at Fareham Hampshire and is known simply as MERCURY.  We cannot of course begin to compare the Mercury of Leydene with that of Collingwood as tangible brick and mortar buildings, but neither can we compare operationally for the sparkers have gone to be replaced by the CIS branch and the buntings are now seamen.  See also the comment for RNSS Shotley - Touch Typing.

*On the 10th March 1941 there was a seven-hour attack by an estimated 300 German aircraft on Portsmouth. Ships were badly damaged; approximately 25 men were killed whilst sheltering in an air raid shelter in HMS Vernon; RNDQ's was partly demolished; the RNB Church was destroyed and the old Naval Academy, the home of the Navigation School was ruined which was quickly moved to Southwick House at the back of Portsdown Hill in the village of Southwick; a bomb blast blew a massive hole in the port bow of HMS Victory; Admiralty House was hit by three bombs neither of which exploded.

1953 and Mercury is illuminated for the Coronation.  The two lattice radio masts are illuminated plus a crown on a specially built gantry.  Later on, a light aircraft collided with one of the masts which was subsequently dismantled.  In  the 1970's, the remaining mast which stood immediately at the top of the steps leading up the east side of Mountbatten Block [with the Dreadnought Block ICS Wing on the right] almost on the Droxford Road was dismantled as surplus to requirements.

The following plate shows the WRNS structure of the communication branch post WW2.  SDO means Signal Distribution Operators.

RNSS PALACE or, as some would have it, HMS Crystal Palace. Crystal Palace to the south of London was taken over by the navy at the start of WW1 to train the Royal Naval Division [RND].  It had its own Signal School and I tell that story here RN Signal Schools

HMS SCOTIA.  SCOTIA was a naval establishment at Ayr Scotland from 1942 to 1946 in a former Butlins holiday camp.  It had a Signal School and trained many thousands of communicators for the Fleet. In 1946 it was given back to Butlins and Scotia relocated south to Warrington, Lancashire where it occupied two camps, side by side, known as North and South Camps [rather like Leydene !].  North Camp trained all National Service communicators in communications except for wireless telegraphy which was to be taught in South Camp commencing in 1947. However, that didn't happen and all National Service Telegraphists were sent to RNSS Fort Southwick or RNSS Cookham Camp. WRNS Teleprinter and WRNS Telephone Switchboard were trained in North Camp. HMS Scotia closed down on the 20th December 1947 when all aspects of communication training for all comers was transferred to RNSS' Fort Southwick and Cookham Camp. It trained a total of 21774 communicators in its five years of operating. Below a couple of photographs:-

NASS SEAFIELD PARK. NASS means Naval Air Signal School where Telegraphist Air Gunners and Flying Telegraphists were trained for the FAA. Seafield Park was at Lee-on-the-Solent just behind the RNAS HMS Daedalus.  It later changed its role to the SURVIVAL SCHOOL. There were only three such terrifying courses in the navy in my time and I did all three:  one was helicopter escape {the DUNKER} HMS Vernon, then the submarine escape tank {SETT} HMS Dolphin and finally the course at Seafield Park.   This is what the camp looked like.

RNSS SHOTLEY {HMS GANGES}.  Boys [never younger than fifteen and a quarter even though they might have arrived in the Training Establishment at an earlier age] started training here to become either a Signal Boy or a Boy Telegraphist. The Establishment as RNTE Shotley [not HMS Ganges until 1927] started in 1905 training boys of low to medium academic ability called Ordinary Boys and later General Class Boys [GC].  By 1906 Signal Boys and Seamen were being trained here.  Academics were taught by the Schoolmaster a Warrant Officer and teachers, Chief Petty Officers. Clever boys, from other training ships called Advance Class Boys [AC] were drafted in and borne on the books as ship's company.  They were called and used as such 'pupil teachers' and once they had proved their worth and ability, they were sent to teacher training colleges to return to the navy as Chief Petty Officer Teacher. There were no commissioned Schoolies but the Padre was borne as a Chaplain/Naval Instructor.  In 1910, AC training was introduced into Ganges and with it came commissioned teachers [Schoolies], from henceforth to be known as Instructor Officers: Teachers remained ratings and the Schoolmaster's rank of warrant officer was maintained until after WW2. Before 1910 all Ganges Boys being of GC status and Boy Second Class status, were drafted to second or first rate training ships to become Boy First Class status before being sent to sea. After 1910 and the introduction of AC training, boys stayed at Ganges until ready for sea and left as Boy First Class status. Ganges was vacated in June 1940 and all her Boys were sent to HMS St George on the Isle of Man to continue training as normal. In their place Ganges was used as a basic training camp for HO's which continued until the end of the war.  All communications training at HMS Ganges ceased in 1940 and the Signal School became a part of the Gunnery School. As a temporary expedient, a Signal School of sorts for Ganges Part 1 trained HO's was set up under canvas in the grounds of Highnam Court, two miles west of Gloucester in 1940. It became an integral part of nearby HMS Cabbala [see above]. Like Cabbala, the Court was transferred back to its owner in 1942 when communicators were sent to HMS Scotia and other establishments. During the period "HMS GANGES @ HIGHNAM COURT" a magazine was created which was called The JUMNA, the JUMNA being a tributary of the River Ganges. The Boys returned in the January of 1946, and communication training was restarted at the Signal School. These pages will help you to understand what went on in HMS Ganges HMS GANGES AT FALMOUTH.html - HMS GANGES AT HARWICH.html - QUICK_QUESTIONS_AND_ANSWERS.html

Contrary to the myth of supermen [although I am sure they were] the art of reading Morse Code pre war and during the war was pencil driven with many shortcomings !  Being so, the speed of the Morse had to be commensurate with the dexterity of the average man in writing down the signal so that it would be immediately legible to the addressee without the need for reprocessing. The manual speed of sending Morse Code was also hampered by the design of the Admiralty Morse Key and the ancient art was often lack lustre and very frustrating for officers endeavouring to make or take action on what were inaccurate, illegible or incomplete messages.  The British navy largely fought its war in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and European Seas leading up to the Arctic Circle.  In those theatres the speed of CW broadcasts had often to be lowered to accommodate the speed of the human hand especially when telegraphists were writing almost non stop for many hours on end and there was a limit to a mans endurance. It is often thought that the speeds were increased not decreased but the records show otherwise. As a British 'thing' a compromise was found and the "European" war was prosecuted satisfactorily and definitively.  However, after VE Day, the Brits turned their guns towards the East and quickly changed the Atlantic for the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The resultant Fleet became known as the BPF [British Pacific Fleet] and whilst ships of the RN had of course been East of Suez for much of the war since Pearl Harbour in December 1941 as piecemeal units, now, post VE, the Brit presence became much more obvious. This file shows the composition of the BPF in 1945 and having seen it, the problem of the Morse speeds can been imagined - I thank Ivor Rothwell for sending me these lists BRITISH PACIFIC FLEET 1945.pdf.  It was at that point, the Morse business, hitherto with and without the compromise a frustration Intra-RN, now became an embarrassment. The embarrassment was caused because the USN used typewriters/teletypes to record high speeds of CW broadcasts and used bug keys to send the Morse Code. The British naval operators did not cope and could not match the USN operators.  When VJ eventually came, the Admiralty was flooded with C-in-C BPF complaints and instances of near disasters in the signalling processes. Also see the entry towards the bottom of the page entitled "SUBJECT ASSOCIATED WITH THE MORSE PROBLEMS WHEN WORKING WITH THE USN IN THE BPF".

As a reaction to this severe criticism, the Admiralty ordered that TOUCH TYPING was to be introduced in the Summer of 1947. To give you just a little idea of the problem which had to be solved by the Brits, look at the following four frames [all of them taken from official statements/documents] which discuss the subject of Touch Typing. SDOs are Signal Distribution Offices [MSO's] - B.P.F. is British Pacific Fleet:-


All telling I am sure you will agree.

Look here for two files relating to the training of practical skills for both officers and ratings.


By Summer 1947 Ganges was training 298 W/T Boys and 230 V/S Boys in 26 classes utilising 13 messes.  It was a good start to the post war period but there was too much of a rush and the end product wasn't what the Fleet wanted.

In 1948 it was considered necessary to increase the Ganges communicator course to 45 weeks training and by the beginning 1949 these boys were leaving for sea drafts. However, and confusingly, almost immediately the course was reduced to 35 weeks and by the end of 1949, boys were leaving for sea drafts at a time when the Ganges staff were saying "it is still difficult to say whether we are producing a more efficient Boy under the new conditions". The trimming of 10 weeks had been achieved by reducing seamanship, field training and PT, but no reductions had been made in their technical training or schooling.

An interesting file written by HMS Ganges in 1949. HMS GANGES IN 1949.pdf

Ganges was worried about the quality of their trainees and their value to the Fleet

H.M. SIGNAL SCHOOLNote: The Signal School Organisation 1918-1920 can be found at the National Archives under ADM [Admiralty] File 116/1845. Also files ADM 116/2888 and 2889 1931-34 deal with Signal and Telegraphist Branches - conditions of service and pay at a time when lower deck pay was being cut !  Further files on the History of the Admiralty Signals Division c 1936, can be found in ADM 116/3403 & 3404.  One particular area of worthwhile study when at the National Archives is the ADM 233 series.  This contains nigh on one thousand monthly magazines called "WIRELESS NEWS" published by the Admiralty Naval Intelligence and Government Code and Cypher School between 1918 and 1921.

The original Signal School See HMS DEFIANCE above, was located in 'K' Block at the very back of RNB Portsmouth [opened in 1905] not far from Anchor Gate and not that far away from the original Convicts Prison which became Pompey DQ's and now the RM Band School after they were bombed out by the IRA of their Deal [Kent] home. There are many photographs of this period but nearly all of them are taken of classes posing outside the front of a sandbagged main entrance to the Signal School pre 1941.


This is just one of many.

Many of the officers in this picture come from allied navies. The Barrack regime and the Signal School regime were not the best of bed fellows and most of all, the Signal School wanted autonomy for its students so that they could come and go to please the syllabus and not the Barracks Executive Commander.  The Admiralty had been sounded out [by influential Signals Officers] seeking an alternative for the School.  At that time [1938] the Barracks were hard put to provide suitable accommodation for all its personnel and were using a group of habitable buildings in Stamshaw Park [see map below] as an overflow.  This area was considered suitable for a new proposed H.M. Signal School and the planning stages commenced. Its completion would release the Signal School building[s] inside the Barracks thus giving more space for more accommodation leaving the Stamshaw site free for the sole use of the Signal School. Only the war intervened with these plans and instead of moving out to Stamshaw the School moved many miles away to the Meon Valley, to Leydene House, the manorial residence of Lord and Lady Peel.  By this time Lord Peel was dead and Lady Peel was very upset at the thought of her home being taken over by the Admiralty.  Nevertheless it was, and Leydene House soon became HMS Mercury in 1941.

The following three images show a simple indication of how the pre 1941 H.M. Signal School Organisation became the HMS Mercury Organisation of the 1980 period [for example].  The direction of the arrows is not important.


In the above plates, ASE means Admiralty Signals Establishment - ASRE means Admiralty Signals and Radar Establishment - ASWE means Admiralty Surface Warfare Establishment.


At the turn of the century [20th that is] a vast acreage of land was snapped up for 'pennies' just on the outskirts of Douglas, the Capital of the Isle of Man. From late 1905 until the start of WW1 it was used as a holiday camp for thousands of people from the UK and from Eire when holiday makers slept in a military array of Boer War/Baden Powell type tents as this picture attempts to portray - taken 1910. As can be seen in the background, a splendid pavilion and conservatory provided a dining hall, entertainment area and recreational area.

The holiday camp was known as the Cunninghams and in the 1920's and 1930's it mushroomed into what is considered to be the largest holiday camp ever built in the UK. Its frontage ran parallel to an extremely long road leaving the town for the outback called Victoria Road.

When completed the accommodation looked like this.

In 1940, it was decided to close all Boys Training Establishments not because of the need to protect the Boys welfare, but to release their Training Establishments for men drafted in as HO's to receive their basic training. This meant that all Boys from HMS Ganges [Shotley Gate], HMS St Vincent [Forton Road Gosport] and HMS Impregnable [St Budeaux Barracks Plymouth] were sent to the Isle of Man and to Cunninghams Holiday Camp which was named as HMS St George. Here they established a new Signal School and continued training where Ganges and St Vincent had left off.

This picture shows HMS St George Boys marching through the streets of Douglas IOM on Trafalgar Day 1942.

The following two pictures show the captain of HMS St George in WW2, hIs name was Captain POLAND RN

and here again at his desk in 1943

The Boys returned to their original Establishment in January 1946 but with one change.  Boy Signalmen would no longer be trained in Ganges and St Vincent as pre war, but in Ganges only. Thus, St Vincent's Signal School was no more. In addition to these three ex-Boy Training Establishments accepting HO's, there were several others training raw recruits, the largest of which was HMS Royal Arthur located in Skegness Lincolnshire in yet another holiday camp, a Butlins. After the war, in 1946, Royal Arthur was moved to Corsham in Wiltshire where it became a petty officers leadership school with Prince Philip of Greece as one of the first Instructors. Note:

In 1946, Prince Philip was an EARL, specifically  Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich. In early 1957 [February] after ten years of marriage and ten years of being HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, HM The Queen created her husband to be a PRINCE of Britain, thus becoming HRH Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh. Prior to his marriage he was a foreign Prince, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark but when nearing  his marriage he ceased using his foreign Princedom and became known as Sir Philip Mountbatten.  His father-in-law to be, King George VI, gave to him the style HRH and the Duke of Edinburgh the day before he married,  and from that day, he dropped the Sir Philip Mountbatten title.

Many of us are quite used to Ganges trained communicators from the post WW2 period, but for old times sake, the following two pictures show two men trained closer to WW1 than to WW2, one at Ganges and one at St Vincent.

HMS St George reverted back to being Cunninghams Holiday Camp and was still going strong in the mid-1960's and probably beyond that too.

HMS St VINCENT.   See above to HMS St George.

HMS VALKYRIEValkyrie was another stonewall frigate located in the Isle of Man and also in the Capital, Douglas.  In this case the navy took over the rather splendid Douglas Head Hotel [much more preferable than the Cunningham's Holiday Camp] in 1940 and here they trained HO ratings in radar and communications. Very close to HMS Valkyrie were other commandeered hotels but these were surrounded by barbed wire.  They were places where prisoners of war from Germany, Italy and Japan were incarcerated.  The picture below is of the Douglas Head Hotel in its war training colours.

When Valkyrie closed down at the end of the war vacating January in 1947 all its HO rating communicator trainees where sent to train in HMS Scotia in Warrington. Sadly in 1948 [but nothing to do with the navy] the hotel was badly damaged by fire.  Today it is called the Douglas Head Apartments and looks very smart with a wonderful position overlooking the sea.

HMS VERNON.  HMS VERNON [See this page to understand what the Vernon was HMS VERNON AERIAL SHOT.pdf  was, with HMS Defiance [Devonport], the pioneers of naval wireless telegraphy communications and they were the first and lead Signal Schools to train RN personnel.  Vernon trained the officers, some senior rates and all warrant officers, whilst Defiance trained some senior rates and all junior rates. They worked closely with Marconi in the embryonic days and were innovative themselves in research and development.  They conducted all the early trials with ships at sea and not only trained suitable personnel but also master minded the fitting out of ships.  They also designed and oversaw the fitting out of shore wireless stations and their complicated mast/aerial structures.  By 1914 and the outbreak of WW1, most of our ships had some form of wireless communications, with the larger and capital ships sporting a very sophisticated kit.  

I hope and trust that you have enjoyed our little trip and that the memories have flooded back. Although we accept that twenty first century communications are far more sophisticated than were ours in our time just the same as ours were over our predecessors, the personal art of communicating has been lost to technology and with it, inevitably, though the young may refute this, the job satisfaction of getting writing on a piece of paper from one end of the earth to the other.  The fun has also gone when a couple of SGT's [satellite ground stations] with suitable satellites in orbit is all that is required for global communications and the work force are little more than screen watchers and button pushers without the pleasures of being stationed in Gibraltar, Malta, Aden, Trincomalee, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, Persian Gulf, and several shore foreign jobs outside the territory of NATO.  They don't know what they missed and I don't envy them their lot.  I found it all great fun and loved the idea of working things out and doing things my way which always resulted in good communications given the equipment we had. Take care now and farewell.

Direct Associations with training. This file ACCELERATED ADVANCEMENT IN 1948.pdf is of great interest to all and dates from 1948.  By my time in the navy 1953, the rules laid down here had changed by AFO 5/53.  It amended BR 1066 [the Advancement Regulations] and its implications were far reaching.  From 1953 onwards, all communication Boys were advanced to the Ordinary rate when they were aged 17½ and to the Able rate when aged 18¾.  Any accelerated advancement was to be applied to the Able rate only and a total of five months was available on merit and recommend, two months for getting a First Class Pass out of Boys Training, two months for a First Class Pass in ET2 and one further month at the discretion of the CO at the time a rating reached his advancement age.  Thus, a Telegraphist [for example] could be backed-dated for the Able Rate, and with it the back pay of course, to an age of 18 years 4 months. 'Red Ink' was used by commanding officers in two ways in those days. First off was that if you were a 'flyer' and massively above average, he could write your report actually using Red Ink and this helped in the advancement stakes and subsequently on how quickly you could 'climb the ladder'. On the other hand, if you were a 'skate' and had so under performed as to warrant a down grading of efficiency from VG, your report would be written [or typed] in 'Black Ink' and then heavily UNDERLINED in Red warning others in your next ship of a potential 'bad egg'. It stayed on ones report for a long time and it was a stigma. 

This little Table does not auger well for the prospects of P.O.Tel [RS] in the Portsmouth and Chatham Rosters and this extremely slow promotion was causing concern in the late 1940's. Far better being a 'Guzz' rating, where, with the exception of the Chief Yeoman [CYS], things look rosy !  The adoption of Central Drafting was the only sensible answer and it brought with it much improved conditions of service for all communicators.


In December 1941/January 1942, the COMBINED COMMUNICATIONS BOARD was set up in Washing D.C., to make rules which would standardise Communications and the Associated Publications for all Allied Forces prosecuting the war in Europe and in the Pacific.  Their publications which the British used of course, were called CCBP's "COMBINED COMMUNICATIONS BOARD PUBLICATION". The CCBP was followed by the current issued number e.g. CCBP2. National Publications were kept [and updated] but not used.

At the time the BPF was at its full strength, CCBP-3 - Combined 'Op Sigs' - was extant.  That publication carried three letter 'Op Sigs' many of which were also recorded in national publications, so most of the operators were au fait with them and their meaning.    From that publication I have picked out four 'Op Sigs' which might have been used between the USN and the RN during 1945. The first is ZAC = Cease using speed key : then, ZBM Place on this frequency 1 = A qualified speed key operator or 2 = A competent operator: three, INT ZHO = What is the speed of automatic transmission, and four, INT ZHP = What is preventing automatic transmissions from being recorded.

After the War, nations reverted back to the national publications and ours were "BRITISH JOINT COMMUNICATION PUBLICATIONS - BJCP's" for the navy, army and air force. The plate below is an example.

This plate gives an example of a BJCP -2 which as you can see is the British Operating Signals both of the 'Z' Code and the 'Q' Code.

The Americans used their own publications which were called JANAP's meaning "JOINT ARMY NAVY AIR FORCE PUBLICATION". Their Op Sig Publication was JANAP 131.

Not long afterwards and at a time when NATO was being formulated, the NATO Allies coined ACP "ALLIED COMMUNICATIONS PUBLICATION" as being the publications of the future, and the might of the USA won through because the figures 131 were added to ACP, with ACP 131 becoming the new book of 'Op Sigs'. Whilst we Brits still had some 'Op Sigs' unique to the UK Forces {which were printed in the ACP with a suitable caveat on use}, we largely followed ACP 131 for all our usage.  However, it has to be noted that the USN maintained the use of JANAP 131 for Intra-USN use, and I remember that we submariners in the Halifax Nova Scotia Squadron {S/M6} of the early 1960's who regularly worked with the USN/RCN and visited US ports frequently, had to carry and use JANAP's including 'Op Sigs'.


I have received several comments about this page and all of them have been helpful and constructive.  Thank you.

One in particular is worth a mention in this section which comes from Commander David Frost RN Rtd.  I have removed the salutation and the kind words which precede  his comment.

I note that the list doesn’t include any of the RNR CTCs of which 11 remained when I was SCO (Reserves) in the early 80s.  They did basic training with the qualifying course being completed in Mercury or Devonport.  By the time I’d finished they all had two HF transmitters capable of inter-unit exercises and a suite of TPs etc for internal exercises.  Similar training (and equipment) was carried out in the 11 remaining STCs (Seamanship TC) whilst the seven HQ units ran their own internal communications training in the HQs they supported.  The CTC were eventually given ship names and some of both them and the STC still survive as general RNR training centres.

Whilst I do not intend to expand the subject raised, the RESERVES of our Armed Forces are currently serving in Afghanistan and any aspect of their training is important and worthy of recognition.