The Signal Service in the European War of 1914 to 1918 – Chapter 9

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«-- The Signal Service in the European War of 1914 to 1918
Chapter IX
Chapter VIII Chapter X

Chapter IX


Factors For and Against Increase of Establishments. — Three Recognisable Stages in A.S.S. Re-organisation between 1914 and 1917. — Increase of Divisional Signal Companies, 1914. — First Temporary Adjustment to Meet Position Warfare Conditions, May, 1916. — First Great Re-organization in Winter of 1916-17. — Difficulty Experienced in Finding Men to Complete New Establishments. — A Review of Organization in Wireless Telegraphy. — Appointment of Army Wireless Officers. — Formation of Army Wireless Companies. — Decentralization of Wireless. — Growth of "Intelligence" Wireless. — Portable Electric Lighting. — Visit of Post Office Representative to France. — Appointment of Liaison Officer at G.H.Q. — Formation of F.W. 7. — Signal Service Training in France. — Army Signal Schools. — Appointment of A.D. Signals. — Training in 1918.

Increase in the strength of any branch of a growing Army, such as was the British Expeditionary Force during the European War of 1914-1918 may be divided into two main types. Of these, one is that directly caused by the growth of the Army as a whole. More and more formations proceed to the theatre of war, and each carries with it its recognized quota of every arm of the service. In this way the increase of the Signal Service of a growing Army is progressive and automatic.

The second method of increase, which is more definitely associated with the subject of the present chapter, is that which must take place to enable units to cope with changes in war practice within the formations of which they form a part. This can only be achieved by a series of successive changes in establishment. An increase is required here, a decrease there, a rearrangement elsewhere; all tending to adapt the constitution of units to the peculiarities of the situation as it varies from month to month or from year to year.

As has been shown in the preceding chapters, the growing intensity ot the warfare during 1915 and 1916 had produced many and decisive changes in signal practice, together with a great increase in Signal Service responsibility. Yet, perhaps the most important result of all the experience of these two years was the great reorganization of the Signal Service which was conceived and approved during the winter of 1916 and carried out in the spring and early summer of 1917. At its completion, the Army Signal Service — for the first time since the very mobile warfare of the 1914 campaigns — approximated in numbers and organization to the strength and disposition necessary to enable it to meet its responsibilities with success.

During the whole period under consideration a gradual evolution had been taking place. For several reasons, however, this had lagged far behind what was necessary if efficiency was to be maintained without undue strain. From the time of the commencement of position warfare, it was recognized that the war had entered upon a phase which might be indefinitely prolonged. Until a marked preponderance of men and guns could be decisively applied by one or the other side, no solution of the deadlock could be expected. It was quite likely that stationary warfare might be drawn out for months, or even for years, as eventually proved to be the case. In these circumstances, the man-power reserves of the Empire might be expected to be strained to the utmost. From the very beginning, therefore, orders were issued that every increase of Establishment must be carefully scrutinized and not allowed except under the absolute pressure of necessity.

This policy was cumulative in its effect as the struggle continued. It was in 1917, indeed — i.e., before the situation was relieved by the entrance of America into the war — that it bore most heavily on the whole of the Expeditionary Force and particularly on such branches as the Signal Service. Its results were, however, apparent from the very first, for it is to this factor of the situation that the failure of Signal Service establishments to keep pace with the development of the tactical employment of signals must be attributed.

Another circumstance which tended to prevent Signal Service establishments from keeping abreast of the times was the kaleidoscopic nature of the technical developments which revolutionized signal practice in the early years of the war. The development of the telephone, of wireless telegraphy, of the carrier pigeon service, or permanent lines and buried cables, all involved modifications in the duties and therefore in the qualifications of the personnel of signal units. Not only were increases required in the number of men of trades already recognized, but, as in the case of telephone switchboard operators, new trades had to be created. In addition, the technical development and growth of other arms of the service, which could not easily be foreseen by a specialized and over-taxed Signal Service, were a further source of trouble. A good example is the growth of artillery which was responsible for more modifications of Signal Service establishments than any other single factor.

These, and other obstacles, almost equally formidable, effectually prevented a continuous and automatic adjustment of the Signal Service to the changing conditions amidst which it was called upon to work. Months of discussion, reference and counter-reference were necessary before the final form of the desired changes could be settled upon and officially approved. It was, therefore, on all counts considered best to carry on for long periods at a time by the help of minor concessions wrung with difficulty at widely-separated intervals from a critical Staff. Necessities were permitted to accumulate until an overwhelming case could be presented; luxuries were never considered at all. Three principal increases in establishment can be recognized in the years under review. With the commencement of position warfare in the winter of 1914 and the early increase in artillery requirements, both for purposes of command and observation, the first considerable accession to the establishment of a forward signal unit took place. This took the form of the addition to the Divisional Signal Company of two motor cyclist despatch riders for the use of the C.R.A. and of a fourth cable detachment.[1]

The formation of the first two Army Signal Companies which took place in the winter of 1914 was the direct outcome of the extension in size of the Expeditionary Force, and not of any difference in function of the Signal Service. As the number of Corps increased, decentralization of command for administrative purposes became imperative. Any such decentralization must inevitably have its due effect on all the ancillary services.

One other type of increase to signal units which requires a bare mention also occurred for the first time in early 1915. This was the adoption of a sliding scale to adjust the signal companies to the variations in the number of subordinate formations controlled at each step in the chain of command which took place from time to time at the will of the General Staff. Such variation was especially common in the lower formations in this year. Reinforcement units came out for the most part as isolated battalions and the number of battalions in many Brigades increased from three to four, five, six, or even more. To meet this increase, a temporary increase of an extra telephone detachment was made to Brigade sections serving a Brigade with five or six battalions. In the case of Armies, Corps and Divisions, the addition of an extra Corps, Division, or Brigade involved a considerable increase of work. It was, therefore, definitely laid down that, for each such formation above the normal number, a corresponding increase of office telegraphists and motor cyclists should be added to the headquarters of the signal company of the higher formation.[2]At the time they were proposed, the alterations in establishment enumerated above were the bare minimum to enable efficiency to be maintained. As the months wore on, it became ever more clear that all units were quite unable to deal satisfactorily with the increasing work which fell to their lot. In early 1916, therefore, further proposals were put forward as a temporary measure pending the general reorganization which was quite clearly essential if the Signal Service was to be adapted to the requirements of position warfare.

The machinery for advancing the interests of the Signal Service with the Armies had been immensely improved in February of this year by the appointment of the D.D.A.S. Army and the A.D.A.S. Corps. Orders had been issued by the General Staff that in each formation the senior signal officer was to hold virtually the position of Staff Officer for Intercommunication to the Formation Commander, and the new status of these officers added great weight to their representations of the urgency for reform in Signal Service organization.

This second series of additions to Signal Service units which was approved in May, 1916, was entirely devoted towards the partial and temporary solution of difficulties which had arisen through the changes in signal practice which had attended position warfare of an intensive character. The growth of the telephone system had given rise to two main deficiencies: — (a) A shortage of constructive power within the Armies which was dealt with by the addition to each of one motor airline section and one extra cable section — making totals respectively of four and three, (b) A lack of telephone exchange operators which was partially solved by the addition to all signal companies of a number of Pioneers trained to perform this duty.[3]

At the same time a pool of 50 men of similar qualifications was created at G.H.Q. to fill vacancies in the G.H.Q. area and on the Lines of Communication.

The lack of continuity due to frequent reliefs was partially solved by the addition of 40 permanent linemen to each Army to serve as area personnel. Airline sections also were made more fitted for the work on permanent routes which so often fell to their lot by the addition of eight men of this trade. Finally, the Corps Signal Company was still further augmented by four office telegraphists and four motor cyclists to deal in some measure with recent increases in heavy artillery.

It was recognized, however, by the heads of the Signal Service, and admitted also by many responsible commanders, that the concessions granted by the War Office letter authorizing the above additions were already insufficient, even at the date of their promulgation. Artillery requirements were not catered for on anything like an adequate scale, while the 40 linemen given to each Army for area maintenance were altogether out of proportion to requirements. The Army cable and airline sections were drawn upon to such an extent to provide men for these duties that they were of little use for the construction purposes for which they were really intended. The Battle of the Somme was destined to emphasize the inadequacy of the establishments, and it was only by the most self-sacrificing and devoted work of all ranks that it proved possible to maintain an efficient standard throughout these critical months.

The necessity for further reorganization was never lost sight of, and discussion as to the form the alteration should take formed one of the principal subjects at all the signal conferences which were held periodically in the higher formations during 1916.

The original proposals, which emanated from Second Army and which formed the basis of the earlier discussions were very far-reaching. They contemplated, indeed, the taking over both of the artillery and the infantry signal system right up to the front fine. In the battalion, for instance, it was proposed that an officer and 20 battalion signallers should be attached to the Brigade section, and should deal with all forward lines. These proposals were not adopted, mainly because it was considered that in mobile warfare each branch must still control its own personnel. If the Signal Service were made entirely responsible for regimental signals, the change would involve the transfer of all regimental and battery signal personnel and the appointment of Signal Service officers to every unit. This was not practicable. The alternative suggestion, that the Signal Service should take over responsibility under position warfare conditions only was also vetoed because it would mean that signal service personnel must be duplicated and that regimental signallers reserved for mobile warfare were not likely to be properly trained.

There remained to be considered, therefore, the question of the general modification of the Signal Service units proper to suit the conditions of stationary warfare. The new establishments must be capable of dealing with three main things which were not contemplated when the original establishments were formulated. These three developments were: (1) The increase of construction made necessary by the new telephone system; (2) The necessity for area maintenance and supervision; (3) The immense development of the various branches of the army for whose intercommunication the Signal Service had become responsible.

Artillery, Flying Corps, Kite Balloons, Anti-aircraft Guns, Survey Companies, Tunnelling Companies, Trench Mortar Batteries, and a host of other units, were all daily making fresh demands upon an overworked Signal Service. Those which existed before the war were considerably increased in size and complexity of organization; many were entirely new. All desired, and indeed must have, a more complicated system of signal communications under position warfare conditions. The artillery alone, with their allied services — kite balloon, sound ranging, flash-spotting, anti-aircraft sections, etc. — required considerably more intercommunication now than had been allowed to the whole Expeditionary Force as originally constituted. (See Plate XIV).

After mature consideration of the problems connected with the reorganization of the Signal Service, there appeared to be only two alternative suggestions. Either it should be divided into two different portions — "siege" and "mobile;" or a large proportion of the signal units which were originally designed for mobile warfare conditions must be pinned down to definite areas for the duration of position warfare. The policy to be adopted, however, was never seriously in doubt. From the beginning of the war, the axiom which had throughout been considered and treated as of paramount importance was that all decisive warfare must be mobile. To ensure the mobility of an Army, every formation must be composed of mobile units and this rule was particularly applicable to the Signal Service. It was, therefore, decided that reform must take place by the adoption of the latter of the two alternatives set forth above, and that signal units must be modified to suit the new requirements without detracting in any way from the mobility of the Army, Corps, and Divisional Signal Companies which would still form the nucleus of the reorganized Signal Service.

A certain proportion of the newly-formed units would be intended for area maintenance, and the main functions of such units would cease with the disappearance of position warfare. Such units need not be made as mobile as the remainder of the Signal Service, but they must be easily identifiable, so that when the Army marched off the area in which their activities were concentrated, they could be readily switched on to other work, such as salvage, or collected to form a pool for the replacement of casualties. On the other hand, such units or details as were intended to deal with the signal communications of the formations and units of a rapidly-advancing Army must be provided with transport to enable them to keep pace with the headquarters they served.

The problem was discussed from all points of view and always with the recognition of the policy of the Adjutant General in the background. The general attitude of this branch of the Staff to modifications in the establishment of the Signal Service was summed up in the words "any rearrangement you consider necessary, but no absolute increase in numbers can be authorized." It was, however, impossible to meet the situation without some concession being made. One man could not be expected to do the work of three for an indefinite period, and a substantial increase in the numbers of the Signal Service had finally to be allowed. The form actually taken by the first great reorganization in late 1916 is tabulated below: —

Table IV.
Amendments to Existing Establishments[4]
  Increase         Decrease
Offrs. O.R. Offrs
Divisional Signal Company 2 10 0
Corps Signal Company 0 7 1
Army Signal Company 0 24 0

New Units.
  Offrs. O.R.
Corps Heavy Artillery Sections (one per Corps) 1 36
Signal Construction Company (one per Army) 3 116
Heavy Artillery Group, Sig. Section (one per Group) 1 36
R.F.A. Bde. Signal Sub sections (one per Bde.) 1 19
Area Signal Detachment (eight per Army) 1 15

A glance at the new units shown in Table IV. at once betrays the fact of a considerable increase. This was, however, kept as low as possible. The nucleus of the new artillery signal units already existed in the regimental establishments of telephonists possessed by artillery headquarters, who had been from the first more generously treated in this way than other arms. In a similar way, the nucleus of the area detachments was ready in the form of the supernumerary officers and the pool of 40 linemen per Army which had been authorized in May, 1916.

A considerable number of extra men were, however, required to complete the artillery signal units, area detachments, and signal construction companies, and the resources of the home signal establishments were taxed to provide these men. Indeed, it was not until April, 1917, that it proved possible to complete the forces in the field to their new establishment even with partially-trained personnel. To provide the extra men, the general use in the Expeditionary Force of men fit for field service at home and even for sedentary service at home was seriously considered for the first time. Certainly, men fit for sedentary service at home were capable of performing duty as telephone exchange operators on the Lines of Communication and with any formation which was not likely to be called upon to move frequently or at short notice. As time passed, more and more such men were taken into use in the rear offices, and fitter men, equally highly-skilled, were released for work in the forward areas where they were sorely needed. ,At the same time, men of medical category "B1" of other trades were sent overseas and absorbed, while, also in 1917, women telegraph operators and telephone exchange operators were used in considerable numbers on the Lines of Communication.

In the meantime, an immediate reinforcement of considerable magnitude was required and this could not be supplied by such a process as has been outlined above. Nevertheless, the men must be found from somewhere and every possible source of technical personnel was carefully reviewed. The extension of the age limit to 45 was productive of a considerable number of valuable recruits. The Post Office and railways were largely drawn upon for skilled operators and linemen. In addition, large numbers of men were at this period transferred from field companies to the Signal Service. To all these sources, too, must be added the normal quota of recruits allotted to the Signal Service at home by the recruiting authorities. In one way or another the men were obtained and the new establishments were filled up, either by transfer of R.A. personnel and orderly officers,[5] or by reinforcements from home. By April, the Signal Service may be said to have been reconstituted on a suitable basis for position warfare and, by the opening of the 1917 campaigns, considerable progress had been made in the training of the very raw material of the new drafts.

Thus was accomplished the most important of the signal reorganizations, but side by side with this, and preceding and following it, there were taking place yet other changes in specialist branches of the Service.

A review of the general growth of wireless organization and its relation to the other branches of the Signal Service can perhaps be best achieved by carrying the development of wireless forward at one bound to the early summer of 1917, when decentralization was recognized as the most efficient policy and was carried out both overseas and at home. This policy obliterated once and for all the differences which had gradually and almost inevitably grown up between wireless and the elder branches of the Signal Service.

When writing about the earlier battles of the war, mention has been made of the formation of "Q" Wireless Section — the rudimentary G.H.Q. wireless unit from which was to grow the whole great organization which is in 1919 taking its rightful place as one of the greatest assets of the Signal and of the Intelligence Service. In January, 1915, "Q" Wireless Section became the G.H.Q. Wireless Company and the addition of a wireless headquarters was authorized for the first time. From early in 1915, as both the intelligence and the tactical side of wireless continued to develop apace, differentiation set in and the two branches gradually grew further and further apart. Each developed its own specialists and its own particularly qualified personnel, though both were still controlled by a central wireless authority representing the Director of Signals at General Headquarters.

The next stage in the development of the tactical side of wireless involved a certain measure of decentralization. In September, 1915, an officer was appointed to each Army to further the interests of Army wireless telegraphy and to act as the adviser to the O.C. Signals of the Army on all matters connected with this branch of signalling. In particular, the appointment was made with the direct intention of localizing control over the new trench stations, which, using short wave lengths as they did, were likely to cause much interference with the sets in the aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps.

The early days of wireless in the Armies were marked by a constant struggle for recognition, waged whole-heartedly by the wireless officer, and backed to a greater or less extent — according to his faith or lack of faith in this means of signalling as a possible solution of many of his greatest difficulties — by the O.C. Signals himself. The time of the wireless officer was about equally divided between superintending field experiments and educating wireless operators. The early experiments were sufficiently promising to warrant the formation of pools of wireless personnel and the provision of a large number of the new forward sets. In October, 1915, the Army Council ordered sufficient of these sets to provide for two for each Division in the British Army. There was, however, destined to be a very long time interval between provision and supply, though the gap was well filled by enthusiastic officers in training personnel in anticipation of the time when the sets should become available.

In February, 1916, the O.C. Wireless, G.H.Q., was officially charged with the co-ordination of all wireless throughout the Expeditionary Force. His representatives at Army headquarters were the officers i/c Army Wireless already referred to, who exercised under the Army commanders such control as was necessary within the Armies.

Control was thus definitely centred at G.H.Q., and, though proposals for the formation of Army wireless companies were put forward in the same month, it was a considerable time before the new establishments were approved. The situation remained much the same until July in the same year.

As the provision of sets improved, it became more and more difficult to provide skilled operators in sufficient numbers. The problem of finding the necessary personnel, and training them when found, formed no small part in the work of the G.H.Q. Wireless Company, and this was recognized in April, 1916, by the formation of a Wireless Depot and School.

The expansion of the older and better-recognized branches of the Signal Service was in itself a great task, but the building up of a forward wireless service, with the high degree of skill required from the personnel composing it, was even more difficult, while the undertaking was made more onerous by the fact that wireless during these years was never more than barely successful. It was recognized by most people to have sufficient possibilities to make it worthy of experiment, but very few had any great faith in its ultimate success on a large scale. Indeed, the idea at the back of its development in the early days was that it should be entirely an alternative, to be used as a last resource. It was even suggested that no special personnel should be allotted, but that telegraph operators, when their lines were down, should turn to wireless in their extremity and work the local set themselves.

The next step in the evolution of the wireless organization took place in July, 1916, with the authorization of the formation of the Army Wireless Companies, which included sections and sub-sections for each Corps and Division in the Army. By the creation of this establishment wireless was for the first time organized throughout the Force as far forward as Divisional headquarters.

The chief points worthy of notice about the new establishments were the admission of the necessity for special personnel for working the trench wireless sets, and the centralization of control in each Corps under the Corps Wireless Officer as the most forward representative of the O.C. Wireless, G.H.Q. Since the original proposal to give stations to Divisions — dating back to November, 1915 — divisional control had not been satisfactory. This was so for several reasons, chief amongst which was the absence of special personnel to work the sets. The Divisional Signal Company establishment was not nearly equal to its other responsibilities; while it was only by sheer accident that any Division possessed personnel with a knowledge of wireless. The typical attitude taken up by the Division at this date was that, owing to its unreliability, and to the code and cipher restrictions which attended its use, wireless was better left alone. The personnel at the disposal of the Division Signal Company commander was much better employed upon methods of signalling which were better known and more likely to give paying results.

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that little or no progress was made under a regime where operators were untrained and the responsible officers unsympathetic. By the centralization of control at Corps headquarters, on the other hand, organization was improved, but close supervision was made quite impossible. Try as he might, the Corps Wireless Officer could not visit his six or eight sets[6] as often as he wished. Inter-battalion and inter-brigade reliefs were among his principal troubles, for the incoming units were often unaware of the existence of the wireless sets. Such reliefs frequently took place without his knowledge, and Divisional signal officers could not help him to any great extent. The consequence was that message traffic was irregular; stations were sometimes mislaid altogether; and men were frequently discouraged by being left without rations for long periods.

To remedy this state of affairs, classes for Divisional signal company commanders and Divisional signal officers generally were inaugurated at wireless headquarters, while at home, also, the training of all signal officers in the use of Army W/T sets was commenced.

It was clear that decentralization and a close approach to the other branches of the Signal Service were the two lines on which, alone, Army wireless was likely to reach the efficient standard and find the popularity which was necessary for its salvation.

In all other branches of the Signal Service — notably in the pigeon service, which was in about the same state of development — decentralization, involving a large measure of control by Corps and Divisions, was contemplated. To a certain extent, wireless was a definite problem in itself with special characteristics, but, as education of the mass of the Signal Service progressed, this became less true. Through the winter of 1916-1917, while the first great reorganization was being carried into effect, everything was being gradually prepared for another reformation which was to embody the wireless branch in the Signal Service as it had never been before.

In June, 1917, this took effect, and the wireless service as a separate and integral branch of the Army Signal Service virtually disappeared on that date. The O.C. Wireless, G.H.Q. whose independence had become rather too marked was abolished. In his stead an A.D. Signals, Wireless, was appointed on the Staff of the Directorate of Signals with similar functions to the other members of the Director's Staff.[7]

At the Army, Corps and Division, the headquarters, sections, and sub-sections of the Army Wireless Company were absorbed and reappeared as sections of the signal company of the formation. The O.C. Army Wireless Company himself was attached to the Army Signal Company and in effect became a Staff officer for Wireless to D.D. Signals.

The independence and isolation of wireless was at an end — in name if not in fact — and, as the months passed, this became more and more a factor for good in its development.

While consideration was thus being given to putting tactical wireless in the Armies on a proper footing, Intelligence wireless was also decentralized in the spring of 1917. Until this time, detachments of G.H.Q. Wireless Company had been placed as required from time to time in the Army areas. These detachments had gradually assumed certain well-defined forms. Each had its own establishment of officers, N.C.O.'s and men, but all were centrally controlled from G.H.Q. As most Armies possessed one of each type of station the organization was unwieldy, and, in April, 1917, orders were issued for its standardization and control from Army headquarters instead of from G.H.Q. A definite establishment was laid down and all the Intelligence stations in each Army were completed to the allotted scale and combined to form a Wireless Intelligence Section of the Army Wireless Company. The reorganization in June which abolished the latter, transferred the stations and personnel to the Army Signal Company, and they were known thereafter as the Wireless Observation Group of that company.

From a single intercepting station in 1914, "Intelligence" wireless, technically controlled and administered by the Signal Service, but working under the direct orders of the Intelligence branch of the General Staff, had grown by 1917, until it was sufficiently important to warrant the creation of a special branch of the Intelligence Staff at G.H.Q. to direct its activities and co-ordinate the results obtained. Originally intended for the interception of enemy messages and calls, it developed by the introduction of the direction-finding station in 1914 into a means of locating enemy wireless stations. By plotting on a map the position of these stations, the headquarters of enemy formations could be identified.

Before finally leaving the question of the growth of wireless establishments, there is one other branch of signal activity which became the particular charge of the wireless officer and can perhaps be best reviewed here. In 1914, G.H.Q. and 1st and 2nd Corps headquarters took overseas with them portable electric lighting sets to light their headquarter offices and the signal offices. These had not at that time any direct connection with the Signal Service, but each set was cared for by a corporal who worked directly under the formation Staff. The sets were no one's particular charge and did not flourish until the Signal Company, as the nearest R.E. unit, was asked to supervise them unofficially.

During the autumn campaign of 1914, several Divisional headquarters managed to secure small lighting sets unofficially by one means and another (in one case, at least, by salving an abandoned lorry during the retreat) and the new sets proved such a boon that a demand arose for an official issue to all Corps and Divisions. The demand was first recognized by G.H.Q. in November, 1914, and the Director of Signals was requested to take over charge of the provision, administration, and upkeep of these sets.

From this time, the history of electric lighting at the headquarters of formations becomes a portion of that of the Signal Service. In the early days, it was one chiefly of difficulties of supply, while a prominent feature was always the gradual increase in the power of the sets and in the ideas of headquarters as to the number of lights required. An organization for the repair of portable electric light-sets and lorries and a system of inspection by an officer appointed for the purpose were soon inaugurated. In 1917, decentralization affected this department also, and the revision of the establishment of the wireless companies and the army signal companies resulted in the break-up of the central G.H.Q. unit and the formation of small electric light repair workshops at each Army headquarters. Rather later — in November, 1917 — the replacement of all existing sets by the 3-kw. Lister set was ordered and in the winter of 1917 and the spring of 1918 standardization was fully accomplished. The old locally-purchased "Ballot" sets and the obsolescent service sets, which had done yeoman service until this date, were withdrawn and scrapped.

This was the only example of Signal Service responsibility in a department which had nothing to do with intercommunication. It was undoubtedly successful and it is questionable whether any other arrangement would have worked more smoothly in the past. Its continuation in the future is a different matter. The care of the sets was an extra responsibility for the shoulders of signal officers already overburdened with work. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that their control over the sets had two great advantages from the point of view of the Signal Service. For one thing, it was possible to make certain of an unfailing supply of efficient lighting for the signal offices at the major headquarters. This in itself is a boon that will be appreciated by everyone who has endeavoured to run signal offices in badly-lighted and ill-ventilated dug-outs and cellars. In addition, it was most useful for the signal officer to have a point of contact with his Staff which was entirely separated from his official signal activities. Whether these two considerations out-weighed the extra work and responsibility involved, is a question to which different answers would be given by different officers according to the degree of smoothness of their personal relations with their Staffs. Logically, it would appear that the electric lighting services should be controlled by the R.E. or R.A.S.C. rather than the intercommunication service. The sole point of contact with the latter was their occasional use for the purpose of charging the accumulators of the small power wireless sets. With the arrival of the small A.B.C. charging sets this use of the P.E.L. lorries gradually fell into abeyance. It is likely in the future that the tendency will be to eliminate the accumulators from forward wireless as far as is possible.[8] If this be so, the Signal Service will have still less reason to be burdened in future wars with the responsibility for a service foreign to its nature and, in all probability, largely increased in size and in complexity.

Three unrelated incidents in the history of signals in 1916 which still require mention are (1) the first visit of a Post Office representative to France; (2) the appointment of a liaison officer on the Staff of the Director of Signals at G.H.Q.; (3) the formation of Army Signal Schools. All three occurred in this year.

The visit of an official of the General Post Office Engineering Department to the Directorate of Signals and to the Armies in the Field was the outcome of a suggestion from the Director of Signals to the D.A.S., Home Defence. It was made in furtherance of the already existing policy by which supply was made to the Expeditionary Force of Post Office types of apparatus and of instruments made up in Post Office workshops.

From the first, use had been made of Post Office telephone and telegraph apparatus and telephone exchanges on the Lines of Communication, but the question of supply of apparatus more robust and therefore more suitable for forward conditions, was now urgent. Many of the more delicate Post Office instruments were not at all suitable for use in the Field. In the Post Office workshops, however, were a skilled staff, a good reserve supply of standard parts of instruments, and a great eagerness to help in any way possible. All that was required to enable this help to be as well-directed as it was skilled in execution, was a knowledge of the active service conditions under which the instruments were destined to be used. This was achieved by periodical visits to France by a G.P.O. representative, when typical signal offices of all degrees of magnitude were visited in the course of a week's tour. Personal contact was also established during these visits with the D.D. Signals of Armies, with the A.D. Signals of Corps, and with the O.'s C. Divisional Signal Companies. A free interchange of views resulted in many useful adaptations of Post Office instruments and apparatus to suit particular Army needs.[9]

One of the few advantages of the Armies of three nations being grouped together in a common effort to overthrow an aggressive and efficient enemy was the attention which was necessarily directed towards the improvement of liaison in the combined forces. The word "liaison" has indeed gained a significance in the war of 1914-1918 which it has never had before, but which it is to be hoped will be perpetuated, with all that it means, in the future history of the British Army and of the Signal Service in particular. The very peculiarities of the situation forced the idea on the Directors of all services. From its original employment to mean the encouragement of free circulation of opinion and thought between one ally and another, the word advanced to have a more specialized application to a similar interchange between and within the different branches of the Expeditionary Force.

In July, 1916, this policy found expression within the Signal Service in the appointment of a liaison officer at G.H.Q. The duty of this officer was to visit signal units and research departments of our own and of the French and Belgian armies, and to keep the Director of Signals informed of everything in signal practice and invention that was new and likely to be useful. Similarly, he was to visit the research departments working under the Director of Fortifications and Works, the Postmaster-General, and the Munitions and Inventions Committee. Not only could he bring to bear on the problems that were exercising their attention his own practical experience of conditions in the field, but he could collect and disseminate the most practical of their ideas and help to test and popularize the more practicable of their inventions. A judicious selection from the information gained by him in the course of his duties could be cast into readable and easily understandable form and circulated throughout the armies and the training establishments at home. This was actually carried out in the form of Signal Notes and Memoranda with good effect and soon grew to be an important branch of Signal Service publication.

An extension of the idea of a liaison officer, which also originated from the Directorate of Signals in France, was the formation of a Signal Service Committee for the co-ordination of signal research. In the original letter suggesting the appointment of an authoritative body, the Director of Signals pointed out the number of isolated bodies[10] which were working in an entirely, or almost entirely, uncoordinated fashion on closely-related problems.

In July, 1916, this proposal found more than realization in the appointment both of a committee of three members, and of a special branch at the War Office.

The latter was authoritative in character and was organized as a separate department of the Directorate of Fortifications and Works (F.W. 7).

The formation of the Army Signal Schools, which is the third of the unrelated items which conclude the present sketch of the development of signal organization, was a matter intimately connected with the development of the whole policy of signal training in France. Training in the Expeditionary Force was intended to be confined to a final polishing up of signal units and of individual signallers in modern signal practice and was carried out as far as possible under field service conditions. There were, however, many factors which extended the scope of training in France far beyond what was originally intended. The decisive influence on which all others depended was of course "position warfare." The latter, by its encouragement of complication in signal systems and by its long-drawn-out character and absence of hurried movement, both made necessary and permitted a much greater proportion of training in the field than could possibly have been carried out in a mobile campaign.

As early as January, 1915, unofficial schools were opened by Army headquarters to enable the training of signallers in buzzer operating and lineman's work to be started on the necessary considerable scale. For some time these schools, whether at Army, Corps or Divisional headquarters, remained unofficial, were kept in existence or abolished at the discretion of formation commanders, and were manned by the allotment of personnel from signal units serving in the line. By the end of 1915, circumstances had forced them upon the majority of formations within the Expeditionary Force, but it was not until May, 1916, that the first Army school — that of Second Army — was recognized. Corps schools were not recognized until 1917, and Divisional schools, which were the most usual of all, and probably the most useful in the aggregate amount of training carried out, were never officially recognized to the extent of being granted an establishment of their own.

It was to be expected that a certain overlapping of syllabuses would take place in the earlier uncoordinated schools. This was of course the case, but with the appointment of D.D. and A.D. Signals and the official recognition of the schools, a system was arranged which, while differing in detail in different armies, was in agreement in its main features throughout the Expeditionary Force. During 1916 and 1917 the signal schools of the higher formations confined their attention mainly to the training of officers, to refresher courses for Signal Service personnel, to the training of instructors, and to wireless training. Throughout, the Divisional Signal Schools devoted their energies to refresher courses for regimental signallers, and to teaching the elementary principles of forward signal practice and the use of the simpler types of signalling instruments to the raw material provided by batteries and battalions.

In 1918, the formation of the Central Wireless School[11] which was controlled from Abbeville Signal Depot, still further restricted the activities of the Army Signal Schools. Early in 1918, also, central control was brought to a head by the appointment of an A.D. Signals, Training, at the Directorate of Signals. With this reform, signal training in France entered on a new phase which outlasted the war, the existing establishments being retained after the Armistice and devoted to the service of the new campaign of education which was the salient feature of the period of demobilization.


  1. Modifications of less importance which belong to the same period were a slight increase — for the same reason — to the Corps Signal Company, and certain alterations due to the gradual supersession of horsed by mechanical transport in all signal units as far forward as Divisional headquarters.
  2. Another type of increase was that due to an Army or lower formation holding an unusually wide or deep front. This was met by temporary loan, either from the signal company of the next higher formation or from the Signal Depot. An example of this was the loan of permanent linemen to certain armies or Corps to assist in the maintenance of permanent lines of unusual length.
  3. Permission to create a new engineer trade — telephone switchboard operator — was at this time refused. The question was raised again some months later with more satisfactory results.
  4. The individual alterations in establishment are shown in the comparative Table of Establishments which forms Appendix I. of this volume. Wherever possible, an addition was made at the expense of a decrease elsewhere. Detailed establishments of the new units are also shown in the column marked "1917" in the same Appendix.
  5. Officers in Artillery Brigades who acted as assistants to the Adjutants and part of whose duties was the supervision of the Brigade intercommunication.
  6. These were always located at forward points where intercommunication was difficult to maintain.
  7. At G.H.Q. the principal unit after the re-organization was the G.H.Q. Wireless Observation Group, whose duties were the watching of the traffic and movements of the high-powered German stations working in the rear and the movements of the larger bombing aircraft. In addition, there were two Motor Wireless Sections for intercommunication between G.H.Q. and Army H.Q. These latter were ultimately administered by the O.C, G.H.Q. Wireless Observation Group.
  8. At the present time, May, 1921, the tendency is the other way.
  9. Perhaps the most typical example of apparatus which owed its origin directly to these visits was the 4-plus-3 buzzer exchange, which is familiar to all forward signal officers who served in France between 1916 and 1918. The original instrument was improvized at II Corps headquarters from a spare strip for a five-line exchange and French receivers.
  10. F.W. 4a, War Office. Munitions and Inventions Committee. National Physical Laboratory. Marconi Company. R.F.C. W/T School. H.M.S. Vernon. R.N.A.S. at Eastchurch. R.A.F., Farnborough. R.E. Wireless Training Centre, Worcester.
  11. The Central Wireless School was created in order to co-ordinate instruction in Wireless Telegraphy. The headquarters of the school was established at Abbeville. The scheme was for the formation of seven or eight centres spread over the back areas and sited at or near other instructional centres. Wireless instruction was still carried out at Corps schools, but if the war had continued, it was intended that the whole of the wireless instruction, both C.W. and Spark, should be concentrated at the Central Wireless School.

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