Spy Week at the Royal Gunpowder Mills

The Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey ran a I SPY week during the Winter Half Term. A few LEFARS members (also volunteers, the Radio Group, at the Royal Gunpowder Mills) provided a themed display over the period of Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd February.

The display items were selected from the LEFARS collection (looked after by John Mulye G0VEH) and the personal collection of David Coles M0IDF. The period covered from World War II to early Cold War. Clandestine radios included a WWII B2 Spy set and a WWII Paraset, also a 1940s PCR receiver on medium wave and SIS station, including HRO

B2 Spy Set

receiver and Wadden Transmitter  MKII, receiving CW on 40m. A wire straddled across the room worked very well, low noise levels all weekend and CW stations from France and the Netherlands being received.

Left, lower: HRO receiver. On top Paraset. Right: Wadden transmitter MKIII.

Other exhibits showed receivers as supplied to the Volunteer Interceptors (“VIs”) and Y Stations listening initially for German spies in the UK and later intercepting German military traffic under the Radio Security Service (RSS).

(L toR): VI Interceptor (Hallicrafters receiver) , Y radio receiver (AR88LF)  and PCR receiver

(L to R): Copy of  WWII Paraset, 1958 ‘Cold War’ Diplomatic Wireless transceiver type MK128, R208 Mk 2 receiver (1948 to 1970s)

Close up of MK128 morse transmitter/receiver circa 1953.

Dave M0IDF had set up a SIS Field station closely following a photo taken in Holland in 1944. The Imperial typewriter, used to fill in the message forms, was a great attraction for young and old. Especially the young – children enjoyed seeing the letters appear and the mechanical effort required with typing.

David Coles M0IDF with his SIS station  (photo credit: RGM)

SIS Station closeup….

Dave M0IDF explaining the operation of the SIS station in 1940s Europe. Notice the young typist…

In keeping with the “hands on” theme, visitors had a chance to try out some (fairly simple) coding exercises and send their name in Morse code. Alan Schiffman G4GQL issued 75 Morse certificates on Friday, our busiest day (photo below). In all, over 110 were completed over three days. We ran out of complimentary pin badges and stickers.

Alan Schiffman G4GQL (seated, centre of photo)

John Mulye G0VEH (sitting, centre) ready to receive names in morse…..

We had a selection of coding examples and sheets to take away including a code wheel to make at home (organised by David Priest M0VID).

Coding puzzles to take away.

Other attractions were the Field Telephones, most of the children had not seen or used a telephone handset before!

(L to R)  Type F and more secure  Fullerphone Field Telephones.

John Mulye G0VEH had an Ordnance Survey map from the 1940s – key installations of interest to spies, e.g. airfields, were missing.


A selection of books and additional information covering spy activities over the period were on display.

Thanks to the following members of the RGM Radio Group for their help and support over the three days  :-

David Coles  John Mulye   Alan Schiffman   David Priest   John Ray   
John Glover

The LEFARS collection and also items from David Coles’ collection, in keeping with the event, will be seen at the Victory in Europe Weekend 8th to 10 May at the Royal Gunpowder Mills.

[photo credits: David Coles, John Mulye, John Ray, Royal Gunpowder Mills]

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