The Martians Are Coming

As people who have attended my training courses around the world know, I have one love, and that is the H G Wells story of The War of the Worlds.

Along with story Jeff Wayne long ago created the musical The War of the Worlds, and I can loose myself in masterpiece of music and song wrapped around a fantastic story.
Set in the UK in the late 19th Century, in the area I live in Surrey, H G Wells tells the story of how earth is invaded by Martians. H G Wells weaves his story around his intimate knowledge of the area of Woking and Horsell Common, Leatherhead, Shepperton, Walton, Sheen, and so on.
I get lost in Jeff Wayne‘s two CD musical, with the striking voice of Richard Burton as the voice of the journalist telling the story, mixed in with dramatic song and music.
Durring my many years of listening and reading The War of the Worlds, I had also heard how late one Sunday evening in 1938, mass hysteria swept across America, as a play was acted-out on the then new medium of radio. People fled their homes, telephone switchboards were engulfed with panicked citizens demand to know what they should do to avoid the invasion.
In his book, The Martians Are Coming, Alan Gallop tells the story of the actor Orson Welles had entered into the profession of acting. Orson Welles soon became well known on stage for his voice and acting abilities, for his passion for adapting plays and books into plays that he could produce and often star in.
It was with a theatrical producer, John Housman, that Orson Welles set-up the Mercury Theatre, to stage plays, and this allowed Welles to pursue his acting career, which he did along side his radio work. The pair were approached by a radio company to broadcast a one hour play each week to be heard all over America.
Welles would take a book and adapt it to become a radio play using the actors from the Mercury Theatre On Air group. The programmes were not a roaring success, but they were listened to.
The night before Halloween in October 1938, Orson Welles had decided to broadcast The War of the Worlds, and the now in place writer, Howard Koch, struggled with taking the original work of H G Wells work set in England, and make it relevant to the ears of the American listeners.
It was decided that the scene should be set in the USA, and Koch purchased a map and chose the site of the landing of the first cylinder from Mars to be Wilmuth Farm, Grover’s Mill in New Jersey.
The play was based on the premise that a music program was to be interrupted by news flashes from the scene of the landing, having interviews with professors and politicians, and following the progress of the Martians in their three legged fighting machines through to New York, reeking havoc and death on their way.
Although, an announcement was made at the beginning, at the end and during the play that is was fiction, many listeners tuned-in missing these messages, and those assumed that the USA was being attacked by Martians, and thus spread panic and rumours amongst the population.
Not knowing what was happening outside the CBS radio broadcasting studios, Orson Welles and his fellow actors and musicians continued, reeking more havoc.
This book gives the background and facts to this 1938 happening, showing how human beings can be so influenced, how we can take a little piece of information and this become the truth. How unrelated situations, in this case Hitler and the chance of Germany invading other countries in Europe can be brought in to create panic. (See Cat on the Mat).
It was from here that Steven Spielberg created his film version of The War of the Worlds. NOw, I think a new film version be produced, based truly on the book of H G Wells, in the UK, using the countryside and towns written. For me the original story is far more gripping, and after all, America did not win the war against the Martians.
Electronics Thoughts Travels

Synchronicity, Bletchley Park, History Unfolding

It was in the 1920’s that the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung first described the the terminology of synchronicity, saying that when two or more events occur together or are linked when there is no apparent reason for them to be linked at that time, things come together by what seems chance, this is synchronicity.

It was early one Sunday morning, the British clock system had been adjusted back to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) that morning, that meant that my clock showed 7:30am, but my body said it was 8:30am, and I had nothing meaningful to do and wide awake.
As a Radio Ham (G8YJQ), I had heard of the RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain) National Radio Centre based in Bletchley Park, the war-time home of secret code breaking and the birthplace of the first modern computer. I decided to visit the National Radio Centre.
I often like to revisit the basics, to start again to review, as if I knew nothing about a subject, as it reinforces the foundations of expertise, to pick-up knowledge missed along the way of learning a subject.
I joined a group of visitors, as toured the radio exhibition very quickly, leaving me in their wake as I read the documentation written about the displays, which they skipped over. The exhibition was quite small and a little disappointing to me, so I had finished my visit very quickly, even after a long conversation with a guide and another radio ham.
I decided to visit the rest of the Bletchley Park facility again as I had travelled a long way, to see if the model aircraft of the Italian aircraft (Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero) I had donated, had been used in their exhibition, and no it had not been used, to revisit, to reinforce and relearn what I knew about the site and its’ history.
I joined another small group of people of many nationalities, and we met in the main house to hear the initial opening lecture about the code breakers, setting the scene for the tour. Even though I had heard this talk before, it had been with another guide, and he gave us information new to me. As we wondered around the site, new information was being imparted, especially about the decoding Bombe machines, I had never understood how they worked, I had a concept, but now after the guides talk, I was beginning to understand.
That reminded me of something I had learnt when I first started in the computer field in 1963, sometimes you don’t need to know how something works to use it.
We eventually visited the National Museum of Computing housed in buildings of part of Bletchley Park.
Here the guide explained about Tunny code breaking machines, or as it is also known, the German Lorenz SZ42 cipher-machines.
Two new “Ah Ha” moments came to me, that the cipher machines Enigma and the Lorenz used by the German’s to encrypt messages ran side by side in the Second World War, being two separate systems or methods of transmission of a message, one being morse code the other being teleprinter.
The second “Ah Ha” moment came as I realised that I had heard and read about Lorenz in two different contexts, one was for the equipment to encode messages I was viewing, and the other was for the beams of radio waves the German aircraft to fly along and used to locate targets to bomb in the UK during the war. Both the encrypting machine and the beams were made by the German manufacturer Lorenz, but people had when speaking about the systems, had truncated or missed off what Lorenz model they were talking about, just like saying it was a Ford, but what model Ford, was it a car, was it a transit van?
As we walked around listening and learning, a couple in our group were talking about papers and artefacts that had been left to them by the husband’s now deceased mother and father, and that some of the letters were now making sense, they now realised that they had been written to and by people who had worked in Bletchley Park. These people at Bletchley Park in the Second World War had been sworn to secrecy at to what they were working on, what they were doing or even where they were, many taking their secrets with them to their graves many decades later. I now regret not asking my now departed Uncle Frank about his work in the 2nd World War, because as I research more, I believe he may have had had some dealing with the Bletchley Code Breakers.
Also, the couple told me that they had in their possession, left by the father, many old thermionic valves and parts used by the Post Office in the UK who used to run the telephone service.
Passing on from the Tunny Gallery, we passed into the Colossus Gallery, showing a reconstructed decoding machine, the worlds first digital semi-programmable computer, designed and built by Tommy Flowers, a telephone engineer, who took standard telephone switching gear, thermionic valves and other bits and pieces, to build this worlds first computer of it’s type.
As we listened to our guide about how the British Government, after the finish of the 2nd World War, did not want the secret be known by other powers and especially the Russians of Colossus, and apart from two machines which were sent to the Secret Service’s headquarters at GCHQ, all other machines were destroyed, along with paperwork, designs and drawings.
Colossus Bletchley Park
Colossus Bletchley Park

It was only a few years ago that a group of enthusiasts led by Tony Sale, who gathered information from photographs, people who worked on the Colossus, and those you built and maintained them, that rebuilt what we can see today, a working Colossus which can decipher and work as the originals did, and does so for visitors to see today.

Colossus valves Bletchley Park
Colossus valves Bletchley Park


When our guide had finished his talk, the couple’s eyes were alive, as they had some parts, letters, paperwork, documents and some knowledge from the father, who they now realised had worked with Tommy Flowers on the original Colossus, and I urged them to go and speak to one of the guides who I knew had worked on the rebuild and was now sitting in a small office near to the working computer.
I think at first reluctantly the guide listened to them, but he became interested, as here was new knowledge being delivered, and so off they went to another area of the exhibition, only to return with a framed photograph of Tommy Flowers, and in that photograph was the father.
I was witnessing the discovery of new knowledge, the recovery of history.
Leaving Bletchley Park, and a almost two hour journey, I arrived home and settled down to a wonderful hot chilli con carne meal I had made, and switched on the TV. To my surprise the BBC were showing a Timewatch series, “Codebreakers: Bletchley Park’s Lost Heroes“, the story of code breaking and the Colossus, reinforcing what I had learned not a few hours earlier.
Synchronicity. If I had not been bored and decided to rekindle my Ham Radio interests, to visit the National Radio Centre, which happened to be at Bletchley Park, and if I had not continued to do another tour of the park, I would not have had those “Ah Ha” moments, seen many more things, and learnt so much more, meet the couple who had a direct connection to Colossus through the father and Tommy Flowers, then see the TV program.