BBCeng.info  
Recollections of BBC engineering from 1922 to 1997
The British Broadcasting Corporation
web site is:
www.bbc.co.uk

Transmission Operations - Reminiscences

 Return to List of Reminiscences

Start Pointís special role following D Day
By Stuart Frost.  Retired engineer-in-charge, Start Point.

This article appeared in Prospero (newspaper for retired BBC staff) in July 2004

The D Day memorial services and celebrations were of particular interest to me. I live near Slapton Sands, where the Americans did most of their training for 6 June 1944.

I was, however, a little disappointed that there was no mention of Start Point Transmitting Station in any of the reports, especially by the BBC.  Start Point played an important role in the Normandy landings and for many months afterwards.

I joined the BBC Transmitter Department at Start Point in 1943 as a Youth in Training Transmitters (YT) at the age of 15.

Start Point was designed and built in 1939, before the war, to radiate the then Western Programme on a frequency of 1050khz, using a 100 kW Standard Telephone & Cable (ST&C) type C100. The aerial system was two 450ft lattice mast radiators, the Northern mast was the radiator and the Southern a reflector. This gave good coverage for all the West Country and the Southern part of England.

When I arrived at Start Point, there were two transmitters, the Original ST&C operating on either medium wave or short wave, the other a 50kW Marconi type SWB18, on short wave.  All services radiated the European Service on appropriate aerial systems.

When the second front became imminent in May 1944, the ST&C transmitter was closed down. We didn't know exactly why, but we could guess that it was something to do with the forthcoming second front landings.  Start Point Medium Wave Transmitter was chosen because of its locality.  The functions of the mast radiators were to be swapped over, the South mast was to be used as the radiator and the North a reflector, this was to transmit across the channel to France.

The transmitter power was increased from the original designed 100kw to 180kw.  This was quite an engineering feat.  It required the four output stage water cooled valves (4030C) to be increased to eight by using the spares, subsequently other spare components were brought into service to avoid overheating.

On the completion of setting up the transmitter, we were told that it was in readiness for transmitting a forces programme to the second front.  It was on standby for many weeks, closed down until D Day plus 2 when we had one of those urgent priority messages to transmit this Forces programme.

The Programme was the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme (AEFP).  I remember it being a bright and cheerful opening and directed to all the armed forces taking part in the landings.  There were three main bands, the British Band of the AEF, the American Band of the AEF (Glen Miller) and the Canadian Band of the AEF.  Dance music in plenty, light entertainment, comedy, war reports and news were the main ingredients.  It was a jolly good mixture of English, American and Canadian programmes.  It transmitted for almost 24hrs a day with maybe a short break at night for essential maintenance. Occasionally coded information was transmitted in the way of innocent prose.

As for myself I continued on shift work listening and enjoying this uplifting cheerful AEF programme for a few months before being sent to Maidavale and Droitwich on the Technical Assistance A1 -B1 courses. On my return to Start Point, I was put on night shift immediately.  All hands were needed to change frequency from 1050khz to 583kHz to increase the ground wave range to keep up with the allies advancing into France and Germany.

This change in frequency had to be done In one night because the troops were informed that we were changing the frequency on the next day and to re-tune to receive their AEF programme.  I do remember that night vividly, more adjustments to coils and capacitors within the transmitters and ATHs [Aerial Tuning Huts].  We finished about 6 am just in time for the arranged start up, indeed we were all very weary, as it was a very hot night.

Start Point was the only transmitter that transmitted the AEF programme from the UK.  However, much later as the allies advance progressed, relay stations were used, receiving Start Point and re-transmitting from mobile low power transmitters positioned in France and Germany. The service continued until the cessation of hostilities in Europe.

See also "Start Point transmitting station" in Wikipedia.

Return to List of Reminiscences