Hailed as the first form of radio communication which could be transmitted by flashes of light as well as sound, Morse Code became a global language.
It was used to send and receive military messages during several wars and was used by sailors up until 1997. And who could forget that fateful SOS emergency signal made from the Titanic on its doomed maiden voyage in 1912.
Many would think the art of the ‘dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot’ is dead, but in fact International Morse Code is still popular among amateur radio operators today.
Ray Bullock, 65, from Harlescott, has won a string of national and international awards for Morse Code and is particularly proud of winning the title of Most Readable Telegraphist in Europe several times over. The grandfather-of-six first got involved with the skill in 1976 when he left his post as a sergeant instructor in the army and went on the search for a hobby.
“I purchased an old receiver and started listening to the airwaves and taught myself Morse Code from tapes and booklets,” he said.
“I passed 12 words per minute after three months of study and I started collecting Morse keys in 30 different styles and shapes. I have a junker key from 1935-41 which comes from a German submarine.”
Last year, Ray passed 20wpm and in 2005 he was awarded a certificate for intercepting enigma messages as part of a special challenge. The average telegraphist can transmit about 23-30wpm.
Ray said: “I always find that Morse Code is like music. For example the letter Q resembles God Save The Queen. It is extremely popular and a lot of people don’t realise because of all the modern technology. But today amateur radio operators can use computers to enhance and captivate signals.
Speed of light
“When I transmit I don’t know where my signals go. It’s like casting a rod into a pond and you don’t know what fish will come out. The signal travels at the speed of light and in the time that it would take to fly to America, you can press the Morse key and it is received in less than a second.”
And there are Morse Code clubs still in existence today, including the Salop Amateur Radio Society which meets at the Telepost Club, Railway Lane, Shrewsbury.
“Most people join a local club and start from there,” said Ray.
“It’s a lot about your own ability and desire to do it well. I hated it at first but I grew to love it. Most of the language is universal English, but you can take an examination to become a radio amateur and to speak worldwide you have to take an additional test to become a telegraphist.”
He added: “The Salop ARS meets every Thursday at 8pm. They have their own radio room and anyone can go along and listen to the amateur radio operators.”
by Charlotte Hester