UK Control of Wireless Telegraphy

Courtesy of Len Barnett (lenny@BARNETTRESEARCH.FREESERVE.CO.UK), this was posted to MARHST-L in April, 2002.

In Britain one of many orders in council promulgated in the days leading to war in the 'Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday the 31st of July, 1914' on Sunday 2nd August 1914 was one dealing with civilian W/T. Entitled 'General Post Office', this stated:-

'In pursuance of Regulation 5 of the Wireless Telegraphy (Foreign Ships) Regulations, 1908, I, the Right Honourable CHARLES EDWARD HENRY HOBHOUSE, His Majesty's Postmaster-General, do hereby give notice that in the opinion of the Right Honourable REGINALD McKENNA, one of His Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, an emergency has arisen in which it is expedient for the public service that His Majesty's Government should have control over the transmission of messages by wireless telegraphy, and that the use of wireless telegraphy on board foreign ships whilst in the territorial waters of the British Isles will be subject to such rules as may be made by the Admiralty'.
[Reginald McKenna was then Home Secretary.]

Soon after appeared the following:-

'Admiralty, S.W., 3rd August, 1914.

With reference to the notification published by the Postmaster-General on the 2nd instant, the following regulations have been made by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty prohibiting the use of wireless telegraphy by merchant vessels in the territorial waters of the United Kingdom and Channel Islands:-

1. - The use of wireless telegraphy is prohibited in the harbours and territorial waters of the United Kingdom and Channel Islands.

2. On entering any port or harbour or on directions being given to that effect by any naval, military, examination service, Customs or police officer, the aerial wire or antenna is to be at once lowered, disconnected from its halliards, and from the operating room, and is not to be rehoisted while the ship remains in British territorial waters.

3. - Any breach of these regulations renders the masters of offending ships liable to penalties and to the confiscation of the wireless apparatus of their ships.

NOTE. - These regulations do not apply to ships owned (not chartered) by the Admiralty, whether they fly the Blue or the Red Ensign.

By Command of Their Lordships,
W. Graham Greene'.

(Classified telegrams of the early days of war show that Mercantile Fleet Auxiliaries were ordered not to fly blue ensigns, but to 'disguise themselves' as normal civilian traffic flying the red duster instead.)

The order in council and presumably the further announcement was one small element of the pre-war efforts of the Committee for Imperial Defence and its many sub-committees. IIRC the above actions formed a few paragraphs of 'The War Book' in section under actions for the Home Office. This 'book' was largely formulated through the efforts of Maurice Hankey.

Incidentally, I have seen telegrams in the early days of the war in which a Senior Naval Officer in a Scottish area had RN warships smash wireless gear on foreign fishing craft on the high seas. It was supposed by the naval authorities that the Foreign Office would have to field any calls for compensation.

Last Updated: 6 April, 2002.

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