100 years since World War I: build a Morse code virtual radio

July 28, 2014 David Honess

On this day 100 years ago, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in response to the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. As the dominos began to tumble Russia mobilised against Austria-Hungary, causing Germany to declare war on Russia. Germany then invaded Luxembourg and declared war on France; and on the 4th of August the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. So began one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, that would draw in all of the great economic powers of the world, lasting until November the 11th 1918.

A century later the effect of this war is still with us. Every one of us has some kind of connection to it, whether it be an impact on our family history or on the place we live. This year events are taking place all over the world to commemorate and remember the millions of people who lost their lives. You can visit www.1914.org to find out more.

QST May 1942

The cover of QST magazine showing a call for women radio operators.

We expect lots of schools will be taking part in these events, and in the spirit of commemoration we have put together an educational resource called the Morse Code Virtual Radio. This allows you to simulate and experience the main form of radio communication that was used back then, using your Raspberry Pi. If you have an ancestor who was an ex-telegraph operator or world war serviceman, you may have an old Morse Code key in your attic which you could use.

antique key

An antique Morse Code key.

Invented by Samuel Morse in the year 1836, Morse Code is a method for sending and receiving text messages using short and long tones. It was adapted for early radio communication, before it was possible to send or receive voice, and was used extensively during both world wars.

Morse Code is also a really great skill to have. There is a very human element to it which is difficult to quantify and describe. Human skill is required to key in Morse Code correctly which takes only minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master. Skill is also required to listen to the tones and decode them. Our educational resource provides learning opportunities for both aspects.

Want to have a go? You’ll find everything you need here on our resources pages.

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