Andre Saunders GM3VLB (SK) – a short story about amateur radio and a king.
by Colin Murray GM4EAU
This is a short story from the 1970s with a hint of romance, involving a Middle East King and a Scottish radio amateur who had, to quote his own words, “a slightly cheeky” idea to surprise his new wife Anne with a special honeymoon visit.
Andre was an active member of the Lothians Radio Society and details of his interests and exploits are here: http://www.lothiansradiosociety.com/lrs-news/885-23-may-2019-andre-saunders-gm3vlb-silent-key
Andre worked overseas as a school teacher with the callsign 5Z4LK operating in Nairobi Kenya from 1970 for about a decade. During this period he was very active on HF bands within the African region and achieved a number of African records. This story starts with his return to Kelso in the UK in 1978. Prior to Nairobi he worked in Geneva.
On March 10th 1970, the day after the king first transmitted on the air as a radio amateur, Andre was introduced over HF to the king by a mutual amateur radio friend, Don SV0WI, based in Athens. Don had been working in Jordan and had set up and “tested” the royal station the previous week, and pre-arranged the initial contacts.
King Hussein was an enthusiastic radio amateur operator and an Honorary Member of The Radio Society of Harrow (he was a Harrow School pupil in his school days) and a life member of the American Radio Relay League. He was extremely popular in the amateur radio community and insisted that fellow operators refer to him without his title. His call sign was JY1, and his second wife at the time, Princess Mona, was JY2. Other family members also had callsigns. King Hussein was an active amateur throughout his life and promoted the hobby internationally including gifting equipment to clubs, and visiting amateur stations incognito (for security reasons) during his travels.
Andre and the king talked on HF between Nairobi and Jordan and Andre then held many further QSOs with the king over the following years. Andre later noted in a letter that his young daughter was thrilled one evening to speak to a “real live princess” at the time. Likely something to boast about at school the following day!
Andre was one of the JY1’s very first QSOs. During this early QSO activity the king issued the invitation to meet face-to-face should Andre make a visit to Jordan. The QSL card issued by the king is shown below. Enclosed with that QSL card was a full set of mint Jordanian stamps, also shown here.
Time passed and after about 9 years Andre was now back in Scotland due to ill health and about to marry Anne, his second wife. Anne was working in Geneva at the time for the UN. He had found the initial QSL card from JY1 along with Jordanian stamps and a Nairobi newspaper press cutting that the king had personally sent to him recording their early radio conversations. This gave Andre an idea which is the subject of this story.
During October 1978 Andre wrote to JY1 reminding him of their earlier QSOs some 9 years prior, and the king’s kind invitation to visit Jordan at some point. He very politely asked the king “as one Ham to another” (in a somewhat lengthy life-story letter) if he could meet JY1 face-to-face with his fiancée while visiting Jordan. This would be the time of his honeymoon with Anne around March 1979. This could potentially create a very special occasion for his new wife.
Anne had apparently earlier expressed an interest in Jordan, and Andre had wanted to arrange something “different” for their honeymoon. This visit and an audience with the king would make that special occasion. Any visit date would be constrained by school teaching commitments in Kelso. Andre also offered to reciprocate should the king be in the UK since the king was known to visit and had been in Scotland very recently.
Nothing more was heard from Jordan and Anne and Andre were duly married April 1979 in Scotland.
The story then picks up again some 8 months later in July 1979 with a reply received from the palace! Apparently the letter had been wrongly filed on receipt.
The letter was from JY1’s communications advisor JY9BB/W4TA (who became a life-long close friend of the king) who was setting up the first radio microwave backbone system across the region. A copy of this letter from the palace is below.
The king had kindly invited Andre and wife to visit Jordan and gifted first class air tickets to be available from his national air carrier Alia airline for any time they chose to visit.
At this point, and for the first time, Andre explained to his new wife the idea to visit Jordan, and to meet with the king. Apparently she was “somewhat overwhelmed” on being given the royal letter unannounced.
The follow-up letters tell us that details were arranged for the flight to Jordan and to schedule meetings with JY1 around the time of their first wedding anniversary.
Unfortunately there is no record of the actual visit in Andre’s papers, so the story concludes somewhat abruptly at this point with the assumption that it had a happy ending!
The royal letter offering free flights to Jordan:
The signed QSL card confirming the initial contact along with some of the mint Jordanian stamps added by King Hussein :
Andre Saunders became SK in May 2019 and is survived by his 3rd wife, Veronica, who is regularly involved with the Lothians Radio Society in Edinburgh.
Details about Andre can be found here: http://www.lothiansradiosociety.com/lrs-archive/51-silent-keys/888-silent-key-andre-saunders-gm3vlb-selkirk-23rd-may-2019
King Hussein of Jordan was king for nearly 50 years, a direct descendent of Mohammed, and is fondly remembered today with the first Jordan satellite JY1-SAT, a CubeSat launched in December 2018.
Further information on King Hussein can be found here: http://users.skynet.be/on1cau/k_hussein.htm