John Macdonald GM4XZN filled the meeting room at the Braid Hills Hotel on 10th November for his talk "GPO Vans in the Queerest of Places". Using a Powerpoint presentation and many 35mm slides, he described the development of the telegraph network in the north of Scotland, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles from the 1870s, including his own work in the 1950s onwards. 

Prior to 1870 a limited number of telegraph lines were carried on the poles of the railway companies, but there was a dispute concerning payment for the railway poles when the GPO proposed to extend the network with additional lines. The Telegraph Act of 1868 was then passed to enable "... Her Majesty's Postmaster General to acquire, work and maintain Electric Telegraphs" as a government takeover and monopoly. Many additional lines were installed from 1870 onwards, using the Royal Engineers to provide the manpower in many cases. On land these were overhead lines, usually single-wires, carried on new poles. Under-sea cables were laid across straits and to islands using guttapercha-insulated cables, with diamond-shaped beacons indicating the locations on the shore. Equipment included morse-keys, sounders, the "ABC Instrument" used to provide a visual indication of the characters sent, and fault-finding equipment such as the megger, which could locate a fault on a long line with remarkable accuracy. Gradually telephony replaced telegraphy, with the last Morse Code message being sent by the GPO in 1934.

John showed slides of himself and his colleagues and their GPO vans at the many locations in the highlands and islands in a presentation which was much appreciated by all present. 



John Macdonald GM4XZN showing his treasured GPO Morse Key.


G.N.W. Telegraph linemen using pike poles raise a large telegraph pole in this 1914 view. 


The last Morse code message was sent by the GPO in 1934.



A woman telegraphist operating an "A.B.C. instrument" of the 19th century in the C.T.O. Exhibition of 1939.


John Macdonald on the pole: single-wire pole route carrying the Applecross circuit, July 1953.


Single-wire telegraph route in NW Sutherland.


John Macdonald's talk was very popular, with LRS members and guests filling the meeting room at the Braid Hills Hotel.