History of the Line Trade

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With the invention of the Morse Code in 1873 and the almost-simultaneous perfection of the electric telegraph, a new field in communcations was born

The electric telegraph was employed for the first time during a war in 1854. A 340-mile submarine cable was laid from Varna, on the Black Sea Coast of Dorbluscha, to Balaclava, thus connecting the Commanders-in-Chief with London and Paris. On land, Lt Stopford, TE, and 25 Sappers were provided with two telegraph wagons, a Cable Cart and a plough, and 24 miles of copper wire insulated with thick gutta-percha. Not until late February, 1855, did the ground thaw enough for a start to be made. The plough made little impression on the soil, and there was no alternative to digging. Mice ate the insulation, which the soldiers also found useful for pipe stems, while short lengths of conductor made excellent pipe cleaners. By the end of the campaign, 21 miles of cable had been laid and there were eight offices in circuit. In 1870 when finances loosened a little, C Telegraph Troop, RE came into being under Captain Montague Lambert on the 1st of September 1870.

The first opportunity to test the new organization occurred in 1873, when Wolseley led an expedition into Ashanti to deal with King Coffee Kalkali, a noted slave trader. Ashanti being unsuitable for the horses of C Troop, portage was the only means of transport. The dense bush was a great challenge, but the line, supported on trees and locally cut poles, snaking through the secondary jungle along the only path, stood up well to the violent weather.

C Telegraph Troop itself first saw active service in the Zulu War of 1879. Un-insulated fencing wire obtained in South Africa was laid on the dry soil, and telephones were used to amplify the clicks of the telegraph sets, these being at their being at their faintest in the early morning when the ground was dew soaked. On the evening of 12thSeptember 1882, at Kassassin, Cpl Elsomore was ordered to erect 2 miles of poles out into no-mans-land to guide the advance of the Highland Brigade. The area was under enemy cavalry domination and Cpl Elsmore was thanked by the Commander for a service of possible danger.

On the night march across the desert, the cable wagon set out before the infantry, navigating by the stars. In the final advance, it was in danger of being left behind, and the cable was then laid at a fast trot.

A Sapper and Miner Telegraph Section, accompanying the main body, laid a parallel line. On reaching Tel-el-Kebir railway station after the dawn battle, the telegraph office was erected in the saloon coach in which Colonel Arabi had arrived the previous day. It was through to Ismalia, via Kassassin, as soon as the earth was made. The 17 Joints made in the dark on the advanced had been honestly finished off.

Sir Garnet Wolseley’s report to the Queen was handed in at 18:30 hr. the 13th September, at 0915 Her Majesty’s reply was received.

This was the first signal of a victory made direct from the battlefield.

In 1884, C Troop and the Postal Telegraph Companies were amalgamated to form the 1st and 2nd Divisions, respectively of the Telegraph Battalion, respectively of the Telegraph Battalion, Jeff tried out a new airline which had been evolved. It was a success and was left standing as the basis of a permanent system. On the arrival of 2 officers and 55 men it was realized that their 100 miles of single conductor cap-wire route would not suffice. A further 100 miles in 29 working days.

With the help of local purchase a total 225 miles in 37 working days was reached, the second detachment assisting with the last 50 miles. The tradesmen had been whittled down by the necessity to drop off linemen every 20 miles or so.

The second expedition to the Nile was in 1884 when General Gordon was surrounded at Khartoum. A relief force was organized and Telegraph sections under Colonel Webber first made serviceable the one civil line, from Aswan to Merarvi, which they had been hired for 120 pounds a day. The 590 miles included 912 defective poles, 417 loose binders, 236 insulator faults and 25 dry joints. An unsoldered joint in a wire is known to signalmen as a “dry” joint and is an unforgivable offense.

In 1885 an expedition was mounted with the secondary object of building a railway from Suakin to Berber on the Nile. Major Beresford commanded the Telegraph Battalion detachment which carried equipment for an airline along the railway. However, the need for ground cable was felt at once, and some was borrowed from a field company.

On 22 March 1885, the detachment advanced towards Tamai. The detachment of 16 men and 12 horses had an airline wagon, fitted to carry 96 drums of outpost cable, and water cart. The outpost cable was connected to the end of an overhead line from Quarantine Island to which a vibrator was trampled and repaired during a lull in fighting. While C Troop and the Telegraph Battalion had concentrated on the draught carriage of telegraph stores, the Sappers and Miners had developed pack transport on mules for cable, with elephants for airline.

During the Boer War,9360 miles of line were erected, and there were nearly 2000 telephones in use. Altogether in the South African Was 18000 miles of line had been laid and 28000 maintained. The cable cart underwent a few modifications and from it emerged the cable wagon the pride of the RE Signal Service.

On the 24th of October 1903, The Canadian Signaling Corps was founded and training started. Full responsibility for telegraphic and telephonic communications was not given to the Corps until after the First World War. Until then the Engineers would continue to establish and operate all cable and line communications, and, even provide complete signaling services for all units of the Canadian Corps in France, except, the 1st Division, which had its 1STDIVISIONAL SIGNAL COMPANY. This Regiments history began on the 6th of August 1914 with the formation of the 1st Div SIG Coy. The Company landed in England in October 1914 and France at St. Nazaire on the 12th February 1915. The Signal Company took no wireless equipment with them to France, so nothing was done in the field during the units first year in action. Line was undoubtedly the backbone of the communications system.

At Ypres, the effect of shelling on signal cable was particularly severe. Line laid on the ground was most vulnerable, much more so than lines slung on short poles. Even poled lines, however, soon went out of commission after the start of an engagement. The Signal Company found that only buried cable would be relatively immune from artillery shelling. Triple line, with wire buried op to the front line, was decreed by Army but time often rendered this impossible. Mud posed a special problem and not only for the digging. Better-insulated cable could withstand damp for a longer length of time, but this was in short supply.

An entire brigade of field artillery in 1915 was provided with a mere 26 miles of telephone wire.

In the early spring of 1916 the percentage of direct hits had been so small that breaks in the three-foot trenches could easily be repaired by linemen employed on maintenance. When the 5.9 howitzer had begun to play a predominant part in enemy programmers and it was found that even a 77-mm shell would break cable at its present depth, something more had to be done, even in the quieter sectors. Two pioneer deep buried cable schemes were initiated. The first, in Ypres itself, utilized the system of underground sewers, which underlay the streets. The second laid down in and about Mount Kemmel by the Canadian Corps, was the first to actually bury cable six feet deep. At Vimy, cable buried to a depth of 7 feet was installed along the whole Corps front, 21 miles of new route were added between January and April (1917) making 1500 miles in all, and 1100 miles of airline. The Divisional Signal Company provided this kind of service until the end of the war in 1918 and in 1920 the Company was disbanded. The 1919 the Engineers finally relinquished its hold on Signals when General Order 27 of 1919 established the Canadian Signaling instructional staff. The Regiment was again re-established in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War. The Regiment was organized into sections, and, at this time “B” Section was the cable crew in number 1 Company. In England, the Operating Section manned a General Post Office switchboard at Divisional Headquarters, connected to civilian lines, which by February was being taxed to the limit. The Commanding Officer ordered the construction of a 60-line switchboard. This board served Div HQ for nearly two years.

In the last days of January 1940, a severe ice storm struck southern England. Many telegraph lines were down, and railway service seriously interrupted. Both the Post Office and Southern Railway sought military assistance and the Chief Signal Officer, Aldershot Command assigned to 1st Divisional Signals the task of restoring railway telegraphs in the Alton Area. The cable section was sent out, its men delighted at the prospect of a respite from training and their first opportunity for practical construction. In a letter to Major-General McNaughton, the Chief Inspector of Signals and Telegraphs.

Southern Railway, stated: “My people were very much impressed with the efficiency and willingness of the men concerned, and the Canadians in particular, I understand were extraordinarily knowledgeable and efficient at their job”.

Their part of the task was completed in much less time than the railway had anticipated.

On June 24 1943, the 1st Divisional Signals sailed from Scotland for the assault on Sicily 10 July, 1943.

In the first week of the Campaign “C” Section laid lines only between Main and Tear Divisional Headquarters, and the only on rare occasions. “K” Section laid its first line six miles of it, and Leonforte, and the brigade staff used it for exactly one hour before moving forward again. The usual line layout included Main to Rear Division, C.R.A. two regiments (partly line or omnibus) and Main Division to the forward brigade.

If time and resources permitted. Forward of brigades, line could only be used very seldom, except within the artillery regiment, the country being too difficult and moves too frequent. Wireless was used more and more frequently as the campaign wore on.

September the 3rd was the day the Division moved to Italy. By the end of the first month the Division had moved very rapidly to the city of Campobasso and Vinchiaturo in the mountains northwest from the plain. As the war moved northward into the mountainous part of the Italian peninsula, the change of terrain slowed the pace of the advance and line communication at once came to serve the three brigades and at one time after leaving Compobasso the line diagram showed 85 miles of wire, only two of which were constructed by the section. Static positions, however briefly held, were exposed to greater shelling with the attendant line trouble.

It was now the custom of infantry and artillery commanding officers to demand line communications immediately they halted and if brigade headquarters remained on the near side of a river the problem of line maintenance was often as difficult as that of laying the cable.

As the artillery moved across the Moro River, I support of the attacks on San Leonardo, the CRA established an observation post in advance of gun lines of the 1st Fd Regt and within the area of the forward battalions. The line to this post was of primary importance, since over it the firing of the entire Divisional Artillery was to be controlled.

Its location rendered it vulnerable to the incessant shelling that the area was undergoing. Responsibility for the maintenance of this line rested with “H” Section, and a Signals Corporal working alone, kept the line open through five days and nights of heavy shelling, so that the CRA was always able to make any fire corrections necessary.

As the Edmonton’s were fighting in the town of Ortonas outskirts, a corporal of “K” Section kept them in line communication with Brigade Headquarters by assault cable which he dragged forward by hand at night, over two miles of tough, mine-strewn ground. Frequently during the days and nights following it was necessary for him to risk life and limb in repairing breaks in that line, bet he never asked to be relived. The first Canadian signal section to work directly with the Eighth Arms was Number 1 Line Section. These men, who six weeks before had been swimming at Mazzaro Beach in Sicily, began work with 8th Army Signals of Atessa where snow had drifted eight feet deep.

A 27 mile stretch of line was built from General Leese’s 8th Army HQ at Vasto to the Sangro River. At the end of this assignment a letter of appreciation was received by 1st Corps Signals from the Officer Commanding Eighth Army Signals, and General Leese expressed his personal pleasure at the work done by the Canadians.

Signal of the 1st Division – the formation selected to commence the assault on the Adolph Hitler Line, were occupied with communications to their brigade and artillery regiments. Line sections, augmented by cooks, orderlies and batmen, worked for several days without rest.

The GOC moved his tactical headquarters to a position well forward in the 2nd Brigade area. It was necessary to connect this position by line to the tactical headquarters of each brigade, and to be prepared to move forward with line when the brigades themselves should move.
At no time during that momentous day of 23 May, when the Hitler Line was unhinged, was any telephone line out longer than 30 minutes, and there was an alternative route available in every such instance. The GOC, 1st Division was so pleased with signals work he declared publicly that not once during the battle did he fail to reach any officer he wanted.

On the Adriatic coast the struggle for the Gothic Line, Operation “Olive”, commenced on 25 August with a deceptively easy fording by the 1st Division of the Metauro River about seven miles from its mouth. At the last moment, another improvisation, which was the result of “L” circumstances forced the GOC to change his plans to the extent of shifting the axis of advance to the left flank of the divisional boundary.
This became a line problem for Signals. The cable was carried across where originally planned and the diversion took place on the far bank. Here through ground thickly infested with mines, and in the dead of night, cable was dragged some five miles to Divisional Headquarters Sections experience in the Gothic line, was a novel cable layer. Jeeps were fitted with half-tops and in the rear, were mounted two cable frames.
The special feature was that the frame would carry two drums so that two lines could be laid simultaneously from one vehicle. A still greater advantage in the eyes of the men who used them was that the equipment operated silently – a significant safety factor in no-man’s-land. Signals of the 1st and 5th Divisions experimented extensively in means of laying cable across the Savio River. On 26 October, when the Savio pontoon bridge went out and the speed of the current was too great to cross by assault boar, a PIAT was used to bridge the 275-foot water gap.
The Signals officer with the Irish Regiment had the greatest success with this method. He coiled about 120 yards of D3 cable in front of the projector, secured it to the tail of a bomb and, after several trials, succeeded in fitting bomb and cable to the far ban. With one cable across, lines for the Perth’s, the Cape Breton Highlanders and 37th Field Battery were pulled over, and communications for and entire brigade were completed by this ingenious means.

By the end of the Italian campaign the Linemen were about to leave for Northwestern Europe with the rest of the Division secure to the knowledge that they were leaving a job well done. During the Rhine Campaign and the crossing of the Ijssel River 1st Div Signals laid quad and D8 cable from their amphibious vehicle. A Buffalo was obtained and the crew began to lay their lines. The wires were cut by shellfire when the party was halfway across and in a second attempt the Buffalo could not mount the east bank. Another assault boat was used for a further attempt and the line was laid successfully.

On the 5th of May 1st Div Signals cleared the cease-fire message and on the 9th of September 1945, 1st Div Signals was again disbanded. After the war, most units disbanded and in the Postwar reorganization of the active force, three small units appeared in RC Signals order of battle: a wireless carrier troop, a line construction troop and a line maintenance troop. Manpower being tight, it was decided to shelve the three troops designed for special functions and to reorganize them into “A”, “B” and “C” Troops, RCCS. These units were patterned after the corresponding troops of No 1 Squadron of a divisional signal regiment; but were of necessity smaller. “C” Troop was formed around May of 1950. To undertake a number of urgent line construction fobs and also look after the line side of exercises. “C” Troop soon reached the full strength of its divisional signal regiment namesake.

The next move was to knit the units together to reduce administration and simplify command and control. As vacancies became available elsewhere in the Corps, enough bits and pieces were in the units to permit formation of a Squadron Headquarters in April 1951 designated No. 1 Squadron RCCS, based at Vimy barracks. In September RCCS was incorporated into it, along with several other Troops. The Regiment provided a few linemen to the 25th Canadian Brigade, which became the 1st Commonwealth Division, in Korea.

Line communications in Korea had been considerable extended and inordinately difficult to maintain. Because of the many hills and the approaches where lines were laid. Moreover, Engineers had much road building to do which involved blasting, digging and earth moving, care was taken – and everyone had become extremely cooperative– it had been necessary to lay lines in the hills to escape interference. Canadian linemen had worked exceptionally hard, under the most arduous conditions, and during one year in Korea, 6000 miles of cable had been laid. Since Korea, the Regiment had provided linemen to the UN Forces for such places as Egypt, the Congo, Cyprus, Lebanon, Golan and UNEF II.

Though changes of command and rotation of personnel may bring new faces, the fob remains the same: to provide line communication for the Regiment or anyone else we are attached to, wherever and whenever the need arises.