World War II

A sailor's best friend

... a young boy's dream

by John Averell

I was just a kid during World War II -- only 10 on VJ day. Like almost every boy then, I listened every day to radio broadcasts like Captain Midnight, anxious to use my magic decoder badge to decode the latest important message about his wartime exploits. What red-blooded American boy wouldn't wish to join the fight along side our soldiers and sailors, maybe being important spies! I sent in (probably to Captain Midnight also) for my plane spotter. It was a cardboard tube, about like a toilet roll core. On the end was a slot where you could slip in templates with the profile of various airplanes. You could "immediately" determine whether that plane was "one of ours" or a nefarious "Jap Zero" or "German Messerschmitt". I never saw anything but ours.

Our family did our part. Dad was a Warden. (I guess in England they were called the Home Guard.) He was smart, but hardly the athletic type. He was a chemist doing important war work at American Cyanamid. After the War he figured out that some of his work on uranium had more importance than he realized at the time. My Mom just ran a good home and we often had visitors needing company, or a meal, or sometimes a place to stay for awhile.

One of our guests was a young couple, a sailor and his wife, who were visiting our Church. Mom was really good about grabbing people and bringing them home for Sunday dinner. I don't really remember many details about Roy and Ethel Knapp but their names. He was a sailor I suppose on furlough -- an exciting opportunity for me to hear real war stories.

However, what really caught my attention was a handy-dandy cardboard oblong that he carried in his pocket. It was a genuine Navy Pocket Signal Disk that had summaries of just about any code I had heard of, and a few I hadn't. Here are pictures of the front and back.

The latest copyright date listed is 1942. On one side are pictures of the semaphore flag positions used from ship to ship. There is a rotating disk which shows through windows the verbal alphabet -- able, baker, charlie, dog, easy, fox, george, how, item, jig, king, love, mike, nan, oboe, peter, queen, roger, sugar, tare, uncle, victor, william, x-ray, yoke, zebra. As each letter shows, the corresponding alphabet flag shows in the other window. A lower rotating disk shows different semaphore positions, which seem to be related to numeral pennants and to Morse Code numerals on the other side.

On the other side is the complete Morse Code. In addition the rotating disk shows special flags for numerals and other words. Special pennants are pictured, and morse code numerals.

Well, you can see how this looked like a young boy's dream! I coveted it, and spent most of the time asking to play with it. Finally, in despair I suppose, Seaman Knapp offered to give it to me!

My dream was realized. From then on I have carefully kept this piece of wartime memorabilia in my folder of good old things, and look at it once a year or so. Considering it is over 65 years old, that's a lot of looking!

For some added information read the letter from fellow stringer Ed Boyd (click here)

February 5, 2010

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