27 mei 2024

Telegram to mother by both radio and messenger

Sending a telegram used to be the best way to get a message across quickly. In the age of the (steam) ship it could take weeks or months before normal mail arrived. Airmail was faster of course, but even that could still take quite some time. The telephone was an option from the early 20th century, but even as late as the 1960s many people did not have a telephone in their houses. Therefore, to send a short but urgent message, a telegram was often the best way until the late 1960s.

The (Dutch) telegram forms used after the Second World War are not particularly scarce. For most countries it is quite easy to collect them, especially in used form. But some of these widely available forms on closer inspection show something less common. Here is one such example.

Fig. 1: The text of the telegram. The callsign of the Leonidas was “pfnf”.

The message in itself is nothing out of the ordinary: the message is from a son to his mother on her birthday. What is however special is how it was send: from a ship (“Leonidas”) to Scheveningen Radio (text on Wikipedia in Dutch only) and from that radio station by regular telegram service to Den Helder.

Fig. 2: the (usual) telegram envelope. This time of stationery was used for special occasions, such as birthdays (as is the case here).

Scheveningen Radio started in Scheveningen (The Hague) in December 1904, but moved to IJmuiden in 1951. The name of the station however remained the same, it could for all sorts of reasons not be changed. One of the services it provided was communications between ships at sea and organizations/companies or individuals on land, in this case by taking the telegram message and “converting” it to a regular telegram. This service was not surprising: Scheveningen Radio was at the time still owned by the Dutch postal services (PTT).

Fig. 3: The building of Scheveningen Radio at its new location in IJmuiden. Image from Wikipedia lemma. Notice the stamp at the top: that’s not a stamp but a seal, in this case one showing a number, probably used for archival purposes.

It was well-known among maritime personal for its option to make a telephone call through this station by asking for a connection over radio to Scheveningen Radio. You would then have to await your turn in the schedule, after which Scheveningen Radio would create the connection between the radio signal coming from a ship and the individual telephone line/number from the recipient. Needless to say everybody else could listen in on this, the radio part of the connection was very publicly available!

Fig. 4: Colorized version of a b/w photo of the Leonidas in (probably) 1958.

Because satellite (on the high seas) and mobile phone (in coastal and inland waters) connections became much more common from the 1980s/1990s onward this service was no longer needed. On 31 December 1999 the station was used for the very last time.

Ivo Spanjersberg

Ivo Spanjersberg

Webmaster. Collecting Korean revenue stamps (see http://www.spanjersberg.net/). Also member of Korea Stamp Society (https://www.koreastampsociety.org/) & Nederlandse Vereniging voor Fiscale Filatelie (http://www.belastingzegels.nl/).

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