My first Christmas in the military I was operating a Teletype on swing shift in downtown Brisbane. Because of the holiday season, our traffic was running light and I had a blank sequence of a couple hours near midnight.
This will explain what became a Great Mystery for a few days in our 5th Air Force Signal Net that covered the top third of Australia plus several islands to our northeast. For anyone who was also on swing shift that night in the Southwest Pacific, read this and be enlightened.
With only a few months in the service, I still had quite a few civilian memories and instincts. Thus, when it seemed like the war was on hiatus for a while in the Christmas season, I decided to violate all known procedures and send out my own message of cheer.
I interrupted him right back and typed: “Remember the season, and count the dings.”
Bob Cloud, Teletype operator during WWII
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The Teletype has a regular qwertyuiop keyboard, but with a few extra function keys. One was a bell. If you were on a night shift and the guy at the other end might be napping, you’d hit this little bell key and it would ring in his office and wake him. This inspired my idea.
I called up our Townsville Signal Center, then sent this message: ding-ding-ding, ding-ding-ding, ding-ding-ding-ding-ding, (pause and repeat) - and the Townsville operator broke in with a Zed signal, probably ZHO, “msg corrupt!” I interrupted him right back and typed: “Remember the season, and count the dings.”
I repeated the ding sequence, and halfway through he interrupted again - “Oh! Wait till I can hook up my tape sequence, then repeat the whole thing.” Which I did.
Teletypes also had an automatic device that would punch out a long paper strip an inch wide by X miles long, with the correct “code” punched in for each letter. If you were away from your machine, say, on latrine call, you could hook up this device and when you returned you might find a message on the tape, which, in turn, you could replay on your own machine and see the message typed out.
So that night I sent the message to Townsville, and he in turn sent it to Mereeba and Charters Towers and Daly Waters and Cairns and Darwin, and likely Port Moresby and the islands, also. Plus whatever Japanese were intercepting us (always a probability), plus the U.S. Spy Center (whatever name they worked under - they were always monitoring our traffic and sending messages to our COs chewing us out for procedure violations).
To all you guys who wondered what was going on, here it is: “Jingle Bells!” to all, and to all a Happy Goodnight! (And I never got cited for it, ha ha.).
Bob Cloud, 96, lives in Bellingham.