Some notes on amateur radio operation from Rodrigues Island, 1957/58.
by ‘Willy’ Wilson (GM3NUF)
The callsign VQ8AS was issued to Ron Davis, an engineer with Cable & Wireless Ltd., in 1957.
Ron was not interested in operating and allowed me to use his call. I had applied for a licence in 1955 when I passed through Mauritius on my way to Rodrigues, but my application failed because I had no qualifications. I was also told in no uncertain terms that they would be listening out for me in case I should be tempted to operate illegally from what was recognised to be a highly desirable location. In those days one’s respect for authority was rather closer to fear than is customary today and I not only borrowed Ron’s callsign but also used his name.
I have retained the logbook for the VQ8AS operation and as far as I am aware Ron never operated. With the intervention of my station manager (presumably on the Old Boys’ network) I was granted a licence in early 1958, VQ8AQ, shortly amended to VQ8AQR to distinguish it from Mauritius. In May ’58 I was transferred to Mauritius and continued to use VQ8AQ until I returned to the UK in July ’59.
I believe that the VQ8AS operation was the first operation from Rodrigues. Paul Caboche (now 3B8AD) told me that he had operated from Rodrigues but from a vessel offshore. I don’t recollect if he told me his callsign but from browsing on the Internet I learned that Paul had also used the call VQ8AS in the past.
The transmitter was fairly standard for its day, 6AG7 xtal oscillator and 807 PA, running about 10 watts to a long wire. It was donated to me by a yachtsman on his way from Singapore to the UK. His crew, who was VS1FT, had been taken ill and lifted off by a passing steamer. (Rodrigues was a favourite stop-over for many yachts crossing the Indian Ocean). Initially I had only two crystals, 7006 (14012) and 7025 (14050)kHz, so was easy to find if I was on.
The receiver was a National NC46, almost bottom of the range short-wave listener’s receiver, and I marvel at what was worked with such modest equipment. Of course 1957/58 was a good time for sunspots, and the amateur population was maybe only a tenth of what it is today. I lived in the Cable & Wireless bachelors’ Mess at Mount Venus, about a mile to the East of Port Mathurin the capital, and had a clear take-off over the sea from West through North to North-east.
I was very inexperienced, operating a ‘pumphandle’ key at no more than 15w.p.m, giving all unnecessary details every QSO, and no doubt causing much impatience among the Dxers trying to get a new country. I was not really aware of how important that was to some operators! In retrospect it was a fairly pathetic operation by today’s standards, but it was before the days of ‘rubber-stamp’ QSOs when we used to talk to each other. Operation was almost exclusively on 14 MHz, with only a couple of dozen QSOs on 7MHz.
The statistics make almost embarrassing reading :-
VQ8AS, 7/Nov/1957 – 23/Jan/58, total QSOs 552, of which there were only 19 G stations.
VQ8AQ, 5/Feb/58 – 28/Feb/58, total QSOs 59, only 5 G stations.
VQ8AQR, 3/Mar/58 – 13/Mar/58 total QSOs 36, only 1 G station.
The G stations worked were:-
G2DUP, G2LB, G2LU, G2PL, G3AAM, G3AWZ, G3CHJ, G3EYN, G3FKM, G3FXB, G3HCL, G3HLS, G3JJG, G3KAY, G3YF, GM3EST, G4CP, G5BZ, G6ZO, G8KS.
QSL cards were sent out.
I attach a picture of my one and only VQ8AQR card, kept for sentimental reasons!!
Here are a few words of explanation for the pictures shown in this article:
1. “VQ8licence” This is part of the first page of the licence issued to me in 1958. The licence is based on the Amateur (Sound) licence current in the UK at that time, and runs to five typewritten pages (what!, no photocopiers??). The changes of address reflect my transfer to Mauritius later in 1958.
2. “VQ8log” This is the first page of the VQ8AS log. Note the home-made log from a school exercise book, laboriously written up with a fountain pen (can’t remember if we had ball-points in those days). See G5BZ was the first G in the log; and W2CTN, perhaps the best known QSL manager, who was to become my QSL manager many years later.
3. “VP8qsl” As I only had 36 QSOs with this call this card will be quite rare.