Celebrating Those Special Events – GB…

When responding to a comment from good friend Christine I realised that any description of talking to stations set up to commemorate events was going to require somewhat more than a simple comment so I said I’d do a post. That seemed like a good idea at the time, but things can quickly spiral out of control and I’ve realised that there will need to be quite a few posts to really cover the subject in QSO sized chunks – (QSO = a contact between amateur radio stations) – without the rag chew becoming over long.

To start with, all Ham Radio operators have a licensed callsign (more than one in some cases). I hold M3JUQ and 2E0MCA, both of which are English calls. I have also operated as 2O0MCA as a special dispensation during the 2012 Olympic Games. So I have had a ‘Special Event’ callsign of my own. However, true special event calls in the UK usually begin with the letters GB.

The term Special Event can be somewhat misleading as the call may not be celebrating an event at all! There are a number of ‘Permanent’ Special Event Stations set up in the UK, most commonly associated with museums. GB2OWM is the call of the Orkney Wireless Museum and guaranteed a big pile-up (lots of Hams trying to contact the station) whenever it’s on air as Orkney is, in itself, an Amateur Radio commodity being an Island – that one will have to be explained in a post about awards 😦 GB2GM is of interest – The GM standing for Guglielmo Marconi and the station being based at Poldhu in Cornwall from where Marconi made the first Transatlantic Radio Transmission (at least that is the claim!)

I am one of the operators at GB2DHH – another museum based station. The DHH stands for DeHavilland Heritage, so you’ll gather that we’re based at the DeHavilland Heritage Museum. Interestingly, the Science Museum in London used to have an Amateur Radio station but it closed some years ago because the directors didn’t see Amateur Radio as having relevance to their message – you do have to question that line of thought! But, you might wonder why a museum relating to DeHavilland Aircraft has one. We have been required to address that question in the past year as changes to the museum’s structure and membership have resulted in a reassessment of all the activities on site.

The Radio Station and the Museum operate in a symbiotic relationship. We get the opportunity to demonstrate Amateur Radio to the public (one of the requirements of a special event call being issued) and the museum gets the benefit of publicity to people who are generally more likely to visit than other members of the public – we get lots of contacts with ex-pilots (I’m one myself), ex-RAF personnel, ex-DeHavilland engineers. We can tell them how to find the museum – “Off Junction 22 of the M25 motorway and follow the signs for about 400yds” works for us 🙂 Often they may have a story to tell about DeHavilland aircraft – which we, in turn feed back to the museum. At our most recent operating session a contact related the tale of one of his best friends who had parachuted out of Mosquito’s on two occasions after being shot down by the Germans. He wondered if the museum had a record of this and we were able to put him in touch with the museum’s collator of aircrew records. So that’s the sort of benefits the operators and the museum get from having a radio station on site.

As you’d expect, there are other forms of special event. Every year there are activities like Museums on the Air, Mills on the Air, Lighthouses on the Air, all of which result in more GB calls. Even the annual fete can get a GB call if the local Amateur Radio Club wants to put on a station. There are also Special Event stations that celebrate genuine events. In 2008 a number of stations celebrated 90 years since the end of WWI whilst in 2007 I had a contact with a station recalling 25 years since the end of the Falklands Conflict. National heroes often get chosen too – Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar were the flavour in 2005. Perhaps my most touching contact was with GB2AOS – celebrating the Abolition of Slavery in 1807. Their choice of location Sunderland Point near Lancaster was particularly poignant – let me quote from their QRZ entry…

” Sunder or asunder means apart and when the tide comes in this tiny village, which was once a thriving port, it finds itself cut off from the mainland at Overton.

Just over a mile of single track road winding over the mud flats and sand marshes connects it to the mainland at low tide. It’s hard to imagine that once ships from the West Indies and North America docked here, plying their trade in cotton, sugar and human lives as part of the infamous 18th century slave trade. But there are reminders, and most of the people who come are looking for Sambo’s Grave.

Sambo (or Samboo, as the gravestone indicates) — I don’t suppose anyone knows what his name really was — was an African and probably no more than a boy. He was a black slave who arrived at the port with his master. He was taken ill, probably with some European disease to which he had no immunity, and he died. Because he was black and not a Christian he was not buried in consecrated ground. His body was interred in land that was once behind the inn, but is now a remote spot on the windswept shore with nothing between him and the vast sea that brought him from his homeland so far away.

For a long time the grave was unmarked, until some years later a retired schoolmaster discovered the story and raised some money for a memorial. He also wrote the epitaph that now marks the grave:

‘Full many a Sand-bird chirps upon the Sod And many a moonlight Elfin round him trips Full many a Summer’s Sunbeam warms the Clod And many a teeming cloud upon him drips. But still he sleeps — till the awakening Sounds Of the Archangel’s Trump now life impart Then the GREAT JUDGE his approbation founds Not on man’s COLOUR but his worth of heart.’ “

However, this post came about because of a story I was starting to relate to Christine about how you can wind up contacting the same people on these stations and build a great friendship. So GB0FP and GB0BB are both located at Fort Paull on the Humber Estuary and I have spoken to the team there on several occasions in the last couple of years so you get to know each other and there’s always space for a bit of banter – the GB0BB call was for their Blackburn Beverley. So we joked that neither Fort Paull or the DeHavilland museum have runways long enough to fly out our aircraft – blimey, you’d need to use curvature of the earth to get the Beverley airborne! At least the prototype of the fighter version of the Mosquito was successfully flown off from the fields behind Salisbury Hall (reputedly) and there is a microlight airstrip there 😉

On a different event – museums on the air – I contacted GB0TOL in 2005 at the Tower of London and spoke Air Cadet Helen. The following year I called the same station and spoke to the officer commanding the Air Cadet unit. During our QSO I mentioned that I could hear Helen in the background working another band… At which the Station Commander burst out laughing and said “Helen’s just fallen off her stool – she’s in shock!” She was somewhat surprised that I could have remembered her voice from a year before. You get to know some operators on Ham Radio. Most, Helen for example, you like – sadly, some you don’t but lets not go there!

I think I’ll follow this post up in the near future with one about Radio celebrations of National Heroes. Then, perhaps Religous and Secular celebrations – what do you think?

73 de 2E0MCA

(translation – Regards from Martin)

Some QSL Cards (Confirmation of Contact) received by me for you to enjoy…



  1. Great post, Martin. I cannot believe the Science Museum did not want a station and did not see its relevance! Marconi would turn in his grave!

    • Thank you Kate. Clearly the full story behind the Science Museum’s decision to close its permanent radio station is not available to me but the Callsign is now operated from the Science Museum’s Wroughton facility occasionally by the Swindon & District club see http://www.sdarc.net/gb2sm/ for information. As for Marconi – him and many other pioneers of radio I should think! It is ironic that the seed of my involvement in Amateur Radio was sown by a visit to the Science Museum’s station in the mid-1970’s though that seed would not germinate until our son was born and I needed a hobby to enjoy at home while looking after the baby 🙂

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