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Dunoon Listening Post

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Castle House, Fox, 2009
Castle House

Dunoon listening post was established during World War II, and was a secret radio monitoring station installed in one of the rooms within Castle House.

During the war, amateur radio enthusiasts, or radio hams, were not allowed to operate, and although their transmitters were confiscated, their receivers were not. Some volunteered, or were recruited, for listening duties and monitored the airwaves for rogue transmissions. One such volunteer was Mr Lawrie, the proprietor of an electrical and radio shop in Dunoon. As he had signed the Official Secrets Act, he kept the following information to himself until 50 years after the war ended, when he vouchsafed the information to the curator of the Castle House Museum Dunoon. However, as he did not want any fuss to be made about it, he stipulated that the story remain under wraps until after his death.

Former radio room, Fox, 2009
Former radio room

The place chosen for the station was a room in Castle House, which is now used to house the Victorian Kitchen exhibit of the museum. It is unclear as to how this choice came about, as Mr Lawrie did not live in Castle House and the chosen room was part of the caretaker's accommodation. It may be that the elevated location of the house on Castle Hill allowed the use of covert antennae, so adding to the security of the station, played a part. Whatever the reason, the choice was well made, as the room is easily accessed through the back door and via the servants' stairs, and its window looks out onto the hipped roof of a lower wing towards the rear of the building, so making it difficult for anyone walking past to observe what was taking place in the room.

Mr Lawrie was also said to have been instrumental in the capture of a spy, who had been resident in the area which overlooked the Firth of Clyde. Although there are no details available, it is understood that the spy was arrested and subsequently executed.

Radio Security Service

In the summer of 1939, Lord Sandhurst (of MI8 and a director/owner of Hatch Manson wine merchants), approached Arthur Watts (then President of the Radio Society of Gt Britain) to see if other radio amateurs could assist in a listening watch. It was thought that enemy agents or spies might be detected by short wave listeners nearby because of the strong 'ground wave' and 'key clicks' produced. Radio amateurs would be ideal because they were widely distributed and although their transmitters were impounded on the outbreak of war their short wave receivers were not. They were given the name Voluntary Interceptors (V.I.s) and in addition professional intercept stations were set up initially under the Post Office. Arthur Watts managed to build up quite a following of radio amateurs and the organisation became MI8(c) but was generally known as the Radio Security Service (RSS), controlled by Colonel Worlledge.


Radio Amateurs (Hams) were men (and a very few women) who had an interest and skill in constructing wireless apparatus in order to communicate with other Hams anywhere in the world. Essentially all could send and receive morse code. This was the preferred method of working due to the simple equipment it required. Using morse it was also easier to communicate under poor signal conditions. The majority of equipment was home designed and built, especially the transmitters. Thus Hams became adept at reading weak morse signals, where interference was also often present from background noise or other nearby signals. The most common transmitter used a quartz crystal (similar to but much larger than present day timepiece crystals) in an oscillator circuit. This not only simplified the transmitter circuit but also ensured an accurate knowledge of the frequency being used for both transmission and reception in the specially allocated frequency bands for amateurs.

When the help of radio amateurs was sought, their task was initially to locate enemy agents or spies operating in the UK. For example a member of the Society, Jack Miller (GM4MM) who was living near the Clyde, was asked to look for strong ground wave signals and key clicks. These clicks would be heard on a receiver located very close to the transmitter. Some members (given the title 'Voluntary Interceptors' or V.I.s) were issued with an identity card, DR12, which carried a photograph and considerable authority. It was intended to enable the V.I.s to enter premises from which he suspected unauthorized signals were being transmitted. It soon became apparent that there were no spies transmitting to Germany, or what few there were had either been rounded up and executed or were 'turned' and operated under MI5 control. In some cases a British operator (usually a radio amateur) took over the transmissions and was accepted by the Germans as one of their agents.

- The RSS from 1939 to 1946.[1]


We are indebted to Mr John Stirling, Curator, Castle House Museum, Dunoon for this information.

1 The RSS from 1939 to 1946

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