When all else fails, amateur radio prevails

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MEMBERS of the Torbay Amateur Radio Society (TARS) came together for a special event commemorating their 75th anniversary on Saturday June 4th.

Operating out of a former air-raid shelter turned community museum in Courtenay Park, Newton Abbot, the group of radio eunthisiasts spent the day hitting the airwaves and some even entered a national Morse code contest.

TARS President Derrick Webber, 90, was the leader of the National Field Day CW contestants.

Derrick, who lives in Newton Abbot, was among those who founded the company in 1947 – he was just 14 at the time.

Derrick said: “It’s been a long time, certainly a milestone and cause for celebration.

“I started learning morse code when I was eight – sending morse code is my favorite way to communicate, I love talking to the world.

Derrick Webber in his element, turnkey paddle (Ethan Hepell/MDA ) (Ethan Hepell/MDA)

“My dad and I started together just after the war in 1945 – he got his license in 1949 when I was a junior operator.

“I joined the Royal Signals in 1952 and spent most of my time in Cyprus, when I was 21, and it was a great time, let me tell you.

“I was able to get my own call sign when I was in Cyprus so I could operate from my bedside locker to speak with my dad back home.”

Holding regular meetings at the Burdett Building along Wolborough Street, Newton Abbot, TARS has an ever-growing membership base which grows to nearly 150 members at present.

Torbay Amateur Radio Society President Jeff Hocking said: “I can honestly say it’s a very proud moment for the club to reach 75 years.

“We survived everything, the war, the pandemic and to be where we are now with a thriving club is really excellent.”

“The whole philosophy of amateur radio is to advance radio research, self-education, we are all amateurs, we all have our own stations at home that we can use to talk to people around the world entire.

“What we’re doing today is seeing how far we can get our signal, seeing who can hear us.

“It’s an interesting pastime because you never know, depending on atmospheric conditions, weather, etc., you may be sitting at home and talking to somewhere in England or, as I was l other night, to someone from Brazil.”

The air raid shelter is run by the Courtenay Air Raid Shelter Heritage Association (CARSHA) – a group of like-minded individuals who aim to preserve one of Newton Abbot’s last public air raid shelters.

Located next to the Newton Abbot Bowling Club building in Courtenay Park, the association hopes to restore the shelter to how it looked in 1940.

The association also has an exhibit at the shelter, filled with war memorabilia.

Some of the items on display at the Courtenay Air Raid Shelter Heritage Association

(Ethan Hepell/MDA ) (Ethan Hepell/MDA)

CARSHA chairman Jay Cook, who is also a member of TARS, said: ‘I’ve always felt a connection to the period, the shelter is basically about preserving some of the local history of Newton Abbot.

Jay, who before running the shelter participated in World War II re-enactments, hopes the charity can get involved in the wider community.

President of the Courtenay Air Shelter Heritage Association - Jay Cook

President of the Courtenay Air Raid Shelter Heritage Association – Jay Cook (Ethan Hepell/MDA ) (Ethan Hepell/MDA)

“We hope to involve schools, but everything has been put on hold as a result of the pandemic.

“We were supposed to bring in dementia groups, but like I say, with the way things have gone, we’ve been stretched with what we can do.

“It’s volunteers we need – we need more hands.”


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