Orkney Wireless Museum
BY RICHARD BREWSTER
In the November 2001 issue of A.R.C., Richard Brewster wrote about a radio museum he happened to run across in the Netherlands. Here he reports on another museum discovery in Scotland's Orkney Islands. Travels aboard a Mercy Ship, the M/V Anastasis, sometimes offer extra rewards to Richard, who keeps an eye out along the way for supplements to his radio interests. Richard, the ship's Head Electronics Technician, and his wife Susan, the Crew Clinic Nurse, have volunteered in their "retirement" to provide medical care to people in West Africa. (Editor)
This past summer, my wife Susan and I had the distinct pleasure and responsibility of representing both Mercy Ships and Rotary International by visiting Rotary Clubs all over Scotland. Our purpose was to help prepare for the visit of the Mercy Ship M/V Anastasis to Dundee, Scotland, in September. One of our stops was to be the Orkney Islands.
It's a long drive to the northeast corner of Scotland and then a multihour ferry trip to the island. The weather too can be a problem as we found out when our walk-on ferry from John O'Groats was delayed and later canceled due to heavy seas. (This is the North Sea after all!) We finally caught another ferry from a nearby town.
The Orkney Wireless Museum is housed in the kind of stone "cottage" built to withstand the harsh winds of the North Sea.
One of the Rotary Clubs at which we spoke was located in the town of Kirkwall on the main island of the Orkneys, located about 500 miles due North of London. There we found the Orkney Wireless Museum, one of the most northerly radio museums in the world, in a small stone cottage near the North Sea.
The Orkneys are a great place for tourists, but we were in a hurry and the weather continued to be problematic. However, I did have time for the museum just a short walk from the town center.
History of The Museum
Founded in 1983 in St. Margaret's Hope, Orkney, and moved in 1997 to Kirkwall, the facility is small but well organized. It was the creation of the late Jim MacDonald, a lifetime collector of all things electric. Essentially a local collection, it was MacDonald's attempt "to capture the evolution and swift passing of an intriguing era. After he died, a charitable trust was established, and in October 1994, the museum obtained full registration with the Museums and Galleries Commission in London. Volunteers run the museum every day of the season from April to September.
The museum has its own "whimsical" logo.
Early Radio Display
Early wireless sets are a strong feature in the museum. They range from early sets with separate speakers and batteries to 1930s ornate furniture sets and 1950s "modern" valve sets. One wall stand traces the history of the valve; another, the history of portable wireless sets from the late 1920s to the advent of transistor radios. Some rare 1920s sets are also displayed.
World War II Displays
Of major interest in the museum are the wartime displays. "Fortress Orkney," as it was known during World War II, was the location of the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow. A radar station was set up at Netherbourton in Orkney and equipped with top secret equipment.
Items you will see in the wartime sections are transmitters used for short-range speech to fighters and long-range Morse code to bombers; replica radar equipment; the original gun operation's map from operations headquarters in Kirkwall; a bomber transmitter and receiver; army signal equipment; the famous, No. 19 "tank set," Navy communications receivers, pictures, documents, and the original Scapa Flow boom defense chart.
An interior section of the museum displays an eclectic mix of commercial radios, a communications receiver, microphones, photos, and a map.
The history buff will be fascinated by the extensive displays, including U-boat and spy radios, early wireless gear, and ephemera. Maps and charts are used to explain wartime operations. Also on display is a Spy Suitcase radio, and a collection of radios used by "Y" service operators. The German section includes wartime equipment and a U-boat radio.
Of special interest is the extensive photo archive display covering virtually every aspect of life in "Fortress Orkney" during World War II. For you Hams out there, the call sign of the museum's Amateur Radio station is GB2OWM, and the station is sometimes operational.
Make the Orkney Wireless Museum a must on your next trip to Scotland! The address is Kiln Corner, Kirkwall, Orkney KW15 1LB. Tel.: 01856871400; www.owm.org.uk
Orkney Wireless Museum brochure.
Museum website: www.owm.org.uk
(Richard Brewster, 145 Little Peconic Bay Rd., Cutchogue, NY 11935)