Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Little Bit of Trivia

I have been reading a lot of WWII history lately, or rather, to be very specific, I have been reading a good deal of history that takes place upon the peripheral of the War Proper. This means I am acquiring a basic knowledge of such odd things as how magician aided the war effort by concocting elaborates ruses: Jasper Maskelyne hiding the Suez Canal with mirrors and lights, for example. Or how much lead a fighter pilot needs to allow in order to hit another plane - at least 80 feet, in case anyone is interested. Or how gun-running operations to Norway were carried out by fishing boats, based in Orkney. Or how British and American spies smuggled various escape aids into German prison camps by hiding them in Monopoly games, and decks of cards, and fountain pens. It is the POWs especially that got me started on WWII.

POWs were a remarkably handy lot. They could make just about anything from next to nothing, whether it be skeleton keys or illegal (and very nasty-sounding) moonshine. A lot of them had a perfect mania for escaping, and a good deal of that inventiveness went into making things that would be useful in an escape. Civilian clothing would be create out of blankets, or there were professional little compasses of magnetised bits of scrap metal, housed in cases of melted-down records. Practically every camp had a hidden radio, and that radio was generally cobbled together from whatever was at hand, with a few parts scrounged off the Germans, if necessary. Most were fairly simple sets, and apparently, during the war, everybody knew how to make them, because none of the books, or websites I have read so far, contained any information about how, exactly, one improvises a radio. One is merely informed, quite casually, that the radio was made and then considerable amount of time is given to the fascinating battle of the prisoners to keep it hidden from the Germans, who would tear whole barracks apart in an effort to find it.

I am one of those rather pathetic individuals for whom technology, even at its most rudimentary, is a great mystery. I cannot honestly see myself being able to create a radio of any sort, even a very basic one, without the help of someone who has done it before. Still, whether it was practical for me or not, I did a bit of poking around for instructions, and found a few sites that explained the matter - very interesting, and much too complicated for me. I nodded, and thought, "quite" and didn't bother about it any more. Then, when I was looking for something else entirely, I found this website, with instructions for various improvised radios. It is still sounds a little too complicated, but I was delighted by the WWII tie-in and the POW tie-in. And the rest of the site is very cool too, with instructions for everything from invisible inks, to making telescopes, all with things that you likely have on hand.

So there, now you know!

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