Origin and brief interlude
From earliest times some form of signalling has been used by armies in the field. The Greeks had the torch telegraph and the water telegraph, and the Roman army used coloured smoke as a means of communication. In England, during the 16th century, beacons were used and in 1796 the Admiralty adopted a shutter- type machine, known as the 'Murray Lettering Telegraph', to communicate between London and Devonport. The following year the Army introduced the Radiated Telegraph System, which proved to be a more mobile system than the Murray Telegraph, and was used during the Napoleonic wars.
The next important advances in the field of communications were the invention of the Morse code and the development of the electric telegraph during the period 1835 - 1837. They were used for the first time during the Crimean War in 1854 - 56. It was during this war that specialist soldiers, the signallers, were first expected to provide communications in addition to their other battlefield duties.
The Abyssinian War of 1867 brought further active service experience for field telegraphists and signallers. As a result of the experiences gained in the two campaigns authority was given, in 1869, for the formation of a Signal Wing at the Royal Engineers' Depot at Chatham. In the following year C Telegraph Troop was formed and was responsible for the provision of telegraph communications for the field army. C Troop RE saw active service in the Zulu War of 1879 and it was during this campaign that the heliograph first gained recognition.
In 1870, 'C' Telegraph Troop, Royal Engineers, was founded under Captain Montague Lambert. The Troop was the first formal professional body of signallers in the British Army and its duty was to provide communications for a field army by means of visual signalling, mounted orderlies and telegraph. By 1871, 'C' Troop had expanded in size from 2 officers and 133 other ranks to 5 officers and 245 other ranks. In 1879, 'C' Troop first saw action during the Anglo-Zulu War. The next major set forward in military communications was the invention of the telephone in 1876 and its introduction into military service. On 1 May 1884, 'C' Troop was amalgamated with the 22nd and 34th Companies, Royal Engineers, to form the Telegraph Battalion Royal Engineers; 'C' Troop formed the 1st Division (Field Force, based at Aldershot) while the two Royal Engineers companies formed the 2nd Division (Postal and Telegraph, based in London). Signalling was the responsibility of the Telegraph Battalion until 1908, when the Royal Engineers Signal Service was formed. As such it provided communications during World War I. It was about this time that motorcycle despatch riders and wireless sets were introduced into service.
Telegraph Battalion Royal Engineers 1891
In 1884, the Telegraph Battalion RE was formed and took part in the Nile Campaign and later played a prominent part in the Ashanti Campaign of 1895 - 1896. It was during this campaign that men of the Telegraph Battalion hacked a path for an overhead line from the Cape coast to Prahsu, covering 72 miles through the jungle. Men of the Telegraph Company staggered out of the jungle, confronted King Prempeh and accepted the surrender of his army. King Prempeh's throne is now displayed in the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford.
Members of the Battalion at Chevening Camp in 1891 who accepted the suggestion of Major Beresford that Mercury be the emblem for Signallers. Lieutenant Fowler later, as Major General, became the first Colonel Commandant of the Royal Corps of Signals.
The Telegraph Battalion was mobilized for the South African War and it was during this war that the Wheatstone Automatic Telegraph was successfully introduced. In the years 1895 - 1898, Marconi's experiments in the field of wireless communications were closely watched and in 1899 a wireless system, complete with operators, was hired by the War Office for use in the Boer War. The equipment at the time was heavy and clumsy and the engineers could not get it to work satisfactorily in the dry conditions of South Africa. Therefore, it was not taken into active service during the Boer War.
Indian Signal Corps
At the turn of the century there was no organised signal service in existence in India. As far back as 1857, there is a record of a Signals service in India, though it was not until 1911, as a result of the recommendations of Headlam Committee in 1910, that Signals in India came into being on a separate establishment under the auspices of the Corps of Sappers and Miners. The Corps was raised with a signal company for each Division and a nucleus of a wireless company for the line of communication. September 1935 saw the advent of the first Indian officer from the Indian Military Academy. 2/Lt AC Iyappa (later Director of Signals and Signal Officer-in-Chief) commissioned into the Corps. On India attaining independence in 1947, the Corps was completely Indianised and on 26 January 1950, on India attaining full sovereignity, the Indian Signal Corps was redesignated as the Corps of Signals.
During and even after World War I the Corps was officered by individuals from the Royal Signals trained in UK. During the Thirties (1933-40) the Indian commissioned officers were trained at STC Jubbulpore and Army Signal School Poona. Besides this, specialist training was imparted at Telecommunications School at Agra and Communication Security School (Cipher) at Mhow. A Signals Officers Training School, as part of the STC (British) Mhow, trained cadets commissioned into the Royal Signals as well as the commissioned officers of the Indian Signal Corps during the years 1940-46.
Many of the heliographs were made in India. The heliograph was used extensively during the various campaigns on the North West Frontier of India and continued in an active service role during World War I and even in the desert campaign of World War II.
Corps of Signals trivia
14th Reunion in 1 STC Jabalpur
A large number of serving and retired information warriors joined this nostalgic meet from 13 Feb to 15 feb 2011, to share their experiences and memories. What gave more credence was several stalwarts ambling with walkers and canes. They were the epitome of 'espirit de corps'. We salute them all.
The highlights of the meet was the clockwork precison of stunning events commencing from the War Memorial Guard of Honour, Passing out Parade (comparable to our Academy days), Inauguration of Girls Wing, Adventure, Air Show, Dare Devils Display, Commemoration Ceremony honouring Veer Naris of Martyrs, Release of Corps History, Time Capsule, Silent Drill, captivating Band concert, finally culiminating in the Solemn Memorial Service and signing off with the Mercury Nite. 1 STC not only trains Signallers for War but also spearheads in imparting Management of Transportation, Logistics, and Catering Technologies to all its Trainees/ Recruits. Event Management skills of the Organising Committee surpassed even diehard standards of professionals. The Numero Uno Institution of Information Warriors, we can boast about for times to come. Cheers to 1 STC Commandant, Staff, Officers, JCO's, NCO's, Signalman, Recruits and all who made it happen- they made us all so proud. Teevra Chaukas.
Origin Source: Royal Signals and Corps of Signals Museum
Photographs: Lt Col James Kanagaraj