- English Literacy
How quick can you send a Morse code message?
Your mission this week is to learn how to communicate in Morse code. Morse code was widely used during the Second World War by Britain’s armed forces. Communication wasn’t as easy as it is now – this was essentially an early form of instant messaging – a bit like 1940s Whatsapp!
Part of the Family Mission series created during the UK lockdown in Spring 2020. CBBC Presenter Ben Shires delivers your Morse code mission briefing, with his trusty sidekick Olive!
Oh, sorry! Give me one minute I'm just going to finish sending this. “Please pick up dog food.” Dog emoji, smiley face emoji, thumbs up emoji and send. Sorry about that.
Hello and welcome back to Imperial War Museum's family mission. You just caught me sending a text there and isn't communicating with people so quick and easy these days? But imagine you were living on board HMS Belfast 75 years ago during the Second World War. They didn't have one of these [mobile phones] in their pockets, but they still needed instant communication. So instead, they used something ingenious called Morse code.
Morse code is so brilliant because messages can be sent quickly over really long distances and Morse code uses the ABC alphabet with each letter represented by a different sequence of long and short signals known as ‘dots and dashes’ or ‘dits and dahs’. This means it's a standard code and easy to learn and understand across the allied forces. So, for example my name ‘Ben’ would look like this in Morse code: dash, dot, dot, dot... dot... dash dot.
In fact, it's so effective, it's still used even today by some pilots and sailors. Special machines were used to send Morse code messages, but these weren't just aboard Royal Navy ships, they were also used by different branches of the armed forces.
So, for this week's family mission, we want you to try communicating using Morse code. You can click on the link below for some handy tips and games to play featuring Morse code – including Morse code heads up. You can also use a pencil and a table to tap out a message and, if you've got it, you could use a torch, perhaps you've got one on your phone.
So, let's give this a go, shall we? Olive, how many dots and how many dashes are there? This might take a while. Good luck, Morse coders! And don't forget to let us know how you get on in the comments below. Well, bye for now and let's give this one more try shall we, Olive? Let's do one bark for dot and two barks for dash.
WHAT IS MORSE CODE?
Morse code is a type of code used to send messages via sound or visual signals. It uses the ABC alphabet, with each letter represented by a different sequence of long and short sound or visual signals called dots and dashes - or “dits an dahs”.
A radio machine was frequently used to send this signal of “dits an dahs” over long distances, but if you can’t use a sound signal, you could use lights. Ships often signal to each other in “Maritime Morse”.
During the Second World War the British Government set up a secret organisation called the Special Operations Executive or SOE. The secret agents of the SOE were sent to countries under the occupation of Nazi Germany.
Their mission was to spy on the enemy and pass on information that would help the war effort back home or cause trouble in the enemy’s territories, like creating road blocks or cutting phone lines. The secret agents would use special radios disguised as suitcases to send Morse code messages back to their bosses.
MORSE CODE ON HMS BELFAST
[Onscreen written translation of Morse Code message:] My name is Bernie Bristoll.
[Bernie Bristoll] The thing is about communicators, when you walk along a street you can even see a car coming and you'll read the number plate and you'll go da da da - [imitates Morse Code beeps] it's automatic! You get a bit bored when you're retired like, you know, what is it? Television, you sit down, or you do a bit of gardening, and you do a bit of this and that and shopping, but as I come on board you get that feeling. Now I think it's the smell of the ship, it’s beautiful! Brings back the old memories.
My name is Bernie Bristoll, and I was a leading Radio Operator on this ship, yeah. I have been coming every Friday for the last year and a half because I've enjoyed it so much myself - you know, doing what I used to do. I teach the children the basic Morse code
[Onscreen Bernie translates a child’s name into Morse Code] Your name is Robbie!
[Parent onscreen] Oh wow that’s amazing!
[Bernie] The Morse is there, but to actually do it with the public is like being back in Navy again.
I've had cards from schools to say thank you I've had children make up Christmas cards with HMS Belfast saying how great the Morse code was. They think all this is all gone now, but it hasn't gone for the old sparkers like myself.
If HMS Belfast won't get rid of me, they can try to get rid of me, but I'll still be here teaching. I love it!
Just to see them go away happy... that's what it’s all about.
Meet our very own Bernie Bristoll. Bernie is a member of our We Were There team of veterans and eyewitnesses who volunteer their time to talk about their memories of war and conflict. Bernie was the radio operator on HMS Belfast for 2 years.
He could send messages in Morse Code at a rate of 25 words per minute! He learnt this incredible skill from the age of 16 when the Royal Navy recognised his abilities – he was even given a special medal for being the top of his class! Bernie now passes on these communication skills from the very same office he once worked in to visitors to HMS Belfast. Check out this video of Bernie in action!
YOUR MISSION, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT
Morse code Who Am I?:
- It’s the classic Who Am I post-it note game…., but with Morse code!
- Choose the name of a famous person or character Write it on a post-it and stick it on the forehead of the other player. Their job is to guess who they are by asking yes/no questions. For example – Was I alive during the Second War World?
- But here’s the twist- ou can only answer YES or NO…in Morse code!
- Once they have guessed correctly you can swap
Morse code dinner time message:
Put your friends and family to the test after dinner.
- Prepare a message to send, for example “I love broccoli”
- Have your Morse code alphabet handy (or you can try and memorise your message!)
- Tap out the dits n dahs (or dots and dashes!) on the table with your fork
- See if your friends and family can receive and understand your message.
Can you send messages using a torch or flashlight? You’ll need somewhere dark to do this, so perhaps a sheet over a table (and shut the curtains or blinds) or wait until it is dark and ask an adult to stand outside in the garden and send messages via your torch from your bedroom window.