World War II jungle radio, generator will soon be up and running

Tony Lute, curator of the Tupelo Veterans Museum, demonstrates a Jungle Radio from WWII, with Allen Sudduth cranking the generator.

My first memory of seeing a jungle radio was in the 1964 classic, Father Goose. a romantic comedy film set in World War II, starring Cary Grant, Leslie Caron and Trevor Howard.

The title derives from “Mother Goose,” the code name assigned to Grant's character.

In February 1942 ahead of a Japanese invasion, Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) coerces an old friend, a lovable curmudgeon alcoholic American beachcomber Walter Eckland (Cary Grant), into becoming a coast watcher for the Allies.

Houghton escorts Eckland to deserted Matalava Island to watch for Japanese airplanes. To ensure Eckland stays put, Houghton sees to it that his own ship “accidentally” knocks a hole in Eckland's launch while departing, so his only boat is a utility dinghy.

To motivate Eckland, Houghton has his crew hide bottles of whisky around the island, rewarding each aircraft sighting (once it is confirmed) with directions to one of the bottles.

Eckland unexpectedly finds eight civilians stranded there: Frenchwoman Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) and seven young schoolgirls under her care. She informs him that the man he came for was killed in an air raid. Eckland reluctantly takes the party back to Matalava with him, but there is no safe way for them to be evacuated.

Let the fun begin.

Jungle radios were used during WWII to watch and count both enemy aircraft and boats.

One akin to, Father Goose, has arrived at the Tupelo Veteran Museum courtesy of Jim Waltress, of Pontotoc.

This radio, most likely, was used in what was termed the Pacific War at a time when General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Southwest Pacific Area, was to head north through New Guinea to regain the Philippines.

The Crosley Corporation of Cincinnati, Ohio manufactured the Signal Corps Radio set SCR-284 that consisted of the BC-654 and associated support equipment. The SCR-284 saw use in the Guadalcanal Campaign for portable operation with a hand crank generator. Transport over rough roads by Jeep tended to damage it, so it was disassembled and carried by several men.

Two men, Tony Lute and Allen Sudduth are in the process of getting the donated radio up and running.

The complete SCR-284 transmitter, receiver, power unit and accessories weighed more than 100 pounds, but could be divided into sections for transport.

One person cranks electricity into the unit with a mechanism that looks akin to a child’s exercise bike, but using hands instead of feet to create a charge from the generator.

On a good day, the signal could travel 20 miles or more.

The unit was also used by Merrill's Marauders while operating in the China-Burma-India Theater and missions behind Japanese lines in Burma to communicate with air transport and other military aircraft.

Soldiers did complain at the time of it’s weight and bulkiness, plus said it was “very hard to generate power.”

Tony and Allen think they can get this one running. They just need the 9-pin communications cable which connects the radio to the generator. If you happen to have one, give them a call.

The boys may have to contact Grandpa Munster. In the TV show The Munsters, Grandpa Munster (Al Lewis) was depicted using a BC-654 as part of his amateur radio station. Grandpa regularly contacted dead relatives and even aliens using his.

So even though Al passed in 2006 — I’m sure these guys could generate enough nonsensical talk to raise Grandpa.

To arrange a viewing of the radio or to tour the Tupelo Veterans Museum call Tony at (662) 322-0025.

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