DXers Brought Hope to Thousands

Amazing War Effort by a Small Group 

Author Adrian Peterson

By JACK FOX (ZL4ND) Patron, New Zealand Radio DX League

There can be few, if any, radio clubs in the world to claim a record like the New
Zealand Radio DX League, formerly the New Zealand DX Club, has the distinction of taking part in monitoring radio stations involving three wars in 23 years. The DX members brought hope to thousands of people in many countries who poured their gratitude and praise on a group of radio listeners who gave many hours listening to enemy shortwave broadcasting stations.

It all began early in 1941, when as president of the Otago branch, I was called to the radio inspector’s office in Dunedin to meet two men who questioned me closely about my
hobby and what I listened to. What followed set the pattern for an important role DXers were to play during World War 2 in the next four years and the ones to follow during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The two men were from the Security Intelligence Bureau (now Security Intelligence Service) who asked me to set up a system to monitor enemy shortwave broadcasting stations. The assignment was to report on any item broadcast about New Zealand and New Zealanders. Through this the bureau was able to trace the source of the items and whether there was any leakage from New Zealand other than by official means.

An interesting point arose out of this meeting when I mentioned that Radio Tokyo (NHK) were sending out questionnaires with verifications asking for information such as where were the nearest telegraph office, transformers, tram lines, nearest railway station, distance from the sea and many other vital details. They were greatly interested and it looked as if the Japanese were collecting data about countries they were soon to be at war. I was able to supply some of these forms.

A team of Otago members including Arthur Cushen, of Invercargill, was set up to carry out the monitoring. Little did they and other DXers who undertook this task, realise what it would lead to in the remaining war years and the ones that followed. At this stage Germany and Italy were the countries with which New Zealand was at war. It meant monitoring the shortwave stations in these countries and expanded to enemy operated stations that had been captured.

When I entered the New Zealand Army later that year Arthur took over the DX control, and I recall taking an old battery power Gulbransen Radio to various camps in the South Island. Fortunately being in a Divisional Signals unit I had special permission to carry out monitoring when duties permitted. Radios used by DXers were ordinary domestic one. mainly mantle ones and the aerials were simple dipoles. I transferred to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1943 and was able to continue monitoring in the South Pacific. When Japan entered the war in December 1941 it brought more monitoring of stations in the Far East, perhaps the station in Batavia of the Dutch East Indies (PLP 11.000 mHz) was the strongest.

While the enemy had files on New Zealand much of their news was propaganda and exaggerated. They concentrated on the fighting in the Middle East and Italy and
related to the 2nd Division New Zealand Expeditionary Force, sinking of warships and other naval engagements, and shooting down planes with New Zealand crews.

Some idea of what was monitored by DXers is outlined by Arthur Cushen in a
supplement Secrets of Wartime Listening to Enemy Broadcasts to his Radio Listeners Guide in 1990. He obtained the clearance of classified information from the Attorney General Right Hon David Lange. It tells many interesting things that were broadcast by enemy stations, now so many years later it must seem strange to the modern generation.

Japan entered the war on December 7 1941 and New Zealand was drawn closer to the likelihood of an invasion. In March 1942 Berlin was broadcasting that the last bastion in the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand and if Australia fell there was no hope for New Zealand as the Japanese moved quickly south through the Pacific.

Prisoners Messages of Cheer

Listening to the enemy shortwave stations resulted in what was to become the
greatest operation by DXers that brought hope to thousands of anxious families
back home in New Zealand, Australia and England. It was to earn the DX Club its greatest accolade through the work of the Prisoner of War Monitoring Service that resulted in an estimated 6000 messages being handled.

It began when those monitoring the enemy shortwave broadcasts began picking up names and later messages from Australian and New Zealand servicemen and
civilians were prisoners of war.

Initially DXers began picking up and sending messages to next-of-kin. I recall meeting one of my old work mates on leave at a service club in Christchurch and asked how his father was doing to be told he was missing in action. I knew he was a prisoner of war in Germany as I had heard a message some weeks earlier and decided to tell him the news. Arthur had a similar case and it was realised that official word was slow. The result was the establishment of the Prisoner of Monitoring Service. Arthur became the central point for pooling reports from members throughout the country. Reception varied throughout the country and a vital word in the address maybe heard by one listener and not another.

Equipment in those days was usually household radios, there were no tape recorders, and it was a case get it right the first and often the only time it was broadcast. At the height of the monitoring service signals were being checked from Berlin, Rome, Warsaw, Tokyo, Shanghai, Peking, Bangkok, Penang, Singapore, Manila and Batavia.


As the war impetus increased and more members were called into the services it fell
In the main to Arthur Cushen and a few were not in the armed forces. While in the Army, and later RNZAF Signals, I was able to assist with monitoring from various locations in New Zealand and the South Pacific. The benefit of the latter location was shown in a letter Arthur sent to me in November 1944 acknowledging a report with messages picked up in Fiji which were not heard in New Zealand. That year 1100 POW messages were picked up from enemy stations.

Unlike the fast service the Germans and Italians provided, with names of men broadcast soon after internment, the Japanese often took two years before a message was received that a civilian internee in Singapore or some other part of the Far East was alive. During the Italian campaign it was not uncommon to receive messages from men recently captured and to pass them on to relatives before they were reported missing by the New Zealand Government thanks to picking up a German station known as Radio Debunk.

Initially Berlin would broadcast a list of up to 10 names and address but no messages
during their news. During 1942 the Germans introduced a programme and titled it Anzac Tattoo. Later it included messages and entertainment. This programme continued until near the end of the war in Europe when enemy stations were silenced,

Examples of these messages were:

From Charlie Venning POW number 33441 Stalag 18
To Mrs E C Venning 6A Cadiman Street North Avon Christchurch
Text Dear Mum and all loving Christmas wishes to all. Remember me to
all my friends. Always thinking of you, your loving son. Chas
From Corporal H A Milne POW 127920 Stalag 7A
To Mrs Milne 44 Naylor Street Hamilton
Text All is well. Have had several letters but no parcels. Hope shop
Is doing well. Love Harold

There was little doubt messages from prisoners in Japanese hands were ones
that indicated to monitors how hard life was for those in the Far East camps were experiencing. It was not until the war ended that the stark conditions they had gone through in the past four years. For many back home the messages were the first they had received in two or so years. The prisoners asked for news from back home an attempt was made to get the Government to send message over the Australian Broadcasting Commission stations, which transmitted an hour long programme of Australian messages each day. These were picked up by the Japanese and delivered to the prisoners, but the New Zealand Government did nothing.

Grateful letters with glowing tributes poured into Arthur’s home every day from families thrilled with news loved ones behind barbed wire in camps throughout Europe and the Far East. The number of messages picked up by New Zealand DXer was estimated around 6000 from the first one in 1941 until the war ended finally in 1945.

The Korean War in the fifties saw the League again in action monitoring Radio Peking from prisoners who in the main were Americans and British. No mail service existed between Korea and America and while New Zealand was technically at war the mail service was unaffected. As a result the hundreds of messages from New Zealand made their way back to the states. News of the DXers work became widely known in America after the New York Times and other leading newspapers ran stories of the monitoring service.

After the war ended the United States Embassy in Wellington wrote a letter thanking the League. The ambassador wrote “The work which your organisation performed during the conflict in Korea was, I should think, of immeasurable value in alleviating anxiety on the part of countless relatives of allied prisoners of war held in custody by the communists.

The League’s final Prisoner of War Monitoring Service was in 1964 when all their previous work was repeated listening to Hanoi Radio in North Vietnam. Technology had advanced and recorded messages were airmailed to next of kin in America.

So ended an outstanding performance which must rate as one of the rarest to be
performed by any organisation in the world of DX listening.

Footnote: Today, 58 years later in 2003, the DX League is still receiving requests from overseas researchers in countries like Australia and England, for information on the Prisoner of War Monitoring Service.

Published February 12 2003

Footnote: From the May 204 DX Times

I suspect most radio listeners, like me, would have been unaware of the efforts of the New Zealand DX Club in monitoring enemy radio during World War 2, often bringing comfort to the relatives of captured Kiwi servicemen. In
Germany Calling , a Spectrum documentary (National Radio, Anzac Day), Jack Perkins provided generous air time to veteran Mosgiel DXer Jack Fox who, with the late Arthur Cushen of Invercargill, was a key member of the DX’s prisoner of war monitoring division. Mr Fox, a former editor of the Taieri Herald and former Mosgiel correspondent of the Otago Daily Times, said that in 1944, 1100 POW messages were picked up from enemy stations by radio DXers. At the end of the war, the total was about 6000.

His comments, and those of Mr Cushen, were interspersed with fascinating archival material of propaganda broadcasts, delivered from Germany by announcers with impeccable English accents. Featured too were musical numbers of the day, delivering would-be morale-sapping snippets of outrageous misinformation and insults about personalities like the then Mr Churchill. Mr Fox explained that early in 1941, when he was working in the telegraph office at
Dunedin’s chief post office, he was approached by two members of the Security Intelligence Bureau, the forerunner of the SIS, and asked to set up a monitoring system, to ascertain what German radio said about New Zealand and New Zealanders.

The bureau would then be able to check whether news was being leaked from New Zealand or whether there was official news, such as from a news agency.
“Germany had a number of powerful transmitters and we could hear them
broadcasting to various parts of the world . . .” German radio did mention a terrible lot about the Middle East,” Mr Fox said. “They mentioned New Zealanders in the RAF flying over Europe, bombing Germany and saying.. . ‘why are we coming thousands of miles to bomb a country like Germany when we should be home’?” German radio (which in Berlin described itself as Radio Berlin International of the German Democratic Republic)**** began a programme called  Anzac Tattoo.

Designed for Australia and New Zealand, it was a new format on which prisoner of war lists were broadcast. Given out were the prisoner’s number and rank, “RNZAF or whatever, and that he was a prisoner in such and such a camp”. Mr Fox pointed out that the DXers had no recording equipment. [Perkins later noted he had been unable to track down any radio lists of New Zealand POWs “Even recordings that might have been made by our broadcasting service, the NZBS, have not survived,” he said.] “I might have heard something in Dunedin … Elsewhere another member would pick up the rest of the message. All those messages were sent to Arthur Cushen in Invercargill, who put them together and then sent them out on a special form to the next of kin.”

Later on, through a special radio station, prisoners’ names were broadcast within
days of their capture. Security monitoring on the radio intensified when Japan came into the war. Mr Cushen,the person in charge of the DX POW monitoring, said that all the Japanese messages from Radio Japan, or Radio Tokyo as it was known then, dealt with civilian internees. One had been on the missing list for two and a-half years.

**** Note: the station did not use the phrase Radio Berlin International until later. BDC