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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan, August 11, 2013

More than 100 Years Ago: Wireless at War - The Story of the World's 1st Wireless Reports from a War Zone

For the first time in the history of electrical communication, wireless was used for the transmission of war news from the fighting areas to newspaper offices in Europe & the United States. The year was 1904, and this is what happened.

Back towards the end of the year 1903, it so happened that the wireless experimenter Lee de Forest was in Ireland and he was presenting test demonstrations of his wireless equipment to interested observers at a location near the city of Dublin. War was in the offing over in the Far East, belligerent countries were making preparation, and newspapers were preparing to give good coverage.

The London Times contracted with Captain Lionel James to go to the Far East as a news reporter, and Captain James contracted with Lee de Forest to set up two wireless stations, one on land and another aboard ship. Two of Lee de Forest's employees in his New York office were given 24 hours to get ready to travel to the Far East. A total of 4 tons of wireless equipment was quickly assembled and additional equipment was brought in to New York by a wireless operator from England.

On January 17, 1904, Mr. H. J. Brown, now in his 30s, and 21 year old H. E. Ahearn, together with all of their assembled wireless equipment, left New York by train for Vancouver in British Colombia, Canada. At this western Canadian seaport they boarded the ship "Empress of Japan", owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway Co., and bound for the western Pacific.

The wireless party arrived in Yokohama Japan on February 9, and they immediately boarded another seagoing vessel, the "Empress of China", operated by Canadian Pacific Steamships and bound for Shanghai on the edge of China. Here they took over a Chinese coastal vessel, the "Haimun," and loaded all of their equipment aboard for the journey north to the disputed waters.

On board the good ship "Haimun" and while it was traveling northwards, one set of wireless equipment was installed for usage, together with two wireless masts, one American Oregon pine and the other Chinese bamboo. However, both masts were felled in the rough seas, and so the Oregon pine mast at 75 feet was tied to one of the ship's masts.

In due course, the "Haimun" arrived at an isolated British colony, known in those days as Wei Hai Wei, which was located on the island of Liao Kung Tun. Here it was that the 21 year old radio operator, H. E. Ahearn was offloaded together with the other set of wireless equipment which he installed on a cliff overlooking the ocean. He erected the 180 ft. bamboo wireless mast on top of the 350 ft. high cliff.

It took Ahearn 3 weeks to get the station ready for service, with electric power from their own kerosene engine. The location was just 1-1/2 miles from a nearby cable station, operated by the Eastern Extension Telegraph & Cable Co.

In the meantime, the ship "Haimun"left the area, and steamed towards the area of conflict between Russia & Japan.

On March 15, 1904, war correspondent Lionel James sent his first new dispatch from the "Haimun" and this was tapped out in standard Morse Code by the operator H. J. Brown. This message was picked up by Ahearn in his little hut at the land based wireless station and transcribed into regular English.

A Chinese messenger took the written message to the nearby cable station and in less than quarter of an hour this war report was again tapped out in Morse Code and this time it was sent out over the long wire & cable systems to distant England & America for publication in the London Times and the New York Times. This then, was the first wireless message from a news correspondent in a war zone.

The content of this historic first wireless message from a war correspondent told of the Japanese landing at Chi-nam-Pho on the Korean peninsula when 25,000 troops and 10,000 horses went ashore.

Three weeks later, the Russian navy vessel "Bayan" arrested the movement of the "Haimun" wireless ship and they sent a raiding party aboard the small Chinese steamer. One of the personnel on board the "Haimun" was a Japanese censor who vetted every word sent out in Morse Code from this wireless equipped news vessel. In order to protect his life, Lionel James had him quickly disguised as a Malay pilot at the helm of this ship.

However, both the Russians and the Japanese ordered the "Haimun" out of the war zone and so the ship steamed back to Wei Hai Wei where they picked up wireless operator Ahearn and his equipment and then they moved off to Nagasaki in Japan where the ship was discharged from service. During his six weeks of war reporting service, Lionel James sent out a total of 10,000 words in his daily wireless dispatches from the "Haimun."

As a postlude, the ship "Haimun" went back to service in Chinese waters; Lionel James stayed in the Far East and continued in service as a land based war reporter; and the two wireless operators H. E. Ahearn & H. J. Brown returned to the United States, where they were hailed as heroes back from the dangers in the environs of the war zone.