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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 N303, December 14, 2014

Christmas Island Adventure - 1: The Early Years

In less than two weeks, it will be Christmas time again! In honor of this coming happy occasion, we tell the interesting story, both this week and next week, about Christmas Island Radio. Well, in reality, there are two islands named Christmas; one in the Indian Ocean and another in the Pacific Ocean. However, on this occasion here in Wavescan, we take a visit into the Indian Ocean, not the Pacific, for "Christmas Island Adventure".

The island called Christmas is formed in the shape of a small terrier dog, looking eastward. It is around twelve miles long and one mile wide, and it is located 185 miles from Java in Indonesia, and 870 miles from the nearest coastline of Australia.

Christmas Island is the somewhat flat surface of an underwater mountain standing nearly three miles high and it is surrounded by almost impassable cliffs. It is covered with dense jungle and the highest hill is a little over 1100 feet.

The island offers many exotic tourist attractions, including several unique and rare forms of biological species; more than 40 caves for exploration; and wild and winding trails for walking and trailing. The general population of permanent residents is a little over 2,000, though there is at times an influx of service personnel as required on the local scene. The only settlements of housing and industry are small areas located on the north coast nearby to the only suitable oceanside anchorage at Flying Fish Cove.

The most notable tourist attraction is the annual migration of the notorious Red Crab. This remarkable event takes place soon after the beginning of the annual rainy season, usually in October or November, according to the phases of the moon and the need for a high tide.

It is estimated that as many as a million of these Red Crabs migrate over well worn routes from the jungle to the edge of the ocean every year. Local authorities have constructed bridges and tunnels in some places so that the crabs can reach the ocean without crossing the actual roadway surface. When the crabs are moving, they will attempt to climb any obstruction and they will enter housing and buildings. If a car runs over any of these crabs, their sharp claws can puncture the rubber tires.

The history of Christmas Island can be traced back to the year 1643, when Captain William Mynors aboard the East India ship "Royal Mary" sailed past the island on Christmas Day and gave it the now recognized name. In March 1688, the English explorer William Dampier hove to at Dales on the west coast and two of his crewmen went ashore as the first Europeans to set foot on the island. The island was uninhabited at the time.

Exactly 200 years later, Christmas Island was annexed by England in order to mine the extensive phosphate deposits near the north coast. The first settlement was established at Flying Fish Cove by Mr. G. Clunies Ross who wanted timber and other supplies for his settlement on Cocos Island, which he also owned. Subsequently, John D. Murray, who at the time was a recent graduate from Purdue University in West Lafayette Indiana, settled on Christmas Island and was sometimes honored as the king of Christmas Island.

The island was originally administered from the Colonial Office in London, subsequently by the Straits Settlements office in Singapore, and then after World War 2 the island was taken over by the Australian government. Today, the two islands, Christmas and Cocos, are administered as a single Australian unit from the government office on Christmas Island.

The first listing of a wireless station on Christmas Island is shown for the year 1924, when a station was on the air at the Phosphate Company's factory near Flying Fish Cove. This station, with probably a valve equipped transmitter, was licensed under the callsign VSM.

In 1936, Mr. J. C. Baker began employment on Christmas Island as the Radio Officer. It would appear that he was serving with a new government station replacing the previous commercially owned and operated station. This new station was a low powered operation for communication with Singapore. The callsign on Christmas Island is not known, though it was probably licensed with a Royal Navy callsign beginning with the letter G.

At the time of the tragic and disastrous firefight in the Indian Ocean between the German HSK "Kormoran" and the Australian HMAS "Sydney" during World War 2, Christmas Island Radio was unaware of the event. This wartime encounter on the high seas took place 2,000 miles to the south of Christmas Island on Wednesday November 19, 1941.

However, nearly three months later, a small lifeboat floated ashore at Christmas Island on February 6 of the following year (1942). Among those who officially examined the body of the dead sailor on the lifeboat was the Radio Operator Baker. It is understood that the dead sailor had been the only possible survivor of the "Sydney"-"Kormoran" encounter.

Five days later, on February 6, Christmas Island Radio lost contact with Singapore Radio at the time of the Japanese invasion of the Malay island. Some six weeks later, on March 31, a dozen Japanese bombers attacked the settlements on Christmas Island, and they also destroyed the communication radio transmitter station. However, Radio Officer Baker and his wife had been evacuated by boat to Perth in Western Australia during the previous week. The surviving radio operator's building on Murray Road, Settlement, is now included in the Australian Heritage List.

One week after the bombing raid, Japanese armed personnel took over the island which they held precariously for around 3-1/2 years. The Royal Navy ship HMS "Rother" reclaimed they island for the Great Britain soon after the end of the war, in October 1945.

More on the Christmas Island radio scene here in Wavescan next week.