Tag Archives: World War II Radio Heroes

WWII Correspondence Collection highlights POW radio letters

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Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Cuff, who shared the following article via the Winter SWL Fest email group:

(Source: Ithaca.com)

He Got News to Families of POWs

The word “archives” can conjure up an image of dusty boxes of documents and sepia photographs. Do not be deceived. In fact, the files in the Tompkins County History Center Archives are filled with stories and all manner of tantalizing clues and evidence about the lives of those who came before us. And in the hands of Archives Director Donna Eschenbrenner—knowledgeable, helpful, ever eager to assist—those files can come alive.

Such a collection is file V-63-7-6, the ‘Meredith Brill WWII Correspondence Collection. In early 1944 15-year-old Caroline resident Meredith (“Bub” to his family) Brill was a shortwave radio enthusiast. What made Brill remarkable is that he was able, with his radio, to get information from Nazi-occupied Europe thousands of miles away, about American servicemen who had been taken prisoner by the Germans. He wrote the names, ranks serial numbers and home addresses down, and then sent letters to the families of the prisoners. He wrote dozens of such letters. The archives file is comprised of thank-you letters from those families, Brill’s notebooks and some of his letters that were returned unread.

His own letters are extraordinary. They are simple without being blunt, and his all-caps typewritten directness doesn’t disguise the very human impulse to ease a family’s anxiety. “I hope this information will be of help to you because I know many parents worry a great deal about their sons and daughters in the service.”

Shortwave radios captured the imagination of a lot of young people in those days. The technology has been called the “first internet.” A shortwave radio uses frequencies just above the medium AM broadcast band, and it can be used for very long distance reception by means of “skip propagation,” in which the radio waves are reflected back to earth from the ionosphere. It allows communication around the curvature of the earth. Sound quality can vary greatly, and it depends on the season and time of day, but you can hear broadcasts from around the world. Generally, the signals are best at night.[…]

Continue reading at Ithaca.com…

Back in 2011, I posted a short review of Lisa Spahr’s book, World War II Radio Heroes, which also focuses on these amazing POW messages. Such a fascinating piece of WWII radio history.

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SWLing Book Review–Lisa Spahr’s World War II Radio Heroes

This year I had the pleasure of meeting author Lisa Spahr at the Winter SWLfest in Plymouth Meeting, PA.  There was considerable interest in her new book, World War II Radio Heros, at the event, and after speaking with Ms. Spahr for only a few minutes, I knew I wanted to read it, too.

World War II Radio Heroes: Letters of Compassion is the story of Ms. Spahr’s grandfather, Robert Spahr, who was captured by German forces and held as a prisoner of war. After the death of her grandfather, she discovered letters written to her family during the war some sixty years ago, from total strangers, telling her great-grandmother that her son had been captured and was being held as a POW.

In the process of reading through these letters, she discovered a forgotten fraternity of shortwave radio listeners who routinely listened to German propaganda stations in order to hear and pass along news from POWs to their families.

Though one might think that these were condolences–describing that a loved one has been captured and is being held against his will–Spahr demonstrates that such letters (derived from the act of listening to propaganda radio broadcasts) were actually the opposite:  these were messages, she explains, of reassurance, that a loved one is alive, and has not fallen on a battlefield. These propaganda broadcasts inadvertently translated to a form of solace, and the radio listeners knew this.

WWII Radio Heroes is a slim volume, but a wonderful bit of radio history.  I liken it to having a good friend spending the afternoon showing you an album of original letters and photographs that, own their own, tell a heart-warming story. Spahr provides insight into each letter, photograph, and details the curiosity that lead her on this original journey into her family’s and America’s past.

You can purchase WWII Radio Heroes directly from the book’s dedicated website.

 

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