WWI Field Phones

 Military Field Telephones date back to the Boer War at the end of Queen Victoria's reign.

The following is a list of the various types a soldier might have come across during the first world war:

Office types:-

Mark II, formerly known as "Bell, polarised" (magneto, low resistance bell);Used handset type A and by WWI was really obsolete, being only used over short paths. It used a couple of large dry cells for power.

Mark III, (Table type, magneto, high resistance bell). These were the standard office phones. They used a pair of dry cells and had a cradle-mounted handset.

Mark IV and V; similar to the Mark III above. The Mark IV was considered obsolete. The Mark V was designed to be more readily serviced, having important parts fixed to the removable base.

Wall phones:-

Mark I (Magneto, high resistance bell); Made by Ericssons for use in the Boer War but were issued, before the more modern types, until stocks were used up.

Mark II (Magneto, high resistance bell); All important parts were fixed to their removable base.

Portable phones:-

Type A (magneto, low resistance bell) for coastal defence purposes. As this equipment weighed about 40lb the term "portable" must have been questionable. It used a pair of dry cells for power.

Type B (magneto, low resistance bell). Not found much as this type was obsolete

Type C Mark I (magneto, low resistance bell); Another Boer War set made by Ericsson. It weighed 18lbs and was not considered rain-proof. Used a pair of dry cells and it's type of construction prevented it from being readily serviced.

Type C Mark II (magneto, high resistance bell); A development of the C Mark I, being waterproof and easily serviced. It weighed about 20lbs.

Type D Mark I (vibrator call); Another Ericsson phone, being much lighter than previous models due to use of a vibrator rather than a heavy magneto.

Type D Mark II (vibrator call); A development of the D Mark I with an improved vibrator and a headset.

Type D Mark III; This model superseded the D Mark II and had an improved handset. An interesting feature was an earth pin mounted under the base so that a good earth could be made merely by resting the case on the ground.

Railway type:-

Phonopore; Designed for use over railway telegraph lines. It was made by the Phonopore Company and was designated their type "R.E" A number of different versions were in use, incorporating various improvements as time progressed.

There were also telephone exchanges, such as the one shown below

This picture below shows a WW1 communications bunker equipped with five buzzer switches. I imagine this sort of installation might have been used for example to connect forward observers to gun positions. If you look closely you can see each of the buzzer switch boxes is fitted with a canvas cover which was the standard method of weatherproofing for equipments operated in or near the front line. This type of set-up was also called a "concentrator" and would interconnect Type D Telephones. These used a buzzer for calling rather than a bell... no doubt the better option for a forward observer close to the enemy lines.

Joe Costello in Canada has produced a very good description of the buzzer switch which you can read here....




Now my pair of phones, which don't appear to be any of the above?

From a distance these two old phones look quite respectable but close-up it's obvious they've made a meal for a family or two of woodworm.

What exactly are they? Certainly they date from 1917.. in fact from May and June 1917, or so the writing on the labels says. Oddly there are no military markings on them but I understand that during the great war additional telephones were loaned to the army by the GPO.

These are inscribed "No.100A Mark 234".

The handsets are "TELE(HAND)No.102" and have seen a lot of use.

The lid on the right carries the old phonetic alphabet, whilst on the left it's on the front of the case.

There's a magneto ringer mounted on each panel and a pair of heavy brass terminals for the telephone lines.

The phonetic alphabet shown below (scroll down) is very interesting because it's not exactly like any of the published versions.


 Below are some more pictures for those with a strong constitution. The first few were taken mainly of one phone (on the right) in 2014 and the second set of the other phone (painted brown) (on the left) in 2018.

I'd like to rebuild one or both of the two phones. I thought initially to do this by replacing all the panels with wood (ideally suitably aged) and using various specialised tools to give correct jointing and grooving. To this end I made a start and bought a set of routing tools for making the correct joints which looked like the most difficult part of a rebuild (see the picture immediately below for detail of the jointing which was common in WW1 equipment boxes). The problem of course is the phones will be no longer original WW1 so I thought that restoring the wood in some way would be better. There are a few proprietary products used for repairing rotten window frames so I'll try the cheapest.

I'd also need to make new labels.

Click to see the refurbishment of one of the phones...







 Above a circuit diagram of the slightly earlier Model 100; and now some horrific pictures of the second phone









 The space on the left is the battery compartment. Access to this part of the phone is via a sliding lid normally held in place by a machine screw.



 Above you can see a modification, where a wooden filler has been used in place of a brass catch assembly (my second example is fitted with this catch). I suspect the cost of the brass catch was too expensive and wasn't really needed.


 These dry cells were made a little later, but are not too dissimilar to those used in the telephone. The labelling on the phones says that a pair of "W" cells were used but also mentions French "A.A.C. Batteries".


see WWII phones or see the refurbishment of one