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William Jowitt - Early life and joining Phantom

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Bill was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, on 24 January 1921, the eldest child of William Jowitt (1893-1963), from Leeds and Gudridur Helgidottir (1894-1981) originally from Iceland. William Snr had fought on the Somme in the First World War in the Army Service Corps and on his return started a haulage business in Hull. He had four younger sisters and lived in Anlaby Common, near Hull.

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The family originally lived in Zetland Street

in Hull. Bill went to elementary school at

St Georges Road Boys School, Hull.

They then moved a few miles further out of town,

to 43, Hull Road, Anlaby Common where Bill's  Father established a haulage business and ran it from a workshop and yard in their back garden. In 1933, Bill gained a scholarship to Hull Municipal Technical College where he reached School Certificate Standard in 1939 after four years. He was a school librarian. His school report card, which shows he was a good pupil able at English language , maths, physics and metalwork. He was absent for a month in the summer of 1935 because of problems with his throat.

Bill was interested in planes and made intricate models – like this one in the Autumn of 1937


Bill corresponded with a penpal Harry Brinsley (11/11/13-8/ 71)  who lived at 2724 Morgan Ave, Bronx, New York. In a series of fascinating letters that Bill kept all his life, they discussed models, swapping sources of new kits in the US and Harry’s main passion, photography. Harry sent Bill negatives of new planes being built in the US such as WACO C and asked him to trade photos of planes being built at Blackburn Aircraft in nearby Brough…..   Our research suggests he was enlisted in 1942 (service number 12058928) and was an army photographer.

On leaving school in the Summer of 1937, Bill joined his father’s haulage business, serving a form of apprenticeship with a view of eventually taking over from his father.
He even became a director with a 10% share of the business.


However, just 2 days before the start of World War Two, on 1st September 1939,  the firm’s lorries were requisitioned by the war office. It was to change Bill's life forever.......


Fuelled by his interest in aeronautics, Bill joined Blackburn Aircraft Ltd as an aircraft inspector.


He kept every payslip and envelope from this job in which he earned between 1 and 2 /12

meanwhile the rest of his family moved to Bradford to avoid the bombing of Hull, but they soon returned to Anlaby where their home became one of the 97% of homes in Hull damaged or destroyed by German bombing, when an unexploded  incendiary device fell into a bedroom.


When Bill was called up in 1941, he faced the

choice of either taking a commission in the

Royal Tank Regiment or joining the Corps of Signals

as a wireless mechanic. In light of his father’s advice

(he was a veteran of the Great War), he joined the

Signals and went to basic training in Ossett,

West Yorkshire. He kept his first cap badge all his life.

Osset after basic training May 41 - Copy
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He was assigned the trade of Instrument Mechanic and posted to 3rd GTT Bn at Ossett.  By October had qualified to the AIII grade and was posted to 3rd Holding Bn at Huddersfield. (Top row 3rd from right)

Whilst at Huddersfield, he came to the attention of a Phantom GHQ Liaison Regiment recruitment officer - possibly because he had mechanical, driver and linguistic skills. He was seconded right away, to join Phantom Regiment in November 1941 and was based in Richmond Park, London, where Phantom had its HQ at Pembroke Lodge (Below). Much of the unit's activity centred around St James' Park in central London where there was a large pigeon loft.

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We know a little about his first 2 years in Phantom, but family members remember him telling them about his work with Captain Peter Astbury, (whose unit is pictured above - Astbury centre front, Bill back, second left)  most notably in developing amplifiers to strengthen the signals sent by Phantom and in 1943,  a high-grade automatic cipher machine called MORSEX. Its purpose was to send and receive short messages in code at a much quicker speed and over much longer distances.  It could be connected directly to a radio transmitter so that when you typed on the keyboard it sent an encrypted character in Morse code. 


The machine was first tried out successfully on a major exercise ‘Blackcock’ which took place in October 1943 at Great Driffield. Initially, communications were established over ten miles. A message that by normal means took 14 minutes from originator to receiver took only five minutes with MORSEX.


The machine was manufactured at GPO factories at Dollis Hill. Its security was tested by Government Cipher Service. It had a production run of a few hundred units and was used by the PHANTOM group which mainly operated behind enemy lines. 

It is not known if MORSEX ever received a BID number and was deployed after D-day. It is still considered highly secret - no pictures exist although there is one machine at GCHQ and files on MORESEX are still retained by them under Section 3.4 of the Public Records Act 1958.

Bill also accompanied Phantom in training exercises all over the country and enjoyed visiting Phantom officer’s Jakie Astors family home at Clivedon. But mainly he was training at Pembroke lodge, refining skills and attending lectures, including one by Frank Whittle.

We have Bill’s Diary for 1944, from which we get a glimpse, albeit with inconsistent detail,  of many aspects of his life during those years…..


In December 1943, Bill is based at Richmond, undergoing further training but is clearly enjoying life to the full…..

On December 18th he bought a ring for his then girlfriend Lil. After continued problems with his throat, he visited a specialist at Millbank to be told he has to have his tonsils out. However, by Christmas Day he must have felt better as he reports..

Turkey, Pork and Lamb in mess today.Went to St Margarets had party until 3am. Slept there. Party with Ralph, El??? and other Yanks.

The party continued next day “at Roses” but he reports on 27th

Officers Mess fatigue – free day for the others so browned off.


He spent New Years Eve at the Station Hotel, Richmond which incidentally became the location of the first Rolling Stones Gigs.

On January 3rd he travelled by train to Greenford REME to take his AII trade test, with Reg, Dougie, Jim Ratty and Tilly

5 January 1944 he was reclassified as an Instrument Mechanic Group A Class II WEF and HM(?) No6 on 17/Jan 44


Bill was on leave in Bradford on 12th April 1944 when he recieved this telegram to report for D-Day operations; he had just under 18 hours to respond!

Bill was off to Normandy!

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