Risky laughter

In the army one attended many courses and this incident happened on my Operators Radio and Line Class III signals course.

We learned many things besides radio operating in the Corps of Signals and on this course, in addition to the expected Morse code (yes, in 1966 it was still in use), voice and morse operating procedures and antenna theory and practical we learned basics of electricity and electronics, batteries and charging and, covering several slightly unexpected things, the LINE part of the course.

This included laying field telephone lines, line termination and repairs, connecting up the field exchanges, basic maintenance of the field telephones and SWITCHBOARD operating procedures. (I was to use one of the LINE lessons I learned about twenty years later when a tree I was pruning for a client snapped a Telkom telephone line and my temporary line repair, as per army training, remained in full view for several years afterwards).

Switchboards could be multiple line Field & Fortress installations where up to fifty lines at a time (or more if needed) may be terminated – mostly however we used the ten-line field telephone switchboard known by its official nomenclature as: Switchboard magneto 10-line. This was generally adequate for most field deployments at brigade level or below.

The PROCEDURE for connecting a call was twofold – there was the actual connecting of the call and the spoken procedure to be employed as a call was received and connected.

The spoken part was easy enough: (not sure how accurate I am being but near enough)

Exchange, sir, who can I connect you with?
Ops room, please (some officers/callers actually said, please)
One moment please, sir.

(you then connected yourself to the ops room and announced a call from whoever had called)

Ops room, I have a call from Provost, sir.
Put it through….
Now you connected them while remaining connected yourself and announced: You are through to ops room, sir.
Listen for a moment to ensure that they are connected and talking then disconnected yourself. Simple enough – although the subscribers were supposed to RING OFF many did not and after a time you had to plug in and ask – and sometimes get an earful for your temerity.

The physical PLUGGING THROUGH of these calls, while quite
straightforward, is where the hilarity commenced for Brian – because of the terminology.

While it is easy to say that the operator plugs himself through to the calling line and then partly connects the called party to the caller’s line while getting through to the called party etc, etc the use of the correct instructional terminology is where it fell apart for Brian.

The switchboard has ten sockets and under each one is a cable with a plug. Above each socket is a little label that can be numbered or otherwise marked and this drops (it is, surprisingly, called a drop indicator) when a call is received so that there is no doubt as to which line is calling (or called first as the case may be).

The SOCKETS are called JACKS – the correct term is jack socket while the matching PLUG is really a jack plug. Now, if you read this aloud you may understand why it tickled Brian so much. (Never mind the chat previously described that also had to take place)

This is, with reasonable accuracy, how the instruction was given:

On receipt of a call the calling line drop-indicator will fall.
The operator will take his own plug and plug it into the caller’s jack.
The operator will then take the called party’s line and, after removing his plug from the caller’s jack he will put the called party’s plug partly into the caller’s jack.
Plugging his own plug into the called party’s jack he will ring that extension.
After getting a response that the call is accepted and to complete the call…
…the operator now pushes the called party’s plug fully into the calling party’s jack and….
…announces to both parties that they are connected and then…
…after listening to ensure that two subscribers are connected (talking) he will remove his plug from the called party’s jack.

Brian started to snigger quite early in the above description and by the time it got halfway he was shaking – paroxysms of laughter that he was DESPERATELY trying to suppress. Of course once you are in that situation you just CANNOT suppress it. Every time you try, the reason for your laughter kicks in and you burst out again.

“LEGG” yelled Staff Sergeant Sager, “what is so fucking funny?”

“Nothing, Staff” he gasped, unsuccessfully stifling another bubbling, rocking gale of laughter that was entirely at odds with the look of horrified fear on his face.

“Well what are you bloody well laughing at?”

“Nothing, Staff!” all the time snorting and gasping to suppress the laughter that just WOULD NOT go away.

The rest of us were, by this time, wholly amused while trying not to show it – or WE would also get a share of the Staff’s anger. Laughter is infectious and I think I remember a slight smirk on the Staff Sergeant’s face – quickly wiped off – as he once again demanded to know what Brian was finding so damned funny.

Staff Sergeant Sager, our course NCO, had a reputation as something of a martinet in the lecture room and was renowned for his often harsh punishment of those who crossed him – which explains the look of horror on Brian’s face as he laughed uncontrollably. He must have felt he was digging his own grave.

I cannot remember if Brian was punished or if we were punished as a group (there were nine of us on the course) by being CB – Confined to Barracks – for the weekend or whether we all got away with it (I think Brian took some stick though).