Sunday, 30 August 2015

Heliograph team, Egypt and Palestine c1915 - Eureka 15mm British in Sinai conversion

In the BEF signals were dealt with by the Royal Engineers:

In 1914 each infantry Division included a Signals Company with a total strength of 162 men. It was organised into a Company HQ and 4 Sections, of which No 1 Section was responsible for communications with Divisional HQ and Nos 2-4 with the Brigades of the Division.

Among the equipment available to the signallers, was the heliograph which employed a mirror (often mounted on a tripod) that was used to 'flash' Morse Code.

You can see some original footage of a heliograph in action here:

The heliograph was valued for its mobility, being quick to set up. It was a cheap signalling system with an impressive communication range in the right terrain. A 5 inch reflector had a signalling distance of some 50 miles (80 km), whilst the 9 or 12 inch models had a range of up to 80 miles (130 km). Best of all, in the Middle East theatre, there was plenty of sun!

Signals posts play an important role in the command system of If the Lord Spares us (ITLSU) rules by increasing the distance over which Battalion COs can operate effectively from the Brigade Commander-in-Chief.

There are no signals figures among the Eureka 15mm range so some conversion was necessary to obtain some signal posts. I have always liked the iconic images of heliograph teams operating in Egypt and Palestine, so wanted to put together some for my British.
The figures that provided the best conversion opportunity were the British in Sinai Artillery Crew (300HBC84). Here's a few pictures of how I approached the conversion.
The tripod is made of brass wire with a thin section of PVC tube for the mirror frame (white) and a circle of foil for the mirror itself (added after painting). Each 'leg' of the tripod was about 12mm / 0.5 inch.
I made some holes for the tripod using a heated nail. This is a 30mm base (~ 1 1/4 ") and the holes are 6mm (1/4") apart.
The tripod legs are glued in place.
The heliograph operator is made from the Eureka artillery crewman holding a shell. With the shell cut out it leaves his hands in quite a good position - looking like they are operating the Morse key behind the mirror.
The crewman with the coincidence-type range finder is adapted to a signaller holding binoculars. Most heliograph pictures show the spotter using a telescope - in this case I use some poetic license for convenience. It would be possible to scratch build a nice telescope on a tripod and cut away the second binocular lens.

The standing signaller has his base trimmed so the front foot will fit between the tripod legs.
Then, the signallers are ready to go!
For the first team I mounted the upright mirror frame strait on the apex of the tripod which was fiddly. This time I mounted a second piece of tube over the end as a base for the upright mirror. The made it easier, to mount the mirror frame but had the effect of raising the height of the heliograph a little. 
The mirror 'frame' is then glued in place.
The crew are mounted in place.
Heliograph completed. I painted the figures (in this case just the main colours blocked in) before I added the foil 'mirror'
on the front of the PVC tube frame.

Note that this was the first one I made - the above 'how to' pictures are of the second attempt where I used the second piece of PVC tube on top of the apex - you can see this earlier attempt sits a bit lower - I think this original team looks better, but it's quite fiddly getting the mirror frame to stick on the apex of the tripod.
I'm sure there are improvements that can be made to this approach - but this provides a quick and easy heliograph post.

As these teams will be supporting units of the 42nd Division (East Lancashire), I'm designating these as signallers from the 427th Field Company - identified thanks to the excellent resource on the Field Companies of the Royal Engineers on The Long, Long Trail.
A group of men of 527 (2nd Durham) Field Company, a Territorial unit that served under command of 5th Division. 


  1. > The crewman with the coincidence-type range finder is adapted to a signaller holding binoculars. Most heliograph pictures show the spotter using a telescope - in this case I use some poetic license for convenience.

    Binoculars are perfectly correct, too - in the closeup photo below of the main British heliograph station in Cairo in 1882, you can see 3 sets of binoculars, and no telescopes.

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  3. Another helio & Binoculars photo - Canada 1914:

  4. This Boer War photograph shows both the telescope and binoculars in use:

  5. In this WWI Palestine photo of two heliographs, binoculars are in evidence, but not telescopes:

  6. Another WWI Photo - Mesopotania, two heliographs, one binoculars:
    { By the way, I do agree that the helograph and telescope is more often depicted}

  7. WWI - Egypt (SInai) - 1 heliograph, 1 binoculars, no telescope:

  8. Thanks - some excellent pictures there. What brought on you interest in this area? I find this early signalling fascinating. You make the point well about binoculars - will cease apologising for them! Cheers Alan

    1. I posted a reply, but it seems to have disappeared.