The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
All those who were in the Signal Service during the Great War will recollect the great number of improved instruments which, from time to time, were on issue to the "nervous system" of the army. Amongst them was the Phonophool, an alleged safe and enemy-proof means of telegraphic communication.
It mattered little to us whether it was safe or otherwise, our main concern being the fact that the Phonophool was a brute of a thing to carry on the saddle. From what I remember of the instrument, it was got up regardless, in a large, polished, wooden case, the interior arrangements of which, on first sight, appeared simple (and we were told the instrument was simplicity itself); but upon closer investigation a wonderful maze of laced, coloured wires, mysterious electrical appliances, and shining terminals were disclosed.
The whole arrangement was a source of wonder to most of the mob; and nothing pleased our little second corporal more than to dilate on the advantages combined in the Phonophool, or to take a pair of pliers and a screwdriver and disconnect the whole affair. The way he used to handle those laced wires was wonderful, and I could never understand how he succeeded in putting the thing together after having pulled it to bits. No doubt he had the code word.
Some years after the end of the War I got the full strength of the instrument from one of the lads, who had a brother in the nth. Regiment. The story is not generally known; but it must now be admitted that the Phonophool was a huge dumb-squint put up on us by the enemy.
In March, 1916, an old Bedouin sheikh named Abu Mutar, who held a peppercorn lease of Kattib Gannit, and had a taste in electricity, had completed the specifications for a new wireless transmitting apparatus, which would startle the world, and which (here old Abu shows his genius) could be carried by the youngest bint. In April of the same year, he was forced to clear out to El Arish, where he disposed of his specifications to a "Jacko" for two tins of Fray Bentos. The "Jacko" passed them on to one of his pals, Abdul, who stopped a 12 inch shell during the bombardment of El Arish, and who had been boarded to undergo further treatment. Abdul had specific instructions to hand the papers to no one but Von Darg, the Saeurkraut expert at the Turkish Government Pork Factory.
Von Darg received the specifications and constructed an apparatus from them. Being a wireless specialist—the saeurkraut business was a stall—he invented and constructed a receiving set for the apparatus Abu Mutar had designed; and after making a few minor alter ations to Mutar's invention—one alteration was the coloured wire scheme—he presented it as backsheesh to a Norwegian traveller, who was returning home to his firm of telephone manufacturers.
It is not known what happened to it after this; but it reached England, to be snapped up by the Induction Conservation Board, which carried out exhaustive tests with it, came to the conclusion that it was the ideal telephone and vibrator, and called it the Phonophool (after Capt. A. Phool, who brought it to notice first). It came into general use in our Forces immediately, and continued so until the end of the War.
The Phonophool in reality was not only for us a safe and secret means of telegraphic communication, but it was also for the enemy a wireless transmitting set, having a radius of 59 miles, of which the enemy had the Von Darg receiving apparatus.
My object in making known this story is to set at rights the origin of the Phonophool, and to bring to old Abu Mutar the credit which is his due. Like many a genius before him, he languishes unknown at El Arish, where he ekes out a precarious existence on a berseem patch in the Wady.