BILLINGE HILL RADIO STATION
A SECRET 'Y' STATION?
by John Renwick
In May 1938 my newly married parents Harold and Gwen Renwick moved into one of six newly built semi-detached houses at the end of Upholland Road, close to it's junction with Wigan Road.
These six semis had been built by local builder Cyril Melling for Lancashire County Police, to house officers who were to man the new radio station on Billinge Hill round the clock.
This was a time of progressive development in policing. Lancashire Police already had a VHF radio station at Barnacre Nr Garstang. It had a 20-mile range and fed two cars using the latest two-way radios. By 1938 new radio stations at Billinge, Higham (Nr Burnley) and Newhey (Nr. Rochdale) were serving 140 cars equipped with radio.
Also in 1938, the government set up 'Station X' at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. This was a highly secret establishment where work on cracking the German 'Enigma' code was to take place. Station X was fed by intercepts from what were known as 'Y' stations.
I recall my father telling me that in addition to their general police radio duties they were required to 'scan the dial' and record all coded messages, some, he said, from German U-boats.
These were then relayed to the Home Office. My father had been in the merchant navy before becoming a police officer and was trained in Morse code, as were his colleagues on Billinge Hill.
Recent television programmes, which told the story of the cracking of the Enigma code and the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing of Manchester University, who did more than anyone to break it, raised my curiosity. I emailed Bletchley Park and asked if the radio station on Billinge Hill had been classed as a 'Y' station.
The reply from David White at Bletchley Park was as follows:–
“It has taken a lot of research to find out what your father was doing at Billinge Hill. We know there were two police units of - one at Denmark Hill in SE London, the other at Manchester. We are not certain but believe Billinge Hill was used to listen for illicit clandestine radio transmissions from Eire, where enemy agents were operating from 1938 to 1944. They were also believed to be covering the Manchester area for ground wave signals. They were to report to the Home Office and the Radio Security Service. Their work was special intercept duties and not part of the military 'Y' service”
So, not a 'Y' station but clearly in that little wooden hut on Billinge Hill a part was played in counter espionage.