Les Mitchell, G3BHK
Les Mitchell, G3BHK - silent key October 2014.
The young Les Mitchell was a sea-scout and later joined the Royal Navy, where he was trained in radio. Les spent a year in the U.S.A. and another in Australia, becoming a Scout Leader in both countries.
When he did become a radio amateur, with his own call sign G3BHK, what struck him was the similarity between Scouts and Radio Amateurs in the friendly way they transcend class, creed, colour, religion and political boundaries.
In 1957, a World Scout Jamboree was held at Sutton Park in central England, with 35,000 Scouts from 62 countries attending. For the first time at any World Jamboree local radio amateurs installed and operated a large station under the call sign GB3SP. Scouts and leaders were allowed to visit, as long as they stayed behind the little fence with the flower pots and kept the noise down.
Les Mitchell was very surprised by the number of overseas Scout radio amateurs attending the Jamboree and decided that some effort should be made to bring them all together. A notice in the Jamboree Newspaper resulted in daily coffee meetings during which they got to know each other. The meetings were actually held in a snack bar outside the gate, as meeting in the GB3GP radio station would produce too much “background noise” for the operators.
Towards the end of the Jamboree they were all a little sad, and someone remarked that we might try to contact each other on the air. This then developed into the idea of trying to make contact on one specific day, and Les was asked to make the necessary arrangements.
Then Les got the visionary idea: why not run the event for a whole weekend and ask all radio amateurs throughout the world with an interest in the Scout Movement to put their stations on the air and, at the same time, invite their local Scouts to join them. So JOTA was born. (This was his own choice of title for Les felt it described exactly what the event was – a Jamboree-on-the-Air.)
In October 1957, Les organized a weekend station with his local Scout group in Reading, Berkshire, to test the idea. Using only a 40 watt transmitter (AM) they made contacts all over the world, and it was obvious that the interest was such that a worldwide Radio Jamboree could be envisaged. He drew up rules for the event keeping them as simple as possible. In fact, they were so simple that they have remained unchanged ever since.
Les soon realized that he would not be able to cope with the correspondence likely to arise in the future on a worldwide basis, and successfully solicited the support of the World Scout Bureau, then in Ottawa, Canada.
It is now past history that the event has gradually expanded to become the largest international event on the Scout calendar. In 2014 we are expecting to have close to a million young Scouts participing on the radio-waves and internet.
Les kept coordinating all JOTA activities in the UK up to 1988 and played an active role during the event up to very recent.
In the introduction to the JOTA history booklet published in 2007, Les Mitchell wrote ”while I certainly did originate JOTA, I feel I have been showered with too much credit, for I just gave the boulder a push and it gathered its own momentum as it rolled down the hillside! We must not forget, too, the thousands of individual radio amateurs who have each contributed time and effort to make JOTA enjoyable for so many years”.
Les Mitchell, G3BHK, silent key October 2014.