Obituary: Jerry Parker

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The Independent Online
Joseph Donald Parker, intelligence officer, born Bristol 16 June 1912, MBE 1942, died 9 August 1992.

JERRY PARKER was one of the leading figures on the signals side of the wartime Special Operations Executive.

He took a first in engineering at Bristol, his native city, and joined the Post Office's radio and telecommunications branch in 1933. As the Second World War approached, he secured a supplementary reserve commission in the Royal Corps of Signals, and early entered SOE, which was formed in July 1940 to counter the Nazis' dirty tricks with such subterfuges as it could.

Secret Service doctrine laid down that clandestine communication by radio (then still called wireless) was so esoteric a business that only the existing experts were competent to handle it. SOE was made to use such sets and such codes as were doled out to it by its secret elder brothers. Parker, among others, was not at all satisfied with the results; and from June 1942 SOE was able to use - indeed to make - its own sets in its own way.

Parker helped to design much lighter and more portable sets than had been available before. The most used one, called the B Mark 2, was much like a businessman's attache case.

He helped also to redesign the traffic schedules (skeds, as the operators called them) - the timetables on which messages were exchanged between the home broadcasting station, on the Oxfordshire-Buckinghamshire border, and enemy-occupied territory. This made life much less dangerous for operators, who could choose their own times for calling, instead of being tied to a set hour, at which it was more easy for the enemy to catch them by direction finding.

He was one of the few people who could make sound sense out of SOE's work in the Near East, where he set up broadcasting stations in Cairo and in Jerusalem; moreover, he got on smoothly with his opposite numbers in the rival American Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

By 1945 he was a colonel. He stayed on in Germany after the war's end, to help re-establish communications among the ruins; set up the British Forces Broadcasting Service there; and stayed on after being demobilised in 1947 to work with the Allied Control Commission.

He was interested in ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore as well as shore-to-shore radio, and spent 27 years as Director General of the Comite Internationale Radio-Maritime, working out of a large Thames-side office with his usual geniality and efficiency. He retired at 70 to a hardly less active life as a consultant on current and future problems of radio, which involved him in frequent travel to Africa and the US. Many friends will remember him with affection; just as many wartime operators owed their lives to his wisdom.