Looking for Sean McLachlan? He mostly hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog these days, but feel free to nose around this blog for some fun older posts!

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Friday, 23 January 2009

Forgotten Lands Remembered

I recently stumbled across an excellent site called the QSL Museum, featuring old QSL cards. For those who aren't familiar, a QSL card is a postcard acknowledging receipt of transmission from an amateur radio operator to another operator or shortwave radio listener. QSL cards were the Facebook of the pre-Internet era, reflecting the creator's life and surroundings, and are still used today. The QSL Museum has hundreds of them online, dating back to the early years of radio in the 1920s. The ones that really caught my eye were from countries that no longer exist. Many thanks to Thomas Roscoe of the QSL Museum for permission to post these.
From 1895 to 1958, French West Africa was a federation of colonies that included the modern countries of Mauritania, Senegal, Niger, Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Benin. It went through several political permutations, but most of the time was administered by a French governor in Dakar, now the capital of Senegal. When I go to Gambia this year, I’ll keep an eye out for ephemera from French West Africa. It was a British enclave in the middle of this vast colonial federation.
Somalia has been in the news recently because of the continued fighting and the rise of piracy, but it’s always been a contentious area. This region has strategic importance but it seems that no one power is ever able to control it for long. When the colony of British Somaliland existed from 1884 to 1960, it was surrounded by Ethiopia, Italian Somaliland, and French Somaliland (now Djibouti). British Somaliland gained its independence in 1960 but only kept it for a few days before deciding to join Italian Somaliland as a bigger nation.

Somalia is theoretically a unified country today, but after the central government collapsed in 1991 the area that once was British Somaliland declared itself the Republic of Somaliland. No country or international body has formally recognized it and the republic’s government hasn’t ruled out reunification with the rest of Somalia. It appears everyone is waiting to see if the Horn of Africa can get its act together. In the meantime, the republic’s citizens are enjoying a stable currency and relative peace. Do I see a trip in my future? Almudena and Abha are willing to go to Ethiopia, but will they follow me to Somaliland?

While not technically a country, the Penguin Islands caught my eye because I'd never heard of them. The reverse of this card gives a good description of the islands and the DX (long range transmission) expedition. Amateur radio operators like to go to obscure places and send commemorative cards to those they talk to. The colonial cards were probably not from a DX expedition, but rather Europeans working in the colony.
All 22 of the Penguin Islands are uninhabited and measure in total 10 sq. km. There's some sort of shared rule over them by Namibia and South Africa. The card doesn’t mention which island they went to, but I bet they went to Hollam’s Bird Island (S 24° 38' 0 E 14° 31' 0) which is the largest and furthest away from the shore. If you’re going to go off into the wilderness to do some Dxing, you might as well go as far as you can!

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