Re-Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher

Re-Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher

(Click to listen if you don’t see the music player)

BBC Radio did a great little special called Tracking the Lincolnshire Poacher. We first discovered it on, from a post by Stephen Bowbrick. In it you will hear an account from a man who has met women who remember reading Numbers Stations, and Akin Fernandez will discover a Numbers Station he had never heard before. With the Lincolnshire Poacher now off the air, it’s perhaps even more worth your time to listen, too.

The Lincolnshire Poacher was a Numbers Station broadcasting from June 1989 until June of 2008. (This information comes from Jochen Schäfer, the “Kopf” of the ENIGMA2000 German Branch, E2Kde. Thanks Jochen!) Its name was copied from the British folk tune that plays at the beginning of each of its broadcasts. Many other Numbers Stations begin with a melody—The Swedish Rhapsody, for example. These melodies are popularly believed to be some sort of queue for the agent in the field to ready themselves to take down the message.

Most of the tunes are nationalistic, which raises an interesting question: Why is it important that a government choose a nationalistic tune? It seems like this would not be important if all that was needed by a government was to send a communication to an agent, while not revealing the agent’s nationality. So then, could it be that the tune is a decoy for an alias country? But broadcast locations are easily detected, compromising the decoy. So why, when a Numbers Station broadcasts for 19 years or more, would it be of any significance what melody acts as prelude? It could have been a completely random choice or a favorite tune of the operator, but let’s be more suspicious.

We know that anyone, anywhere, can pick up a broadcasting Numbers Station with an over-the-counter shortwave radio. And, we know that shortwave radio signals travel halfway across the globe, allowing a listener to pick up signals from many different countries. Therefore it seems safe to wonder if the choice of melody is somehow related to the knowledge of a broad listening public, a show of force to a enemy, a comfort to its allies, or simply a nag.

Here you have a broadcast blaring the proud tunes of your enemy, unregistered on the dial but received within your borders, and it’s accompanied by secret codes. You know that if you can hear it, most everyone in your country can. So, what is the message saying? Who is picking it up? Which of your loyal citizens sneaks a listen? Maybe the broadcasts are like a fly buzzing in the room; an invader that you can hear but can not see; you know what it is but you feel helpless to do anything about it. Maybe it’s like the feeling of disappearing livestock. Frustration is a military tactic.

The Lincolnshire Poacher

When I was bound apprentice in famous Lincolnshire
Full well I served my master for nigh on seven years
Till I took up to poaching as you shall quickly hear
Oh, ‘tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

As me and my companions was setting out a snare
‘Twas then we spied the gamekeeper, for him we didn’t care
For we can wrestle and fight, my boys, and jump from anywhere
Oh, ‘tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

As me and my companions was setting four or five
And taking them all up again, we caught a hare alive
We caught a hare alive, my boys, and through the woods did steer
Oh, ‘tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

We threw him over my shoulder, boys, and then we trudged home
We took him to a neighbour’s house and sold him for a crown
We sold him for a crown, my boys, but I divven’t tell you where
Oh, ‘tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.

Success to every gentleman that lives in Lincolnshire
(Alt. Bad luck to every magistrate)
Success to every poacher that wants to sell a hare
Bad luck to every gamekeeper that will not sell his deer
Oh, ‘tis my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year.