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You know it, sir. Defiance, maybe, but, well, no more. The point is, a marine is on guard at the keyboard, just round the corner of that passage. Night and day. Bound to have seen him. He denies-----"

"HMS Ulysses" by Alistair MacLean

  • Is there any reason you think it doesn't just mean an actual keyboard? – Andrew Feb 7 '17 at 22:58
  • I think this may be switchboard but not sure. – Jose Mourinho Feb 7 '17 at 23:27
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    While it's obviously not a modern keyboard (given the novel is set in WW2) it would be something similar. My guess it's something like a board with "keys" that perform various ship functions when you push them. You could probably learn more from context. – Andrew Feb 7 '17 at 23:42
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It is some part of the radio apparatus. From the script for The Ghost Ship, 1943 (from COHA, the Corpus of Historical American English):

RADIO SHACK - DAY Sparks seats himself on the edge of the desk containing the keyboard and other apparatus, and motions to Tom to take the chair. Tom sits down. Sparks passes him a crumpled package of cigarettes. Tom takes one. As they go through the business of lighting up, they talk.

I suspect it may be the board that the Morse key was mounted on, but that's only a guess.

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    I still don't know what the "keyboard" did; but intriguingly, I've found an example of the word used, much earlier, for something we probably wouldn't think of as a keyboard at all. In "The House An Episode in the Lives of Reuben Baker, Astronomer, and of His Wife, Alice" (1896), by Eugene Field, we read "Near the desk are rows of nickel-plated tubes, about six feet in height and two feet in diameter; the lids or covers to these tubes are opened by means of a keyboard in front of the editor." (via COHA). – Colin Fine Feb 9 '17 at 21:02
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another ship but shows 1945 techThis is from the MacLean novel. I will assume that keyboard means keyboard. There was technology on ship/planes and so on, but it was primitive by today's standards. This could be for radar, or communications. There's information out there, but I do not have time to Google it for you. The radar console shows a keyboard/keyed input device that the operator typed on. 1945 soviet keyboard

radar console 1943

  • You can't answer "what is a keyboard?" with "a keyboard is a keyboard." You should probably at the least say that it probably refers to a (computer) keyboard if that's what you mean. – LMS Feb 7 '17 at 23:04
  • @LMS good point. I am out and cannot get a link to the pic. I will edit tomorriw, but I googled 1945 ship computer and found images. – WRX Feb 7 '17 at 23:47
  • I'm very dubious that either of these pictures is relevant. I think the Russian keyboard is much later; and while I admit that the panel that Smith's hand is on in the Radar picture might be a keyboard in the modern sense, I doubt that it is. At that time the only purpose for an alphanumeric keyboard was typing text or messages, and how would that be required for radar? The quote I found (see my answer) suggests that it is to do with radio, not radar. Please supply more evidence that either of these pictures is relevant. – Colin Fine Feb 9 '17 at 20:40
  • @ColinFine The image I found of the Russian keyboard says 1945, I can't vouch that it is accurate. As for what MacLean meant by "keyboard" is my guess, not going down in flames trying to defend it. I think your Morse code idea is a likely answer. – WRX Feb 9 '17 at 20:46
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    @WillowRex: No, the image says " pictured inside a bunker used after 1945 till 1994". Having searched a bit, I'm pretty sure that whatever he meant, it's not an alphanumeric keyboard in the modern sense: why would you want one of them? – Colin Fine Feb 9 '17 at 21:00

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