One of the new rabbit warrens dives I’m doing to kill a bit of time is learning about the Australian code breakers during World War 2.
Now I’m fascinated by stories of the past and recently I had found out that our street was the site of an intercept station in 1942 that played an important role and which changed the nature of Naval war with the Japanese Navy in the Pacific. Once I learned about that, I was fascinated. I had to learn more about this.
Reason why I’m learning Morse Code! If there was a secret listening station on MY STREET in 1942 intercepting coded Japanese messages that alerted Allies & MacArthur to Japanese movements; then helped at Battle of Midway & Battle of Coral Sea. My thanks to those men (& WRANS) pic.twitter.com/KTuiofw5b0— Helen Blunden #AlwaysBeLearning 🤔🧠🦉📚🥇 (@ActivateLearn) September 9, 2021
The Australian government had kept this secret and all the Australian women (WRANS) and indeed, anyone who worked at FRUMEL (Fleet Radio Unit Melbourne) were required to keep their work confidential for 50 years after the war.
So it’s only recently that these stories of the great work of these women has come out to public. I was also fascinated by the idea that my street – in my suburb – a relatively non-descript and completely forgettable part of Melbourne played a crucial role in intercepting coded messages from the Japanese and which alerted the Allies to their movements which then inspired the Battle of Midway and Battle of the Coral Sea. These same women from the same unit also alerted Yamamoto’s flight movements and were able to relay these to the USN who shot his plane (and killed him).
What a legend. Reading about Florence Violet McKenzie, Australia’s first female electrical engineer who set up her own school training women to learn morse code & semaphore. Her recruits then became the WRANS. Huge campaigner for technical education for women. pic.twitter.com/W8mmyucPVw— Helen Blunden #AlwaysBeLearning 🤔🧠🦉📚🥇 (@ActivateLearn) September 2, 2021
If I wasn’t inquisitive over the history of my street, Chesterville Road, I wouldn’t have found out this fascinating story nor learned the stories of the great men and women who worked there to help the Americans (who coincidentally claim these victories for themselves).
I’m still learning the story as I’m currently reading The Secret Code Breakers of Central Bureau by David Dufty where I stop and start the book. As I read a chapter or two, then I delve into the web looking at other resources, articles, National Trove photos and images, YouTube videos and stories which then take me down rabbit warrens just trying to piece together how and what happened.
Here’s the story of Edith Jessie Flanders of the time she worked as a decoder.
Ultimately though, all this information just makes me want to travel back in time and view it from up close. It’s hard to keep distant from it or to take your attention away from parts of it because you’re always left with asking ‘why?’ The whys take you further into more tangents and bring you to yet more stories unexplored and just as fascinating.
This man must have been a legend. First Australian Navy officer to be transferred to Royal Navy (they SPECIFICALLY asked for him) back in 1930 because of his exceptional skills in Japanese. Later, he cracked the code the Japanese used for the Pearl Harbour attack.— Helen Blunden #AlwaysBeLearning 🤔🧠🦉📚🥇 (@ActivateLearn) September 9, 2021
So as I’m learning more about these exceptional men and women who worked tirelessly and in secret and for little recognition – and in secret. They’ve inspired me to take an interest in learning a bit of morse code (it’s bloody hard to remember it all!) and to think they had to learn the Japanese kana and I’m whingeing whether O is three dashes or three dots because I can’t remember….
What about you? What rabbit warrens have you gone into and it’s taken up your time and imagination?