Talk about the code breakers of World War II

CODE breaking, an army of secret listeners and agents working behind enemy lines all formed part of a talk given to members of Epworth Men’s Society at their November meeting.

More than 30 members of the Society turned up for a talk entitled the Secret Wireless World War Two at their Monday, November 7, meeting, held in the hall adjacent to the town’s St Andrew’s Church.

It was given by John Allen, himself an amateur radio enthusiast, who explained that in the 1930s one of Britain’s big weaknesses was a lack of speedy interchange of intelligence. He said that both Germany and the USA were then the leaders in the field of short-wave radio.

“The Government then sought the aid of the 1,500 short-wave radio enthusiasts belonging to the Radio Society of Great Britain and got them to start listening to and writing down encrypted Morse messages coming out of Germany. The messages were then sent for decoding.

“They were all sworn to secrecy and most of them had no idea what they were doing until 30 years later when there was a BBC television programme about their work,” said Mr Allen.

However, by the time World War II broke out in 1939, the British Government had built up its own teams of personnel – drawn from the Army, Navy and Air Force – to listen in on German encrypted messages.

Mr Allen said that upon the outbreak of war all the amateur radio enthusiasts had their equipment confiscated and it was not returned to them until the war was over in 1945.

He added that the decoding work was undertaken by the code breakers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, a site now owned by English Heritage. The Government’s Code and Cipher School moved out of London and into the Park in 1939.

Mr Allen went on to show one of the transmitter- receivers that would have been used by agents or resistance fighters working behind enemy lines. He said that the operators had to send their messages very quickly before German location-finders could pinpoint from where they were operating.

The Epworth Men’s Society has been in existence for more than 50 years with an annual programme of talks and trips. Anyone wanting to find out more is asked to telephone Ken Bickerstaff on 01427 872288.