Land of the Rainbow Gold

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2017
We recall the origins of our relationship with the Australian Signals Directorate.


A shield showing the flags from each Aus state flanked by a kangeroo and an emu
For most of us, the story of Signals Intelligence (Sigint) in the Second World War is the story of Bletchley Park. It is the story of Enigma and the Battle of the North Atlantic; of Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Bill Tutte and the brilliant band of people who made a disproportionate contribution to the Allied cause; of the partnership with the US. In short, our vision is focused on the northern hemisphere, and on the war in the west. 

Even for those who think about the war against Japan, the vision is either based on the Burma Campaign; or is episodic and US-focused: Pearl Harbor, Midway, the shootdown of Yamamoto. What we rarely see mentioned is the contribution of Australia.

Australian Sigint had started in the Anzac force in the Mesopotamian theatre of the First World War. In the Second World War, a Special Wireless Section was sent to the Middle East with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).  This section returned to Australia early in 1942 and combined with Australian Sigint personnel who had been withdrawn from Singapore before its capture. 

This small nucleus established the Central Bureau, a joint Australian/US organisation, which grew to a much larger organisation with over 1,000 Australian members of staff, in Melbourne initially and then in Brisbane.  Separate from this there was a Royal Australian Navy unit, FRUMEL, which remained in Melbourne, as well as a small unit which carried out cryptanalysis against diplomatic targets.

The geography of the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) meant that the Central Bureau had an important coordination function, and the need to concentrate cryptanalysis of high-grade Japanese systems in Washington and Bletchley led to it coordinating a worldwide Sigint communications network.  It incorporated New Zealand elements from the start, and as the war progressed, received reinforcement from the UK and Canada.

Although high-grade cryptanalysis was done elsewhere, the importance to the Allied effort in the SWPA of the Central Bureau’s work on weather and transport codes meant that the Allies were better able to use the resources available to them, while the traffic analysis carried out in the Central Bureau led to it having an almost complete understanding of the Japanese Order of Battle.

As the Allies progressed in the Pacific, the Central Bureau sent out field units to support different SWPA Commands, principally in Leyte, Morotai and Luzon. At the end of the war, an element was established in Tokyo, in a building opposite the Imperial palace.

Bletchley Park Commemorative Badge

GCHQ inaugurated a commemorative badge in 2009 for veterans of Signals Intelligence from the Second World War. They had received no recognition at the end of the war in 1945 because of the need to maintain secrecy around the work they had done. Also, few qualified for campaign medals because their work had rarely taken place overseas. Signals Intelligence in the Second World War was integrated between Allied nations. The award recognises all service related to Allied Signals Intelligence, not just at Bletchley Park but also at its outstations, the ‘Y’ stations, Special Communications Units, Special Liaison Units, and at Sigint Centres and Bureaus worldwide.

To date we have issued 3,364 badges, and 628 of them – just under 20% - have been sent overseas. Some of these represent people who emigrated from the UK post-War, but the 359 awarded in Australia and the 119 to Canadians include significant numbers of people who served in Australian and Canadian units.

Details of the Bletchley Park Commemorative Badge, who qualifies and how to apply.