Set in Brisbane 1943 Alli Sinclair’s new book, The Codebreakers, is a compelling story about tenacity and friendship, inspired by the real codebreaking women of Australia’s top-secret Central Bureau in WWII.
Where did the idea for The Codebreakers come from?
I’d written Burning Fields, which is set in 1948, and my main character had worked in Brisbane for the Australian Women’s Army Service in the war years. I liked the idea of writing a story set in Brisbane in WWII so I started doing research and found a very small article about a female codebreaker who had worked for Central Bureau. Codebreakers in Australia? Why wasn’t this common knowledge? And did they really help shorten the war in the Pacific by two years? I then went down a long and twisty path of research and I finally uncovered the full story of the Garage Girls and, after meeting them, I knew their story had to be told.
Is there anything surprising you discovered from your research for The Codebreakers?
After initially being surprised about learning we had codebreakers here in Australia, I was surprised to discover that the men and women who worked for Central Bureau had to remain secret about their work for decades. I couldn’t imagine keeping a secret so long so it was really interesting speaking with the remaining members of Central Bureau to find out how they coped with keeping a very important part of their life secret for so long. Everyone accepted it had to be done but they dealt with keeping this secret in different ways. Some felt it drove a wedge between them and their loved ones as they could never fully give themselves as there was a part of their life they could never talk about, while others managed to compartmentalise this part of their life and leave the lid closed, only to be visited in their mind when they chose to.
Part of your research involved speaking with the real-life codebreakers. How hard was it to find them and what did you learn?
It was extremely hard to find the codebreakers and I spent more than six months trying to contact them. When I eventually tracked down one codebreaker it opened the door to finding many more. As all my books contain a lot of facts, it was really important to me to meet with the real life codebreakers and learn about their experiences and what it was like to work for one of Australia’s elite signals intelligence organisations. Aside from learning about the intricate the work they did, we also discussed what it was like to keep a secret for so long, the relief when they could finally talk about it, and the special friendships they made during their time at Central Bureau. I discovered how important these friendships were and how they have been dearly treasured over the years and still are.
What lessons did you come away with after writing The Codebreakers?
I learned there are a lot of stories out there that we may never hear about because people have passed away and taken the knowledge with them. That’s why it was so important to write The Codebreakers—I wanted the story of these amazing women and men to become common knowledge so we can appreciate the incredible sacrifices and work they did.