Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19): Find out more about RSL LifeCare services. Read more
What is RSL Life Care? Find out
RSLL_MSL_Web_460 | RSL LifeCare - provide care and service to war veterans, retirement villages and accommodation, aged care services and assisted living
July 12, 2021

World War 2 code breaker Marion Painter features in Sky News documentary

ANZAC Village, Narrabeen resident Marion Painter has featured in Sky News documentary, The Alliance, about her time as a code breaker in World War 2 (WW2). The Alliance examines how the relationship between the US and Australia has been forged and the key people and events key to its success throughout the past 100 years.

Marion’s early years – A born retailer

Marion says her parents had always encouraged her and her siblings to be independent. As a young girl she had a burning desire to either be an actress, or a nun. “Mum said, darling, I don’t think either of those are going to suit you, and I don’t think they pay much, I’d settle for something else”, said Marion. At the age of 14, she applied for a job at a department store, and was offered a job for the five-day Christmas period. “I knew from my very first day that this was what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a retailer,” said Marion.

Instead of filling in for five days, Marion stayed for six weeks, and when it came time to return to school, she was able to persuade her mother, with the help of the Store Manager, to allow her to stay on at the store, rather than returning to school – much to the headmistress’s disapproval who thought leaving school at 14 was ‘disgusting’.

“I stayed on at the store. By the time I was 17 or so I was in charge of the millinery department. All the other managers were in their 40s or 50s! I don’t think there was a day ever in my work life, and it’s been a long journey, that I haven’t loved the work I’ve done. It wasn’t like a job, it was like being an actress; it was like being on the stage,” said Marion.

Joining the war effort

In 1942, Marion recalls how horrendous the war was, and the burning desire she had to contribute, so at the age of 19 she enlisted in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAAS).

“I had a brother 8, a sister 11 and one sister just married and I felt very badly that there was no one in my family who could contribute in any way,” said Marion. At lunchtime I said to Mummy “Guess what I’ve done today”. I said “I’ve enlisted in the Army. I thought she was going to drop dead!”

Marion was sent to Ingleburn for training, before being sent on a train to Albury in the middle of the night, aware Japanese were listening from behind the trees at the railway station.

After spending 11 months in a camp in Albury, Marion was among a select group of AWAAS women sent to Kalinga, near Brisbane.

Australian Womens' Army, WW2
Australian Womens’ Army, WW2

 

Learning Japanese morse code

We were told to forget everything we’d learnt – we’d need to learn Japanese Kana, a completely different form of Morse, explained Marion.

“It was very difficult really because their Morse is in in groups of letters, whereas our is abc. It was difficult; we had about 8 weeks to learn it before we went on the machines,” she recalls.

Marion says the training was so secretive she couldn’t even talk about it amongst the other women.

Working as a code breaker

“We had 2 operators and a cylinder each four-hour shift. As soon as the officer in charge of the shift heard the signal he was listening for, he would pick up the station, we’d put our headphones on, switch on the cylinder, and take down what we heard. If we missed something – it was very fast, very fast Morse – the cylinder also took what it heard.

So the cylinder and our ideas of what that message was were then sent by motorbike to Macarthur’s headquarters in Brisbane. If they couldn’t decode it, it would be sent to Bletchley Park, England.”

Marion recalls how tense her work as a code breaker was, constantly told before her shifts that the work was not a game, how important it was and the impact it could mean. Marion worked 4-hour shifts, requiring intense focus with this ‘fast noise in your brain’ she recalls.

“We’d get up at 12 o’clock to go on duty or 4 o’clock in the morning, that’s what we were there for, so we didn’t mind at all. But many was the night that I’d come off shift, get in the bath and fall asleep. One of the girls would knock on the door and say, “are you asleep again in there?” “and I would be,” she said.

60 years after the end of WW2 until Marion’s efforts were formally recognised, with a letter and medal sent from the British Prime Minster.
60 years after the end of WW2 until Marion’s efforts were formally recognised, with a letter and medal sent from the British Prime Minster.

How code breakers provided key intelligence

In Sky News’ The Alliance, Professor John Blaxland, Head of The Strategic Defence Studies Centre at ANU explains how impactful the work of the AWAAS code breakers was during WW2.

“The work they did had a transformative effect in terms of the ability of the allies to push back, to turn the tide on the Japanese both in the Battle of the Coral Sea in April 1942 and in the following month in the Battle of Midway in May 1942,” he said.

Marion’s achievements recognised after 60 years

For Marion, doing her part during the war was what drove her. “I was so intent on winning the war at that stage – I really thought I’m here for a purpose and I’ve got to find something that will make a difference, Marion told Sky News in The Alliance.

It would be 60 years after the end of WW2 until Marion’s efforts were formally recognised, with a letter and medal sent from the British Prime Minster. “As an outpost to Bletchley Park, the work we did was invaluable – we had shortened the war in the Pacific by 2 years,” an emotional Marion told Sky News. Her medal, a possession Marion wears with pride is inscribed with ‘We also served’.

Loving life at the War Vets 

Marion has lived at ANZAC village for 24 years after working in retail until the age of 71. “My daughter said one day, “Mum you can’t work forever” says Marion, but I’d have liked to. Recently widowed, Marion met her late husband Dennis at RSL LifeCare and they enjoyed 18 years of marriage. “It’s been marvellous,” she says.

Sky News’ episode of The Alliance, featuring Marion Painter can be viewed here 

Blog Posts

Help for Vets in Need

Veterans’ Services

Find out more

Latest News

array(2) { [0]=> int(175) [1]=> int(41) }

RSL NSW members dig deep to support their fellow veterans

*This media release originally appeared on the RSL NSW website. RSL NSW veteran members have rallied to bolster life-changing support for veterans and their families...

Read more

Homes for Heroes comes home

After a two-year partnership with Wesley Mission delivering the life-changing Homes for Heroes program, RSL LifeCare Veteran Services has built its internal capabilities and is...

Read more

Veteran Employment a Focus in New South Wales

RSL LifeCare, has today announced that it is partnering with specialist career management firm, Right Management to deliver the RSL Employment Program in New South...

Read more

Riverina Veterans front and centre for RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare

RSL NSW and its partner charity RSL LifeCare have announced today that a veteran wellbeing centre will be established and operated by them in Wagga...

Read more

Aged Care Employee Day is a day to thank everyone at RSL LifeCare.

7th August is Aged Care Employee Day. This is a day for us to thank every person who works in our organisation and to acknowledge...

Read more

Horse Trekking Course – Trek 1, 2021 – Back in the saddle

ANZAC Day is a time of remembrance and camaraderie for many veterans; with emotions running high as they reflect on their service and the service...

Read more

Aged care workers should be vaccinated on site.

AGED care provider, RSL LifeCare, have applauded the Australian Government for their decision to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for staff however warned that more needs to...

Read more

Wal Williams awarded OAM.

Wal (Walter) Williams, resident of RSL LifeCare's ANZAC Village in Narrabeen, has been awarded an Order of Australia (OAM) for Services to the Veteran Community...

Read more

RSL LifeCare welcomes Mark Dickson as new Board Chairman.

RSL LifeCare announces Mr. Mark Dickson as new Board Chairman as part of a planned Chair succession, with Mr. Andrew Condon stepping down from his...

Read more

Chester Joint Release – Regional NSW Veterans Get Boost in Wellbeing Support

*This media release originally appeared on the Minister for Veterans' Affairs website. The Hon Darren Chester MP Minister for Veterans' Affairs Minister for Defence Personnel...

Read more

Nowra Veteran Centre Open for Business

Up to 20,000 veterans and their families will be able to access vital mental and physical wellbeing, housing and employment support services from today as...

Read more
RSL LifeCare is committed to supporting veterans and their families

Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide announced

RSL LifeCare is committed to supporting veterans and their families. We welcome any action by the Federal Government to tackle veteran suicide and will contribute...

Read more

Download a brochure

We'll never share your email address and you can opt out at any time, we promise

Career Application Single

  • Accepted file types: docx, doc, pdf, Max. file size: 50 MB.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Contact RSL DefenceCare,
we’re here to help.

Are you ready to explore a new operations role with extra benefits?

Take your career in a new direction RSL LifeCare.

Search for an operations role at an RSL LifeCare Residential Aged Care facility in the Southern NSW region. Take a look at all our current positions here.

1. 100% funding on participating certifications

Undertake a participating certification through the RSL LifeCare Earn and Learn Incentive Program1 and you could be eligible to have your learning fully funded.

2. Cash bonus of up to $1000 (less income tax).

Through the RSL LifeCare Sign-on Bonus, you could be eligible for two split payments of $500 (less income tax), when you start a new role with us.

Contact Homes for Heroes today