Olive cracked the war codes

WHEN Olive “Bluey” Pugh volunteered to serve her country in 1943 she was still a young teenager at 18 years of age living with her parents.

Like many young Australian women, she was keen to do her bit for the war effort and when the military decided to form the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force she was one of the first in line.

The WAAAF volunteers came from all walks of life and many like Olive had led what can only be described as sheltered lives in the family home.

“When I told my father I wanted to sign up he said it was okay, but only if I returned home as the same person who left,” Olive said from her tidy room at the Milford Grange Retirement Village at Eastern Heights.

Now 97 years of age Olive is one of Ipswich’s oldest remaining war veterans and depending on her health she plans to take part near the front of this year’s Ipswich ANZAC parade.

Olive said there was nothing she didn’t like about her time in the WAAAF, although she said it was a shock during training when she was given a hessian bag to fill with straw for her mattress and then just handed a blanket with no sheets.

“It was a bit hard to get used to after being looked after at home but everybody was the same,” she said.

“The tough sergeant soon whipped us into shape and she gave me the name Bluey which everyone called me for years.”

On her entry to the WAAAF Olive underwent stringent exams before she was selected to be a Cipher at RAAF headquarters in Brisbane where she was required to code and decode messages.

She was asked to sign official secrets act and to this day has never divulged what was in those messages.

“At the beginning we were taken to General MacArthur’s headquarters in the AMP building in the city on the top floor and I only ever saw him in the distance.

“The Americans were on level seven and we were on the floor above them but they were very security conscious.

“We were never allowed to talk about what we did and sometimes even now it’s hard for me to explain what my role was except to say that we would get a teller printer message and we would decode it or code one for them to send.

“We would try to crack the code by changing the letters and then we would print out the wording and send it to whoever it was meant for, it may have to go to Port Moresby or to a remote Air Force base.

“We called the Cypher machine the X machine and there was no code book, there wasn’t anything printed at all.

“You just kept trying to crack the code by changing the cogs and spools on the X machine to substitute the letters in the message to see if that would make a word that made sense, it was always trial and error.”

Olive married Bill Pugh in 1952 and they had three daughters, Robyn, Glenda and Lenore.

Bill died in 2007, Olive now has six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Olive asked me to mention that when she left the WAAAF they short changed her last pay by one shilling and six pence.

“Just let them know it’s okay they can now keep it,” she said with a laugh.

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