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My Way: Wireless Spy, Then Doctor

My Way: Wireless Spy, Then Doctor

by Paul Moffitt


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Eighteen-year-old Paul Moffitt's life as a spy began with his involvement in the interception of Japanese radio messages in May of 1942, two days after he became an Australian soldier. He spent more than three years intercepting wireless messages during World War II. He later became a doctor, committing sixty-three years of his life to medical practice and making strides in the battle against diabetes.
In My Way, Paul includes stories of murder and suicide (attempted or successful) by cyanide, arsenic, thallium, shotgun, or rifle in different towns, cities, and countries; tales of accidental problems caused by consumption of black licorice or the near collision of large ships at sea; serious stories of doctors and patients; and some lighter stories as well, along with some personal opinions.
Meant to both entertain and teach, this book offers insight into Paul's long and interesting life, telling an array of tales-from the fascinating to the frightening.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504315388
Publisher: Balboa Press AU
Publication date: 11/09/2018
Pages: 190
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Paul Moffitt rejected attending university in 1942 to become an Australian soldier intercepting Japanese wireless messages. Post-war, he became a doctor in many different fields and started the first Diabetes Education and Stabilization Centre in Australia. Having received the Order of Australia, he is still active in teaching a high standard of medical practice.

Read an Excerpt


Medicine Must Wait

At the age of seventeen, having completed the NSW Leaving Certificate, I applied in November 1941 for enrolment in the faculty of medicine at the University of Sydney. Japan had not yet entered the war, and I felt no compulsion to fight in Europe, so I was untroubled by the thought of being at university whilst others fought in Europe. Anyhow, I was only seventeen years old, and conscription was still a long way off (eligibility commenced on one's eighteenth birthday, but in reality the call-up didn't happen till many months later).

My thoughts about war service underwent a U-turn, however, when within three months Japanese forces sank the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Darwin was bombed (more bombs were dropped on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor), Britain's newest battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Renown were sunk off the coast of Malaysia, and Japanese armed forces came within a mere three hundred miles of Australia. Although still a seventeen-year-old, I knew that it was not the time to be at university. Many men, however, thought that university was the perfect place to keep away from the fighting, and a quota was therefore brought in to keep such people from flooding universities.

On 12 March 1942, W. A. Selle, registrar of the University of Sydney, wrote stating that I had been accepted into the faculty of medicine for 1942. The letter ended with the words: "If you do not intend to enter the University this year, please advise me by return post so that another candidate can be given a place."

My father understood when I told him that I wanted to fight. He said, "Son, you might get an arm shot off, and you cannot be a doctor with one arm, so I will get you a job in the bank, and you can always return as a one-armed bank clerk if that happens."

So I declined W. A. Selle's offer, and it was another twelve years before I became a doctor. The person who took my place at the University of Sydney would have been seven years senior to me when I finally became a doctor. You will understand why I dislike, with some exceptions, people who commenced university studies in 1942 or 1943 — the Japanese were in Timor and New Guinea, and Australia was fighting for its life. The danger of invasion had passed by 1944.

Within days, I was a bank clerk at the Rural Bank in Martin Place, Sydney, and broached the subject of enlistment when I turned eighteen. I was informed that the bank would not re-employ me after the war if I volunteered to join up within a year of commencing employment. So I could not enlist. However, the bank could not stop the militia from calling me up in about nine months' time, so the solution was obvious. I went to the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) recruiting centre in Manly and told the sergeant of my problem, with the result that he gave me an appointment for a medical examination on the day after my eighteenth birthday — many months earlier than it would have been.

During my last six weeks as a seventeen-year-old, I lived in Manly and commuted by ferry each day. The ride on a Manly ferry is always a joy, but the short walk from Martin Place to Circular Quay improved the return trip from the Rural Bank. The reason was a sign that cheered me up immensely. It was on the window of an office on the first floor of a building, announcing in gold letters:


Samuel had apparently chosen his occupation as a birthright.

* * *

Having passed the army medical examination, I became a member of the CMF and altered my age in my pay book (I still have it) to nineteen years, which permitted me to transfer to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

My life as a spy began with my involvement in the interception of Japanese radio messages on 30 May 1942, two days after I became an Australian soldier. My eighteenth birthday had been a fortnight earlier. Some hundreds of us new recruits were sitting in a grandstand at Sydney Showground, pencil, paper, and writing board in hand, as we faced an army version of an intelligence test — or perhaps it could be more accurately described as a lack-of-intelligence test.

No one present realised that a few kilometres away, three Japanese miniature submarines were manoeuvring to enter our harbour. Nor did we know that, at the same time in Britain, the crews of one thousand bombers were preparing for a raid of previously unsurpassed magnitude that would destroy Cologne but leave the Cologne Cathedral standing majestically amid the rubble. Four hundred and thirty-eight Germans would die within the next thirty-six hours, and London's Daily Express would display the headline "Vengeance Begins." Twenty-one sailors, only a mile or so from where we sat, would die from a Japanese torpedo fired in Sydney Harbour. Also, as we sat oblivious in the pavilion, an American fleet was secretly approaching Midway Island in order to ambush a Japanese invasion fleet designed to destroy American aircraft carriers.

Having been told to write our name and army number upon each sheet of paper and directed how we were to subsequently pass them for collection, we had instructions shouted at us by one of three NCOs standing by a folding table at the foreground of the stand: "The first test is a sum. Add five and four then take away three. Write your answer on the paper and pass the page to the aisle for collection."

We watched as the NCOs collected the pages and sorted them into two piles. The sergeant then took the smaller pile and called the men, one by one, to the front of the grandstand. Another NCO appeared, and the men were marched away with their destiny unstated. I felt sure that they were not destined for the Pay Corps. Australian newspapers today, seventy years later, report that our schools are neglecting mathematics as our students' ranking in the world slips ever backward, but that simple sum confirmed that it was not high in 1942.

Further tests were carried out during the day. One that I recall involved a wooden box measuring about 20 x 12 x 2.5 centimetres. There were slots in the left and right walls with a lever protruding from each slot so that the box appeared to have a left and a right arm. When the right-hand lever was pressed from the top of the box to the bottom or in the reverse direction, the left one moved in exactly the same direction. Our task was to draw a diagram of the mechanism concealed within the box.

At the end of the day, about thirty of us were told that we were to join a new signals unit that had been formed less than two weeks previously, and within days we were in Bonegilla camp as members of Australian Special Wireless Group (ASWG), a unit with a nucleus of about thirty men who had just returned to Australia after fighting the Germans, Italians, and Vichy French in the Middle East. Their task had been to intercept enemy wireless messages, and after escaping from Greece and Crete, they were involved in the campaign in Syria before being converted to Japanese Morse code (kana). They had come back to Australia to create a new unit.

We were joined by equal numbers of teenagers arriving from Victoria and Queensland to complete the wireless operator component of the unit. We were soon informed that ours was a secret unit and that, as we now knew of its existence and duties, we could not be transferred to any other unit or service. Furthermore, we were forbidden to disclose the existence of the unit for fifty years. Later, many members of the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) were to join the unit, and they intercepted Japanese messages from ASWG stations in Perth, Brisbane, and Melbourne.

We were taught International Morse Code, and then a handful of very nice Pommies taught us Japanese kana. Some of these Pommies had been monitoring the Japanese since 1935 in Hong Kong and escaped just before the Japanese invaded. My training in Japanese wireless interception at Kalinga, a suburb of Brisbane, continued into early 1943. For a short period, I was sent to our direction finding (DF) team at Bald Hill. The work there was boring but important, in that we were establishing bearings on Japanese radio stations in the Pacific area whilst another DF station was undertaking the same procedure from Western Australia. Where the bearings crossed was the site of the Japanese transmitter. I was told by other members of the team that Central Bureau would sometimes urgently request a bearing upon an illegal transmitter in Australia sending messages to the Japanese.

Within a year I was transferred, with eleven other operators, to Darwin via Townsville. Australia's womenfolk were helping the troops in hundreds of different ways — from making camouflage netting to knitting socks — but I will never forget the dedication of the women of Bowen, just south of Townsville. Thousands of troops were passing through for embarkation in Townsville to New Guinea and elsewhere, and all were greeted by these ladies with cheery smiles, food, and drinks. Many trestle tables adorned Bowen railway station as each troop train arrived. We were soon to learn of a different kind of Australian civilian when we reached Townsville: wharfies.

Our train disgorged us at Oonoomba, a suburb of Townsville, soon after dark in early 1943, and some hundreds of us carried our worldly possessions as we slowly ascended a gravel ridge above an army camp in a gully to our left. Campfires glowed and no one spoke as a beautiful tenor voice rose in song from the darkness below.

We were confined to Oonoomba transit camp for some days and not permitted into Townsville city because, we were informed, army troops had seriously assaulted some Townsville wharf labourers, and bayonets were involved. It was 2014 before I was to read a sickening account of this clash with the Townsville wharf labourers when I read Hal Colebach's Australia's Secret War, detailing how Australian wharf labourers at most Australian ports were sabotaging and rendering useless equipment for Allied troops fighting the Japanese. They deliberately smashed aeroplanes, equipment was rendered useless by damage or theft of vital components — everything possible was done to assist the Japanese who were endeavouring to invade Australia.

Furthermore, the wharfies demanded treble or even quadruple pay as "danger money" when handling war materials and were frequently on strike and refusing to load ships, including those of our navy. All Australians should read Australia's Secret War. Some people question its accuracy, but I can vouch for the fact that Australian army soldiers had to fight Townsville wharfies at a time when Japanese troops were three hundred miles away.

The train ride to Mount Isa was interrupted when an American serviceman, as we trundled between Charters Towers and Mount Isa, lost his balance while surfing a carriage roof and was killed. Leaving the train, we travelled in the back of trucks for hundreds of miles and then in cattle trucks on another railway in the Northern Territory to finally arrive as a re-enforcement to 51 Wireless Section, situated about seventy kilometres south of Darwin. The wireless interception unit was at Coomalie Creek adjacent to the 31 Squadron airfield, home to the Bristol Beaufighters. (The Japanese called the Beaufighters "whispering death" owing to their habit of suddenly appearing over Japanese airfields in Timor with their four cannons and six machine guns blazing.)

The wireless operators at 51 Wireless Section knew that there would be an air raid upon Darwin the night I arrived, but they did not realise that it would include an attack on the airfield adjacent to us and would therefore be a danger to us. Their anticipation of the raid was due to traffic analysis in which the quantity, origin, and destination of Japanese messages indicated the intention of the Japanese without the content of their messages being known. On this occasion and subsequently, the knowledge of an impending bombing attack upon Darwin was made because Japanese bombers stationed in Kendari (Sulawesi), out of reach of our bombers, had flown to Koepang (Timor) the previous evening, their wireless/air gunners filling the airwaves with messages that 51 Wireless Section operators had intercepted. It did not require a genius to determine that the Japanese movement of bombers to within easy reach of Darwin indicated their intention to attack the following night. Experience had led the men to recognise that a full moon added to the certainty of an attack.

The expectation of an air raid did not deter the old soldiers whom I had joined, and I was escorted to the weekly picture show in the early evening. After a walk of about a kilometre on a dirt track, we arrived at the theatre — a clearing with the removed tree trunks aligned to form rows of seating. A huge canvas strung tightly between poles was the screen. The movie having finished, we commenced the return to our camp accompanied by a siren, which the old soldiers informed me was a yellow warning that Japanese bombers were in the vicinity. Nobody was alarmed.

Half an hour later, the red alarm sounded. I was standing in our camp, the moonlight displaying against the night sky the beauty of the slim trunk and bushy head of the silver oaks. It was very peaceful except for the Japanese bombers — which, I remarked to Jack Esson, sounded like trucks on a mountain road. Someone said that the reason for the sound was that the engines were not synchronised, but that was meaningless to me.

The planes were not directly above us, and I stood in the open with Jack and another soldier whilst the other members of 51 Section moved sensibly into the slit trenches. I was not being a hero; it was clear to me that there was no immediate danger if the old soldiers were not in the trenches, which were nearby. Suddenly, the other two heard the sound made by Japanese bombers when releasing bombs, and they were in full flight to the slit trenches. But so was I — in the opposite direction to trenches also close by. A split second later, as I reached a trench, a Japanese flare burst above us, lighting up everything like daylight, and I saw the crouched, bare back of Fred Pakes blocking where I had intended to jump. So I ran a few paces to the next trench and jumped into it as bombs exploded between the airstrip and us.

My friend Jack Banks, later to hold a senior position in the Commonwealth Bank in Melbourne, received Jack Esson and a retaining pole upon his back as he stooped, also bare-chested, in a trench. He subsequently claimed to have been shaking for the following three weeks because he had thought the simultaneous sound of exploding bombs and a violent assault upon his shirtless back indicated a bomb had joined him in his trench.

My fellow soldiers had built our set room upon a small knoll. Trees had been felled from our campsite and used to construct the framework. The roof was corrugated iron, and the metre high-walls were made of local pandanus palms. Twelve operators, each with two of the latest American wireless sets, occupied the two long sides, and as one group completed their shift, another would commence. High aerials were close by.

Our headphones were not placed over our ears but forward of them, because this gave the clearest sound. Our left hands rested lightly upon the dial of the set directly in front of us while our right hands recorded the message being sent by the Japanese operator. We had been trained to be writing the letter or numeral two removed from the one that was being transmitted, which meant that we were always concentrating upon three symbols; we were simultaneously writing the first letter heard, remembering the second, and listening to the third until the message had been completed.

We were all very good operators. I can remember that on a number of occasions, whilst recording a Japanese message, there would be a burst of static that smothered one symbol of a letter, a dit or a dah, but my brain would automatically write an interpretation, even though I knew I had not heard whether a dit or a dah had been sent. The second Japanese operator would always miss the same letter and request a repeat, which invariably confirmed that what I had written was correct, even though I knew that I had not heard the sound sent.

I now realise that my brain was not only measuring the duration of the sounds sent but also the duration of the silences between sounds; therefore, when a single sound was obliterated, my brain (and other operators' brains) knew immediately that the total duration of sounds heard could only have been consistent with either a dit or a dah being obliterated by static. My brain had determined that the time missed by static was equal to either a dit bracketed by the usual silent periods or a dah plus the silent periods.

The Japanese used dits and dahs as in International Morse Code, but with totally different meanings. Furthermore, their alphabet consists of seventy-five combinations, which are long and complicated. For example the equal longest combination in the international code is dah dah dit dah, meaning the letter q. But one that I regularly heard from a Japanese was dah dah dit dit dah dit dit dah dah dit. One that I was anxious to hear but never did was sent from Japanese planes: dah dit dit dit dit dah dah dah. In international code, that is nij, but to the Japanese, I was informed, it meant that the plane was landing or crashing. If it was sent near Darwin, it meant crashing into the Arafura Sea.


Excerpted from "My Way"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Paul Moffitt.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Reader Comments, ix,
Preface, xi,
Medicine Must Wait, 1,
The Sea Is a Dangerous Place, 13,
A Doctor at Last, 20,
Just Another Day in General Practice, 22,
Come Urgently, Doctor, 34,
Poisoning with Intent, 45,
Poisoning by Accident, 55,
In the Ring, 60,
Leaving Cessnock, 77,
Doctor at Sea, 89,
Up There for Thinking, 94,
The Basics of Diagnosis, 103,
Making Ward Rounds, 118,
Contributing to Medicare: The Pros and Cons, 131,
The Doctor and the Law, 135,
No Laughing Matter, 139,
What Happened, Doc?, 144,
Ben, Vince, and a Thing Called Superfoetation, 149,
The Beginnings of Diabetes Education, 153,
Some Wry Observations, 170,

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