Secret coded messages

Secret Coded Messages - "Tipsified..."

A feature of WA’s ‘War’ file is the presence of many coded messages, especially at the beginning of the file, many of which were secret at the time. 100 years ago coded telegrams were the norm for those who wished to transmit information of a sensitive nature such as shipping movements and commercial operations. So when war began in 1914, the security of the Cable Station at Cottesloe Beach was of utmost concern to the civil and military authorities. This was because a vital telegraph communications cable, that started in Glenelg in South Australia, came ashore at Cottesloe, before heading off again to the Cocos Islands, and then on to Africa and eventually Europe.

On 3 August 1914, before official declaration of war, the Commandant of the 5th Military District wrote to the Secretary of the Premier’s Office, stating that cable telegraph censorship had begun in earnest. From midday that day official telegrams about the war, sent and received in the WA Premier’s office, would not only be transmitted in code, but would also be secret.

One of the first messages transmitted was:

“ENGLISHRY TIPSTOCK MY BUTTONING WILL APIASTER BE AT YOUR SALIGOTS …” the WA Premier wrote to the Prime Minister, conveying the message “that in the event of the declaration of war my Cabinet will at once be at you service …”.

Another coded message on the same day to the Governor General in Melbourne was informed that “Eastern Extension BUXINE INDUCTOR BUXEOUS HORSPONDS COTTELSOE …” which conveyed the concern of the WA Governor that the cable house at Cottesloe was unguarded.

On 5 August probably the most important coded message was received by the Governor of WA from the Governor. It read ‘TIPSIFIED GERMANY. GLYPHIC’ and meant: ‘War has broken out between Great Britain and Germany. Signed, the Governor General’”. The war with Germany had officially begun. In a few weeks the word TIPSIFIED, would also become used in coded messages about Austria (the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) as those countries also became involved in the conflict and were at war with Great Britain and its empire.

In the months to come, as coded and secret messages were sent around the world, the Cottesloe Beach Cable Station was very securely guarded. It needed to be, because on 9 November 1914, as the German cruiser SMS Emden went about destroying the Cocos Island Cable Station, it was sunk by the HMAS Sydney in what became known as the Battle of Cocos.

Like today communications technology was extremely important in 1914, especially in a time of war. These days Cable Station Beach, between Cotttesloe and Leighton Beaches, is notable for its artificial reef. But if you examine the shoreline, especially at low tide, the faint remnants of telegraph cables can be seen that were once so vital for the security of WA, Australia and the British Empire.