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The Somerton Man Case. The body of a man found on an Australian beach close to a major Atomic Testing ground, he was probably poisoned, a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and an unbroken Code page found and associated to him. Set against a Cold War background in 1948, was this man a spy? We think so and this blog focuses on the evidence that was left behind and in some cases missed, the Code page, Dry Cleaning numbers, A Poem and a small, torn piece of paper bearing the words TAMAM SHUD.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

SOMERTON MAN: LAST OF THE 'M SPECIAL UNIT' MEN, AN INTERVIEW


JIM BURROWES, OAM
M SPECIAL UNIT



 ‘The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the South Pacific.’ Admiral 'Bill' Halsey, US Navy.

Some days ago I managed to get in touch with this man, retired Sgt Jim Burrowes, Commando.

We had a phone call an exchange of emails and Jim kindly gave me permission to summarise our discussion and made materials available to me.

I explained to Jim the background to my enquiry and he was only too happy to share his knowledge of his time in New Britain, the work he did and the equipment he used. We covered a lot of ground in what was a relatively short time

RECRUITMENT & TRAINING

Jim was 'recruited', for want of a better term, in January 1942 at the barracks in Albert Park at the age of 18.

'There were about 50 of us in my group and a burly Sergeant-Major commanded ‘Okay you lot, raise your hand if you work in an office or as a school teacher.’ He told those of us who raised our hands to ‘Stand over there!’ As I had worked in a Chartered Accountants’ office for the previous two years, I stuck up my hand. He then said to the others: ‘The rest of YOU ARE INFANTRY!’ Thus, my later destiny as a Coastwatcher was set.'

His first 6 weeks were spent training, he was stationed at Camp Pell interestingly enough, those followers of the blog will recall the role that Camp Pell played in the Tibor Kaldor posts. He was trained in the use of Morse code with that part of training taking place at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, RMIT. He managed to reach a very useful speed of 25 words a minute. If you learnt Morse code in your past you would understand that the speed he mentions was well above average.

DEPLOYMENT & RABAUL

Following a spell in both Melbourne and Brisbane both sending and receiving signals from Port Moresby and other locations to the North,  Jim volunteered for special service, that despite the army maxim, 'Never volunteer for anything!, was subsequently transferred to the Amphibious Landing Force of the US Navy's 7th Fleet, Jim is now the last surviving Australian member of that force.

Jim spent 10 months in the jungle overlooking Rabaul which had earlier been captured by the Japanese, the role of his group was not to fight but to avoid detection and to transmit much needed and valued intelligence reports on troop and particularly aircraft movements from Rabaul airfield.


Jim Burrowes, kneeling, the centre of the front row.


We spoke of the practicalities of the Rabaul operation, the details of how intelligence was gathered and then how it reached AIB HQ. 


THE EQUIPMENT

Below is the set, type ATR-4A, which was in use by the M Special units at the time. A standard Morse code key s also shown.



There were two officers in Jim's group and it was generally they that took off into the bush surrounding the airfield and then made notes in pencil that described the aircraft types that were seen, if and when they took off and which direction they headed.

Naturally capturing details of the loading of bombers was of high importance. On most occasions, the information was returned to the camp and from then, Jim or another operator would encode the handwritten notes and then transmit the details using Morse code. 

THE CODES

They made use of two codes, one of which was Playfair and the other was a code he referred to as the 'Nave' code, that was the code created by Eric Nave. Most interestingly, they used a standard book, in this case, a Dickens novel, to help with the encoding for both codes used. to use Jim's words. 'We encoded and referred to the page line and word numbers from the book to create the finished messages.' He may have used the book as a rest when writing up the encoded message, he couldn't honestly remember that detail.

Jim believed that each group may have had their own books, it could have been a decision of the senior officer who may have chosen his own favourite novel. All that mattered was that the HQ people knew who was using which book. Jim had not heard of the Rubaiyat being used but it could have been.

THE DENTIST CAME TO CALL

The visit of the travelling dental technicians, Jim was sure these guys couldn't have been qualified. was both amusing and somewhat painful. Equipped with their pedal powered drills, they set about removing teeth only, not materials for fillings.

This, explained Jim, was the reason he came back from his tour minus all but two teeth. When asked about dental plates, he laughed and said they were given wooden pegs to act in the place of their now departed teeth. He hastened to add that as soon as he could he invested in a proper set of dentures.

We covered so much more in what was a fascinating discussion. Jim is a real gentleman of the old school, honourable, trustworthy and not a bad word was said about anyone except the enemy.

Jim went on to a long and highly successful career in the private sector as an accountant. Not quite a bookkeeper Pete Bowes :)

It was an absolute privilege to talk with Jim, now 94 years old and last of the M Special Unit heroes.

Jim with the help of his son has put a website together, filled with accurate historical information, it is a great read and I highly recommend it to you: 



General Douglas Macarthur, Supreme Commander, Allied Powers, South West Pacific wrote the following commendation for the Coastwatchers:
'The enormous contribution of the Australian Commonwealth to the Allied war effort contains no brighter segment than this comparatively unknown unit which naturally worked under the cloak of military secrecy during the war.… They are officially credited with having been a crucial and decisive factor in the allied victories of Guadalcanal and Tulagi, and later on in the operations of New Britain especially in the landing on and capture of the Cape Gloucester area.'

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