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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.

Sunday, 28 May 2017



An innocuous little book dating back to the 1940s, it was the sort of book you would find on many coffee tables throughout the land and wouldn't arouse too much suspicion, unless of course you knew the key, much like the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

An innocuous little book dating back to the 1940s, it was the sort of book you would find on many coffee tables throughout the land and wouldn't arouse too much suspicion, unless of course you knew the key, much like the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

This book was chosen by one Bill Miller, Bill had been called up at the beginning of the war and joined the Royal Corps of Signals as a wireless operator. It was from his base in Kent that he was recruited into MI6, amongst his first duties was the purchase of a novel, in fact any novel that would be used as part of his new role. Bill selected 'Poet's Pub' a popular read at the time and in fact he was instructed to buy 5 copies of the same edition but from different locations.

The book was to be used as a cipher, he was taught how to create codes from its content and secret messages using this code would be sent back to London.

Bill Miller, Tangier 1943
To cut a long story short, Bill served initially in Spain and then Tangier, he spied on French and German ship movements and that was the subject of his coded messages.

Our interest in this is, of course, the use of a book code and whilst there have been some descriptions of book codes posted in various locations, I think that this example provides us with an additional insight into the way in which these codes were actually created.

It has long been thought by many that the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was in fact used as a cipher tool, and here we have an example of such from the same era and in use by MI6.

The Code

Using phrases from the book containing between 12 and 15 letters, Bill would construct his messages.

At this point we'll hand over to Mr. Richard Lewis, a one time archivist at Bletchley Park:

'A page is selected at random from the book and its page number is recorded. A line is then chosen where the first few words have approximately 12 to 15 characters.

The page (turned into 3 figures) and the line (turned into 2 figures) then provide a 5 figure number. This is then added to the senders personal key, which is also a 5 figure number, and it is this that produces an encoded indicator group.

A grid is then formed using the words selected to specify the placing of the letters. The person receiving the message would subtract the sender's key to get the page and line numbers and allowing them to re-create the grid and read the message.'   

This approach would I think result in a string of numbers that could, for example, have been transmitted by a 'number station'

Could this have been done with the Rubaiyat? Entirely possible, is the key to the code to be found perhaps concealed in the torn piece? I think so.

What better place to rest your message pad than on the back of the book that you were using as a cipher tool? From there on the letters produced by the sender could be formed and the micro code inserted as per the Ink H method developed by SOE. This method was simple, you wrote out your words in ink, you then added your micro code in pencil and then finally covered the now coded letters with ink once again. To 'develop' the code, all you need to do is to immerse the paper containing the writing in a fairly strong bleach solution. You can find examples of that here on the blog.


  1. Lovely stuff, GC, gives V70 a little more importance don't you reckon?

  2. Gordon strikes again! It seems too easy to be true but, I'm sure it is. CliveT

    1. Yup, it's true and there are more examples to come :)

  3. On the money Pete, in those days they were very inventive, ingenious in fact. Makes you wonder about the Marshall ROK, whilst it was a false imprint, the verses in it didn't match the real editions in terms of sequence. Worth another look at that don't you think?