I met Marian Kaufman at her home in St Leonards who for thirty years, was sworn to silence about her wartime experiences. She was well versed in keeping secrets; she never told her parents what her job was during world war 11.
She proudly showed me her Morse code device which she could still operate. Quietly, softly-spoken, Marian was only interested in the Morse code when she volunteered for the war in 1942.
Still in her teens, Marian wanted more than a mundane job and was granted the chance after sitting an exam to test her skills. While at school where she excelled in maths, she came to the attention of the authorities.
“You have a special and important role with us,” Marian was told. “You will be sent to Bonegilla for training.”
The young Bright girl, from northeast Victoria, was now part of the Australian Special Wireless Group (ASWG).
She would be trained to intercept Japanese messages through their receiving sets, learning Morse code and the equivalent in the Japanese language system, Kana. After three months she was sent to Kalinga in Brisbane, the Headquarters of Special Wireless and became a member of this top secret intelligence unit.
“There was great camaraderie,” Marian said, “a feeling of pride that what we were doing was really making a difference in the war.” She said they all used to write to, and receive letters from, “our boys” in New Guinea and Darwin.
Marian logged messages of the Japanese army, navy, and air force in Kana, quickly passing them on to Central Bureau for deciphering.
For many years, Marian’s wartime experiences could not even be acknowledged, with intelligence officers committed to 30 years of secrecy after the war. She was considered a spy on the Japanese in World War II, and the Bellarine Peninsula woman was well versed in keeping secrets.
But these services were eventually recognised, with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown sending a medal and certificate to all surviving members of the ASWG in 2009.
Marian is still somewhat guarded about her role in WWII.
“I appreciate my life but understand that others also have interesting lives. I like talking to people because I love to hear their stories.”
After being discharged from the Army in 1946, Marian married Norm Kaufman and settled in Melbourne, raising three sons.
She worked in a nursery and made good use of the Latin names of plants that her father had taught her.
In retirement, Marian and Norm enjoyed more extended country trips for months as well as short visits around Victoria. While visiting friends on the Bellarine Peninsula, Marian and Norm were captivated by the natural beauty of the area: clean air, the wildlife and the plants.
They returned to Melbourne and sold their house, moved to the Bellarine Peninsula and into a friendly community.
Marian and Norm became involved in local activities and founding members of Friends of Edwards Point. She enjoyed working in her own garden, proudly showing me around identifying each plant as we went. She decided that she no longer wanted to drive as she put it, ‘my reactions aren’t as good ‘.
Marian passed away after a short illness at the age of 94.