Scottish War Blinded member Marshall Rogers describes secret war against Enigma

Posted: 14/12/2016 | Scottish War Blinded

In this article we resume Scottish War Blinded member Marshall Roger's story, who served as a Special Wireless Operator in the fight against the Enigma code machine during World War II. Read part one

Upon signing the Official Secrets Act, Marshall began his training which included listening to and writing Morse code at faster speeds, attending electricity, magnetism and direction finding lectures as well as lessons in map reading. After eight months of training, Marshall successfully completed the passing out test and qualified as a Special Wireless Operator.

Marshall spent the majority of the war in the Middle East based in Egypt, Palestine, Alexandria and Iraq. His role was to intercept enemy communications which were passed on to the Intelligence Corps who processed the information.

Marshall recalls:

“I wasn’t aware of what we were intercepting as it was going in the ears and coming out through your pencil. The intercepts were usually in blocks of five letters or six figures but they could be a mixture. Although I was aware that I was listening to enemy communications I never really thought about what it could mean.

“Our intercepts we passed on to the Intelligence Corps who were always attached to our units. They had their own code books and have a look at them. Most of the time they would say the intercept was about a change in mess times or a laundry bill, but sometimes the messages held greater significance and were sent to Bletchley Park.”

Many historians agree that winning this secret war against the Germans served to shorten World War II by two and half years, saving over 10 million lives. We asked Marshall about his thoughts on this subject.

“I don’t think it occurred to us at the time that we were doing something which may shorten the war. Of course, we were aware that we were listening to enemy broadcasts but we didn’t actually get to know about the true meaning of messages we had taken down.

“There’s a scene from the film ‘Enigma’ where the main characters are walking through this room full of interceptors and one of them gets up and asks whether the messages they take down are making a difference as all they hear is bleep, bleep, bloody bleep. I think that just about sums it up.”

The declassification of the work carried out by Marshall and the code breakers of Bletchley Park provided the catalyst for the production of films, books and documentaries. We asked Marshall about whether he had received any formal recognition for his work during World War II.

“I think it has always annoyed us, quite a bit, that the code breakers at Bletchley Park got all the kudos. They did a fantastic job and deserved what praise they got, but very few stopped to think where did they get all the messages? The answer was highly trained Special Wireless Operators like ourselves. We did receive a special certificate of thanks from the Prime Minister and a badge inscribed ‘Bletchley Park and its out stations’. I think most of us would have liked to have received a campaign medal to wear but sadly it was not to be.”

Marshall first encountered early indications of sight loss in 1979, who received a diagnosis of Glaucoma a short time after. Despite the diagnosis, Marshall continued to live independently for many years, but contacted Scottish War Blinded as a result of further deterioration of his sight and joined as a member in late 2015.

 “It’s been great so far, I would say the main thing is not really tangible as it is knowing that Carole (Outreach Worker) as well as this huge organisation is fully behind me. Specialist equipment has been a huge help, particularly anti-glare glasses and electronic magnifiers. I hadn’t been able to read official letters, invoices, credit card statements and Tesco online bills for a long time and now my electronic magnifier has made that possible once again. I also enjoy attending Scottish War Blinded’s monthly social group at Rosendael where I have met fellow visually impaired veterans in the local area.”

Did you know Scottish War Blinded provides free support to veterans living with sight loss, no matter when or how it occurred? For further information, please call 0800 035 6409.