The Invisible War: The Untold Secret Story of Number One Canadian Special Wireless Group Royal Canadian Signal Corps, 1944-1946


302 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55002-371-3
DDC 940.54'8671






Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


Gil Murray’s reminiscences are among the last round of World War II
memoirs by ordinary soldiers. They are a triumph. The 336 men of 1CSWG
were a unique Canadian signals unit that worked out of Darwin,
Australia, in 1945. The group intercepted coded Japanese radio messages
in the Pacific theatre, secretly decoded them (an Allied intelligence
coup), and sent them, recoded, by radio-teletype to the Central Bureau
in Brisbane. At one point, the unit processed 80,000 groups of messages
a day.

Much of the book is taken up by the journey to the signals base—from
camps on the edge of Victoria and San Francisco, by ship around New
Guinea, through a camp near Brisbane, to the base near Darwin on
Australia’s north coast; then the return trip by truck and train down
the heart of the continent, through Alice Springs and all along the
southern shores in transit camps at the edge of Australia’s great
cities; then by ship back to Vancouver.

Murray has a journalist’s eye and ear for detail, contrasts, and
bizarre incongruity. His depiction of the Australian landscape and
society is worthy of the great contemporary writers on Australia: Robert
Hughes, Bill Bryson, and Clive James. All the while, these passages are
laced with an account of the life of the ordinary signaller: skilled and
highly trained, yet detailed to mind-numbing menial work in a
godforsaken Outback camp, often tired, bored and verminous, always hot
and dirty.

Unusually, Murray has relied on primary sources and histories to
amplify his account and place it in context. However, his investigations
did not extend to an inquiry into the causes of the strikes that, he
repeatedly alleges, plagued the Australian war effort. For all that,
Murray’s memoir is far more than simply a war book. Yet the war came
home to him. On a troopship off New Guinea, he witnessed medical
orderlies escorting American veterans of the jungle war down a mess
line. The description of these soldiers—wounded, sick, emaciated, and
deranged—will stay with the reader for ever.


Murray, Gil., “The Invisible War: The Untold Secret Story of Number One Canadian Special Wireless Group Royal Canadian Signal Corps, 1944-1946,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 28, 2024,