NEW ZEALAND MOUNTED RIFLES
Communications

An impressive array of signals equipment from a NZMR members collection, including signal lamps, morse keys, field telephones, telescopes, semaphore flags, watches and the all important signals tablets for use in conjunction with the "Playfair Cypher". The 25 square griddle used by ANZAC troops during the Great War.
On the left assistant instructor of signals Trooper Mackay of the 11th North Auckland Mounted Rifles wears the chevrons of three years service, this image computer colourised from an original 1918 photograph
.

Trooper 16250 Thomas Etheridge Alexander Mackay was a school master before he departed New Zealand with the 14th Reinforcements Mounted Rifles Signals section on S.S. Waihora, 10th July 1916. He was later wounded in Palestine 3rd April 1918 (C. G. Nicol, The Story of Two Campaigns: page 262)
Tom enlisted with his brother Trooper William Aeneas Morrison MacKay the same day. His brother's registration being 16249. Both men were accepted for the Mounted Rifles and then the Mounted Rifles Signal Section, departing the same day for the front. Both men survived the war.

Either Tom or William is the trooper shown in photographs in the "Fred Foote Collection" HERE

SITE MAP


New Zealand Signal Corps badge




Will's Cigarette collectors card of WWI above depicts the heroic actions of New Zealander.
Corporal Cyril Royston Guyton Bassett
He was awarded the highest honour : The Victoria Cross.
“For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on the Chunuk Bair ridge in the Gallipoli Peninsula on the 7th August, 1915."











New Zealand Post and Telegraph Corps


Signals
by Steve Butler

In the beginning.
The fighting prowess of a standing army is one necessity of being victorious in the time of war.  Just as important is the ability of that army to gather and report intelligence of the enemy movements across the battlefield.  Many times throughout history a superior numbered force has been defeated by an inferior one, due not to the fighting skills of one army, but by quick precise information being given to the commander in the field.
The Latin proverb: Praemonitus, praemunitus “forewarned is forearmed” stretches across the centuries, and is as relevant today as it has always been.
In 1200 BC Homer wrote of signal fires in his Iliad.  This was a very limited way of sending a message, when lit the beacon could only pass a single prearranged message.  However signal fires were still a successful means of communication, and as late as 1588 AD – The visual line of burning beacons down the Cornish coast quickly announced the arrival of the Spanish Armada to Sir Francis Drake waiting with his rested fleet in Plymouth.
To pass intelligence reports back and forth by word of mouth or by runner is as old as warfare itself, however the first recorded use of message passing over distance without human contact was noted in 405 BC when ancient Greek soldiers used polished shields to reflect sunlight signals from one command post to another.  This development was important in the use of communication, as these flashes of sunlight were not single message commands, like the earlier signal fires, as varying the number of flashes, an array of different messages were able to be passed.

The next great leap forward in signals did not take place until 1792 when the two Chappe brothers introduced semaphore towers to a delighted French nation.  The brothers had first invented a system of visual signals while still in their teens, and could send messages to each other by setting the arms on a beam to positions relating to letters of the alphabet. By pulling two handles connected to the beam and adjoining arms, signals could be quickly sent between the two men.  The first line of semaphore towers was erected between Paris and Lille a distance of 230 kilometers.  It was used to carry dispatches for the war between France and Austria. In 1794, it brought news of a French capture of Condé-sur-l'Escaut from the Austrians less than an hour after it occurred. The first symbol of a message to Lille would pass through 15 stations in only nine minutes. The speed of the line varied with rain or overcast weather conditions, but the line to Lille typically transferred 36 symbols, a complete message, in about 32 minutes. In contrast a series of courier riders would take 30 hours to deliver a dispatch by hand over this distance. 
Attempts to fix lights to the arms and beams to signal messages through the night proved a failure.  Later, Napoleon Bonaparte carried a portable semaphore with his headquarters. This allowed him to coordinate forces and logistics over longer distances than any other army of his time.


Chappe Semaphore Towers 1790-1850
invented by French brothers.


Attention grabber: The call sign "CQ" - the military Morse
abbreviation for a call to "All Stations" is flashed out by
Heliograph across the desert terrain.
Morse code letters: (C:) ─ • ─ • (Q:) ─ ─ • ─
On the other side of the Atlantic, Congress not wanting to be left behind with the rapidly growing semaphore tower systems growing across Europe, was asked to fund a semaphore tower system to cross the continent of the United States.  However before such funds came to hand Samuel Morse invented both the electric telegraph and Morse code.  This new invention carried its first message in 1844, making the semaphore tower obsolete.  The new “Morse Code” had other applications besides sending electric pulses along a telegraph cable.

 

The Signallers of the Mounted Rifles.
The code was quickly applied to Helios signal Lamps and Aldus Lamps.
The Heliograph was a direct descendant of the ancient Greek polished shield, the instrument made use of reflecting sunlight through two adjustable mirrors, and by means of a shutter blind the operator could open and close the blind to transmit the Morse Code flashes to another post up to fifty kilometers away.  The first Heliograph was invented by Sir Henry Mance while stationed with the British Army in India in 1877, it weighed seven pounds and was easily transported.  The New Zealanders of the Mounted Rifles in South Africa used the Heliograph for communication during the “Boer War” with great success.
At the start of World War One Marconi’s Radio had only been transmitting for thirteen years, and as recent as 1906 Lee De Forrest’s glass vacuum tube finally allowed antenna reception but these revolutionary developments still left radio as heavy cumbersome units not capable of being carried by fighting troops in the field.


NZMR Signals Officer Lieutanant Hall. This battered photograph from the collection of Trooper Jack Currie WMR.
The signallers of the Mounted Rifles were restricted to semaphore flags, field telephones, the Heliograph and with the production of better portable batteries and pedal generators a Mr A.C.W. Aldis  had invented the electric version of the Heliograph - the Aldis Lamp, which used a 12 volt focused electric bulb.
The catch cry of the signaller was “Helio by day – Aldis by night”.
The trouble with such forms of visual communication, was that the message became insecure when the enemy could see your transmissions as well.  Also it was especially dangerous to send signals in the front line conditions of trench warfare experienced on the Western Front and Gallipoli – snipers were always at hand.  For the Mounted Rifles in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns the occupation was less dangerous over great distances but the use of field telephones and their cumbersome wiring was often prohibitive with such mobile actions that took place in the desert.
The Heliograph was more secure as it could be focused in one direction and this restricted the ability of the enemy to view the message – obviously such signals when seen gave away a signaller’s position also.
The troops could not afford to send messages in “clear” and the use and adoption of cyphers was a necessity.  New Zealand Government records show that the New Zealand Navy had used coded radio and lamp messages since the outbreak of the war.
"Admiralty to Britannia Wellington. Commence hostilities at once with Germany in accordance with War Standing Orders." This is from an entry in the cypher log of HMS Philomel dated 5 August 1914.  Further records show that codebreakers were at work on both sides as Philomel is told: “that Cypher G and Cypher M had been compromised and that telegrams received by landline in these cyphers were to be recorded in Code C before transmission by Wireless Telegraphy.”

Photograph Right:

Alfred comments on the back of the photograph:
" Arthur Boswell and I taken out on the beach outside Alex while on a two days signalling stint. I think you know that bloke's brother-in-law. Chipman is his name. We were working there with a heliograph and telescope."
Alfred survives the Great War returning to New Zealand to become a regular soldier, serving as a Warrent Officer (WOI) during WWII. Alfred died in service as WOII in 1953.



NZMR Signallers, Heilograph and Telescope.
Troopers 43716 Alfred Bines (standing) and Arthur Boswell pose for this photograph to send home in 1916.

Philomel escorted the Mounted Rifles from New Zealand, and her records show that she regularly sent and received messages from the NZMR troop transports coded in “Playfair” cypher.  Playfair was to become the standard code for ANZAC and British Troops during the Middle East campaigns.
The Playfair Cypher was probably first shown in 1854, and championed by Baron Lyon Playfair and was used by the British Forces during the Boer War.  Playfair Cypher uses a 5 by 5 square grid, in which the letters of an agreed key word or phrase are entered (suppressing duplicates), followed by the rest of the alphabet in order. I and J would usually be combined together.
The message to be enciphered is split into pairs of letters. If the two letters in the pair are in the same row, the letters to the right of each are used. If they are in the same column, the letters below each are used. Otherwise, the letters at the opposite corners of the rectangle are used.
Sounds complicated, but in practice easily used by skilled signallers in the field.  However when Lyon Playfair was presenting the outline of the cipher to the British Foreign Office they were not impressed, and said it was too complicated.  Lyon Playfair replied that if he was given three out of four school boys from the local school he could teach them the Playfair Cipher in fifteen minutes.
Famously the reply from the Under Secretary of the Foreign Office was, "That is very possible, but you could never teach it to attachés."
C
H
A
Y
T
The Playfair Cypher was created by introducing a prearranged 'Keyword' into the 5 x 5 grid. In this example the keyword is: Chaytorforce. There are a few rules which have to be followed before the keyword can be placed on the grid. First, no letter in the keyword may be placed more than once. Second, in the case of the this code, the letter 'Q' is dropped altogether from the grid.. (Alternatively in some formats the 'Q' may be retained and the 'J' is the letter dropped).
Third, once the abbreviated keyword is entered the remainder of the alphabet is added making sure no repetition of the keyword letters are included.
O
R
F
E
B
D
G
I
J
K
L
M
N
P
S
U
V
W
X
Z
Playfair grid laid out for the keyword "Chaytorforce"

W
A
I
K
T

The ease of applying a code is obvious when the grid is changed for the following day. Here the keyword is: 'Waikato rifles', two words, but easily remembered by New Zealanders.
Next was to apply the message to the grid set. This was done by 'Pairing' the letters of the message (This gave the message more security).
Message always in capital letters, no punctuation.

So a simple sample message:
"Move to blue"
would lay out as:
MO VE TO BL UE
Then apply the following four rules below.
message encrypted reads:
HFZRWEDRZO

O
R
F
L
E
S
B
C
D
G
H
J
M
N
P
U
V
X
Y
Z
Playfair grid laid out for the keyword "Waikato Rifles "
  • If both letters are the same (or only one letter is left), add an "X" after the first letter. Encrypt the new pair and continue. This will of course move one of the messages double letters into a next pairing.
  • If the letters appear on the same row of your table, replace them with the letters to their immediate right respectively (wrapping around to the left side of the row if a letter in the original pair is on the right side of the row). see figure 1 below
  • If the letters appear on the same column of your table, replace them with the letters immediately below respectively (wrapping around to the top side of the column if a letter in the original pair is on the bottom of the column). see figure 2 below
  • If the letters are not on the same row or column, replace them with the letters on the same row respectively but at the other pair of corners of the rectangle defined by the original pair. The order is important – the first encrypted letter of the pair is the one that lies on the same row as the first plaintext letter. see figure 3 below
Therefore the three possible variations for encrypting the sample pairing of - 'NZ' are:
             
N
     
N
 
O
N
L
Z
S
   
A
     
           
     
           
Z
     
           
Y
     
S
 
Z
1. NZ = > LS   2. NZ = > AY   3. NZ = > OS


To decrypt, use the inverse of these 4 rules (dropping any extra "X"s that don't make sense in the final message when you finish).

Note: Playfair Cypher was able to be decoded by cryptologist early in the war and newer ciphers were developed for diplomatic and international communication, however Playfair was invaluable on the battlefield, by the time a cryptologist could decipher the information was out of date and of little use.  Playfair Cypher can be sometimes decoded by a modern PC in seconds without the operator knowing the keyword, however the rule of thumb is the longer the message the easier it is for the computer programme to decipher the code - a short message is still a difficult task.   Playfair is still used today in compiling and solving some cryptic crossword puzzles.