REAL LIFE

Anzac Heroes: The Garage Girls

The gusty Garage Girls were Aussie WWII codebreakers who helped win the war
  • The Garage Girls were Australia’s very own codebreakers during WWII
  • They found friendship and love during their time intercepting enemy codes.
  • Their brave work helped to shorten and win the war.
  • Author Alli Sinclair, 54, was so moved by their story she wrote a novel about it.

Here Alli shares her story about the Garage Girls.

Scrolling through an article about World War II, I noticed a tiny section about the Central Bureau.

A joint US-Australian signal intelligence organisation based in Brisbane, it was where a group of gutsy female code breakers known as the Garage Girls worked.

An author, I loved writing about women defying expectations. 

I had no idea that Australia had its very own code breakers and how significant they’d been in ending the war. 

Fascinated, in 2017, I began to research the Central Bureau and these amazing women tasked with decrypting intercepted messages from the Imperial Japanese Army.

Why has no-one told these incredible women’s stories? I wondered.

I discovered the Garage Girls worked out the back of Nyrambla, a mansion in leafy suburban Ascot, Brisbane. Based in the hot garage, giving them their name, they worked on 12 TypeX cipher machines – adapted from the German Enigma code machines – sending and receiving encrypted communications.

Finding out some of the Garage Girls were still alive, I couldn’t wait to get in touch with them. Meeting Coral Hinds that year, I loved her instantly. She was so humble and warm.

‘I’m so proud of what we did,’ she told me.

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Nyrambla mansion , Ascot, Brisbane where the Garage Girls worked (Credit: State Library Queensland)

‘They couldn’t tell a soul about their top secret work.’

Coral explained how she’d left school at 14 and was working in a cake shop before she signed up to the Australian Women’s Army Service at 18.

After training at Ingleburn Army base she was transferred to Bonegilla near the Victoria-NSW border for a signals course, learning Morse code and wireless messaging. Posted to the Central Bureau, she and the more than 30 Garage Girls couldn’t tell a soul about their top secret work.

The Garage Girls worked on deciphering Japanese signals and encoded Australian war secrets.

Coral explained they slept in barracks and were transferred by army van to the garage. The girls sang along to the radio on the way. It struck me how young they all were. Living and working in such close quarters, they became as thick as thieves.

Coral and fellow Garage Girl Joyce Grace became lifelong friends.

Joyce was 19 and working in a haberdashery shop when she signed up to the army and became a Garage Girl.

‘It was our secret machine,’ Joyce told me of the special coding machines they used.

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Garage Girls Coral Hinds and Joyce Grace (Credit: supplied)

‘I’m so proud of what we did.’

When Coral met signaller Sandy Hinds at the Central Bureau in May 1944, she was taken with his gentleness. As she told me about him, more than 60 years on, she was still starry eyed. After two dates Sandy was posted to New Guinea. But they kept in touch through love letters.

In October 1944, Coral received a special letter from Sandy. She proudly told the Garage Girls that Sandy had proposed. 

When Coral became ill and was admitted to hospital, the Garage Girls found a way to get a message to Sandy in the jungle, using their coding machine.

‘I made it short, but it was just to let Sandy know that Coral was doing alright,’ Joyce said.

As the war raged on in the South Pacific, the intelligence decoded by the Garage Girls was used in planning Operation Vengeance, the successful shooting down of Japanese naval chief Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – architect of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack – by the US military in April 1943.

It’s been said that the work of the Garage Girls helped shorten the war by two years.

After the war, Coral settled into family life.

She reunited with her beloved Sandy when he returned, and they married in June 1945. They were together for 62 happy years until he died in 2007, aged 85.

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Coral and Sandy Hinds on their wedding day (Credit: supplied)

‘They kept in touch through love letters. ‘

It was years before the Garage Girls could tell astonished loved ones the incredible part they’d played in the war.

Desperate to bring their story to life, I wrote my historical novel The Codebreakers in 2022, based on their work.

When Joyce and Coral read it, I bit my nails hoping I’d done them justice

‘It’s wonderful,’ Coral said, as I sighed in relief.

To my joy, in January 2023, the surviving Garage Girls, Joyce Grace, Coral Hinds and Ailsa Hale, were awarded the Australian Intelligence Medal for their important work.

I was so sad when Coral passed away the following month, on February 10. She was 98, leaving behind four children, 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren  

I went with Joyce, then 100, and Coral’s son Anthony to watch them receive the award.

I cried for what these inspiring women did for our country.

I feel so lucky to have spread the word about these incredible women.

Now I’m producing a documentary on them and Allied women in signals intelligence, called Red Lipstick Intelligence.

Their tireless work saved so many lives. I hope they will never be forgotten.

‘The Codebreakers’ by Alli Sinclair is available now. 

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Alli Sinclair and Coral Hinds with book The Codebreakers (Credit: supplied)

‘Their tireless work saved so many lives.’

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Joyce Grace with her award (Credit: supplied)

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