Family History, Social Life

A Coded Letter

Have a go at reading this:

mundae, twentee somethinth

Hull O Emilee

            seamza norfl thyme cinse eye roat u anoat o g sew ispoz ibeta skribl a phew lions tew yew.

nuthn 2 repoart frum thiz peart ov tha wurld. eye havnbean upta n-e moore stuntz latle, justa bitter foan ontha 4T durin weekenz wit tha ole mobb. tha ole vois-bocks gozta potte quight phrequentle, sew wea doo knot dew mutsch phoan latle. i maid thet linun coan speeca az shoanin why-a-les weaklie a phew weaksbak & itza bitter orlwrite, beswon ieva herd & itl doo mea untl icn geta dienamik speeca.

soree 2 heer ov yoar trubl wid thablinkn bee bateree butt hoap yew gotta propa charja fourit & doo knotte pae 3 & sicks evree thyme u wanit dunne. sa tel ur Mutha eye offn thingk ov hur wen im putn tha gudoil onyha raydeeatore. yss eye putsum onut the smorn-in az wee adsum reign larz knight.

adder phlat tya tda an phounda litl thingameejigge intha cuva lik thisere T. wunda wotit woz? air-rick azgottha lizee goin gudo, E gavit a kompleet ovahoarl.

alph an eye wenfoura spinne owttha pleign ontha tchazzie totha da. sheshore kan pul neaow, itwuz sum bugee ryd bee-leev mee!

mista an misiz lee-oh aryvd safleigh. shee iza verie niz yung ladee absalootlee ok an therz greight joie intha kamp az yew mite ges.

eyeam snndn a kutin owta thapapa given d-tales ova nutha cuppl kontemplatn tha fatl plundgz. high high!

thafamlee r tawkn abowt kampn atevns hed 4 xmus, oap ut dozen reign, woodenit beea fare kow? doant thingk eyell botha tacn n-e raydeeoh deceva, havnt maid thapoartabl yeti wuztorkn abowt. awl tawk ae watt?

avnt n e moore nuz hear & karnt thingk upp n e firtha wotte to wright neaow m sew tchee re o an bsst ate ate etsetra

frm bil

tewzde mawnin. jes gotta nutha leta fm yew tnx veree o g. know, eye hav knotte bean sic latle, onee laisee. sa wie mite arsque yore par oar mar 2 inspektt a 10 T 4 uz inn tha sitee, butt ef sew, wil wright ina phew daz.

Intrigued? So was I when June Keech showed me the letter in August 2015. Brian tells me Emily was June’s aunt and they discovered her letter among her papers when she died.

I’m wondering if this was Bill’s own invention of a code or whether It was a bit of a craze at that time. I do know that boys especially, get drawn into coded writing. However, nothing like this turned up on a google search. So if you have any insight, do post it on the website.

Here’s my translation:


Hello Emily

Seems an awful time since I wrote you a note oh gee so I suppose I better scribble a few lines to you.

Nothing to report from this part of the world. I haven’t been up to any more stunts lately, just a bit of phone on the forty during weekends with the old mob. The old voice-box goes to potty quite frequently, so we do not do much phone lately. I made that linen cone speaker as shown in Wireless Weekly a few weeks back and it’s a bit of all right, best one I’ve heard and it’ll do me until I can get a dynamic speaker.

Sorry to hear of your trouble with the blinking b battery but hope you got a proper charger for it and do not pay three and six every time you want it done. So tell your mother I often think of her when I am putting the good oil on the radiator. Yes I put some on it this morning as we had some rain last night.

Had a flat tyre today and found a little thingamajig in the cover like this here T. Wonder what it was? Eric has got the Lizzie going goodo. He gave it a complete overhaul.

Alf and I went for a spin out the plain on the chassis the other day. She sure can pull now, it was some boogie ride believe me!

Mr and Mrs Leo arrived safely. She is a very nice young lady absolutely ok and there is great joy in the camp as you might guess.

I am sending a cute one out of the paper giving details of another couple contemplating the fatal plunge. Hey Hey!

The family are talking about camping at Evans Head for Xmas, hope it doesn’t rain, wouldn’t it be a fair cow? Don’t think I’ll bother taking any radio deceiver, haven’t made the portable yet I was talking about. All talk or what?

Haven’t any more news here and can’t think up any further what to write now Em. So cheerio and best eighty eight etc.

From Bill

Tuesday Morning. Just got another letter from you thanks very oh gee. No I have not been sick lately, only lazy. So we might ask your Pa or Ma to inspect a tent for us in the city, but if so, will write in a few days.

Address on Envelope:
Miss Clayton
Box 93
Kyogle NSW

One of the things I love about old letters is the language that plants them in the past. Things like “the blinking b battery”, “thingamajig”, “going goodo”, “oh gee”, “a fair cow”, “cheerio”, “the old mob”. And of course old money. How many of you can count out three and six in the palm of your hand? Obviously a pretty steep amount at that time, to get your battery charged at the local servo.

Bill intrigued me. He’s out to impress. A daredevil, hooning around a paddock on his car; a lover of puns; and a pretty smart letter-writer. Lizzie at least gave me a clue to the time-frame of the letter. As you probably know Tin Lizzie was the nickname of the Ford Model T, produced in Australia between 1908 to 1927. According to the Museum of Applied Arts and Science, a quarter of a million were sold here. It was so popular because it was affordable, light-weight and cheap. Apparently they were imported as knock-down kits and assembled by local dealers. Then a dealer or his assistant spent up to a week on someone’s property teaching the new owner to drive. No wonder it was dubbed the “Squattor’s Joy”.

You’d wonder why Bill would write to his girl in code. After all there’s nothing to hide in the letter. Is he just showing off? Just like he loves pulling off stunts. But then again I wonder if she replied in code. Brian thought it might have something to do with an over-protective father who didn’t want any young man messing with his daughter.

There is certainly a serious and innovative side to Bill. He is deeply into ham radios, very pleased with his DIY linen cone speaker, intending to make a portable receiver, and experimenting with his radio – at weekends on a forty-acre paddock on his parent’s property. Brian tells me that Emily was interested in ham radios too. This gave me another clue to the time-frame. Wireless telegraphy was a burgeoning hobby at the beginning of the twentieth century but the Wireless Weekly was not published till 1922. Moreover, dynamic speakers, still the most common type of speaker today, weren’t invented till 1924.

All I know about Kyogle is that I once played basketball there as a thirteen-year-old. It’s up in northern NSW near enough to Casino and Grafton. Brian told me that Emily’s father worked with the railways and had something to do with bridge construction. Between 1926 and 1930 the Kyogle to South Brisbane railway was built, providing a standard-guage line between Sydney and Brisbane, decreasing the railway mileage between those two capitals from 725 to 608; and decreasing the travel time by five hours. There among the 1200 employees, I discovered Joseph Edward Clayton, foreman in charge of bridges.

I decided to search for Emily Clayton at Kyogle on Trove, and then in the NSW BDMs, hoping to find that this little relationship ended in marriage. Bill, there is no doubt, was interested in a happy ending, with his reflections on newly wedded or intended wedded couples and his sucking up to the mother. But there was no Clayton marriage at that time in that town. Mind you I wonder how Emily reacted to Bill’s closing reference to Hitler, and did she understand it. Eighty-eight was the abbreviation for the Nazi salute Heil Hitler, the letter H being the eighth letter in the alphabet. Then again Hitler had not achieved monster-status by then and Bill was probably just being clever.

Brian informed me June’s Aunt Emily didn’t marry and her family eventually ended up at “The Cedars” between Kingswood and St Mary’s. The first news article that comes up is of Emily and her father being attacked by a bull in August 1941, both receiving fractures and other injuries, and Joseph ending up in hospital. They went on to run the successful bull stud “Cedella” and were involved in agricultural shows and field days. Lily Maud died in 1952 and Joseph in 1963. Emily Isabella continued to run the stud, finally dying in Rylstone Hospital on 11 July 1997.

So there you are – a coded piece of historical trivia that unveils life in the twentieth century, and our desire to know more.

19 thoughts on “A Coded Letter”

  1. Never seen a letter written in code.My grandfather lived in Kandos and was a builder born at Patricks Plains lived in Mudgee camed to Kandos 1917.He built the Lue Pub and Thompson’s general store.PAULINE Branley.


  2. What a great story, so full of clues to lure history enthusiasts like me! The best I can find is that 88 is used by amateur radio operators to mean “hugs and kisses”. So nothing to do with Hitler in this instance. Emily was born at St Leonards in 1904, her parents had married in 1903 at St Matthews, Manly, NSW. Emily’s and Bill’s families obviously knew each other, because of the tent reference. From electoral rolls, Emily did not have any paid job e.g. teacher – she was always listed as “home duties” and living with her family over the decades. I did wonder if she and Bill were cousins rather than sweethearts, they seem more pals than lovers. If only we knew Bill’s surname!


  3. PS: Gordon LEU of Casino married Lila Florence Hoffman of Kyogle 13 June 1936, Lila being described in local newspaper as ‘one of Kyogle’s smartest girls’. If this couple are Bill’s ‘Mr and Mrs Leo’, that could date Bill’s letter to 1936. According to electoral rolls, Emily was then living with her family at St Mary’s in Sydney, having moved back from Kyogle sometime after 1930.


  4. More yet! Wireless Weekly has a 3-page illustrated article on how to build a linen ‘Super Cone Speaker’, dated 14 November 1930. (There was no similar article for 1936). Also, in late September 1930 a Kyogle newspaper mentions a Mr. Leo Nunn, popular local tennis player, would soon wed Miss Joyce Weston in Sydney then tour for some weeks (in his Chevrolet motor car) before returning to Kyogle where he was a jeweller and insurance agent. So, that is another possibility for “Mr and Mrs Leo”. This would now date Bill’s letter to early December 1930. Emily and her family I think had recently moved down to Consul Road, Brookvale, where in September 1930 her father had advertised in the SMH as needing an electrician to wire up a cottage. I have no explanation for the phonetic ‘code’ of Bill’s letter, nor can I work out who he was!


      1. Done mostly with Trove, no sign to me in Capertee Valley that it was down? I was delighted to find I could access Wireless Weekly in Trove, hadn’t known I could :-). Plus a bit of Ancestry for electoral rolls. I doubt I will ever find Bill though, can’t think of where to look next. Tried combining (Bill Alf Eric Kyogle) in Trove, thinking they might be brothers, no joy there. Found a W.G.K. of West Kyogle who wrote a letter to Wireless Weekly 5 Aug 1927 (about a wireless receiver), electoral roll showed William George Keen of West Kyogle, but later references show that he was known by his middle name of George, what a let down!

        Emily had several younger sisters, one (Ellinor) turns up still at school in Kyogle, Dec 1928, won a prize for conduct & progress, and two more mentions for P&C children’s fancy dress dances, July 1929 and 1 July 1930. The family must have left Kyogle soon after that, I’m thinking.




  5. Bill’s letter is littered with clues, if only we could decipher them all! The letter is dated ‘Kyogle, Monday 20-something’. My current bet is Monday 24 November 1930 (based on that 1930 Wireless Weekly article for a linen cone speaker dated 14 November which would have been issued on 10 November, hence ‘a few weeks ago’ and giving Bill enough time to have made the speaker before he wrote to Emily).

    Car ownership in 1930 was 1 car per 11 people, so typically there would be one vehicle for every two family groups. I’m thinking Bill’s parents have recently bought a second-hand Ford vehicle for the family, and now that it is ‘going goodo’ after ‘Eric had given it a complete overhaul’, they are thinking of ‘camping at Evans Heads for Xmas’, likely going in the car, with the family, and maybe soon buying a second-hand tent. Bill’s family are not poor, but they are not rich either. They are educated, they read papers and journals and have some connection to the social doings of the town (‘Mr and Mrs Leo’). Bill can’t afford a dynamic speaker, and his family can’t afford a new car. What work does Bill do? And do his parents really have a 40 acre farm? Who will look after the farm while they are away, especially if it’s a dairy farm?

    It seemed possible that Alf, Eric and Bill were brothers. I searched Kyogle electoral rolls for 1930 and 1935, looking for an Alfred, Eric and William all with the same surname, but found nothing. Kyogle had a population between 3 & 4 thousand people of voting age. There were maybe a dozen of each for the names ‘Alfred’ and ‘Eric’ in all of Kyogle, but there were lots of Williams. Eric must have had a good knowledge of motor cars to have done that ‘complete overhaul’. Is he a local mechanic in Kyogle? Or a farm worker on Bill’s parent’s property? Is Alf a friend or neighbour?

    Bill in his letter had enclosed an article for Emily (‘I am sending a cute one out of the paper giving details of another couple contemplating the fatal plunge’), this ties in nicely with a long account of a happy kitchen tea being held at the Methodist hall for a young lady who will soon marry the local constable, article dated Friday 21 November, just before Bill wrote the letter.

    As for Emily, in November 1930 she is living in Brookvale with her family, having recently moved back there from Kyogle. Emily had two younger sisters, one (Ellinor) turns up in the local Kyogle newspaper still at school in Kyogle, 14 Dec 1928 (won a prize for conduct & progress), and there are two more mentions for P&C children’s fancy dress dances, July 1929 and 1 July 1930. The family must have left Kyogle soon after that, I’m thinking. Emily is eager to keep up to date with the local Kyogle goss, and her good friend Bill is happy to oblige.

    From the clues in Bill’s letter, I don’t think I can ever find out who he was, but it has been fun trying!


    1. Vicki you are absolutely amazing. I will know where to go next time I am stumped. I hope you are putting together a history of the Capertee Valley. Please stay in touch. Have we met up? Over the next six months I will be spending a lot of time in Sydney but later in the year I would love to get together and find out where history is taking you.


      1. No I don’t think we have met. My effort for Capertee Valley is twenty short stories “People of Capertee Valley, stories from the 1800s”. I’ve done some other local histories over the years, and family history too of course.

        I am having an exhibition at Gallery 47 in Rylstone, opening on Saturday 7 March, 4-6 pm, if you’d like to come. It runs till 23rd March. I am co-exhibiting with Anne Smith (ceramics). Mine are prints of iPad paintings, local scenes and buildings. One work is Mrs Kearins’ Store and I was happy to find much information about her on your wonderful Kandos History site!


      2. sorry Vicki I have been distracted lately and just saw your comment. Will check Gallery 47 in the next day or so. Glad you are putting together Capertee Valley history.


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