BOOK CLUB: The Codebreakers

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The Codebreakers written by Alli Sinclair is one of our March book club reads, and the dedication in the front of the book truly says it all:

“For the women and men of the Central Bureau and all Allied signals intelligence departments and outposts. Their Strength Lay in Silence “

The book is historical fiction, extensively researched by Alli Sinclair and based on true events during World War 2 in Australia.

Brisbane 1943: Ellie O’Sullivan is an engineer for Qantas Empire Airways. She services the planes which fly to New Guinea to drop medical supplies and food to the Allied troops. She loves her job.

Her logic and intelligence attract the attention of the Central Bureau, an intelligence organisation working with England’s Bletchley Park Codebreakers.

Ellie reluctantly takes the skills test, naturally, she passes, and is asked to “come and work with us”. Should she take this new position when she doesn’t even know who “us” is? Her friend Florry convinces her to join and with the signing of a lifelong contract, her journey of “secrets and lies” begins.

Ellie moves from Mrs. Hanley’s boarding house to the 67AWAS barracks. She isn’t allowed to give any explanation to her friends about her new job or why she has moved.

A close bond of friendship forms amongst the girls, known as the “Garage Girls”. They work out of a garage behind a normal house in the suburbs of Brisbane, decoding enemy messages.

Trouble arises when one of them is suspected of being a traitor. Ellie’s life is certainly not dull.

Ellie’s brother died in France and his best friend Louis has stayed in contact.  Ellie meets many new friends, and finds love, but will her love last during wartime?

What will happen after the war for Ellie and her friends? After having an exciting job, what employment will be available for them once the men return?

The book cleverly concludes in Charleville 2009, with Ellie at 88 years of age.

This is a must-read book. It is a story of the contribution of Australian women during World War 2. It is a story of friendship, love, loss. And finally, recognition of their service due to the release of their “secrets and lies”.

I give this book 5 stars, a fantastic read.

ISBN: 9781489296931 / Imprint: Mira AU

A selection of our members are reading The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair. You can read their reviews below, or add your own.

13 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Codebreakers

  1. The Codebreakers
    Another riveting read by Alli Sinclair. Love historical fiction and this story does not disappoint.
    Elle Sullivan a country girl from Longreach has big dreams for a woman in the 1940s in Australia. It is WWII and she is working in a mans job undertaking engineering work on planes for QANTAS Empire Airways , which deliver supplies to servicemen overseas. Her exceptional skills and intelligence are noticed and she is recruited to the Central Bureau, an intelligence agency linked with England’s Bletchley Park Codebreakers. Elle becomes one of the ‘Garage Girls’ deciphering communications in the war effort. Elle has signed the Official Secrets Act which means she can tell no one about her work and she sometimes struggles with keeping secrets from her family, friends and her boyfriend . The Codebreakers form a close bond but working in a mans world is not always easy. They live together and share their hopes, dreams and romances. The work is vital to the war effort but they are not officially recognised for what they do and when the war is over they are expected to return to the life of a 1940’s woman. Elle struggles with this expectation and becomes determined to live out her dreams.
    There is so much to love in this book – the friendship of women united to a cause, the determination to live out a dream despite pressure to conform to society’s expectation, the unrecognised role that women played in the war effort, life in Australia during WWII and the unspoken effects of the war on both men and women.
    As a daughter of a war veteran communications officer who was in a number of war zones I found the research in the book of the work undertaken by these women fascinating. A truly enthralling read.

  2. The Codebreakers
    Set in Brisbane in 1943, this book was inspired by the real codebreaking women of Australia’s top secret Central Bureau in WWII. It follows the story of Ellie O’Sullivan, who’s logic and intergrity, allow her to become part of the Central Bureau team.
    By becoming a codebreaker she signs a lifelong agreement to never tell anyone about what she does. This becomes difficult at times but Ellie is a strong woman.
    I found the research for this book amazing. There were so many details involved that really made this story.
    I loved this book and have heard of the books from Alli Sinclair but am yet to read them. Now I really want to. I also loved that as I am from the area it is set I could relate to it.
    I could rave on all day about this book as it was brilliant but all I can say is read it for yourself.
    Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Mira
    for this copy to read and review.

  3. The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair, is a fictional story based on historical facts.

    Ellie O’Sullivan is contributing to the war effort working as an engineer for Qantas, and her problem solving skills and integrity see her being approached by Central bureau, an organisation connected with Bletchley Park codebreakers.

    She is not permitted to discuss her job with anyone outside the organisation for the whole of her life. The story covers the bond developed between her workmates, and the difficulties in keeping facts from friends outside work.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this story, because it is based on fact. Ellie and her workmates were performing a vital job during the war, but could not be recognised for it. Ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs.

    Thanks to Harper Collins and Beauty and Lace for the chance to read and review.

  4. Thank you Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to review The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair.

    The Codebreakers is an Australian historical fiction book set in Brisbane in 1943. Elanora [Ellie] O’Sullivan is an engineer at Qantas Empire Airways. Her job entails allied planes being kept in the sky so they can transport supplies to troops in New Guinea.

    She is approached by Lieutenant Andrews of Central Bureau and her life is instantly changed. As Ellie has signed the Official Secrets Act she can’t tell anybody about her job, not even her family.

    I really enjoyed this book as it was a page turner for me. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone.

  5. It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn through novels, and how fabulous that is! I knew about the Bletchley Park codebreakers in England, but I never knew about Australia’s ‘Central Bureau’ in Queensland, with the ‘Garage Girls’ who essentially did the same work as the women in Bletchley Park – and in fact often liaised with them. How astonishing, and what a wonderful way to discover these unsung code-breaking heroines. They had to keep so many secrets for so long, and no-one knew everything they had done for the war effort – which led to shortening the war by approximately two years! How astonishing! Fancy doing something so intense for so long, heroines all, and brushing it under the carpet as ‘paper work’. I’m so glad they finally got recognised for their amazing work, and now don’t have to keep it secret any longer.

    This book, based on said real events, is a knockout. I couldn’t put it down, fascinated by the individual stories Alli Sinclair was weaving. She puts the human side of things to the cold, hard facts, the terrifying ups and downs these tremendous women (and men) had during WWII.

    In particular Elli O’Sullivan is a wonderful character. One of the code-breaking ‘Garage Women’, she was first skilled as an aircraft engineer, keeping aircraft in tip-top shape for their missions in New Guinea. She can understand Morse Code, is an innovative thinker – all of which makes her the perfect person to cope when she starts work at Central Bureau. She also becomes a ground-breaking ‘first’ in aviation at the end of the book.

    But it’s the ups and downs of Ellie and all the girls, their loves and their losses, which help to centre the book and make it come alive and personal, and give the reader a glimpse of their world against the background of WWII in Australia.

    Thankyou Alli Sinclair for this great book. What a read!

  6. All I can say is wow!

    The Codebreakers by Alli Sinclair is an enticing novel about decrypting and encrypting code during World War II. Ellie O’Sullivan works with a group of highly skilled women who are willing to help their country win the war. Compelled to keeping their secretive work private, even from their loved ones, they find out just how difficult it is to lead double lives to avoid being labelled as traitors and landing themselves in jail.

    Set in Brisbane 1943, this Australian historical fiction novel is well written and well researched with plenty of lovable characters. This is a fascinating story about loyalty and friendships amid the harsh and sad reality of war.

    I never really thought about this part of war before and these women’s contribution to the war effort should be highly commended! So should this novel! Thank you so much Beauty and Lace for the wonderful opportunity to read and provide my review. This is absolute great reading and I thoroughly recommend it!

  7. This book is a little different to I usually read but I really enjoyed it. I actually live in Brisbane so it was really cool to read a book based here!  The story is very interesting as it is fiction but based on true events from World War 2.  It is very well researched and I learnt a lot from it.

    The main character Ellie is very likeable and I enjoyed reading her story. Ellie has an important role in the war but it is one she cannot speak about to anyone (not even a partner) nor receive any recognition.  The secret takes a toll on her at points and she faces many ups and downs.  We learn about life during the war, and gain some insight into the impacts on the relationships of the main characters.

    I found it hard to put this book down until the end and I highly recommend.

  8. I do really enjoy a good historical fiction and’ The Codebreakers’ by Alli Sinclair is up there
    with the best of them. This novel takes you on a journey of discovery exploring history,
    culture, love, grief, family, friends and lovers.

    Inspired by the real codebreaking women of Australia’s top secret Central Bureau in WW2.
    Ellie O’Sullivan is helping the war effort by using her engineering skills for Qantas as they evacuate
    civilians and deliver supplies overseas.

    She attracts the attention of the Central Bureau an intelligence organization working with England’s Bletchley Park codebreakers.

    Ellie works with a group of women who decipher enemy communications to change the course of the war. As part of the ‘Garage Girls’ as they were known runs a fierce friendship and there is a signed secrecy never to divulge what they are doing even after the war was ended which puts a huge pressure on these women and affects their personal lives in the future.

    Ellie O Sullivan is a wonderful character along with many others in this novel with much strength and tenacity.

    I never knew what an amazing job these women did. It was an eye opener.

    This amazingly well researched story by Alli Sinclair will leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads it. Loved it!!

    Many Thanks to Harlequin Mira and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this novel.

  9. WoW! What a fantastic read! I was hesitant to begin this book at first, as historical fiction is not usually my favourite genre. How wrong was I! I was totally hooked on this from the very first chapter to the very end.
    Alli Sinclair writes a totally absorbing story about the interesting life of Elanora O’Sullivan, her life during the war and her achievements after.

    This is a must read! Congratulations Alli Sinclair, I’m looking forward to many more great reads!

  10. Thank you, Beauty and Lace, for the opportunity to read and review ‘The Codebreakers’ – by Alli Sinclair. I absolutely loved the history lesson woven into such a fabulous story celebrating women and their incredible tenacity having to deal with the narrow minded men’s view of women working and coping extraordinarily well in an early 1940’s “man’s world” during the height of the war years.

    This book is a five-star read for me, top of my list of books so far that I’ve read in 2021, and I can guarantee by the end of 2021 it will still be my favourite read of the year. I felt for the girls having to deal with a very stressful job, with the added burden of the secrecy surrounding the role that they played and the slightest slip of the tongue not only put themselves in danger, but their lovers, brothers and fathers along with the whole country into peril.

    It is very clear Alli has done a tremendous amount of research for this book, I found myself goggling various events Alli mentioned in the book, in particular “The Battle of Brisbane” with a brawl breaking out between American and Australian soldiers in 1942, this was the first time I’d ever heard of this underlying tension between the two allies, and found it very interesting. I also viewed the stunning post Alli shared of the 1885 grand lady “Nyrambla” I was amazed at what an absolutely breathtaking building it was and how very fortunate Alli had been to have toured inside and to walk through that door flanked either side with the striking glass etchings and to have wandered the grounds and to view in person the so very important innocuous garage at the rear of the property, if only those walls could talk.

    I loved Ellie the heroine of the story, she’s a brazen gutsy chick, ahead of her time, equally at home as a ground engineer for Qantas Empire Airways with a wrench in her hand working on the underbelly of a passenger transport aircraft, or the only rose amongst all the thorns translating foreign messages in the lion’s den, as grabbing a tea towel wiping the dishes at Mrs Hanley’s kitchen sink.

    Ellie is a protector, a protector of secrets, of her gal pals, of her co-workers, of the special men in her life, of her family, I loved all the relationships between the girls, their partners and their substitute mums, and the conspiratorial nature of their day jobs, the lifelong secrets that they kept, and the strain and toll the keeping of those secrets took on all of their lives, “Their strength lay in silence.”

  11. A great book set in Australia, in and after the Second World War. As much as possible, the author has stayed factually accurate and this has made for a very interesting story about a part of our history which was kept secret for a very long time. It is about loyalty and friendship and the difficulties and pain caused by keeping secrets . Divulging them would have been treason. I love well written historical fiction and this one is great. I’ll be seeking out some more of Alli Sinclair’s books

  12. I’m not normally one for war books but I loved the storyline of comradery and respect for the female officers and the ending blew me away and bawled my eyes out.
    Very well written a little bit of all the emotions in this one.

    Thanks for the opportunity to read it.

  13. You know those books that capture your interest so much they have you Googling for more information once you’ve finished? This is one of those. Except I was Googling throughout. I love Alli Sinclair’s style, as a historical author, how she throws in such interesting facts. For example (without giving anything away about the story) did you know that the first flight attendants were all nurses because people would get so sick when flying? Fascinating! I didn’t know so many things about how WWII impacted Australia. I do have a couple of things on the negative: Firstly, it took me a while to warm up to the book. I didn’t find the main character relatable, but in the end I just let it go and appreciated her naïve kindness as you would any friend. And secondly, being in the time we are of women’s equality really coming to the forefront again, I feel like Alli chose random pages to throw that sort of thing in and unfortunately it just didn’t come across authentically.

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