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the hunt for eric nave

I never thought it would be possible for Nick Pelling and I to have the same objective, but last night, through some transcendental alignment of the stars Pelling decided to hunt Eric Nave down.

This is all he needs to know.

Where was Nave between jobs?

Pelling wants Nave sitting down at a desk somewhere with the Rubaiyat in front of him, back cover uppermost, examining the lines of indentations. A colleague close by, perhaps, shifting the UV lamp this way and that.

So do I.

I want to see Australia’s most successful, most secretive codebreaker’s fingerprints on this job.

Ian Pfennigwerth, in an article published online in 2017, said that Nave was a naval officer, code-breaker and security specialist.

In January 1928, Nave was lent to Britain’s signals intelligence headquarters and attended the Government Code and Cipher School.

In 1940 he returned to Australia from the tropics, ill, and set up a small RAN cryptographic unit in Victoria Barracks, Melbourne.

In 1941 this unit was designated Special Intelligence Bureau (SIB)

In early 1942 the SIB became part of the Fleet Radio Unit (FRUMEL) and worked out of the “Monterey” apartment building in Queens Road.

monterey apts

The Monterey Apartments, Queens Road Melbourne.

In 1942 Nave joined the Central Bureau, one of two organisations that made up Allied Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) – they were headquartered in Brisbane.

When the Central Bureau moved to the Phillipines in 1945, Nave was left behind.

January 1948 to March 1949: Nave was loaned back to the Australian Navy.

2 March 1949: Geoffrey Reed (South Australian lawyer) appointed for a 12 month term as Commonwealth director-general of security.

16 March 1949: ASIO becomes official.

18 March 1949. Nave was placed on the RN retirement list.


April  1949?

May ?

June ?

July: Leane takes possession of the Rubaiyat. Canney interviews Jessica. Jesssica views the bust. Boxall interviewed by the police in Sydney.

July: A copy of a similar Rubaiyat and photos of the letters were sent Director of Naval Intelligence in Melbourne.

July: After the letters were revealed on the rear cover of the Rubaiyat Leane sought the assistance of the Navy Office at Port Adelaide.

August: The Navy Office at Port Adelaide responds to Leane. Negative result.

September: Leane reproduces the list of capital letters from the Rubaiyat and releases the details to the media.

Where was the elusive Eric Nave for these six months?


On October 20 1949, Nave became a senior officer in the newly formed ASIO. A secret intelligence organisation newly formed at the insistence of Roger Hollis and Percy Sillitoe of the MI5.

ASIO was headquartered in Canberra.

In October 1950 he was promoted to assistant director, ‘C’ branch: investigation and research. Vetting.

In about 1951, Nave’s address was 46 Cochran St, Brighton North. (courtesy Clive)

He would have had to have digs in Canberra in 1949, do you think? A bit of getting to know the office, his colleagues, maybe a little golf?

So, good luck Nick Pelling, sincerely.

A note: regardless of Nave’s arrangements at the time it’s alleged he was given the Rubaiyat and its back cover code to de-cipher, can we assume details of the police file would accompany it, some provenance? Sound fair enough?

Then, to carry this theme a little further, can we assume Nave became familiar with the file and the names therein: Boxall and Harkness.

Nave, the vetter.

Boxall and Harkness:

“His (Lawson’s) statement was that he was made aware that Jestyn had been collecting information on allied ship movements through Sydney Harbour and that he believed that the information on these movements was passed to Jestyn by Alf Boxall.”

Clive: my best regards to PL. A question worth asking would be if he could remember the year he became aware of the Boxall / Jestyn situation.

Failing that, the decade

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nave had Celiac health issues, the term used was Oriental sprue, that was the reason given for him staying in Brisbane from 1945 ostensibly to write up the unit history. He was responsible, along with Professor Room, for writing the Coast Watchers code. Worth a look.

    July 15, 2017
    • Where would be the best spot to check his retirement list, GC? I looked up the RAN site but drew a blank on March 1949.

      July 15, 2017
  2. He would have been on the Reserve list, maybe that would be a place to start, try South Australia HMAS Encounter or Flinders? Nothing in RN or RAN unit histories.

    July 15, 2017
  3. Clive #

    I’ll see if I’ve got a Brown envelope!

    July 15, 2017
  4. I cannot find any mention in GF’s book about a result from the Director of Naval Intelligence in Melbourne.

    July 16, 2017
  5. Clive #

    Look on TROVE, “News” Adelaide, 25-08-1949, Page 22 mentions “a local naval decoder”

    July 16, 2017
    • Low key bunch those journalists, especially when they hear it on the grapevine.

      July 16, 2017
  6. Clive #

    True, they were probably all at sea?

    July 16, 2017

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