The Codebreakers of Room 40

The Codebreakers of Room 40

The Room 40 Codebreakers

In 1914, war was declared between England and Germany…a war that would soon cover the world. But this war was unlike any of the wars before it. Technology had advanced far and quickly in the decade prior, and the nations soon found that new methods of warfare were available to them–and not just on the battlefield. Changes had come that would change the landscape of intelligence-gathering forever too.

A New Intelligence in the Great War

One of the first actions of the Great War was to cut the Trans-Atlantic cable that had been connecting Europe to North America. England knew that if they cut the cable, it would greatly hinder Germany from communicating with and recruiting aid across the sea. Of course, telegrams now had wireless technology available to them…and a curious thing was soon discovered.

New technology in England allowed them to snatch those wireless communications right out of the air.

The discovery was accidental–but the implications were HUGE. It was reported to the Navy, and soon they’d scrabbled together a team to investigate and to put this windfall to use. They were quite literally able to intercept every…single…telegram coming from the Continent, because England was the relay point. That meant ALL German communications. But of course, the Germans weren’t just sending out plain text. They were sending their telegrams in code.

Enter the Codebreakers.

An initial team of gentlemen were brought in who had a knack with breaking codes. Dilly Knox, his brother Alfred, William Montgomery, Nigel de Grey…some of them were mathematicians. Some were linguists. Some where history professors. Bankers. Music critics. They were reruited because they had a “something.” A knack. A skill. But what to do with them?

The British Admiralty didn’t know, at first. They knew they could be useful, but they had no place for such an unprecedented team. They assigned them, first, a closet connected to the director’s office. But their very existence was top secret, so every time a visitor came in, they had to scramble to hide.


Soon the Admiralty granted they needed a room of their own, so they assigned them an office. Old Building, Room 40. It was often referred to as OB40 or Room 40.

How Did They Crack the Codes?

The Germans and their allies were employing many different kinds of codes and cyphers, and the Codebreakers had to determine which ones were being used in each message intercepted, and then sort out how to crack them.

Most of their work was accomplished very logically: they captured the codebooks from downed aircraft and sunken U-boats. Once the books were in hand, it was a simple but laborious process of applying the code to each message…before the next day’s variant was employed. A new variant was set at midnight each night, and the codebreakers on the night shift would be expected to work out the new key by the time the day shift arrived or face unending teasing.

But sometimes they weren’t codes–they were cyphers. These didn’t have a handy key that would help if they could get their hands on the book, they required actual cracking. The Codebreakers of Room 40 had to crack cyphers many times over the course of the war as well.

What Happened with the Information?

But though the Room 40 codebreakers were soon churning out decrypted communications daily…what then? The Admiralty, quite frankly, didn’t trust the information at first. It was outside their experience, and the civilian codebreakers had no idea about military protocol, to put the information into terms that would make sense to the military. For quite a while, they were constantly butting heads and frustrating each other. Eventually, a new director was named–Reginald “Blinker” Hall–and he soon assigned a liaison to take the raw data the codebreakers provided and turn it into information that the military knew what to do with.

Even so, they soon discovered a new conundrum: they couldn’t act on much of the information without revealing their hand. If Germany knew they were intercepting communications, they would take actions to stop them, and then they’d lose it all. So before anything could be used, they first had to find another excuse for how they came by the information.

Did Room 40 Grow?

By the end of the war, Room 40 had grown to occupy an entire floor of the Old Building. They had dozens of codebreakers on staff and scores of secretaries–but no “tea girls,” like the rest of the Admiralty, because secrecy was still their byword. Every single person employed in the division was directly recruited by an existing member, so that absolutely everyone was trusted. They had parties, wrote bad poetry about themselves, sang songs, and became a family in many ways.

What’s more, by the end of the war, the Admiralty not only recognized their superb work as having been critical to the war effort, they were in fact largely responsible for the end of the war; they “leaked” a doctored photograph to Germany that showed the Navy in mutiny, which so disheartened the German troops that they insisted upon an armistice.

What Happened Afterward?

After the Great War, most of the employees of Room 40 went back to their ordinary lives…but not all. Quite a few were recruited for a new endeavor: a school dedicated to training up the next generation of cryptographers.

Roseanna’s Books that Feature the Room 40 Codebreakers

Discover More

from the world of

Yesterday’s Tides

What Is Yaupon Tea?

What Is Yaupon Tea?

What Is Yaupon Tea?

Yaupon tea is made from the leaves of the Yaupon holly tree, which grows all up and down America’s east coast. The tree’s bright red berries are a favorite of many birds, but it’s humans who have found a use for their leaves.

The leaves of the Yaupon tree have been used for millennia by the Native Americans as a tea. Called “the black drink,” the tea was used in many purification and peace ceremonies. They would pluck the leaves when they were ready to prepare it and roast them in a ceramic pot over the fire.

Did you know that both coffee and tea leaves are roasted so that the caffeine is soluable in water?

After roasting the leaves, the people would then boil them in water until the brew was dark brown or black. They’d pour it into another pot until it had cooled enough to drink.

Archaeological evidence and oral tradition trace the use of Yaupon tea among Native Americans to thousands of years before Christ, nearly as long as the North American continent was occupied. The ceremonial drinking and preparation vessels have been found all over America’s South and Southwest.

As Europeans colonized the coast, settlers learned much from the Croatan and other people groups in the area, including the preparation and enjoyment of Yaupon. As a settlement isolated from the mainland and which had to be self-sustaining for long periods of time, citizens couldn’t always rely on imported tea or coffee. So every family began to roast their own Yaupon tea. Deciding that the as-you-need-it method wasn’t convenient enough, Ocracokers would instead gather many leaves at once and layer them in barrels with hot stones, sealing them up for about a week to dry and roast. The leaves would then be ready to be brewed as tea whenever they were needed. Yaupon was especially popular during war years, when trade was interrupted, but has remained a constant of island life for all its history and can still be found in shops on Ocracoke today. The island isn’t along in its love for the tea though–the Yaupon available here in my shop is sourced and packaged in Florida, where it has been enjoyed just as long and was sipped by Spanish conquistadors.

Yaupon is not only a natural source of caffeine, it’s also rich in antioxidants and has a mildly sweet taste. After roasting, the leaves are crumbled and brewed like any other loose leaf tea.

Discover More

from the world of

Yesterday’s Tides

A Tour of Ocracoke Village

A Tour of Ocracoke Village

A Tour of Ocracoke Village

Welcome to Ocracoke!

Ocracoke Village is a charming island community brimming with history, natural beauty, and a vibrant culture.

If you can visit this island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, do! But if not, here’s a little virtual tour of some of the attractions.

Ocracoke Village is a charming coastal community located on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. The village is known for its unique history, natural beauty, and vibrant culture. This written tour will guide you through some of the village’s most significant landmarks and attractions.

The Ocracoke Lighthouse

The Ocracoke Lighthouse is one of the village’s most famous landmarks. The lighthouse was built in 1823 and is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in North Carolina. It is also the second-oldest operating lighthouse in the United States. Visitors can climb the lighthouse and enjoy stunning views of the village and surrounding waters.


The Ocracoke Island Visitor Center

The Ocracoke Island Visitor Center is the perfect place to start your tour of the village. The center offers a wealth of information about the island’s history, culture, and attractions. Visitors can pick up maps, brochures, and other materials to help them navigate the village and plan their itinerary.


Ocracoke Island Preservation Society Museum

The Ocracoke Island Preservation Society Museum is dedicated to preserving the island’s unique history and culture. The museum features exhibits and artifacts related to the island’s fishing industry, maritime history, and unique way of life. Visitors can learn about the island’s rich history and culture and see how it has changed over time.


Silver Lake Harbor

Silver Lake Harbor is the heart of the village and is home to the island’s fishing fleet. Visitors can take a walk along the harbor and watch as fishermen unload their catch of the day. The harbor is also home to several restaurants and shops, where visitors can enjoy a meal or pick up a souvenir.


Springer’s Point Nature Preserve

Springer’s Point Nature Preserve is a beautiful natural area located on the western side of the island. The preserve is home to a variety of plant and animal species and features several hiking trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding waters. Visitors can also learn about the island’s unique ecosystem and natural history.


Ocracoke Island Beaches

Ocracoke Island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in North Carolina. The island’s beaches are known for their pristine white sand, clear water, and unspoiled beauty. Visitors can swim, sunbathe, and enjoy a variety of water activities, such as kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing.


The British Cemetery

The British Cemetery is a historic site located on the island, where seven sailors from the British Royal Navy who died when their ship, the HMT Bedfordshire was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1942, are buried. The cemetery is open to visitors, and a plaque provides information about the tragedy and those buried in the cemetery.


Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit

The Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit is a museum dedicated to the infamous pirate Blackbeard, who made his home on Ocracoke Island. The museum features artifacts and exhibits related to Blackbeard and his crew, as well as a replica of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.


Howard Street Cemetery

The Howard Street Cemetery is one of the island’s oldest cemeteries and is the final resting place of many of the island’s early settlers. Visitors can see the graves of several notable island residents, including Sam Jones, who was born into slavery and later became a celebrated preacher and community leader. (Watch out! The Howard Street Ghosts are known to prowl around there.) 😉


Ocracoke Island Community Park

The Ocracoke Island Community Park is a popular destination for families and offers several recreational activities, including a playground, a basketball court, and a skate park. The park is also home to several annual events, including the Ocracoke Island Waterfowl Festival and the Ocracoke Island Fig Festival.


Pony Island Restaurant

Names after the Banker Ponies that have roamed the island for centuries, the Pony Island Restaurant is a local favorite and offers a variety of fresh seafood and other dishes. The restaurant’s outdoor deck offers stunning views of Silver Lake Harbor and is the perfect spot to enjoy a meal and watch the boats go by.


Ocracoke Island Campground

The Ocracoke Island Campground is a popular spot for camping enthusiasts. The campground offers tent and RV sites, as well as access to a variety of recreational activities, including fishing, kayaking, and birdwatching. The campground is located just a short walk from the beach and the village.


Ocracoke Island Library

Libraries always make me happy! The Ocracoke Island Library is a small, but well-stocked library that offers a variety of books, magazines, and other resources. The library also hosts regular events, including storytime for children and book clubs for adults.


Island Artworks

Island Artworks is a local art gallery that features the work of several talented local artists. The gallery offers a variety of artwork, including paintings, sculptures, and pottery.


The Back Porch Restaurant

The Back Porch Restaurant is a popular spot for seafood and other local dishes. The restaurant is located in a historic building in the heart of the village and features a cozy, relaxed atmosphere.


Ocracoke Island Nature Trail

The Ocracoke Island Nature Trail is a short hiking trail that winds through the island’s marshland and offers stunning views of the island’s unique ecosystem. The trail is located near the village and is a great spot for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.


Ocracoke Island Farmer’s Market

The Ocracoke Island Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday during the summer months and features a variety of local produce, crafts, and other goods. The market is a great spot to sample some of the island’s fresh, locally grown produce and support local businesses.


Books to Be Red

Books to Be Red is a local bookstore that features a wide selection of books, including new releases, bestsellers, and local interest titles. The store also offers a variety of gifts, such as puzzles, games, and stationery. Be sure to see if they have any Roseanna White titles on the shelves while you’re there! 😉


Zillie’s Island Pantry

Zillie’s Island Pantry is a gourmet food and wine shop that features a variety of specialty foods and beverages. The store offers a wide selection of wines from around the world, as well as craft beers, cheeses, and other gourmet treats.


Edward Teach Brewery

The Edward Teach Brewery is a local brewery that offers a variety of craft beers, including IPAs, stouts, and ales. The brewery also features a tasting room and offers brewery tours and other events throughout the year.


The Fig Tree Bakery and Deli

The Fig Tree Bakery and Deli is a local favorite that offers a variety of baked goods, sandwiches, and other deli items. The bakery is known for its delicious cinnamon rolls, homemade bread, and fresh salads.


The Community Square

The Community Square is a popular gathering spot in the heart of the village. The square features a variety of events and activities throughout the year, including concerts, movie screenings, and the annual Ocracoke Island Independence Day Celebration.


Captain’s Landing Waterfront Inn

The Captain’s Landing Waterfront Inn is a historic inn located on Silver Lake Harbor. The inn features cozy rooms with stunning views of the harbor and is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway or a relaxing vacation.


The Ocracoke Coffee Company

The Ocracoke Coffee Company is a local coffee shop that offers a variety of hot and cold drinks, including espresso, cappuccino, and iced coffee. The shop also features a selection of pastries and other baked goods.


Ocracoke Village is a charming and unique coastal community that is steeped in history and natural beauty. Its landmarks, attractions, and natural areas offer visitors a glimpse into the island’s unique culture and way of life. Whether you are interested in history, nature, or simply enjoying the beach, Ocracoke Village is the perfect destination for a relaxing and memorable vacation.

Discover More

from the world of

Yesterday’s Tides

The History of American Sign Language

The History of American Sign Language

The History of American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL)

Whenever people cannot communicate verbally, there’s a simple solution: we make signs. Whether we can hear or not, this is what we fall back on in situations when we don’t speak the language or when we’re too far away or the background is too noisy to hear each other. Signs, then, are as fundamental to communication as any spoken words ever are, and some may even argue that they’re more fundamental in many ways. Babies can learn signs well before they can speak.

The hearing community, however, tends to rely mostly on verbal communication. What do we do, however, when we have a friend or family member who cannot hear?

There have been and still are some cultures in the world who hide away or even kick out members who cannot hear; many, however, instead put their minds toward developing a way to communicate. To creating a language of signs that is full and complex and allows ideas to be expressed, not just concrete nouns and action verbs.

On the American continent, Native Americans had a language of signs for many years. They used this to communicate between tribes when languages and dialects were so numerous and rarely overlapping. These signs were crucial for trade.

As European settlers colonized the land, New England soon saw a rise in children born deaf, thanks to the necessity of intermarrying among the colonists. The villages where these instances were especially high–Martha’s Vineyard; Henniker, New Hampshire; and the Sandy River valley in Maine–soon developed full sign languages that were used not only by the direct families of deaf individuals, but often by the entire town, since so many people had family members who required it. These three sign languages bore some similiarities but also many signs unique to their region.

Meanwhile in Europe in the 1700s, French Sign Language (LSF) was being developed and taught in the Parisian School for the Deaf, which was founded in 1755. This became in many ways “the” sign language, given that it was used at a national-level school, and teachers soon brought it to the New World.

In 1817, the American School for the Deaf was founded in Hartford, Connecticut. Many of its first pupils were from Martha’s Vineyard, Henniker, and Sandy River, so they brought their unique languages with them. The first teacher at the school, Laurent Clerk, brought French Sign Language with him from Europe. The result was that within the first few decades of the ASD being open, a new language was born: American Sign Language.

ASL combines LSF with MVSL (Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language) as well as the other dialects from New England. Thanks to the combination, ASL is not considered a dialect of its French predecessor, having too few words in common; it is, instead, its own language. A language with its own rules, its own syntax, and its own vocabulary.

Gaining recognition as a language in and of itself, however, took more than a century. Up until the 1960s, sign language was considered a “lesser” means of communication, and many deaf schools still insisted that students should be taught to speak and lip-read. It wasn’t until William Stokoe campaigned for recognition and devised a means of transcription of ASL in the 1960s that educational institutions began to recognize ASL as a full language.

Today, ASL is in use not only on the American Continent but in much of the English-speaking world among the deaf communities. It’s also now recognized as a foreign language that be learned in schools by hearing students as well, and in 2013 a petition was signed by the White House granting ASL as “an official language of instruction” in American schools. American Sign Language has also served as the base for many other sign dialects and languages throughout the world.

Much like spoken language, ASL speakers in different parts of the country will have what amounts to “accents”: Southern signers use fluid, slower motions, while those from New York are quick and clipped.

ASL generally uses a syntax of subject-verb-object. Words like articles are left out. So The father loves his child. Would be “father + love + child.” If you read Yesterday’s Tides, you’ll have noticed that I reflected this syntax in the dialogue spoken in ASL (special thanks to ASL teacher Deanna Davidson for helping me portray this speech accurately!).

Finger Spelling

Discover More

from the world of

Yesterday’s Tides

ASL Names

ASL Names

ASL Names and How They’re Chosen

What would your name be?

You may have noticed when reading Yesterday’s Tides that each character who interacts with Elsie (who is deaf and speaks American Sign Language) is given a sign for their name…

In the deaf community, names can be tricky things. When first introducing someone or mentioning them, you first have to finger-spell their name…but that would be tedious to do every time a person is mentioned in conversation.

Because of that, signs are assigned to people, usually by the deaf person who is speaking to or about them. But how are they selected?

Sometimes a name has a particular meaning already. For instance Sterling is a word closely related to silver. It makes sense, then, for Elsie to have given him a sign that is basically the word for “silver.”

Many names, however, don’t have so obvious a meaning. In those cases, the namer will usually choose a word that describes the person–thinker, doctor, dancer, beautiful, tall, playful, funny, bright, sweet etc. They will then form their fingers into the first letter of the person’s name and make that sign.

For Louisa, then, who loved princess stories and was always twirling for joy, one would form one’s fingers into an L and then make the sign for royaly, tracing a sash from left shoulder to right waist, but with a loop in the middle.

When I was thirteen, I went on a mission trip to help build an orphanage and school for the deaf community in Montego Bay, Jamaica. One of the highlights of the trip for me was when one of the workers gave us all names. My mom, Karen, was the sign for beautiful, but with fingers forming a K. My sign was an R for Roseanna, but then that same sash sign for royalty that I gave to Louisa. Talk about a compliment to this royalty-loving writer! I have cherished that name ever since.

What characteristics do others say define you? Maybe you’re a writer or a teacher or a nurse. Maybe you’re full of laughter or contemplative or fast. Maybe you’re tall or beautiful or musical. Look up the sign for that thing, put your fingers in the shape of the first letter of your name, and there you go! Of course, sometimes it’s hard to identify those things about ourselves…that’s what it’s so much nicer to give a sign name to others and let them name you. Which makes this the perfect activity to do with your family!

Do you have a sign name? Please share its explanation below!

Finger Spelling

Discover More

from the world of

Yesterday’s Tides