The Man with the “Red Book” of SECRET NATO Codes & His Tudor
It is a regular afternoon during the new normality of lockdown, my phone vibrates and its an email from a Gentleman with a few watches to sell. Some gold Rolex’s and tucked away in the back was a Tudor, it is not uncommon for me to receive multiple emails like this a day.
Whenever I see a nice Tudor Oyster I will usually try to purchase, upon requesting a few extra photos and information I was sent a cropped photo of the case back showing the reference and serial number and a closer photo of the dial. That is when I knew it was an early refinished dial, nicely done and still featuring its original hands which were untouched down to the vibrant blue second hand. Original screw down crown and original movement, all original and nice, its what we like. So, I put in my offer and after a bit of back and forth we land at an agreement, payment is made and then the waiting begins. Up until this point I had no idea of the engraving on the back, it was not until the watch arrived that I realised. Usually an engraving can effect the value of a watch negatively, I was planning on having the case back refinished best possible to remove the engraving and make it more “retailable”, but I decided to show it nonetheless in my group chat that I have with my father (@kibbsnk) and Chris (@watch_this_space82).
A few hours after I sent the photos and we was discussing other watches, Chris sent a screenshot from Google after searching “Ringsell Uganda Diplomat”, he then found an article posted on August 20th, 2003 in the Daily Monitor titled “Amin ‘stole’ NATO Codes”… I began to read this article and that is when I realised this was a lot more than just a gift to a gentleman named “J. Ringsell”, this was presented to a gentleman with a remarkably interesting story! And that is when the hunting began, I want to thank both my father & Chris for aiding in the discovery of this story but also finding some of the information I am about to provide.
So, where to begin? As much as this is a story about this lovely Tudor, it is more a story about the Gentleman that owned it, so we should begin at the start of his story.
Joffre Ringsell was born on the 2nd March 1916, right in the middle of World War 1, in Hertfordshire. His mother Ellen had 6 children including Joffre, the oldest Frederick was born in 1911 and the youngest, Iris being born in 1920, Ellen was 24 when she gave birth to Joffre. We have no information on the father or Joffre’s childhood, but what we do know is when he is 23 he is working as a General Printer where he was responsible for performing different tasks in the process of printing production, he would have spent most of his time operating printing presses and maintaining these machines. I bet 23-year-old Joffre had no idea one day he would be presented with a red book containing secret NATO codes… But we will get that.
Fast-forward to June 1944, the end of World War 2 is approaching, Joffre joins the Royal Norfolk Regiment as a Second Lieutenant for the British Army. In August 1944 he is recorded in the London Gazette. By July 1946, just 2 years after joining he is made a temporary Major, this is when his loyalty to the British government and the country strengthens, this becomes important during his time in Uganda and it gets tested in the strongest way. Only a year after his promotion at the age of 31 Joffre gets married and continues his work within the British Army and as a Printer for the British government.
By 1965 Joffre is recorded by the London Gazette as a government printer in Uganda, but we know as early as 1953 Joffre was in Uganda by the date the watch was presented to him during the 1953 Coronation, we believe he moved shortly after his wedding, probably 1949/50. This must have been quite a move for Joffre and his family, we know that one of his children Sandra Ringsell would later also work within the Ugandan government. Joffre worked in Kampala at a place called “Uganda Printing & Publishing Corporation” which is still a functioning company today and claims, “Over 115 years of experience as Uganda’s leading security printer & publisher” and works closely with the Ugandan government. Joffre was a “Head Printer” for this company, still operating closely with the Ugandan Government and the British Government. We believe he was responsible for typical tasks of a head printer during this time, but also reported directly to the British Government.
Fast-forward to 1971, Idi Amin Dada Oumee becomes President of Uganda, this would be a turning point for the entire country as he was considered one of the cruellest despots in the world history, he even boasted the nickname “Butcher of Uganda”. This would be a serious time of unrest within Uganda and panic and worry for most of the world. Little did Joffre know he was to play a vital part in hindering the progress of Idi Amin.
Joffre becomes the head Government Printer in Uganda and his daughter Ms Sandra Ringsell became Amin’s Speech writer for the regime, the family became quite influential unintentionally to Uganda’s future. During this time NATO used a “NATO Codification System” (NCS) which was produced and used across the entirety of NATO for transferring important and secret messages, usually these NCS’ were kept in a “Red Book” by very few people for translation. One of these “Red Books” was believed to have been stolen by an Indian who worked in the British foreign office in London, this book travelled to Libya for interpretation, soon after this book found its way in the hands of Idi Amin where it is believed he offered to have this book translated and 100/300 copies made as a favour to Libya.
Early in 1972 the Deputy Government Printer, Mr Bbosa, was called to State House in Entebbe. Mr Bbosa was presented this “Red Book” and ordered to produce 100/300 copies, he was also ordered not to involve Joffre Ringsell due to the connection with the British Government, not knowing what to do but truly understanding the risk involved Mr Bbosa returned and spoke to Joffre Ringsell in confidence and produces this “Red Book” to him and explained what had been asked. Quick to respond Joffre informed his daughter Sandra who left Uganda with her family in 1973, the reason we believe is for her security and Joffre had a plan. Joffre sent his deputy, Bbosa, abroad for several months for “Overseas Courses”, this was to keep him out of risk. Joffre informed the necessary authorities of the existence of this book in the possession of Idi Amin, where it is believed NATO changed the codes which they believed had been circulated in the Arab world. The CIA was also dispatched to Uganda to which Amin ordered to kill any CIA agents caught. It is believed Joffre was informed to continue as told and produce the copies of this book, now useless and left them unaware of this for some time.
Joffre played a vital part in the protection of NATO and their missions, the role of Idi Amin and limiting the damage he could do. Unfortunately, Amin continued his power and more than 300,000 Ugandans were killed or simply disappeared during his eight years of rule. Eventually Amin provoked the Tanzanians by invading and annexing parts of that country in 1978, he then had to flee to Libya in 1979 but later moved to Saudi Arabia and died in August 1979.
It is believed that during Idi Amin’s rule Joffre moved out of Uganda with his family to join his daughter Sandra back in Britain. Joffre passed away at the age of 62 in 1982 here in Britain, it is believed this watch was worn by Joffre from 1953 when it was awarded to him until he passed away, from which point it moved onto his family and eventually to a dealer who purchased it in the early 2000s. This dealer is uncertain whether he purchased it from the original family and never asked or investigated, until I purchased it from him in 2020, he forgot he had this watch in his possession. And here we are… This watch and the great history of the man who once wore it, his story now lives on with this watch and I truly hope this write-up, along with the files I found, continue to travel with this watch to whomever it moves onto next. What was originally just an engraving turned out to be one of the most exciting finds of my career yet, it is not an “expensive” watch, this story doesn’t add financial value, but it is greatly rewarding understanding who Joffre was and what this watch could have gone through with him.