At the time the correspondence begins in 1944 Joseph Stephens was 19 years old, and was based in Yorkshire where he was completing his training as a Cipher Clerk in the Royal Signals Regiment. He was born in January 1926, and educated at Kingswood School, near Bath, a school founded by John Wesley for the sons of Methodist Ministers. His family was devoutly Methodist and Joseph contemplated entering the Ministry after demobilisation. His parents owned a shop in Downend, Bristol and he had two younger brothers (Philip and John) and a sister (Rachel).
He departed for India in October 1945 and after a brief quarantine in Bombay travelled in early December to Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, for initial training. At the end of December he was transferred to Rawalpindi in the Punjab. He remained there until May 1946, when he was transferred to Kohat, capital of the Kohat District in the Khyber province of what is now Pakistan. In July 1946 he was posted to Abbottabad to open up a new cipher office. Abbottabad is in the Hazara region of eastern Khyber, about 120 kilometres north of Rawalpindi. In September 1946 he takes a month's leave in Kashmir. He remained in Abbottabad until May 1947 when he was transferred to Peshawar, near the Khyber Pass. This is shortly before Independence (August 1947) and he was required to train Indian personnel as cipher operators. By November he was in Karachi transit camp and left India to return to Britain in December 1947.