Mavis Batey, one of the few women codebreakers of Bletchley Park during World War 2 passed away at the age of 92 on 12 November 2013.
Mavis Batey’s contribution to understanding the life of a woman codebreaker at Bletchley Park is unparalleled. Like so many of her Bletchley Park colleagues, she selflessly continued to educate and expand our knowledge of World War 2 codebreaking right up to the end of her life. Her passing is a great loss to her family, friends and our nation.
Mavis Lilian Lever was born on 5 May 1921 in London. After a convent education she attended University College London studying German Literature.
She was recruited from University College London into intelligence by her professor Leonard Willoughby, a former Room 40 colleague of Dilly Knox.
Her studies had given her good language skills that landed Mavis working for the Foreign Office’s Ministry of Economic Warfare (MEW) blacklisting companies in neutral countries working with or supplying material to the Germans.
Her logical thinking got her noticed and in June 1940 found herself at Bletchley Park meeting eccentric codebreaker, Dilly Knox for the first time. Here she and a team made up of women successfully broke into many of the untried Enigma machine variations, including the significant break into the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) Enigma machine in December 1941.
This break allowed the British Government to intercept, decipher and read Abwehr messages to ensure that misinformation fed through double agents was getting through. This information was critical for the D-Day landings deception, which led Hitler to believe the Allied invasion of France would focus on Pas-de-Calais, when in fact the target was Normandy.
After the war Mavis along with her husband Keith, and fellow ISK (Illicit Services Knox) colleagues, Margaret Rock and Peter Twinn wrote the definitive history to breaking the Abwehr Enigma cipher. This document is known as Batey, Batey, Rock and Twinn ans was only released into the public domain in 2011. Since then Mavis has helped enthusiasts and scholars understand the mind bogglingly technical document despite having an initial fear that she had forgotten it all. Once she started to read the years melted away and she felt nineteen again.
The release of the document and Mavis’s knowledge has been a significant enhancement to the study of codebreaking and I know she has written an introduction piece to accompany the document.
Mavis has written extensively on garden history and in recent years written an insightful biography of Dilly Knox called Dilly: The Man Who Broke Enigmas. It is a good introduction to the Government Code & Cypher School codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park, a tribute to a brilliant and eccentric codebreaker as well as a modest personal account of her codebreaking successes. One of these successes led to the Battle of Cape Matapan, which put the Italian Navy out of World War 2. The book also provides a first hand account of the Abwehr break.
I have been lucky enough to correspond with Mavis and benefit from her memories of the Bletchley Park years. She has helped me to learn more about her colleague Margaret Rock. They remained friends right up until Margaret’s death at the age of 80 in 1983. They had once last get together to talk about old times at Bletchley Park just a few weeks before Margaret died.
Mavis also kindly wrote a short account on how Margaret Rock broke a new Abwehr Enigma cipher in May 1943. Click to see the account titled Canary Islands Service Enigma Break.
Listen to an audio interview with Mavis Batey by author Michael Smith hosted on Audioboo. It’s about an hour in length and is a wonderful tribute to Mavis’s contribution to the war.
Rest in Peace Mavis Batey, you will be missed.