I am currently updating the Bletchley Park Research website. Things aren’t quite going to plan, so please bear with me as the site is currently not looking good. It’s an interim glitch!
In 2013, Bletchley Park veteran Jean Valentine featured in a short 5-minute video where she gives a demonstration of the machine she worked on during the Second World War.
In a memoir published on her Bletchley Park Roll of Honour Page, Jean recalls:
I joined the WRNS in 1943 in a fit of pique because my application to join the WAAF as an MT driver had been turned down! How wise they were and how stupid I was to think that my little height and leg reach would have been of any useful purpose for driving anything but a saloon car!”
Bletchley Park was not put off by Jean’s stature, even though Bombe operators were supposed to be above a certain height. In the video, Jean explains the simple solution she used to give her a bit more reach.
Jean Valentine (later Rooke) spent time working on the Bombe machines in Hut 11a at Bletchley Park and Adstock, a small outstation located 3 miles south-east of Buckingham. Over 2,000 personnel – mostly women – worked in shifts in Hut 11a, whereas about 60 worked at Adstock.
Later in the war, Jean attended a course on Japanese codes and cyphers before departing for overseas service in Colombo (the capital of Sri Lanka), where she met and married Clive Rooke.
Read more about the Enigma-busting Bombe machine here.
Happy New Year!
To make sure this year is a productive year, I’ve made a detailed production plan, and I’m sharing my goals for 2017.
There is no denying that my writing and publishing plans during the last two years have not gone to plan. I am not going to lament over the frustrations and the wobbles of confidence. I am just going to put it all behind me and start 2017 full of optimism and new determination.
As part of that plan, I am setting out my goals for the year so that you know what to look forward to and so I can hold myself accountable for achieving those goals.
Women Codebreakers – The Story of Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever and Joan Clarke
This project is where I feel the slap of failure most but it also where I feel the intoxicated with excitement. I planned to release it two years ago in line with The Imitation Game film. Due to other unavoidable demands on my time I had to set it aside for about eighteen months. Exhausted and low that I couldn’t focus my attention where I wanted to, any attempt to pick up where I’d left off with Women Codebreakers failed.
Since the Autumn I have been feeling more like myself, especially when, at the end of November 2016, I made another discovery of Joan Clarke papers, which – oh my goodness – blows the Joan Clarke (later Murray) story wide open. After six hours of scanning and photographing, I have all the material I need to fill the gaps in Joan’s story and finally finish her part of the Women Codebreakers series. I am sharing some of the items I photographed in a post on Friday.
The Joan Clarke story has grown into a standalone title. Finishing it is the most important of my goals for 2017. I have created a ‘rigid’ timetable for January to weave the new material into the existing narrative. By rigid, I mean I-will-not-waver-from-my schedule-even-a-teeny-bit. I imagine I will be saying no to a lot during this period.
Women Codebreakers will become a 3-part series, starting with The Untold Story of Joan Clarke. I had already planned to release the Joan Clarke part of the book as a standalone ebook because I knew so many people wanted that part of the book as soon as possible. Now her story warrants a print and ebook.
That doesn’t mean that I am setting aside the Margaret Rock and Mavis Lever (later Batey) stories. They will follow with Margaret in March and Mavis in May 2017). Then, the three parts of the Women Codebreakers series will be available as a bundle at last.
Figuring It Out at Bletchley Park 1939 – 1945
The reissue of this resource book has been on the cards for a couple of years now. A PDF copy of the book is still for sale on Scribd. I will also make it available to buy on the Bletchley Park Research website during January 2017.
The text in the revised edition includes more background on each department, Hut and building on the Bletchley Park site to go with the numerical data charting the growth of Bletchley Park between 1939 and 1945. There is also about fifty new tables covering merchant shipping and Bomber Command.
Bletchley Park Family History
I get a lot of requests to help people find out more about their Bletchley Park relatives. I fail horribly at dealing with all the requests as my time is so limited. I love helping people discover more about their ancestor so I hate that I can’t do the research for all the requests.
I’ve considered offering my services as a paid consultant, but that solution doesn’t solve the time-is-limited issue. Besides, why should I have all the fun?
Anyone who has carried out family history research knows how much fun and addictive it is. The key is knowing what resources are available and where to find them. To help, I’ve decided to share my knowledge in a series of instructional videos and a workbook guiding you through the process of finding your Bletchley Park relative.
Hey presto! I can help everyone without time being an issue, and you get to join in the research fun too.
While the target audience for video series is anyone with a Bletchley Park relative, the skills I teach are transferable so you can use them to learn more about other ancestors as well.
I will write about this again towards the end of January and will include an online survey with questions to help me tailor the video content to suit your needs. There will also be a link to a BP family history Facebook group so we can share stories, tips and encouragement.
You can email me now if you would like me to send you a link to the survey or Facebook group as soon as it’s reading finding out about your Bletchley Park relative.
Website Revamp and Book Reviews
I plan to revamp the Bletchley Park Research website. The main difference will be the front page, which will hold direct links to areas of the website.
These areas will include the blog, a new section dedicated to books and book reviews, a section of family history resources, existing and new research articles, podcast (see below) and videos. I will post a new blog post once a week, sharing more of my research finds.
Podcast & Research Videos
Podcast – I have a collection of audio interviews that I have done for the official Bletchley Park Podcast and other interviews for my research. I will be creating a dedicated section on the website to share the podcast episodes I have contributed to and those I upload to my RetroResearcher page on Audioboom. I will make the episodes available on iTunes just as soon as I know how.
Videos – I will be making some documentary style videos starting with The Untold Story of Joan Clarke, which will go with the book. I have video recordings that need a home, including one with author Michael Smith which has been dormant on my hard drive for several years. It’s time to share these research gems. After all, the aim of Bletchley Park Research is to share my research!
I have two novels that are within polishing distance and beta reading of releasing into the world. The Milliner’s Spy is another long overdue project. Set in a hat shop in London during the Second World War, The Milliner’s Spy is an espionage romance. Love at Victory Teas Café is a modern romance set in a fictional village and has a Bletchley Park in wartime back story. Both books are delicious indulgences into my imagination and just need a little push of confidence to get them over the start line.
Women of Bletchley Park Event
Some of you know that I am good friends with Bletchley Park veteran Charlotte (Betty) Webb. We live about 10 miles apart and see each other regularly. Our friendship developed during the many interviews we did in preparation for her book Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon.
Over Christmas, we have hatched a plan to deliver two public talks together in the Worcestershire area. I will talk about Joan Clarke then Betty, as the star attraction, will share her memories of life at Bletchley Park.
We’re still in the planning phase, so I will keep you posted about the plans, venue and prices. Sign up to the Bletchley Park Research email list to make sure to receive the news as soon as it is announced.
I have scheduled each project on the calendar to accomplish these goals. It looks ambitious, but most of the projects listed in progress and they need dedicated blocks of time to get them finished. To get the projects to the finish line, I’ve created a rigid schedule that creates routine into my working week. Let me explain why.
Last year I started running (in my case plodding) one morning every week with a couch to 5k program at the local sports centre. I still go out at the same time even though the program has ended. Running has become a habit that I do whatever the weather and whatever my mood.
The running routine has led to a light bulb moment. I just need to stop writing around the edges of life and use the same unwavering routine I have for my running in my writing life. Hence, I’ve created an annual plan and broken that down into a detailed schedule for each month, week, and day.
By the end of year, I will review my goals for 2017 to see what worked and what didn’t. I hope you join me in January 2018 as I share the results of that review here.
Thanks to everyone who has cheered me on with understanding and words of encouragement.
Have you set any goals for 2017?
On the 19 October 2016, Bletchley Park celebrated 25 years since the first Bletchley Park tea party to reunite Government Code and Cypher School veterans for the first time since the war. To mark the anniversary Bletchley Park gave away free passes to the first 25 visitors through the door.
In 1991 local historians set out to arrange a small tea party to give Bletchley Park veterans a chance to see their wartime home one last time before bulldozers knocked it down for housing.
Nowadays, Bletchley Park is well-equipped to welcome a quarter of a million visitors a year but in 1991, Peter Wescombe, the man with the idea to hold the party, had to sneak into the site to speak to site manager Doreen Sawyer. Doreen agreed to his idea for a small farewell party catering for about 20 people but the escalating numbers of veterans interested in attending sent the invitation list soaring to over 200 and gave her sleepless nights.
“I had not said a word to my boss man. He didn’t know anything about this. In the end, when we got over a hundred I thought no way can I cope with this without saying something.”
With only weeks to go and the fate of the party balancing on a line of telephone cable, Doreen told her boss about the plan.
“He said, “Oh Doreen, what the heck are we going to do?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. We’re stuck with tea and biscuits.'”
Doreen’s boss took the matter in hand and promptly contacted British Telecom Headquarters in London. To Doreen’s relief, the Director said, “Yes, go for it. It is quite important.” And that’s how it started.
When the veterans arrived on the 19 October 1991 they walked through the mansion, circled the rotting huts and peered through the windows of derelict blocks reminiscing about work, play and ghastly food. Amongst the laughter and anecdotes captured on 14 hours of audio, something stirred. Whether it was the warm glow of memories or the growing national realisation of the importance of the site, the veterans and historians knew that the site was far too important to knock down. So began the campaign to save Bletchley Park.
Peter Wescombe, the man leading the campaign, remembers the incident that crystallised his determination to save Bletchley Park:
“I was walking around the park with these two men I didn’t know from Adam. One was Harry Hinsley and the other was a chap called Stuart Milner-Barry, who was the head of Hut 6. Harry Hinsley, of course, was a Hut 4 man and became number two here and also wrote his magnum opus British Secret Intelligence in the Second World War. He, in fact, was talking to Stuart Milner-Barry and Edward Thomas and they were walking around the lake and I was walking with them, and they got round to where the steps are and Stuart Milner-Barry said, ‘Do you remember Harry when you came in roaring drunk and drove your cycle into the lake?’ Harry, of course, was a very straight-laced bloke. ‘Yes,’ Harry said. ‘Do you remember what you said?’ Harry said ‘No.’ Stuart said, ‘Please don’t tell Hilary. Please don’t tell Hilary.’ Hilary was his girlfriend and they married after the war…. And I thought, Yes. That’s the sort of thing we need. Not just the straight-laced stuff about codebreaking. These were ordinary people doing an extraordinary job. That’s the story I wanted to get…So that’s how the whole thing took off after the party.”
The 14 hours of audio recorded that day were recently discovered in Bletchley Park Archives and capture the veterans’ reactions to seeing Bletchley Park for the first time since the war. They also give an incredible insight into staff recruitment, the roles they carried out and the reality of working at the secret intelligence site and its outstations. In one recording, veteran Nancy Holderness comments:
“We were a motley crew really, from all different walks of life – I was in the lingerie department at Marshall & Snelgrove. We were sworn to secrecy and we took it so seriously. In wartime everyone realised how serious everything was and if you were on secret work they respected it.”
Katherine White from the Bletchley Park Podcast reminds us that the 1991 tea party started something else too:
“The campaign to save Bletchley Park from being bulldozed was not the only thing that party started. It was also the first of what has become the highlight of the year at Bletchley Park – the annual Veterans’ Reunion. This year’s was another great day, with veterans bringing their families to remember and celebrate their contribution.”
From October to December 2016, the Bletchley Park Podcast will mark the 25th anniversary of the party that saved Bletchley Park with three special episodes made from the recently discovered tapes. Listen to October’s episode below, which features interviews from the 2016 Veterans’ Reunion as well as the 1991 Bletchley Park tea party.
On 19-20 March 2016 Bletchley Park veterans, authors, machine experts and enthusiasts gathered at Firle Place Riding School for the ‘Celebrating Bletchley Park’ event to talk about Bletchley Park – the work, the people, and the groundbreaking machines developed to break the German Enigma code.
I thought you would like to see some of my photographs from the epic two-day event. Check out the photographs on Pinterest here: https://uk.pinterest.com/bpresearch/celebrating-bletchley-park-event or click on the photo below.
I’ve also added the photographs (with a few extras to the Pinterest album) to Google+ here: https://plus.google.com/+KerryHoward/posts/ht9bdEo1nQC.
This photograph of Sir Dermot Turing signing a copy of Prof: Alan Turing Decoded for author Michael Smith is one of my favourites.
Other speakers included Sir Dermot Turing, Elisa Segrave (the event host), Dr. Joel Greenberg, Sinclair McKay, and Gordon Corera. Margy Kinmonth talked about grandfather, Admiral John Henry Godfrey and shared some photographic treasures from the family archive.
The technical side of the Bombe Machine was covered by Paul Kellar, MBE from the Bombe Restoration Team. Phil Hayes from the National Museum of Computing delivered an accessible explanation of how codebreakers were able to break the complex Lorenz machine. I particularly enjoyed his talk as it was a light bulb moment in my understanding!
You can read more about the event and the speakers who delivered fascinating talks then spent time mingling with the audience. Click here to learn more about Celebrating Bletchley Park and the speakers.
The event’s Bookshop was delivered by City Books of Hove. As advertised by Sir Dermot Turing below, the speakers with books for sale at the event signed extra copies. Contact City Books to see if you can get a signed copy of your favourite Bletchley Park book.
A special thanks must go to Elisa Segrave, John Warburton and Lisa Gordon for organising such a fantastic event.
Clicking on the highlighted names of the speakers will take you to their books on Amazon UK. If you purchase their book through these links, I earn a few pennies commission (this does not affect the price you pay) which goes towards running this site. If you prefer, you can exit and go to Amazon direct or buy signed copies from City Books.
29 April 2016
I spent today with Bletchley Park veteran, Charlotte Webb and we made some interesting documentary discoveries.
While going through the papers Betty has collected over the years, we came across an invitation and programme for a Bletchley Park Reunion held on 14 October 1978.
Sir Harry Hinsley, Hut 4 veteran and official historian of British Intelligence in the Second World War, organised the event to bring together the WRNs of Bletchley Park.
Betty’s cousin (through marriage), who had served as a WRN at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, invited Betty to the reunion as a guest. Betty has kept the documents to mark the occasion when she first heard other Bletchley Park veterans share stories about their wartime work.
Images reproduced with the kind permission of Betty Webb. I think Betty is always amused by my wild excitement at seeing such items and wanting to share them here.
Following the sad news of the death of Sir Brian Tovey at the end of December 2015, I thought I would share his letter to Joan Murray (née Joan Clarke) following her official retirement from full-time employment at GCHQ in 1982.
Sir Brian Tovey joined GCHQ’s fast stream in 1950 but was posted to an integrated post in the Defence Signals Bureau (DSB) in Melbourne from 1951 to 1953. On his return, he worked on the Soviet target and on planning for the development of GCHQ’s intercept sites. He went back to the Far East in 1964 as GCHQ’s representative to the military in Singapore, and then became GCHQ’s liaison officer in DSB. On his return to the UK, after leading a major Soviet reporting branch, he was promoted Assistant Secretary, heading the Planning Staff from 1970-1973, and the Communications Security Policy Division from 1973-1975.
He became a Superintending Director on promotion to Under Secretary in 1975, and was the Director of CESG, the part of GCHQ responsible for protecting the security of British governmental communications. On the retirement of Sir Bill Bonsall, he was appointed as Director GCHQ in June 1978. He retired on 30 September 1983.”
Joan Clarke re-joined GCHQ in 1962 and retired from her ‘Principal’ post on 31 August 1977. She was sixty years old but she was not ready to leave her codebreaking life behind and was re-employed the day after her retirement as a ‘Clerical Officer in H Division,’ where she continued to work for five years.
In 1982, while a secretary placed the neatly typed retirement letter addressed to ‘Mrs J E L Murray’ and waited for Sir Brian Tovey to add his signature, Joan was still at GCHQ to carry out a two-month ‘part-time appointment as a re-employed Civil Servant’, commencing 1 July 1982. Her employment contract specified a minimum of eighteen hours a week for a period of two months and paid at an hourly rate of £3.33. She finally left GCHQ on 31 August 1982, well until April 1985 anyway…..
If you wish to share the image, do not alter the image and you must include the following attribution as well as link to this page. Thank you:
‘This letter from Brian Tovey to Joan Clarke (Murray) dated 2 July 1982 is reproduced with the kind permission of the Clarke family via www.bletchleyparkresearch.co.uk’.
I am off to Inspirefest 2015 to talk about Women Codebreakers. I thought I would share with you a sneak peek at the ‘codebreaker potential’ slides I will be using at my talk on Thursday morning at 10.10am in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin.
It’s not too late to buy a ticket for the event. It’s bubbling with inspirational speakers I can’t wait to hear speak and there’s a fabulous line up at the Fringe festival. I am particularly looking forward to watching Codebreaker film that fuses documentary and fictional drama to tell the story of Alan Turing.
There is also Computers, a documentary about the six pioneering ENIAC computer programmers’ story as told in their own words. This short file includes with never-before-seen interviews and long-lost 1940s film. Mix that with live music, documentaries, debate and good weather (please) and we’re in for a fabulous event.
I had the pleasure of attending the media launch for Inspirefest 2015 in April 2015. You can read about it here.
I received a telephone call today with some very exciting news. Charlotte Webb, Bletchley Park veteran, tireless speaker and advocate for all things Bletchley Park, has been awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Charlotte (known as Betty) has received this honour for ‘voluntary services for remembering and promoting the work of Bletchley Park’.
The letter from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirming the MBE arrived about 7 weeks ago, but Betty was sworn to secrecy until the list became public. No risk of the news leaking there then – we already know she’s good at keeping secrets.
Betty, now in her 90s has delivered in excess of 100 talks about her time at Bletchley Park and its growth into a World Class Heritage attraction. She regularly appears on the television, radio and newspapers to help spread the Bletchley Park story worldwide.
Betty is absolutely delighted with the news. She said “I am very surprised and greatly honoured.”
This is a much deserved honour and I am sure you will join me in congratulating Betty. When I visit her next week I will take her a bouquet of flowers from all the Bletchley Park Research readers.
You can also listen to Betty talking about her war years on the Bletchley Park Podcast:
Betty will be at the Annual Veteran’s Reunion celebration at Bletchley Park on 6th September 2015. You never know, you might just get the chance to have your book signed.
At first sight an Edwardian roll-top bathtub may seem a little out-of-place in a major exhibition to explore codebreaking in World War One. The Road to Bletchley Park is now open at Bletchley Park, sponsored by BAE Systems and Ultra Electronics, celebrates the pioneering achievements of those who waged a secret war – and how they paved the way for the Codebreakers Bletchley Park.
Yes, there is a bathtub, and it is extremely relevant to the story of one of Bletchley Park’s key codebreakers.
The story of signals intelligence in WW1 is an untold but crucial one, because a large number of those involved went on to work with the newly formed Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) in 1919, which then relocated to Bletchley Park in 1939. Sarah Ralph, Bletchley Park’s WW1 Exhibition Research Coordinator, says “Their efforts from 1914 to 1918 allowed the Codebreakers to hit the ground running at the outbreak of WW2.”
The first phase of this fascinating exhibition, now open in the park’s Block C Visitor Centre, introduces the two very separate codebreaking organisations working in WW1: MI1(b), set up by the Army, and Room 40, established by the Navy. They were each fighting a secret war, behind the scenes in London offices.
The work of these two distinct organisations, each with their own hierarchies and objectives, was dependent on what was then brand new technology. One key exhibit is a replica of a Marconi crystal receiver listening set. Sarah adds “Both Allies and Central Powers used cable and wireless telegraphy to intercept messages and deduce enemy tactics and positions. Each side tried to break the other’s codes and gain valuable intelligence.”
At the centre of the exhibition is an Edwardian roll-top bathtub – a favoured codebreaking tool of Dilly Knox. Dilly’s small office in Room 53 of Admiralty buildings from 1917 had its own bath and he took every opportunity during the night shift to spend time in it, thinking through codebreaking problems. There is nothing better than codebreaking in the bathtub.
The bathtub is part of the exhibition exploring some of the key characters involved in codebreaking during both wars. Sarah says “One of my favourite exhibits related to the work in Room 40 is a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships. I love this book. It’s an exhaustive catalogue of every nation’s warships. Every time a ship was sunk (Room 40 staff) would cross out the name. It’s a very physical way of marking the conflict’s progress.”
“We hope this exhibition, which runs until 2019, will help to shed light on a hitherto less well known story of WW1. As the title of the exhibition alludes to, the work of Room 40 and MI1(b) in WW1 laid the foundations of the success of Bletchley Park in WW2. Visitors will learn how these pioneers operated, and how their work led to the formation of the Government Code and Cypher School, the organisation that eventually set up Bletchley Park.” CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust, Iain Standen.
22 April 2015
20 January 2015
As we draw closer to the publication of Women Codebreakers, I wanted to share a previously unseen photograph of Joan Clarke (later Murray). More photographs as well as her letters and notes also feature in the book.
It was taken in 1936, the year she matriculated to Newnham College, Cambridge to study mathematics.
The book will definitely be out next week. Keep your eye on Amazon, or better still, sign up to the Bletchley Park Research Newsletter and I’ll drop you an email with the date. I will talk about the delays once it’s finally out.
Please feel free to share the photograph of Joan so we can all get to know her, but I ask that you also link back to this post or to http://www.
I have the pleasure of announcing that in June I’ll be speaking about the Women Codebreakers of Bletchley Park at Inspire 2015 in Dublin.
Inspire 2015 is a two-day international event at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin. The event ‘connects professionals interested in the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with new perspectives on innovation, leadership and success. These perspectives are shared by inspirational women who are leaders in their field, and by advocates of meaningful diversity in education, research, business and society.’
It’s the biggest event I have ever spoken at but I try to settle the butterflies by focusing on the fact that it’s a great opportunity to meet inspirational women of our time while sharing the stories of inspirational women of the past.
I will talk about women like Joan Clarke, Margaret Rock and Mavis Lever who worked as senior codebreakers as well as the thousands of women who worked in every area of the Government Code and Cypher School’s codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park during World War 2. That’s a lot of inspiration!
Inspire 2015 is organised by Siliconrepublic.com, Europe’s leading technology and innovation news service. Silicon Republic was named Best Science & Technology Website 2013 at the Realex Irish Web Awards, and Best Technology Website for six years in a row at the Realex Irish Web Awards (2008 – 2013). They also run the highly regarded Women Invent Tomorrow campaign with industry partners Intel, Accenture, ESB, Twitter, Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland and CoderDojo, to champion role models in the crucial areas of science, technology, engineering and maths.
I will share more details as they become available.
When author Michael Smith was asked first asked to write about the debutantes of Bletchley Park he firmly said ‘No.’
You can imagine the publisher’s raised eyebrows, and that moment of surprise, which eventually turned to understanding when one the most knowledgeable writers on the subject explained:
‘I said no because there weren’t that many – they weren’t all Debs, but I said I will write about the women of Bletchley Park. I think their story is important. I think we see things from a male perspective because that’s the way the world was seen in those days. We talk about the women being small cogs in a big machine, which is true to some extent but if you take the cogs out, the machine doesn’t work.’
So with the publisher’s blessing Michael Smith wrote a book that explores all classes of women at all levels of the Bletchley Park hierarchy, from Joan Clarke in Hut 8 who became one of the most senior codebreakers at Bletchley Park, Pamela Gibson (now Rose) in Hut 4 who worked in a top civilian rank as a senior Administrative Officer to a junior Wren laboriously manning the Bombe machine and the filing clerks, down to the lowest rung of a very important ladder.
‘The Treasury tried to keep them in junior ranks because that was cheaper and they were quite blatant about that. At one point commander Travis, the Head of Bletchley Park said to Joan Clarke “I think we might have to make you a Wren if we are going to pay you what you need.” So a junior Wren working on the Bombe was paid more than Joan Clarke who was one of the leading codebreakers.’
The book is entirely from the perspective of the women. Only three men get quoted – Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, and the husband of one of the veterans, who went on to work as an actress.
‘He saw this “vision of loveliness step out on the stage.” It was such a lovely quote that I wasn’t going to leave it out.’
To launch ‘The Debs of Bletchley Park and Other Stories‘ Michael Smith introduced six of the women featured in the book to a frenzy of media interest gathered in the Bletchley Park Mansion:
Lady Marion Body, from Stanford Dingley in Berkshire, was a Foreign Office civilian working on Japanese encoded messages alongside HRH The Duchess of Cambridge’s grandmother and great-aunt. She recently briefed the Duchess on what her grandmother and great-aunt did at Bletchley.
Jean Pitt-Lewis, from Monmouth in Gwent, was a Foreign Office civilian and member of Dilly’s Girls, a group of young women who worked with Bletchley’s chief cryptographer Dilly Knox to brea Italian and German secret service Enigma messages. The secret service messages were vital to the Double Cross deception which ensured the success of the D-Day landings.
Betty Webb, from Wythall in Worcestershire, was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She worked on German police messages in the Mansion at Bletchley Park. These messages revealed the beginning of the Holocaust with the massacres of thousands of Jews on the eastern front. Betty then moved to Block F to paraphrase intelligence reports based on Japanese Army messages decoded and translated at Bletchley.
Marigold Freeman-Attwood, from Haddenham in Buckinghamshire, was a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, the Wrens. She worked on Colossus, the world’s first digital electronic computer, which was used to break the coded messages sent by Hitler’s High Command.
Margaret Mortimer, from Bramble Edge in Dorset, was a Wren working in the Newmanry Registration Room receiving German messages from the intercept site at Knockholt, near Sevenoaks in Kent on punched paper teleprinter tapes, preparing them for running through Colossus and logging the results.
Jean Tocher, from Poole in Dorset, was a Wren in the Bletchley Park Naval Section working on the ‘Allied Plot’. This was a chart of the world covering all four walls of one room on which a number of Wrens plotted the movement of all the allied ships and their German, Italian and Japanese opposite numbers.
The book is different to Michael Smith’s other books on Bletchley Park. I love his books because they are a detailed blend of the technical art of codebreaking and the eclectic mix of characters who inhabited the secret wartime site. He has gone out of his way to make the bookaccessible to a wider audience by ‘dispensing with all the techie stuff.’ The book explains the technical aspects such as Colossus and the Enigma busting Bombe, but in simple terms. To broaden the appeal he has kept the focus on the human story and personal testimony of the women who continue to fascinate us. After all it is their experiences that continue to fascinate us.
Michael Smith told me that laid down his Bletchley Park pen for the time being (or possibly permanently) to finish his novel. The novel is in the final stages of completion and he’s keen to get it back to it. Michael even gave a top-secret hint, saying ‘It’s second world war and one of the main characters is a woman working in a very secret job’.
I don’t know about you, but now I’ve devoured The Debs of Bletchley Park and Other Stories published by Aurum Press, I am eager to read his novel.
You can listen to my interview with Michael Smith on my new Retro Researcher Podcast on Audioboom. The interview is a fascinating insight into the story of the book and the women who feature in it. The interview includes the quotes found in this article.
You can also listen to Episode 31 of the Bletchley Park Podcast to hear more about the launch of Michael Smith’s book and hear the stories directly from the women of Bletchley Park. The episode also includes my interview with Michael Smith and Jean Pitt-Lewis. Click this link to listen at https://audioboom.com/boos/2882464-the-bletchley-park-podcast-e31-telling-the-world.
Thank you to Jessica Duncan for allowing me to reproduce the group photograph of the Bletchley Park women.
16 December 2014
The last week has been hectic and very exciting. I’ve worked hard on the planned launch of ‘Women Codebreakers – The Story of Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever and Joan Clarke’. The relatives of Margaret and Mavis have been fantastic with their support. But something very exciting has happened.
I’ve had an exciting breakthrough and finally made contact with Joan’s family.
In the last few days I have interviewed two relatives who have been amazingly helpful. Joan’s niece, who I interviewed yesterday is sending some photographs. I am hopeful that I’ll be able to speak to another nephew over the next few days.
The result of the interviews is an added depth and richness to my understanding of Joan Clarke. I had been able to peek under the curtains of the past, dig under the stones of related material to build a picture of Joan’s life for the book. So when I set the date for publication I had a story of Joan utilising facts from published work as well as new information I have obtained from the family history research and interviews. But finally speaking to family has blown that out of the water in the way that only personal detail can.
It explains the reasons behind Joan’s shyness as well as an insight into her quirks, relationships and passions. I now need to finish weaving these details into the existing narrative of the book so readers can understand the real Joan Clarke too. It also means reformatting the eBook ready for launch.
For anyone who has pre-ordered the book that launch date was today. I’ve agonised over what to do – do I release what I have today on the day of The Imitation Game’s release in the US and do a later update, or do wait so that I can have Joan’s full story in the book from the start? I’ve changed my mind a million times, left it to the last minute but I’ve finally decided….
I’ve decided that the real Joan Clarke is worth waiting for.
This means the book isn’t going to be available today as planned. This is painful to say as it will disappoint, and possibly alienate people who are expecting the book today. But I think I will be short-changing them when I know I can offer more in light of the family interviews.
It’s all well and good that I work through the ‘eleventh hour and three quarters’ to get it finished (we’ve all been there before – I know I have), but I need to give Joan’s family time to revisit the memories of Joan as they go through papers and photographs to send over. The book will be better for it.
At this point I am going to delay the book by just over a week, so it will be the 7th December. I hope to get some of the photographs by then.
For those eagerly waiting to read it – I am very sorry and I hope you understand. Your support in this is much appreciated. I love the hunt of the research, but you can never tell when something special turns up. These last few days have been very special and I want to do justice to the new information so that this tribute to three inspirational women is the best it can be.
Photograph at the top of the page is taken from the 1992 Horizon programme ‘The Strange Life and Death of Dr.Turing’. Reproduced from the programme with the kind permission of its director, Christopher Sykes.
21 November 2014
14 November 2014