Deciphering the legacy of women codebreakers in World War II

www.siliconrepublic.com Inspire 2015
20 January 2015

In the lead up to the Inspire 2015 in June Silicon Republic, Europe’s leading technology and innovation news service, is running a series of interviews with the event’s speakers.

I had the pleasure of sharing my story with the lovely Claire O’Connell (@claireoconnell) for Friday’s article -‘Deciphering the legacy of women codebreakers in World War II’. #inspirefest2015

Deciphering the legacy of women codebreakers in WW2

Have you seen this photograph of Joan Clarke from1936?

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.

www.bletchleyparkresearch.co.uk

Joan Clarke (Murray) 1936

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.bletchleyparkresearch.co.uk/research-notes/women-codebreakers/.

women codebreakers, www.bletchleyparkresearch.co.uk

Women Codebreakers at Inspire 2015

Inspire 2015

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.’

I have Dr Sue Black to thank for putting my name forward. I am both excited and intimidated – have you seen the caliber of the other speakers? Check out the event at inspirefest2015.com.

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.

#inspirefest2015.com

Debs of Bletchley Park & other stories

Author & Bletchley Park's chief historical advisor.

Author Michael Smith

When author Michael Smith was asked first asked to write about the debutantes of Bletchley Park he firmly said ‘No.’

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:

Copyright & Reproduced with permission of www.mkweb.co.uk 2015

Copyright & Reproduced with permission of www.mkweb.co.uk 2015

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.

Decoding the past at Bletchley Park – an interview

J.Lynn Stapleton's interview with Kerry Howard at http://celtic-dragon.me/
16 December 2014

Bletchley Park ResearchHappy New Year.

I am excited about new adventures in 2015 but I thought I would share once last item from 2014.

In December 2014 I had the pleasure of answering questions about Bletchley Park for J.Lynn Stapleton (@ceridwyn2), which featured on her website http://celtic-dragon.me. I feel quite nostalgic when I read the resulting interview, as it’s a wonderful reminder of my first visits to Bletchley Park.

As with all these such requests they sometimes lead to more conversations. In 2014 I made many new friends through our common interest in Bletchley Park and I am looking forward to building on those friendships and meeting new people in 2015.

Thanks for taking the time to read Bletchley Park Research and getting in touch. You make the process of sharing my research online so very enjoyable.

Warmest Wishes

Kerry

Waiting for Joan Clarke

Joan_Clarke_Murray_WW2_Horizon_1992The 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.

Building Christopher for Alan Turing

How Designers Recreated Alan Turing’s Code-Breaking Computer for Imitation Game by Angela Watercutter, Wired
21 November 2014
(C) John Jackson

copyright John Jackson

Alan Turing’s Bombe machine ‘Christopher’  is a key cast member in The Imitation Game.

Wired’s article breaks down how production designer Maria Djurkovic researched and designed Christopher taking the Turing/Welchman Bombe Rebuild machine at Bletchley Park as the basis for the design.

Djurkovic designed Christopher with red cabling flowing into the front of the machine, adding to the illusion it is a living entity with nerves and blood pumping through veins.

“It’s not just Christopher, it’s every single aspect of the film.” says Djurkovic.

The Bombe machine prop is on display at Bletchley Park in The Imitation Game Exhibition.

Who Was The Real Joan Clarke?

The Imitation Game: Who Was The Real Joan Clarke? by Mary-Ann Russon, International Business Times UK
14 November 2014

On the day The Imitation Game was released in the UK to much media attention Mary-Ann Russon from the International Business Times UK takes a look over Alan Turing’s shoulder and shines a well-deserved light on the real Joan Clarke.

Women Codebreakers at Bletchley Park Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever & Joan Clarke

Women Codebreakers at Bletchley Park
Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever & Joan Clarke

You can read more about Joan and the other women codebreakers here.

Relatives of Polish Codebreaker visit Bletchley Park

Relatives of Poland’s codebreaking geniuses have visited Bletchley Park to celebrate their contribution to the battle to break Enigma. The families of Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki toured the heritage site on Wednesday 19 November 2014 and laid flowers at the Polish memorial in the Stableyard, adjacent to the building where the early British wartime work on Enigma took place.

Polish Codebreakers

©shaunarmstrong/mubsta.com

“One of the biggest regrets of my life is not being sufficiently aware of his work at an age when I could ask him about it, because he never talked about it spontaneously. At the age of 60 he had a stroke and for the next ten years until he died he was less and less able to communicate, so I missed a valuable opportunity to find out more about what he did.”

Jeremy Russell, Henryk Zygalski’s nephew

In July 1939 representatives of British and French intelligence met their Polish equivalents amid secrecy in the Pyry Forest outside Warsaw. Three weeks later the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), the forerunner of today’s GCHQ, moved to Bletchley Park.

Much to the surprise of the British, the Poles were much further forward than their British and French counterparts in unravelling the mysteries of the Enigma encryption machine. The work of three brilliant young mathematicians, Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki would prove to be invaluable to their Allies and contribute significantly to the ultimate success of Bletchley Park. The Poles generously shared their groundbreaking work with the British and French, including versions of their own replica Enigma machines.

“It was like a relay race. The Poles had run the first lap and had got much further and much faster than anyone had expected. They then passed the baton to the British and French cryptanalysts. It’s a story of partnership.”

GCHQ Departmental Historian, Tony Comer

You can read more about how the Polish Codebreakers broke Enigma on Tony Sale’s Codes and Ciphers website.

Dr Sue Black on The Imitation Game imitating real life

Dr Sue Black 'The-imitation Game Art Imitating Real Life'
20 November 2014

Dr Sue Black with Bletchley Park Bombe Machine operator Jean Valentine. Reproduced with kind permission of Dr Black.

As the debate surrounding the historical inaccuracies in The Imitation Game continues, Dr. Sue Black shows that you can love the film for its impact while hating it for the factual errors.

Read her intelligent and well-reasoned review in her blog post ‘The Imitation Game – Art Imitating Real Life’

Dr. Sue Black is an inspirational campaigner for women’s roles at Bletchley Park and in Tech today. You can find out more about her at https://blackse.wordpress.com/about/ and buy a copy of her book ‘Saving Bletchley Park‘.

 

 

New Women Codebreakers Book Cover and Limited Pre-Order Pricing

women codebreakers, www.bletchleyparkresearch.co.ukI am very excited to share with you the smashing cover for the Women Codebreakers of Bletchley Park book cover. Designed by the fabulous Mark Stephenson at Launch Creative, the cover is everything I hoped for.

Mark transformed my idea of a wartime propaganda style poster bringing together the images of Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever and Joan Clarke brilliantly. It’s eye-catching and fun with a little nod to an era of hand coloured photographs.

I actually felt emotional when I saw it.

My plan to launch in line with the release of The Imitation Game didn’t go to plan (see the post ‘Waiting for Joan Clarke’ for an exciting update & the reason for the change of date).

How exciting.

As a special pre-order reward for those of you who buy it from this website. When it goes live on Amazon, the price will jump up to £3.99.


UPDATE: Pre-orders direct from this website has now ended. It will be available to purchase from 10th January 2015.

 

women codebreakers, book cover Launch creative also designed by Bletchley Park Research logo and can wholeheartedly recommend them to you for any design work. You can contact Mark at www.launchcreative.co.uk.

Mair Russell Jones Hut 6 codebreaker remembers Turing

Welsh codebreaker Mair Russell-Jones recognised Alan Turing's genius by Robin Turner, Wales Online
16 November 2014

The son of a Welsh woman who worked alongside World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing has spoken of how she “clearly recognised” his superb intellect soon after meeting him at Bletchley Park in World War 2.

German language skills, music training and talent for crosswords were the reasons Mair Russell-Jones was ‘headhunted’ by the Foreign Office for the Government Code & Cypher School operation at Bletchley Park. She worked in Hut 6 where the German Army and Air Force Enigma cyphers were broken.

In this article published in the Welsh Times, Gethin recalls how his mother often talked about Alan Turing and expressed her outrage at the way he was treated.

You can buy Mair’s book (written with her son) My Secret Life in Hut Six in bookstores, including Amazon UK and Amazon.com. This is a book definitely on my Christmas list for 2014.
.

Time Traveller Danny and the Codebreaker (Seven Arches Publishing, 2012)

 With the adult world experiencing a dose of long overdue Turingmania, I thought I’d share Time Traveller Danny and the Codebreaker by Paul Morris – a gem of a book, introducing the younger reader to Alan Turing and Bletchley Park.

This engaging fictional adventure about a boy who travels through time to Bletchley Park in World War 2 appeals to the young – and the not so young – reader. It captures the imagination and makes history exciting.

The blurb:

Danny Higgins is taken into the amazing, secret world of Bletchley Park during the World War 2. Danny must pass himself off as an operative working towards decoding secret German messages.

Is it only available in print (no ebook as yet, and I eagerly await an audiobook version), which you can buy in the usual places including Amazon UK and Amazon.com.

Enjoy!

 

Alan Turing and the Solitaire solution

Enigma genius Alan Turing solved my childhood puzzle - article by Pamela Owen, The Mirror
16 November 2014

As a child Maria Summerscale was baffled by the puzzling board game Solitaire. During evenings with Maria’s parents in 1952 Alan Turing sat on the floor with Maria, watching as she struggled to solve the puzzle.

Maria describes Turing as ‘ a very warm person who ­always took an interest in what I was ­doing..’ He also took an interest in the puzzle and sent Maria a surprise letter explaining the solution and providing a diagram .

Such a kind act shows Turing’s fascination with the challenge of puzzles – regardless of whether the soluction could turn the tide of war or end the frustration of an eight year old child.

A year after sending Maria the letter Alan Turing tragically committed suicide. We will never know just how many other puzzles this brilliant man could have solved had he lived to fulfill his potential.

This is a fascinating article in the Mirror, shining an endearing light on the personality of Alan Turing.

Breaking Enigma was not the hardest codebreaking puzzle

The Telegraph - Breaking the Enigma code was the easiest part of the Nazi puzzle by Michael Smith
15 November 2014

Writer and Bletchley Park expert, Michael Smith talks about The Imitation Game and explores a World War 2 puzzle even greater and more challenging than Enigma – the SZ-40 Lorenz machine.

Michael Smith Author www.bletchleyparkresearch.co.uk

You can also watch a video explained how the Lorenz was broken by clicking here.

Michael Smith’s book on the female codebreakers, ‘The Debs of Bletchley Park and Other Stories’, will be published by Aurum in January. Can’t wait until then?

Buy his excellent book The Secrets of Station X: How the Bletchley Park codebreakers helped win the war.

Bletchley Park

Turing in the ballroom with a bombe

On Tuesday 4th November 2014 I wondered around the Bletchley Park Mansion with a clear picture in my head of Alan Turing in the ballroom with a bombe machine.

Although I would like to see a Bletchley Park Cluedo game  (it’s my favourite board game), I am actually talking about the beautifully arranged Imitation Game Film Exhibition in Bletchley Park’s ballroom.

Turing in the Ballroom with a Bombe

The exhibition opened after the special preview of The Imitation Game. The guests, wearing evening dresses and black ties strolled over to the Teleprinter Room for the special screening of this highly praised and much-anticipated film. I was very excited to get an invitation to the event (I may even have squealed when I pulled the invitation from its gold envelope).

I have to admit that I was apprehensive about my reaction to the film. The trailers look fabulous and I adore the warm colour and tone, but I worried that I would not like Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Joan Clarke or that the stretch historical facts to create a dramatic film would leave me cold.

Turing in the Ballroom with a Bombe

Turns out, I loved the film. I think Joan’s character has less social awkwardness than is true and Alan’s quirks are downplayed, but it doesn’t matter, the actors capture an endearing warmth of both characters. It makes you care about them and their battle to break the code.

My favourite part is when Alan gives each of his Hut 8 colleagues an apple because Joan said it was a good idea. It’s an awkward but sweet moment, superbly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch.

The film also made me reflect on the overriding essence of the relationship played on screen by the two main characters – a closeness that stems from intellectual companionship. Alan and Joan bond over picnics, codebreaking problems and botany in an atmosphere fizzing with intellectual chemistry. I like the interpretation.

Photo: Jack English © 2014 The Weinstein Company.

Photo: Jack English © 2014 The Weinstein Company.

When Joan did married in 1952, she married John Murray, a retired Army Officer who had trained as a Russian interpreter and worked in military intelligence for the War Office during World War 2. They met at GCHQ after the war and moved to Scotland and worked together in companionable and highly respected scholarly study of old coins.  So, it seems that Joan relished working alongside a partner in the pursuit of similar interests and as intellectual equals. Suddenly, the reasons for the relationship portrayed in The Imitation Game seem credible.

Turing in the Ballroom with a Bombe

The story of the nearly 9,000 people who worked at Bletchley Park and contributed to its success during World War 2 is squeezed into a story of a handful of people in The Imitation Game. I am in no doubt that it will inspire people to learn more about the characters and discover the full and rich history of Bletchley Park. A film that is both entertaining and creates historical interest gets the thumbs up from me.

My favourite line in the film goes something like this:

‘Some people think we were at war with the Germans. We weren’t, we were at war with the clock.’

The Imitation Game is on at UK cinemas from today. The Imitation Game Exhibition displaying props from the movie is open daily at Bletchley Park.

I will be going to see The Imitation Game again, this time with popcorn.

Women in wartime

Article by Sarah Dawood for The Guardian
8th November 2014

www.bletchleyparkresearch.co.ukWar change the women’s roles and increased their career opportunities. But has that change been sustained?  Sarah Dawood discusses Women in wartime – the role of the female public servant.

http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2014/nov/08/world-war-women-workplace-public-services

[I get a mention and a little quote about women in World War 2 codebreaking].

My Engagement to Alan Turing by Joan Clarke (later Murray) is an extract of an 1992 Horizon programme about Alan Turing featuring the enigmatic Joan Clarke. In this short extract from the original programme hear Joan talk about Alan’s proposal of marriage and his revelation about his homosexual tendancies.

Can’t see the video above.  Click here to watch ‘My Engagement to Alan Turing by Joan Clarke’ on YouTube.

You can find out more about Joan Clarke and a new ebook celebrating the lives of 3 of the Women Codebreakers at Bletchley Park – Margaret Rock, Joan Clarke and Mavis Lever (later Batey) . The book will be available for pre-order on Amazon from 1 November 2014.

Joan Clarke, Mavis Lever, Margaret Rock, www.bletchleyparkresearch.co.uk

You can watch the full progamme: The Strange Life and Death of Dr Turing at http://youtu.be/gyusnGbBSHE

With thanks to the programme’s Director Christopher Sykes for making it available to share http://www.christophersykesproductions.com/