"If our watch was responsible for some wonderful thing happening or a victory or something, sinking of a ship or something like that, they would come and tell us and say, you were responsible on your watch and we all yelled hooray."
We had a good life and then of course, everything changed when war was declared. Because the first thing, we had to all start carrying around a little cardboard box with a gas mask in it. And at the end of our street was a little board up on a pedestal and it would have changed colour if there was a gas attack. So then we’d all have to don these gas masks and they were a big nuisance. They got in the way because you had to have them strapped around your neck, hanging on you anyway. After about a few months of this, I think they realized that this wasn’t going to come about because the Germans had as much to fear from us spreading gas over there. So that was good, we didn’t have to carry those around anymore. But then, many people thought the war was going to be all over by Christmas of 1939.
Over London, they had great big balloons floating. That was so that the planes couldn’t dive down and dive bomb the important landmarks and buildings. So they ended just before the place where I lived in Kent, so of course, Germans who had been caught by the fighters, they would get over the blues, the last of the blues, and then they’d drop their load. So we got our share, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the city of London but we got our share of bombings.
But often I can remember, I’d be far enough away, I used to cycle with two friends and I often remember an air raid on the way to school and we’d have to get off our bicycles and try to find a tree or something just to stand under or throw yourself on the ground, that’s what they advised you to do. And I know one day I’m standing underneath this little tiny slender cherry tree and my friend said, come on, come on, get down. I said, I’m not getting down there in my new coat, I had this precious thing, this new coat. And that was 24 clothes ration tickets and we only got about 30 for the whole year per person.
Because I worked in London, I had my interview at the Admiralty and the officer who interviewed me or anything to do with numbers. The fact that I had taken accountancy courses and worked in that department at the Perely Shorts company because a lot of the men who had retired came back to help run it, because all the young men were in the forces. And so it was girls right from school, we were running this insurance company with help from many senior members who had worked there for many years. But a lot of them came back out of retirement.
By the end of the war, we were tracking 90,000 messages a month and they had a huge staff that the government could look it over and then they would decide which was important, which messages were important and to help the government, Churchill in particular, because it was his whole baby in the first place, and to help him run the war. And by the end of it, we knew more about, sometimes we knew information before even the high command in Germany would find out.
And we had listeners all around the world, you know, messages coming in. And then of course, had all the linguists, we just did the first part which was purely mechanical. And then it would go to the special huts where the linguists would interpret what we’d found out, so it was quite incredible.
[Secrecy of Bletchley Park] And that was when they shared. Now, you must realize this is absolutely secret. You must not tell anyone, especially anyone of your relatives or boyfriend or anyone who was serving. Because if they’re taken prisoner, they could be tortured for information if there was any sort of it being, what we were doing over there, cracking this Colosisus. And so they said, if you do tell anyone, if you break your promise, you will be fined 2,000 pounds and you’ll go to prison for two years. Well of course, we were all horrified, we were scared of even talking in our sleep.
My husband was very smart and he used to come and meet me, if he had a leave and I didn’t, and he’d come to the gates of Bletchley and he would see the guards on the gate. Every time we went in, they’d board our buses, British soldiers, fully armed, look us all over, as long as we were all in uniform and there was an officer to vouch for us, we’d be cleared and then the bus would advance into the park, to the parking lot. And he was sort of, you know, I figured out what you’re doing in there. He said, there’s army, navy, air force, civilians, he said, I think you’re decoding. Well, I nearly died on the spot and I thought, oh my God, what am I going to say. And then I said, now how could I be doing that, I don’t speak German.
And if our watch was responsible for some wonderful thing happening or a victory or something, sinking of a ship or something like that, they would come and tell us and say, you were responsible on your watch and we all yelled hooray, hooray. But they didn’t give us a drink for it.
Well, no, a bus would come, they’d say there’s going to be a dance at the American air station. So we need so many volunteers and so they’d send a truck, we’d clamber in the back, we’d all go off to this, some place where the Americans were stationed. I remember once I heard Glen Miller. Like I knew of him, I knew of Glen Miller because he was in movies but that was so sad because he was shot down [plane disappeared en route from a flight from England to Paris on December 15, 1944].
Well, I tell you, it was a privilege to be around. I know that’s a terrible thing, people would say, oh, how awful to live there. The whole nation with very few exceptions, everybody looked out for everyone else. And I have never seen such marvelous shows of humanity. And if a bomb hit your house or something happened like that, there’d be hundreds of people come from all around and help the family, take them in until they could shelter permanent shelter if their houses were destroyed.
Everybody did something, women just helped to take over. And then after the war was over, they said, oh well, now you’ve got to leave and just go back to your little houses because the jobs have got to be for the men now. So that’s why they started to rebel a bit and quite a different world now for women. But it did make a difference.