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Bletchley Park codebreakers 'dried their knickers on Hitler's Enigma machine'

November 13th, 2014

“It used to be festooned with bras and pants all through our night duty. Back then it must have looked a real sight.”

Mrs Balfour’s father had to give his permission for her join the Wrens in 1944 because she was under 18.

She spent six weeks training in London before being assigned to “Special Duties X” and posted to the secret facility near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire.

She spent up to 10 hours a day sifting through reams of code and said they were never told where their work had actually succeeded.

The women were even forbidden from talking to each other about their individuals parts of the puzzle.

Mrs Balfour said: “We were given long strips of paper tape made by the Enigma machine and told to divide everything into fives.

“We used to get codes for the day, one I can remember is YO-SE-RO, a Japanese code for man.

“There were so many of them I can’t remember, but I’ve always remembered that one.

Wrens operating the world’s first electronic programmable computer, the Colossus (Bletchley Park Trust)

“None of us knew everything that we were working on. We each knew a bit, our own part of the puzzle, so if you were caught, you couldn’t tell them everything, even if they tortured you.

“We were told never to discuss with anyone else what we were doing.

“We never knew anything. We never knew what we had done, or if we had helped to actually crack the codes.

“I never even told my parents because we signed the Official Secrets Act, so they died without ever finding out what I was doing.”

Mrs Balfour, from Helensburgh, Scotland, said she and her fellow Wrens would see Turing walking about the grounds – often backwards as he read a book.

She said: “We used to see Alan Turing from time to time, and back then we used to giggle and laugh.

“We used to watch him walk backwards sometimes while reading a book, and we couldn’t help but giggle at him for how he acted.

“We thought he was queer for how he behaved.

“But I feel the government should formally recognise him for his work during the war. He did so much and his name has not yet appeared anywhere really.

“It’s too late for him now, but people should know what he did.

“I think because he was queer, he was pushed into the background, but all these people with these brilliant minds were a bit different in their own way.”


World War Two

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