Code Breaker Girls – A Secret Life at Bletchley Park, Jan Slimming

Code Breaker Girls – A Secret Life at Bletchley Park, Jan Slimming

This book is built around the wartime experiences of the author’s mother, Daisy Lawrence, a civilian worker at Bletchley Park. Like everyone who worked at Bletchley, she kept her wartime secrets well into the 1970s, and was reluctant to talk about them after knowledge of what happened at Bletchley began to emerge.

The first part looks at Daisy’s pre-war life – her childhood, her early career, and her romance and engagement to Stan. Stan was unlucky enough to end up in Singapore just before the Japanese captured the city, and spent the rest of the war as a Japanese POW. One theme of the rest of the book are Diasy’s efforts to find out if Stan was still alive, was he in Japanese captivity, and if so where was he being held. This must have been a common experience for the relatives of prisoners of the Japanese, who rarely gave out lists of names of POWs, 

The second, and largest, part of the book, looks at Daisy’s time at Bletchley Park. There is a mix here of her own memories and a collection of documents she had collected that were found after her death, accounts from other people doing similar jobs, and the results of background research that helps explain the background to Daisy’s work. Effectively Daisy’s recollections provided the framework for further research, which has been used here to give us an idea of what her role would have been, and how it fitted into the complex world of Bletchley.

The third part of the book looks at the long term impact of Daisy’s time at Bletchley Park, in particular on her mental health. The stress of having to keep her wartime role secret even from her closest family for so long clearly caused a great deal of mental strain. It also clearly caused problems for her husband Stan, who for decades was unaware that his wife had actually played a significant role in the war, and is reported as saying that she had been nowhere near the war. This must have been very difficult to take after having been involved in such important war work. There appears to have been no post-war support for former members of staff at Bletchley, and even the glowing reference letter Daisy had been given proved to be counter-productive, as on the one occasion she used it to help get a job it simply triggered a series of questions she couldn’t answer.

This book is very different to most on Bletchley, focusing as much as possible on one individual and how their time at Bletchley impacted on the rest of their life. The result is a thought provoking work which demonstrates that the burden of post-war secrecy must have had a major impact on the life of people who were sworn to secrecy, but were surrounded by people who could talk about their own wars.

Part I: Early Days
1 – Tooting SW17
2 – War
3 – ‘Manoeuvres’
4 – Bon Voyage
5 – Wartime Volunteer?
6 – A Letter and a Telegram
7 – Chosen
8 – Departing

Part II – War Secrets
9 – Arriving at Bletchley
10 – New Surroundings and a Friendly Face
11 – Room 40
12 – Enigma and the Polish Bomba
13 – Bletchley Park, the Prime Minister and a Letter
14 – Living in Digs
15 – The Workings of Bletchley Park
16 – Working and Waiting
17 – Intelligence Triumphs
18 – Rationing and Writing
19 – From SW17 to PO Box 111
20 – Block E, Typex Communications
21 – Culture or Intellect?
22 – Wrens
23 – The Listeners
24 – Speaking of Japanese
25 – Hut 7 and Top Secret Ultra
26 – Lonely Girl
27 – Fun and Games
28 – Lead up to D-Day
29 – Letters from Home
30 – Winter of 1944
31 – War’s End
32 – ‘We Also Served’
33 – Rain or Ruin, Rain of Tears

Part III – Secret Burden
34 – After the War
35 – Memory
36 – Bletchley Park
37 – Hospital
38 – Mental Health
39 – Believe
40 – Recovery
41 – The Seventies
42 – Reunion and the Sales Times
43 – Still No Recognition
44 – Conclusion

Author: Jan Slimming
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2021

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