The Invisible Code-Breakers of WWII

Tech Republic’s article Hacking the Nazis: The secret story of the women who broke Hitler’s codes shares the stories of three veteran servicewomen who helped the code-breaking operations at Bletchley Park and other allied locations. The article notes that

Because Turing’s individual achievements were so momentous, it’s sometimes forgotten that more than 10,000 other people worked at the Government Code and Cypher School, of whom more than two-thirds were female. These servicewomen played a pivotal role in an operation that decrypted millions of German messages and which is credited with significantly shortening the war.

Many of the jobs weren’t glamorous, but they were important. For example,

[Ruth] Bourne said, “You didn’t have to be rocket scientists but what you had to be was 125 percent accurate. You worked in pairs and you and your checker would plug up the back of your machine, which was extremely complicated. You had to brush out the wires on your drums so there wouldn’t be short circuits, make sure the plugs at the back of the machine were pushed in and straight, and you had to be on the go for the eight-hour shift, as you you were standing for the whole time.”

Women also worked outside of Bletchley Park. Patricia Davies was a “listener” who was stationed in a clifftop house along the English Channel.

Davies was a member of the Wrens who were capturing these communications and sending them by teleprinter to the codebreakers at Bletchley Park, or Station-X as they called it.

“We would sit at a bench with a row of radio receivers on it and we would twiddle the knob up and down the frequencies the German navy used,” said Davies.

“It obviously required good hearing and intense concentration. I was 19 when I started and at that sort of age your hearing is good and you’re used to concentrating on things,” Davies said. “It was an immensely satisfactory job, particularly when you were getting a clear message and you knew it was important.”

A fascinating portrait of the invisible workforce changing the world.