Memories of the Second World War Codebreakers

TOP SECRET: Margaret Mortimer

TOP SECRET: Margaret with her Bletchley Park colleagues

First published in News Dorset Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Dorchester reporter

A SECOND World War codebreaker from Broadmayne who was sworn to secrecy says she was surprised by the emergence of a photo of herself and colleagues.

Margaret Mortimer, 87, saw a familiar face looking back at her when she opened her national newspaper last week as it revealed a picture of 40 female members from the Colossus C watch at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire in 1945.

The picture was discovered by her former colleague Joanna Chorley, who remains a close friend, after it was forgotten in a desk drawer.

Margaret says she has no recollection of the image being taken and was stunned to see it.

“I would have thought it was impossible as we never went outside and weren’t allowed to go out and take photos.

“I can only think it would have been done on our very last day but I just don’t know.”

While she cannot remember the photo being taken, Margaret says she has ‘vivid’ memories of the year she spent working at Bletchley Park as a teenager before the end of the war.

“By the end of the war there were at least 100 of us involved. It was very hard work and very tiring. We did eight hours at a stretch morning, noon and night and were standing up all the time.”

The electronic computer Colossus C was one of ten machines used to decipher codes at Bletchley Park during the Second World War and they are recognised as having a decisive impact on the war.

Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the Colossus and a special event was held to mark the occasion at the National Museum of Computing.

Margaret said that such was the secrecy surrounding the machines, she was not able to speak to anyone about her work and did not even find out the results of what she was doing.

She said: “The secrecy there was enormous. From the minute we came out the building we never mentioned anything to anybody.”

Margaret, who was assigned to the Collosus team after joining the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service), moved down to Broadmayne in the 1960s but remained close with several of her colleagues and keeps in touch with two fellow former codebreakers. She said: “The close friendships we formed were one thing which was so good about it. We made marvellous friends.”

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