September 20, 2023 — 12.35pm
MARGARET BETTS: 1923 - 2023
Margaret Betts, who died, aged 99, was a Wren and, erstwhile she was hardly retired of her teenage years, was besides 1 of nan past “Bombe” operators of nan Government Code and Cypher School (GC & CS) during nan Second World War.
GC&CS had galore names: To nan wits it was nan Golf, Cheese and Chess Society, to others successful wartime it was nan mysterious “Station X”, successful 21st-century shorthand it is “Bletchley Park” (named aft its main location), but to nan thousands of members of nan Women’s Royal Naval Service – nan Wrens – who served location it was nan chromatic frigate, HMS Pembroke V aliases simply “PV”.
About 8000, aliases 75 per cent, of nan workforce astatine GC&CS were women, who operated cryptographic and communications machinery, translated force signals, and undertook galore different duties: astir were Wrens.
They mostly worked successful 3 eight-hour shifts astir nan clock, and, operating nan ample analogue decoding machines Colossus and Bombe – utilized for breaking force coded awesome postulation – they were nan beating bosom of GC&CS.
“Vera” (Elvira) Laughton Mathews, nan Director, Women’s Royal Naval Service, from its re-formation successful 1939 until 1946, a Catholic and a feminist, was wished that her girls should person due activity and not simply switch men successful menial statement jobs. She actively schemed that, moreover if acold from nan sea, Wrens should beryllium recruited to lend straight to nan warfare effort astatine GC&CS.
Originally, location were conscionable 2 machines successful a hut astatine Bletchley, but arsenic nan number of machines grew steadily, caller ones were dispersed to outstations to trim nan risks from German bombing. A fewer Bombes were near astatine Bletchley Park for objection and training purposes only.
Then, erstwhile it was reckoned that nan preamble of a 4th rotor to nan German navy’s Enigma cipher instrumentality would request much than 70 caller Bombes, Vera Laughton Mathews enthusiastically co-operated successful recruiting an further 700 Wrens, moreover if she was not allowed to sojourn GC&CS, nor cognize precisely what her girls’ duties were.
Margaret Betts (née Booth) volunteered for nan Wrens successful early 1943. “They had nan champion uniform,” she said: she was issued pinch it aft 2 weeks’ first training astatine Mill Hill successful North London.
Wrens were selected connected nan basis, apparently, that they were 5½ foot gangly (168 centimetres), had matriculated successful maths, were mechanically minded and, preferably, had ample hands to run nan machines.
So, successful January 1944, Margaret Betts and half a twelve women from her introduction of Wrens were sent to Eastcote connected nan Piccadilly Line. Further training, immoderate astatine Bletchley Park, was connected nan job. The activity was noisy and hot, pervaded by nan smell of oil, and required nan Wrens to beryllium connected their feet for astir of each eight-hour shift.
It was, Margaret Betts insisted, humdrum work: “We were operating machines nighttime and time … you conscionable had to guidelines by nan machines, you had to ore erstwhile you were programming it and make judge it was group up correctly, and nan remainder of nan clip you were location watching it, waiting for it to travel up pinch something.”
From June 1944 to mid-1945, Margaret Betts carried retired akin activity astatine different outstation, Gayhurst Manor.
She ever maintained that she was a mini cog successful a elephantine machine. “Please don’t travel distant pinch nan thought that we’re each Alan Turings, because we were not,” she said. “We were location operating nan machines, we were obeying orders, we were applying logic to do what we were told to do, and we were doing truthful efficiently and intelligently, but we didn’t creation nan machines for decoding. We were nan work unit who were operating them.”
In May 1945 she celebrated VE Day successful London, returning to Bletchley Park itself until VJ Day successful August, wherever she worked successful nan naval section, NS II, connected Japanese codes.
Born Margaret Booth successful Ipswich connected December 27, 1923, she was 1 of 3 children of Daniel and Dorothy Booth: each 3 siblings won scholarships and Margaret was knowledgeable astatine Ipswich High School. When warfare collapsed retired her begetter joined nan aerial ministry, while her brothers Patrick and John joined nan Army.
The 19-year-old Margaret Booth became a clerk successful nan Inland Revenue, but aft her recently joined relative Pat was mislaid erstwhile nan troopship Abosso was torpedoed successful October 1942, she wished to play her portion successful nan war.
Postwar, successful 1947 she joined Sergeant Antony Sneezum, a captive of warfare who had survived forced labour for nan Japanese connected nan Burma railway. His family had founded Sneezum nan jewellers successful Ipswich during nan precocious 19th century, but aft matrimony they took Antony’s mother’s maiden name, Betts.
For 3 decades she ne'er talked astir her war, and it was only aft books and documentaries started to look successful nan precocious 1970s that she told her family: “You know, I was 1 of those.”
Her hubby Antony died successful 1994. In her seventies, Margaret Betts learned Italian good capable to play Scrabble successful that connection but, later, gave up connected Sudoku puzzles because they were excessively easy. She was besides a talented cook who introduced moussaka and risotto to nan family fare agelong earlier specified dishes became commonplace.
She is survived by 4 children: a boy predeceased her successful 2021.
The Telegraph, London.
Most Viewed successful National