Codebreaker Betty: How pensioner played key role at Bletchley Park

She thought she was just completing a little admin – but Betty Webb was actually part of a secret operation that helped defeat the Nazis.

The code school at Bletchley Park where Betty Webb, inset, was based
The code school at Bletchley Park where Betty Webb, inset, was based

Mrs Webb didn’t know it at the time, but she was a key part of a Second World War code-breaking team.

She was just 18, living in Aston-on-Clun and studying domestic science at Radbrook College, Shrewsbury, when the war broke out.

She was sent to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, where she worked with Major Ralph Tester to register undeciphered Enigma messages.

It has since been revealed that Mrs Webb, who is now 95, was involved in an intelligence triumph said by historians to have shortened the war by between two and four years.

She recently learned from a researcher that those soon-to-be de-coded messages she had been ordered to catalogue – strings of letters and numbers that meant little to her at the time – had in fact been communications between members of the SS and the Gestapo discussing the beginnings of the Holocaust.

“We had basic training in the army at Wrexham and stated which trade we wanted to go into,” she said.

“I had put on my CV I was bilingual and could speak German and found myself being interviewed by an intelligence officer in London.

“When I started at Bletchley we were departmentalised in such a strict way so we were not allowed to discuss anything with anyone and had to sign the Official Secrets Act, which was really robust.”

She added: “It was only years later, from 1975, when the Official Secrets Act was lifted that we were finally allowed to talk about it all.

“I was rather pleased to know I had been working on an important part of the exercise. I do hope I made a contribution.”

Mrs Webb was working at Bletchley Park at the same time as the now renowned Nazi codebreaker, Alan Turing, whose work to crack an ‘unbreakable Nazi code’ was celebrated in the 2014 film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

Soon after she moved on to the Japanese section in Block F to paraphrase deciphered Japanese messages.

This work led Mrs Webb to see out the war in the Pacific at The Pentagon and by the end of her stint at Bletchley Park she had progressed from private to staff sergeant.

She added: “After I went back home, my parents were living in Richards Castle on the Herefordshire-Shropshire border and I had a bit of a rest and then went on to an intensive secretarial course, which stood me in good stead for a job and I started working at the grammar school.

“I eventually went back into the Territorial Army and worked as an officer up and down the country at several units.

"I ended up in Birmingham working as a recruitment officer for the Women’s Royal Army Corp.”

Mrs Webb, who now lives in Worcestershire, said that after the secrets act was lifted, many started writing about their roles in the war and people were able to piece together what had gone on at Bletchley Park.

She has since written a book of her experiences called Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon, under her full name Charlotte Webb, and is still giving talks today about her experiences.

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