The subject of codebreakers was featured last Tuesday evening in a BBC4 documentary entitled ‘Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes’. It therefore seems the ideal time to highlight the wartime role played by a 93-year-old Hanover resident from Southport.
Beryl was only 18 when she joined the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1943. Spending time initially at a radio and signals training camp on the Isle of Man, she became a specialist in Morse code. Although Beryl is now living with dementia, her memory is still strong enough to recall the camaraderie she felt with her friends in the troop. She particularly remembers them all singing ‘We are the Ovaltineys’ while marching back to the camp.
Following her training, Beryl was posted to the Forest Moor listening station in Harrogate, Yorkshire. Here she made good use of her new-found skills by eavesdropping on German Morse code messages. The information gained was then sent to Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, the central site for British and Allied code breakers during World War II.
The secrecy surrounding this activity was so tight that all records were later destroyed. In fact it is only recently that Beryl feels comfortable in talking about her work, over 70 years after signing the Official Secrets Act.
Last year, Beryl’s son Steve decided to do some research into his mother’s wartime role. He soon discovered that government-backed awards were being issued to those who worked in signals intelligence, in recognition of the huge difference their efforts made during the conflict.
Steve duly contacted the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which resulted in Beryl receiving a commemorative badge and certificate of thanks from Prime Minister Theresa May. Her name has also been added to the Roll of Honour, which is held at Bletchley Park.
These days Beryl lives independently in her Southport flat, with some support from her incoming carer and Estate Manager David Roberts. A private type of person, she particularly enjoys doing jigsaws and is content now to live a quieter life.
Beryl is one of many hitherto unsung heroes who played a vital role in securing victory and the freedom we now enjoy. It is good to see they are now getting the recognition they so rightly deserve.