SHE harboured her secret for years.
Not even Betty Hollingberry’s husband knew of the vital part she played in Britain’s wartime efforts.
But now the 86-year-old, who took part in the Enigma code-breaking efforts, which shortened the Second World War by two years, has been honoured.
For decades after the conflict ended Betty, of Marsden, told no-one about her top secret work – not even her husband and her children.
But now she has received a medal from the Prime Minister in recognition of her work breaking codes used by the German military commanders.
Betty said: “I’m pleased to have been recognised for the work I did. I’m a great patriot and I’m proud that I helped the war effort.
“Until recently the code-breaking wasn’t talked about a great deal, but there seems to be a lot of interest now. I wouldn’t like it to be forgotten.”
In 1942 Betty left her job in a bank to volunteer with the Wrens. After weeks of training the 18-year-old and five other new recruits were told they had qualified for “special duties” and were sent to Eastcote on the outskirts of London.
They were part of the now famous code-breaking efforts centred in Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes. An army of engineers, mathematicians and interpreters were trying to crack the codes of the German Enigma machine used by the Nazi military command.
Betty said: “We were told a little about the job, but we were only a cog in the machine – no-one knew exactly how it was done.”
Betty and her comrades operated a Bombe machine – a huge device for cracking German codes, which were re-set each day.
She said: “We would start the machines and the noise and smell were dreadful. If the Bombe stopped you would think ‘ah good, perhaps we’ve cracked the code for today’.
“There were 50 Bombes at Eastcote, 10 in each bay. Each bay was named after a country, like France, and each Bombe was given the name of a city such as Paris or Lyon. When a machine broke the code we would send the message to Bletchley saying: ‘This is France, speaking from Paris’.
“The message would be interpreted into English and sent on to the Ministry of Defence and then to our commanders in the field.”
The code-breakers played a vital part in the war effort, particularly in the Atlantic.
Betty said: “There was a time when we were starving because the food ships from America were being sunk by German submarine packs. We had to break those codes, which we did, and gradually our ships were able to destroy the U-boats.”
But some of the information uncovered by the code-breakers was deliberately not used.
Betty said: “It all had to be done discreetly because the Germans would have smelled a rat if we were always ready for them.
“We knew about the plan to bomb Coventry, but we were told that nothing could be done. The Government felt that, if we had planes ready to defend Coventry, the Germans would have smelled a rat.”
Betty and her comrades didn’t talk about their work while off-duty. She said: “When I went to London I never spoke about it.”
She left Eastcote when the war ended in August 1945 – a few months after she had married her sailor husband Ronald.
Betty said: “I signed the Official Secrets Act. We were told not to talk about it. In those days if you were told to do something, you didn’t argue.
“Whenever my husband asked me about my wartime service I just told him I did special duties.”
The existence of the Bletchley Park code-breaking operation was only officially revealed in 1975.
Betty said: “When I told my family I had been involved in it, they just said ‘oh’ – I don’t think they were impressed.”
The mother-of-three spent most of her life in London and Devon but moved to Marsden in 2002 to be closer to her daughter Mary Lane. Her husband passed away the following year.
Betty will give a talk on her wartime service to Marsden History Group at Marsden Mechanics Hall next month. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE Enigma machine sent messages through a series of electrical impulses and rotating wheels which could be set in many ways.
The chances of cracking the code at random were 150 million, million, million to one.
British knowledge of the Enigma was greatly helped by a Polish officer who brought one of the machines to England just before the war started.
However, British intelligence officers still had to crack the codes, which the Germans re-set each day.
Mathematician Alan Turing invented the Bombe machine to de-crypt Enigma messages.
Some historians believe the code-breakers at Bletchley Park shortened the war by two years.
Mr Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after admitting to having sex with another man. He was chemically castrated and took his own life two years later.