The women of Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park was Britain’s wartime intelligence factory during WW2 which employed 10,000 people ranging from administrators to dispatch riders, index card compilers and of course the codebreakers. Around 75% of the workforce at Bletchley was female and the collective success of the group at Bletchley Park resulted in the breakthrough in national security and ultimately, the creation of the new age for information.

Women of Bletchley Park

The British government enlisted women from the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS or “wrens”) to operate the ‘bombe’ – the machine built to decrypt the enigma. Officially, they were listed as serving on the ship HMS Pembroke V when they actually worked at Bletchley Park, 100 miles from the sea in contrast. As the bombe proved to be successful, the requirement for more codebreakers to work on the messages was clear and more people were needed to do complete other tasks down the line.  

women in security

As a result, thousands of women were brought in from all over Britain – the leaders of Bletchley Park looked for women who were linguists, mathematicians, chess champions, and even crossword experts. The work was very intensive and shifts were from 4pm until midnight, midnight until 8am, and 8am until 4pm for 6 days per week.

Joan Clarke

Joan Elisabeth Lowther Murray (nee Clarke) was an English cryptanalyst and numismatist greatly known for her work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Despite not personally seeking the spotlight, her involvement in the Enigma project that resulted in the decryption of Nazi Germany’s secret communications earned her prestigious awards and citations, such as being appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), in 1946. 

Mavis Batey

At first, she was employed by the London Section to check the personal columns of The Times for coded spy messages. Then, in 1940, she was recruited to work as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park where she worked as an assistant to Dilly Knox and was closely involved in the decryption effort before the Battle of Matapan.  

Margaret Rocks

Margaret was recruited for a role at Bletchley Park in 1940 where she worked for Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, the Head of Government Code and Cypher School and Secret Intelligence Service. She trained and worked alongside mathematicians and professors to break and decode messages using the Enigma machine. Margaret then went to work for Dilly Knox, where she worked closely with Mavis Lever on the same projects.  

While working for Knox, she became the most senior cryptographer. Knox employed women because he believed they had great skill with cryptography work. She specialised in German and Russian code-breaking that was used to verify which individuals in the war were double agents who would skew information and present them as truth. 

Where to learn more: 

As time has gone on, the achievements of the great women at Bletchley Park are being shared – The Military Intelligence Museum highlights the dedicated work of females within Army Intelligence including conducting an interview with Betty Webb who served at Bletchley Park – the interview can be found here: 

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