Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Breaking the code

At Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire ciphers and codes were decrypted during World War Two, most famously the ciphers generated by the German Enigma machine. The intelligence produced from decryption at Bletchley contributed greatly to the Allied successes including defeating the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic and the success of the D-Day landings

“The secrecy was quite hard because you were not allowed to talk to people and your movements were restricted”

Now aged 86, Hilary Stanger-Leaths was just 19 when she was posted to Bletchley Park in 1943. During the war Hilary also worked at the intelligence bases at Stanmore and Eastcote. She had volunteered for the WRENS, but she and her sister were chosen for the intelligence role.

“They observed us for a fortnight, looking into our backgrounds and producing a profile on us. We didn’t know at the time what we were being chosen to do. We were very young, I was 19 and my sister was just 17 and a half. We were very young to be trusted with such a high level of responsibility.”

Hilary was first stationed at Stanmore and then moved to Bletchley Park for a year in 1943.

“Everything was top secret and you had to keep quiet. We put up with it though because we knew it could be our brother, our father or our uncle whose life could be put at risk because of something we might say.

“We worked in pairs in watches of eight hours on and 16 hours off. We were working on the machines that deciphered the German codes. We would receive a job which we would process in the machine, we would then process the same job in a checking machine and if we got a good match, one of us would send it on to headquarters.

“You didn’t know what other people at Bletchley Park were doing, you only knew what your job was and we didn’t understand at the time the great things that were going on. All ranks mixed together and you would be sitting at meal times together, chatting away with each other but you never knew what job they did and you never asked.

“The secrecy was quite hard because you were not allowed to talk to people and your movements were restricted, but I was lucky because I had my sister with me.

“The security at all the secret locations was very tight.

“When I was stationed at Stanmore, no one was allowed to go in without a work pass and we were trained in first aid and firefighting, because we had been told that should we bombed while working there we would have to rescue ourselves because the fire and rescue service would not be allowed in.

“I never talked about my work at Bletchley after the war – in fact, nobody did until someone who was stationed at Bletchley wrote a book about it in the 1970s.

“I had a friend who I worked with at Eastcote and we always kept in touch and maintained our friendship, but we still never talked about what we had done during the war – not until it became public.”

Hilary used her Heroes Return 2 grant to make a commemorative visit to Bletchley.

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