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Meet Helen the WWII code breaker

The story of a WWII code breaker

To mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the World War II we spoke to Helen Jackson who spent the war years breaking German signal codes.

Helen was a teenager when war broke out in September 1939 and joined the Women's Royal Naval Service, the WRNS or Wrens as they became known.

She was posted to Bletchley Park, a top secret installation where state of the art equipment was used to break codes.

Helen said, "No one knew anything about Bletchley, it was extraordinary."

"I knew it was very secret, before you could get in you were searched and had to show your card."

Inside the park the operatives used primitive computers to decode messages. "They just put this machine in front of you - a bombe we called it," Helen said.

Helen Jackson during World War II
Helen in her military uniform during World War II

Each 'bombe' was made up of a series of drums marked A to Z and as the operators set the machines going they attempted to decode secret communications from the German forces.

"How good the codes were we didn't know... they wouldn't say 'this has broken so and so' just 'you've done well here' and there'd be an extra cup of coffee or something," Helen said about when their machines cracked codes.

Helen spent four years at Bletchley before she was transferred to Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) where she continued work as a code breaker.

She said, "I'd liked to have been a dispatch rider on a motorbike or something... I didn't want to drive a machine!"

Despite her yearning for adventure the work of Helen and her fellow code breakers at Bletchley led to the war ending up to three years sooner than it may otherwise have done.




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