Jean Valentine, 88 – “My parents never knew what I did”
I joined the Wrens when I was 18. I have never been sure, but I think I was recruited to Bletchley because I said on my application form that I enjoyed doing crossword puzzles.
I operated one of the Bombe machines [used to help decipher messages encrypted by German Enigma machines]. It was women only working on the Bombe, and at times we would work 16 hours a day. When we first started we got 15 shillings a week – now about 75p – and then, when we were proficient, it went up to about a pound. Even in those days, that was not good money!
The moment you finished work, you went back to your billet – I lived in a requisitioned house about five miles away from Bletchley, but I can’t tell you exactly where, because all the signposts had been removed for security.
Later in the war I was posted to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, where I worked in an office breaking Japanese code – no machines to help this time – and I met my husband there. When we returned to England, I worked in Selfridges – £5 a week! – and, later, with the Family Planning Association.
I never talked about my war work. My parents never knew what I did. And neither did my husband until around 1975, when all the stuff about Bletchley started coming out.
It seems peculiar now, but it was a different climate then. Our backs were to the wall and there was discipline. It’s a word that seems to have fallen out of the English language, but in those days, if you were told not to do something, you just didn’t do it.