In this extract Leslie Greer talks about her experiences working for Bletchley, a British organisation set up to intercept German signals during the war, code breakers worked on the signals to try and interpret communications within the German military etc. Leslie worked as a German translator for Bletchley throughout the war.

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Did you ever do any paid work?

All my life!

Yes, what kind of things did you do?

Well, how much time do you have?!

We have as much time as you have!

Well you will notice from my date of birth that I was growing up during the Second World War and therefore my first job was in Queen’s University when I was teaching German…

Oh right.

Well you see German and French are what I studied and… but I did that for only a year and then I thought I should be getting into something that had more to do with the war and so I consulted the professor of German in Queen’s and he said ‘why don’t you join Bletchley?’

What was that?

Bletchley… some people say Bletchley won the war but I don’t say that, don’t take it that I have said that… Bletchley was an organisation which was set up to read German signals and the German signals, they sent them out in code of course and they thought that we couldn’t read their code but ha, ha, we did! Not me, I was never a code breaker but... people who were good code breakers tended to come from Oxford and Cambridge and places like that and they… some of them did maths and some of them knew a lot about music and maths and music were a great thing for breaking code, don’t ask me why music was important but it did seem to be… curious… so, I went to that place and was interviewed in London as to whether I would be a suitable person to work there and they decided I would be because knowing German, the main thing that was desperately needed was German, ‘if you have German, come to us’ so they said ‘alright, we’d like you to work for us, Bletchley is in Buckinghamshire, take a train and go there on Monday and it’s very important to have rubber boots because there’s rather a lot of mud about’ so I said in my innocence ‘but what will I be doing?’ and they said ‘oh we can’t possibly tell you that!’ and later on I spoke to my other colleagues and they said the same thing, they’d wanted to know what they’d be doing and they weren’t told so you went and… what I was in fact doing most of the time was working on an index because so much information came in and you were meant to remember there was an enormous amount, nobody could have remembered it all so we wrote it down on index cards, I suppose now it would all be done mechanically…

On the computer, mmm.

… but not in those days. So I did that for three years and then for another year a little place was set up where we weren't indexing but… we did rather more interesting work really of trying to decide which bits should be broken because you see there was such a lot of material that came in on different wavelengths and the people who were doing the breaking needed some guidance about which wavelength to attack first and there were some that you needed to break them immediately or they were no use at all or else you needed to… it was important to break them but there was no special hurry about it and so a few of us were studying the material to see if we could give some hints about which bits should be broken first so I was in that for about a year and then the war came to an end so that was the end of Bletchley. Years later when I was visiting my brother in Essex I was asked if I’d like to go on a bus trip to see Bletchley and I said ‘no thanks!’…

You had enough!

Yeah, quite enough, the food was awful! They gave us, you see, one meal a day and people used to take their dogs into the canteen because the dogs liked the food alright but then a ukase went out that dogs were not to be brought into the canteen, that dogs were not to eat canteen food! Some people enjoyed themselves in Bletchley but I can’t say I did, the thing about Bletchley was you knew it was important but I reckon for many of us it took away years of our lives, I mean, I was there for four years but other people were there for longer, however that’s a long time ago.

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WW2, War Memories



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"Leslie Greer talks about her experiences working for Bletchley, a British intelligence agency established during WW2.." Lifescapes: Mapping Dublin Lives, Item #167 (accessed February 23 2018, 4:45 am)