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Code-breaker who kept war secrets until world knew
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2001 03:48:20 -0500 (CDT)
tlawson () scotsman com
Wednesday, 26 Sep 2001
FOR MORE than 50 years, Ann Mitchell kept the secret of the role she
played in helping the British beat the Nazi war machine.
While raising her family in post-war Edinburgh, she spoke not a single
word about the years she spent cracking enemy codes at British
intelligence headquarters at Bletchley Park.
Only now, as the world of the Second World War code-breakers is
depicted in the film Enigma, has Mrs Mitchell revealed that she was
part of a secret army which deciphered Nazi messages and helped the
Allies to win the war.
After attending a special preview of the film starring Kate Winslet
and the Scottish actor Dougray Scott as code-breakers at the
Buckinghamshire intelligence unit, Mrs Mitchell revealed why she
finally feels able to break her promise to take the secret of Enigma
to her grave.
The 78-year-old grandmother said: "The first time I ever remember
speaking about Enigma was when I saw that another code-breaker had
written a book about his experience. I said to [my husband] Angus, he
cant write about that. We all signed the Official Secrets Act.
"Then suddenly more books came out from other code-breakers and while
on one hand it seemed all right to speak about Enigma, part of me
still felt we might all get into trouble. Only now do I really feel
that the veil of secrecy has been lifted and we are finally getting
recognition for what we did."
Mrs Mitchell was 20-year-old Ann Williamson when she was recruited to
work at the top-secret Buckinghamshire establishment after studying
maths at Oxford University.
For more than two years she worked in Enigma Hut 6, as part of the
British intelligence effort to decipher the secret code used by the
Nazis to transmit intelligence about troop movements.
Dubbed by the then prime minister Winston Churchill as his "Golden
Geese", the code-breakers methodically typed possible code
combinations into specially designed machines similar to modern
Each night the young workers would first have to break the Nazis red
code. The race was then on to decipher the yellow and green codes .
At the stroke of midnight each night, the battle to crack the red code
recommenced, as the Germans switched their messaging system daily in
an attempt to foil British intelligence.
The discovery of the Enigma code has been credited with shortening the
war by at least two years, often allowing the British government to
know where German troops were moving to before the soldiers were aware
of it themselves.
But such was the nature of Mrs Mitchells task, that she had no
day-to-day indication of how significant her achievements were.
She said: "We knew we were cracking Hitlers codes and we knew we were
doing well as every day we cracked every new code, but we never really
knew what direct effect our work was having.
"We never knew what was in the full messages as we were always too
busy moving on to the next code.
"We just knew we had to battle against the clock."
In 1945, on the day the war ended, Mrs Mitchell was told her services
were no longer required and was instructed to forget about Enigma and
her work at Bletchley Park.
For more than 50 years, she honoured the commitment, telling her
family that she simply worked for the Ministry of Defence.
Even when her husband, Angus, regaled their four children with his
exploits in the 1944 Normandy landings, she did not reveal her own
Mr Mitchell, who was a senior civil servant in the Scottish Office,
said that while surprised at his wifes revelation, he had always known
she was capable of remarkable things.
He said: "When the war ended no-one really spoke about what they did.
"It was quite a surprise to learn that she worked on Enigma, but I
always knew she was a highly intelligent woman so I wasnt shocked."
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- Code-breaker who kept war secrets until world knew InfoSec News (Sep 26)