The Bletchley Park WRENs, Crackers of German Code

Margaret Mortimer is one of the Wrens, a group of women who worked to break German code on Colossus, Britain’s first computer at decryption establishment Bletchley Park. Unable to talk about her work with friends or family, Mortimer found herself growing closer to those around her. The five Wrens became fast friends, and by Mortimer’s account were almost like sisters. The war certainly brought people together in Mortimer’s case, as she would go on to be re-stationed at a base where she met her husband.

Margaret O’Connell became a Wren at the age of 17, and remembers having felt less important than she turned out to be. While the Colossus was integral to British strategy, she felt that threading the tape in the machine was tedious work, and it didn’t help that she didn’t know much about what we being done by others working on the machine. She mostly recalls enjoying the structure of the lifestyle, as was as the uniforms.

Lorna Cockayne remembers the work being not only tedious, but strenuous due to the heat in the room (heat created by the massive Colossus). She also recalls that the tapes of German code were supplied non-stop. Like the two Wrens above, her social life revolved mainly around her work, and she married a man she found through her services for Britain. Lorna recalls that Woburn Abbey, the residence provided for the Wrens, was the complete opposite of the room which housed the Colossus. The uncarpeted rooms in the Abbey were dreadfully cold, unlike the boiling hot Colossus room, the Express reports.

Margaret Kelly, who joined the Wrens at 18, was incredibly excited about her job. She recalls fond memories of the first time she actually found something in the codes on the tapes, a message in German which she took to be translated immediately. While she felt that the work at Bletchley was strenuous, she was happy to do it and never underestimated its importance. It is unsurprising that Kelly enjoyed her work on the German codes, as she was one of the more curious of the Wrens, as given by her extensive travels when her work was done.

Joanna Chorley was also amazed by her work with the Wrens. Like Kelly, she found it difficult and time-intensive, but she loved the humongous machine and she loved the implications her work with the German codes might have for the war effort. She helped Wrens outside of Bletchley by teaching them skills they would need to know once the war was over, such as cooking and preparing to re-enter the work force.

The Bletchley Park Wrens were a testament to how seemingly inconsequential tasks could carry great weight during wartime. Not only did their work help with the decryption of German code, it helped establish that some of the most important movers and shakers at war are not just the soldiers, but the men and women on the home front as well.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE