Glad Rags, Atomic Bombs and a Bonfire

  |  Published: May 7th 2015
Betty Webb and Marigold Freeman-Attwood
Betty Webb and Marigold Freeman-Attwood ©ShaunArmstrong/mubsta.com

BLETCHLEY PARK VETERANS REMEMBER VE DAY

 

 

“We weren’t the heroes - the heroes were dead.” It’s a sombre note to strike, but that’s how Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNs, known as Wrens) Bombe Operator, Dot Tuffin, remembers the VE Day celebrations in 1945. For many of those working at Bletchley Park and its outstations, the war didn’t end on VE Day, as they were moved on to the job of Japanese codebreaking. For everyone who signed the Official Secrets Act and kept quiet for at least another 30 years, their obligations didn’t even end when peace was finally declared around the world.

 

Dot is one of an ever-growing number of Veterans who’ve shared their memories of the end of the war in Europe with the Bletchley Park Podcast since it began in 2012. Episode 34, out on 10 May, brings you Bletchley Park Veterans remembering how they felt as the war in Europe ended, how they celebrated and commemorated those who didn’t come home, and, crucially, what they did next. Plus, the entire archive of Bletchley Park Podcast Episodes and Extras is available on Audioboom’s Bletchley Park Channel and iTunes.

 

Joyce Roberts, a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) teleprinter operator, said “I was in Trafalgar Square on VE night. I remember hearing about the atom bomb - the beginning of the atomic age. On VJ night, the chaps in the men’s billets were very naughty - they took the furniture out and made a bonfire of it. I think they couldn’t care less, because they’d been demobbed.”

 

Marigold Freeman-Attwood, a Wren who operated the world’s first semi-programmable electronic computer, Colossus, recalls being treated with great respect at Bletchley Park, and the roaring social life. She says “It was like a family. Many girls went straight from school. Some were more innocent than you would believe possible - one little seventeen year old really didn’t know what men were for.” She remembers frequent trips to London, sneaking a change to civilian clothes or, as she describes them, ‘glad rags’. “Luckily a lot of the officers had no idea what we were up to. I look back and think I did once do something valuable for my country. It was lucky that we came to such an unusual, and really rather sparkly place.”

 

Dot adds a poignant memory. She says “My husband would wear his medals on Armistice Day. We would hug each other and say we were the lucky ones - we came back. This is what matters.”

 

Bletchley Park is in a race against time to gather as many Veterans’ unique and precious memories as it can, for future generations. If you know someone who worked at Bletchley Park or one of its outstations, please contact Oral History Officer Jonathan Byrne jbyrne@bletchleypark.org.uk 01908 640404.

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