“What would it be like to keep a secret for 50 years? Never telling your parents, your children, or even your husband?”
Written by Lawrence’s daughter, Jan Slimming, Following extensive research, the book describes her mother’s upbringing in Tooting, and asks why, and how, she was chosen to work at Bletchley Park.
The book also examines Lawrence’s search for her young fiancé, who was missing in action overseas.
The three years at Bletchley Park were Lawrence’s university, but having closed the door in 1945 on her hidden role of national importance — dealing with Germany, Italy and Japan — this significant period in her life was camouflaged for decades in the filing cabinet of her mind.
Now her story comes alive with descriptions, original letters, documents, newspaper cuttings and unique photographs, together with a rare and powerful account of what happened to her after the war.
“My twin sister and I had always known that our father was in the Second World War, and that while he was away our mother worked at Bletchley Park,” Slimming told Inside Croydon.
“We went there when we were six. Neither of our parents spoke much about this time. It was all too distressing.
“As the years passed, we learned he had been a prisoner of war, and a few of his stories started to emerge, but not until the 1970s did the news break that Bletchley Park was a war station reading enemy messages.
“Still, however, our mother would not speak about her work openly, only snippets of information, overheard when she met with her friend Dorothy Edney, also from the Tooting area. Before the war, they both worked at the RACS – Tooting Co-op. And they both worked at Bletchley Park during the war.
“Their standard answer was that Dot was a typist and our mother was a filing clerk. Their work was secret.
“By 2012, I had moved to Atlanta, in the United States, and waking up one day the announcer on the alarm clock radio was saying: ‘What would it be like to keep a secret for 50 years; never tell your parents or your children; not even your husband?’
“The woman speaking was Janice Martin Benario, and she answered in ways that reminded me of my mother, but she had an American accent, was born in Baltimore and worked in Washington, not Bletchley Park. It was this radio broadcast that inspired me to discover the true story about my mother’s war work.
“I tracked down the American codebreaker to Georgia State University and before long had her riveting account. From that I was able to plan a research route for my mother’s story. Unfortunately, she had died in 2006, but we had newspaper cuttings from the war, documentation from the Foreign Office, and a handful of photographs of people we didn’t know.
“Janice was 89 when I first met her, and she encouraged me to visit Bletchley Park. She had been there herself in 2003 and was ‘treated like royalty’.
“Eventually, on a trip to England, I visited Bletchley Park and walked into the arena of secret intelligence history and codebreaking. It was a step over a threshold from which there was no return.
“I spent hours in the hallways and huts to simply absorb the atmosphere of my mother’s experience. I visited with my twin (Jill Robertson), friends who knew my mother and a specific friend from Worcester Park who I’d not seen for years. Her mother was Dorothy Edney and she was equally intrigued to find out more about her mother’s war years.
“She also had additional documentation and photos, including a long list of codebreakers names that did not appear on Bletchley Park’s Roll of Honour. Who were they? How were they chosen? What did they do?
“My book aims to answer some of the questions.”
- Codebreaker Girls, with a foreword written by Sir Dermot Turing, can be ordered directly from the publisher at https://bit.ly/2Jn2EAL
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