She has waited more than 70 years since World War Two ended, but Joanna Chorley has finally been presented with the Bletchley Park commemorative badge in recognition of her part in helping to shorten the war as a code breaker. The badge is issued by GCHQ on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.
Joanna was a “Bletchley girl”, one of the team at Britain’s secret wartime code breaking centre, Bletchley Park, who deciphered encrypted messages between Hitler and his generals to provide the allied forces with intelligence that shortened the war by several months.
But she never received the badge and certificate that were awarded to the code breakers, because when they were sent to her home she had moved away and there was no forwarding address.
Now Joanna lives in Tewkesbury Fields Care Home in Gloucestershire and when managers heard her story they got in touch with GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, where the commemoration team readily agreed to arrange for her to receive recognition.
So, Joanna, now in her 90’s, was taken by a member of the care home team, back to Bletchley Park, a Victorian mansion in Buckinghamshire that is now a heritage attraction featuring the codebreaking operation, where she was hosted on a tour and presented with her commemorative badge and certificate by Jonathan Byrne, who administers the centre’s Roll of Honour. The certificate was signed by Prime Minister Theresa May.
During the Second World War at Bletchley Park, Joanna was trained to be one of the WRNS operators for Colossus, the world’s first electronic programmable computer, that was developed to help decipher encrypted messages between Hitler and his High Command, so her trip down memory lane took place in the adjacent National Museum of Computing, which was its home.
Joanna recalled her first impression of the electronic valve computer that, more than 70 years ago, was a foretaste of modern information technology. She said: “It looked like something made of Lego, but I thought what it was capable of doing was the most amazing thing and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Joanna’s return visit to Bletchley Park was arranged as part of a “wishing well scheme” operated by brighterkind, who run Tewkesbury Fields, which fulfils wishes for residents, whenever possible, to experience something they want to do or to be taken somewhere they want to visit. It was while making her wish that she told carers how she had missed receiving recognition for her part in the codebreaking team.
Amanda Siviter, the home’s Recreation and Activities Co-ordinator, who accompanied Joanna to Bletchley Park said: “We are so grateful to the people at GCHQ and at Bletchley Park and the Computer Museum who have all helped to make this a really wonderful occasion for Joanna that will revive special memories and give her new ones to treasure.”
Joanna told the story of how she came to be a codebreaker. After excelling at school, she had ambitions to go to university. But those were different times with different attitudes and on her father’s return from Canada, where he’d been serving in the air force, he made it plain that further education was not for his daughter and that it was “an absolute waste of money educating a woman”.
Joanna was packed off to domestic science college, spending a year completing a housewife’s course. However, she didn’t accept having her life planned for her in this way and she joined the WRENS, The Women’s Royal Naval Service, at the age of 17. One of the options available to her in the service was to work on “light electrical machinery in the country” and she went for this. “I always liked nuts and bolts,” she explains. The light electrical machinery in the country turned out to be Colossus at Bletchley Park.
Jonathan Byrne, Oral History Officer at Bletchley Park, said: “It is a pleasure to be able to present Joanna with the Bletchley Park commemorative badge, issued by GCHQ on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. It may be over 70 years since Joanna and thousands of other colleagues worked here, but it is never too late to recognise the vital contribution they made. Through our oral history programme we remain in contact with many Veterans, who share insights that are key to our understanding of what happened here at Bletchley Park. There may be people who worked at Bletchley Park itself, or one of its outstations, who have not received their badge, and we’d be grateful to hear from them.”