Codebreaker Girls

Codebreaker Girls

Author
Jan Slimming
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
I asked to review this book as my mother worked in Hut 6 at Bletchley Park for the last two years of the war and continued her service into the mid 1950s with GC&CS, GCHQ and other 'agencies' as we'd call them today. I did the normal thing when I pick up a new book about BP - see if there are any photos of my Mum (sadly no) and then undertake a quick scan before settling down to read.

One of the problems about BP is that now, 80 odd years on, there is little new that can be said that hasn't already been squeezed past the censors - the truly interesting stories will likely never emerge. Consequently this is a book that approaches its subject from an angle that is increasing common - that of a personal history of the author's mother and a broad brush explanation of BP and what went on there.

The author was fortunate that her mother kept (sometimes illegally) quite so much material from her time at Bletchley and there is much (perhaps too much?) about her life before the war which, while it provides context feels like padding (I'm sure it didn't feel like this to the author - clearly a labour of love for her). There is a touching sub text of a fiancé, missing since the fall of Singapore and who eventually returns as a shadow of his former self before the story takes a very dark turn.

If the beginning of the book is about pre war childhood and growing up, and the middle is about the war and Bletchley Park, then the last section is about 'secret' service and the impacts it can have on the individual as the author watches her mother's mental health slowly collapse under the stress of post-war life, restrictions on what she can say or do and what is effectively wartime induced PTSD. This came as a surprise to me - my own mother certainly never showed anything like this (outwardly at least) but it is a salutary lesson in 'they also serve'. The descriptions of mental health treatment in the 1960s are grim, particularly when seen through the eyes of a child and one who's father had his own demons to deal with and the fact that it took so long for any kind of official recognition is pretty scandalous.

Obviously I confess to a little bias but I'm still dumbstruck that I never knew that my mother had been there until the late 80s - it simply wasn't talked about and the result for this unfortunate woman is laid out for all to see. So overall, if you want the human (and dark) side of codebreaking in WW2 and how it affected 'normal' people then this is a good place to start, the technical stuff is good too and there are excellent reference sections.

Only the slightly overdone scene setting knocks it down to 4 mushroom heads, otherwise an absorbing and thought-provoking read.

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Bubbles_Barker
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Sounds a different viewpoint on the subject. Intersting
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