Secret Bletchley Park wartime code breaker Lorna Cockayne from Christchurch receives France's highest honour Legion d’Honneur
A FORMER Wren from Christchurch has been awarded France’s highest honour in recognition of her work as a Second World War codebreaker at Bletchley Park.
For decades Lorna Cockayne (96) never revealed to anyone what her role had been at the top-secret base.
She told the A&T: “We were told never to speak about it ever. Us girls chatted about it when on a shift at Bletchley but as soon as we left, that was it – we didn’t say a word.”
It was only in the 1970s that the secrets of Bletchley Park came out – and only then that Lorna learned what her important role had been in defeating Hitler.
She said: “My job was to feed intercepted messages punched out on ticker tape into Colossus, the huge computer.
“I thought it was just messages for the Royal Navy. It was not until the 1970s that I actually realised they had been for Hitler himself!”
Lorna received the Legion d’Honneur at a ceremony held in West Parley. She had been a newly joined-up Wren when she was sent to the UK’s central codebreaking base.
Bletchley Park had been a country house until it became one of the Second World War’s most important weapons during the war.
It housed the Government Code and Cypher School, members of which included Alan Turing who worked on cracking the German code machine Enigma.
The work at Bletchley is said to have shortened the war by between two and four years.
Colossus was the world’s first programmable digital electronic computer.
Lorna said: “I joined up in 1944 when I was 18 and after two weeks training was sent there. There were 600 Wrens who were housed at Woburn Abbey.
“We would work in shifts, Colossus never stopped. A bus would take us and we had to walk straight to hut F. It was quite hard work. It was almost black inside with the curtains closed and only strip lighting.
“It was also very hot because of Colossus. We didn’t really know anything about what we were doing, we were just told what to do and that was it.”
She worked at Bletchley until November 1945 after which everything in the base was destroyed on Winston Churchill’s orders.
Lorna returned to civvy life, becoming a teacher at a comprehensive school in Harlow, west London.
She married Bernard and they had three children. The couple moved to Lymington after her brother made his home here.
Lorna has returned to Bletchley Park several times to tour its museum and see the replicas of the machines on which she once worked.
Talking about her new honour, which was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, Lorna said: “I received this box through the post and when I opened it there was this beautiful medal.
“I had no idea it was the Legion d’Honneur until I was told. I was so shocked but as far as I am concerned this is not just for me, it is to honour all the girls who worked at Bletchley.”