Katie’s a cracker!

Dorothy Roe  received the Faberge Egg from the Mayor of Blackpool Councillor Joan Greenhalgh at Blackpool Town Hall.
Dorothy Roe received the Faberge Egg from the Mayor of Blackpool Councillor Joan Greenhalgh at Blackpool Town Hall.
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Katie Roe was 18 when she signed up for the war effort and joined the Wrens.

Little did she expect to find herself part of history in the making – part of the mysterious squad tasked with cracking the Enigma code.

Bletchley Park, in Buckinghamshire was a top secret government base, where some of Britain’s finest minds strove to crack the Nazi’s infamous Enigma code.

Indeed, her role in that task was so top secret Katie didn’t even tell her family about it – until years later when she saw an exhibition about Enigma.

Katie is now the worthy winner of a truly fitting commemoration of those days ... an extremely rare and highly valuable Enigma Egg by Sarah Fabergé.

Specially-commissioned by the internationally-renowned family to commemorate the story of code breaking in World War II at Bletchley Park, the Enigma Egg is so valuable, Katie’s is now in the custody of her bank.

Inside the ‘egg’ is an exquisite miniature model of an Enigma machine, containing copper salvaged from an original machine.

The hand-crafted golden goose depicts Sir Winston Churchill’s famous description of the achievements of the Bletchley Park code breakers and their veil of secrecy as ‘The Geese that laid the golden eggs but never cackled’.

By a marvellous twist of fate, it was Katie’s £5 raffle ticket that was plucked from the national draw.

The fact that a former Bletchley code breaker cracked the contest delighted organisers, who arranged a presentation at Blackpool Town Hall.

Katie helped operate one of the bombes, the machines used to unravel the sequence of letters which formed the code.

The intelligence uncovered at Bletchley, cracking a code the Nazis considered unbreakable, shortened the war, and therefore saved lives.

Back in the spring of 1944, all Katie had on her mind was putting one over on her brother, who was already serving in RAF air crew.

Immensely competitive, she admits: “There was only a year between us and whatever he did, I wanted to do too.

“I said I was going to join the Land Army, but my dad wouldn’t have it, so I joined the Wrens instead and I was picked to do the code-breaking work.

“First of all, I was sent to Eastcote, in Middlesex, which was an out station of Bletchley Park, and, after 12 months there, I went to Bletchley Park working on the Japanese codes.

“I worked on one of the Bombe machines. They were huge machines, about eight feet long and six feet tall, with rows of drums.

“We would get a programme and set up the drums and start the machine, which was very noisy and hot. They would run and run with wires behind and when they got what they thought was an answer, it would stop. We would run down to our checker and she would send it to the admiralty.

“Thousands of us worked on it and it was hard work, because we had different shifts and some were through the night.

“But we enjoyed ourselves on our days off. We would go into London and to the Queensbury Club to watch Glenn Miller, who played to the American forces.

“We got free theatre tickets and went to Pinewood Studios where I got Vivien Leigh’s autograph.

“When I look back, we were all well-educated girls, and I think they probably checked our backgrounds.

“My dad served in the First World War as a captain in the Royal Veterinary Corps and my brother was serving, and my mum did war work, so we were a very patriotic family.

“After I left, we were told we would never be able to talk about what we had done, and I didn’t say a word to anyone about the work I had been involved in.

“It was only when I saw an exhibition years later about Enigma that I told my family I had been at Bletchley Park.”

After the war, Katie returned to work as a secretary at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where she met her husband Arthur, then a laboratory technician, now a stalwart of Help for Heroes. They went on to have three children, Katherine, Michael and Susan, and now have five grandchildren.

Katie, 85, has returned to Bletchley Park twice, including in May this year. The country house in Milton Keynes, codenamed Station X, was almost destroyed to make way for housing in 1991, until saved by a national campaign.

Katie adds: “The tour leader told everyone I had worked on the Bombe, and, at the end, one of the other ladies came up to me and said ‘you must be very proud’. All I did was work the machine and carry the information it gave. We took the secrecy very seriously. I just played my part, and I suppose we did do some good.”

jacqui.morley@blackpool.gazette.co.uk