Medal an 'Enigma'

JESS ETHERIDGE
Last updated 05:00 23/11/2012
Ursula
CODE CRACKER: Northcote resident Ursula Frost will receive a badge from the United Kingdom government for her services as a codebreaker during World War II.

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Ursula Frost remembers the day Winston Churchill arrived at Bletchley Park to tell her and other Enigma codebreakers they had ended World War II.

"Churchill came down and told us we'd ended the war by two years. We were very pleased to hear that," the 95-year-old Northcote resident says.

"He came down and saw us twice which we always thought was great, rather. He didn't have all that time to do those sort of things."

Mrs Frost will be thanked for her services when Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman presents her with a special badge from the United Kingdom next Friday at Onewa Rd Resthome, where she lives.

But why she is receiving the badge after 67 years is also an enigma, she says.

Mrs Frost worked for section M18 during the war, cracking German army and air force codes under computer maverick Alan Turing.

He was a bright-minded, "very nice chap", she says, but they never spoke of his codebreaking secrets.

"It was very confidential. Don't forget, all walls have ears. Because people would try to get things out of you, try to get you to spill the beans."

The then 23-year-old learned to speak fluent French and Greek and was recruited as a traffic analyst at Beaumanor Hall before moving to Bletchley Park.

"I spoke Greek, modern Greek, and if you spoke modern Greek you had some brains."

She studied German communications, call signs frequencies and timings and lengths of transmission which built up a picture of the enemy's organisation and routine.

"It was jolly tiring," she says as she often worked 24-hour shifts.

"We were all quite annoyed because there were a lot of people there who said they were colour-blind or something like that to get out of going into the army and they came in with us as civilians and they got paid about three times as much as we did.

"We didn't think that was very fair."

Mrs Frost moved to New Zealand in 1952. That same year her old boss Mr Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality in Britain.

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown made a public apology in 2009 for how Mr Turing had been treated.

"I think he should have got a public apology. Quite all for it," Mrs Frost says.

She is pleased with her life but is unsure about the hooplah being made about her time during the war.

"I don't think I deserve it because it's all so long ago, it's all forgotten."

"But then I said: ‘Oh OK then, that's very nice'," she says.

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The bright young things who cracked Hitler's code

The code-breaking operations at Bletchley Park in England during World War II were popularised in the 2001 movie Enigma.

Enigma was in fact the name of a sophisticated typewriter used by the Germans to encrypt morse code messages that they believed were indecipherable.

Little did they know that a double agent had passed details of the machine to France and Britain.

An Enigma machine was then painstakingly re-engineered.

As a result, Bletchley's codebreakers gleaned information from German messages which gave the Allies a vital edge after the outbreak of war in 1939.

Their leading light was Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician regarded as the father of modern computing.

Tragically, he was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952 and underwent chemical castration as an alternative to prison.

He died two years later, aged 41.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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