Sunday, 16 August 2015
Wartime Secrets by Mary Nichols
Almost everyone in my second world war novel, We’ll Meet Again, has a secret. First and foremost are Lady Prudence Strange and Sheila Phipps, two girls from very different backgrounds who become friends. Their secret is that they work at the Government Code and Cypher School, usually referred to as Bletchley Park. It was here that coded German radio messages were interpreted.
'The enemy uses a very clever machine called an enigma, to encypher their radio messages,’ Prue is told when she first arrives. ‘Our job is to find the key to unscrambling it all. We have a modified Type X machine made to work like an enigma, and other more complicated electro-mechanical machines called bombes, which do the job of checking, but they won't work unless we have a crib to start them off, things like call signs, transmission times, the length of the message and - more often than Herr Hitler would like if he knew about it - the silly mistakes of the German operators. Without those there are 58 million million million possibilities.
'Our work is further complicated because there is no universal setting, every section of the German army, navy, air force and intelligence services, use different settings and they are changed every twenty-four hours. Then we have to begin all over again.'
'Gosh! What a task. Can it be done?'
'Oh, yes we are doing it. In this hut we are dealing with German army and air force signals. Other huts are working on different aspects of decrypting, but you don’t need to know about those. I have only told you this much so that you can understand how vital the work is and how important it is to be accurate and never breathe a word to anyone of what you do. It is painstaking work and needs accuracy, dedication and the utmost secrecy. The enemy must never know how we have obtained our information. In fact, most of our own side don't know either. When we send on the information we to say it comes from a most reliable source. Sometimes we make it look as though it is a report from a spy.'
This is the secret the girls have to keep. Others have their secrets, some in the national interests, some private and mysterious, all of which affect their relationships with family and boyfriends, who do not understand the reason for it.
We’ll Meet Again is out in paperback now. ISBN: 9780 7490 17040.