- Contributed by
- BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK
- People in story:
- Eileen Eveline Bowler - nee Hayes
- Location of story:
- Mid-Kent, England
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 November 2005
This story was submitted on behalf of Eileen Bowler by a CSV volunteer with her permission.
It was Sept. 1942, I was 18 years old, living at home in North London and just starting out on my career with the National Provincial Bank in the City of London. After a few weeks training as a book-keeping machinists at H,.O. Bishopsgate, I was sent to join the staff at Moorgate Branch — already a much bombed area.
A few months later and quite unexpectedly, I was informed that the Bank had to release all female staff between 18 and 18 and a half years old for war service. I believe the interview was at a Labour Exchange where I was asked to join one of the women’s forces but told ‘no’, they’re all full! I was offered a factory job, or office-type work in Kent or Bletchley, Bucks. Vaguely knowing Kent and quite unaware of a place called Bletchley I opted for Kent which turned out to be Knockholt, a small village outside Orpington.
Within a few weeks I was billeted in a house in Petts Wood and reported to Knockholt the next day. This turned out to be a very closely guarded requisitioned farm called Ivy Farm; wireless masts and barrage balloons surrounding the area and military guards at the entrance.
Everything now very hush, hush — secrecy forms to be signed and strictly adhered to and never to say where I worked or what I did. We were an intake of perhaps some dozens of girls, mostly of my age group, a few older.
First there was some 2 or 3 weeks training to decipher tapes and codes into alphabetical letters — this taking place outside the Farm and in a hall behind the local pub called The 3 Horseshoes for the period of the training. Then down to serious, grinding, boring, work and very unaware of the vital importance of the job; working in 3 shifts, 7am — 2 then 2-10pm and 10-7am, a week of each, with a day off in-between. We were located in large, bare Nissen huts within the confines of the farm and another nearby hut was the canteen.
Various tasks, teleprinting, typing jumbled letters on to coded tapes and deciphering radio signals hot from the wireless operators who were listening into German radio all over Europe — they were situated in the main farmhouse.
Although we didn’t know it at the time all our information was going to Bletchley Park which I’ve now visited several times and learned how very important and crucial our work was.
I consider I had a reasonably easy war, the most frightening times were when the ‘Doodle Bugs’ (flying bombs) and V2 rockets were passing overhead, and sometimes landing short and nearby instead of their intended targets in London.
The need for the job was over immediately the war with Germany ended.
I was offered a permanent job with the Foreign Office but decided to return to banking and the rest of my life…
I do remember signing another form of secrecy on leaving and hope that after 60 years this is now null and void.
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