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You are in: Norfolk > People > Your Stories > Remembering Colossus

Pat Woodrow.

Pat Woodrow was stationed at Bletchley.

Remembering Colossus

A Colossus computer is cracking codes again for the first time in more than 60 years at Bletchley Park. The news has re-ignited memories for an Aylsham woman of her work on the iconic machine, said to have hastened WW2's end.

Pat Woodrow, who lives just outside Aylsham, was a 19-year-old Wren when she was sent to the secret code-breaking base at Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, in 1944.

Colossus operator

Now 82, Pat remembers being one of the operators of the huge computers known as Colossus.

It was her job to spool in the magnetic tape which would scan the German secret messages and give the code breakers a chance to uncover those messages.

The Colossus computer.

The Colossus scrambled enemy messages

"It was a massive great thing," she said.

"It was like a metal construction. I suppose it would have been about 10ft high or so,  and one end the tapes went on and they had to be threaded through various little areas where the light shone and picked up the marks on the tape."

She spent 18 months at Bletchley Park, but was bused in every morning from Woburn Abbey where she shared a room with nine other Wrens.

The huge room was superb in the summer, but freezing cold in the winter.

The room, which overlooks the gardens and lake, now houses paintings by Canaletto and is one of the highlights of any visit.

At the end of the war, the work turned to cracking Russian codes but Pat decided it wasn't for her and came out of the Navy to work in a bank.

Secret work

Her parents never knew what she did during the war and it wasn't until many years later when a book was written about the work carried out at Bletchley Park, that she felt happy about talking about her experiences with the code breakers.

Pat says she always knew what they were doing was important, but had no idea just how quickly the information they helped break, was used against the Germans.

On a recent visit to the museum at Bletchley Park, Pat was interested to see all the different areas on the site which she was never allowed to enter during the war.

The rule was that you kept to the small team you worked with and didn't socialise with anyone outside that team.

Her regret that Winston Churchill ordered the destruction of the 10 computers once the war was won has now turned to pleasure.

Pat says she's pleased to hear that a Colossus has been rebuilt and that this week it will be again trying to break coded messages from Germany.

last updated: 24/04/2008 at 18:12
created: 15/11/2007

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