Article by Bob Crookes
It was not until the mid 1970s
that the reason for the wartime secret activity in Bletchley
Park became known to the public. It was one of the war’s
best kept secrets and that alone is an enormous compliment
to the some twelve thousand people, service and civilian
alike, who worked there between 1941 and 1945.
Bletchley Park Today
Most of us are now familiar with those
activities through films such as ‘Enigma’
and the many radio and television documentaries that
have been broadcast but perhaps few people are aware
that a large proportion of that estimated 12,000 staff
were Wrens, members of the Women's Royal Naval Service,
and there is little doubt we owe them a great debt for
the work they did.
It became almost an exclusively Royal Navy posting
for servicewomen and the Wrens worked there with great
distinction at Bletchley and other outposts of the great
‘Station X’ operation. They were lectured
at great length about the need to keep their work secret
and that they were ‘never ever’ to talk
Gill MacDermott in 1942
They were told that absolute secrecy was
just that and not even to parents, brothers or sisters
and definitely not lovers could be told what they were
Even Winston Churchill was later prompted to comment
on how successful the Wrens had kept the secret and
it is a fact that some of those Wrens are still reticent
to talk about their time there even in the 21st century.
However they are now able to talk freely
and one Station X Wren who was drafted in to break Japanese
naval ciphers has made some of her diary memories available
Gill MacDermott was then 3rd Officer Gill
Oppenheim who, like almost everyone else, had never
heard of Station X – but, quite unknown to her,
they had a desk ready for her at Bletchley Park.
YP&M sent Bob Crookes to speak
with Gill at home, to find out more of her intriguing
life at Bletchley park and beyond.
MacDermott and Bob Crookes share a moment while
looking through Gill's photo album
Bob began by asking Gill what it was that possessed
her to want to join the WRNS in the first place
Bob discovered that, still, in 1942, well brought
up young ladies perceived there were serious risks
when traveling on public transport.
Life for a girl in WRNS could sometimes be too
exciting, especially on bike trips.
Having had to choose uniforms now she was an
officer, Gill remembers how the 'little' extras
were obtained and how innocent she was.
Now with her one blue stripe showing she was
a Third officer she went off to her first job.
The world of TOP SECRET however was not too far
Gill remembered Bletchley from pre-war days,
but soon found it was now a different place...
After this she moved to work on the D-Day landings
and then on to Ceylon...
Miss Oppenheim becomes Mrs MacDermott
Robert McDermott on their wedding day, Colombo
Gill Oppenheim became Gill MacDermott
on 10th March 1945 at a wedding service in Colombo,
Ceylon (now Sri Lanka ). Gill married Co. Londoderry
born Robert MacDermott.
Robert joined the Royal Naval
Reserve where he trained to become a pilot. Robert
flew The Seafire - the Naval version of the Spitfire.
After stints in Canada, USA and
Africa, Robert found himself in Ceylon / Sri Lanka
where he took over 742 Squadron and was the Admiral's
Robert was keen to stay in the
Royal Naval Reserve but felt a sense of duty to his father
to return home, as Mr MacDermott Snr. had kept
the the family business (a shirt and collar making
busines in Bridge Street, Coleraine, Co.Londonderry)
going during the war.
Gill MacDermott in 1942
in her tropical uniform
reads from her own war diary >>>