Monday, December 2, 2013

OBIT | Nov. 12–Mavis Lever Batey, Codebreaker

Mavis Lever Batey, 1921-2013 (Photo by Daily Telegraph).
Nov. 12, 2013–Mavis Lever Batey died today at 92 years of age. Her knowledge of German from her studies at University College, London, was put to use during World War II to help break German codes based on their Enigma cryptography machine. (This post is based on Daily Telegraph and NY Times obits and on interviews with two people with Bletchley ties.)

She is given major credit for British naval dominance over the Axis when information from the code-breakers at Bletchley Park (aka Station X or Ultra) enabled the Navy to identify the size and coordinates of Italian ships. The British sought out and sank three heavy Italian cruisers and two destroyers. For the rest of the war the stunned Italians stayed clear of the British Navy.

Sir Francis Harry Hinsley, the official historian of British intelligence during World War II, has said that Bletchley Park's work shortened the war by two or more years.

Mavis worked for Dillwyn Knox, known as Dilly. She married another code breaker, Keith Batey, in 1942. After World War  II he became the CFO of Oxford University. He died in 2010. She wrote books about Dilly and Ian Fleming (From Bletchley with Love) at Bletchley, and about the gardens of Oxford.

(Update, May 21, 2014: I just found out that one of Ian Fleming's models for James Bond was Sir William Stephenson, the wartime intelligence liaison between Churchill and FDR; his code name was "Intrepid".  A plaque in honor of "Intrepid" has been posted on the 36th Floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where Sir William had his office.  Other models for Bond reportedly were Fleming's brother, Peter, who had been involved in behind-the-lines operations in Norway and Greece during the war, Conrad O'Brien-ffrench, Patrick Dalzel-Job and Bill "Biffy" Dunderdale. A TV miniseries, "Fleming", is out this year.)

The 2001 movie Enigma starring Kate Winslet is at least party based on Mavis Batey's wartime experience, although Ms. Batey complained that the women code breakers looked too scruffy in the movie.

Bletchley Park employed 12,000 people, including some Americans. The story of "Sam Scram" -- Tom Collins, who died on May 18, 2012, is told in a post on this site on June 9, 2013.

Bletchley Park's significance in WW2 would be hard to overstate.
  • Station X was where Alan Turing devised a way to break the Enigma code.
  • It was where the world's first computer, Colossus, was built.
  • It was where the battle of the Atlantic was won.
  • It saved many lives and shortened the war. 
It is a building of such significance, but the secrecy that protected Bletchley Park throughout the war and for 30 years after it led to the site becoming forgotten. Bletchley Park Director Simon Greenish said:
When you look at Hut 6, which is where the Bletchley story really started with the deciphering of Enigma codes, it's in quite a bad state. The floor has almost completely gone and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that my garden shed is probably stronger than some of these huts.
Once the home of financier Sir Herbert Leon, Bletchley was taken over during the war for use by the Government Code and Cypher School. After 1945, the site was used by the Post Office and other government bodies until 1991. At that point, the Bletchley Park Trust was established to maintain the site as a museum and Milton Keynes Borough Council declared most of the estate a conservation area.

Greenish believes the huge public support, as shown by rising visitor numbers and online petitions, will help Bletchley Park receive the funds it deserves.

No comments:

Post a Comment