Betty signed Official Secrets Act four times!

PUBLISHED: 07:43 05 November 2008 | UPDATED: 14:48 20 April 2010

For Colyton woman Betty Burrett, World War II was a time of adventure, secrets and a personal mission for Winston Churchill.

For Colyton woman Betty Burrett, World War II was a time of adventure, secrets - and a personal mission for Winston Churchill. Joining the Auxiliary Territorial Services (ATS) as a cipher operator in 1943, Betty was to crack a code linked to the D-Day programme that Churchill had personally requested. Impressed and grateful, he rang her office to send his thanks. "I got a nice message of thanks and was told how pleased he was," said Betty. "But I wish he had written something down! "I had the ability to solve messages with no start, which is necessary to decipher the code. I remember this message was a very long one, specifically for Churchill. "I was just told 'have a go at this'. It would normally have taken them days to read, but I did it in four hours." Sworn to secrecy, Betty is unable to disclose any information on the operation other than it was for the Far East. She said: "There are some things that Michael [her husband] still does not know. Even now I can't tell. I signed the Official Secrets Act four times. Once you sign, you don't blab." So tight was security at the time, the members of the ATS were locked in a room while a man with a rifle waited outside. Phone conversations were coded, lest the enemy hear. She said: "The work was intense - 72 hours on, and two hours for a bath, change of clothes and back. It took over our lives to some extent, and doing it from the age of 20 to 24 was a long time. One girl had a breakdown. "It was ordinary money for an extraordinary job. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's the sort of thing I love doing. We women love to know something that other women don't." On June 6, 1944, thousands of allied troops began landing on the beaches of Normandy, in northern France, at the start of a major offensive against the Germans. The objective was to establish an allied foothold in Nazi occupied France. The first plans for the invasion were put in place in July 1943 - and Betty had been party to these details early on. She said: "I remember coming back from work and my landlady said 'Oh Betty, we've invaded! Oh, but you know.' It was so funny being told because I knew when it was going to happen and that it had temporarily been put off because of bad weather." Excitedly, Betty watched as the American bombers flew past - counting them as they left. She counted them on their return, sadly to discover many never did. Along with the exhilaration and the opportunities it presented, the war was a time of hardship and loss. Recounting how people she knew were killed or seriously injured during the war, and her own close calls, Betty feels she is lucky to be alive. Only three doors away from her, a family of four were killed when a bomb hit them. Had they not had a shelter, Betty is in no doubt she or her family would not have survived. "I lost many friends," she said. "The war was awful, terrible, yet at the same time an adventure and fun. I met a lot of nice people and the work I was doing was extremely interesting. "It changed me as a person. I was very shy, and it brought me out of myself. And it made me think a whole lot more about what was going on in the world. I'd previously lived a sheltered life, in a girls' school, not living in the real world. "People learned to mix and were very much nicer to each other. If they saw someone in trouble, they would help - giving them their last penny if it was necessary. "And I became more appreciative - you were thankful just to be alive.


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