Wartime Service

06.19.14

Kate Middleton’s Code-Breaking Granny: Duchess Uncovers Wartime Secrets

During World War II, Valerie Glassborow was a civilian duty officer at the code-breaking center Bletchley Park, where on Wednesday Kate met one of her grandmother’s former colleagues.

It was a particularly special, personal visit to Bletchley Park, Britain’s code-breaking center during World War II, for the Duchess of Cambridge on Wednesday. There she learned about the working life of her grandmother Valerie Glassborow, who was a civilian duty officer at Bletchley, working with a team of code breakers.

One of those, Lady—then Marion—Body, now 90, told the duchess about working alongside Valerie and her twin sister, Mary, in Hut 16 (now Hut 6), where the German Enigma code was cracked. The duchess sat at a replica radio to hear, learn about, and decipher morse code.

“You know who I am, don’t you?” Lady Body asked the duchess, according to The Times of London. “Yes,” the duchess replied. “It’s extraordinary.”

Bletchley Park has been restored at a cost of $13.6 million, the buildings returned to their wartime appearance. Lady Body said that when the women heard the Japanese were about to surrender, “We sat there in complete silence for about a minute before we were told to get on with our work. The duchess didn’t know that story. She wanted to know what [her grandmother] did here. I was able to tell her. Valerie would never have spoken about it. I wouldn’t have done until very recently.”

The duchess herself said her grandmother had been extremely discreet about what her job during the war entailed. “It’s so moving for me, and to be here as well,” she said. “I was aware of it when I was a girl and I often asked Granny about it, but she was very quiet and never said anything.”

“It’s so moving for me, and to be here as well. I was aware of it when I was a girl and I often asked Granny about it, but she was very quiet and never said anything.”

“It was tedious,” Lady Body told the Daily Mail of the work she did. “We were monitoring what signals were being picked up. The radio stations, called Y stations, were listening and they used to send in, I think every 15 minutes, the call signs they were picking up, and we had to check they were doing the right thing.

“The Duchess’ grandmother worked on the same desk as me. I had been at secretarial college with those two girls [Valerie and her sister Mary], so I knew them very well. They were fun, when you have such a boring job you had to get on well. We knew exactly what we were doing—it was part of the war effort.”

The historian Michael Smith told the Mail that the work of women code breakers had only recently received proper recognition.

After the war Valerie married Peter Middleton, a wartime RAF flying ace. The couple went on to have four children, including Michael, Kate’s father. Valerie died in 2006, at age 82.