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Resident’s wartime memories on VE Day

8 May 2020
Gladys Lewis, at her home today

As the country marks VE Day, the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, one Sanctuary resident has her own very special memories of the time.  

Gladys Lewis, who has lived at Iveson Lodge in Hedon, East Yorkshire for more than 25 years, has a remarkable claim to fame.

In 1941, during the height of the World War II, Gladys joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, aged just 18, and was posted to a balloon station in Oldham as an administrator, which she didn’t particularly enjoy. However, the following year she was summoned to see the Group Captain and posted to the top-secret Bletchley Park – known today as the home of the Enigma machine and the world-famous codebreakers including Alan Turing.

Gladys travelled by train to the site in Buckinghamshire and was assigned to Hut 3 where she was responsible for typing out messages for the High Command. She recalls being involved in tracking the well-known battleship Scharnhorst, as well as the German U-boat submarines and the movements of one of Hitler’s favourite generals, Rommel and his Afrika Korps.

Within the first year of her posting, Gladys was promoted to Sergeant and put in charge of her section. The work was so secret that Gladys never socialised with any workers from other Huts, and at the time, no one knew what work was conducted in each section. While Gladys never met Prime Minister Winston Churchill during his visit to Bletchley, the work she was a part of was considered so crucial that it was estimated to have shortened the war by more than two years.

After the war ended, Gladys stayed on for a little while before being de-mobbed in 1946 and finding secretarial and administration work on ‘Civvie Street’ back in Yorkshire. She married twice and was sadly widowed in 1974 but kept herself busy as President of the Women’s Section of Hedon British Legion for some time and moved into Iveson Lodge in 1995.

Bletchley remained a closely guarded secret until it was declassified in the mid-1970s, but despite this, Gladys never really spoke about her work there until quite recently. 

She said: “It was drummed into us so much that you weren’t allowed to speak about it”.

Since then, the now 97-year-old has been interviewed several times about her experiences by the national press and radio, as well as for the Bletchley Park museum where Hut 3 still stands today. When she visited last year, she was given the VIP treatment by the tour guides and posed for photos with visitors outside her old workplace.

She added: “The restoration work is very good although the layout is a bit different to how I remember it, but it was good to see the old Imperial typewriters which we used.”

Gladys’ place in history is commemorated by a brick bearing her name at the site, she is listed on their Roll of Honour and her medals and photograph (pictured below) also featured in an exhibition at her local museum.

A photograph of Gladys Lewis in the 1940s framed with her medals

Despite all this, she’s very modest about her time at Bletchley, saying: “We didn’t really think about it at the time; it was just our job.”