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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Military Memories 6 - Dad's Code Breaker Training

Military Memories: 31 Writing Prompts to Celebrate Your Military AncestorsMembers of GeneaBloggers are invited to commemorate their military ancestors during  May 2014 by participating in  Military Memories: 31 writing prompts,  created by author Jennifer Holik. 

Today's theme - Military Service Training 

My father John Weston, often talked about this experiences  and I am afraid it did provoke the reaction “Not the war again, Dad”. We also used to joke about him being in the Intelligence Branch.  It was only later that we came to realise what a defining period it was in his life and I persuaded him to write down his memories. 

I did send away (at some cost) for Dad's service record, but it proved to be a disappointing contribution to this story, being little more than a list of dates and meaningless abbreviations.    As the covering letter said  "The record was compiled at the time of his service and contains very little detail of his postings and movements". 

So here,  in his own words,  is Dad's story of his military training. 

“I was called up 30th November 1940 and came to serve in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch Intelligence Branch - SIS (Secret Intelligence Service. After arriving in Warrington for initial training,  I moved to London and, very unusual for the RAF, I had further training in Wellington Barracks, the Scots Guards London base.  My quarters were in  the St. Regis Hotel, of Regent Street.

Early in 1941 I went on an NCO's course lasting five weeks at Filey and came second in all tests out of the 145 taking part.  I moved to Morecombe taking over a squadron which led to me being considered for the Special Branch.  I took and passed various exams, but lost out in the end on account of my height.

I was invited to join the Codes and Ciphers Branch.  This resulted in me taking another course at a cipher school in Worcester.  On completing it I was posted to Ministry of Defence in King Charles Street, Whitehall (next to Downing Street). 

Churchill's war bunker was under construction in King George Street.  I paid a visit but was not impressed - I thought a direct bomb hit would have blown it sky high.

There was heavy bombing in 1941.  I was at the Alexandra Hotel near the Russell Hotel in Southampton Row and the hotel received a direct hit.  Mum came down to London in April 1941.  There had been a heavy raid and the hotel we stayed in had boarded up windows.  I took Mum along the Strand and Oxford Street to see the burned out shops and bomb damage.  Indeed the train she came down on suffered bombing."

My next move was to a fighter station at Dyce, near Aberdeen. I had only been there a few weeks when a signal came from the Air Ministry asking me to report to the Foreign Office, near St. James underground station.  I was interviewed by Group Captain Fred Winterbotham. He asked all the questions  and said "You are being considered for a very secret job."

I returned to Dyce, but three weeks later I was asked to report to 12  Hamilton Terrace, St. John's Wood, London  which was near Lords Cricket Ground.  It was a  large private house.  Four more RAF personnel arrived the day later.    We were part of a Special Liasions Unit -  teams of analysts set up  to scan, digest, and file coded messages, with channels established to forward key messages to the appropriate field commands.

During the next months, in London and at Bletchley Park  we were initiated into the secrets of ENIGMA.  after signing the Official Secrets Act, by which I am still bound.  We also used another unbreakable code, the OTP or One time Pad.  This was too time consuming to be used in World War ll, but has been used since by the KGB in Russia".


What struck me in Dad's account was how he seemed to be posted up and down the country for what seemed short periods of time.

It was strange for me fifty years  later to visit Bletchley Park and the Cabinet War Rooms in London  and to know that I was following in his footsteps.  
After training, Dad  was seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ. He landed at Omaha beach just after D-Day and advanced via St. Mere Eglise, Avranches, Versailles, Paris, Verdun and Luxembourg through to Wiesbaden in Germany. Immediately after VE Day he was posted to Burma where he was for VJ Day.   

               But that is another story for future  postings on "Military Memories".

Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

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