Mark Collins – Enigma SIGINT, or, “What Did You Do in the War, Mother?”

My friend Terry Glavin has drawn attention to this article about his ma (via this tweet):

New West resident proud of her Top Secret work during the war

Eileen Glavin

…Photograph By Larry Wright

Eileen Glavin has fond recollections of her days as a “spy” during the Second World War.

The 2015 Academy Award nominated film, The Imitation Game, is about the life of Alan Turing, a British computer scientist [er, no]/mathematician who many consider the inventor of the first computer. In the Second World War, he developed techniques for breaking German codes [but see: “Enigma Flick “Imitation Game” Colossal Bombe“] – and Glavin was one of many women who worked in “listening stations” across England.

“I was a spy,” she smiled. “I was listening in to the German messages. I even got some from the German High Command, you know. We were able to intercept their messages, too. That was something.”..

As an “interceptor” or a “radio operator”, Glavin intercepted Morse codes…and typed it out.

“It was very interesting, although we didn’t know what we were taking down. We knew it was important. That’s all we did know. We didn’t know why it was important,” she said…It went straight to Bletchley.”

While the folks working in the listening station didn’t know they were [involved in] breaking codes [helping by providing the morse messages themselves for decryption], they knew their work was important. Because they had all signed oaths under the Official Secrets Act, it wasn’t until the 1970s that they started to get details about the work they’d been doing years earlier.

Glavin worked at a “listening station” in Dunstable, which was about 40 miles from London and about 10 miles from Bletchley. She was billeted in a home near the station…

Curiously enough my aunt (my mother’s sister) worked during the war for British Security Coordination in New York City (more here at “Policy files”); never said a word to me.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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