Margaret Betts: The Unsung Heroine of Bletchley Park Codebreakers

Margaret Betts was a code breaker for Britain's WWII Government Code & Cypher School, later renamed GCHQ.


In a remarkable tale of wartime courage and determination, Margaret Betts, one of the last surviving female codebreakers of WWII, has died at age 99. Her life was a testament to the unsung heroes who played pivotal roles behind the scenes during one of history's darkest hours. 

Margaret Betts, died in 2023 aged 99 - Photo: Robert S. Harris (London)

Margaret Betts' journey into the world of codebreaking began in 1942 when she was 19. Headhunted because of her exceptional performance at school, she soon found herself at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, England, the epicenter of Allied code-breaking efforts. Margaret worked tirelessly, her sharp mind and unwavering dedication were her greatest assets, qualities she retained until her final days in August 2023.

Her son, Jonathan Betts, 68, said she agreed to help the Allies after a German U-boat sunk her brother’s ship. “He had just married a few weeks before, the whole family was in terrible shock and desperate to do something,” Jonathan said, adding that Margaret was inspired by the tragedy and said ‘Absolutely, any way I can help I will’.

Despite the traumatic death, many of Margaret's stories from the 1940s blended mystery and humor. 

Bletchley Park, home of Britain’s WWII codebreakers


Margaret Betts: The Unsung British Heroine of Bletchley Park Codebreakers

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Margaret Betts was a code breaker for Britain's WWII Government Code & Cypher School, later renamed GCHQ.


In a remarkable tale of wartime courage and determination, Margaret Betts, one of the last surviving female codebreakers of WWII, has died at age 99. Her life was a testament to the unsung heroes who played pivotal roles behind the scenes during one of history's darkest hours. 

Margaret Betts, died in 2023 aged 99 - Photo: Robert S. Harris (London)

Margaret Betts' journey into the world of codebreaking began in 1942 when she was 19. Headhunted because of her exceptional performance at school, she soon found herself at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, England, the epicenter of Allied code-breaking efforts. Margaret worked tirelessly, her sharp mind and unwavering dedication were her greatest assets, qualities she retained until her final days in August 2023.

Her son, Jonathan Betts, 68, said she agreed to help the Allies after a German U-boat sunk her brother’s ship. “He had just married a few weeks before, the whole family was in terrible shock and desperate to do something,” Jonathan said, adding that Margaret was inspired by the tragedy and said ‘Absolutely, any way I can help I will’.

Despite the traumatic death, many of Margaret's stories from the 1940s blended mystery and humor. 

Bletchley Park, home of Britain’s WWII codebreakers


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Bletchley’s codebreakers

Margaret and her fellow Navy Wrens would venture out to Northampton for shopping trips, where they'd overhear intriguing gossip about Bletchley Park. Rumors swirled that it was a refuge for pregnant Wrens who had found themselves in unexpected situations - an anecdote they found amusing.

Humility was her hallmark. She downplayed her crucial role in the grand scheme of things, emphasizing that she was one among many who diligently operated the code-breaking machines, applied logic, and followed orders. She said the staff programmed the 'Bombes' and set them running to identify encrypted code.

In her words, they were the ‘service staff’ ensuring the efficient functioning of the critical machinery designed for decoding.

The Bombe from The Imitation Game at SPYSCAPE HQ in NYC


Bletchley’s Bombe machine

The Bletchley ‘Bombe’ machine developed by codebreaker Alan Turing helped smash enemy codes and win WWII. 

Without the dedication and intelligence of individuals like Margaret, WWII might have stretched on for an additional two years. Her role in breaking German and Japanese codes played an integral role in the Allied victory. It's often those who shun the spotlight that make the most significant impact on the world.

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