As the WRNS celebrates the centenary of its creation this week, one former Wren today visited Bletchley Park – the scene of her wartime work.
Joanna Chorley, 92 years old, joined the WRNS in 1944 and was sent to Bletchley Park to operate machinery involved in breaking enemy codes, including Heath Robinson and Colossus machines. Over 70 years later she was presented with her Bletchley Park commemorative badge, issued by GCHQ on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.
“It is very warming to know that our contribution is being remembered and recognised,” said Joanna. “We put our whole selves into working here. It was quite fun because I enjoyed the machinery and the Wrens all got on very well. We had an idea it was important but we didn’t know how important; I think I still don’t!”
It was an opportunity for Joanna, who lives at Tewkesbury Fields Care Home in Gloucestershire, to take a look at a new pop-up exhibition celebrating the contribution of the WRNS to the top-secret work carried out at the codebreaking hub during World War Two. The Royal Navy is celebrating 100 years since the formation of the WRNS, which was commissioned on 29 November 1917.
The exhibition has been put together by Erica Munro, Exhibitions Manager at Bletchley Park, and explores the role of the 2,617 Wrens who were working as part of the codebreaking operation by the end of the war. “The WRNS undertook a variety of roles both at Bletchley Park and at outstations,” she says. “Their main focus was on information processing, administration, communications and operating cryptographic machinery. A pop-up exhibition featuring some of the jobs that Wrens did at the Government Code & Cypher School will be on display for six months. It’s a chance to explain to our visitors the role of the WRNS in World War Two signals intelligence and confound the misconception that Bletchley was only staffed by eccentric male professors!”
Jonathan Byrne, Oral History Officer at Bletchley Park, gave Mrs Chorley her gold badge and a certificate signed by the Prime Minister, Theresa May. “It is a pleasure to be able to present Joanna with the Bletchley Park commemorative badge, issued by GCHQ on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government,” he said. “It may be over 70 years since Joanna and thousands of other colleagues worked here, but it is never too late to recognise the vital contribution they made.
“Through our oral history programme we remain in contact with many Veterans, who share insights that are key to our understanding of what happened here at Bletchley Park. There may be people who worked at Bletchley Park itself, or one of its outstations, who have not received their badge, and we’d be grateful to hear from them.”