Couple find Nazi code under floorboards – discover neighbour was WW2 codebreaker

A couple who found a stash of secret messages hidden under their floorboards by Nazi soldiers in the 1940s turned to their 95-year-old neighbour for help in decoding them.

Sadly, John and Val Campbell were told by Marj Dodsworth, a former Bletchley Park code breaker, that the wartime codes can’t be cracked without an original WW2 machine.

The coded Enigma messages were part of a cache of memorabilia from the period when the Channel islands were occupied by German troops, including cigarette packets, matches, a shampoo sachet, a fuse wire pack, throat pastilles – and even brothel passes.

The small pieces of paper had been chewed by mice over the years, but still contained recognisable strings of the code cracked by the Allies’ “secret weapon” at Bletchley Park.

Marj worked at Eastcote, a Bletchley satellite station, from 1943.

She says that she’s only recently been able to discuss the vital work she did for the war effort, because she was had been sworn to secrecy before starting work on Alan Turing’s pioneering electro-mechanical computers: "When we signed the act, it was for life, but after 50 years we were notified that the Official Secrets Act was no longer enforced.

"My parents died never knowing what I did during the war.

"My husband, Bert, worked in the Navy, and only found out a few years before he died. Because we never talked about it, I still feel like I can't."

But without one of the machines, known to those who worked on them as “Bombes” Marj says she’s stumped by the code:

Marj said: "When I first saw it I thought ‘there's no way without a machine’. There's not a cat in hell's chance I'd be able to do it.

She says the groundbreaking code-cracking machines were “big, noisy, oily, dirty and so large I could barely touch the top."

Before the war finished, those at Bletchley knew victory was coming because fewer messages were coming in.

"I was hostilities only, so after the war I had to stay until the Japanese war was over. Afterwards I was a legal secretary and had four sons."

When an IT company opened an office named Turing House in La Gibauderie, Mr Turing's sister was invited as a special guest, plus Mrs Dodsworth and her sons.

Mrs Dodsworth says she met computer pioneer Alan Turing once, but only briefly.

Born in Reading, she moved about 20 times due to the Navy jobs she and her husband did before settling in Guernsey.

She now lives in a local residential home.

Mr Campbell said: "When in the middle of a renovation project we took the floorboards up in one of our top rooms and found this.

"We put it in a box to get on with the project. Then during lockdown, when we wondered what to do with ourselves, I remembered the sheet of coding and thought before I die I should find out what it's all about.

"Whoever could decipher it must be rather specialist. It may be someone not from Guernsey, or someone from Bletchley Park.

"But how you reach out to those people or if this message would even be worthy of the effort I don't know, but I suppose that is the beauty and mystery of code."

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