Updated: Sep 25
Where it all began:
Ruth June Bourne, The Bletchley Bombe Machine, and WWII
Ruth June Bourne was one of the unsung heroes of World War II. Born in 1929, she made enormous contributions to the operations at Bletchley Park. Despite being only 17 years old, she enrolled in the WREN'S and was informed that she would be serving alongside the women of Bletchley. With no idea of what lay ahead of her, she made the journey from Birmingham to London.
Her contract offered nothing but endless work and no way out. These young women serving as part of the SDX special duties were sworn to secrecy and could not even tell their own mothers. Ruth was one of the young women who had to keep secret about her work.
Behind the manor doors:
So, what did the women of Bletchley Park do?
They were recruited to push back against the Axis powers from 1939 to 1945, focusing on breaking enemy codes. Set in a country estate in Buckinghamshire, Bletchley Park would be called home by these incredible women, who played an imperative role in British success during World War II.
Ruth was specifically recruited by HMS Pembroke V, consisting of two different teams. The "Y" Station was responsible for picking up German code, while Ruth's team, the "X" Station, was responsible for Bombe itself. In fact, the majority of women recruited had no previous experience and with very little information given away, most were unaware of the depth of their role. Ruth was trained to operate Bombe and was in charge of waiting for information to come through as "confirmed" and then calling to report the stop in the code menu, which would then be checked by fellow members. Exactly who sat on the other line anticipating her call was not revealed to her until much later on.
The nature of the job meant that there was very little time for breaks, and they were on their feet most of the day. The phrase "mustard" meant the following instructions were to be followed without discussion or debate. Despite the lack of freedom and harsh working conditions, Bourne stated she found their work deeply satisfying. Her service ended in 1945, and she, alongside her fellow comrades, had to dismantle Bombe wire by wire. In all, the WREN’s dismantled five miles of wiring.
A revelation deferred:
Unveiling the enigma: Bletchley revealed
Miss Bourne went on to marry an RAF officer she met while serving and opened a laundrette together, saying she enjoyed the machines as they reminded her of her time at Bletchley.
As stated in an interview, "So there I was, as a manageress at this launderette, and I had 12 machines in front of me with the drums going round and round, just like the Bombe machine. And here was this ex RAF officer coming in to mend them at night. So really it was home from home, there was hardly a transition at all."
So enshrouded in secrecy, not even Ruth knew the extent of her feats until 30 years later in 1974 when the book The Ultra Secret was published, and she discovered they had broken Enigma. After telling her husband the magnitude of her contribution he remarked, "Very interesting dear, what's for tea?"
In 2018, the then 92-year-old Bletchley Park codebreaker was awarded the Legion D'Honneur. A medal, and acknowledgement of her immense strength and contribution to the war, presented in the French embassy located in London, Kensington. It is important we acknowledge the bravery and accomplishments of the women who came before us, lest we forget them and allow the position women take in the history books to dwindle from 5%, to none. Ruth Bourne was one of these women, who made significant contributions towards the war effort, and it is essential that her story is told and remembered for generations to come.
In the red tent's embrace, a secret weaves,
Divisive lines dissolve, like morning mist conceals.
A tapestry of women, spanning lands unknown,
In whispered unity, their strength is sown.
A newsletter's guise, a mask so fine,
Yet deeper currents flow in its design.
Within its pages, a cryptic tale unfurls,
A day without women, a hidden world swirls.
Mysterious whispers, a clandestine thread, Invisible bonds that no eye has read.
Welcome to the collective, where secrets reside,
In the red tent's mystery, truth and veils coincide.