Jean Millar Valentine (7 July 1924 – 17 May 2019) was born in Perth, Scotland, the only child of Mr and Mrs James Valentine of Wilson Street. Jean was an operator of the Bombe decryption device in Hut 11 at Bletchley Park in England. This was the machine designed by Alan Turing and others during World War II to break the German Enigma Code. Station X at Bletchley Park was run by Mi6, the British Secret Intelligence Service.
Following an interview in Carnoustie, Jean at the age of eighteen started working at Bletchley on a wage of 15 shillings (75 pence) a week. Along with all her co-workers, she remained quiet about her war work until the mid-1970s. Jean Valentine mentioned in a later interview how, “moving down to London was a new experience for her, as she had never been out of Scotland up to that point.”
Jean was a member of the “Wrens” (Women’s Royal Naval Service, WRNS) and was one of 8,000 women who worked at Bletchley Park. This represented about 75% of the workforce at Bletchley. During this time, she lived in Steeple Claydon in Buckinghamshire.
In 1943, Jean joined the WRNS in a fit of pique because her application to join the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) as a military transport driver had been turned down. Jean only 4ft 10in tall and it was doubted that she would have been able to drive big lorries. Jean would later at Bletchley Park, require a raised wooden platform to stand on to set the top dials on the Bombe machine.
When Jean was asked, what her job at Bletchley Park was? “I looked after a machine called the Bombe, which was absolutely essential. It was needed to find the settings on the rotors of the German encryption machine Enigma and without the settings on the rotors, you would never break into it because the Enigma was so complicated, it could encrypt up to 158 million, million, million possibilities.”
More recently, Jean Valentine had been involved with the reconstruction of the ‘Bombe’ at Bletchley Park Museum, it was completed in 2006. She said that: “Unless people come pouring through the doors, a vital piece of history is lost. The more we can educate them, the better.” She personally demonstrated the reconstructed Bombe at the Bletchley Park Museum and lead tours there. She took part in a major reunion at Bletchley Park in 2009.
On 24 June 2012, Jean Valentine spoke on her wartime experiences at Bletchley Park and elsewhere as part of a Turing’s Worlds event to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, organised by the Department for Continuing Education’s Rewley House at Oxford University in co-operation with the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM).
Jean Valentine worked for eight hours during the day at Bletchley Park and said that no one would ever talk about what they have done or would be doing when outside of Bletchley Park. She worked in Hut 11 and recalled how there would be “five machines within the hut, ten girls and one Petty Officer that would be in charge of the telephone”.
Jean when asked, did you know what you were doing and what it was for? “Well, I knew what I was doing but I didn’t know what anybody else was doing. I worked in Hut 11 here and I now know that we were working in close conjunction with a hut across the pathway from us called Hut 3 and another called Hut 6. We were all working hand in hand, but we didn’t know that.”
After several years at Bletchley, Jean Valentine unexpectedly obtained her father’s consent for her dispatch to Ceylon for more war work. He gave it in a letter addressed ‘to whom it may concern’.
The cramped trip through U-boat bobbing seas was exhaustingly long and carefully circuitous. Jean decided she’d never travel by P&O (The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company) ever again. In Ceylon she was to meet her future husband, only marrying this almost complete unknown after receiving another carefully worded ‘to whom it may concern’ letter from her father.
With a smattering of Japanese and the Japanese version of Morse code, she worked painstakingly, decrypting Japanese weather reports. Jean spent 15 months in Ceylon breaking the Japanese cypher. She said that she “didn’t have a machine to do all that, we were breaking the Japanese meteorological code which was all in figures, and it was really a case of getting down and working it out.”
During this time, she met only one former pupil of Perth Academy, Alex Torrance who was stationed at the same Fleet Air Arm base as Clive Ingram Rooke, who was to become her husband. Clive was a Fleet Air Arm pilot flying Supermarine Seafires, the naval version of the Spitfire.
In fact, when Alex left his aircraft in somewhat of a hurry Clive drove him to the Rest Camp at a hill station called Diyatalawa, Sri Lanka. He subsequently attended their wedding on 7 June 1945 in the Scot’s Kirk and afterwards at the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Jeans photograph was used on a postage stamp issued in 2004 to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, issued by the St. Vincent & Grenadines Islands.
Leading Wren, Jean Millar Rooke (née Valentine) passed away on Friday 17 May 2019 age 94 at Henley-on-Thames, England. Jean is commemorated on the Codebreakers Wall at Bletchley Park (Wall of Honour.). Jean’s husband Clive Ingram Rooke passed away in 1998.
Summary of Jean’s war time service:
Adstock Manor September 1943 – March 1944. Bombe operator.
Colombo – April 1944 – 1945. Breaking Japanese meteorology codes.
Bombe machines did the equivalent work of 36 Enigmas and 200 of them were working 24 hours a day, both at Bletchley and at various outstations. Bletchley Park had two [outstations] in Middlesex, at Stanmore and Eastcote, and three in Buckinghamshire, at Adstock, Gayhurst and Wavendon.
The Bombe machine was developed from a device known as the “Bomba” (Polish: bomba kryptologiczna), which had been designed in Poland at the Biuro Szyfrów (Cipher Bureau) by cryptologist Marian Rejewski.
Rejewski had been breaking German Enigma messages for seven years before Poland was invaded, using the “bomba” and earlier machines. The first Bombe at Bletchley, code-named Victory, was installed in March 1940 and the second version, Agnus Dei or Agnes, was working by August 1940.
Marian Rejewski was born in 1905 in Bromberg, which at the time was part of the German Empire. It is now Bydgoszcz, Poland which is twinned with Perth. After the outbreak of war, the Polish cryptologists were evacuated to France, where they continued breaking Enigma-enciphered messages. They and their support staff were again compelled to evacuate to the south of France after the fall of France in June 1940. After the French “Free Zone” (Vichy France) was occupied by Germany in November 1942 following Operation Torch, the allied landings in North Africa, Rejewski and others fled via Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar to Britain. There they enlisted in the Polish Armed Forces and were put to work solving low-grade German ciphers. A statue dedicated to the memory of Marian Adam Rejewski has been erected in Bydgoszcz.
The Polish Cipher Bureau’s chiefs, Lieutenant Colonel Gwido Langer visited London and Bletchley Park in December 1939. Gwido Langer and his deputy were captured attempting to cross the Spanish border from France in March 1943. He provided German Intelligence with disinformation that meant they believed ‘Enigma’ was secure. After the war, Langer was sent to a Polish Resettlement camp at Balado Bridge (8 & 12 Komp. Warszt) near Milnathort.
Gwido Langer died in 1948 and was buried in Wellshill Cemetery, Perth. There had been a suggestion that he had collaborated with the Germans. That proved to be false and in 2010, his body was exhumed and taken to Poland for reburial at Cieszyn, Poland with a full military funeral. Gwido Langer was posthumously awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
The first true electronic computer was Colossus, developed at Bletchley Park and was the greatest secret in the history of computing.
Research by Ken Bruce