During a renovation project, John and Val Campbell, of Guernsey, discovered a cache of wartime items hidden in their house by a German soldier in the 1940s.
The stash included cigarette packets, matches, a shampoo sachet, a fuse wire pack, throat pastilles—and even brothel passes. But there was also an envelope addressed to Ernst Buchtela and pieces of mice-bitten paper, covered in German code.
The couple realized they were left by a German soldier who was billeted in the home in occupied Guernsey during the war.
“We put it in a box to get on with the project. Then during the 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,” John said. “Whoever could decipher it must be rather specialist. It may be someone not from Guernsey or someone from Bletchley Park.”
John added that he wasn’t sure how to reach out to those people or if the message was even worthy of the effort, but said, “I suppose that is the beauty and mystery of code.”
The couple have now solicited the help of their 95-year-old neighbor Marj Dodsworth in trying to decipher the message.
Marj worked extensively on Alan Turing’s electro-mechanical bombe machine built to crack the Enigma code. The World War II code breaker is now speaking for the first time about her role, having to keep it secret for 70 years.
She managed to have a look at the code but said there’s “not a cat’s chance” she’d be able to crack it without an Enigma machine.
In 1943, at the age of 18, Marj joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service, also known as Wrens.
“My father was in the Navy, although the Wrens were voluntary. With him in the Navy I got in without any problems,” Marj said.
For the first six weeks, Marj did introductory training which involved a lot of potato peeling. Only after an interview did she get to know what she was going to do.
Members of Wrens at that time were employed in different roles, such as radar plotters, air mechanics, and weapon analysts.
“I was told I’d be doing something very secret and I signed the Official Secrets Act. There was a gun on the table and you don’t say no to that,” Marj said.
She was then informed that she would work in Eastcote, at a Bletchley Park outpost.
“Bletchley was so full they couldn’t take more people in,” she said. “There were 800 of us where I was, but three or four more outstations.”
Marj did exactly the same work with the same machines and passed their work on to Bletchley by teleprinter. Drums marked with every letter of the alphabet rotated at varying speeds to crack codes, and when the spinning stopped, the letters may have been the key to a code, according to Marj.
To start with, Marj and her team had to plug in all the wires at the back to program it. After finding out the letters, the members of the Wrens would then take them to a second machine that was a cross between a typewriter and a bombe.
“You plugged the letters into one of these and it came up with certain things, which possibly meant a code had broken,” Marj said.
Air force troops checked the code produced, which was often wrong due to mechanical faults or crossed wires when programming.
“Tiny wires behind the drums would curl up with all the turning and we had to straighten them out with tweezers,” Marj said.
Due to this, when Marj went home, her parents were often worried and wondered why her hands were nicked, but Marj was unable to tell them where she was working.
Marj said that when she signed the act, it was for life. Only after 50 years had passed were they notified that the Official Secrets Act was no longer enforced. However, her parents died without knowing what she 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,” Marj said.
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,” Marj said.
Born in Reading, she moved about 20 times due to the Navy jobs she and her husband did before settling in Guernsey and having four sons.
Marj now lives in a local residential home.
Epoch Times Staff contributed to this report.