Beryl Lawry, Bletchley Park and Nuremberg translator

Born: 19 October, 1923, in Stockport. Died: 5 October, 2009, in Cambridge, aged 85.

BERYL Lawry was one of the efficient and responsible translators who worked on the Enigma code and the Colossus machine that intercepted and decoded the German high command's orders to and from Hitler during the Second World War. Such was their diligence they often knew of the orders from Berlin to the fleet and the likes of General Rommel before the recipients of the telegrams. Lawry had to translate highly technical and military terms with speed and accuracy, and never talk about her work, even to colleagues.

Both Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower, after the war, went on record as saying the work done at Bletchley Park shortened the war by some months. Lawry was an integral, but unfailingly modest, member of an elite band. After the war her linguistic abilities were to be challenged once again when she served as an official translator at the Nuremberg trials.

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Lawry latterly took parties around Bletchley, introducing a new generation to the work that was done there. She took a party for English Heritage around last month, which was promised: "We will hear from the remarkable Beryl Lawry, a Bletchley veteran, who will outline her role in breaking the Enigma cipher."

Beryl Cubitt Beswick, one of six children, was educated on a scholarship at Stockport Grammar School. She was studying languages at London University when she was asked to report to Bletchley Park – the top-secret decoding centre tucked away in the Buckinghamshire countryside 50 miles north of London. Such was the secrecy within the centre no-one knew what other people there were working on. Each team worked in close-knit units in numbered huts and it was with those work colleagues they mixed and discussed their work and the war.

Veterans of Bletchley Park have admitted they had a special pleasure in translating conversations between Hitler in Berlin or in his Salzburg home and his senior officers.

Lawry's fluency in German and French allowed her to translate German messages instantaneously once the spy codes had been cracked, then send them off to the relevant Allied general. Lawry and her numerous colleagues are credited with saving thousands of Allied lives.

After the war Lawry returned to her studies and gained a double first at London University in French and German. She was immediately asked to work as a translator at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. The city had been flattened by bombing but she sat in the crowded council chambers with Nazi leaders on the other side of the room.

On 30 September, 1946, amidst much drama, the sentences were to be announced. Lawry had to be especially accurate in her translation and ignore the tension within the courtroom, which one commentator described at the time as "electric".

Returning to Britain, Lawry joined the British Council, where her languages and experience proved invaluable in fostering UK interests – in the arts, education and cultural matters – in many countries abroad. Her first posting was to Prague, but the communist regime in Czechoslovakia eventually expelled all the British Council staff in the early 1950s.

Back in London she met at the British Council offices Tod Lawry, another young British Council officer, who had been recently expelled by the Chinese. They married in 1952 and he was assigned to various posts for the council in Kenya, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and Washington, before the couple settled in Cambridge. There she returned to using her languages and became a valued teacher at Queens', Magdalene and Fitzwilliam colleges.

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Like many of her colleagues at Bletchley Park, Lawry was scrupulous in never talking about the work she undertook throughout the war. Indeed, she only told her husband when the embargo was lifted about Bletchley Park in the late 1960.

When books were written – and the film Enigma was made – their work became public knowledge and Lawry much enjoyed talking about her experiences and passing on her memories.

Her last talk occurred just ten days before her death at Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire, where she died from a heart condition.

Her husband died in 2005 and Beryl Lawry is survived by two daughters and a son.